• Published 25th Jul 2012
  • 7,866 Views, 279 Comments

Random Elements - Stryke



An alternate Mane Cast cross over into the normal Equestia, things go down hill from there.

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Chapter 11

Rainbow Dash had put some thought into this. Given that her double, Dashie, was a full-grown mare trying to teach her like she was a filly just wouldn’t work. The wings and build would just be all wrong for the exercises that Dash could still remember from her days at flight camp to work. Anyway there had been that afternoon she was still trying to forget when she’d finally caved to Scootaloo’s pleading for a few tips... No, this would go better, Dash was sure of it. How had she been supposed to know that’d been the day for the annual razorwing frenzy anyway.

So what she’d found was a rope that was now tied securely around both hers and Dashie’s waist. Her amazing idea—of course it was amazing as she’d thought it up—was this way she could fly above and give pointers when and where she saw them. It’d also be handy to keep Dashie in the air just in case she panicked again.

She’d taken Dashie up as high into the sky as they could both reasonably get, as she figured the higher they were, the more time she’d have to fix things if things went wrong. Still wouldn’t hurt to check on her charge now they had plateaued. “You okay down there?”

“I think so,” replied Dashie, with a very noticeable tremor in her voice. She’d been forbidden from looking down again, but she really wished that she couldn’t see all the fluffy-white clouds going by.

“I know you left the flight camp early and all, but I still can’t believe you’re this bad.” Rainbow Dash had kind of hoped that being up here in the open blue would kindle her double’s love for flying. For her being this high was pure Celestia-sent bliss with the light of the sun warming her wings and the wind ruffling her mane. It didn’t seem to be taking hold yet though for Dashie.

“I just don’t like flying, okay!” Dashie yelled back, her voice just a few steps away from cracking entirely. “A couple of feet off the ground is fine and that’s more than enough for my act.”

“I still don't see—” Dash cut herself off as she felt the rope going taut. “Keep your wings straight! You don’t need to flap them about so much. At this altitude it’s all about gliding.”

Dashie adjusted and the rope went slack again. “Sorry!”

Rainbow Dash fought the urge to facehoof. She had a vague idea that it wouldn’t be a very reassuring gesture for her ‘student’.

“Can I ask you something?” said Dashie, in an attempt to keep her mind off what she was doing.

“Sure, why not.”

“How are you so completely oblivious?” Dashie asked. “I’ve never met a mare our age so willfully dense about how to have fun.”

“I’m not oblivious and I have tons of fun!” Dash yelled back defensively. “I just don’t care. I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt some day. I don’t have time for anything else and especially that.”

“So why aren’t you then? You’ve actually applied right?”

“They’re currently full, okay? And given the only way in is if somepony retires, or gets injured too badly, or... Well until then I’m stuck. Anyway it’s not just a case of applying! Wonderbolts are selected from the very best flyers out there.”

“Y’know I’ve heard some things about that Spitfire,” said Dashie. If only a small percentage of the things she’d heard in her time about that flame-haired pegasus were true then that seemed like a more than viable option to her. “There’s more than one way to the top if you know what I mean.”

Hearing only a very stony silence Dashie figured it’d be very wise to drop that particular line of conversation. She looked up to see Dash had her eyes pointedly fixed ahead at the horizon. Hmm touchy or what, she thought to herself. Still possibly interesting for her to react so strongly Dashie mused.

Rainbow Dash felt the rope go taut again. Dashie was flailing at the air with both her wings and legs in a desperate attempt to dive downwards, but was having no luck making any real headway at all. “What is it now?” she asked, the frustration clear in her voice.

Dashie wordlessly pointed upwards, looking even more terrified that she had been before, while mouthing the word ‘dragon’.

“Wrong time of year here for dragons. Their migration near Ponyville isn’t for months now.” Dash quickly checked upwards and spotted the sinuous dark green body far above the two pegasi that she’d expected to see. “That’s a wyvern, Dashie.” She didn’t look anymore relieved to hear that update in the slightest. “They won’t go near pegasi. You wouldn’t believe it from their size, but they’re far more scared of us.”

“Wyverns,” Dashie said, trying to jog her memory. “Aren’t those the things that we used to hunt before the unification of the three tribes? I always loved those stories when I was just a filly.”

“Same here!” Dash replied, smiling wildly to find out that at least at one point in their lives they’d had something in common. "Watch your form; you're slipping again."

Dashie muttered something darkly about 'watching your form' before tightening her legs up as instructed.

She sighed. "Look I hope I wasn't being offensive if you're really not into anypony. I’m not exactly the best poster-pony for lifestyle choices as it."

"It's not a big thing for me, I just really don't care. Anyway what pony could tie down somepony as awesome as me, right?” Dash spread her wings wide to put on a burst of speed forcing Dashie to compensate to not dragged along. “I'm on my way to the top and that doesn't leave room for hangers-on."

Dashie had just been enjoying the mental picture of tying her double down when she realised something she now didn't quite get. "You mentioned you kissed somepony called Fluttershy once. What's that about then if you're really not interested in having a relationship with anypony?"

"Oh, that.” Dash somehow managed to shrug in mid-flight. “It was a changeling invasion. Life-or-death fight against the swarm. It just seemed the right thing to do at the time to reassure her, y'know?"

"That's nice,” Dashie said, as she rolled her eyes. “So do you spend a lot of time with her?"

"Yeah! I even went to watch the lamo-boring butterfly migration with her. We were out there all day doing plain nothing, but watching them go by. Got old real fast."

"So you spent a whole day watching butterflies together when you could have been training for the Wonderbolts," said Dashie, sounding it out more to herself as she was rapidly coming to a conclusion. She could kind of understand her double being totally oblivious about Gilda's interest in her, but not even recognising her own feelings for another was just way too odd, at least as far as Dashie was concerned.

"She's pretty awesome though. Of course she’d have to be friends with a pony as awesome as me," insisted Rainbow Dash, completely unaware of Dashie's internal thought processes. "Fluttershy's always got my back whether we're chasing down a runaway cart, or catching two of our friends from a mid-air plunge after a tussle with an overgrown dragon!"

"Anything else?"

"Week or so back I forced her into a set of armour so that I could charge at her repeatedly with a jousting pole. Oh, Celestia now that was fun!" Dashie's jaw hung open in the air and then closed it again as the wind drag got too much. That was just a whole new level of blatant that even she hadn't been expecting. The symbolism alone! Even if she was sure it'd be completely lost on her double. Rainbow Dash clearly wasn't just in denial. A whole new word needed to be invented to cover this complete lack of self-awareness.

“Uh oh...”

Dashie head whipped upwards. Her line of thought completely disrupted, as she really didn’t like the sound of that. She followed the direction that Dash was now pointing in. An enormous flock of geese, what must be in the hundreds, had just emerged from out of a nearby cloud bank and was heading right in their direction.

Dash gulped, hitting that lot head on would not be pleasant in the slightest. “Hold on tight!”

“Hold on to what?!” Not having time to give Dashie an answer, Rainbow Dash banked hard pulling her double behind her like a lead weight on a string.

The flight safely passed on by with only a few *honks* of annoyance at the two pegasi who had only just before been in their path.

“More warning next time please,” said Dashie, breathing hard as she fought to maintain some sense of personal equilibrium. “Actually no next time at all would be even better.”

Rainbow Dash laughed uproariously in response. They continued the flight without further incident and ever so slowly Dashie was growing in confidence as a flyer. Sure Dash figured her wingpower was as close to zero as it was possible to get and she reckoned that even the Fluttershy from when they'd met for the second time last year could have flown rings around Dashie with ease.

The two pegasi finally made it back on the ground and Dashie collapsed. Her wings really weren't used to that kind of punishment and ached terribly. Still she eyed her double with an appraising gaze. "You know," she ventured, "now you've taught me how to do something I really should return the favour."

Dash raised an eyebrow, but couldn't fault the logic. "I suppose that's fair; I guess. What did you have in mind?"

"How about, I don't know, kissing." Seeing Dash was about to bolt, she added, "Absolutely nothing else, I promise. Just simple kissing. Important skill and if you ever did it again you wouldn't want to be bad at it would you? Unless you're happy with the idea of not being very good at something of course..." Dashie let the point hang heavy in the air.

"Hey! I bet I'm awesome at kissing!" Dash yelled defensively, not realising that she’d just been outplayed.

Trying very hard not to grin wildly in triumph, Dashie said, "well, there's always room from improvement!”

Rainbow Dash glanced about, but finding no other ponies around, gulped loudly. She wasn’t entirely sure if she’d been looking for help or just potential witnesses. “This doesn’t make us special someponies, right? Cause that would be weird.”

“Not at all,” said Dashie with a reassuring smile. “If it helps just close your eyes and pretend I'm Fluttershy."

Dash held her forehooves up firmly and said, "no."

"But..." Dashie's face fell completely and her wings tucked back against her sides. She kicked a back leg viciously into the dirt. So, so close and yet so far.

"I won't pretend that you're Fluttershy," Rainbow Dash stated. “That’d be... well it’d be wrong, and also uncool, but mainly wrong.”

Dashie put a hoof under her jaw and thought about this. “How about, just as a completely wild and out there suggestion, that one day you’re with Fluttershy and it’s the right moment for both of you and you really do want to kiss her, but you want to make sure you do it properly to knock her off her hooves?”

Rainbow Dash mirrored Dashie’s pose as she too thought the scenario through. "Yeah, that works for me," Dash said quickly, as she leaned straight into her double's embrace with eyes wide open.

~~~

Twilight Sparkle had covered both sides of her first scroll and was just starting on a second in her neat and tidy horn-writing style. Fluttershy had provided an absolute treasure trove of information about the other Equestria without complaint and Twilight was beyond fascinated. There wasn’t just a research paper in this, there was a whole treatise! What she was most intrigued by though was how similar the two lands still were a year later after the coming of the eternal night. There were some changes which Twilight thought she could lay at the hooves of the existence of Pinkamena's merchant guild or Fluttershy's Shadowbolts, but taking an average pony at random it would be very likely that after the sun had gone down here that pony would be doing the exact same thing in both worlds.

Deciding that she had enough of the day-to-day business covered; she moved onto the question that she'd been dying to get off her chest. "So what happened when Discord woke up?"

"Who?" Twilight scanned Fluttershy's face for any kind of deception, but she just looked a bit confused.

"Ancient spirit of chaos and anarchy. He must still be locked up in the statue still in the Royal Canterlot gardens.” Twilight tapped herself lightly on the head. “Of course he is! The Elements of Harmony haven’t been awakened properly in your world.” She frowned. “Anyway you may want to watch out for that. He's the draconequus statue by the way. He's not too hard to spot, as he's the only non-pony one there."

"Oh, you mean the old 'prison',” Fluttershy said, as realisation dawned. “The princess sealed it off to everypony. Only went in there just the once as she wanted to introduce me to my predecessor."

Twilight was entirely lost. "Predecessor?"

"The last captain of her Shadowbolts of course. Y’know, the pony before me," Fluttershy explained slowly.

"But how could you meet a pony from a thousand years ago in the statue garden... oh."

Twilight refused to turn round. It was an absolute logical impossibility what she'd just heard. Discord was sealed away permanently miles away in Canterlot, but still she could have sworn that she'd just heard that insufferably smug voice whispering, "at least I don't turn ponies into stone," into her ear.

"Princess Celestia would never—"

Fluttershy silenced her protests with a wave of her hoof. "It was a different time. Nightmare Moon seemed so regretful about her, as if she thought that she was the pony responsible and not her sister. She's always promised that this time round she'd be the better pony and not make the... Well the mistakes that happened last time."

Twilight Sparkle refused to believe it, could not believe it, that her beloved mentor could do such a thing, but still couldn't help asking, "which one?"

"Victory."

"But that's Silver Hammer from the Diarchic era. I can show you the book I've got about her! Anyway she was an earth pony."

Fluttershy's face paled. "Her wings didn't survive the process," she said weakly.

Twilight ground her teeth hard to the point they almost bled. She was going to prove this false imitation of Fluttershy wrong. After her deeply unpleasant encounter with a cockatrice in the Everfree forest she knew just the spell to reverse petrification. All it would take would be a quick teleport to Canterlot and back and she could get this all sorted out...

"Don't," Fluttershy said, some of old steel returning to her voice. "Whatever you're planning, just don't. Let her sleep. Awakening her now would be evil."

"But—"

"Is your peace-of-mind that important to you if you find out you're wrong?" Fluttershy asked quietly.

Twilight opened her mouth to say something and then shut it again. The manic episode that had been building within her deflated entirely. She still wanted to know, but she really didn't want to pay the possible cost of herself to learn it.

"Greetings again," said Trixie as she trotted back into the library.

Sparks followed in behind her and mumbled out a quiet, "hello."

"Weren't you going to that fashion pony's place or something?" Fluttershy asked, after Twilight had only grunted out an acknowledgement while keeping her back to the pair.

Trixie shook her head. "There was a note on the door saying she had closed up for the day. So Trixie decided she'd try it again tomorrow."

When Trixie and Sparks had retreated back up stairs, Fluttershy said, quietly enough so that there was no chance to be overheard by the other two ponies, "you really don't like her do you?"

Twilight stood up causing Fluttershy to scoot backwards a bit at the sudden movement. "And what makes you say that?"

"Well the eerie glowing green eyes and the black miasma floating out of them is a bit of a giveaway," Fluttershy said, struggling to keep her voice from quavering. "It started as soon as Sparks said 'hello'. It was all I could do to keep my face straight."

Twilight blinked and her eyes were back to the usual purple. The miasma evaporated into the air like it had never been there at all. She couldn't believe the potent mix of hate and fear Sparks provoked in her had actually started to subconsciously effect her unicorn magic. "That better?"

"Much better, thanks. Um, and the crystals?" Fluttershy said, eyeing the black growths that were slowly spreading up some of the nearby bookshelves.

Twilight Sparkle gave a little guilty laugh. "Whoops! Let me get those." Her horn glowed emitting a warming light that filled the room from wall to wall with an enormous sense of well-being. The gems crumbled into nothingness returning the library back to normal. "Sorry about that," she said in the tones of one confessing to an embarrassing personal problem. "I guess she just brings out the worst in me."

"I've seen those crystals before," said Fluttershy, narrowing her eyes. "Up north, but I'm sure you’d know that.”

She raised an eyebrow in response to that. So, the Crystal Empire returned there too... Well no reason it wouldn’t have I suppose, Twilight Sparkle thought.

“It’s not dangerous,” Twilight said, sitting back down again and giving the pegasus an easy reassuring smile. Fluttershy barked out a cynical laugh.

“Right, and I’m sure the ‘faithful’ student Sombra said something similar all those years ago,” Fluttershy said, making quotation gestures in the air with her wings.

“I’m nothing like him...” Twilight trailed off as her brain caught up with what her ears had just heard. “Wait, what?”

Fluttershy sighed. “He used to be Princess Luna’s personal student before her original rebellion. It didn’t end well for him. At all.”

Twilight sat back in stunned silence. Why hadn’t Celestia told her? Then again that look that Luna had given her back at the castle before she’d set out now suddenly made a lot more sense.

“Couple of weeks ago he came back, along with the whole Crystal Kingdom,” Fluttershy said, as she continued her tale. “The Princess found out and me and her went up north to sort it out. Not like I was needed, but she asked me along for moral support.” The yellow pegasus frowned as she recalled the all too recent memory. “If those pampered ponies back in Canterlot were upset by what she did to that wannabe alicorn skank Cadance, then they’d have collectively soiled themselves after what she did to that old student of hers.” She sniffed. “Almost enough for me to feel sorry for him. Then after what he’d been doing to those poor crystal ponies in those mines of his; only almost and nowhere near enough.”

“So you didn’t need to find the crystal heart?” asked Twilight. She’d kind of figured that the princesses could have sorted it out if they hadn’t wanted to test her progress, but it was still bit of a shock that Luna could have dealt with it so easily.

Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “Oh that old thing. I retrieved it from the top of the tower just before we left back for Canterlot. The crystal ponies seemed to appreciate the thought, though not as much as seeing as their old master getting publically eviscerated by an unbelievably pissed off alicorn.”

“We exploded him with it,” Twilight said, feeling that she need to stick up for what she’d accomplished with the aid of her number one assistant.

“Well done,” Fluttershy said with no trace of irony then looked around at the library. "Still no offense, but you don't seem the sort to have dark magic leaking out of you. I can't even see a copy of the Neighcronomicon on your shelves."

"It's not inherently corrupting, you know!" she protested loudly.

"Of course it isn't." Twilight's face screwed up, as she sensed she was being humoured.

"Look, believe me I'm not normally like this," she said more softly. "I've been studying the magic of friendship long enough that I should be bonding with Sparks; believe me I know! I even managed to correct her eyes so she doesn't need those glasses of hers yesterday night and as long as she doesn't say anything I'm fine. It wasn't as if her sight was all that bad just even more looking at books than I've managed somehow."

"But?" Fluttershy prompted.

"Every time I look at her I see what I could so easily have been," Twilight admitted. "And frankly it scares me how close I could have come to never even having a single friend to call my own." She shuddered. Some nights she woke up convinced coming to Ponyville had only been a wonderful dream and those were always the worst. "I even find myself hating her for not trying harder, as surely if I could do it so could she. It's so bad it's even enough to spark dark magic off and believe me I feel so guilty for feeling like this and I wish I didn't understand why I'm feeling this way. I've been so on edge since she turned up I almost did something I'd never be able to forgive myself to Trixie if you hadn't have butted in when you did."

"I can see that must be hard," Fluttershy said understandingly. "If it helps I don't think that Pinkie of yours is doing any better from what I've seen."

Twilight had finally had enough. “What is up with you this morning anyway? You're being all pleasant and helpful; it's not like you at all.”

“You don’t like the new Fluttershy?” she asked giving her a cute, winsome and totally harmless look that even Angel now would have given high marks.

Twilight Sparkle on the other hoof, wasn’t anyway near as moved. “You're kidding, right?"

"No, not at all.” Without warning Fluttershy leaned over and hugged her hard. “You've given me a place to stay and began far more tolerant than I could ever deserve. I'm so, so sorry for how I've behaved and I am going to make it up to you!"

Twilight was torn between being surprised and being genuinely touched by the display. She was also struggling to breathe. Eventually Fluttershy noticed the frantic choking noises and slackened her hold a bit with a deeply cute embarrassed squeak.

She took a few breaths so that she wasn’t seeing double. “I don’t understand why you’ve decided to change, but I am glad that you’ve decided to,” she said, as she hugged Fluttershy back.

“I...” Fluttershy trailed off, before swallowing hard. “I went to visit your Fluttershy’s cottage.”

Feeling Twilight’s horn near-instantly becoming red-hot right next to her head, Fluttershy very quickly added, “She was so disappointed with me and she insisted I was going to be a better pony.” Fluttershy breathed out with relief as the heat dissipated. “We talked for most of the night afterwards and your friend... well she was very persuasive.”

Not pulling away from the hug, Twilight said proudly, “She sure can be when she puts her mind to it.”

~~~

Pinkamena had been having a deeply productive morning. First she’d bumped into an acquaintance she’d known for a long time back in her world, but had certainly not been expected to run into here in Ponyville. Normally she knew her as Golden Harvest the Fifth, but here she just went by Carrot Top. The vegetable store owner had been in a jovial mood with her usual main competition being absent and had been doing a roaring trade when Pinkamena had been trotting by.

Still while very different from the refined pony she knew, Pinkamena had more than enjoyed their conversation. She’d had no idea that food retail could be so vicious, but had come up with a couple of sharp-business tips for Carrot Top to put one over her apple selling rival.

Then she'd run into a pony she'd somehow managed to remain completely unaware of, but would be certainly be looking up when she got back to her Equestria. Filthy Rich, owner of Barnyard Bargains was a real find and a shoe-in for the guild as far as she was concerned. Sure he had cornered the market by viciously undercutting all of his now former competitors, but he managed to stay a genuinely decent stallion of strong moral fibre. She'd especially enjoyed his story of how he'd formed a strong relationship with the Apple family to secure the rights to their zap apple harvests in perpetuity. Sure he was getting on in years and one of his daughters was only a few years younger than herself, so Pinkamena had been deeply surprised to find herself awkwardly flirting with the business owner. She wasn't sure whether his obliviousness had just been down to her being incredibly out of practise, or just him being nice and saving them both the embarrassment.

She'd had a quick working lunch and had been further exploring some of the back streets of the main thoroughfare of Ponyville when she'd come across her double. Pinkie was listlessly poking at the ground with her hoof and sat beside her was an impressively elaborate cake. The whole scene was so incongruous that Pinkamena just had to stop to find out what was going on.

"Good afternoon, Pinkie," she said casually, as if dropping in on her other self was something she did everyday. "Are you feeling quite alright?"

Pinkie looked up with her ears completely drooped. "Oh no... you're too early! I still haven't worked out how to be your friend and nothing I can think of is going to work at all!"

"Is it really that important to you?" Pinkamena asked and received a nod as confirmation.

She sighed; maybe she should just play along. Seeing her double like this was really getting to her for reasons she didn't entirely understand. "Okay, Pinkie. Why don't you let me know what you've come up with?" she said, as she eyed the really quite yummy looking cake on the ground and fought the urge to drool.

Pinkie perked up a bit. "Well! First I was going to go with the classic and throw you a surprise party, but I met Trixie and Sparksie earlier and they told me about what happened with that meany-pants griffon, so I figured surprises would not make you happy at all at the moment."

Twilight's spell had been effective last night in not leaving a mark on her from the experience and Pinkamena had only experienced the odd twinges today, but she agreed any surprise right now would still be enough to get her to gallop a mile in the opposite direction.

"Then I was going to go for a song-and-dance number featuring the entire town, but I asked the Mayor and she won't let me have permission until next Tuesday and you'll be gone by then..." she said mournfully.

"You need permission for that?" Pinkamena asked, mildly surprised that this was something Pinkie was able to organise at short notice. Surely the choreography alone would take days.

"Oh yeah and all the forms you have to fill out! Had so many last time I just ended up making it into paper mache for the twins," Pinkie said happily. "So then I thought I'd used the mirror pool until I found a Pinkie that could be your friend."

"And into her own reflection she stared, yearning for one whose reflection she shared, and solemnly sweared not to be scared, at the prospect of being doubly mared?" Pinkamena quoted. "Course not that I've ever needed to find out whether that old story of Nana's was true or not." She finished off in unison with another Pinkamena stood at her side.

Pinkie winced at what she was seeing in front of her before sighing in relief when there was just one of her doubles again. "It did work, but it didn't go too well for anypony! Especially me! I had to stare at paint drying for ages! And then I remembered it's got a big rock over the entrance now anyway."

"Okaaay," Pinkamena drawled out ever so slowly backing away slightly. "So what about the cake then?"

"Oh, I was just going to throw it at you," Pinkie admitted.

Pinkamena's eyes crossed as she tried to work out the logic there. "How was that going to make us friends?"

"I have absolutely no idea!" Pinkie said with a wide grin. "Seemed like a good plan at the time, but I figured you'd probably just be upset if I assaulted you with cake and that'd probably be a surprise too anyway."

"Why don't we try it?"

Pinkie jumped up. Her all important poking of the ground completely forgotten. "Really, really?"

"Sure," Pinkamena said graciously. "It's seems like the fastest option, so going for efficiency assuming it works is definitely a positive factor."

"You won't get mad?"

"I promise," Pinkamena said, putting a hoof on her chest.

"Pinkie promise, like Nana used too," Pinkie insisted.

"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a diamond in my eye." Pinkamena said, complete with all the correct actions.

"Yes!" Pinkie shouted, completely back to her usual level of perkiness and flung the cake with pinpoint accuracy.

Pinkamena blinked as the delicious frosting dripped down her face which she licked up reflexively. The way the lemon blended into the chocolate was really quite extraordinary. Sure it had lacked a certain spontaneity, but there was something about this that just tickled something deep down inside herself. She felt her lips start to widen as something threatened to rise up and flood over the dam within. Something totally unfamiliar that just was not her at all. She was a serious pony, one of proper work ethics, responsible and mature, not that...

"Sorry, gotta go," she said curtly. Pinkamena just had time to see her double's face fall before she was back upstairs in the library again.

"Trixie, you need to hit me as hard as you can!" The magician and Sparks had been practicing a routine and were now staring at the completely mad looking pony with still a fair amount of cake smeared into her coat. Trixie had apparently been showing Sparks escapology. Pinkamena did briefly wonder how she was going to get out after being so trussed up as completely as that.

"What?" Trixie asked weakly, dropping the length of rope she'd been holding with her horn.

"I need you to hit me," Pinkamena repeated, her face contorting in concentration.

Trixie frowned while Sparks shrank back. Though not by very much as she was still completely tied up. "Trixie's not going to hit you!" she insisted, wondering if the business mare had snapped entirely.

"Don't just stand there and hit me!" Pinkamena yelled waving her forehooves wildly in the air.

Trixie shrugged her shoulders and lightly slapped Pinkamena across the face.

"Thanks, Trixie. That was a close one," Pinkamena said, with a fair amount of relief at reclaiming her mental equilibrium as she straightened her tie. "You're a good pony you know that."

Trixie blushed lightly. She really wasn't used to ponies actually respecting her, but it definitely felt good.

~~~

Rock had never felt quite like this in all her life. If she was anymore relaxed she'd now be a pony puddle all over the floor. Her and Rarity were in the spa's cooldown room after a vigorous massage and beauty treatment with the incredibly talented Aloe and Lotus. They'd both received the new faux crystal pony course at Rarity's request. Braids entwined in their manes, full facials, and of course plenty of sparkles all over. If it wasn't for Rock's old rag which she'd wrapped round one of her hooves and the colours of the braids the two would have been indistinguishable in their gorgeousness.

"I could get used to this," murmured Rock, as she sipped some refreshing mint tea. "I really could y'know that."

Rarity gave a ladylike grunt in reply, far too mellow to do something so strenuous as talking.

"Can't believe I've lived for years in Ponyville and never even given this place a second look," said Rock, as she stretched languorously. "That's going to change though. Just a shame I'll have to tone it down a bit for work," she said as she looked down at herself. The pony pedi, as nice as it was, would definitely have to be dropped for not being practical.

Rarity started to snore in a deeply unladylike fashion leaving Rock talking to herself. "And I owe this all to you, Rarity. I'll never forget it. I promise you that."

~~~

Applejack and Appletini stepped off the train at the Ponyville station. Appletini looked around as the trained pulled out on its way for the rest of the journey. "This place doesn't change much does it?"

"Naw, just the way we like it," Applejack replied, with an easy smile.

"I meant to say something on the train, but I really do appreciate you coming to get me. I know it must have been hard leaving the farm to sort out some pony you've never met."

"Aw shucks, sugarcube. Wasn't any trouble at all. Turned out to be a pleasant trip all round and wit' good company too," Applejack said, tipping her hat to Appletini. Her double blushed and grinned back.

"So what now then?" she asked, her eyes glancing towards the direction of where she knew the farm resided.

"Well, 'spose we better head to the library—" Applejack stopped talking suddenly as her eyes widened in shock.

"Applejack?"

"Your eyes are sparking up a storm!" Applejack yelled over the rising crackle of magic in the air.

"So are yours!" Appletini shouted back.

Applejack held onto her hat, as the leaves in the nearby trees all started to crumple up. "Ah don' suppose we've got time for a goodbye hu—"

There was a *CRACK* in the air and they were gone.

~~~

The ground floor of the library went from having just Fluttershy and Twilight to an another ten ponies in the blink of an eye. Even Pinkamena and Sparks who had just been upstairs appeared in a crash of harmonic magical spray. All eyes were drawn to the two azure pegasi who seemed not to have noticed their teleportation at all and were still passionately snogging on the floor.

It was Applejack who spoke first, "Heck girls, that just ain't right."

Trixie who was looking down from the upper level and had spent the most time with the other Rainbow Dash could only whistle in admiration and tip her currently non-existent hat in admiration. Damn she's good, she thought to herself.

"What the heck is going on?" Rarity yelled, having been rudely awakened by the thaumalogical storm.

Twilight looked around frantically. Everyponies eyes in the room with the exception of Trixie were glowing ever brighter and she could see raw magic sparking from horn to wing to earth pony hooves. The two Dash's were holding on for dear life to the other now with both their faces contorted in alarm. "This is the spell! It must be about to send them home, but Sparks could never of cast this much magic! It's imposs—"

She was cut off as the magic in the room mounted to crescendo linking the six doubles in a rainbow chain. Sparks, Pinkamena, Captain Fluttershy, Rock, Appletini and the Amazing and Stupendous Rainbow Dash slowly raised into the air, held completely immobile, as they were caught within the embrace of the tempest. Twilight could just about make out familiar golden objects emerging out of their bodies as if they were coming directly from out of their very hearts. Rock's who was closest to her was decorated, sure enough, by the three gears of her cutie mark upon the necklace. She looked around to see if she could find the pony wearing the tiara of magic, but the rainbow was getting so bright that she was having trouble seeing anything at all.

There was an earth-shaking boom knocking every single book off the shelves and the remaining ponies off their hooves. Twilight looked up with her head ringing and her vision doubled. She could still see the after image of six pillars of light that had seemed to stretch into infinity.

Trixie had landed sprawled right on top of Fluttershy sometime during the magical storm. The pegasus was now politely, but firmly suggesting the unicorn get off her right this second. Applejack had her hat pressed against her chest and was looking forlorn at not getting a chance to have a proper goodbye to Appletini. Rarity was looking much the same.

“They’ve gone?” Pinkie asked, springing up out of a landslide of books she’d been buried under. She was trying not to giggle in delight out of respect for her friends, but was failing badly.

“Yes, they’ve all gone.” Twilight Sparkle replied, trying not to look to happy herself. She knew she should be feeling guilty for not attempting to be friends harder and maybe that made her a bad student. But frankly Sparks was permanently out of her mane and the reminder of the pony of who she could have been without Princess Celestia was gone for good, and Twilight couldn’t help but smile.

~~~

Sometime later Spike was resignedly replacing all the books to their proper places. Fluttershy had politely excused herself, but had needed to leave right away as poor Angel was suffering from hypothermia and she needed to go home and take care of him.

Twilight Sparkle was waiting for another explosion when she realised that Applejack was now meeting Trixie for the first time since the unfortunate incident last time. Shielding her ears and taking cover on the floor she awaited the inevitable moment of realisation. Not hearing anything she looked up again to see that everypony was just looking at her oddly.

"Um, you have noticed Trixie's over there, right?" she asked Applejack. Trixie waved awkwardly in what she hoped was a friendly way.

"Ain't sayin' it's not a surprise, but she doesn't seem to makin' any trouble, so it'd be downright rude to start some mah self." Trixie breathed out a relieved sigh she didn't realise she'd been holding. "Anyway, ain't like it was the first time ah've been tied up, sugarcube," Applejack said with a wink.

Twilight smiled happily that everypony was going to be able to get on. In fact it gave her just the perfect idea. "Spike, take a letter." The young dragon put down the book that he'd been holding with some relief and retrieved a quill and some parchment. "I'm sure we can get a friendship lesson out of this whole affair. Anyway Princess Celestia really should know all about this and not before time! How about you to start, Rarity?"

Rarity was sitting quietly with a blissful look on her face, so Twilight asked again, "Rarity, you in there?"

She breathed out. "Oh sorry, darling. I was miles away. Anyway, Rock was a perfectly agreeable pony, so I don't think I can think of anything for a lesson, Twilight."

"Really? Well if you say so," she said, with a certain amount of unbelief in her voice. She turned to her farmer friend. "How about you Applejack?"

"Ah learnt I'm great, no matter what kind of pony I ahm." Her voice effortlessly shifted into a cut-glass upper Manehattan accent. "Of course, my dear, I always did suspect that already."

“Oh no, we’re not doing that again,” Twilight said, remembering the letter she had got back last time. Leaving Applejack aside as the experience with her duplicate had left her completely mentally unbalanced, she turned to Rainbow Dash. "I don't suppose you learned anything did you, Dash?"

"I learned that I am awesome at kissing!" she declared proudly. "Course I'm awesome at everything anyway, so there never was really any doubt."

"Dash, I can't write and tell the princess that!" Twilight said and blushed fiercely.

"Why, do you think she'd want a go?" teased Dash. She waggled her eyebrows in a suggestive manner that would have probably got herself sharply told off if Rarity wasn't still in her happy place.

"Pinkie?" Twilight asked desperately, worried she wasn't going to be getting a friendship report out of this at all.

"She was a stupid meany-pants and I don't care about her at all," Pinkie said with a huff.

Rapidly running out of options; Twilight turned to Trixie.

After the concept was explained to her, Trixie slowly said, "So let Trixie get this straight. You write to the princess about lessons involving the magic of friendship as part of a research project on a regular basis." She paused. "And this would involve telling Princess Celestia that you sent back the six wielders of the elements of harmony without any guarantee they'd free her sister from being Nightmare Moon or indeed rescue her from whatever terrible fate she's suffering there?"

Twilight opened her mouth to say something before realising that the former magician had raised an excellent point. After telling Spike to get back to the books, she asked, "So what are you going to do now, Trixie? I'm sure everypony would be okay with you staying in Ponyville if you found something useful to do."

Trixie stopped as she thought about the offer. Sometimes you get to wear the magician's hat, Trixie. But sometimes you have to wear the sparkly leotard... she thought to herself, as she inwardly swallowed her pride.

"I don't suppose you've got a place for an assistant, Twilight?"

~~~

Applejack stood at the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. The others had very briefly exchanged pleasantries and made their excuses and then promptly left; leaving her with a very long journey home. Sparks and Dash had departed together deep in conversation. Pinkamena had trotted off with a fixed look on her face. Fluttershy had looked like she wanted to say something, but had flew off without a single word. Rock—a most exquisitely presented mare from what Applejack had seen and not at all the thug that her double had described—had galloped off, though had yelled a quick apology for the rush. Still it had been fun being Appletini and she really had appreciated her double's company for the perspective it'd given her on her own life.

Lacking in options she'd found herself automatically walking the old path back to the farm. She'd sworn as a filly that she'd never, ever set a hoof here again after it took both her parents from her. Yet here she was. Same old buildings, same old trees and same old farm.

It would be nice to see her big brother again of course. He'd weep like a filly, like the big soppy lug he always was. There was Granny Smith of course and tiny Applebloom. Though she imagined she'd be well on her way to being grown now.

She sighed heavily out loud. All it would take was putting one hoof in front of another. She could just imagine her other self in pappy's old hat laughing at her good-naturedly for being such a coward.

There was really nothing to it in the end and Applejack went home.

~~~

Rock arrived home, somewhat out of breath, and looked around at the ground floor flat she rented for herself and her sister. It was so much more dirty than she remembered and the low ceiling that used to pleasantly remind her of the mines now seemed stifling. She was trying not to compare it to the light and airy Carousel Boutique, but it was so hard not to. Instead of immaculately dressed poniquins there were mounds of old clothes and instead of the bustle of business there was just the ancient mare who rented upstairs snoring loudly. Then there was her old pick hanging up along with Sweetie’s first hoof-axe. Rusty and dirty sure, but beloved mementoes nonetheless. Then there was the sawblade her sister used now for her work, resting up against a wall, reminding her that what she had here was just as valuable as anything Rarity had.

“Sweets?” she called out. “You home?”

Sweetie Belle appeared out of the kitchen in her usual dainty red-woollen chequered shirt. She did a visible double-take at her sister's appearance. "Sis, you look like you should be trawling the Flankfurt back streets," she dead-panned.

Rock let out an utterly mortified squeal. "Sweetie Belle! You shouldn't know anything about that!"

Her little sister grinned. "Where you been hiding these last few days anyway?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she replied with total honesty.

"Prob'ly not," Sweetie agreed, eyeing her older sister's fancy get-up.

Rock crouched down, seized her sister in her forelegs and pulled her in for a hug. She was getting sparkles all over her sister’s best woodcutting top and didn’t care at all. "I've missed you," she said, with her eyes beginning to lightly glisten. “I thought I might never see you again.”

The young filly almost fought back against the unusual display of sisterly affection, but then shrugged. Even with Scoots and Dinky to hang with, the house had been pretty lonely without her big sister about. "I missed you too, sis," Sweetie said, returning the hug fiercely.

"I'm never going to leave you again, you know that. Best sisters forever," she promised.

Sweetie Belle sniffed happily. "Best sisters forever."

~~~

Captain Fluttershy touched down onto the battlements of Canterlot. She knew that she'd definitely need to check in with Nightmare Moon after going absent without leave for the last couple of days, but trotting over towards her now was the absolute last stallion that she wanted to see. Somepony must have seen her coming and let him know to prepare a proper unwelcoming committee. She glared at Shining Armour advancing on her with his far too shiny black and gold-edged armour. Oh and all the spikes and fake skulls of course. She sometimes wondered if the captain of the royal guard enjoyed looking bad a little too much than was entirely healthy.

“Where have you been?” Shining Armour demanded shortly. “She’s been asking for you.” Fluttershy didn’t need to be told who she was. The stallion was quickly getting entirely too close to her body space for her to be entirely comfortable.

This was clearly not the time for new Fluttershy, as she armoured herself up in her old attitude. “None of your damn business, Armour.”

“She’ll tire of you in the end and then nopony will be there to protect you. It’s not like any other pony actually cares about you y’know.” Fluttershy trotted along lightly on top of the battlements as Shining Armour following along and lectured her. She’d heard those empty threats and bluster from the stallion thorn-in-her-side many times before and they had no more effect on her now than they had before.

She was going to just fly off and go to the princess when something made her stop and look back at Shining Armour. “You should visit your sister sometime. I’m sure she misses you,” she said softly, her voice barely above a whisper.

The stallion’s jaw clenched almost imperceptibly. He was doing a good job of hiding it, but Fluttershy could see the sudden look of fear in his eyes. “If you’ve hurt even a single hair in her mane, I’ll—”

Fluttershy smiled with a surprising amount of sincerity. “It was just a thought,” she said lightly. The captain of the Shadowbolts spread her wings and disappeared into the night air leaving her opposite number speechless.

From the look on Nightmare Moon’s face it was going to be one of those meetings. Time to be professional, thought Fluttershy as the alicorn rose from her throne.

“Oh, captain. You’ve been neglecting me,” Nightmare Moon chided gently.

Fluttershy stiffened to full attention. “Apologies, my princess. I was indisposed.”

“Indisposed?” Nightmare Moon chuckled to herself. “I hope it was not too serious. I would hate to lose my favourite subject.”

“Of course not, my princess,” said Fluttershy, keeping her wings flat against her flanks.

She kept her eyes locked on an indeterminate point towards one of the many stained-glass windows as the ruler of Equestria started to pace about the throne room.

“None of them like me. Even now a year later without their precious sunlight.” There was a definite whine creeping into the alicorn’s voice. “Sure I think some of them might respect me now, and Shining...” Nightmare Moon coughed. “Is fun in his own way, but none of them actually seem to really like me. Not like you do. Why is that?”

“Couldn’t say, my princess,” said Fluttershy, keeping her gaze level and unmoving. The perfect soldier and servant down to the bone.

“Not one of your many prepared speeches about my power or beauty?” she said, a little disappointed. “I do always enjoy hearing those.”

“Sorry, my princess.”

Nightmare Moon had returned to her throne, but instead of placing herself down, she sat down beside it and placed a forehoof lightly down upon where another pony used to hold court. She let out a long choking sob that disrupted Fluttershy’s calm visage entirely as she whipped her head to look upon her ruler.

“Maybe my little ponies would like me if I raised the sun just one day a week, perhaps...” Fluttershy’s mouth hung open at what she was seeing, let alone what at she was hearing. “But no, the night must last forever.” Nightmare Moon finished her voice returning to it’s usual firmness. Fluttershy was still struggling to process what she’d just witnessed. For a moment she fancied she’d seen the princess from another Canterlot who she’d observed taking tea in the garden before the darkness had flowed back once more.

~~~

“Watch in awe, as you witness the magic of the awesome, the stupendous, I am Rrrainbow Dash!” The pegasus rolled her name with heart-stopping perfection, as the gathered Ponyville crowd hung on her every word.

Sparks watched from the back of her crowd. As far as they knew she was still in the box on stage and about to be menaced by the multiple sharp objects that Dash was doing such an impressively showy job of caressing at the moment.

“You’re doing great by the way.” That was from the Trixie of her world. She was currently standing beside her and using the same invisibility spell so as not to spoil the trick.

“Thanks. Least I’ve stopped shaking. I guess,” said Sparks quietly, as she kept an eye on the stage to see how long she had till her cue.

“Oh, nopony noticed that,” Trixie said, with a reassuring grin. Not that Sparks could see it at the moment of course.

Sparks rubbed the sparkly garment down that she knew she was still wearing from the way it hugged her all over. “I can’t believe you came up with it so fast. We’ve barely been back a couple of hours.”

“Call it inspiration.” Trixie voiced switched into full on business mode. “Right, remember just drop the pouches for the smoke, but the fireworks you’ll need just a bit of magic to spark off. Not too much though!” she said, as she helped Sparks up into the tree. A complicated maneuver made all the harder that neither pony could see each other, or indeed themselves.

Seeing that Dash had moved onto the final broadsword, she knew she didn’t have a lot of time left, but an irresistible inspiration struck her and she leaned down and managed to place a kiss on Trixie’s nose. Sparks was rewarded with the sound of a delighted squeak from the other unicorn.

She whispered back, “We’ll talk about this later,” just about loud enough for Sparks to hear before she dropped the pouches and everything exploded in fire and stars as the former recluse revealed herself to the crowd.

“My lovely assistant, everypony, the Spectacular Sparks!” Rainbow Dash, called from centre stage and the crowd went wild with applause.

~~~

Pinkamena trotted slowly back down the road that would lead to her rock farm. She could have been there long ago now, but she’d decided she needed to take some time about what she’d experienced over the last few days. Something was bubbling up deep inside her and it was struggling to get out. There was just something about those all those faces that she’d seen going about their business in the other Ponyville that refused to leave her alone. She was sure that the bits had flown faster in the sunshine, but she couldn’t be certain why. It couldn’t just be as simple as the sun being up in it’s proper place, Pinkamena reckoned. Then as she knew all too well that the laws of finances had a complexity and a psychology that even dwarfed the study of magic itself.

Of course it wasn’t like she could do anything about it even if she wanted too. Pinkamena had sworn an oath after all. The image of the contract sprang immediately to mind; courtesy of her perfect recall.

Pinkamena didn’t giggle, she absolutely didn’t ever giggle, but whatever escaped her lips at that moment was still deeply amused nonetheless. ‘I, Pinkamena Diane Pie, swear eternal fealty to Princess Luna...’ Oh there were a bunch of titles after that, but none of them had been Nightmare Moon had they. From what Pinkamena remembered was that it’d been easier to use her name officially as a princess when she’d first taken over, as Nightmare Moon had no real legal power beyond right of contest, while Princess Luna had plenty. So it could be argued, and Pinkamena certainly could, that using these elements of harmony on the princess would be working in her best interests regardless of any instructions from Nightmare Moon herself.

Sure she’d have to convince the others. Sparks would be easy, and so would Rock and Appletini, Pinkamena was sure of it. Dash might be a bit more tricky, but she wasn’t much of a deep thinker as far as Pinkamena reckoned, so would probably succumb to peer pressure. That just left Captain Fluttershy. Still something had changed about the pegasus during their time in that other Equestria and Pinkamena was sure that she could work with that. After all she had a lifetime of experience in persuading ponies to do what they didn’t want to thanks to her time in business so Pinkamena reckoned she wouldn’t be a problem.

All it would take was a push. A spark, if you will, to set it all in motion, Pinkamena thought as she adjusted the crown that rested upon her head. A smile wide enough to encompass the entirety of Equestria spread across Pinkamena’s face. She stopped in her tracks, as her straight hair practically exploded into unstoppable bouncy curls.

“You know what this calls for?” she said out loud to anypony that might be listening. “This calls for a PARTY!!!