• Published 18th Aug 2016
  • 1,531 Views, 32 Comments

Pony la Pony: Shattered Lives - Flash Notion

Fusion Fic with Kill la Kill. Replaces EQG 1 chronologically. When Twilight chases a thief through Starswirl's mirror, she finds herself in a world without friendship, with new rules of magic. Will she succeed in recovering her Element of Harmony?

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Episode 4: Smoke and Mirrors

Twilight quickly flipped through the ancient tome entitled Abstract Geometries and Everyday Applications. Her eyes tracked every word, every equation, absorbing the knowledge as fast as a pony possibly could. In no time, she reached the back cover, and telekinetically discarded the book onto a growing pile behind her.

“That was fast,” Celestia remarked. The white alicorn smiled at her former student as she deposited yet another stack of books on Twilight's desk. “You'll have read the entire library soon enough. And what then?”

Twilight considered it, even as she grabbed the next book. “I suppose I could take a trip to the Crystal Empire; I'm sure Cadence wouldn't mind me holing up in their library for a few days.”

Celestia fixed her a very serious look. “Twilight, we are in the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight looked around at the soaring shelves, the glass ceiling supported by crystalline arches. “Oh,” she blushed. “Right. Maybe the Castle of the Two Sisters then?”

Twilight placed a hoof on the book cover, ready to open it and read. But to her surprise, it vanished in a wisp of black smoke. Not just the cover, the whole book. Twilight frowned. She tried another book, but the same thing happened. “What-”

All around Twilight, the books bled away into shadow, leaving behind dusty shelves and cobwebs. The light dimmed, and a cold wind blew over her. She shivered.

The library seemed so empty and lifeless now. “Hello?” Twilight called out. “Where is everypony? Celestia!”

But there was no answer.

Twilight trotted towards the door. She didn't like this. It was time to go. But after five full minutes of trotting, the door seemed no closer. Twilight frowned again and looked behind her. To her surprise, the shelves and desk were gone; in their place was only an infinite blackness.

Twilight turned back to the exit, and found blackness there, too. She hung inside an endless void, alone. Twilight kicked all four hooves and flapped her wings, but could not touch anything. She opened her mouth to scream, but she could not hear her own voice.

Then, a light.

A pinprick of a star on the horizon, so brilliant it hurt her eyes to look. Twilight shielded her gaze with one hoof, but it was no use. The light grew, and grew, until it filled the sky. Her fur sizzled.

Then in an instant, it was gone.

Please... stop...

Twilight froze. That voice...

She dropped her hoof and looked up- or what seemed like up in this place. Hanging in the void before her was a dress, pure white and covered in a jeweled pattern. Diamonds covered most of the fabric, but in places there were lines of corundum and topaz. Quartz, every color of the rainbow, flowed from one side of the chest over onto the back. An eye of amethysts glinted on the other side.

The eye moved. It focused. On Twilight.

Don't! she heard the dress cry. Its eye widened in terror and pain. Please, don't!The outfit thrashed against invisible chains. For heavens' sake, STOP!

Brilliant streaks of energy cut across the helpless fabric, and it exploded into a thousand shards, shattered forever...


Twilight spasmed awake. Her hooves were wrapped around her pillow, her blanket tangled in her legs. Slowly, her breathing calmed. She pushed herself upright on the bed.

It was still night. Outside the window, Canterlot slept in relative darkness. The city was quiet. In fact, the house itself was near silent, but for the snores of four other ponies.

Nightmares, she shuddered. Twilight had experienced her fair share of them- heck, she'd faced the living embodiment of bad dreams, Nightmare Moon. But they usually didn't affect her like that. They didn't make her wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat.

She wondered if it had something to do with Tantabus. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza had named her own Element Nightmare, which seemed horribly apt. But it had been days since they fought. If it was going to affect her, surely it would have done so earlier.


The alicorn started briefly, before recognizing Derpy's voice. “I'm awake,” she said quietly.

“What time is it?” Derpy yawned.

Twilight checked the nearby clock. “Three forty-five.”

The pegasus rolled onto her hooves and shook straw from her mane. “Can't you sleep?”

“I... had a nightmare,” Twilight confessed.

“Oh.” Derpy looked at her with understanding. “You wanna talk about it?”

“No, not really.” Then the image of Cell, strung across space, rose unbidden in her mind. “Actually, can we? Please?”

“Sure.” Derpy tucked her hooves in like a cat and waited.

“I saw Cell,” Twilight began. “She was... attacked. By something, I'm not sure what. Torn apart. And there was nothing I could do.”

Derpy stared a moment longer, then broke out into a smile. “Oh, is that all? Twilight, it was just a bad dream. Your armor is going nowhere.”

“How can you be sure? Everypony in school hates me; if I let my guard down for even a second...”

“You won't let that happen,” Derpy reassured her. “You're an alicorn with amazing sword skills. You faced down the princess! Plus, you got me to back you up,” she added.

Twilight laughed. “I suppose that's true. But honestly? I'm scared.” Twilight looked down at her hooves. “I'd rather face a horde of hungry manticores than another mage armor.”

“Could you beat a horde of hungry manticores?”

“I don't know! But they scare me less.” Twilight sighed and lay back down. “I'm going to try and get some more sleep, okay?”

“Good idea.” Derpy flopped down on her mat and pulled a blanket over herself. “Hopefully we can fall asleep before anything bad does hap-”


The window exploded into shards of glass that skittered across the floor. Twilight bolted upright and stared at the small object that had been launched through; it was cylindrical, striped with red and white, and smoking on one end.

“Is that a... firecracker?” Derpy frowned.

Twilight yelped and dived on top of her. “Get down!”

The two mares huddled in the corner for a moment, watching the firework pop and roll. Finally though, with a small pfft!, it stopped. Derpy cocked her head. “Huh. Must have been a dud.”

BANG! Only it was more along the lines of, BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BANG!

Clouds of smoke and sprays of color filled the room. The acrid stench of burning paper made Twilight gag. She struggled towards the door, only to yank her hoof back when pyrotechnics exploded against it. How is all of this coming out of ONE firework? She glanced around and managed to spot Derpy crawling under the bed. Great idea! Twilight shot across the floor to join her.

Derpy was shivering, and Twilight noticed a scorch mark across her flank. “How long will this go on?” the pegasus asked. Twilight could only shrug helplessly.

After another thirty seconds- Twilight counted them all- the explosion seemed to wear itself out. Things became much quieter. Twilight risked a peek.

Above the smoke, she could see the specks of color pulling together in the center of the room. To her surprise, they formed an image, a pony made of light and smoke. A distorted voice echoed from withing the cloud.

Twilight Sparkle!” The pony of light moved its mouth to the words; it seemed the firework had been heavily enchanted. “I know you are- where are you?” it faltered, then glanced around the room. Twilight frowned. Perhaps the pony was using the firework as some means of two-way communication? That would be difficult, but not impossible. “Sparkle? I'm not going to talk to an empty room, get out here!

Twilight began to crawl out from under the bed, only to knock her head against the frame. A cloud of dust rained down on her and Derpy, sending them both into sneezing fits. The light-pony heard and turned to watch as they pulled themselves out. It smiled. “There you are. Heed me, Twilight Sparkle! I know you're staying with that loser Derpy Whooves.

“Hey!” Derpy cried.

The light-pony ignored her. “I've pony-napped one of her family. If you ever want to see her again-” A shimmering image appeared in the smoke, of a magenta mare chained to a wall, looking rather despondent. Light-pony laughed. “All you have to do is make it to school on time.

“That's it?” Twilight was surprised into saying. Compared to the 'fight me in a duel' challenge she was expecting, this would be easy. “I've never been late to school!”

Well, I've made it harder for you! Step outside; you'll see.” The pony cackled. “Be quick about it though. If you're not in homeroom by the time roll is called, I win! Not only will Derpy lose a family member, you'll be expelled from Canterlot High. And then you'd never get to finish your oh-so-important quest! Nyah ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa!” As it laughed, the pony and the smoke were sucked back into the firework, which compressed and folded until it was a speck the size of a sand grain, then disappeared in the tiniest flash of light imaginable.

Twilight blinked. She opened her mouth, closed it, then blinked again. Then she sneezed as a large chunk of dust fell out of her mane and past her nose. “Ugh, what was that about?”

“Twiiiiii-light!” Derpy grabbed her by the shoulders and began to shake. “They've got Berry Punch! We can't just leave her. We have to get out there and get to school on time!”

Twilight shoved Derpy back with one hoof. “We will, of course. Heh,” she chuckled. “I'm just surprised they took Berry Punch, of all ponies.”

“What's that supposed to mean.”

“Well... No offense, but she's kind of... Annoying.” Twilight shrugged. “If there was any pony we'd be willing to just give up on, it'd be her.”

“Twilight!” Derpy got right in her face. “She's still family!”

“I know, I know.” The alicorn smiled. “Just let me get changed, then we'll head out.” She turned towards the clothes rack. “Time to shine, Ce-” She stopped.

The rack was empty.

“What!” Twilight jerked her head around, looking at the floor, the walls, everywhere. “Where's my Element?!”

Pony la Pony
Chapter 4: Smoke and Mirrors

Derpy stood by and watched as Twilight tore the room apart. Drawers pulled out of the cabinet lay overturned on the bed, which was itself sitting several feet from the wall. So many clothes- all Derpy's- littered the floor it looked like it was made out of fabric. “No no no!” Twilight grabbed her head in her hooves and flitted to the ceiling. “Ugh, where is she!”

“Maybe somepony stole your Element,” Derpy suggested.

“When? We were sleeping in here the whole night!” Twilight tossed her way through a few more garments. “Aaagh! This is hopeless!” She dropped to the floor and covered her face. “I'll never be able to do this without Cell.”

There was a knock on the door, a moment before it opened and Cheerilee poked her head in. “Girls?” She took in the wreckage, the signs that a one-pony tornado had swept through. “What's going on?”

Twilight's looked up. Her eye twitched. “We're about to be expelled, someone ponynapped Berry Punch, and I can't find my Element. Any other questions?”

After taking a moment to absorb all that, Cheerilee simply asked, “Pancakes or waffles?”

Fifteen minutes later, four ponies sat around a table in the kitchen, inhaling breakfast. As nervous as she was, Twilight couldn't help enjoying the food. The pancakes were fluffy as clouds, but much tastier, drizzled with syrup and butter. There was oatmeal, grits, toast, eggs... everything a pony could want. She wanted it all.

Twilight was midway through her third plate when Derpy flapped in from the other room. “Room's clean,” she announced. “Sorry Twilight, I didn't find your Element. But here you go!” She dropped Twilight's saddlebags onto her back.

The alicorn swallowed her latest bite and smiled. “Thanks. At least my sword isn't missing, too.”

“What ah don't understand,” Big Mac said between bites, “Is why they took Berry Punch. Ah mean, of all the ponies, we ain't as likely to go out lookin' fer her.”

“Dad!” Derpy shouted.

At the same time, Twilight exclaimed, “That's what I said!”

Dinky pulled her face out of a stack of fluffy calories and chewed as she talked. “Ah'm more in'reshed in wha' ya' said abou' gehhin to sshool!”

Cheerilee assumed a pained expression. “Dinky, dear, swallow your food so you don't spray crumbs everywhere. That's rude.”

“Sorry, mom,” Dinky said, after doing just that. Then she turned back to Twilight. “Whaddya think they meant, about making it hard for you?”

“I'm almost afraid to know,” Twilight sighed. She looked up at the clock. “We've got a little less than four hours before homeroom, and that pony didn't seem to think we could make it.”

“Then what are you sitting around here for?”

“Well first of all, I'm still a bit hungry. And thirsty.” Twilight demonstrated by downing a glass of orange juice. Once she put the glass down, she continued, “Also, without my Element, I'm not really sure what to do.”

Cheerilee passed her another stack of pancakes. “So you're giving up?”

“No!” Twilight hung her head. “I'll try; I'm just not sure I'll succeed.”

There was a moment of quiet as the family contemplated that. Twilight noticed that it seemed extra quiet, and then she realized it was because Berry Punch wasn't loudly eating in the background. Wow. Maybe we will miss her after all.

Then Dinky belched. “So you lost your magic outfit. Big whoop! You didn't have that thing when you met me, and you were a total bada-” She stopped when Cheerilee shot her a look. “I mean, you're a really good fighter, even without your armor. You can totally do this!”

“Iffin it makes you feel better,” Big Mac suggested, “We can look 'round for you 'til we find it. Heck, we can even bring it to you.”


“Of course!” Cheerilee smiled. “Do you think you can hold out until then?”

Twilight took a deep breath. “I'll do my best,” she promised. Twilight shoved her plate away, finished delaying, and double checked her saddlebags. Then she grabbed Derpy by the wing and trotted towards the door. “We better get going. We still don't know what's waiting for us outside.”

Derpy struggled in Twilight's grip, reaching out and grabbing food off the counter. “Wait! I haven't eaten yet! Twilight!”

The alicorn sighed and slowed just enough for Derpy to grab them some bags for lunch, then she tossed them out the front door.

“Dohn worvy!” Dinky leaned around the door frame, her mouth full again. “We'll find jer dresh!”

“Absolutely, dear.”


“Thank you!” Twilight called back. “Come on, Derpy; we've got a class to get to!” The pegasus saluted, and together they started up the pathway. Shouts of well wishes trailing behind them.

Twilight found herself watching everything, every shadow and scurry of movement; every house and side street and alleyway. She could feel that something was going to happen; she just wasn't sure what.

Derpy wasn't much help. She flew along beside Twilight, humming incessantly.

Then, after almost ten minutes, she said, “Huh. This doesn't seem hard at all. Maybe it was all just a prank?”

Ahead of them, floodlights snapped on, revealing a white stallion in silver armor; behind him was a rather large pair of gates built from solid spruce. The wall they were a part of extended to the sides as far as they could see. Twilight groaned. “I wish you'd stop doing that,” she grumbled.

“Doing what?”

“Jinxing us! Every time you say something, things get worse.” Derpy looked more than a little put off. Twilight winced. “I didn't mean it like that! I just... shoot.” She sighed. “Sorry, Derpy.”

The pegasus smiled. “Apology accepted! We should go see what he wants.” She pointed up the path at the stallion.

He didn't seem to notice them at first. It wasn't until they reached the edge of the floodlights that he turned and glared at them. “Twilight Sparkle,” he snorted. “What's going on here?”

“You tell me, Shining Armor.”

Shining frowned. “Don't give me that; this has your name written all over it.”

“But I didn't-”

He held up a hoof. “I mean that literally.”

Twilight looked and was surprised to see that, yes indeed, her name was all over the doors. Burned, carved, drawn, or otherwise emblazoned across the wood surface dozens of times. “Wow.” Twilight stepped up and studied the letters, but couldn't see a pattern. “This is strange, even by this school's standards.”

“So you don't know what this is?”

“Nope.” Twilight cantered back and frowned. “Though I might have an idea...”

Shining's eyes narrowed, and he stepped between her and the doors. “Talk.”

“Well, somepony took Berry Punch hostage this morning, and is forcing us to do something really dangerous in order to get to homeroom on time. They're probably the ones responsible for this.”

He stared at her for a moment. Then Shining grinned. “So. Somepony's finally gotten up the nerve to challenge you. I guess my work here is done.” Shining turned and began trotting away.

Twilight quickly sidestepped in front of him. “What the hay is that supposed to mean? I just told you about a possible ponynapping and you're going to walk away! Isn't this, I dunno, against the rules or something?”

“Ha!” Shining laughed. “Normally, it would be. But since Princess Cadenza gave the students permission to attack you, it isn't. Anypony near you is collateral damage. Get it?” They locked eyes, and Twilight forced herself not to blink. She couldn't Stare the way Fluttershy could, but she'd been in plenty of staring contests with her brother back home. She usually won.

Sure enough, Shining broke. “Look,” he sighed, “I don't like it any more than you do. But I can't fight this battle for you. Twilight, you made your bed. Now you've got to sleep in it.”

She grumbled. “I suppose that makes sense.”

Then Shining surprised her. He placed a hoof on her shoulder in a way that almost seemed reassuring. “Look, I don't know what's actually happening here; but I know that you can handle it. It's not many who can match Princess Cadenza for sheer willpower. You actually impressed me,” he admitted. “With that Element, I can understand why ponies have been reluctant to fight you.”

Twilight heard Derpy face-hoof behind her. It was loud and obvious, so much so that Shining Armor looked down. “Where's you Element?” he finally noticed.

Twilight's brain reached out and plucked up the first excuse she could think of. “In the wash!” she blurted. “Yeah, it was really, really dirty, so Miss Cheerilee is washing it. She and Big Macintosh will be delivering it later.” Twilight was sure her blush was going to give her away.

Derpy seemed doubly sure, because she added her other hoof to her face.

It didn't happen. “Hmm,” Shining rumbled. “That'll make it harder, then. Do you think you'll be able to survive that long?”

“Um... maybe?”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Derpy nudged her. “Of course you'll survive.”

“Look, Derpy, this isn't going to be easy...”

“I never said it was. But there's no way I'm letting my best friend get kicked out of school. Not before we rescue Berry Punch,” she said.

“Thanks,” Twilight muttered.

“No problem. See?” Derpy said to Shining Armor. “Together, we can get anything done!”

He stared for a solid minute before wrenching his head sideways. “Right. I have duties to attend to; good luck with... whatever this is. Get to class on time. You know.” He trotted away downhill.

“Where's he going?” Twilight asked.

Derpy shrugged. “Probably to the cable-carriage station at the base of the mountain; non-stop all the way to the school. It's only for the most Elite students though.”

“Huh.” Twilight watched Shining Armor disappear among the crowded buildings, and filed that information away. “Well, let's open a door.”

Five minutes later, Derpy sat on the ground watching Twilight pace. The unicorn had made what seemed like zero progress on the door. Some calculations were scrawled in the dirt, but Twilight wasn't looking at them. The only contribution Derpy had made so far was a suggestion to fly over the door, which was shot down because it went all the way up to the net. Twilight tapped against the side of her head, muttering. “Think, Twilight, think!” She glanced up and resumed pacing. “Rrargh!” Twilight screamed moments later, when the answer still didn't come. She ran up to the door and began pounding on it. “Open! Open, you- you... just open!”

Snorting furiously, Twilight backed up a few feet and then galloped straight at the door. Her forehead slammed into solid wood, and she fell to the ground in pain.

“That's what I call using your head,” Derpy cheered. Twilight sent a glare her way, but it was half-hearted. The pegasus wasn't actually paying attention; her thoughts were no doubt on school and her missing aunt. Then Derpy asked, “Can we have a snack break now?”

Twilight was not amused. “No! We have to get to school, which means getting past this door. And it's not like it's just going to magically open when I say, 'Open Sesame'!”

Twilight heard a groan behind her, and she looked to see the doors swinging open.

“Or, maybe they will.”

Derpy hopped up and pronked over to her friend. “You did it!”

“Yeah, but how did I do it? Was there some kind of voice-recognition, or a timer, or-”

“Who cares?” Derpy began shoving at Twilight's haunches. “Let's just go.”

Twilight instinctively found herself resisting, legs straight and hooves digging furrows into the dirt. She wanted to understand what had just happened.

Turned out, that hesitation may have just saved her life.

The pony watched as the Chairman finally left, allowing that loser Twilight and her loser-er friend to move on. The delay was unanticipated. Thankfully, the absence of the Element was not. Everything according to plan; when the Element arrived later- the pony had no doubt it would- they would be in the perfect place for the plan to succeed.

The only wrinkle was Twilight's incompetence. It was a door. A freaking door. How could it be that hard to open? The trigger phrase was the most common thing to say to a closed door! It took that loser more than five minutes to work it out, and that was mostly by accident.


Whatever. The door was open; the rest of the challenges were fairly simple. Starting with this next one. A trial by combat. The pony smiled at the monstrous howl, and moved to the next position. On to phase three.

Twilight heard the roar at the same moment her hooves caught on a rock, sending the both of them tumbling to the ground. A the same moment, a glittering blue claw sliced the air where their necks had been. Twilight felt the breeze ruffle her mane. She shoved backwards just as the gigantic paw hit the ground, the force of it sending them tumbling again, rolling downhill.

Twilight felt her pupils shrink as she took in the creature. Bigger than a house, its lustrous fur covered in stars. The dripping maw full of teeth. The claws that would make a dragon jealous. And two yellow eyes, glaring at them angrily. It was a creature Twilight had seen before, and hoped never to see again.

The ursa roared once more, spittle flying from its throat. Twilight and Derpy were drenched.

“Run!” Derpy screeched. She launched her self towards the nearest alley, and Twilight was quick to follow.

An ursa minor? Around here? Twilight groaned in her head. The last time she'd encountered one of the beasts, she'd needed every ounce of her magic to stop its rampage. That had been a while ago, but this place had left her weaker than even then! Without her Element-

Twilight shook her head. Now was not the time to get distracted. She tailed Derpy around a corner and behind a house.

Unfortunately, putting a house between them and the ursa did nothing. The bear-monster simply clambered onto the roof, nearly demolishing the structure in the process.

An instant later, the door opened and a familiar-looking, screaming unicorn in a nightcap hurtled out.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” she shrieked. Then she slammed into Twilight bodily; pain shot through Twilight's skull, and the mare fell back with a surprised squeak. “Ow! What's going on?”

Through her new headache, Twilight grabbed the mare's hoof and yanked her up, not caring about Who's and What's. “Ursa. Bear. Run!”

She looked up and screamed again, her hooves propelling her past both Twilight and Derpy. Twilight quickly put on a burst of speed to catch up. Derpy looked over. “What do we do?” the pegasus yelled.

Twilight wanted to yell back, I don't know! but refrained. She instead wracked her brain, which made it hurt worse, trying to remember everything she knew about the aggressive but reclusive species. Stronger than dragons, almost as resistant to combat spells. Claws that could slice through solid rock; no record of an ursa major ever being defeated. The ursa minor- the ursa minor was weak in the back of the head!

“Follow my lead!” Twilight declared.

Derpy half turned her head, letting the one eye focus on her while the other pointed forward. The advantage of having unusual eyes.

They turned down a long, straight path with few obstacles. Twilight could see the nervousness in Derpy's eye, but the pegasus kept going. The ursa roared, and chased after them. Many of the buildings lost their facades to its wide shoulders.

The beast was only about ten feet behind them when Twilight yelled, “Split!” She jumped sideways into an alley, and was pleased to see Derpy grab their new ward and go the other way. The ursa paused briefly, then went after the larger- and slightly slower- target.

Twilight turned immediately. The ursa was distracted; she spread her wings and jumped as hard as she could. The top of a dumpster, a small window sill, a hanging planter, and finally onto a roof. The glittering, wing-shredding net was a little too close for comfort, but Twilight could safely run from building to building. She stayed as low as possible, using the chimneys for cover.

Derpy had steered the two into a tighter path, one more difficult for the ursa to follow. But follow it did.

Twilight sneaked as close as she dared and reached into her bag to pull out her sword. Running with the filigree blade was more difficult, but she could do it. Twilight jumped out and signaled to Derpy. The pegasus caught sight of the flashing metal and nodded.

“This way!” Derpy grabbed the poor unicorn and pulled her after Twilight. They struggled through the paths below as Twilight hopped over the roofs, staying just out of sight of their monstrous pursuer.

Finally, they came to a more open space. Twilight did her best to silently indicate to the ponies below they should lure the ursa into the center of the road.

That didn't seem to be a problem, because the ursa burst out of the alleyway a second later, coated in dust and rotting fruit peels. It bellowed, and pawed at the ground, gouging up a crater. Derpy and the mare screamed and grabbed hold of one another.

Twilight tensed her legs. Blood pounded thickly in her head.

The ursa took another step forward, saliva dripping off its jaws.

Twilight spread her wings.

The ursa raised its claws to strike; Derpy and the other mare cowered.

Twilight jumped, pushing as far out as she could. In midair, she swung the sword with every ounce of strength she could muster.

The flat of the blade slammed into the base of the ursa's skull. The impact was so ferocious, it vibrated back into Twilight's hooves, and she almost dropped her weapon. The ursa shook under the assault. Its eyes seemed to rattle in their sockets. Then those eyes closed, and the enormous beast began to sway. Back home, Twilight would've been able to grab it with her magic; here, she dove to the side same as Derpy and the other mare.

Like the worlds furriest, bluest tree, the ursa toppled forward. It slammed muzzle-first into a house across the street, and then lay still. A low rumble sounded- at first Twilight thought the beast was getting back up. Then she realized it was snoring.

Twilight trotted over to where Derpy was patting their new comrade's back. “The... the-hat... that was-” she hyperventilated.

Twilight put the sword away and held out a hoof. “Hi,” she said. Always a good start. “My name is Twilight Sparkle. This is my friend Derpy Whooves. We were just-”


Twilight backed away. The mare held her right hoof against her chest and continued to breath heavily. “You just- with a sword... And my house!” The mare pressed her nose against Twilight's roughly. “Where am I supposed to sleep tonight!”

“I'm sorry about that,” Twilight apologized. She even meant it. “But you see, somepony's ponynapped Derpy's aunt. I don't know if you've heard-”

“Of course I've heard!” The mare rolled her eyes. “Everypony in the school knows who you are. Where do you get off, angering the princess like that? Things were hard enough for us no-stones before you came along.”

“You're a no-stone?” Derpy asked.

“What's it to you?”

“Well, I'm a no-stone, too,” Derpy pointed out. “Technically, so's Twilight.”

“Is that supposed to make me like you?”

“Oh-ho-kay!” Twilight shoved herself between the two of them. “I think we got off on the wrong hoof; why don't we start over? What's your name?”

She glared at Twilight for a long moment, then grumbled something Twilight couldn't make out.

Twilight frowned. “I'm sorry, what was that?”

She sighed. “My name is Lula, all right? Are you happy?

“What in Equestria is going on down there?”

Twilight looked up and saw Shining Armor leaning out of a hanging gondola. The carriage swung as it moved up the cable to the school. “Well?” he asked.

Twilight frowned in annoyance. Her headache didn't seem like it was going away any time soon. “Oh, you know, the usual. Somepony put an out-of-control monster in a cage to try and kill me. Not that you care.”

Shining returned an equal look of disapproval. “Ponynapping Derpy's family is one thing. Endangering other students is another. Whoever let that creature loose is going to regret it.” He glanced up at the school, then at the ursa. “I'll have the Disciplinary Committee move that thing out of here. You've still got to get to school.” The gondola continued up the cable, quickly moving out of speaking distance. But before it did, Shining shouted, “No pony is above the rules, Twilight. NO PONY!”

Twilight looked over at Derpy, who shrugged. “Well that was... something.” Twilight turned back to their companion. “Look, Lula,” she tried for a friendly tone, “We're just trying to get to school on time. The one who ponynapped Berry Punch also set all this up. I doubt they meant for your house to get destroyed, and I'm really sorry it happened. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”

Lula had been staring after Shining Armor, looking distracted, but when Twilight spoke she looked back. “You could leave me alone,” Lula huffed. She turned away, finally setting her hoof down.

Only to instantly stumble and cry out in pain.

Twilight rushed forward to support her. “What's wrong? What happened?”

Lula grit her teeth and shook tears away. “My hoof. I think it's sprained.”

Twilight looked down at the hoof and winced. It certainly looked swollen and painful. “I've got it,” she said. Twilight rummaged around in her bag and pulled out two rulers and some gauze. Derpy and Lula fixed her equally confused looks. “Emergency first-aid kit,” she explained. “Don't you have one?” They both shook their heads. “Well, everypony should. I'll have to get some new rulers, though.”

Twilight placed the lengths of wood on either side of Lula's hoof, then wrapped it tightly. Lula winced a bit, but said nothing. Twilight added an elastic bandage over the gauze. Finally, she secured the makeshift splint with a combination of metal clips and duct tape. “There,” she said. “Try it now.”

Lula slowly placed her hoof on the ground. “Not bad,” she admitted. When she saw Twilight's satisfied look, she added, “Still sore though.”

“I'll take what I can get.”

Lula straightened her nightcap over her horn and looked up the mountain. “So let me get this straight: somepony kidnapped her aunt-” Lula pointed at Derpy, “-And is forcing you to run an obstacle course to get to school on time so you can get her back?”

Twilight blinked. “That sounds right.”

“And none of that seems, I don't know, idiotic to you?”

“We don't have much choice,” Derpy pointed out. “If we don't get to school, we'll be expelled.”

“Well good luck with that.” Lula turned around sharply and stuck her nose in the air. “I'm going home to see if I have a bedroom left.”

“Won't you have to go through the maze, too?”

Twilight did her best to cover Derpy's muzzle and face to prevent her from saying more. She knew exactly where this would lead. But it was too late; Lula halted and her eyes snapped open. “Oh, stars,” she cursed, “You're right!” Lula glared at Twilight. “Great! Now I'm going to be expelled, all because of you.”

“Not if you come with us,” Derpy cheerfully suggested. Twilight wanted to bang her face off the ground, but she really wanted her headache to go away, not get worse.

Lula raised up her splinted hoof. “So I can get even more injured?”

“So we can protect you.” Derpy swooped over and put a foreleg around Lula's shoulders. “What do you say, friend?”

Lula shook her off. “We're not friends. But-” she sighed. “I suppose I don't have much of a choice. Not if I want to make it on time.”

“Great!” Derpy smiled. “Isn't that great Twilight?”

Twilight felt her eye twitch. “Yeah,” she said. “Great.”

Dinky crawled out form under Twilight's bed and sneezed. The amount of dust down there was incredible. “No dice,” she sighed. “We've looked everywhere!

“Eeyup.” Big Mac dropped the cabinet he'd been lifting. He hung his head dejectedly.

“Oh, don't worry my little ponies.” Cheerilee patted her husband on the cheek. “I'm sure we'll find it soon.”

“But we've looked everywhere,” Dinky repeated.

At that moment, the door popped open, and the smell of fermentation rolled into the room. “I'm home- hic!” Berry Punch bellowed.

The eyes of the three ponies widened. “Berry Punch?” they shouted. The mare was instantly enveloped in a three-way hug.

“Hey- hic- e'rypony,” she giggled. “Good to see you!”

They released her, and Berry Punch staggered into the living room. Surprised, and a bit concerned, they followed her. “What a day,” she muttered. “G'nigh erryyy pooooneeeeee...” Berry Punch suddenly keeled over onto the couch, completely passed out. She didn't even seem concerned about her clothes.

“Hang on a minute,” Derpy realized.

Will somepony get me off this stinking excuse for a mare? Cell screamed, unaware that none of the ponies present could hear her.

Cheerilee exchanged a glance with Big Mac and pulled a face. “Get the cart ready,” she said in a resigned tone.

“Eeyup,” he said, and swiftly backed out of the room.

Cheerilee turned to her daughter. “Okay, who's ready to learn some life skills?”

Dinky looked over at Berry Punch and grimaced. This ought to be fun...

The three ponies had cleared the first obstacle. There were still more than three hours left; thankfully, there were still plenty of obstacles left. The pony mastermind still had tricks up their sleeve.

The pony pressed the small release button on their remote. Somewhere ahead of the three, a gate opened with a loud clang. This, the pony decided, would be fun.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon, and some ponies were getting an early start to their day. They walked slowly out to collect the morning paper, or else trotted down the street for some exercise.

Big Mac ran full tilt up the side of the mountain pulling a cart. “Outta the way!” he shouted. “'Less y'all want a cart up yer plot!”

Ponies frantically did as asked, jumping aside just in time to avoid the massive stallion. He thundered past without a second thought.

Inside the cart, Dinky and Cheerilee held on for dear life. The latter was looking a little green. Neatly folded on the seat between them, still smelling like a brewery, was Cell.

“I think I see her!” Dinky pointed to a road higher up the slope. Her parents risked a glance. Sure enough, a purple alicorn and gray pegasus were trotting swiftly uphill. Strangely, a blue unicorn wearing a nightcap and a splint was trailing behind them.

“There's an on-ramp ahead,” Cheerilee managed to say. She covered her mouth and swallowed hard. “Please slow down, dear.”

If anything, Big Mac sped up. The cart's wheels rattled over the pavement in a deafening cacophony. The ramp was just ahead.

“Twilight!” Dinky yelled. “We got your uniform!”

Twilight heard Dinky's shout and was about to look down, when she heard something else- the screech of a very large reptile. “Did you girls...” Twilight trailed off. She saw from their expressions that they had both heard it.


Twilight jumped back, wings flared, as the nearest alleyway exploded mud. The torrent spilled outward; surfing on its edge was a gigantic, razor-toothed alligator, easily three times as big as a pony. Its green scales glistened where they showed through the mud. Its eyes were cold and hate-filled. With another shriek, the beast leaped at the ponies.

“Run!” Twilight turned and did just that; she looked back to make sure Derpy and Lula were following. They were. But with only three good legs, Lula was starting to lag behind. Twilight spotted another alley and slowed, just a bit. At the right moment, she tackled the other two sideways.

The gator screeched in anger as it swept past. Twilight saw it try to turn and swim back, but it wasn't strong enough. Gravity pulled it down the mud slide the road had become.

Twilight waited another minute to make sure it was gone, then looked up the mountain. Mud coated the path for as far as she could see. “We're going to have to find a different way up,” she announced.

“Found one!” Derpy pointed to the other side of the alley, where the next road over was clear.

“Oh.” Twilight blinked. She should've thought of that; her headache was getting annoying. “I guess that works.”

They had almost reached the on-ramp when Twilight and the others turned tail and ran. Dinky was confused. And then she saw the monster. “Oh, crud! Turn back, turn back!”

Big Mac whinnied and scrambled at the ground with his hooves, struggling to turn the speeding cart. Above them, the mud slide splashed into the road divide. By sheer chance, the gator turned, and swam down the ramp.

“Nope!” Big Mac shouted. “Nope nope nope nope nope!” The mud slammed into the side of the cart and spun them a complete one-eighty. They hurtled downhill, completely out of control. Big Mac scrambled with his hooves, trying to slow them down, or turn them, or do anything at all to alter their course, but it didn't happen. Instead, he was tossed up and into the cart. Dinky looked over, and was surprised to see the alligator sitting in the cart, too. The gator looked just as surprised.

And then they smashed into a power pole.

The cart exploded into splinters. The gator was slammed into the side of a rather large building; a sign on the front advertised “Custom Leather Bags”. The building's door opened and an earth pony poked his head out. Upon spotting the gator, he glanced around furtively, then dragged the beast inside. The door closed, and did not reopen.

The others fared little better. Dinky and Cheerilee jumped at the last possible moment; they slammed into a group of Saddle Arabians, who immediately began cursing at them. Big Mac was thrown head-first into dumpster. The lid slammed closed after him.

Though no one could hear it, a disembodied voice groaned, Somepony help me! These ponies have no clue what they're doing!

Cheerilee managed to pull herself and Dinky out of the tourists, who were still shouting in their native tongue, and made her way over to the over-sized trash bin. She lifted the lid and peered in through the stench. “Mac? Honey? Are you okay?”

“Momma?” he called out. “Ay ain't bathin', ay already ate mah bowlin' ball.”

Cheerilee absorbed that statement and decided to slowly replace the lid. Dinky looked up expectantly. “Er- your dad is... taking a little nap,” Cheerilee explained. She winced. “We'll just have to deliver the dress ourselves!”

“Okay. Where is it?”

Cheerilee looked around and spotted a white-sequined cloth poking out form under the wreckage of the cart. She pulled it, and out came Cell. The purple lapel looked thinner than before, but Cheerilee decided it wasn't important.

“Come on,” she said to Dinky, and pushed them towards the nearest taxi stand.

The traps were getting ridiculous.

“Look out!” Twilight shoved Derpy out of the way just before the cage crashed down. The alicorn glared through the spruce-wood bars. Derpy shrugged.

“Sorry. You know how I get around muffins.”

Twilight sighed and brought out her sword. With a single swing, she chopped through the cage and was able to crawl out. Still, that was more valuable time wasted. The sun was already above the horizon. “Let's just get moving.” The three of them continued up the mountain; as they walked, Twilight tried to imagine what was next. They'd already cleared more than their fair share of obstacles.

First there were the swinging logs that threatened to crush them. Twilight would've been pulp if Lula hadn't tripped at just the wrong time- or right time. Whoever built the obstacle course obviously didn't care about property damage, either. The logs smashed holes in the houses across the street.

Then there was the lava pit. How lava was placed in the middle of a city on the side of a mountain was anypony's guess; Twilight was more concerned with crossing it. The pit stretched across the entire street. There were no convenient alleys to double back through. And the only given means across was a thin wooden plank.

Derpy trotted over without hesitation. It seemed okay, so Twilight stepped onto the board. Lula wasn't far behind.

They were about halfway across when Lula's rear hoof slipped, and she ended up dangling off the side of the plank. Twilight turned and grabbed hold of her, but she was already slipping. And then the plank snapped, sending both of them towards a fiery death. Swiftly, Twilight wrapped her hooves around Lula and snapped her wings open. The largest updraft she'd ever felt pushed them out of the pit; they tumbled to a stop, thankfully on the correct side.

After that, spiked walls began exploding out of the buildings, cutting off the route ahead. They were forced into a maze of side streets and back alleys. It took forever to find the way out.

It was about then Twilight felt acid creeping into her throat. It was just so... frustrating! They should've been at the school already. Instead, the traps had cost them more than an hour.

They'd almost made it to the one-stone district when Twilight felt the shifting under her hooves; another trap. Sure enough, two buildings in front of them began to slide together. They couldn't afford to backtrack; Twilight started to gallop, trusting Lula and Derpy to keep up. The buildings were ten feet apart when Twilight reached them. And the gap was quickly closing. She popped out the other side with a good four feet left. Derpy was right behind her. They both turned and called encouragement to Lula, who hobbled through with only inches to spare.

And then Derpy spotted the muffins on the ground. A trail of them.

Twilight sighed again. All those traps. All that time wasted. And she hadn't spotted Big Mac, Cheerilee, or Dinky since the mud slide. She hoped they were okay. Twilight also hoped they'd find a way to deliver Cell. She could really use a set of enchanted armor at this point. Along with a headache cure, because the pain in her forehead was getting absurd.

It's like I'm stuck in a bad Daring-Do novel, Twilight thought tiredly. All that's missing is the giant-

There was a loud rumble from somewhere up the mountain. Twilight looked up just in time to see a twenty-ton boulder roll out of a chute and come straight at them. “Oh, come on!” she screamed. The three of them had no choice but to turn and run downhill. “I could really use Cell's help right about now,” Twilight muttered.

The taxi driver was a fine stallion. Not quite as fast as Big Mac, but that was fine. Now they had a chance of getting there with their bodies intact.

Cheerilee realized they'd have to get above the mud before they could head over to Twilight and company. Rather than chasing the girls all across the city, she told the driver to get them ahead of them. They could backtrack down the slope until they met up.

Dinky's eyes were sharper; she spotted them again first. “I think that's them!” she said to her mom.

Cheerilee poked the driver. “Bring us alongside!” He whinnied in agreement.

It was almost over. Dinky sighed in relief.

And then they felt the rumble. They all looked up in time to see the boulder explode out of the mountainside and come hurtling at them. Cheerilee and Dinky clung together and screamed; the driver screamed, too, but he had nopony to cling to. Instead, he unhitched his harness and jumped into the closest alley.

“Come back here you coward!” Dinky yelled after him. He didn't even acknowledge her shout, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway. The cart was rolling downhill and picking up speed.

Cheerilee watched as Twilight and her friends noticed the boulder. They didn't seem to notice the cart, but that was understandable. The three mares turned and ran; they didn't go far before turning into an alleyway. She wondered why.

Then Cheerilee saw the road ahead was blocked. Two apartment buildings had been shoved together like toy blocks.

“We have to jump!” Cheerilee grabbed Dinky and Cell and got ready.

The filly struggled. “Are you crazy? If I'm going to die, I'd rather splat on the wall!”

“We're not going to die,” she assured her daughter. Cheerilee spotted a shop with an awning a little ways down the hill. “Just jump... now!”

They jumped, and landed on the awning, and with their momentum, bounced. Dinky fell into a barrel full of seeds; the landing was soft... ish. Nothing broke at least, which was good. Cheerilee wasn't quite as lucky. She was heavier, carrying Cell, and didn't bounce as far. She landed smack on the sidewalk.

Get up! Cell encouraged. One of you get up, or we're all dead!

They couldn't hear her, but Dinky got up anyway. The filly grabbed her mother and pulled the three of them into an alley. A moment later the boulder thundered past. It smashed into the two buildings, causing who knew how much damage.

Dinky decided to ignore that and focus on her own problems. Cheerilee seemed okay. Nothing felt broken on her, either. Earth pony biology, Dinky figured. But her mom was out cold.

“Looks like it's up to me,” Dinky said solemnly. She picked up Cell and tossed the dress over her back. “Cool!” The filly abandoned all pretenses of seriousness and ran up the hill, a smile on her face. “I get to be the hero for once. I'm coming to ya', Twilight!”

Wait, what? Cell shouted. Where are you going, she was that way!

But no pony heard.

Twilight looked up at the rising sun. It seared her eyes, forcing her to look away; her headache returned in full force. Her face twitched violently. They'd already lost so much time... less than an hour left, now. “Come on, girls,” she encouraged. The other two mares were leaning on one another for support, barely trudging forward.

“Give it a rest, will you!” Lula snapped. “Can't you see we're tired?”

“But- but- but we have to get to the school!” Twilight shuddered. “If we don't get to school, we'll all be expelled. And if we're expelled, we can't live in the city anymore. Derpy and her whole family will have to pack up and move!”

In her mind, Twilight saw it. She pictured Cheerilee loading all of the girls' possessions into a wagon, and then the family throwing the ramshackle hut on top of it. Big Mac sullenly pulling the wagon away into the countryside, where they wouldn't be able to find a place to settle down because there would be no place that Cadenza and the royal family didn't have power. So they would wander, and wander, slowing starving and wasting away. Derpy and Dinky would never go back to school. They'd be a family of underfed, uneducated homeless ponies. Berry Punch would have to go sober!

“Snap out of it, Twilight!” Derpy smacked her friend across the muzzle. “We're almost to the two-stone district. We have to keep moving!”

Twilight felt the sting, but she continued to stare vacantly into the distance. “If I get expelled, it will be almost impossible for me to get my Element back!” Her Element of Harmony, her crown. Without it, her own Equestria would be virtually undefended. There would be nothing to stop villains like Discord from simply laying waste to the world. She couldn't go home without it, but if she failed here, so would her quest! “Oh this is bad,” she moaned.

“Ugh,” Lula snorted. “Look, if you're so worried, I know a shortcut. I try not to tell everypony, because I don't want them using it, but...”

“A shortcut?” Twilight pounced on her so that they were muzzle-to-muzzle. “Where?”

Lula pointed to their left. There was a slight gap between a couple of inaccurately constructed apartment buildings; it was just wide enough for a pony to run straight up the mountain. It also looked steeper and more difficult to traverse. And likely, more dangerous. Twilight pointed this out.

Lula rolled her eyes. “I thought you wanted to get to school on time?”

Twilight raised a hoof to object, then reconsidered. She opened her mouth. Then she closed it, dropped her hoof, and sighed. “Let's just get this over with.”

The three of them charged into the alleyway. At first everything seemed okay, and Twilight dared to hope they would make it through unmolested. I've really got to stop hoping for stuff like that, she realized a moment later, as the ground around them erupted into geysers of dirt. Something large and black jumped up through each geyser, vaulting to the rooftops. The dirt itself settled back into freshly turned mounds.

“What's happening?” Derpy whimpered.

Twilight swallowed nervously. “Just stay low and stay close.” She began creeping forward, one hoof in front of the other, that's it Twilight, just keep moving...

Something thudded into the trash strewn ground next to her. Twilight frowned. “A rock?” Another chunk landed atop a box nearby, crushing it. Then another bounced off a dumpster.

“Avalanche!” Derpy cried out.

“No,” Twilight realized, “Somepony's throwing rocks at us. Run!”

“NOW!” an unfamiliar voice screeched from the roofs. The sun above the ponies seemed to disappear behind a patchy shadow; Twilight twisted her neck and saw what looked like a carpet of boulders falling into the alley. She poured on the speed, her and Derpy tugging Lula. The trio barely cleared the last boulder as it slammed down on their tails. Twilight felt the tug of a few hairs pulling out.

“Watch it!” Lula yelled, shaking her good hoof at the sky.

An ugly, squashed face peered over the edge of the roof. When it spoke, it revealed a mouth full of broken fangs. “Aw,” it whined, “They made it through. Throw again!” This last was directed to the surrounding roofs, where other ugly faces appeared. Some wore cone-shaped helmets; others, mining hats. The bodies attached to the faces were just as large and ugly. They wore mismatched clothing with pockets that overflowed with jewels. Brawny arms hefted rocks easily as big as a pony.

“Diamond Dogs!” Twilight gasped. She recognized them from the tunnels beside her home. Usually, they weren't so aggressive. Somepony must have promised them a mountain of gems to help thwart Twilight and Derpy. And Lula, too, she supposed. They were all in this together, at this point.

“Ready!” their leader shrieked. “Aim! Fire!” Another volley of stones fell towards them, and there wasn't time to dodge.

Instinctively, Twilight closed her eyes and called upon her magic to form a shield. There was a stabbing pain from her horn, and she remembered that magic like that-

“Wow!” Derpy exclaimed. “Twilight, how are you doing that?”

Twilight opened her eyes and saw, to her surprise, they were surrounded by a small force field. A dome of purple-pink light that was keeping them from being crushed or buried. “I- I don't know,” she admitted. More rocks fell, and a crack splintered across the shield. Twilight winced as her headache spiked again, and concentrated harder, pouring energy into it. She could already feel herself getting tired. “But I can't keep it up much longer!”

Shining Armor trotted through the lower halls of Canterlot High. The school was practically empty at this point; a few tenacious students had managed to arrive early to work on projects.

Shining sought out one student who was never supposed to leave.

The hallway dead-ended at a single, inconspicuous door labeled 'Monitor'. No indication of who or what lay on the other side.

He pressed his hoof against the wall next to the door, and a bar of light passed underneath it. “Scan accepted,” a monotonous voice declared. The door clicked open, and Shining made his way inside. There was a small chamber, barely large enough for him to fit into, and another door. He waited until the outer door closed before opening the inner door.

Then he walked into a large, dark room. The place was a mystery even to him; the workings only known to a few ponies. This was the most sophisticated surveillance center in Equestria. Enchanted cameras around the school captured events live and transmitted them to small, flat screens that were scattered across the walls. He didn't understand how the litany of spells worked, he just knew that they did. And he was glad for it; anything and everything that the Elite Four needed to know, this room could tell them.

But at present, the screens were dark. No information was being monitored. The pony Shining Armor was looking for was not there.

Maybe they went to the bathroom, he thought. Shining decided to wait for a few minutes.

In the meantime, he examined the room more. Something was nagging at him. A feeling that there was something he'd overlooked. Something about his encounters with Twilight and her friend earlier.

A strange machine in the center of the room drew his attention. It didn't seem to connect to any of the screens, but it was pointed at the one section of bare wall. Shining stepped closer.

He felt a tug on his hoof just before the wire broke. He tensed, expecting something lethal. Instead, the machine in the center flickered to life. Light projected outward and formed an image on the wall. Shining paused. The crude drawing showed Canterlot High, with a pyramid of ponies rising out of it. And on top of that pyramid, Princess Cadenza.

The piece of the machine that light was projecting through began to move, and the image changed. Shining watched as a giddily laughing pony who was definitely not Cadenza knocked the princess off the top of the pyramid and took her place. He frowned. The pony in the image wore a familiar set of armor. But the pony was not the one who usually wore that armor.

Shining's frown turned into a scowl. He wasn't entirely sure he understood what was happening, not yet. But if he was even half right, Twilight was about to need all the help she could get. And he couldn't give it to her.

Twilight grunted as yet another crack spider-webbed over their shield. The Diamond Dogs had thrown so many rocks that they were almost completely covered. If the shield gave out now, all three of them would be crushed under a ton and a half of rubble.

“Sparkle!” Lula complained, “Do something. Get us out of here!”

“I... I can't!

“You have to, Twilight!” Derpy encouraged her. “We still have to save Berry Punch.”

Still she hesitated. “It's just- if I clear the rocks, I won't have any magic left. I'll be exhausted, and useless.”

“We can weather that storm when it comes,” Derpy promised.

Twilight swallowed. “Okay.” She pushed herself towards the ground, preferring not to topple over and get a concussion among everything else. Her head hurt too much as it were.

She concentrated on her warmest memories. Growing up with her brother. Being accepted into Magic School. Earning Celestia's unwavering support. Making new friends when she least wanted or expected to. She recalled swapping stories after the gala, downing fresh glasses of apple cider, dancing at the royal wedding. Them offering to venture into this world with her.

Twilight's eyes flashed white, and magic surged through her horn. The bubble over them expanded, bursting outwards, shoving aside air and rock and garbage; it cleared everything for yards around. Dust and pebbles pelted the dirt for a few moments. And then Twilight settled, too, her energy gone. She sighed in relief. Now it was somepony else's turn to be the hero.

As it turned out, that pony was Derpy. The pegasus reached into her saddlebag and pulled out an entire storm cloud; for a moment, Twilight thought she might be hallucinating in her tiredness. No way that cloud could fit into a single, non-enchanted bag.

But Derpy took the cloud and soared up into the sky, as high as she could. She dodged every rock the dogs threw, along with a few stranger items. They appeared to be running out of ammo; one was throwing soup cans. Not even empty cans, but whole soup cans.

Derpy got above their heads with her black cloud. She kicked it, and sent a lightning bolt skittering across the sky- right into the rump of a Diamond Dog. The dog dropped the boulder he had been carrying and it landed on his head. That had to hurt.

Derpy bucked the cloud again, and again again, gleefully zapping their former tormentors. As far as Twilight could tell, the lightning itself never hurt the dogs. It was their own panicky actions that did that. Like their leader, who pulled off a pretty good moonwalk until he fell into an alley on the other side of the building. The crash he made echoed over the whole mountain. After that, the others put their tails between their legs and hopped away. Derpy zapped a few stragglers then drifted down to Twilight and Lula.

The latter pulled the former to her hooves. “Come on,” she said, careful to keep her injured hoof steady. “Only a little further, and we'll be in the clear.”

“That's great!” Derpy rested on the cloud, which was almost the same color as her fur. “But can I, maybe, get a thank you?” She pushed herself up and spread her forelegs for a hug. “Anypony?” There was a long silence as her two companions kept walking. “Oh, okay,” she said, and dropped back down.

Out the corner of her eye, Twilight saw the pegasus begin to fall, hooves first onto the cloud. Panic gripped her and a bit of energy returned, just enough for her to whirl around. “No, Derpy! Don't-”

Too late; Derpy's hooves smashed into the cloud and all of the remaining energy released in one massive burst of electricity. Lightning balled in the confines of the alley, then detonated right under their muzzles. Up they flew, and for once Twilight didn't have to work her wings. Nice, she thought tiredly. She looked down and noted that the city was quite a distance below. Vaguely, she wondered if they weren't getting a little high. Then she passed out.

Twilight didn't want to open her eyes. There was a symphony playing in her head, and it was beautiful. The more she opened her eyes the quieter it got. Finally, though, her eyes opened of their own accord. Sighing, Twilight forced herself into a position that technically qualified as upright, though only because half her body wasn't touching the floor.

She groaned. Her whole body hurt; what did she do last night? And why was the sun shining in her eyes, she shouldn't be getting an eyeful for a while from the angle of her bed and the library window...

Slowly it came back to her. Twilight remembered that she was not at the library, that she wasn't even in the world she called home; she remembered that she'd been doing something important when she got knocked out, something with a time limit. Something with other ponies... Oh. Oh. Oh, that wasn't good.

Twilight snapped her eyes open and shook her head, ignoring the pounding in her brain. She had to rouse her friends now. If they didn't get to school soon, they'd be expelled, and the whole adventure would've been pointless.

However, neither of the mares seemed to want to get up. Twilight prodded Derpy, who curled up into a tiny ball. Fine, she thought, and hauled Derpy up instead. The pegasus protested, but got to her hooves. She must've been too scatterbrained to be hurt by little things like lightning bolts to the face.

Then Twilight set about getting Lula up. The unicorn seemed even more tired. She had her nightcap pulled down over her face. “Come on girls,” Twilight encouraged. “We can do this. We have to get to the school. We have to save Berry Punch. We can't let that- pleaahh! What, Derpy?!”

The pegasus had been slowly tapping on her cheek, until one tap landed in Twilight's mouth instead. Now Derpy pointed up, seemingly at a loss for words. Twilight followed the line of her friend's hoof and was equally stunned.

“The school? We're at the school?”

Lula was still out of it, a little. “How about that,” she muttered. She winced and pressed a hoof against her forehead. “I'm fine,” she told Twilight, once she noticed the alicorn was staring. “Just a little headache.”

Twilight nodded in sympathy and did a quick check of the sun's position. And she cursed. “There's only fifteen minutes left!”

“We can make it,” Lula insisted. “We've got time to spare.”

“I suppose.” Twilight shook her head and smiled. “I have to hand it to you, Lula,” she admitted, “I was skeptical about that shortcut. But it looks like it all worked out. Glad to have you on our side.”

The mare's cheeks colored. Her silvery mane fell over her eyes.

“That's right,” Derpy agreed. “We should go on more adventures together! We'll totally be best friends. We could go rock climbing, or skiing, or base jumping, or-”

Twilight chuckled to herself and tuned out Derpy's list of increasingly dangerous and ridiculous activities. Lula really didn't seem so bad. Maybe-

Twilight heard something in the distance, growing closer- a high pitched scream that was growing louder by the second. She looked up and saw a pony galloping towards them, something tied around its neck and flapping in the wind. That seemed to be where the noise was coming from. A few yards closer, and Twilight began to make out individual words.

-Corkscrew! Are you joking me, slow down you Tartarus-forsaken beast! Celestia's voice echoed into Twilight's ears. The alicorn winced. Well, her uniform was here. Better late than never. But how-

“Hey Dinky!” Derpy waved her sister closer. “Glad you finally came to school for once!”

“I'm just here to bring Twilight her uniform,” the filly grumbled, trotting up. “Then I'm heading home. The burden of keeping a roof over our heads is yours, sis.”

“Aw,” Derpy frowned.

“Twilight, here you- whoa!”

A hoof shot out, tripping Dinky. The knot holding Celestia slipped apart. And the Element fell right into the hooves of the one who had tripped Dinky.

“He he,” she chuckled. Unneeded bandages unraveled themselves and dropped to the dirt.

“Lula?!” Twilight blinked in surprise. “What the hay are you doing?”

Lula stepped closer, her eyes shining darkly. Like glossy-shelled beetles. “You shouldn't have let your guard down, Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight felt as though the world had been dipped in molasses. It didn't make sense, and everything was moving slowly. It was hard to think. “Lula?” she ventured.

The unicorn laughed. “And to think, I had only a few days to put it all together. The ursa, the traps; do you have any idea how hard it was to plan something like this?”

“You- but... Who are you?”

She smirked, and took off her nightcap with a flourish that released a huge puff of smoke. “I'm not some injured no-stone,” she said. Her voiced echoed out of the haze. “I'm the Head of Surveillance and Trap Development for Canterlot High! I'm a two-stone! Behold; the Grrreat and Powerful Trrrixie!”

Trixie stepped forward out of the smoke, and Twilight felt her headache fade away. Her head was pounding worse than ever, though. How could she have missed it? The ursa, the fireworks, the over-the-top plan- classic Trixie. And the blue fur, silver mane...

She must've cast an illusion around herself, Twilight realized. That would explain their mutual headaches. The stress on Twilight's brain, being forced to see or not see whatever Trixie wanted; versus the stress of maintaining a spell like that for hours.

Still. She should've seen it coming.

What she couldn't have seen coming was Trixie's outfit. The unicorn wore armor that vaguely resembled a magician's stage outfit; a cone shaped helmet with a flaring base, and a long cape covered in stars. Clashing with the ensemble was a black amulet with two red gems embedded in it. It looked almost exactly like the Alicorn Amulet from Twilight's world.

Trixie reared back and kicked at the air with her hooves. “You like?” she sneered. “Trixie designed her two-stone armor herself! Soon she shall have an even better armor!”

“What do you want, Trixie?” Twilight refused to be sucked into an ego contest. They were still pressed for time.

The unicorn held Cell up like she was in a clothing store. “Trixie watched you challenge Princess Cadenza,” she said casually. “She watched as you and your armor tore apart the school, and came out perfectly fine.”

“I technically lost that fight-”

Trixie ignored her. “Trixie knew that if somepony as... unremarkable as yourself could do that, surely in the hooves of somepony truly great, truly powerful-” The unicorn grinned. “With this Element, I could rule this whole school! The whole city! Maybe even the world.” She whinnied and reared up again. “Everypony shall bow to the Great and Powerful Trixie!”

Twilight watched for a moment as Trixie swayed around with a glazed look in her eyes. Then she calmly set down her saddlebags and took out her sword. “I'll give you one chance,” she warned. “Hand over Cell, now.

“Yeah!” Derpy helped Dinky up, then crossed her hooves and glared at their new enemy. “Lula, you can't just take Twilight's dress. It's more than clothes, it's her friend! They're two halves of an amazing fighting machine. They're unstoppable, and you can't just split them apart!”

“That's right, Trixie almost forgot!” Trixie deftly pulled off her horrible two-stone armor, and replaced it with Cell's dress form. “The transformation. Trixie will try it now!”

“Go ahead,” Twilight taunted as her frenemy brought the ring up to her horn. “It's not as easy as it-huh!” Twilight's jaw dropped as the crystals came to life.

“Solar Magic, Harmonize! Element, Celestia!” Trixie crowed, mimicking Twilight's own cry days before. Although, to be fair, the armor did not look the same as usual; it appeared gapped and uneven. Twilight figured that was a good sign. Still-

“How did she figure out the synchronization on her first try?”

She... hasn't, Celestia's voice came to Twilight again. But her will- it is maddeningly strong!

“Trixie can feel the magic flowing through her!” the mare gushed, ignoring Twilight. “So powerful... so great... Who shall she use it on first?!” She glared at the two no-stones. “Trixie thinks- how about you?”

Trixie leaped forward towards Derpy. “Derpy, look out!” Twilight slid sideways so that she was between her friend and this- this monster who had pretended to be their friend. She intended to take the blow herself.

As it turned out, she didn't need to.

“What's happening?” Trixie wailed, hoof raised but unmoving. She grunted and thrashed her muzzle. “It's like I'm covered in rocks!”

Twilight watched her struggle a moment, then brought a hoof up to her face. She laughed softly. “That's because you are, feather-brain!”

Trixie's efforts to free herself were not met with success. “Nice job, Cell!” Twilight congratulated the armor. It might've been her imagination, but the violet eye seemed to wink at her. The alicorn stabbed her sword into the dirt and stepped closer. Closer.

“G-get away! Trixie will not ask again!”

“I thought you were going to try out your new powers?”

“Trixie will! She just needs to-” Twilight spread her wings, the rising sun behind her. She knew she looked fearsome that way. Trixie gulped. “I'm sorry,” she whimpered.

“Sorry... isn't going to cut it!” Twilight punched a hoof right into Trixie's chin, knocking her over backwards. The blue-furred mare moaned pitifully, then passed out. Looking at her enemy, Twilight felt more irritated than anything. This had all been a waste of precious time. She grabbed the uniform- now fabric once more- and pulled it off Trixie's limp body.

Cell landed on her crystalline hooves and promptly vomited out a cloud of magical energy. Trixie's power, it seemed, didn't agree with her. Filthy! The armor decreed, then spat out another gob. I am sorry I was late.

“I'm just happy to have you back,” Twilight smiled. She went to pick up her friend when Derpy suddenly leaped between them.

“Don't celebrate just yet!” the pegasus cried. “We've only got seven minutes before the bell rings! We have to hurry!”

“Right.” Twilight turned to Trixie and pulled her off the ground. “First things first: where's Berry Punch?

Trixie's head lolled to the side. She began to laugh. Twilight steamed. “What's so funny?”

“Uh-” Dinky raised a hoof, but Twilight glared, and she shut up.

Where's Berry Punch?” Twilight repeated.

“She's fine!” Trixie snapped. “I never had her! It was just an illusion to get you motivated!”


“That's what I was trying to say,” Dinky said. “Berry Punch is passed out at home. She went out drinking last night. Oh- and she took your armor.”

Twilight glanced over at Cell, who shuddered. The things that I saw... I can never unsee them.

“Why would Berry Punch take my armor?”

“Gee, I don't know,” Trixie said in a mocking tone. “Maybe because I told her she could get free drinks if she dressed up nice? And happened to suggest your dress as the best option?”

“Why you-” Twilight couldn't recall having ever been this coldly angry before. She couldn't find the right words. So instead, she picked up Trixie, and threw her at the school. As hard as she could.

It wasn't much. She was still tired from her magic burst earlier, plus the climb up the mountain. She wasn't that strong without Earth Pony magic.

But it was enough to make Trixie fly several feet. Enough for Trixie to slam into what seemed like an invisible wall, and fall to the ground.

“What the hay?”

“Nyaah ha ha!” Trixie laughed madly. She hauled herself off the ground with much effort, her muzzle bloodied. “Trixie has won! She suspected you may be too much for her to handle, so the Grrreat and Powerful Trrrixie crafted one final trap: a fake school!”

Around them, the courtyard began to flicker; the whole building faded in and out of existence. In a flash, the school was gone, revealing only a glass cage, with thin metal reinforcements, in the middle of the road. “So long, neigh-sayers!” Trixie brought out a remote control and pressed one of the many buttons on it.

Twilight felt something under them shift- they were moving. The buildings on either side passed with alarming speed. “What did you do!”

“Behold Trixie's masterpiece: she calls it, 'The Rage-Quitter'! Once it is activated, there's no going back. You'll never reach the school!” Trixie pressed another button, and the glass shattered into tiny cubes, which pelted them and stung like wasps. Cell absorbed the majority of the impacts, but Twilight ended up with more than a few cuts and welts. So did Derpy.

Wind howled past as the platform picked up speed. Soon, Twilight knew, they would be beyond the point of no return. They would be too far from the school to reach homeroom in time.

“And now,” Trixie shouted over the wind, “Like all true performers, Trixie will make her grand exit!” She tossed a hoof-ful of powder down, and smoke exploded outward. Twilight was left coughing.

When it cleared, Derpy gasped. “She's gone!” Then the pegasus looked off to the side. “Oh wait, there she is.”

Twilight watched as Trixie hopped off the furthest edge of the trap, clad once more in her two-stone armor. She saluted while doing so- with her supposedly injured leg, naturally. Halfway to the ground, her wizard's cap exploded into a patchwork sheet of fabric that caught the air. She glided the rest of the way to the ground. “Trixie is okay!”

Twilight stood there a moment longer, unsure what to do. They were still hurtling towards the base of the mountain.

Then something on the underside of the platform snapped. Their smooth glide downhill turned into an out-of-control skid. This thing is coming apart! Cell warned. Derpy tried extending her wings to balance, and was almost swept off the platform by the wind. Hurry, put me on.

“Oh, right!” Twilight blushed. She'd almost forgotten about that part. She planted her hooves in the shimmering fabric and touched the ring to her horn. The fabric transfigured into crystal armor just as it had before. Twilight felt the power, a fire in her blood, and she was ready. “Solar Magic, Harmonize! Element: Celestia!” She scooped up Dinky under one leg and Derpy under the other; with both of them secured, Twilight pushed her wings harder than ever to get clear of the platform.

They landed safely on the ground, but Twilight looked up and saw it was already too late. They were at the very bottom of the mountain. Even with my help, Cell admitted, You'll never make it on time.

“There's only three minutes left!” Derpy announced.

Twilight squeezed her forehead in both hooves. “Everypony be quiet and let me think!” She looked around. They were at the bottom of the mountain. They couldn't fly because of the net, they couldn't walk because of the time limit; it looked pretty hopeless. She spotted a taxi station, but that would hardly be much faster. Then Twilight spotted something else: another station, with cables coming out of it, and on those cables, a bunch of fancy gondolas.

“Derpy, didn't you say those cable cars go all the way to the top?”

“Uh huh,” she said. “But they're only for the most Elite-”

“Congratulations, you're an elite pony.” Twilight shoved Derpy towards the station. They'd almost reached a carriage when something latched onto Twilight's wing.

“Hey!” the guard yelled, “You no-stones aren't allowed-”

That's as far as he got before Twilight yanked her wing forward, tossing him into the control panel. She took out her sword and embedded it next to his muzzle. “Get this thing moving, you hear?” He nodded vigorously and pressed the on switch, then cranked the speed lever. The machines hummed to life; the cables began to move on their wheels. Twilight hopped into the nearest gondola and held the door. She also used her sword to hold it at ground level. “Everypony on board!” Dinky hopped past, but Derpy hesitated.

“I really should pay the fare, at least.” The pegasus rummaged through her saddlebag. “ Oh, no bits. Hmm. I know! I'll leave some of my mom's fritters!” She pulled out her lunch and opened it. “Do you think I should leave four, or maybe five?”

Twilight glanced up at that clock and whinnied. “Leave the whole bag, just get on!” Finally Derpy did just that, and Twilight yanked them free. Instantly, the gondola was pulled into the sky.

“Whee!” Derpy yelled, her hooves in the air and butt on the seat. She was enjoying the ride. Dinky, on the other hoof, was looking a bit green.

“How much time?” Twilight dared to ask.

“Mmm,” Derpy checked. “About 30 seconds! After that we'll be late. And expelled.” Then she realized what she said. “No way! We're gonna be expelled!”

Twilight grit her teeth. “No. I'm getting us there on time. Even if it kills us!”

Trixie grouched as she undid the straps to her parachute. The day had not gone as she'd hoped. “Oh well,” she muttered. “I still have my armor. I can still try again! And mark my words, Twilight Sparkle, Trixie will try again!”

“No, you won't.”

She stiffened at the low voice behind her. “Sh-Shining Armor!”

Trixie turned to face the much bigger stallion. He was glaring at her in a way that made her think she'd have been better off with Twilight. “You're the first student to try attacking her; I'll give you credit for bravery. Then again,” he grit his teeth, “Maybe it was just foolishness. I heard what you said to Twilight.”

“Puh-please!” Trixie cowered. “I won't do it, I would never! It must have been that armor, corrupting my mind!”

“I also saw your little workshop,” Shining continued. “You've been plotting against the princess for a long time. You're nothing but a traitor. I have only one question, and how you answer determines just how bad things are for you. Did you work alone?”

“I did!” Trixie sobbed into the dirt. “I would never trust another pony with my plans. Please, forgive me!”

“There is no forgiveness for traitors,” Shining growled. “You.. are expelled!

The instant he said it, the gems on her armor shattered. Sheets of metal fell to the dirt. Trixie looked around at her ruined outfit, then ran off, crying. Her sobs disappeared into the city.

The sound of screeching metal drew his eyes upwards. There- a cable carriage, for the elites. Either a two-stone was getting a really late start, or Twilight had hijacked it. He suspected the latter, and silently gave his approval. Trixie had come very close to ruining many things. In beating her, Twilight had actually done Canterlot High a great service.

That didn't mean he wasn't looking forward to the day he would unleash the school's discipline on her himself. Shining smiled.

“Ten seconds left!” Derpy shouted, clutching her seat. Overhead, the cables hissed in their casing. They were running out of time, and track.

“The we won't be stopping at the station.” Twilight bucked out the window of their gondola. At the last second, she reached out with her sword and cut the lines. They flew past the station, past the outer walls, and towards the school itself. Twilight swung back into the gondola and hung on for dear life; it was not going to be a soft landing.

Zecora stood behind the podium, taking roll. She had purposefully ignored the two empty seats, giving those students as much time as possible. But that time was at an end. “Next is... Sparkle?” she called. The other students slumped at their desks, very unhappy to be students. “Twilight Sparkle?”

There was no warning apart from a slight whine, and suddenly the yard-facing wall exploded inward, ruptured by a massive, decorated chunk of metal. Desks and students went flying and ended up piled against the opposite wall, where bruised ponies moaned in temporary agony.

Zecora blinked as the gondola's door slowly opened, and three ponies walked out. There was a scraping sound as desks and chairs were pulled out for each. “Hmm. Twilight... Sparkle?” she called again.

At their desks, Derpy and Dinky already slept. Twilight slowly raised her hoof, sighing. She didn't think she'd ever be this relieved to be in school. “Present.”