• 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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Horizons Ch 5 - Fall To Pieces

Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Five - Fall To Pieces

Twilight, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity, now seated at a round table in the back corner of the sweet shop, silently sipped on glasses of water and cups of hot tea that had been served to them along with slices of buttered sweet bread that were left over from the day’s batch. Mr. Cake had put out the “closed” sign and was cleaning up behind the counters, also remaining silent. He’d had no problem letting them stay in the shop after hours, and was interested in any information about Pinkie Pie. Mrs. Cake had come back and was sitting silently on the other side of the kitchen door, unable to focus on her work in light of the possibility of word on Pinkie Pie.

Rarity daintily took another sip from her glass of water and nervously rubbed her front hooves together, never taking her eyes up from the table’s surface.

Twilight finally broke the silence after they’d all been sitting quietly for a good ten minutes. “So, are you ready? Do you remember?” she asked, not wanting to appear impatient, but beginning to feel so.

Rarity nodded her head slowly, still not raising her gaze from the table. “She came to me that night with an odd request. She had made a drawing of a certain garment she needed me to make for her. I had never seen anything like it, and it was definitely more utilitarian than fashionable. Still, I had the gems and other pieces on hand that were required, as well as the fabric. I couldn’t recall ever stocking such items, but there they were. It was almost as if the knowledge of them, as well as the items themselves, had just suddenly appeared. These weren’t standard materials, either. There were gems and reagents I’d never even heard of, definitely not something you’d expect one to have lying around. Looking back on it, the whole situation feels impossibly constructed, but at the time it made perfect sense to me. I just knew I had those things, somehow. Like magic,” she started to recall.

That’s definitely suspicious, Twilight thought. The dream must have brought them into being somehow, probably through Pinkie Pie. But that knowledge can’t have been in the dreamer’s mind, especially if this is Apple Bloom’s dream… so who was directing Pinkie?

“It was all so strange, but I moved onward, creating the masterfully designed garment for her. She’d told me that it was very important, that the world depended on it, but she wouldn’t tell me what she meant by that. Knowing what I know now, I suppose it may have been this changeling plot you’ve uncovered, but that doesn’t fit with the last thing she told me,” Rarity said, now pausing in hesitation. “This little tidbit… she made me Pinkie Promise to never tell anyone about it. Even now, I almost feel some sort of force in my mind, pushing against me, forcing me to keep it a secret.”

Applejack nodded her head. “I feel it too, Rare. It don’t make any sense ta’ me when I think about it, either,” she said. “Even Pinkie Pie would want you ta’ break that Pinkie Promise if it meant savin’ Equestria, though. Ya gotta push through it somehow! We’re all here for ya, and whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.” She placed a hoof on Rarity’s shoulder and closed her eyes, as if she was trying to channel her confidence and solidarity into Rarity.

Twilight blinked her eyes a couple of times and had to force herself to not say anything. A dark yellow aura had begun to appear at the point where Applejack was pressing her hoof onto Rarity’s shoulder. It was almost as if her willpower had begun to literally push out of her and into Rarity. Twilight glanced at Fluttershy, who clearly was seeing the same thing. She was staring wide-eyed, but also not saying a word.

Rarity closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. “You’re right, Applejack. We must stand up for our friends, even if it means breaking such a bond!” Rarity said, almost shouting. Her horn began to glow lightly, and her mouth began to move, the words passing out from her lips as if she was reciting from a piece of paper.

“On the night of her disappearance, Pinkie Pie told me that she had been hearing a strange voice in her mind, and at first it sounded distorted and fuzzy. She said it would give her vague commands to do terrible things, even destroy the world. However, as time went by, she said it became clearer and she began to recognize it,” Rarity spoke flatly but gravely. “Pinkie told me who she thought the voice belonged to upon making me promise to never tell a soul. I’m sorry, Pinkie, but I must break that oath. She told me she was almost certain… the voice belonged to Princess Luna.”

Twilight, Fluttershy, and Applejack all gasped lightly, the weight of the promise now apparent. Mr. Cake dropped the cup he had been holding, and Mrs. Cake peeked out through a now slightly ajar kitchen door. The glow at the tip of Rarity’s horn flashed, making a snapping sound. Her eyes shot open and immediately locked onto the shop’s front door.

“Princess Celestia…” Rarity said quietly, her voice shaking.

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Wait, was it Princess Luna or Princess Celestia?” she asked.

Applejack, who had now joined Rarity in staring towards the front of the shop, pointed her hoof towards the front door. “No, Twi, Princess Celestia’s right there,” she said.

Twilight turned her head and saw Celestia standing by the door, which was still open.

“So the voice in Pinkie’s head was Luna,” Celestia said, walking towards the four ponies and sitting at the table with them. Mr. Cake appeared with a cup of tea, almost as if he’d teleported, and set it gently in front of the princess.

“It would seem so, or at least she thought so,” Rarity said, nodding her head towards the princess.

“Yet I’ve not felt her presence. If she was part of the reason Pinkie Pie vanished, she is no longer working in any capacity that would draw attention to her,” Celestia stated.

There’s also the question of whether it was Luna from this dream or the real Luna, the princess thought to herself. What motivation would the dream’s Luna have to drive Pinkie Pie away? It may just be a case of mistaken identity. No need to think about it much for now.

Celestia turned her head towards Twilight. “I’ve returned from Cloudsdale. Rainbow Dash has gone through a traumatic situation, and I believe this may change a good many things for us, Twilight,” she said, now glancing at Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, am I correct in assuming that you told Rainbow Dash the truth?”

Fluttershy nodded her head, blushing slightly.

“The whole truth?” Celestia asked, making certain.

Fluttershy nodded once again. “Yes,” she replied. “I told her everything. I’m so sorry…”

Celestia smiled at Fluttershy. “Don’t worry, my dear. Rainbow Dash seems fine. I’ve just had a… rather revealing talk with her. Her situation is not unlike when you or Twilight found out. She is shaken, her mind is full of confusion, but she is fine. She wished to be left alone for the night, and I think it will do her well. Some rest will hopefully calm the turbulence in her mind and give her time to contemplate the situation.”

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up as the princess spoke. “Wait, that means Rainbow Dash is…!” she began, stopping herself from completing the sentence.

Celestia nodded her head. “Indeed, although it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what to make of this, either…” Twilight said, rubbing a hoof against her forehead in bafflement.

“The poor thing,” said Fluttershy. “I feel bad for her being all alone. I should go see her, it’s my fault…”

“No, she said she wanted to be alone,” Celestia repeated. “I say we give her some peace before we inevitably have to… bring her out.” Celestia glanced at Applejack and Rarity, hoping she’d been picking and choosing her words well enough.

Applejack tapped a hoof against the table. “Are ya’ll finished talkin’ in code, yet?” she asked impatiently.

Celestia smiled at Applejack. “I’m sorry, Applejack, Rarity. You’ve both been very patient and helpful. I’m sorry we were less than forthcoming with information at first, but we have our reasons,” she said reassuringly. “For now, I think we’re all a bit on edge. We should probably get some rest for the night. We will all be together tomorrow after the Wonderbolts performance, and we can then form our plan of attack. Until we’re all together in private, though, I advise that we not speak of anything that’s happened tonight.”

Everypony nodded in agreement. Celestia stood up, leaning towards Fluttershy and Twilight at the first opportunity when Applejack and Rarity weren’t looking. “Meet back where we arrived,” she whispered. The two nodded in agreement. The five all went in separate directions, but Twilight, Fluttershy, and Celestia looped around the block and made their way back to the alleyway where they had first fallen into the dream world.

“We have a few problems, and we need to be prepared for them,” said Celestia, who had shrunk back down into her disguised form. She took a seat on the ground in front of the Wonderbolts poster and the others gathered around her. “First of all, we are very fortunate that Applejack and Rarity didn’t press us any further about the storm or green lightning. I believe we have your story about changelings to thank for that, Twilight.”

Twilight shrugged. “In retrospect, it wasn’t the best story I could have come up with, but I had to come up with something that seemed really important,” she said.

“Don’t fret, we’ve handled it well and will continue to do so. Fluttershy, are you absolutely certain that Rainbow Dash heard you clearly and understood what you were saying?” Celestia asked, turning to the yellow Pegasus.

Fluttershy sighed. “Yes, and I am still sorry about that. I never would have normally told her on my own, but she was acting so strange. She was being really conceited and mean, and acting like she didn’t even care about any of her friends, let alone me…” she said sadly. “So I wanted to wake her up so that maybe then she’d go back to being the same old Rainbow Dash, but she just got mad. Her eyes were glowing green just like when ponies in my dream did before turning to changelings, so I thought I had turned her into one. I felt so scared and terrible. I thought I’d ruined everything.”

“It’s okay, my dear,” Celestia reassured her. “Rainbow Dash is no changeling. Furthermore, I think she is awoken now, and her lucidity has activated.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me, though,” Twilight chimed in, “Applejack was glowing with a magical aura just now, and Rarity’s horn was glowing as if she were breaking through some sort of magical block on her mind. It was almost as if the Pinkie Promise was actually a spell, and they both worked together to break it.”

Celestia sighed. “I admit, I can’t explain that, or several other things,” she said. “When I tried to probe for latent magic in Rainbow Dash’s room, I had a vision of a pair of glowing eyes. I could have just imagined it, but I doubt it. I couldn’t mention this before because of Applejack and Rarity.”

“The changeling queen?” Twilight fielded as a guess. Celestia shook her head in response.

“No, I’d know her eyes anywhere. These were different. They were bright white, not green, and shrouded in darkness other than a slight red aura. It was for but a second that I saw them. In any case, there may be more at work here, just like in Fluttershy’s dream.”

“Yes,” Twilight responded. “I saw Apple Bloom using some sort of magic. The whole world seems to be inundated with--”

“Chaos!” Discord’s voice said aloud for all three of the ponies to hear.

“I think we found who else is at work here!” Twilight blurted out angrily. However, Celestia quickly raised a hoof to stifle any further accusations or questions that Twilight or Fluttershy may have had.

“Please explain, Discord,” Celestia said with a shake of her head.

“Well, after you so rudely threatened me earlier, I went flying around, feeling for chaotic energy, and it’s literally everywhere, which makes it hard to find the source. Somewhere near the border between the apple farm and the town, which have curiously moved ever so near to one another, there is a mass of chaotic influx,” Discord said. “Finding the source shouldn’t be impossible for me, it’ll just take time. One interesting thing to note is that there’s a giant sporting arena that’s been built just off from the farm a bit, and it’s very near to wherever the chaotic energy is coming from.”

Celestia nodded. “That’s not good… That’s probably where the Wonderbolts will be performing tomorrow. We also still have no explanation as to why that chaotic energy is flowing so freely,” she pondered. “or why so many ponies seem to be displaying lucidity-like powers.”

Discord laughed. “Celestia, I’m shocked. I suppose you really didn’t take studies of dreams and dream magic too seriously, did you?” he said with an audible smile. “Well, I suppose you had better things to do, perhaps finding the perfect spot in the Canterlot gardens to place all your petrified foes.”

“Please, Discord, get to the point,” Celestia grumbled with annoyance.

“Oh do calm down,” he responded, accompanied by a snap of his fingers. Three dark hooded cloaks materialized in the air above the three ponies, falling onto them. “I’ve been extremely thoughtful of you, dear princess. I procured these from the ever-radiant Miss Rarity. She happened to have seven, I guess one for each day of the week. Can you imagine it? A whole closet rack of these things! It’s like she thought she was going into exile, but wanted to have a change of cloak each day! Bahaha!”

Twilight gave a slight, uncontrollable snort, holding back her laughter. That’s so Rarity, she thought.

“You three will need to remain hidden tomorrow when your other selves will surely be in the general vicinity, and poor Fluttershy and Twilight can’t use that illusion spell that you stole, I mean, learned so long ago,” Discord continued, still unseen.

Celestia lifted the cloak up with her magic, folding it in place, choosing not to respond to Discord’s taunting.

“To make a long story short, I have my theories about your other magic-using ponies, though I’ll come clean, I never much cared for the dream arts myself. It’s so much more fun to make reality into a dreamscape. However, I remember enough to recall something called ‘focus’ – the details evade me, but are right on the tip of my tongue. I just know it has something to do with it. You’ll have to forgive my rustiness; I’ve been unable to keep in practice for most of the last thousand years.”

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Anyway, thank you for the information,” she managed to say, much to Discord’s glee. “This ‘focus’ as you call it, then, needs to be looked into. If the dream is so chaotic, though, wouldn’t it suggest a lack of focus?”

“Or too many focuses,” Twilight said, trying to be useful. “What if there was no single focus, but many? Maybe even a completely random or ever-changing focus? The word focus suggests clarity, but this dream doesn’t seem to have much of that going around. At least through all the chaos in Fluttershy’s dream, there was a singular focus of fear, to put it bluntly.”

“It was more than that,” Fluttershy spoke up, closing her eyes and recalling how she felt in her dream. “It wasn’t just fear, or my fear of being loved… It was very clearly focused on the one whom I accepted such feelings from… Rainbow Dash… She was always with me throughout the whole dream. I think she was even with me after she died. Somehow, she was there with us all the way to the very end, never leaving our sides… my side…”

A tiny voice rose from Twilight’s saddlebag. “Hey, I can’t hear anything!”

Twilight lifted the communication gem from her saddlebag and levitated it into the air. “Have something to add, Pinkie?”

“Oh, that wasn’t me,” Pinkie’s voice crackled from the gem. “That was Rainbow Dash. Can you believe it? She just, like, ZAP! Just appeared here right in front of me! Just like we hoped she would!”

Fluttershy smiled from ear to ear. “That must be my Pinkie, Twilight! And Rainbow Dash! I wonder if it’s because I was thinking about her just now,” she said, her voice shaking with sudden happiness.

“It would make sense!” Pinkie Twi buzzed in through the pink gem this time. “When Twilight wanted me to not be stuck in a dreary world, it brightened right up! Probably the same sort of thing.”

Twilight smiled. “We definitely still have some influence over our dreams after we leave, I’m sure of it now. Of course, that doesn’t help with this problem we’re having. We’ve got ponies here using magic that just plain shouldn’t be, and we don’t know how or why,” she explained to Pinkie. “Only one of them can be the dreamer, and that’s certainly seeming to be Rainbow Dash.”

“You mean like I used magic in Fluttershy’s dream?” Rainbow Dash’s voice came through the communicator. “Surely you remember my amazing magical acrobatic battle with that imposter that took over Applejack’s body!”

Everyone nodded their heads simultaneously and let out a collective “Ohhhh…”

“Wait, wasn’t that because Fluttershy had used her magic to revive you in Cloudsdale, though?” Twilight asked.

“Yes, that may be true,” Celestia added. “I thought so, as well. The dark magic that possessed Pinkie Shy had similarly boosted her magical powers.”

“Maybe I just have magic in every dream!” Rainbow Dash shouted triumphantly from the gem.

“That seems even less likely, but I guess we have to treat it as remotely possible,” a Pinkie, presumably Twi, analyzed aloud.

“Who cares?” a second Pinkie’s voice drolled forth. “All it does is make it basically impossible to identify the dreamer based on their lucidity.”

“Yeah...” Pinkie Twi’s voice crackled through the communicator once again. “It’s probably pointless to speculate on it.”

“Right,” Twilight agreed. “We’re no closer to the truth than we were before this, unfortunately. In fact, finding out who the dreamer is may be impossible short of inspecting each of them with the Colorscope.”

“Which we have an upgrade ready to push out to you once you find Pinkie in that dream world!” both Pinkies shouted at the same time from the gem.

“Wait, so with me mentioning focus, the situation has become even more confusing?” Discord asked, an unusual flatness to his tone of voice. “Gee, and I’d normally be so pleased about that…” He sighed, which was followed by the sound of him zipping to and fro randomly in the air above the group.

“Calm down, Discord. At least you tried,” Celestia said, deciding to leave out the words “for once” at the end of her phrase. Even if it’s for selfish reasons, he’s trying to help. I shouldn’t be so antagonistic, she thought.

A chuckle from Discord reminded the princess that he was tuned into her thoughts somehow. Surprisingly, he had no comment other than that single, short outburst.

“So, what do we do now?” Fluttershy asked while slipping into the black cloak.

“We get some rest, and I know where,” Celestia said. “We’ll head back to the library and check to see if Spike went with Twilight to the capitol. If the library is vacant, we can set up a spell to alert us if anyone tries to enter. The large window in Twilight’s room will be suitable for a quick escape.”

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes, though I hate that it has to be that way,” she said. “We can’t afford to be seen by our dream selves.”

“Alright, then,” Celestia said as she began walking back out to the streets of Ponyville. “Let’s head that way and get some rest. Fluttershy, you’re already in your cloak, would you mind flying ahead and checking to see if Spike is in the library?”

“What do I do if I see him?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“Oh, he won’t know it’s not the dream you. Just tell him you’re looking for me,” Twilight said with a grin. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Here I go,” Fluttershy said and took off into the sky. The others walked to the tall tree that served as the town’s library. When they got there, they found Fluttershy crouched in front of a window, staring in.

“Is he there?” Twilight asked.

“I don’t think so. It should be safe,” Fluttershy responded.

The group all piled into Twilight’s bedroom. Twilight walked over to her bed, taking note that the covers were very neatly made, just as she would have done herself.

“We need to make sure we don’t make too big a mess in here, so—“ Twilight started, but was interrupted by an unseen force crashing down onto the bed with a flop. Pillows flew into the air and the blankets folded upward. Twilight leapt back away from the bed instinctively.

“What the… Discord!” Twilight said, nearly shouting.

The draconequis materialized with a flash for the first time since they had left Fluttershy’s dream. He stretched out his limbs and wings, his tail hanging off the end of the bed, despite how big it was for a pony.

“Plenty of room up here!” he said joyfully. “Who wants to snuggle?”

Celestia groaned. “I’ll pass, thanks,” she said, turning her nose up.

“So cold, Celestia,” Discord responded, a tear falling from his eye. The princess just rolled hers in response.

Fluttershy had already settled on a small rug that was up against the window. “I’m fine just with this,” she said with a smile. “It’s like having a campout, too, if I crack the window a little.”

Twilight smiled back at the pegasus. “Alright, then. Princess, should I put up the alarm spell?” she asked.

Celestia shook her head. “I already took care of it. You must be tired if you didn’t notice. Too bad somepony is hogging your bed,” she said, glaring at Discord.

Discord raised his hands in the air. “Fine, I suppose that’s fair, even though it’s only sort of her bed!” he complained, and then snapped his fingers. His body transformed into a much smaller version of himself and he leapt over to Spike’s sleeping basket, curling up around the edges of it with his head planted in the middle.

Twilight and Celestia settled onto the bed after straightening the sheets. With a flash from her horn, Twilight put out the lights.

“You all sure nopony wants to snuggle?” Discord asked in the darkness.

“Go to sleep!” all three ponies responded simultaneously.

The next morning came quickly. The four of them vacated the library just after the sun peeked over the horizon, not wanting to have a surprise meeting with their dream selves. They made their way to a discreet oaken grove at the outskirts of town. Sitting amongst the tall trees, they had a breakfast of whole-hay bread and greens that Twilight had helped herself to while they were in the library.

After eating, the three of them emerged and made their way towards the location that Discord had described to them. Once within a certain distance from the sports complex, though, it was impossible to miss.

The site for the Wonderbolts show was unlike anything that had been erected in Ponyville before. The stands were tall and formed a large loop around a grassy field. There were also many cloud seats up above for pegasi who wanted to get a skyward view of the action, all of which stemmed outward from a central cloud with the emblem of the princesses emblazoned on a flag hanging down from it.

Twilight, Celestia, and Fluttershy donned their dark cloaks, though Celestia kept her hood pulled down and wore the hat she’d gotten from Rarity, which she’d eventually paid for the previous night. Hooded or not, her size as an alicorn would be noticed immediately, so she used her disguise spell on top of wearing the dark garment.

“Don’t you think we’ll stand out even more wearing these things?” Twilight asked as they approached the entrance to the sports complex. “I mean, it’s not like ponies normally run around in hooded cloaks.”

Celestia nodded her head. “Yes, that may be, but you will at least not be recognized from a distance this way. It’s important that you two spot your dream doubles as soon as possible and keep track of them. If you ever see them approaching you or acting suspiciously, you need to get away. Twilight, you will be able to teleport and Fluttershy’s cloak will allow her to push her wings out of holes in the back and fly away.”

“Speaking of doubles, look over there,” Fluttershy said, pointing a hoof to the right side of the entryway. A royal procession was going around towards the rear of the building. Sitting on the top of an intricately designed cart were Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, waving to the public. Also sitting with them was Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight pulled her hood tightly down over her face. “Well, there’s two of them, certainly. I don’t think it would be good to bump into Princess Luna, either.”

Celestia nodded in agreement. “Even as a figure in a dream, Luna would likely be able to see through my disguise at short proximity,” she said. “When we get inside, let’s take seats in the back, near an exit. We need to be able to move quickly in case we’re spotted.”

The three ponies made their way into the stadium and took seats a few rows down from the port they had entered through. Fluttershy glanced around nervously, trying to spot herself.

“Remember,” Celestia said, leaning in towards the other two, “We’re here to make sure the nearby rift doesn’t burst. If that rift were to open in front of this crowd, the results would be… well, I’m sure you can imagine. Our quest could very well be ended.”

“The chaos energy is still increasing. We’re coming to a point where we may need to intervene at the slightest sign of a disturbance,” Discord’s voice echoed in the minds of all three of the ponies. “I’ll channel some of it away through some random acts of chaos, not that they can be anything but random. It’ll ultimately be up to you, though. I certainly can’t appear in front of this crowd, tempting though it may be.” He laughed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically for comfort.

Celestia sighed. “Yes, it may be the first time I can recall where I’m counting on your chaotic powers,” she dully groaned. “So we’re ready, then. You two keep an eye out for our doubles, Discord will be on guard for chaos surges, and I’ll keep a close eye on Rainbow Dash. I don’t expect her to create a disturbance here in front of a crowd, but I still can’t get that vision I had when I first met her in Cloudsdale out of my mind. Those glowing eyes… they seemed so familiar.”

Twilight nodded nervously, glancing across the arena to the spot where her dream self was seated along with the dream versions of Celestia and Luna. She turned her head down to the other side of the stands. She spotted Applejack, who was wandering through the growing crowd offering various apple treats and juices. Big Macintosh was doing the same on the other side of the stadium.

“Buy some apples!” a tiny voice suddenly came from behind her. Twilight jumped, recognizing the voice as Apple Bloom. She pulled her hood down and glanced over towards Fluttershy who was thankfully doing the same. The filly made her way down to their aisle and walked right up to them.

“Hey, lady!” the young one said happily, pointing a hoof to the small basket that was strapped to her back. “What’s with the cloak? Wanna buy some apples?”

Twilight put on her best deep scruffy voice. “No thanks, I uh, had a big breakfast,” she said, being certain to not look directly at Apple Bloom.

Fluttershy simply shook her head, but Celestia waved the filly over, who happily walked past the two hooded figures.

“Hey, yer that inspector lady from Canterlot,” the filly said, smiling up at her. “Wanna buy an apple?”

Celestia smiled and pulled a bit coin out from somewhere, dropping it into the basket and pulling out an apple. “Sounds lovely, thank you. Apple Bloom, was it?” she responded.

“That’s right!” Apple Bloom said with a grin.

“I’ve heard about your special talent, young lady,” Celestia said. “Is this one of your special apples? I can’t wait to try it.”

Apple Bloom nodded. “Yep! You’ll love it, I just know it,” she said, turning her head and looking back at her flank. Celestia looked at it as well and smiled.

“You must still be so happy that you got your cutie mark, and that your talent is so special,” Celestia said while looking at the filly’s blank flank. So far as any inhabitant of the dream was concerned, though, Apple Bloom had a cutie mark.

Apple Bloom reached a hoof back and rubbed her flank in a circular motion, as if she were shining it. Her flank suddenly glowed, releasing a stream of yellow magical energy. Celestia blinked her eyes in response.

“Yeah, it’s great, but…” Apple Bloom said, suddenly turning her head downward.

“But what?” Celestia inquired.

“I just wish mah two best friends were here with me,” she responded. “Shoot, I’m sorry. I don’t need ta be involvin’ a total stranger in mah problems.”

Celestia shook her head. “Not at all, my dear. If you need to get something off your chest, sometimes there’s no better ear than a new one,” she said.

Apple Bloom took a seat next to Celestia and began to tell her what had been happening lately. Twilight and Fluittershy sat quietly, listening in.

“We all used to be blank flanks, tryin’ ta get our cutie marks together. We even had a club dedicated to findin’ our special talents,” Apple Bloom said. “But it didn’t work out like we planned. It was such a crazy coincidence, but it was a day when we weren’t meetin’ up at our clubhouse when Sweetie Belle and I both got our cutie marks somehow. Not even together. By the end of the day, the whole town was talkin’ about it. We were so wrapped up in our accomplishment that we forgot about our third member. We finally saw Scootaloo later on. She’d heard what happened. She didn’t get her cutie mark.” Apple Bloom lowered her head, sniffling a bit and holding back tears.

Celestia patted the filly on the back. “I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening before. It’s not like you can’t still be friends, though,” she said.

“That’s just it, though,” Apple Bloom continued. “We were so happy, and Scootaloo was still determined. We showed up at the clubhouse the next day and swore ta do everything we could think of ta try and help Scoot find her talent. But after a couple days… Sweetie Belle stopped showin’ up because she had ta help her sister at the boutique. And I stopped showing up because I had to do farm work. I figured Scoot would stop going to the clubhouse, but one day I went there and looked, and she was there... Sittin’ on the balcony, waiting for us to come, all by herself.”

“What did you do?” Celestia asked.

“Nothing,” Apple Bloom replied. “I felt so terrible, like I’d abandoned her. I couldn’t face her. Yesterday at Sugarcube Corner was the first time I’d talked to her face to face in weeks… and in the end, she left, sayin’ she had stuff to do… but I think that was a lie. I think she just… she just hates us now.”

Twilight and Fluttershy bit their lower lips, holding back their swelling emotions from hearing such a story. Celestia smiled down at the filly and rubbed her hoof against the young one’s back.

“It sounds like you three were such good friends,” Celestia said. “I’m sure she doesn’t hate you. I bet she misses you just as much as you miss her, and just like you, she doesn’t know how to come back together.”

Apple Bloom looked up at Celestia. “So… how do we get back together?” she asked, her eyes shaking.

“That is something that nopony can tell you for certain,” Celestia replied. “The first step is just going to them, though. Are they both here at the show today?”

Apple Bloom nodded her head. “Probably.”

“Well then go to them. Watch the show together. Your heart is in the right place, little one. No matter what you may have done, or how she may have felt, I’m sure you can make amends and be friends once more, and maybe even learn a good lesson about friendship,” Celestia said.

Apple Bloom smiled and wiped her eyes. She turned her head to and fro, scanning the crowd until she spotted Sweetie Belle across the way. “Thank you,” she said. “I feel like I’ve already learned something important; something I shoulda known in the first place. Will you watch mah apples for me? I got a job ta’ do.”

Celestia chuckled. “It would be my pleasure.”

The young filly bolted off, pushing her way through the stands towards the first of her two friends.

“Did you see how her flank glowed where her cutie mark was supposed to be?” Ceslestia asked, turning towards her two companions.

“Yes, it was definitely something. She must be involved in whatever this ‘focus’ may be,” Twilight replied.

“I agree, and look,” Celestia continued, holding her apple up in front of her. “We have a whole basket full of those apples. I can already feel faint magical energy swishing around inside this fruit. Your instinct was definitely correct, Twilight. Those false cutie marks appeared for a reason. We may need to find out more about them before we can be done here.”

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” a booming voice suddenly filled the air. “Please give a warm Ponyville welcome to the greatest fliers in all of Equestria! The Wonderbolts!”

With a flash, a blur of blue-suited pegasi with all different streams of fire, smoke, and sparkles in their wake shot out from an opening at the back of the stands. Six Wonderbolts twirled in the air, flying back and forth, buzzing the crowd and coming within inches of one another in mid-air.

The crowd exploded in cheers and whistles as everypony began to wave their hooves in the air and shout out the names of their favorite Wonderbolts members.

“Get ready for a day full of thrills, racing, acrobatics, and death-defying feats never before seen by ponykind!” the announcer shouted with enthusiasm.

The wonderbolts shot upward towards the sky where a large mass of clouds had been pushed in by a team of pegasi. Each wonderbolts member tore off a piece of cloud and pushed it downward, precisely placing them in a circle hovering high above the ground. They each stood on a piece of cloud, facing outward toward the crowd, waving.

“And now, here’s the pony we’ve all been waiting for! The most interesting mare in Equestria! The captain of the Wonderbolts! Ponyville’s own, one and only, Rainbow Dash!” the announced shouted, his voice practically cracking from the volume.

The cloud that was left hanging higher in the air suddenly exploded with lightning bolts, and the center of it opened up. With another zap of lightning, Rainbow Dash descended through the opening, grabbing a piece of cloud and tossing it downward as she went. She landed on the cloud, which had taken position in the center of the circle below. A beam of sunlight shone down through the cloud opening, lighting up the spot she was standing on, making her seem to glow with radiant white light. She bowed before the crowd, and then suddenly zipped upward. Swinging in a tight, fast circle, she blew through the remaining cloud ring above, shooting bits of cloud out toward the audience, spreading a fine fog over the crowd for a brief moment before it evaporated.

The crowd went crazy as Rainbow Dash returned to her position and took another bow.

Twilight turned towards Princess Celestia. “She seems fine,” she said, her voice a bit raspy from cheering since she had gotten swept up into the spirit of things herself. “I’m actually kind of excited to see what she can do in her own dream world. It must be incredible.”

Celestia nodded her head calmly. “How is the flow of chaos, Discord?” she asked, staying focused on the task at hoof. Twilight made note of that fact and scanned the crowd, spotting her dream counterpart, who was still sitting with dream Celestia and Luna.

“It’s still growing, but I was able to have a little fun during that opening sequence,” he said with a giddy giggle. “Those wonderbolts sure are good! They dealt with random gusts of wind and forced spins quite well. That’s only minor chaos, of course, so it barely put a dent in it. We’ll see what I can muster once they really get going.”

“Don’t completely ruin the show, now,” Celestia reminded him.

“Perish the thought, princess,” Discord replied with another laugh.

Rainbow Dash’s voice shot across the crowd now, loudly and confidently. “Thank you for coming from all across the land to my home town!” she shouted. “Both of them, actually!” She pointed a hoof towards Cloudsdale, striking a strong pose. The crowd erupted in laughter.

“Before we get to the show, I have a big announcement to make! It is no doubt what has drawn so many of you here for this wild party!” Rainbow Dash continued. She flapped her wings, rising steadily into the air, lifting her front hooves skyward. After ascending for a good distance, even higher than the cloud from the opening performance had hung, she began to move forward, straight towards where Twilight, Fluttershy, and Celestia were sitting. She seemed to stare directly down towards them as she spoke.

“The original announcement has been cancelled, though!” Rainbow shouted. “Instead, I have something much bigger to share with you all!”

“What’s she doing?” Twilight asked, turning towards Celestia.

“Nothing yet, but be ready,” Celestia replied, locking her eyes onto Rainbow Dash’s and powering up her horn just slightly.

Rainbow Dash hung in the air and pushed her hooves forward, but never averting her stare from where the three ponies were seated. “I had a visit last night from my pal, Fluttershy! She had quite a story to tell me! It was really shocking, you might say!” she shouted out, and began to spread her hooves apart. Streaks of orange-colored lightning crackled between them, the sound echoing through the stands. The audience laughed at the joke, thinking the lightning was all part of the show.

“She’s not!” Twilight said in a panic, turning to face Princess Celestia. The princess continued to stare into Rainbow Dash’s eyes, narrowing her own. Her horn began to charge up and glow with magic.

“Get ready,” the princess said calmly, her expression devoid of emotion. “If she takes this any farther, we teleport her out of here by force.”

“At first, I couldn’t believe it! But then, I started to see the truth! The truth that only one other pony before had seen! But she disappeared without a trace, and everypony thought she was crazy!” Rainbow Dash yelled, her hooves having fully outstretched to her sides now, lightning arcing above her head and crackling with power. A magical aura began to form around her, and though she was floating in the air, her wings were no longer moving.

The crowd was roaring with cheers, but Twilight looked across the arena towards the spot where the dream Celestia and Luna were seated. They were both standing now, staring gravely towards Rainbow Dash, their horns powered up as well. The Wonderbolts remained standing on their clouds, looking up at Rainbow Dash, but showing signs of confusion. Some of them were shouting things back and forth, but Twilight couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“This is about to get bad! The princesses know something is up! We have to stop her!” Twilight shouted, her voice practically drowned out by the roaring crowd.

“Do it!” Celestia commanded. Twilight clenched her eyes and focused her teleportation spell on Rainbow Dash. There was a loud bang, and a circle of white light exploded outward in a large radius. Twilight opened her eyes, expecting to find herself in a field, away from the arena. Instead, she was met by Rainbow Dash’s face staring directly at her from the air. The spell hadn’t worked. Rainbow Dash wore a giant, toothy smile and shook her head slightly.

“It didn’t work!” Twilight shouted, looking to Celestia, whose horn was now glowing brightly.

Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves both downward, and they vanished nearly up to where they met her body, almost as if she was reaching into an invisible container of some sort. Twilight knew it was one of the cracks in the dream. As Rainbow Dash struggled for a moment, flashes of orange and streaks of bright pink energy began to fire out from where she had punctured reality.

“That’s enough, Rainbow Dash!” Celestia screamed, her voice booming out across the arena. She shot a wide, bright yellow beam of energy from her horn straight at Rainbow Dash. It struck with mighty force, causing an explosion of magic in mid-air.

My power is weakened in this form, but that should at least knock her away! Celsetia thought, sweat running down over her eyebrows.

The flash hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. However, just as quickly as Celestia had fired the shot, the explosion of light began to warp, opening up from the middle and then folding around onto itself. The energy of her attack had been trapped at the point of impact. Rainbow Dash, a strained look on her face, and her hooves still stuffed into the hole in reality, stared at the contained explosion. She leaned towards it, grunting slightly.

“Just what I needed!” she yelled, and then with a simple nod of her head, she launched the ball of energy past her hooves and into the rift.

Twilight heard a commotion across the arena. The dream versions of Celestia and Luna had taken flight and were speeding towards Rainbow Dash.

“We’ve got a problem!” Twilight shouted.

“We should run!” Celestia yelled back. “Fluttershy! We need you to try to physically grab Rainbow Dash and take off! I’ll create a diversion for the princesses!”

All of their plans were in vain, though..

A giant tearing sound, like a cloth being ripped in half, erupted from the center of the arena. Pinkie Pie popped into reality with a loud bang, adorned in a black hooded cloak that sported pouches and pockets all along its edges, as well as several brightly-colored gems. She flung up and over Rainbow Dash’s head, falling to the ground below. Dash dove down after her, catching her before she hit the ground.

“Wait, is that…?” Twilight asked, already knowing the answer. It was at that moment that Twilight realized the crowd had gone completely silent. There was no cheering, laughing, or any noise of any kind. Just the eerie sound of a thousand ponies breathing. Celestia and Luna had stopped in mid flight and stared down at Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Their eyes had begun to glow a bright green.

“We… really need to get out of here now,” Twilight said quietly to her companions, who both nodded in agreement.

“Are you actually crazy!?” Pinkie Pie shouted, turning her head up towards Rainbow Dash. She was hanging from one leg, which was held tightly between both of Dash’s front hooves. Pinkie flung her forelegs upward, revealing the compressed magical explosion that had been thrown into the rift a second earlier. “Not cool!” She shook the magic ball up and down a couple of times before pushing her hooves upward. The spell shot into the sky, exploding in the air far above the arena with a flash and loud cracking sound.

The six Wonderbolts, who were still perched on their cloud platforms had started glowing a bright green. Their heads had all turned simultaneously a second earlier, locking onto Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Pinkie was now struggling and screaming at Dash indiscriminately, but Dash refused to drop her.

There was a flash of green light from the center of the Wonderbolts, accompanied by a wave of hot green flame.

Twilight turned her head slowly from left to right, taking in the flashing landscape before her.

The crowd erupted into a sea of green flames.

“Can we run now?” Fluttershy asked, practically galloping in place in front of Twilight and Celestia.

“I’m not sure it matters anymore,” Twilight said, her voice shaking and sad. “My story about the changeling invasion just came true.”

Author's Note:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a...
OK, there was a bang.

And now there's changelings. Deal with it.

Twilight: "But there can't be changelings, I cast Starswirl's Faithful Watchdog!"

Chrysalis: "No you didn't! You never actually cast the spell, so now there's changelings!"

Pinkie Twi: "Changelings? I have an changeling-slaying party cannon, it gets +20 against changelings!"

Chrysalis: "You're at the bar!"

Pinkie Twi: "Cool, I get drunk! Roll the dice to see if I'm getting drunk!"

Chrysalis: "Oh for pony's sake... Yes! You get drunk!"

Pinkie Twi: "Okay! But if there's any pegasi there, I wanna doooo them!"

-------

For better or worse, here it is. The chapter that puts this story over, or at least right up against, the 100,000 word mark. I can't say the pace of writing has been speedy, but it's been a lot of fun. The chapter should have a lot less errors in it than the previous one when it got released, but since I am at a convention right now, I will likely be unable to address anything we may have missed immediately.

As always, I hope you enjoy it and look forward to the next as much as I am excited to start writing what will surely be a very exciting section of this story.

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