• Published 20th Jul 2012
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The Conquering of Love - Littlecolt



Twilight finds she and her friends are trapped in their own minds and must escape.

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Overgrowth Ch 11 - Interfuse

Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Eleven: Interfuse

“Well, what’s happening up there?” Celestia heard Applejack asking as she entered the Mayor's office. Applejack and Mayor Mare were standing at the far end of the room, looking out a window towards Canterlot.

“We’re not sure. The overgrowth from the forest has died down enough to where we can actually see the capitol in the distance, but it doesn’t offer much comfort,” the Mayor responded. “From what we can see of it, the entire landscape surrounding Canterlot has turned to stone. Trees, structures, even the water and wildlife are all petrified.”

Celestia approached the two, gazing out the window herself. “The capitol itself seems fine, protected by a forcefield, but I wonder who is generating it, and why was the area surrounding the city unaffected by the energy that reset the rest of the land?” she pondered aloud to them. “In any case, after a day’s rest, I will have to set out to Canterlot and discover the answers to these questions.”

“I’m comin’ with ya, Princess,” Applejack bravely stated, turning to face Celestia.

“No, Applejack. I’m sorry, but Ponyville needs you here,” Celestia said, shaking her head.

“Ponyville’s safe now, so I gotta help you and my friends!” Applejack protested. Celestia stared right back at her, locking eyes to hers.

“And what if whatever is happening to the north moves south and encroaches here once again? What then, Applejack? Who better to defend this village than you, who held it together in such terrible times?”

Applejack’s eyes narrowed and she bit her trembling lower lip. She knew the princess was right, but could sense something else as well. Something that had been bothering her ever since Celestia and Twilight returned the previous day.

“It’s cause I’m weak, ain’t it?” Applejack asked, turning her gaze to the side. “I ain’t got no powers. Not like Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie got now. Let me guess, yer takin’ them with ya, ain’t ya?” She closed her eyes tightly.

Celestia blinked and then sighed. “Applejack, you have to understand. I need someone to stay behind here that I can depend on, but I do need to take them with me. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie can fly and use magic now. It’s never easy to have to decide how to split your troops, but understand that I now must do just that. Canterlot’s unknown plight is of the utmost importance right now, so I need the most powerful among us to accompany me there. I can’t leave Ponyville undefended, though. Please, understand, I’m not leaving you behind. I’m leaving Ponyville in your capable hooves!”

Applejack walked to the door and bowed her head. “I know, I just... I need some time to think. To let all this soak in. I should go home and get some proper rest for a change, I guess,” she said, and then pushed the door open, stepping out onto the deck outside.

Lined up in front of the deck were all of the troops she’d commanded throughout the struggle against the Everfree Forest. They stood in a straight line, wearing their armor and bearing their weapons. Standing in the front of the lineup was Big Macintosh, his front right hoof propped up on a helmet that sat on the ground. He lifted that hoof to his forehead and saluted, the rest of the ponies following suit.

Applejack stared at her brother standing there before her, as tears began to fall from her eyes.

“The Ponyville Defense Force awaits yer orders, sis,” he said with a grin. To his left, a large group of unicorns stamped their hooves on the ground and lit their horns up with magic.

“Unicorn Squad, ready for action at your command, miss!” the unicorn in front barked out.

Applejack shook her head and laughed, wiping her face with her foreleg. “You all... Dang it...” she said, searching for words and trying to hold back from crying more. “Yer orders are to go home, see yer families, and get some rest! Move out!”

The formation all saluted and then began to disperse.

“Captain Macintosh, yer hereby ordered to walk home with me and have some lunch. I betcha Apple Bloom and Granny Smith are a-waitin’,” she said with a smile as she approached her brother. He nodded his head, and the two of them turned towards Sweet Apple Acres.

Celestia and Mayor Mare stood in the doorway, watching the ponies as they slid into the distance.

“He died before, defending the town, just like so many of those brave ponies did,” the mayor said. “You’re right, Princess. Applejack needs to be here, now more than ever.” Celestia nodded her head in agreement..

“In the end, what actually caused the forest to attack us, princess?” The mayor asked, looking up at Celestia.

Princess Celestia smiled and continued to gaze into the distance. “Just a nightmare, mayor, and it’s almost over,” she replied. “May your dreams be pleasant. I’m going to go get some rest myself.”

The mayor nodded as Celestia walked away, heading towards Golden Oaks Library. As she came nearer and nearer to the massive tree, she noticed something a bit different about it. Fluttershy’s cottage had been placed up against the library, as if someone had just smashed them together. The place where Fluttershy’s front door would normally be was pressed against the side wall of the library, fused together. Celestia grinned and shook her head. The main entrance the the library was just as always, but as she entered, Celestia noticed that the wall on the right side of the tree had been removed, replaced by a short hallway that connected Fluttershy’s cottage and Twilight’s home. Peering down the hallway, she could see Fluttershy asleep on her couch, her pet bunny snuggled up against her.

“I guess she was homesick, but didn’t want to leave Twilight, so this was her solution,” Celestia giggled, and then walked up the staircase towards Twilight’s room. When her head finally got high enough to see Twilight’s bed, she saw her curled up beneath her covers, already sound asleep as well. The guest bed had been pulled out, and was made nicely, a set of blankets neatly folded at the foot.

Celestia looked around for a moment, then towards Spike’s basket-- it was empty, even the blanket was missing. Celestia stepped quietly towards Twilight, and upon closer inspection, noticed that she was hugging Spike’s blanket tightly against her chest and had light streaks where tears had run down her cheeks.

No sign of Spike, huh Twilight? Celestia thought. I’m so sorry. Even seeing a dream version of him would have been such a comfort to you, I bet. I hope we find him somewhere out there... safe.

The princess laid down and shut her eyes, and immediately realized how tired she actually was. She felt herself drifting off to sleep rapidly, welcoming its sweet release even within a dream world.

A deep and echoing voice rang out.

You still don’t get it, do you, Celestia?

“Who’s there?” Celestia asked, and opened her eyes. She found herself in her bedchamber in Canterlot. She blinked, and immediately realized she was dreaming. She sat up calmly, rubbed her eyes with a foreleg, and glanced around the room.

That dark magic, the changelings manipulating dreams, the voices Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy heard... all that, and you still don’t get it at all.

“Then tell me. If it’s so obvious, just tell me!” Celestia shouted.

Silence.

She placed a hoof to her forehead and sighed.

“The key to understanding all of that must be in canterlot,” she said to herself.

The voice she’d heard before boomed in her mind now, distorted and noisy.

Good guess! Now get moving!

Celestia opened her eyes and shot up out of bed. She found herself in Twilight’s bedroom. She shook her head drearily and glanced out the window. To her surprise, night had fallen, even without her lowering the sun. “I slept through a sunset?” she said aloud, and heard Twilight’s voice from across the room responding.

“Fluttershy lowered the sun. We didn’t want to wake you if we didn’t have to.”

Princess Celestia smiled and crawled out of bed, meandering over to Twilight’s. Stacks of books laid at her bedside, a couple of them open. They were all blank.

“I guess the books in this dream world are a bit less extensive than in your dream, huh?” the princess chuckled, and got a grin out of Twilight.

“Yeah. Nothin’ to ‘em, really!” Twilight said. “Let’s head down. Fluttershy’s in her cottage preparing some food for us, and I got a message from Pinkie Twi that Pinkie Shy’s on her way over. She didn’t sleep, but did make us a new toy, as she called it-- a makeshift colorscope.”

A moment later, a loud banging was heard coming from the front door, followed by it opening and someone running in.

“Fluttershy! Your cottage is smooshed onto Twilight's house! This is awesome! Can we move Sugarcube Corner next?” Pinkie was heard yelling with much elation. Celestia and Twilight both chuckled and then descended the staircase to meet the other two.

“It was a pretty clever idea, really,” said Twilight as she walked through the hallway into Fluttershy's living room, Celestia right behind her.

“I'll say! Hey, why don't we just smoosh the library into Canterlot? We'd be able to get there super fast!” Pinkie exclaimed, placing a hoof on either side of her head. Everyone blinked and thought for a moment. Twilight's mouth gaped a bit. Celestia finally broke the silence.

“Can you do that, Fluttershy? I would think it's possible,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Sure wish we'd thought of that sooner...” Twilight sighed.

“Gosh, I don't know. Let me try,” Fluttershy said, closing her eyes and concentrating for a moment. Her vision flew towards Canterlot at breakneck speeds, but stopped suddenly about halfway there. She felt a surge of magic shoot down her spine. Her eyes reopened and she shook her head.

“There's something stopping me... some sort of power. I feel like I know it from somewhere. It's... scary,” she said, shivering a bit. “It's not part of my dream. Something is there, something from the outside. I felt the same thing about that Cat Sidhe, but it ended up just being part of my dream, so I don't know.”

“I'm not so sure about that,” said Celestia. “That Cat Sidhe was different. Its power felt real, but hollow... almost as if it were being controlled from elsewhere. Canterlot is surely the key to all of this, as well as where we'll find the exit from the dream.”

Everypony nodded in agreement, and Pinkie Pie flipped open the saddle bag she was wearing. Buried among a mountain of pastries and cakes, she finally found a small circular lens. The lens seemed to shimmer and change color as it was turned in hoof. Pinkie held it in front of her, towards Twilight.

“And that's why I had to stay up all night and make us this. It's not perfect, but it should be able to locate the exit rift,” she said. A small chain with a clasp at the end hung from one side of the lens, which was edged in gold. “You wear it over one eye like a monocle, and clasp the chain to your horn to power it. As Rarity would say, 'pretty snazzy, is it not?'”

Twilight lifted the lens to her right eye with magic and clasped the chain to the top of her horn. Looking through the lens, everything looked the same as always.

“Nothing looks different,” Twilight shrugged. “Are you sure it's working, Pinkie?”

Pinkie rubbed a hoof behind her head. “I am 100% sureish that it will definitely probably let you see the exit rift,” she said with a bit of uncertainty in her voice.

Twilight sighed. “It's better than nothing, I suppose,” she said, and placed the lens on a table beside her. “I see you came prepared with plenty of food, even if it's all sweets. Fluttershy has been making us some rations as well. We should set out as soon as we can, now, even though it's dark out.”

Celestia nodded her approval. She was anxious to move on, perhaps more than anyone else. What am I to make of that dream I had? I must find out as soon as possible. I have a bad feeling that Equestria is in bigger trouble than I thought.

After packing food and supplies for the journey, the four ponies departed, heading into town and towards the train station at the north end.

“We'll take the train as far as we can. It will offer us some protection from any threats we may encounter in the still-overgrown parts of the north,” Celestia said. “Once the train can go no further, we'll have to proceed on hoof.”

They arrived at the train station, and were pleased to see that it was lit up and operational. A pony behind the counter, one of the train conductors, waved from the ticket booth with a frown.

“Your Highness! I hate to say it, but the tracks are in bad condition to the north, if that's where you're headed,” the conductor said. “I can't quite tell how badly they're damaged, but we'll be doing a survey tomorrow once we can be accompanied by guards.”

Celestia shook her head. “No, it is I who hate to say it, but we will be taking this train north, with or without you,” she stated. The conductor shrunk in his seat.

“Better do what she says,” a voice come from the side. “And don't worry about danger, you'll have the princess, Twilight, me, and Big Mac with ya. Once we get as far as we can, Big Mac n' I will stay with ya on the way back.”

“Eeyup!” Big Macintosh's voice echoed afterwards. Everyone turned their heads and saw Applejack and Big Macintosh walking towards them from the platform's far stairs, grins on their faces.

“Ya didn't think we'd let ya slip off that easy, now did ya?” Applejack asked with a laugh.

Twilight smiled. “Of course not, I know better,” she replied.

The conductor sighed. “All aboard, I guess.” He hopped off his seat and trodded towards the front of the train. The other ponies piled into the first car, and within a couple of minutes, the Friendship Express was departing Ponyville.

The conductor pushed the train as hard as he could, but there were occasional slowdowns and bumps due to vegetation having grown over the tracks. Still, it was nothing that the train couldn't push through, and the tracks themselves were so far in fine condition otherwise. Every once in a while, a vine or tree branch would lunge towards the train or latch onto the back of the car. Fluttershy was able to easily repel or detach them all, though, and was usually able to stop them before they even made contact.

Applejack wiped her brow. “Boy, you sure you don't wanna ride back with us, Fluttershy? I get a feelin' this is gonna be a lot harder without ya.”

“Eeyup,” said Big Mac nervously.

Fluttershy shrunk down. “I'm sorry, I just...” she started.

“You'll be fine!” Twilight interjected. “Compared to the forest to the south, this seems like a walk in the park, doesn't it?”

“Yeah, and it should still be dark out, so that'll help for sure,” Applejack said with a shrug. “I know we'll make it back, I was just kiddin'”

The train suddenly started breaking, the screech of the wheels echoing loudly throughout the car. Once the train had come to a stop, the conductor slid the door open and poked his head in.

“You all had better come take a look at this. Looks like last stop,” he said, his eyes shaking a bit.

Twilight walked to the front exit door from the passenger car and slid it open. She poked her head out and glanced forward, lighting up her horn to get a better view. The lush green color of the forest stopped abruptly just ahead of the train's engine, becoming a dull gray. One by one, the ponies exited the train and trotted forward towards the point of change.

Even the train tracks themselves became gray. Celestia tapped a hoof against them, feeling the familiar texture of stone. Fluttershy reached up and touched a tree branch, which snapped from the tree and fell to the ground, breaking into several pieces.

“It's all been turned to stone,” Twilight said, looking around. She closed her eyes and tried to sense any magical auras, but didn't feel anything.

“There's no residual magic, Twilight. It's just eerie...” Celestia said.

The conductor, who had already boarded the train again, poked his head out nervously and spoke. “Well, looks like it's time for us to head back. Applejack? Big Mac? Right?” his voice shook.

Applejack sighed and walked over to Twilight. “Just hold yer horses a minute,” she groaned. She turned her eyes to Twilight's and smiled. “I said it to ya before when ya left for Canterlot, and I'll say it again, now. Come back alive, Twilight. We'll be waitin'.”

Twilight smiled back, but knew she wouldn't be able to return. “I will. I promise,” she lied. Applejack reached her front right foreleg out and pulled Twilight into a hug.

“Thank you for everything, Twilight,” Applejack whispered. “None of us have to carry our burdens alone.”

Twilight hugged Applejack back. After one more set of goodbyes, Applejack and Big Mac entered the train. The conductor made his way to the train's rear where a second engine had been attached, making it easy to return without needing a switching station. The train pulled away into the distance, towards Ponyville. Applejack waved out of the window as they slipped away.

“All right, everypony. We have no idea what to expect from here on out, so let's be careful,” Twilight said. “We don't know if the caves that the train normally passes through are safe, so we'll need to take the round-about way. It'll be morning by the time we arrive in Canterlot. Luckily for us, it looks like everything is petrified, so there's probably not much in the way of danger from any creatures or plants up ahead.” Twilight pointed a hoof towards a squirrel at the base of a stone tree. The squirrel was also turned to stone, sitting as if it hadn't seen its fate coming at all.

Fluttershy frowned. “The poor little thing. I'm so sorry, my friend... I'll make sure to fix you once I know how.”

“Yeah, let's just hope whatever turned them to stone doesn't do it to us, too!” Pinkie said. “But just in case, we should practice cool poses, that way we'll be neat statues. I'm gonna make a funny face!” She pulled the corners of her mouth downward and stuck her tongue out as far as she could.

“I hope they make it back okay,” Twilight sighed as the train finally faded from view.

“Don’t worry, Twilight. I didn’t want to say anything, but I know they will. I was able to make the train untouchable. I figured out how to do it on the way here,” Fluttershy chimed in with a smile.

“Ohhh… you weren’t actually repelling the attacks each time?” Twilight asked. Fluttershy shook her head.

“No, it’s more like I just imagined us being safe, and the world made sure we were. I wish I could have figured that out sooner, honestly.”

“Very impressive, Fluttershy. Lucidity sure is handy!” Twilight said with a grin. “So it’ll definitely be smooth sailing from here on out, then.”

Fluttershy shrunk down a bit, staring towards the gray expanse ahead of them. Twilight looked down at her and sighed. “I guess that was a little bit too optimistic, huh?”

“Sorry. This place is different. I can’t feel it like I can the rest of the world. I can’t control it. It’s… scary,” Fluttershy quietly squeaked.

“Oh, come on, Fluttershy! It won’t be that bad, everything’s stone!” Pinkie Pie optimistically announced before starting to bounce forward. The others shrugged and began to follow her along the petrified path.

The air was still and the night sky was completely clear. The moon and stars shone brightly down upon the gray landscape, making the ground almost seem to glow. Celestia and Twilight had taken the lead, having traveled these roads many times. The group was fast approaching the beginning of the mountain climb that would eventually take them up to Canterlot.

Celestia looked back at the others as they all approached a curve in the road that would shortly lead to the first set of steep inclines. “Alright, everypony, climbing this mountain on hoof is no simple task, but we have no choice,” she said, then turning her head forward again as she went around the right-hoof turn. “Prepare yourselves for quite… a hike…”

The princess’ words trailed off as her eyes went wide, staring at the object in front of her.

“It shouldn't be all that bad,” Twilight responded, glancing up at the princess’ expression, noticing her mouth now curving down. “What’s wrong?”

“Twilight, don’t look. Turn back. We’ll find another way,” the princess said solemnly, backing up. Twilight raised an eyebrow and turned the sharp bend anyway. She quickly fell back onto her haunches at the sight before her. Pinkie and Fluttershy quickly joined her, all staring ahead.

On the side of the road, near a cliff wall, stood a large chiseled stone. The stone was shaped as a sharp spire, pointing upward, and was encrusted with countless shining gemstones.

Carved clearly onto the face of the large stone was a name: TWILIGHT SPARKLE.

Twilight breathed in deeply, calming her nerves. “Is this… my grave?” she asked, her eyes darting around, staring at the gems, all arranged so perfectly and artistically. “Rarity… I’m so sorry.” She bowed her head.

“Poor Rarity…” Celestia said quietly. “Having to bury a friend is a task that nopony ever wants to have to do. Yet, in this world, it has been all too common an occurrence.”

Twilight shook her head. “It’s very surreal, I’ll say that. Much more… shaking, I suppose, than you would think. I know it’s just a dream, but seeing this, even after all we’ve been through is—“ she said, her eyes trailing downward and eventually landing upon a smaller square stone at the base of her grave. The simple stone was adorned with a circle of gems surrounding a single, purple scale. Twilight reached her hoof out and placed it on the small scale. She swallowed hard, further words unable to form in her mouth. The others stood around her in silence.

After a moment, she stood back up and took a deep breath. “Looks like neither of us made it,” she whispered, her body shaking slightly. She turned her head to Celestia. “Let’s get out of here. We have more important things to worry about than the fate of Twilight and Spike in this world.”

Celestia nodded in response and began to walk forward along the mountain road to Canterlot. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie brought up the rear, also not saying a word.

“If what Pinkie Twi told me is right, things will change once you guys leave,” Pinkie finally spoke up. “Maybe they’ll come back like everyone else, then.”

“It’s hard to say,” Celestia responded. “There’s a strange magic in this area that caused all of this petrification and stopped Fluttershy from restoring it. I can feel it now, as we get closer to Canterlot. It’s very faint, but it feels familiar. I’m worried about what we may find there, but we can’t avoid it. We have to push forward.”

Fluttershy sighed. “It's keeping me from using my power, too, whatever it is. I thought I had control of it, but it feels different now. It’s almost like it’s being held in by force,” she said.

“Well at least everything is frozen in stone, so there should be no danger. At least not until we get to the capitol,” Twilight said, turning her head towards the city, which they were approaching at a good pace.

After a couple hours of uneventful hiking, the party had arrived at the gates of Canterlot. Celestia put her hoof up, stopping the other ponies in their tracks. She pointed forward, drawing attention to a group of ponies that were standing near the open city gates, peering in through the translucent purple forcefield. Fluttershy looked at them and gasped. She ran towards them, skidding to a stop when she got there. The others galloped after her.

“Fluttershy, what’s wrong?” asked Twilight, looking at the group of pegasi statues.

“It’s Radiant Thunder and the team of pegasi who left Cloudsdale when Rainbow Dash and I were there. They were coming to check on Canterlot, to find out why it was under a shield,” Fluttershy said, gently placing a hoof on Radiant Thunder’s chin, now cold stone. “I guess they never found out.”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “This either means the area was turned to stone recently, or someone inside doesn’t want visitors... It’s only been a day since then,” she stated. “Whatever turned them to stone did so as we were setting out into the Everfree Forest. I suspect it’s been going on for quite some time, though. The dream versions of myself and Luna are likely statues inside, which would explain why the sun and moon ceased cycling.” She touched her hoof to one of the pegasi and closed her eyes, trying to feel the magical energy that cast this mass petrifying spell. It was no good, though-- The aura was still too long faded.

“Fluttershy, can you still see the trail of love magic in the air?” Twilight asked, wanting to find the exit as soon as possible. Fluttershy nodded, pointing into the city and towards the castle at the far end.

Celestia nodded in response. “Very well. It’s time to raise the sun, so I’ll take care of that, then we should take a moment to rest here before entering the city. Whatever or whoever did this is in there... they may even know we’re coming,” she said, glancing back at the group of pegasus statues. “These poor souls either got caught up in the event, or were noticed as they tried to enter.”

Celestia approached the forcefield and squinted, staring through the translucent purple shield. She brought her horn closer to its surface and energy arched between the tip of her horn and the barrier. She grinned, pulling her horn back and turning toward Twilight.

“Can we get through?” Twilight asked, taking this moment to sit down and pull one of the small clusters of grain and fruit that Fluttershy had prepared from her saddle bag. The trek had been long, and it seemed as good a time as any to get some nourishment. Pinkie Pie took the cue and pulled a cupcake, now a bit smashed, from her bag and shoved it into her mouth.

Celestia closed her eyes and raised her horn to the sky, pushing the moon down and pulling the sun up over the horizon. She then sat down and nodded her head, grinning a bit. “It’s a fake,” she said, and used her magic to levitate a ration from Twilight’s bag to her lips. “Just an illusion to make it seem like there’s a shield. I think whoever is inside the city may have cast this just to attract attention.” She took a bite from the crunchy snack.

Fluttershy tapped a hoof against one of the petrified pegasi. “Well, whoever it is got what they wanted. This group was supposed to investigate and report back to Cloudsdale,” she said with a shrug. “Do they just want to turn everypony to stone?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. This group was supposed to come take a look and report back, and I think that’s the problem. I think this shield, the petrification spell, maybe even the sun not moving, was all set up to attract very specific attention.”

“Specific attention? Like what?” Twilight asked, tilting her head.

“Us. Even more specifically, Fluttershy—the dreamer,” Celestia theorized. “I think everything has been done to attract you here, Fluttershy. As an extra piece of evidence, notice that we’re not statues. We’re the ones that are wanted to be here.”

Fluttershy swallowed nervously and took a seat next to Twilight. “Who… do you think it is? Is it the changeling queen?” she asked, shakily taking one of her homemade snacks in hoof.

Celestia shrugged. “I suppose if she wanted to reset your dream, maybe,” she said.

“That doesn’t make sense, though,” Twilight interjected. “She could have just transformed from another pony just like happened with Applejack.”

Celestia nodded and Fluttershy exhaled with relief.

“Wow, then it must be somepony else!” Pinkie said, sounding excited. “Somepony you’d never expect!”

Fluttershy frowned. “That just makes me more nervous…”

“Well, we’d better get it over with,” said Twilight as she stood up and flipped her saddle bag closed.

“We should be able to pass right through this illusion harmlessly,” Celestia said, and also rose to her hooves. “Let’s go.”

Pinkie bounced up and towards the forcefield, springing through first and landing on the other side. The others followed, stepping through the city gates. The four ponies passed through the threshold into Canterlot, making their way down the main street towards the palace.

The streets were mostly empty aside from a petrified guard posted at each corner. Their facial expressions were straight and serious, not suggesting any sort of attack or warning that they were going to be turned to stone. Any other ponies on the walkways or inside buildings seemed to have been carrying on, oblivious to the oncoming disaster.

“They never even saw it coming,” Celestia said, her voice echoing against the buildings, the still air offering no resistance. "The attack certainly came from within."

“Right,” Pinkie Pie responded, “but we are prepared, so everypony get your funniest face ready. We could end up statues at a second’s notice, so you definitely want to make sure your statue isn’t boring like these guys.”

Everyone sighed, but laughed.

“Pinkie, I don’t think we’d even have time for that,” Twilight chuckled.

“Really? In that case, I better just start now!” Pinkie said, genuinely nervous. She dropped the corners of her mouth down and flipped her tongue forward. Twilight shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“You laufth now, Twaulfth, buth you’ll be a borinth thathue!” Pinkie said, her tongue still hanging out of her mouth.

The ponies had arrived at the gates to the castle courtyard when Fluttershy pointed a hoof to the side, down the street that led to the Chamber of The Elements. “The magic trails off this way. It’s going right to the Chamber of the Elements,” she said. The others nodded and began to turn when Twilight noticed something out of the corner of her eye.

“Wait,” Twilight said calmly, and trotted through the courtyard’s gate, straight to a familiar statue standing in the road. She stopped in front of it and frowned, placing a hoof on its cheek. “Everypony accounted for, now, I guess...” she said downtroddenly. The others approached as well.

Rarity had a sad expression hanging on her stone face, her mouth open as if she was calling out for somepony. The weight of the stone she was now made of had caused her to tilt back slightly, her hardened tail now supporting her. It looked messy and frayed, as did her mane. Fluttershy shook her head, but swallowed her sadness.

“After all we’ve been through... after everything that everypony had to endure... I swear this will be the last time we have to see a friend like this,” said Fluttershy, closing her eyes tightly. “Don’t worry, Rarity, you’ll be free soon.”

Fluttershy walked away, back to the path, and turned towards the Chamber of the Elements. The others followed her quietly, determined not just to save everypony in Canterlot in the real world, but to finally set this world right.

As they departed, a piece of Rarity’s statue cracked and fell away, unnoticed. Underneath, a bright purple mane was revealed, a slight multi-colored glow surrounding the opening.

“I can somehow fix all this once we leave the dream, right, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked, staring forward as they approached the chamber.

“That’s the theory, anyway,” said Twilight. “I was able to make big changes to my dream world once I left it, according to Pinkie Twi, so it would make sense.”

“It also makes sense to me, Fluttershy,” Celestia added. “My sister has told me about different kinds of dreams before. Leaving the dream like we’re going to do would usually cause you to wake up, but the dreams are persisting since only part of your mind is leaving. Your subconscious mind, acting more as an observer, will hold the dream in whatever state you wish. It’s the connection between the conscious and subconscious that makes lucidity work. That’s what I was told, in any case.”

“But we're thinking that this stone spell was cast by an outsider to my dream, aren't we?” Fluttershy asked the princess.

Celestia shook her head. “I don’t know, unfortunately. It’s a gamble, but we don’t have much choice. If we haven’t found the force that caused this before we leave--”

“Then I’ll stay,” Fluttershy said sternly. “I’ll stay here, and you two will go on ahead and free our other friends’ minds. That’s what I’ve decided.”

“Fluttershy, we can’t go on without you!” Twilight protested. “We need all of us together to beat the changeling queen!”

Fluttershy stopped at the large, regal doors to the Chamber of the Elements and turned in place, facing Twilight. She wore a face of unshakable determination and looked her friend right in the eyes.

“When we leave this place, I’ll just be me again. Plain, unmagic, timid me,” she said, raising a hoof and pointing it towards Pinkie. “Once you’re gone, Pinkie and I will stay and finish this, whatever it is. We have the strength in this world to fix everything without having to rely on a shaky theory.”

Twilight stared back, surprised at Fluttershy’s decision. She stamped her hoof on the ground. “Then we’ll stay, too!”

“You can’t! You have to go free the others!” Fluttershy shouted.

“What about you, then?” Twilight asked, waving a foreleg in front of her.

“Come back for me once you’ve got everypony else. Can’t you see, Twilight? I can at least make right this terrible world I’ve created. I can at least make sure the ponies here are safe. They all may just be in my mind, and they may not be real, but they still have feelings and lives, loved ones and worries. I can’t abandon them.”

Celestia placed her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “You can’t argue with that, Twilight,” she said calmly. “Fluttershy, I respect the stand you’re taking, and the sacrifice. Making a choice like this is not a simple matter.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and turned back towards the doors. “Thank you, Princess,” she said timidly. “I’ll... miss you once you’re gone, but it has to be this way.”

Celestia nodded her head and approached the large, regal doors and pulled them open with her magic. As they swung on their hinges, and the hallway came into view. Standing further down the chamber was a petrified Princess Celestia.

The Princess led the party into the chamber, slowly approaching the statue of herself. This statue, unlike the guards they’d seen on the street, had a look of shock on her face, and was staring out the window at the gardens below.

“She seems to have seen what was coming,” Celestia said, turning her head towards Twilight. “I don’t like the direction she’s looking.” She peered out the window, glaring down towards Discord’s statue.

Twilight joined the princess, looking down at the statue. “Discord? But why?” she asked, looking up at the statue’s face.

Celestia turned back towards Fluttershy. “Whatever she knew, there had to be a reason to be looking that direction in the moment before turning to stone. She looks at a loss, maybe even scared,” she said. “Fluttershy, I feel somewhat apprehensive about leaving now, but we should at least get started.”

Fluttershy nodded forward. “The magic trail stops here. It’s pushing its way through the door,” she said, pointing at the magically locked room where the Elements themselves were kept.

“Right, then let’s get started. Hopefully we can get out of here before whatever did this has a chance to do it to us,” said Twilight. “Princess, if you please?”

Celestia nodded and placed her horn into the hole at the door’s center. Charging the lock with magic, the door began to glow, and slid open. The small room beyond contained a pedestal with a chest sitting atop it.

“This has to be it,” Twilight exclaimed. “The chest is the wrong color. I don’t remember it being green.” She pulled the Colorscope monocle from her saddlebag and placed it over her eye. She slid the metal ring onto her horn and blinked. The chest that contained the Elements looked very different through the lens. Along the seam where it would normally open was a twisted rip in space, appearing to be loosely sewn together.

Twilight walked forward into the room, and Celestia followed her. “This is it, Twilight. Remember to control your power output. We want to be gentle,” she said calmly.

A second later, an echoing gallop was heard from the front of the chamber. Everyone turned suddenly, staring toward the door. A unicorn barged past the doorway and then skidded to a halt.

“Rarity!” Twilight whispered.

“She can’t see us! She thinks you’re dead, and I’m a statue right there!” Celestia whispered back. The two of them ducked behind the pedestal, which was barely large enough to obscure them. Fluttershy nervously stepped in front of the open doorway, grinning sheepishly towards Rarity, who was still halfway down the hall from them. Pinkie stepped towards the unicorn and waved.

“Is it really you?” Rarity asked, disbelief in her voice. She walked towards Pinkie Pie slowly. As she came closer, Pinkie was able to see streaks of dirt and cuts on her face. Her hooves were chipped, and she was shaking.

“I knew it was you,” said Rarity. “I heard voices… at first it sounded like Twilight, and I thought I was going crazy, but then I heard Fluttershy, and then you, too, Pinkie.” She reached a hoof out towards Pinkie as she slowly approached her, touching her cheek gently.

“Rarity, thank goodness... what happened to you?” Pinkie asked, the silly look now gone and replaced with one of concern. “You were... I mean... You look like you’ve been through the wringer.”

“What happened to me? No no, what happened to you, Pinkie? You’re… an alicorn,” Rarity said, staring at Pinkie’s horn.

Pinkie chuckled nervously. “Long story, trust me,” she said. “Seriously, though, what happened here? Why is everypony turned to stone?”

“I don’t know. When I got here, all the guards and citizens inside had turned to stone. The forcefield allowed me to enter, and I went to the castle to find the princess, but...” Rarity recounted, her eyes trailing to the side, finally noticing the statue of Princess Celestia. “Oh my stars… the princess!” She galloped past Pinkie, stopping at the petrified princess. Pinkie joined Rarity at the statue’s side, and Fluttershy approached as well.

Rarity stood silently for a moment before speaking. “I suppose this explains why the sun hasn’t gone down. To be honest, that seems like such a small thing, now. Sorry, I’m just very shaken up about everything… about Twilight and Spike… Oh goodness, you don’t know. Pinkie Pie… Fluttershy… It’s terrible. Twilight and Spike… they’re gone.” Tears began to stream down her cheeks and she fell to the ground. Pinkie Pie sat down beside her, and Fluttershy approached, sitting in front of her.

“We saw the grave. It was shocking, to say the least, but after everything we’ve all been through…” Pinkie said, placing a hoof on Rarity’s shoulder. Rarity nodded and sniffled, looking up at the statue of Celestia.

“And now this… when will we ever get back to normal?” Rarity asked, her voice shaking as she cried.

Twilight and Celestia huddled uncomfortably in the back of the closet-sized room they were in. “I feel sorry for her, but they need to get her out of here,” Twilight whispered.

Celestia nodded and whispered back, “My tail... you’re stepping on my tail...” She wriggled her butt, trying to pull her tail out from under Twilight, her usually flowing hair now being held down with a spell. Twilight twisted herself around as best she could while staying as quiet and hidden as possible, but ended up wedging herself against the back wall and the stone pedestal.

“Is Ponyville holding up?” Rarity asked, trying to regain her composure.

Fluttershy nodded and wiped away a tear from Rarity’s eye. “It’s over, Rarity. Ponyville is okay, now. We stopped the forest and saved the town.”

Rarity managed to smile, though shallowly. “Well, at least that’s one high note to the last month.”

Back in the Elements room, Twilight’s legs were beginning to ache from her current position. She shifted to the side, trying to turn her body, but roughly bumped into the pedestal, causing the whole thing to rock slightly. A cloud of dust flew right onto her face, and her eyes began to water.

Celestia noticed and pressed a hoof against Twilight’s nose. She clenched her teeth and nervously shook her head. It was too late, though. Twilight sneezed, the sound echoing across the chamber.

“What was that?” asked Rarity, her gaze quickly shooting towards the open doors. “The door to the Elements is open. How did that happen?”

Fluttershy stood up and backed away nervously. She let out a small, fake sounding sneeze in an attempt to cover for Twilight. “I don’t know, they were open when we got here. Maybe the princess opened them before she turned to stone?”

Rarity stood up and stared at the open door, her horn now glowing. “Why doesn’t she have them with her, then?” she asked, eyeing Fluttershy suspiciously. “She’s not even near the door, and would never have left it open like that!”

Pinkie Pie jumped up and stood in front of Rarity. “It was me! I did it with my horn, now that I’m an alicorn and all,” she said, grinning widely. “It’s an, um, alicorn lock!”

Rarity frowned, her horn glowing more brightly. “That’s suspicious, too, honestly! How did that happen, exactly, hmm? Were they giving out horns and wings in the ruins of Ponyville?” Rarity asked, pressing forward.

Fluttershy leapt in front of Rarity and pressed a hoof firmly against her chest. “Don’t go in there, Rarity. You have to trust me. You’re not yourself, right now.”

Rarity slapped Fluttershy’s foreleg away. “You’re not Fluttershy, are you? Get your hoof off me! I demand to know what’s going on, here! Why is the princess turned to stone? What is this feeling, deep in my mind? Who’s in that room?” she shouted, now barging forward and into the room. Her eyes locked with Twilight’s.

“Twilight…” she said quietly, her eyes going wide. “No, it can’t be, you’re dead… I buried you… and little Spikey-wikey…” Tears ran down her face once again, and she slowly backed away.

“Rarity…” Twilight managed to say, not knowing what else to add to it.

Rarity kept backing away. “And the princess… Two of them… What is going on here?” She placed a hoof to her head and closed her eyes tightly.

“She’s changing!“ Celestia shouted, exiting the small chamber.

“Rarity, get ahold of yourself,” Twilight said, reaching out towards her frightened friend.

“It’s too late for that, Twilight,” Celestia stated, and began charging her horn.

“Please, Rarity, you have to calm down,” Twilight said, almost begging for Rarity to not change.

Rarity’s eyes shot open, releasing a bright green glow. The color of her coat began to darken. She fell backward and pressed both her front hooves to her forehead, clenching her eyes shut.

Celestia frowned. “Twilight, we need that rift open, now!” she yelled, then turning back towards Rarity, her horn now glowing brightly.

“Twilight! Fluttershy! Pinkie!” Rarity yelled, opening her eyes and looking towards the ceiling. They had lost the green glow, and were shedding tears. She held her hooves up and stared at them as they turned black, began to extend and form holes. “What’s… happening to me? Help me!”

“Rarity! No!” Fluttershy shouted, rushing to her. She took Rarity’s head in her hooves and looked at her face. Rarity’s eyes shot back open, this time glowing green again. She grinned and pushed Fluttershy away.

“Sorry, no one by that name here anymore,” she said. Her body exploded outward, quickly transforming into the dark form of the changeling queen. Fluttershy stared up at her, any sign that she’d once been Rarity now gone.

“Little Fluttershy, kind and sweet. I’ve looked forward to meeting you. Your dream’s been an absolute disaster, and it’s about to get worse,” she said with evil laughter.

Celestia fired a beam of magic straight at Chrysalis, striking her in the chest and launching her backwards down the hallway.

“It’s about to get worse for you, changeling. You never should have showed your face here,” Celestia said, readying her horn for another attack. “Remember what happened the last time?”

“Last time?” Chrysalis questioned. She regained her footing and chuckled. “You’re losing your mind, Princess.” She fired a blast of green energy towards Celestia. The princess clenched her teeth and braced herself, taking the blast head-on.

I can’t let Twilight get involved in this fight. I need to change the angle of attack, Celestia thought as she leapt through the air away from the Elements room.

“In any case, your resistance ends here. You’ll all be sent back to your dreams once I finish you off,” Chrysalis said.

“Why not just deal with us outside the dream? Why bother coming in here and fighting with us?” Celestia asked, then fired another shot at the changeling, who dodged to the side. The blast shattered a stained glass window and stirred up a cloud of dust.

The queen scoffed. “Where’s the fun in that? This is much more entertaining!” She scraped a hoof against the ground and charged towards Celestia. However, before she could come close to her, her body became encased in a yellow aura. She stopped dead in her tracks and was lifted into the air. Celestia and Chrysalis both turned their heads suddenly towards Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy’s eyes were glowing and her teeth were bared and clenched. Pinkie’s horn was glowing bright pink, ready to attack as well.

“Get out!” Fluttershy shouted, stepping towards the changeling. “Give me back my friend!” her voice resonated with a deep sound that shook the rest of the windows in the room and rattled the chandeliers.

Chrysalis laughed hysterically. “Your lucidity will do you no good! This is a foregone conclusion!” Her horn flashed green and the aura around her vanished. She dropped gently to the ground and stood staring down at Fluttershy.

Fluttershy stared back, holding as still as she could to keep from shaking. I have to stop her! I have to save Rarity! What do I do? She thought.

A voice in her head answered. What do you do? You stare her down! You don’t let her win!

“Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy said out loud. Celestia and Pinkie Pie stared at Fluttershy as she began to glow not only yellow, but many different colors. “You’re here… you came to save me, again.”

Not this time, Fluttershy. You have to do it. You have to beat her and save Rarity! Always remember, Fluttershy. You aren’t alone, but you can stand on your own! Rainbow Dash’s voice shouted in Fluttershy’s mind. Now give her the stare!

Fluttershy smiled and nodded. Her eyes shot open wide and waves of energy emanated from them. She stared right into Chrysalis’ eyes, lifting her back off the ground once again. The changeling stared back, unable to avert her gaze.

“What… are you doing? Stop!” Chrysalis shouted.

“No!” Fluttershy responded loudly. “You let Rarity go and disappear!” She stared at the changeling, whose face had now changed, an expression of terror plastered across it.

“Fluttershy!” the changeling screamed. “Fluttershy! Help me!” her body began to slowly shrink and change color, the holes throughout it began to close, and her eyes stopped glowing green.

“Rarity!” Fluttershy shouted. Rarity’s body completely returned to normal.

“Oh, this is far too boring and predictable!” a voice echoed across the chamber. A flash of light appeared between Rarity and Fluttershy. The aura around the changeling vanished and Fluttershy blinked from the flash.

Rarity, now turned to stone, fell to the ground with a loud clunk.

Everyone gasped and looked around the room. Celestia’s eyes bulged with rage. The voice was all too familiar.

“Was it you?” Celestia screamed. “Were you the one interfering with this dream? Show yourself, Discord!”

With a swirl of light and wind, Discord appeared before the ponies. Even Twilight, who had been concentrating on opening the rift as best she could, turned her head and stared.

“At your service, your royal dullness,” Discord said with a yawn.

“Answer me!” Celestia commanded impatiently and stepped towards the draconequis, her horn glowing once more.

“Oh for the love of you, will you just calm down?” Discord said impatiently, reaching out and tapping Celsetia on the nose. “You can’t honestly be that shocked to see me. Did you think you were the only ones sleeping in Canterlot?”

“The changelings’ spell should only be affecting the cocoons. How did you get in here?” Celestia asked, still threatening with a powered-up horn.

Discord fell into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

“What’s so funny, now?” Celestia asked, her tone becoming more and more impatient by the second. “Was it you who turned everything to stone?”

“Sorry, sorry, oh boy…” Discord finally managed. “Sorry, I just wanted to see how it felt, you know, to turn things to stone. I’d never do it for real, though, unlike somepony here!”

“That’s quite enough!” Celestia said, completely flustered. “I need some answers from you. You’d better cooperate, or—“

Discord cut Celestia off. “Or what? You'll turn my statue into a statue?” he asked, rolling his eyes. “Oh wait, I know! Maybe you could turn me into a decorative fountain! Oh, oh, can I be one of those fountains where the water shoots out so it looks like I’m pee—“

“Stop! Just stop!” Celestia yelled, cutting him off this time. “You’ve made your point. Fine. I still want to know what you’re doing here.”

“Oh, I just popped in to say hi!” Discord replied, fluttering his eyes innocently.

Celestia groaned.

“Oh come on, you don’t believe me?” Discord asked, shocked Celestia would even question his motives. She shot him a nastier than usual look. “Fine… I’m helping you, okay?” He fidgeted slightly and averted his eyes.

Celestia laughed loudly and rolled her eyes. “Now I’m the one who’s laughing! Why in Equestria would you help us?”

Discord floated over to Celestia and cupped her chin in his paw, staring into her eyes, his devoid of any joking. “I’m no fool, Celestia. I know who my… keeper is,” he said, the last words spoken with disgust. “If you fall from power, if the Elements of Harmony fail, I’ll never be free again.”

Celestia stared back silently.

“Don’t believe me?” Discord asked, releasing her chin.

“I don’t trust you,” Celestia replied flatly.

“Do you think it would have been so easy for you to get here if the whole area surrounding Canterlot wasn't petrified? I would have gone further, but something stopped me.”

“You’re sick.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Hey, so, I think I’ll go ahead and get back to opening that rift, now,” said Twilight, trying to break the tension. Celestia and Discord looked toward the other ponies, who were all staring at them, visibly sweating.

Celestia turned away from Discord and walked with Twilight to the rift. She patted Twilight on the shoulder and leaned down to her ear. “Open the rift, but do it slowly. I need more time to get some information out of Discord. If my theory is correct, he’s trapped here without us helping him.”

Twilight nodded her head in response, and as she nodded, Celestia noticed a third ear coming out from underneath Twilight’s ear. She sighed and turned her head back to Discord, who was missing an ear and grinning. His mouth vanished from his face and materialized next to Celestia.

“I think you might be right, maybe you could use that to your advantage!” Discord whispered with a chuckle. Celestia stomped back over to Discord angrily.

“Fine, trickster, if you want to help, I have some more questions,” Celestia muttered. “How long have you been stuck here in this dream, and honestly, why were you petrifying everything?”

Discord shrugged. “At first, the you from this world found me and was none too pleased. She ran in here to check on the statue, and had the most frightful glowing green eyes. So I thought to myself, what would be the most ironic way to handle that? Oh yes, turn her to stone!”

“And that must be when the sun stopped moving!” Pinkie Pie shouted, glaring at Discord. “So it was your fault the whole time!” She took a couple heavy steps towards him, growling under her breath.

“Please, Pinkie Pie, let’s not get violent! I had no choice!” Discord said, putting his hands up in front of him. “Besides, you prefer to laugh, right? I mean, don’t you see the irony here? Me turning her to stone?”

Pinkie Pie frowned. “I’m not laughing. You made me go even crazier than normal!”

Discord sighed. “Fine, tough audience, I get it.”

Celestia spoke up again. “So, I suppose after that, you had to turn everypony in canterlot to stone to keep from being discovered. I know my sister would have noticed my absence.”

Discord grinned. “You’re partially right. I did petrify the city at that point, but your dear sister hasn’t been here since the beginning.”

Celestia blinked. “That’s odd...”

Discord snorted. “Sure is. In any case, I petrified anyone who came to Canterlot as soon as I knew they weren’t the dreamer. I really thought Rarity might have been the one, but of course, she wasn’t.”

“Then why unpetrify her when we got here?” Celestia inquired.

“Oh, that wasn’t me!” Discord said with a grin. He leaned towards Fluttershy and picked her up, raising her over his head. “That was this one! She could unpetrify this whole city, I’m sure. Not that I’d recommend it...”

Fluttershy, who had been staying quiet this whole time, finally glared at Discord and yelled. “You barge into my dream, petrify everypony, and make things worse than they already were, and then expect us to clean up your mess! Unpetrify everypony and then get out of here!”

Everyone stared at Fluttershy for a moment, eyes wide. Discord flinched and placed Fluttershy back on the ground.

A bright flash drew everyone’s attention towards Twilight, a rip in reality glowing brightly in front of her. She took a deep breath and turned towards the others. Discord teleported to Twilight in a flash, patting her on the back.

“Nicely done, Twilight!” he exclaimed. “Now, as it seems I’m not welcome here, I’ll take my leave, but first, I’ll go ahead and remove my stone sleep spell from everything.” He grinned and snapped his fingers. The sound of the chamber doors at the end of the hall locking echoed throughout the hallway, and a bright flash came in through the windows.

Celestia stepped towards Discord quickly. She glared at him and spoke gruffly. “You’d do well to not interfere in any more dream worlds, Discord. You caused enough trouble in this one.”

“Oh don’t worry about that, dear Celestia. I’ve left Rarity and the princess here as statues since we don’t need them seeing us. I’ll leave them to Fluttershy, here,” Discord said, then with another snap of his fingers he vanished and a beam of light shot through the air and into the portal.

I’ll be keeping an eye on you, Discord’s voice echoed through Celestia’s mind. She shook her head and sighed as everypony gathered around the portal.

“This is it, then...” Pinkie Pie said, her voice a bit sad. “I’m gonna miss you guys.”

“Don’t worry, Pinkie Pie, you’ll still have the ponies here in this dream. Once we leave, everything should get back to normal,” Twilight said, pulling Pinkie into a hug.

Fluttershy threw her hooves around Twilight and Pinkie. “We can always stay in touch with that communication gem, Pinkie. I’ll be sure to check in to make sure things are going well.” Pinkie nodded and sniffled, squeezing her friends back tightly.

After a moment, the three friends pulled apart, and Twilight and Fluttershy joined Celestia by the portal. Celestia turned and approached it. “Farewell, Pinkie. Hold down the fort here, we’re counting on you,” she said, and then passed through.

Twilight followed, simply waving her hoof as she vanished through the rift.

Fluttershy smiled and waved to Pinkie, then turned, approaching the rift.

Take care, Fluttershy, a familiar voice spoke softly in her mind.

Fluttershy nodded her head. We’ll always be together, Dashie, she responded, and then exited her dream world.

Outside of the cocoon now, the three ponies found themselves floating in the green flow of magic, hovering above the Canterlot throne room. Celestia and Twilight floated forward, back towards the magical flow. Fluttershy used her wings to propel herself easily enough. Twilight glanced back at Fluttershy and put a hoof over her mouth, then nodded her head down towards the throne.

Fluttershy looked down, and saw Chrysalis sitting on the throne with the massive flow of magic pouring into her. She slapped a hoof over her own mouth just to keep herself quiet. She took a deep breath and continued to follow the others.

Celestia looked down at Chrysalis and frowned. Don’t get too used to that throne, you monster, she thought.

The changeling queen’s eyes, which had been glowing a single shade of green, flashed white and her head turned, staring right back at Celestia. The three ponies froze, keeping as still as possible. Twilight felt her heart racing, and turned to look at Fluttershy, who was staring at Chrysalis and practically hyperventilating.

After a moment, a wave of magic washed over the changeling, and her eyes glazed over with green magical energy. Everyone exhaled and began to move forward again.

That was scary! She really gives you the creeps, don’t you think? Discord’s voice spoke in Celestia’s mind. She looked around at the others, who apparently hadn’t heard him.

I don’t have time to play with you, pest, Celestia thought.

Oh, Celestia, I’m hurt. Really, I am. I was even going to help you get to Rainbow Dash’s dream this time! I know you must be shooting for it, seeing as she’s the one providing that changeling with such a grand feast.

Don’t you dare interfere!

Fine, be that way! See if I try and help you again!

The three ponies arrived at the central collection pool, and Twilight and Celestia held onto Fluttershy’s forelegs to keep her from being pulled down by the magical flow.

A giant flash of love magic washed over the group. Twilight and Celestia, who had been prepared for it, held back their wave of emotions as best they could. Fluttershy fell into a fit of giggling, though. The other two put their hooves over her mouth.

Tears began to fall from Fluttershy’s eyes. “That was Rainbow Dash. It was so intense... we have to save her. We can’t let her be drained like this,” she said, staring upward at the dark sea of cocoons above them. The other two nodded.

“Concentrate, Fluttershy. You’re closer to Rainbow Dash then the princess and I. Try to concentrate on her and find us the path to her dream. Once we enter a dream’s path, we can’t turn back,” Twilight said, placing a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “You can do it. I believe in you.”

Fluttershy nodded and closed her eyes, concentrating on the energy she just felt. She thought about Rainbow Dash, her mind filling itself with images of her friend’s face. She smiled, and her eyes shot open, pointing up and to the left.

“I feel her! This way!” Fluttershy shouted and flapped her wings, launching upward. Celestia and Twilight pushed forward, following her. With a sudden jerk, the three of them began to accelerate, racing upward towards the cocoons.

However, their ascent didn’t last long. As if some force was pulling them apart, the three of them separated and began to fly off in different directions. Celestia turned as best she could, trying to resist the flow and reach her hooves back towards the others, but she was moving too fast.

“Discord!” Celestia screamed, her voice hot with fury.

Wasn’t me! Discord’s voice shouted back in Celestia’s mind.

Cleestia growled and continued to fly through the air, circling around. From what she could tell, the others were circling around as well, and were now heading straight towards the same point she was, on a collision course.

The three of them slammed together, knocking the air out of them all.

Before any of them had a chance to regain their bearings, they were flying right at a cocoon, and shot right into it with a bright flash.

Twilight opened her eyes, a sharp pain shooting through her head. She shook her head and looked around, and soon realized that she was hanging from a branch of a tree. She pushed herself out of the tree, seeing the ground wasn’t far below, and landed with a thud. She glanced up, seeing Celestia and Fluttershy in the tree above her. Celestia was looking around and assessing the situation.

“We’re in Ponyville,” Twilight said, glancing around at the buildings in the area. “Somewhere near the central square.”

Celestia nodded, and began to shrink down, casting her disguise spell before falling out from the branches. Fluttershy used her wings to hover downward and join Twilight as well, placing a hoof on her head.

“Okay, we need to be careful, but move quickly,” Celestia said, looking around nervously. “Remember, we could possibly run into Twilight or Fluttershy from this dream world, which would be bad. Unfortunately, I can’t sustain an illusion spell on all three of us.”

Twilight nodded. “Well, let’s move out and see what sort of information we can find.”

Fluttershy tapped Twilight on the shoulder, pointing to the far end of the plaza. Hanging on a wall at the far end was a poster. As the three of them approached it, they could see it was advertising a Wonderbolts show that was going to be happening soon.

Rainbow Dash, in full Wonderbolt gear, was front and center on the poster, striking a flashy pose.

“Okay, well, looks like we’ll be able to find Rainbow Dash pretty easily,” Twilight said, reading the text at the bottom of the poster.

“Yeah! I can’t wait to go see it!” a voice came from the left of the group. They all turned their heads and saw Scootaloo standing there, grinning up at the poster.

Twilight smiled back at Scootaloo. “Are you going to see the show? It says it’s going to be in Cloudsdale,” she said.

Scootaloo nodded. “Of course! Everypony wants to go see Rainbow Dash and the Wonderbolts! They’re saying this is going to be the most amazing aerial display in Equestrian history!” she said, hopping up and down with excitement.

Twilight smiled down at the filly. “You must be excited to be going on a trip to cloudsdale, huh?” she said.

Scootaloo tilted her head, a confused look on her face. “Why would going to Cloudsdale be all that exciting?” she asked, pointing a hoof up towards the sky behind Twilight.

Twilight turned and looked up, along with Celestia and Fluttershy. Their expressions changed with their surprise.

Cloudsdale sat in the sky above the north end of Ponyville.


END OF BOOK TWO: OVERGROWTH

TO BE CONTINUED IN BOOK THREE: HORIZONS

Author's Note:

See you at Everfree Northwest, everypony! I'm heading out on a multi-day road trip. Seattle, here I come!

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