• Published 8th Jan 2020
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Golden Age of Apocalypse - Book III: Legacies - BlueBastard



Everything is finally ready for Sunset Shimmer to be crowned a ruling princess of Equestria, but not all is as it seems as the Covenant make their move and the history of Equestria itself is called into question as GAOA reaches its explosive end!

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Chapter 2 - Discordant Notes

GAOA Book III

Chapter 2: Discordant Notes

The first thing that made Raspberry Beryl think this was not going to be anything even remotely approaching a normal day was the summons for her to come to Princess Twilight’s office first thing in the morning. Not only was she not aware that her friend had one here in the palace – though she shouldn’t have been surprised, in hindsight – but the fact that she’d been summoned, which was not normally how Twilight usually operated, meant that it was official business...and it was way too early in the morning for official business.

Nonetheless, as the Archmagus of Equestria, Razz was obliged to go, and so she had the page wait for a few while she quickly got ready. Afterwards, it was a quick trip to a part of the palace that Razz rarely went to, and then into one set of offices on the fourth floor of said wing. The page, following protocol, made the pronouncements as was normal, then ushered Razz in before departing.

Seated at a desk in an otherwise opulent room, Princess Twilight Sparkle was surrounded by paperwork and looked, as typical in that situation, in her element. So much so, in fact, that she’d pretty much ignored all the flowery statements by the page and even until Razz bobbed with a florid curtsey and said in a stentorian voice, “The Archmagus of Equestria is here at the pleasure of the Princess of Friendship as bid, Your Highness. May you instruct me wisely in the words you are about to utter.”

Twilight looked up and rolled her eyes. “Not funny, Razz,” she said drolly.

Razz giggled. “I thought it was. So what’s so important that you had to issue an official summons?”

The alicorn blinked. “Uh, I didn’t….” She groaned and facehoofed. “I’m sorry, Razz, it wasn’t meant to be an official summons of any kind; you know I really hate that. But I am glad you’re here, as I’m going to need to rely on you as much as the rest of the Court of Friendship.” She pointed at a table with coffee carafes and various pastries. “Have you eaten yet?”

“Taking care of that problem right now,” the mulberry unicorn chirped as she happily cantered over to the foodstuffs.


A few minutes later, the two were seated at the table, eating a much-needed breakfast. “Okay, now that I’ve had some coffee and feel more pony,” Razz said to her friend as she set down a mug, “what’s going on?”

“Everything,” Twilight said, taking the coffee carafe in her magic and refilling both their mugs.

“Everything, huh? That’s...really descriptive.” Razz thought about it for a second. “Why, do we have an escalation of the Allucinor issue?”

“Not just that. Do you know what happened to Sunset?” Not waiting for an answer, Twilight then went on about what had occurred just several hours ago and how it had seriously affected her fellow alicorn, but just as much how it had harmed the human Pinkie. Razz listened intently; while she knew to some degree what had likely gone on – with what she’d learned about Allucinors just a few hours back it wasn’t hard to assume what would have been the result – but she still felt for her friends and how they’d suffered.

“How...how are they doing?” she asked softly.

Twilight pursed her lips. “I just spoke with Sunset’s human parents a little while ago. They’re both distraught, needless to say. Dr. Velvet is consulting with the medical doctors that are over in Cadance’s office right now, working with her on a purge regime to get the venom out of Sunset’s system. From what I’d heard earlier, they’re pretty sure it’s all out now, but they plan to run a final check on her just in case. As for Dr. Light, well, my father took him over to the Royal Observatory in order to let him relax and let the doctors do their thing.

“As for Pinkie...we don’t know. She’s only spoken to Adagio so far, and since then, we haven’t heard anything from her. Both Fluttershys tried to see her about thirty minutes ago, but to no avail. She made some comment about ‘130 hours of Krautrock’. Flutters said that it was a German style of rock music, but other than that she had no idea what Pinkie meant.”

“Knowing Pinkie? Who knows?” Razz said sadly. “I guess that means we’re going to have to delay the coronation another day?”

“We can’t afford to – the populace is already wondering why there was an extra day, and the diplomatic entourages that have shown up are already asking questions as well. Granted, they understand about the overcrowding and the extra preparations needed – remember what happened when Iron Will was crowned? – but that’s only an excuse that will buy us an extra day at most. Furthermore, with what happened early this morning, I’m sure that news is bound to get out soon if it’s not already.”

Razz looked puzzled at that. “So how do I fit into this?”

“With we princesses tied up taking care of various issues because of everything going on, we’ve had to delegate some issues,” Twilight explained, picking up another donut. “Cadance has her hooves full into looking at Sunset’s health. Sunset, obviously, is otherwise occupied. Luna, my brother and Div are looking into increasing security given everything that’s happened. And I’m personally helping Celestia deal with everything else, as well as taking things off her plate so she can go see Sunset later.

“But that also means, for a rare change, we’ve had to enlist some of the minor royals and some of the trusted nobility to take care of things.” She sighed. “Do you know who Prince Exhibition is?”

“Not really, why?”

“Well, he’s the prince in charge of the nations museums and art foundations. If you can believe it, he’s even more of an anti-social bookworm than I used to be. In any case, we’ve pulled him off that duty and he’s talking to some of the diplomats who’ve been asking around about what’s going on. But obviously it’s not enough. So, we’re looking at members of our individual courts that are present and free to assist. Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow already had plans today. Pinkie is helping in the kitchens, as per her norm. Fluttershy is assisting Cadance in the medical examination of Sunset, which just leaves you.”

“You know that I’m always willing to assist, Twi,” Razz stated, “but what can I do?”

“We’re going to need you to take charge on the Allucinor issue. Clearly both you and Fluttershy are the most familiar with them, but as she’s assisting Cadance, that leaves you. I’m sure you’ll know best what to do with them, because we really cannot afford to have them hatch in the middle of town even in the best of times, much less now. So we’ll need your help with that.

“At the same time, you’ll also have to take the lead on the investigation regarding the stallion who brought the original Allucinor into town. He’s currently in jail right now.”

Razz gave Twilight an odd look. “Isn’t that usually handled by the Guard?”

“Yes, but given that my brother is filling in for Cady’s diplomatic duties while she takes care of Sunset, something’s gotta give. Arrowswift is handling the day-to-day needs of the Guard, but we’ll need a specialist to look into potential dark magic avenues in the investigation, and you know who that usually falls to.”

Razz sighed, then poured herself another cup of coffee. “This is going to be a long day for me, isn’t it?”

“I’ve already sent the documents to your office at the Mage Guild. Additionally, because of the situation, the Hooves have offered their assistance, so the Castellan will report to you later today.”

“That’s nice of Marimba.”

“No, it’s revenge,” Twilight told her friend. “Remember that most of them have known Sunset since she was a filly. The fact that she was injured severely while under their protection? If somepony is genuinely trying to start something? They’d better hope that Sunset’s SIRENs find them first, because at least they’ll try to act under the law. If the Hooves find them? I’m not even sure Celestia herself could stop them.”

“You don’t say…” said Razz, not envying whoever – if anyone – was responsible for this.

“That’s all I have for you, Razz,” Twilight said, straightening out her papers with a sense of finality. “Unless you have anything for me, I suggest you get started.”

Razz turned towards the door to do just that, when something occurred to her. “Actually, I can think of one possible group who could be behind the Allucinor Wing attack.”

Twilight looked up from her papers. “Oh?”

“Just yesterday I spoke with a stallion who was arrested for attacking the Mage’s Guild Headquarters,” Razz explained. “He was with the Covenant.”

“The Covenant of Shadows?” Twilight asked. “You think they had something to do with the Allucinor Wing?”

“I don’t have anything to go on but a hunch,” Razz said. “But this stallion said things that made it seem like the Covenant had some larger play yet to make.”

Twilight put a hoof to her chin. “I suppose that makes sense. They are fanatics, after all. If anypony is crazy enough to try something before the coronation, it’s them.”

“I’m not so sure it’s that simple,” Razz said with a shake of her head. When Twilight gave her an inquisitive look, Razz explained, “This Covenant stallion I talked to… you might remember him if you met him. He was one of the militia ponies we met in Lonesome Dove all those months ago. He didn’t seem like a Sombra fanatic, he just seemed… desperate.”

“Desperate? How so?”

Razz leaned a little closer and said, “The fact is, ponies are scared. Between the war and the long winter… I think ponies are starting to lose faith in Princess Celestia as a ruler.”

Twilight looked at Razz like she’d just killed her owl. “B-but… that’s insane! Celestia is strong and wise. She’s always put Equestria’s needs first!”

“But she didn’t. Not during the months after the war.” Seeing that Twilight still didn’t look convinced, Razz continued, “What would have happened if Sunset hadn’t turned out to be alive?”

“She… Celestia would have pulled through for the sake of her ponies.” Twilight said the words confidently, but she didn’t look as certain as she had a moment ago.

“But how much longer would that have taken? Ponies were already starving to death when Celestia came to her senses. If the winter had gone on any longer than it had… how many of us would there even be left?”

Seeing how crestfallen Twilight looked, Razz realized she had to mitigate her own argument a bit. “Look, I haven’t lost faith in Princess Celestia, okay? She’s managed to keep Equestria running after banishing her own sister, after all. If anypony can find the strength to pull through a loss for the good of the world, it’s her. But most ponies don’t know Celestia like we do. For all they know, the entire world could very well have perished from Celestia’s melancholia.”

“I guess that makes sense….”

“All I’m trying to say is, most of these Covenant ponies aren’t inherently bad. They’re just scared, and only joined the Covenant out of fear.” Razz approached Twilight and looked her dead in the eyes. Twilight knew she was talking from personal experience when she said, “Take it from me: Fear can lead ponies to make really bad decisions.”

More than anything else, Sunset Shimmer wanted to scream. But even if she had the capability to do so, it would have been hard with her lips so firmly interlocked with Pinkie’s. Sunset felt every ounce of her dear friend’s curves as her hands worked their way up and down her body of their own volition. It felt wrong, so very wrong, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t pull away.

Sunset was utterly helpless as she roughly shoved Pinkie onto the bed her of her royal suite. Unable to stop her body’s autonomous motions as she straddled her friend’s naked, vulnerable body and began to kiss every inch of her, top to bottom. Pinkie returned the favor in kind, and despite how badly Sunset wanted to stop, she moaned as a shiver of pleasure ran down her own treacherous body. Then Sunset worked her way lower still until she was just above Pinkie’s womanhood.

“Sunny, wait,” Pinkie said softly, and Sunset wanted to. Instead she could only watch as her own hands pulled down her friend’s panties. “Sunny, stop.” Again Sunset tried, and again her body didn’t obey her commands.

“Sunny, no!” Sunset saw Pinkie’s exposed womanhood grow closer as she moved in for the kill. Then she felt a hand grab her head and lift her face. Pinkie was holding her back, looking directly into her eyes with her own, and she looked scared. “Something’s wrong. Can’t you feel it?”

I do, Pinkie! I want to stop. I just want to stop! But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t speak any of her thoughts. And nor could she stop.

So Sunset could just helplessly watch as her hand batted away Pinkie’s own, and her body once again tried to bring her mouth closer to Pinkie’s center. This time Pinkie tried to fight her off more aggressively. Sunset was momentarily dazed as she felt Pinkie’s foot connect with her face, knocking her back. Then Sunset’s hands waved in front of her, weaving together ethereal cyan light. Pinkie, who had been trying to get out of the bed, was suddenly and forcefully pinned back down, her arms and legs held in place by cyan astral chains.

Pinkie tried to fight back with her own magic, but next to Sunset’s immense power she might as well have been a candle trying to fight back the night. The chains of Sunset’s magic held Pinkie tighter, and Pinkie cried out.

Stop it! Sunny please! It hurts! STOP!

“Yeah, stop it, Sunny,” a new, familiar voice said dryly.

From behind her, a pair of masculine arms wrapped themselves around her waist, and Sunset wanted to recoil when she felt the familiar touch of lips on her neck.

“Wouldn’t want you to totally break her before I’ve had my turn,” continued the voice of Flash Sentry, who moved from Sunset to the bed beside Pinkie.

There were two more figures in bed on Pinkie’s other side, a man and a woman. Their features were vague and unrecognizable, but somehow Sunset knew without ever having met them who they were.

“Don’t get too ahead of yourselves, you two,” Sweet Cicely cooed.

“Don’t forget who has first dibs!” Royal Atlas exclaimed, caressing Pinkie’s tear-stained cheek.

Seeing Pinkie’s teary face as she silently and ineffectually begged all of them to stop broke Sunset, utterly and completely. She could feel the tears running down her own face even as her body moved to claim Pinkie’s once and for all.

In her mind, Sunset thrashed and fought with every ounce of her strength against whatever spell she was under, but it was no use. Sunset wanted nothing more in the world to scream until she was hoarse. She tried to do so even as she and the others set about using Pinkie completely and thoroughly.

Then Sunset realized that she was screaming, and what was more, Pinkie, Flash, and the others were gone. Her body was her own as she sat up in her bed, wailing like a banshee. Sick to her stomach, Sunset crawled from her bed and staggered almost drunkenly towards the bathroom, but didn’t make it and hurled on the carpet.

That had been the regular pattern every hour or so throughout the night. Go to sleep, nightmare, wake up, be sick, repeat. The doctors who had examined her after the incident earlier this morning told her that her body needed to evacuate the leftover Allucinor Wing venom, and that the vomiting would be fairly regular. The nightmares, though, was one thing that wasn’t mentioned. Perhaps Sunset should have expected that without being told.

It was hard to say for sure whether the nightmares were really just that, or if they were… memories. Sunset couldn’t consciously remember the events of the night after the Allucinor Wing bit her, but the subconscious was its own beast entirely. It couldn’t all have happened as it did in the dreams, of course – Flash and the others hadn’t been there, after all – and that provided Sunset with some small measure of comfort. Even so, Sunset couldn’t help but wonder how much truth there was to them.

Had Pinkie really tried to stop her in the middle of it? Would Sunset have been able to hear her in that state? Or would she have simply kept going, pushing past whatever protests Pinkie had until she was finished? It wasn’t like Pinkie had the power to fight her off if things had come to that point. If Cadance and the others hadn’t arrived when they did….

Sunset thought all of her tears had dried up hours ago, but she found them spilling forth all over again when a simple thought occurred to her.

Pinkie and I… things between us will never be okay again!

Sunset wasn’t sure how long she’d been there, crying on the floor of her bedroom, before she felt an arm drape itself across her shoulders. Sunset flinched and recoiled, but then let her posture relax somewhat when she saw that Twilight was kneeling beside her, giving her the heartbroken look of a person watching someone they love in terrible agony.

“I-I…” Sunset said, her broken voice barely audible. It took her a few tries to remember how to speak, and even then the words that came out were as disjointed and broken as she felt. “I… threw up… on the… the….”

“I know, it’s okay,” Twilight said, stroking her back tenderly. “Don’t worry about that. I’m sure someone on staff will clean it.”

Sunset let her sister just hold her there on the floor for a little while. “W-what am I going to do?” she finally asked.

“Right now? Just take it easy,” Twilight said. “Thank God that the coronation isn’t today.”

“Small blessings,” Sunset muttered, slowly but surely feeling her ability to vocalize her basic thoughts returning.

“It’s about breakfast time. Do you think you’ll be good to come down?”

Sunset could only shake her head.

“Okay, I’ll bring up something.”

“Thanks, Twily.” After another silence, Sunset asked, “Is Pinkie doing okay?”

Twilight’s warm smile disappeared in a flash. “Don’t know. Haven’t checked.”

“Can you make sure someone checks on her? Please?”

“I’ll see what I can do.” The warmth was gone from Twilight’s voice as well as her face, and as she got up to go about getting breakfast, Sunset held onto her arm.

“Twily… please don’t hate Pinkie, okay? She didn’t do anything wrong.”

Twilight’s face contorted into a hateful grimace. “Didn’t do anything wrong?! She nearly raped you, Sunny! Whether she was aware it was happening or not doesn’t change that!”

Sunset could only stare into the distance, stunned. Is that what really happened? She supposed it made a certain amount of sense. Pinkie loved her more than the girl had probably loved anything in her life. If Sunset had suddenly started making love to her, Pinkie wouldn’t have questioned it. Even if she had figured out what was happening, would she have tried to put a stop to it? Or would she have let it happen because it was what she always wanted?

Sunset realized the truth immediately. “You know that’s not true, Twily. Given her experiences, Pinkie is the last person who would do such a thing. Especially to me.”

Twilight was still frowning, but she looked less hateful than she had a moment ago. “Maybe you’re right. I don’t know. It’s hard to be objective when family’s involved, you know?”

With a nod, Sunset said, “Trust me, I know.”

Ugh, this is all so fucked!

“Trust me, I know!

“I’m gonna get us some breakfast.” Twilight once again made to leave and this time Sunset didn’t stop her.

But she did get one final word in. “Maybe you can talk to Pinkie later? For me? If you really believe her intentions were pure, she deserves to know it. At the very least you should apologize for hitting her.”

Twilight lingered at the door for a few moments. “I’ll think about it.”

With that, Twilight was gone, and Sunset decided she should probably get off the floor. It was good that she could rule out the idea that Pinkie would have violated her if they had been allowed to continue that night. Unfortunately, that left her with a much more unappealing alternative: that the reverse was true.

Just down the hallway, Pinkie Pie sat in bed in the room she had been allocated in the castle. She didn’t realize it, but she was having the same terrible thoughts that Sunset was having, only in reverse.

“I wouldn’t have let it happen… I wouldn’t have…” she muttered feverishly. “I would never hurt Sunny… I was going to put a stop to it…. As soon as I knew… I was going to.”

“Pinkie, I know,” Adagio said patiently from her spot on the edge of the bed. “You’ve been saying that non-stop since last night. Trust me, I believe you.”

Adagio was sweet to say so, just as she was sweet to come check on her first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the one that Pinkie was trying to convince.

“I’m a terrible girlfriend,” Pinkie moaned. “And an even more terrible protector. That thing should have never gotten to Sunny in the first place!” Pinkie slumped down further in her bed. “I’m not worthy to be her Swordbearer.”

“Now you know that’s not true,” Adagio insisted, wondering what Pinkie meant by “Swordbearer”, but quickly writing it off as Pinkie’s current melodrama. “You did everything you could. You just… didn’t know.” Then with a sigh, the SIREN added, “Besides, you’re not the only one who has a vested interest in Sunny’s safety. My sisters and I should have known that stupid thing wasn’t a part of her dress!”

“But I was with her practically the whole night! I was in the best position to see that something was wrong!” Pinkie exclaimed, looking downright ashamed. “Instead, I was so intoxicated just by being with her that I didn’t see what was right in front of me!”

“Well, then it looks like both of us will just have to work on being more vigilant in the future,” Adagio said as she stood. “Speaking of which, I have to get going. Got a full day of SIREN business ahead of me. You gonna be okay here?”

Pinkie nodded, even though she wasn’t so sure. “Think you could have someone bring me breakfast?” she asked. “I don’t think I’m ready to face everybody yet.”

“Wasn’t Fluttershy here earlier? She said she’d come by.”

Pinkie didn’t say a word, and that was enough for Adagio. “I’ll see what I can do, Pinkie.”

“Thank you,” was all the other girl could squeak.

With that, Adagio departed, leaving Pinkie alone with her thoughts. And what a terrible thing to be left alone with. Visions of the nightmare that had awoken her that morning were still vivid in her mind. It was the worst one she’d had in a long time, comparable to the nightmares she had in the days after the horrible evening that Atlas and Cicely had ruined her. Comparable even to her more recent nightmares about the old man with no eyes.

She dreamed she was back at the fancy house where she had been so thoroughly violated, in the company of the very group of people who had done the deed. Only this time she greeted them as old friends, and they treated her in kind. Sunset was there too, and all of them were drinking beers and laughing. Sunset, however, was drinking out of an almost comically oversized bottle with the word VIBE on it, along with the image of a blue butterfly.

Then Sunset started removing her clothes until they were all gone, and when Pinkie looked down, she realized that she was naked too. Then Flash led Sunset to Pinkie on a leash (Pinkie wasn’t sure where it had come from. It had just always been there, existing with a sort of impermanent permanence the way some things in dreams do). Pinkie had to admit, the image fired her up real good, but then she saw Sunset’s eyes. They were blank. Emotionless. Lifeless. Sunset wasn’t there. Not on the surface, anyway.

“She’s all yours now, Pinkie,” Flash said, placing the end of the leash in her hands.

Royal Atlas placed a hand on her shoulder. “Welcome to the Club!”

Then Sunset was on top of her, kissing, licking, and biting in a frenzy. But it wasn’t Sunset: her eyes were simply empty.

“This is wrong!” Pinkie said.

“Then why does it feel so right?” Sweet Cicely said breathlessly. And hadn’t she said that to me before?

Pinkie couldn’t go through with this. She just couldn’t! So she tried to disentangle herself from Sunset. To fight back against the other girl’s strength and her own beating desire. She could do neither. If this is going to happen regardless of what I do, might as well enjoy it, Pinkie thought, sick to her stomach with guilt.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Flash said. “You’re one of us now!”

That nauseous feeling of guilt and shame had followed Pinkie to the waking world when she awoke to find that she had made a mess of the bedsheets in the night.

Even hours after that horrific recall, the whole thing still seared in her mind to the point that she wished there was some – any – way to make it stop.

Unfortunately for her, no answer was forthcoming.

“You want me to what?” asked Vinyl, giving her friend an incredulous look while levitating up her cup of coffee. The mug, reading “WORLD’S BEST DJ” floated in an aura of neon blue, delivering its caffeine loaded goodness to the off-white unicorn’s mouth.

“Look, you know Octy gets…intense when she’s putting her heart and soul into her work,” said Lyra.

Vinyl blinked, then looked into the sky. It was so early in the morning that the sun wasn’t even fully up yet – from their location on Vinyl’s front porch at her house in Ponyville, one could barely even make out the outline of Canterlot, let alone Canterlot Castle. “Isn’t it kinda late to be asking me? That whole coronation thing is today, isn’t it?”

Lyra shook her head. “It’s been pushed back a day and of course Octy’s taking every opportunity to ensure her suite for the coronation is better than perfect. But the added stress given the whole reason for the delay is there’s even more ponies and other creatures attending? She might die of a brain aneurysm.”

Vinyl shook her head. “Look, we all go way back, but you’re the one who can relate more toward her style of music, given she mainly plays the double bass and you’re literally named for yours. Me? I’m all about dropping the bass and boosting subwoofers to the point where you can barely discern what the noise actually is – yet you totally know it’s an awesome electrodance mix blasting at max volume.”

“Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhh, sure.” Lyra remembered what her friend’s ‘normal’ concerts were like, with her ears ringing from the sheer memory of the event. “Anyway, point is that she needs to back the buck down and the reality is I think everypony else is too close to the problem right now.”

Vinyl tapped a hoof to her chin. “What about those human musicians?” she suggested. “They really know their stuff. They performed at my auditorium while they were in town and they were amazing. Heck, one of them even sorta reminded me of Octy though I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the similar mane and eye colors.”

Lyra nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to look into that, actually – part of my study on humans, now that their existence is not mythical anymore. Though there was another thing I needed to ask you about as well.”

Vinyl sighed, it was clear she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy her day off – given Sunset Shimmer was yet another alicorn princess, Vinyl really wasn’t as excited about the whole affair as most other ponies. Sure, it was neat when it was Twilight Sparkle given she was the local regent, but to Vinyl the whole song and dance again just for a pony who really only seemed important because she’d been Princess Celestia’s daughter? It wasn’t worth hauling her plot up to Canterlot where it was insanely crowded just to maybe catch a glimpse of the new princess who wouldn’t even be relevant to Equestrian politics…just like the previous five or so years. “What else do you need from me?”

“It’s about the tech – among our circle of friends, you’ve always been the one with the knack for sound systems.”

“So you still want me to go to Canterlot, just for a different problem that Octy might be having?”

“Do it for me, please?”

Vinyl shrugged. “Okay, fine, plus it might be good for business if my name is attached to this whole shindig without me actually having to perform. Let me get cleaned up and we’ll catch the next train…do the trains even run this early? How did you even get here given you’re supposed to be in Canterlot anyway?”

“Blu let me use a pegasi chariot. It’s ready to go as soon as you are.”

“Oh, I see,” said Vinyl in a very unenthusiastic tone. She’d never told anypony, but…she wasn’t a fan of flying.

Down a main thoroughfare of Canterlot, three figures walked head and shoulders above the ponies. Even though they were not the only non-ponies, nor even the tallest on the street, they still attracted attention from all sides. However, by that point, all three girls were already used to the stares.

“I still don’t get how you had this entire place for a week and only now are getting around to doing the touristy thing and walking around?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Never really had the chance to do so,” said Tavi with a shrug. “Originally I was just shepherded between pony psychologists, who all were ultimately of no help for a lack of interest in their part, then I nearly got kidnapped which was fun, and finally I’ve spent the remainder of the week largely at Tierfenbuckers because, well, it’s a music shop. That’s where Fluttershy went again today.”

“She certainly is starting to fully embrace becoming the next Coloratura,” remarked Rarity, flipping her hair to rid her face of an unruly strand.

“Yeah, I think she was interested in one of their guitars – minotaur-sized but they’re able to rescale it up to full human standards. I didn’t go because I’ve been there so much this week that I figure with an extra day, it’d be more interesting to see the sights, so to speak.”

“Yeah, pity the rest of the gang couldn’t come – those of us who were in Ponyville the whole time.” Rainbow then started counting down on fingers listing off the friends who were missing. “AJ’s still healing from that Beat Go-something or other so she’s seeing the royal doctors, already covered Fluttershy, and Pinkie’s God only knows where given what the hell went down last night.”

Rarity nodded sadly, adding, “Sunset’s never been one to show that kind of romantic infatuation before, and from what you told me happened last night, well...it explains why she wasn’t at breakfast this morning. Her or Pinkie.”

“So, why aren’t you with Sunny and here with us, instead?”

“She’s with Twily right now – I wanted to be there, but Twily insisted that she be the only one with Sunset right now, since having anyone else might be overwhelming. Especially after last night.” Octavia sighed; it was clear that she wanted to be there for her sister figure, but Twilight was correct. “As for the triplets, they’re off doing their Amazons-in-fatigues thing and, well, here I am.”

“Well, you got me now, so you won’t get kidnapped or anything – I’ll make sure of that!”

Tavi rolled her eyes. “My hero.”

Not too far up the street, a shiny bit hovered in the air, lit by a light blue hue.

“Now, this is a bit,” said Prince Blueblood. “I realize you commoners have rarely ever seen its like – please don’t go ‘Oooh!’ and ‘Aaaah!’ with the shinies! – but we use these things to procure goods. And, as it so happens, today is your lucky day as I happen to wish to procure goods from you! Yes, you! Now, please, hold your adoration – you can bow down before my magnificence after you get me what I want.”

The shopkeeper pony looked at Blueblood with an unamused look, as if this was hardly something new – indeed, while Blueblood was known for being a new level of pompous plothole, he was far from the only noble pony who lorded their wealth and privilege around. “Your Highness, we sell planters and jeweled boutonnieres here.”

“Oh, um…” Blueblood had been absolutely sure this had been the bowties and carpetbags shop, but as much as he was playing up his asshole guise, he did have the nigh infinite coffers of the Crown. So, time to figure out how to buy all these…jeweled boutonnieres… “Yes, well, I’d like to buy everything you have in stock.”

The storekeeper raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“You dare question somepony like me?”

“Where are you going to put all the planters, let alone the boutonnieres?”

“That is immaterial.” A thought came to his mind. “Perhaps I will wear them on my head and start a fashion trend. After all, given some of the...tastes in fashion some ponies have, how much different would wearing a planter on the head be?”

The shopkeeper wisely kept his mouth shut.

“It is a bit of a shame,” said Rarity, musing to herself.

“What’s a shame?” asked Octavia.

“Look around,” the fashionista said, spreading her arms out and around. “All these cute little shops and we really can’t take part in any of them since we’re human.”

“I had no problem with Tierfenbucker’s.”

“That’s because you’re a musician, Octavia, darling. I’m sure things like acoustics work the same way across dimensions. But as my counterpart and I have noted, it’s very difficult to properly design matching attire for the same individual in two different bodyframes.”

“To say nothing of what Pinkie had you and your little fashionista squad do for her outfit last night,” said Rainbow with a smirk. “Seriously? You’ve never seen Utena?”

“No, Rainbow, I am not as versed in anime as you are,” Rarity commented. “Furthermore, well, it was for love – though I do have my concerns about that relationship. Especially after last night.”

“I agree,” said Octavia. “Given last night, Sunny really needs to decide where this relationship is going. I realize that she was apparently hypnotized by that butterfly thing Dagi was talking about at breakfast this morning, but from what I gather, the bug only brings out repressed desires – it can’t manufacture them.”

“You know she’s only going along with it because Pinkie’s…unstable,” remarked Rainbow. “Plus, like the guys always say, you don’t stick your dick in crazy.”

“Rainbow Dash! That’s a new level of crass, even for you!” snapped Rarity, “Furthermore, how dare you talk about one of our close friends like that!”

“Tell me I’m wrong, Rares,” Rainbow defended herself. “Look, Pinks is a friend of ours and I hate to even admit she’s got those issues. But just because I’m supporting her doesn’t mean I’m going to eat the pink taco.”

“Look, I’d rather not talk about ‘instability’,” added Octavia, whose own psychological issues rivaled – if not in a way superseded – Pinkie’s. While Melody, thankfully, hadn’t reappeared during Octavia’s time in Equestria, the fact the young musician still was having Melody-esque thoughts of macabre violence on her loved ones continued to haunt her.

“Well, what about your romantic life, then?” piped up Rarity with a knowing eyebrow raise.

“Rarity, we’ve been over this…”

“Wait, Tavi’s interested in somebody?” said Rainbow, surprised.

“I guess you could say that,” the fashionista inferred.

“Don’t you Goddamn dare do this to me,” said Octavia, looking mortified. The last thing she needed now was for Rarity to unintentionally reveal to Rainbow that she thought Octavia and Prince Blueblood were totally interested in each other – the truth was Octavia wasn’t sure herself about the matter but Rainbow would simply take it too far. Not ‘Catherine the Great Horsefucker’ levels, if only because Rainbow was probably the least historically intellectual of Pinkie’s so-named "Majestic Twelve', but while Rainbow would try to keep it all in the good natured spirit of ribbing friends, she would inevitably push too far.

“So give us the deets, Tavi. Who’s the lucky guy? Or... is it a girl?” Rainbow asked, immediately proving Octavia’s inner monologue right.

“Wow, is it your day to play insensitive bitch or what, Rainbow? I mean, oh, sure, just bring up bisexuality to the girl who was nearly date raped by a lesbian, as well as has a split personality who would love nothing more than to make the very act of sex into the textbook definition of grand guignol!”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, asking “Er…what’s a grand goognohl?”

Tavi’s head fully snapped to look at Rainbow, violet eyes glaring daggers at the athlete and not looking where she was going as her temper started to flare up more. “Don’t tell me you’re that dense, Rainbow! Given the kind of anime I know you watch, I’m honestly surprised that you don’t knoooOOOOHHAAAA!”

Her full attention having been on Rainbow, the musician had not seen the pony immediately exiting the store just to her left – nor had the pony, themselves distracted with their own inner train of thought, noticed the humans. The end result was Tavi toppling over the back of the pony onto the ground.

“Well, I never!” exclaimed the stallion, turning to look at the offender. “Some ponies just don’t know when to–” Blueblood bit off his sentence when he realized that by some cosmic chance, it was none other than Octavia Melody – the human one. He wanted to profusely apologize – the only saving grace being that she already knew his public persona was the complete opposite of who he truly was, but that didn’t change the fact he hated being a bastard all the same. “Ah, I see – one of the hyoomahns.”

“Well, I was going to apologize,” spat Tavi turning around from her place on the ground, “but with an attitude like that I–” When she realized who the stallion was, though, she immediately changed tact. “Oh, I’m…I’m sorry!”

Rainbow, however, was not in the know about Blueblood’s duality, and took offense on Tavi’s behalf.

“Hey!” she exclaimed angrily, “Do you have any idea who you’re talking to? That’s one of Princess Sunset Shimmer’s cousins!”

“Yes, I’m aware – it isn’t like any other ponies dragged a bunch of, I don’t know, largely hairless overgrown monkeys in to soil Equestia’s domain lately.” He turned to face Rainbow, looking her up and down disapprovingly. “As for you, I’m guessing you’re the counterpart to Rainbow Dash – your hair certainly seems to match. As does the fact that the number of colors in your hair is inversely related to the number of brain cells you have, your garish manestyle of course being the larger number in that relationship, since you don’t know who I am.”

“And why should I give a damn about that?

Blueblood took mock offense at that – if anything, the idea of ponies or any sentient creature simply not knowing who he was would be a relief. “I beg your pardon? I am Prince Blueblood, beloved nephew of Princesses Celestia and Luna, and also a cousin of your own Princess-to-be-Sunset Shimmer! And you will deliver unto me the respect I deserve!”

“Oh, so you’re an asshole – believe me, I’m well aware of what the name Blueblood entails.”

“Rainbow!” exclaimed Tavi, having gotten to her feet and now in between Rainbow and Blueblood. “You can’t talk that way to nobility!”

Rainbow did a double take. “Whoa whoa whoa…did you just defend a Blueblood, Tavi?”

“Yes, because unlike the asshole at home, this Blueblood is an actual prince!”

“She is right, you know,” added Rarity. “Plus, Sunset did bring her friends and family to her native world to be good representations for humanity should our two species eventually establish formal connections, and insulting their royalty isn’t exactly going to do our friend any favors.”

“Okay, did I just get dropped into an episode of The Twilight Zone or something?” Rainbow looked between her musically and fashion inclined friends like they were another species entirely. “I mean, we all know Blueblood’s a goddamn sexual predator and both of you were almost his prey!” Rainbow did not notice that for the briefest of seconds, the stallion Blueblood lowered his ears as if in shame.

Then, in a stroke of cosmic mercy, the Equestrian Rarity and Rainbow Dash appeared.

“There you two are!” exclaimed the latter in a slightly exhausted tone. “We’ve been looking all over town for you – which isn’t easy given there’s barely any room to even fly in this city with this many ponies and other creatures around!”

“And she’s the actual flyer – I’m quite comfortable in a crowd if I do say so,” said Rarity, fluffing up part of her mane that had become less than perfectly styled, “but this really is pushing my limits.”

“Why have you been looking for us?” asked human Rarity.

“Why, to take you to the Wonderbolts show, of course, darlings.”

“Wonderbolts?” asked human Rainbow, “Those are the stunt flyers, right?”

The two mares were left in stunned silence for what felt like forever – hearing Rainbow Dash’s voice ask what the Wonderbolts were was a surreal experience indeed – before pony Rainbow spoke up. “Uh, yeah, basically. Anyway, we’re holding an impromptu show because the coronation got delayed, so I got tickets for you to come see! After all, we got to see how awesome you are,” pony Rainbow punctuated this with a hoof jab in her counterpart’s direction, then followed with a jab at herself, “but now it’s time to show you what I got!”

“And I do find that sometimes, Wonderbolts shows make for great inspiration – I’ll have to show you my Bright and Blue line sometime – and I feel that since you’re, well, me, it might be beneficial for you, too.”

“Well, that sounds like a lovely idea,” said human Rarity.

“Yes, one of those silly ‘shows’ where it’s just a bunch of pegasi flying around in circles because there isn’t enough air in their heads already,” dryly commented Blueblood, “Honestly I don’t even know why my aunts insist they remain on the military payroll.”

“You got a problem with the Wonderbolts?” challenged Rainbow, getting right up into Blueblood’s face. As she was part of Princess Sparkle’s inner circle, Rainbow knew that Blueblood was merely putting on an act – in private, he’d even commended her performance – but she had to feign ignorance of that in public. Besides, even as part of an act, one did not simply disrespect the Wonderbolts! “Let’s see you do a double-half turn quarter spin, backwards!”

“Likewise, let’s see you cast a simple breeze summoning spell.” Blu then smirked a humorless smile. “Oh, wait, you can’t. Regardless, I actually approve of you and…her…” Blueblood grimaced when he looked right at Rarity – again, it was mutually known between them this was a lie as Blu had long since made up with Rarity about the incident so long ago. “Taking these humans away means I don’t have to deal with them anymore.”

“Oh, you’re not getting off that easily,” said human Rarity, a mischievous smile coming to her features. “Rather, you haven’t even apologized for tripping up my friend here!”

“That’s not necessary,” said Octavia, wondering what Rarity was up to.

“Au contraire,” said pony Rarity. Since she and her human counterpart were, barring the obvious differences, quite similar, they could read each other’s body language like a book. And it was clear to the unicorn the human was trying to make something of the romantic persuasion happen – privately, the unicorn was unsure if her human counterpart knew that Blu knew the Equestrian Octavia as close as a sister and that whatever she was trying to do wouldn’t work, but maybe there was more that the unicorn wasn’t seeing here. Regardless, she was now committed. “What would the press say if they were to learn that the inner circle of Princess Sunset’s friends were so grievously insulted by one with such a public presence as yourself, Prince Blueblood? Not even apologizing for possibly, oh so nearly breaking the nose of her cousin.”

“The press wouldn’t care one bit for tripe such as that!” argued Blu. He knew he was wrong – that was the kind of scandalous crap the press ate up, given Blu himself had to instigate it more often than not. But he would absolutely not involve Octavia. She didn’t deserve that. “Why, I’ll have you know that–”

“Bored. Can we go now?” asked pony Rainbow.

“Ditto,” human Rainbow agreed.

“Then it’s settled,” said human Rarity. “The ever so gentleman…er, gentlestallion…ly? – you get the point – Blueblood will escort the lovely Ms. Octavia to lunch to make up for his grievous offense, while the remainder of our group shall go to see this air show.”

Wait, what are you doing Rarity?” Rainbow hissed. “We can’t just leave Tavi alone with this creep!

Just trust me, darling,” Rarity whispered back. “There are things about this situation that you don’t understand.” She then turned to Octavia and said, “We’ll meet up later, Octavia, dear and you can give me the details. Enjoy yourself!”

And then simultaneously, Rarity grabbed Rainbow’s arm while the unicorn version trapped the pegasus version in her azure blue aura and the two pairs were gone before either Blu or Tavi could say anything.

“Er…lunch it is, I guess?” asked Octavia, confused.

“Y-you’re just lucky that I already happen to have lunch reservations that I can cram you in, since at this point the choice is out of my hooves. Come along,” huffed Blueblood, though really he couldn’t have been happier in his heart. Another luncheon with Octavia Melody: what more could he want?

According to his brain, as he internally sweated bullets, anything other than what was about to happen, because his lunch plans already were to have a luncheon with Octavia Melody…just not the human one. It then occurred to Blu that at no point had there ever been a situation where the two Octavias ever would have met, nor had he actually divulged his feelings about the human to the pony.

It was the setup for a perfect disaster.

Having looked over the budget for the rebuilding of several settlements in the Unknown West – it was both amazing and horrifying to read about how much damage had been done to those who lived out in that sparsely-populated portion of the realm – Princess Twilight decided she needed a break. At first, she thought about going to check on Sunset and see how her fellow alicorn was faring, but realized with all the medical attention she was probably receiving right now, she would probably just be in the way.

Her stomach growled, and she realized that her break would better be served eating lunch. So, with a few words to some Hooves she knew, she decided to have lunch in the Lunar Wing Library. A lot of the books in the Lunar Wing’s library were vastly different from the other sections of the castle, including many volumes that had been retrieved from the ruins of Castle Everfree and restored to their original condition. Perhaps it was there that Twilight could find something that would take her mind off the growing stress she felt at the moment.

So, ten minutes later she found herself in front of a half-demolished plate of double-chili hayburgers with a side of onion rings and an oat-strawberry shake, reading from a book that dated back to the earliest days of the post-Luna kingdom. It was sad, really; Twilight knew Celestia had suffered so much after having to banish her sister, but from the position of the book, written just a few decades after the end of Nightmare Moon, it showed that the nation had been in what best could be called a “malaise”. Celestia, according to the author, was “fetching beyond pony ken but alas unappr’chable, just as the sunne” and that things were bleak. if anything, comparisons could be drawn between that time and the most recent Winter and it made her wonder if this most recent case of melancholia Celestia suffered hadn’t been the first, as she’d insisted. Not that she would believe her mentor and surrogate mother figure to lie to her, but in the end, goddess or not, ruler or not, she was still pony.

It was a sobering thought.

Closing the book, Twilight reached out with her magic to grab another book...and felt a tug back. Thinking that was odd, she got up from her table and walked down the aisles to find, of all ponies, one of the Hooves grabbing at the book.

The Hoof in question, a young mare with a gray coat, cyan eyes and a mane of midnight blue stopped in mid-grasp of the book, looking at Twilight in surprise. “Lady Twilight!” she squeaked, bowing. “My apologies! I wasn’t aware you were retrieving this book as well!”

Twilight smiled. “No, it’s my fault; I should have done a sensory spell to make sure that nopony else was grabbing it. You don’t have anything to apologize for; if anything, I’m the one who should apologize.”

“No no no no, I shouldn’t really be here, so I’m the one at fault,” she pled.

“Why? The library is for anypony’s use in the palace,” the alicorn stated. “It’s just not typically used because of the books’ average age, so everypony tends to think they’re more museum pieces than things to peruse. But I am glad to see somepony getting some use out of them.” Twilight paused for a second. “Weren’t you the pony that gave us the information on the Allucinor Wing last night?”

“No, my lady, I only mentioned stuttermoths initially, but I was glad to be of service.” She bowed. “Lentando Fury, at your service.”

“Please, you don’t need to bow to me, Miss Fury, though I’m glad that there’s another pony here who can appreciate books in the Lunar Wing. Luna’s always stated she wished it would be used more.”

Lentando blushed. “Well, unlike most sirens, I’m not as musically inclined, so I never took it up as a hobby. But I do love reading and I’ve always been fascinated with history.” She gestured to a book under her arm.

Twilight looked at its title: The Lamentable Historye and Chronicle of the Laemioi. “Oh, that’s the first definitive book about the lamia, isn’t it? I recall attending a lecture by Dr. Timeseeker at the Royal Scoltland University a few years ago and he mentioned it, but I never had a chance to read it.”

Lentando nodded. “Yes, milady. The book is mainly about the pact that Queen Heracleum of the lamia had with Nightmare Moon and the aftermath of what happened to them after Moonfall.” A sad look came over the siren’s eyes. “So many of their kind paid because of a mistake that their greedy queen made, and if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of her daughter, Princess Boerhavia, they would have been completely wiped out.”

“I don’t think that’s the case. Yes, it was tragic with what happened to Princess Boerhavia, and even Princess Celestia has said so herself,” Twilight commented, recalling a lecture from her youth. “But it was Boerhavia’s tragic suicide that led her sister, Princess Pastinaca, to plead for a peace treaty with Celestia and to become one of Equestria’s lesser known protectorates.”

“Just like the Sirenian Islands and the Sirenian Coast,” Lentando stated. “Our lands used to be independent as well...now, they’re just part of the Province of Canterbury.” She paused. “Of course, given that we were ruled by a warlord queen, it worked out for us thanks to the Princess, and now we’re just normal ponies. But I can’t help but see parallels between sirens and the lamia.”

“Someday that might happen to the lamia as well,” Twilight commented. “I read a monograph last month that states that more and more lamia, due to mating with ponies, are changing less and less into their half-snake forms and their blood is becoming warmer. In a generation or two, they might just be an outright subspecies of ponies, just like pegasi, thestrals, unicorns, zebra, donkeys...or sirens.”

Lentando pursed her lips. “I...see.”

Twilight yawned. “Sorry, I’m probably not thinking entirely straight; it’s been a long day for me. Anyway, I need to get back to my duties, Miss Fury. Again, thanks for all your help last night and I hope you enjoy that book. Also...when you get a chance, you might also want to read up on the Mesaponytanians and Shaka Zebra. Some fascinating history there as well.”

“I’ll do that, Lady Twilight,” Lentando noted as the alicorn departed. “Thank you for the suggestions.”

Twilight had been on her way to the castle kitchens to see what was being prepared for lunch when she ran into the last girl she wanted to talk to at the moment. Pinkie Pie was on her way out of the kitchen area, a tub of chocolate ice cream tucked under her arm – not exactly a balanced meal, but ideal comfort food. Pinkie looked like hell, with swollen bags under her eyes and ruler-straight hair that was matted in some places. Clearly she had been hoping to sneak back to her room without being seen by anyone, but she stopped like a deer in the headlights when she saw Twilight.

For her part, Twilight’s first instinct was simply to ignore Pinkie, and she started to walk past her without so much as looking at her. At least, that was the plan. However, Twilight couldn’t stop herself from glancing again at the other girl, and seeing the utter despair in her eyes made Twilight pause. She remembered what Sunset had asked her to do that morning.

“Hey Pinkie?” For better or for worse, Twilight just couldn’t say no to her sister. “I’m sorry for hitting you, I guess.”

“You guess?” Pinkie’s voice was so dry Twilight wondered if it hurt her throat to talk. “It’s okay. I’d have done the same thing in your place. Maybe worse.”

For a moment, Twilight was ready to leave it at that. She’d done the minimum of what Sunset had asked her to do. But since when did Twilight the overachiever ever settle for the bare minimum?

“I want to hate you,” Twilight said. “I really, really want to hate you.”

Pinkie met her eyes for the first time in the conversation. “Do you?” She asked the question in the same dry voice, like she didn’t care one way or the other.

“To be honest… I don’t know.”

With a shrug, Pinkie said, “Well, if it makes you feel better, you can’t hate me any more than I hate me.”

In the heat of her emotions the previous night, Twilight remembered looking at Pinkie and feeling the same hot rage inside of her that she felt when she saw Flash Sentry after their ill-fated date. In that brief, terrifying moment, Pinkie had been exactly the same as him in Twilight’s eyes. Perhaps even worse. But looking at Pinkie now, she saw something in her eyes she had never seen in Flash’s: genuine guilt and remorse.

“He’s a predator…” Twilight muttered unconsciously.

“Huh?”

“Flash,” Twilight said more intently. “He’s a predator. But you’re not.” In that moment, Twilight saw something in Pinkie’s eyes that wasn’t pain or guilt. Maybe it was hope. So Twilight decided to feed it. “I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive you yet, Pinkie. But I think, in time, I will.”

This time Twilight really did decide to leave it at that, and continued past Pinkie on her way to the kitchen.

“Thanks, Twilight,” she heard Pinkie say as she rounded the corner. The girl’s tone, however, said something very different. Now if only I could, in time, forgive myself.

At a private table in the back of Chez Bouigeur, one of the long established fine dining eateries in Canterlot, Octavia Melody sat impatiently. The extra day had done nothing to sate her worries about making the coronation music absolutely perfect and she’d nearly choked out one of the bassists for being ever so slightly off key. She’d been hoping this long lunch break with Blu would have calmed her nerves, except…Blu wasn’t here. This was most certainly not like Blu to be late, especially given their long friendship.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Blu, hurrying through the private room’s door. “There was, and honestly might still be, complications.” He also seemed extremely nervous, like he wanted to delay something.

“Blu, don’t bullshit me,” said Octavia, “It’s been a hell of a day and I’m not in the mood for…”

That was when Octavia Melody, the human walked into the room. And it took no time at all for Octavia Melody, the pony, to realize she was in effect looking at herself but rendered as a different species.

“…surprises.”

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