• Published 28th Sep 2012
  • 2,958 Views, 158 Comments

Repercussions - GaryOak



None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free.

  • ...
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Chapter X - Sunset

Chapter X
Sunset
===============

Twilight awoke in the morning to find her pillow slightly damp beneath her head. She could vaguely recall intermittently waking up in the middle of the night, and crying herself back to sleep. Well, at least I didn't have a nightmare, she thought glumly. Slouching out of bed, she found Greyhoof downstairs, nestled between two stacks of books. Although the sun bathed the room in bright morning light, she felt strangely cold.

“What are you doing?” mumbled Twilight, barely loud enough for Greyhoof to hear.

Putting down his book, Greyhoof looked up the stairs to where Twilight was standing, a familiar look of burning determination in his eyes. “Research.”

“On what?” asked Twilight, dragging herself downstairs.

“This whole mess,” said Greyhoof, gesturing at the innumerable books and scrolls strewn across the library's ground floor. “While pointing the hoof at Celestia for what happened is quite convenient, thanks to history, I wanted to try to dig deeper. I hoped that, with what we now know, I might be able to find something.”

“And did you?”

Greyhoof shook his head. “Nothing helps her case. Mind control simply made it the perfect crime, until now.”

Twilight continued walking, passing by Greyhoof and approaching the door. “Look, I think I need to stop thinking about this for a while. What matters now is that we need to pay Pinkie a visit; I can't even begin to imagine what she must be going through. If we can't figure out who's responsible, the least we can do is begin to repair the damage.”

Raising to his hooves, Greyhoof allowed himself a quick stretch before following Twilight to the door. “You're right. Who knows? Perhaps the answers will become clear on their own, with time.”

Twilight and Greyhoof left the library and looked down the streets of Ponyville. They were active again, almost as active as they were before the murders began. However, the ponies went about their daily lives at a much slower pace. As they walked through the streets on their way to Sugarcube Corner, nopony so much as uttered a greeting. The only acknowledgements the two of them received were forlorn, downcast expressions. Upon arrival at the bakery, they found the shop deserted.

“Mrs. Cake?” called Twilight. “Is anypony home?”

“Oh, yes, dear,” said Mrs. Cake, trudging out of the kitchen, her demeanor in no way matching her cheerful tones. “Pinkie's upstairs – she hasn't left since the...”

Twilight thanked her and went up the stairs toward Pinkie's room, with Greyhoof in tow. When she reached the top, she found Pinkie's door was locked. Closing her eyes solemnly, she carefully jimmied the lock with magic, causing the door to creek open. Pinkie sat on her bed and motionlessly stared at the wall, not even reacting to Twilight's presence.

“Pinkie?” said Twilight nervously.

Pinkie remained like a statue, as if she failed to notice her completely. Twilight sat down on the bed beside her, and threw a hoof around her shoulder. “It wasn't your fault,” said Twilight gently. “It was –”

“Not my fault?” Pinkie turned her head toward Twilight, meeting her gaze. “Not my fault? NOT MY FAULT?” screamed Pinkie, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It was my fault! I killed her with my own hooves! I killed them – all of them! I killed Dashie! I can't even close my eyes without seeing that – that room and all of them just lying there. I can't do anything without thinking about what I've done!” Pinkie buried her face in her hooves, her words barely discernible from the sobbing. “All I'm gonna do now is just sit here and do nothing! I won't do anything to anypony ever again this way.”

Twilight fiercely hugged Pinkie. “Nopony in their right mind blames you. As the pony who broke the spell on you, I know what you did wasn't your fault. It could've been any of us, even me. You're a victim, not a murderer.”

Remaining in the doorway, Greyhoof nodded approvingly.

Pinkie looked up at Twilight, tears still pouring down her face.

Twilight looked deeply into Pinkie's haunted eyes. “Rainbow Dash wouldn't want us to dwell on this.”

“Y-you're right,” sniffed Pinkie. “It's what Dashie would've wanted...”

“Looks like we're late,” said Applejack from behind them.

Twilight and Pinkie turned around to see Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity standing by the door next to Greyhoof.

Pinkie wiped her right cheek. “G-girls, what are you doing here?”

“We know what yer goin' through,” said Applejack, laying her hat on Pinkie's bed. “No way are we gonna let you sit here all alone.”

“Oh, it simply won't do,” said Rarity firmly. “Pinkie, darling, we'll be here for you, no matter what.”

“I had a long chat with Scootaloo last night,” said Fluttershy. “She doesn't blame you, either.”

“R-really?” choked Pinkie, a small smile creeping onto her face.

“No, she doesn't,” said Fluttershy, hugging Pinkie.

“And she shouldn't,” said Greyhoof as he watched Rarity and Applejack join Fluttershy. “Perhaps you will one day recall who did this to you. That's who is to blame. You were merely an unwilling vessel. Never forget this, and don't let guilt weigh too heavily on your heart.”

“I – I don't know what to say,” said Pinkie from amidst the group hug. “Normally, I'm the one cheering up everypony. Even after all that – whoever it is – made me do – you're still my friends. I'll find a way to repay Dashie, somehow...”

Greyhoof smiled, and was about to join the others in their embrace when Mrs. Cake burst into the room, almost fainting.

“You have to come quickly!” shrieked Mrs. Cake. “Downstairs! No time to explain!”

The ponies exchanged shocked glances before charging after Mrs. Cake. When they arrived in the bakery's lobby, they found the Mayor waiting for them. Her face looked as white as her mane.

“Mayor? What's wrong?” asked Twilight earnestly.

“It's – it's –” said the Mayor, trying and failing to find words.

“Come on,” prompted Greyhoof. “What's the matter?”

“An Ursa,” the Mayor finally said.

Twilight's eyes widened. “Don't tell me Snips and Snails poked that Ursa Minor with a stick or something.”

The Mayor shook her head vigourously. “Major. An Ursa Major.”

“Ursa Major?” cried everypony in unison.

Twilight shook herself and bolted outside, the rest of the ponies following close behind. Looking beyond Ponyville's buildings toward the Everfree Forest, they saw the creature the Mayor was talking about. It was titanic, perhaps the size of Ponyville itself – with shimmering purple fur sparkling brightly in the sunlight. It approached Ponyville at an alarming rate, flattening untold amounts of the forest's vegetation in its wake. The star on its forehead, normally a bright teal, crackled with black lightning. Its eyes also glowed with a bright red haze.

“Those eyes!” exclaimed Twilight.

“They're exactly like Pinkie's were!” gasped Greyhoof. “This must mean –”

Pinkie's jaw dropped. “Whatever got me also got to that Ursa!”

“What do we do?” squeaked Fluttershy, attempting to hide herself behind the others.

“We have to stop it!” said Greyhoof, struggling to keep his voice even. “It'll crush the entire town if we don't!”

“How?” demanded Rarity. “How in the name of Celestia are we supposed to fight that – monstrosity?”

“I don't know, but – but we have to try!” said Pinkie defiantly. “It's what Dashie would do!”

“Come on, y'all!” shouted Applejack, taking off at a full gallop toward the primal colossus.

The others – even Fluttershy – followed Applejack in earnest. I can't believe this, fretted Twilight. The very next day after what happened to Rainbow, an Ursa with the same eyes Pinkie had attacks. Manipulating a pony's mind is one thing, but an Ursa Major? Is there no end to this madness?

The ponies' faces fell as they drew closer to the Ursa. None of them had truly appreciated the sheer size of it until it was put into better perspective. The Ursa Minor was easily large enough to destroy Ponyville, but it was nothing compared to its fully matured counterpart. When they were close enough to it, the Ursa paused in front of them and bared its teeth before loosing an ear-splitting roar.

“So, any ideas on how we stop this thing?” Applejack asked almost casually.

Twilight gritted her teeth as she frantically racked her brain. “Fluttershy!” she exclaimed. “Can you try to talk to it?”

“I-I can try,” stammered Fluttershy, her knees shaking.

“You don't honestly think she can stop an Ursa Major, do you?” Greyhoof hissed at Twilight. “If you've read as much as I have about them, you know it is far beyond any of us.”

“Fluttershy has an innate talent for talking to animals,” countered Twilight. “Maybe she can calm it down.”

“Calm it down?” said Greyhoof incredulously. “In case you didn't notice, the Ursa is mind controlled. No amount of gentle coaxing will cause it to change its mind.”

“I'll give you all the jewels I have!” Rarity shouted to the Ursa, her voice pleading. “Just please, please, don't destroy my boutique!”

Twilight looked at Rarity and facehoofed. “You've gotta be kidding me.”

“What?” asked Rarity sheepishly. “I don't see you trying anything.”

Flapping up near the Ursa's eye level, Fluttershy gulped and looked into its manic eyes. “Um, M-Mister Ursa M-M-Major, sir... If you wouldn't mind, our homes are in front of you. Can you please rampage somewhere else and not destroy them? If that's okay...”

The Ursa roared again, sending Fluttershy tumbling back down to earth. It was a stroke of good luck the terror induced by the Ursa's roar made her to lose control of her wings; if she had remained in place for as much a split second longer, she would have been reduced to paste by a swipe from the Ursa's paw.

“I told you!” scolded Greyhoof. “If the Ursa was in control of its own thoughts, that may have worked.”

“Everypony, run!” shouted Twilight. “Into the forest! If it's here for us, we can lead it away from Ponyville!”

They obeyed her instructions and split up, galloping into the Everfree Forest at top speed. The Ursa roared with fury and chased after them, gaining on them rapidly. It took the Ursa a single step to cover the same amount of distance that the ponies did in dozens of their strides. The Ursa took another swipe, this time at Greyhoof, but missed, and instead gouged massive trenches into the forest floor with its claws.

Twilight's eyes widened when she witnessed Greyhoof's narrow escape. If I don't think of something, everypony's going to die! Spinning around, Twilight stared at the Ursa. She looked intently at the black lightning emanating from the star on its forehead. I wonder...

Twilight let loose a blast of magic – the strongest she could muster given the circumstance. A powerful bolt of magenta connected directly with the teal star between the Ursa's eyes. It slumped backward and roared, the redness of its eyes fading slightly. The Ursa shook its head and its eyes returned to the blood red they had been a moment ago.

“Greyhoof! Rarity!” shouted Twilight. “Turn around and channel as much magic as you can into my next attack! Don't hold back – use everything you've got!”

“Are you mad?” Rarity shouted back. “I'll be ripped apart!”

“Just do it!” yelled Greyhoof. “I think I know what she's got in mind; it may be our only chance!”

Greyhoof followed up his statement with a mighty bellow as he launched his own magic at the Ursa in tandem with Twilight's second attack. The beams met in midair and intertwined in a fantastic display of magenta and light blue, corkscrewing directly into the corrupted star with immense force. The Ursa stopped dead in its tracks and uttered a confused grunt.

Rarity paused in her retreat as she heard the Ursa falter. Her jaw dropped when she saw the effects of Twilight and Greyhoof's handiwork. “Oh, Rarity, what you do for your friends,” she muttered to herself as she added her light blue magic to theirs.

It appeared to be enough; as the beams met, the trifecta enveloped first the star, then the Ursa's head, and then its entire body. The three unicorns held their magical assault for as long as they could before collapsing on the ground, utterly spent. Applejack, Fluttershy, and Pinkie rushed toward their fallen comrades.

“Grey! Talk to me, Grey!” said Applejack, kneeling beside Greyhoof, shaking him.

“Oh, Rarity, are you alright?” asked Fluttershy, extending a hoof.

Pinkie picked up Twilight and tried to prop her up. “Get up, Twilight!” she shouted.

Greyhoof rose to his hooves and watched the aftermath of their efforts. The magical aura surrounding the Ursa had faded, save for the star on its forehead. Greyhoof squinted at the Ursa, which had closed its eyes and was clutching its head in pain.

“Hey, I think it's working!” Greyhoof shouted to the others.

The rest of the ponies looked up and watched the effects of their attack. The bright energy from their magic appeared to be battling with the black lightning on the star, which was now a bright wash of colours. The light given off by the clashing energies was enough to make their eyes hurt if they stared directly at it. The ethereal struggle continued for a good thirty seconds before the unicorn magic struck at the direct centre of the teal star, causing a violent explosion.

The ponies averted their eyes from the piercing light as the shockwave made leaves and other loose foliage blow around wildly. When the blast cleared and the violent light from the explosion finally faded, they opened their eyes. Looking up at the Ursa, they saw that the star had returned to normal, the black lightning nowhere in sight.

The Ursa opened its eyes, which were now their usual yellow, and blinked in confusion. Fluttershy nervously flew up to its eye level and tried communicating with it again. Instead of rage, the Ursa gave a series of low, confused grunts. The constellation beast got up, shook itself, growled softly, and slowly ambled off deep, into the forest.

“We did it!” shouted Twilight, embracing Pinkie.

“This begs the question,” said Greyhoof, meeting Twilight and Pinkie, with Applejack and Fluttershy following behind him. “Who did this?”

Rarity came crashing through the bushes, breathing heavily. “I can't believe that worked.”

“We couldn't have done it without you,” said Twilight, clapping Rarity on the shoulder.

“What in the wide wide world of Equestria was an Ursa Major doing on a warpath toward Ponyville?” demanded Rarity.

“Well, whatever it was,” said Applejack, beaming at Twilight “your quick thinkin' sure saved us, sugarcube.”

My quick thinking... or – Twilight suddenly felt sick as the memories from her nightmares rushed to the forefront of her mind, unbidden. The dark mare's repeated warnings of the evil one resounded loudly within her. I couldn't stop Pinkie, but I did stop this Ursa. Is this what the mare is talking about? Is 'the evil one' behind all of this?

“Twilight, dear...” said an unnerved Rarity, noticing Twilight's expression. “What's the matter?”

Twilight's jaw dropped. I can't believe it. I've been trying to ignore it for so long, but this – I think I finally understand. But why me? Twilight bowed her head and gritted her teeth in pain. Everything I thought I knew – shattered. I wish things could go back to how they used to be. Why is it that the more I know, the more I wish I didn't?

“Spit it out, girl!” prompted Applejack. “What in the hay is goin' on here?”

Twilight took a deep, shuddering breath, giving each of her friends a hard stare before beginning. “I ignored it until now,” she said. “But after this – I just can't. From the beginning, my dreams have been telling me of an 'evil one' – that supposedly only I can defeat – and my inaction against it is why Rainbow is dead.”

Noticing that Pinkie was once again on the verge of tears, Twilight gave her a quick hug before continuing. “All of you saw how that Ursa abandoned its attack on Ponyville and came after us once we showed ourselves. Whoever sent that Ursa also controlled Pinkie. It was meant to finish what she started.” She paused, noticing that some of the dread she felt began to manifest itself in them. “The evil one behind all of this... is none other than Princess Celestia.”

Fluttershy, Pinkie, Applejack, and Rarity all stared at Twilight, their mouths agape.

“No, that can't be true!” cried Applejack.

“Girls, there's something I need to tell you,” said Twilight grimly, reciting the letter she had received from the Princess.

“What?” screamed Pinkie. “The Princess wants to have me –”

“Yes, and I'm afraid there's more,” added Greyhoof, his molten gaze searing into the others. “As I've told you before, there have been murder cases similar to yours, Pinkie. They've taken place at various points through the ages, but no connection has been made between them. Until now. Pinkie, you are the first pony I know of who wasn't executed for their crimes. We've proven – at least in your case – there was another behind the scenes. This Ursa was clearly sent to finish what Pinkie could not.”

“What make you think that all of these cases you've heard of are connected?” asked Rarity, her eyebrows raised. “This was the only one that you've seen, is it not? How can you be sure?”

“Even though her highness said to – uh – you know what – to Pinkie... what makes you so sure that she'd do this? We're her loyal subjects 'an all!” said Applejack.

“There's something else I haven't been telling you girls,” said Twilight, momentarily avoiding their eyes. “It's an old legend that could actually explain everything. As the story went, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had an elder brother, King Cosmo. It was he – and not Celestia – who was meant to rule Equestria, with his sisters controlling the sun and moon. One day, long ago, they were both overcome with jealousy and sought the throne for themselves. They betrayed and murdered the King, and erased his name from history. If this is true, then Princess Celestia could be using unwitting servants – such as you – Pinkie, to eliminate potential threats, allowing her to keep her position forever.”

When Twilight had finished, everypony was speechless, save for Greyhoof.

“I wish it weren't true, but the writing's on the wall, or in this case, the ground.” Greyhoof gestured at the wake of destruction left by the Ursa. “I've had this theory for some time, and shared it with Twilight, but I hoped I was wrong, that I overlooked something. Unfortunately, you know as well as I that nopony alive could control something like an Ursa Major like this, except for Princess Celestia and her sister. She wants us dead, and perhaps all of Ponyville as well.”

Fluttershy buried her face in her hooves. “No...”

Applejack shook her head. “This is wrong, this is all wrong. There's no way the Princess would be so cruel. I've met her; she loves each and every one of her subjects!”

Twilight rested a hoof on Applejack's shoulder. “I know it seems strange, but –”

“Twilight,” said Rarity sharply. “You've known our dear Princess for longer than anypony here. Listen to your heart. Is she really behind this?”

Twilight closed her eyes, thinking of the time she'd known the Princess. The time when she was taken in as a filly to be her apprentice. The lessons and the care given to her. The letters the Princess had returned to her in order to save her from Discord's influence. Her wisdom and care for her subjects – how she had greeted each pony at the Gala individually. How she implied that she wanted Pinkie executed. How she had supposedly seized the throne of Canterlot for herself from her older brother.

Twilight opened her eyes and looked at the ground, full of regret. “I don't want to believe it, but it has to be true. Nopony else could make an Ursa Major attack us like that.”

“H-how can you be sure?” stammered Pinkie. “This is still the Princess we're talking about. She – she wouldn't make me kill Dashie!”

Twilight sighed reluctantly. “I can't completely believe it either, but the evidence... is overwhelming. Let's face the facts here. Take a look at the Ursa and Pinkie. The magic used on the both of them was not only identical, but no mean feat. Have any of you heard of somepony capable of mind controlling an Ursa Major? I can't even begin to fathom how much power that takes. The kind of power we're dealing with is far beyond any unicorn magic. Only an alicorn is that powerful.”

“I... believe you...” said Fluttershy, wincing as she spoke.

Applejack stared at the ground. “So do I.”

“If we're certain about whom we're dealing with, what do you intend to do, Twilight?” asked Rarity.

“I'm wondering the same thing myself,” mused Greyhoof. “We can't sit idly and wait for Celestia's next attack. We have to do something.”

Twilight resolutely struck the ground with a hoof. “We'll go to Canterlot.”

Everypony stared at Twilight.

“C-C-Canterlot?” stuttered an aghast Fluttershy.

“Whoa there, sugarcube,” said Applejack, her eyes wide with concern. “Ain't that bein' a bit hasty now?”

“Well, I for one agree with Twilight,” said Rarity.

Twilight blinked in surprise. “You do?”

“Yes,” nodded Rarity. “Like Greyhoof said, we can't just wait for something else to happen. We've already lost poor Rainbow Dash, and that frightful Ursa Major nearly flattened my boutique!”

“I... I don't want to kill anypony else!” choked Pinkie, darting behind Fluttershy.

“It's settled, then,” said Greyhoof. “We'll head out for Canterlot tomorrow, before first light.”

“Wait,” said Twilight, holding up a hoof. “I think only I should go.”

“If you think I'll just let you go there on your own, then you've got another thing comin'!” said Applejack defiantly.

“The Princess might get suspicious if everypony else comes with me,” said Twilight.

“I agree,” said Greyhoof. “But I must come with you. We can't be sure if the Princess can be trusted. I don't know if I'm your equal in magical ability, Twilight, but we need to stick together in case we're right about her.”

“No, Greyhoof, I have to go it alone,” said Twilight, slowly shaking her head.

“No, Twilight, you can't do this alone!” exclaimed Greyhoof, his voice cracking like an old dam. “After all you've taught me about friendship. Until now, I had never had a true friend, and I've been to a great many places. I've moved from town to town, city to city, all my life, never being in one place for long enough to get attached to anypony. I thought I was fulfilled because I was learning so much about magic, Equestrian history, the mythical beasts of the land.”

Tears beginning to well in his eyes, Greyhoof shut them and looked away from Twilight. “But no, it had merely hardened my heart. In exchange for this vast knowledge, I'd thrown away friendship, the most important thing of all. Until I met you, Twilight Sparkle, I didn't realize such a crucial part of me was missing. When I thought I'd lost you to the masticore, it finally dawned on me how empty I was all these long years. As my first true friend, I can't let you throw your life away. If we are right and Princess Celestia really is the tyrant she now appears to be, and does turn on you, let us stand together and die as friends. Everypony else should stay behind for their safety and ours, but I will not stand idly and let you risk your life on your own. After what she made Pinkie Pie do to Rainbow Dash... this is my fight too.”

When Greyhoof finished speaking, he directed his gaze at the ground and closed his eyes, letting a few tears roll down his cheeks and hit the soft earth below. Twilight embraced him fiercely, encircling her hooves around his neck.

“You're right,” said Twilight after a few minutes had passed. “I was so bent on learning the truth, I'd nearly lost my way. Thanks, Greyhoof, for reminding me of the values of friendship. Everypony, Greyhoof and I will go to Canterlot tomorrow. If the Princess is responsible, we will fight for our freedom and safety with everything we've got.”

“Are you sure you don't want us to help?” Applejack asked. “I've gotta be good for somethin'.”

“No, Applejack, I'm afraid not. Not this time,” said Twilight, her voice tinged with regret. “Princess Celestia's magic is far too powerful for an earth pony to contend with, I'm afraid. She could easily use you as a hostage if she wanted to. Greyhoof and I are the only two with a chance at matching her.”

“I hadn't thought of that,” said Applejack begrudgingly, “but I don't like doin' nothing while my friends are fighting for me. It just ain't right.”

“In your case,” said Greyhoof, “inaction is the best course of action. I'm only helping because I am also a student of advanced magic and am confident in my abilities. Even with our combined powers, I'm still unsure if it will be enough...”

“Promise me this,” said Twilight. “If we don't return, make it known to everypony across Equestria what happened. If we fail, maybe everypony else united can succeed.”

“Don't talk like that!” cried a mortified Rarity. “I'm sure it will all turn out right. I know it will!”

Twilight gave Rarity a weak smile. “I hope so.”

“It's getting late,” said Greyhoof, noting the setting sun on the horizon.

“Let's go home,” said Twilight. “We all need our rest.”

The other ponies nodded and began their trek back to Ponyville. Their journey was quite uneventful, as their path more resembled a bypass than anything else, on account of the vegetation being unexpectedly demolished by the rampaging Ursa Major. When they returned to Ponyville, they found a crowd of cheering ponies eagerly awaiting their arrival.

“You've done it!” shouted the Mayor, galloping toward them. “You saved us from the Ursa! How ever did you do it?”

“It was a spell,” explained Twilight. “The Ursa Major was under a spell similar to the one that Pinkie was.”

A chill swept across the crowd, and the cheering died down as if the joy had been sucked out of the atmosphere. “Surely you're not suggesting –” began the Mayor, a hint of panic creeping into her voice.

“Yes,” said Twilight grimly. “That Ursa wasn't on a rampage by accident. We believe that whoever had Pinkie under control did the same thing to the Ursa. Whoever it is, they're incredibly gifted in the ways of magic, and they want us dead. If we hadn't broken that spell, the Ursa could have easily killed us all.”

“Did she say 'kill us all'?”

“Who could do such a thing?”

“I don't wanna die!”

“Why would somepony want to kill us?”

“Do you have any idea who was behind the attack?” shouted the Mayor over the panic-stricken crowd.

“We do,” said Greyhoof.

“Tell us!” cried a pony in the crowd.

“Yeah, spit it out!” demanded another.

“We can't do that,” said Twilight. “We don't know for certain, but tomorrow we intend to find out. I don't want to give anypony the wrong idea unless we're absolutely sure.”

“I won't accept that,” said the Mayor. “I need to know, for the safety of Ponyville. For the safety of its citizens.”

“Telling you what we think we know,” Twilight said, attempting to remain as calm as possible, “will only cause more panic. Trust me, you don't want to know until we're certain. If we're wrong, then it will be a lot of trouble for all of us if we make a big deal over nothing.”

The Mayor begrudgingly backed down. “Fine.”

The crowd parted enough for Twilight, Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Greyhoof to make their way back into Ponyville. Once they distanced themselves from the uneasy crowd, they huddled together.

“Okay, Twilight, I really hope you know what you're doin',” said Applejack. “I'm gonna head back to the farm now. You'd better return in one piece, ya hear?”

“I will,” said Twilight, giving Applejack a confident smile. “I promise.”

Applejack raised her hoof and Twilight matched her gesture. With that, Applejack spun around and began trotting to Sweet Apple Acres.

“Rarity, Fluttershy,” said Greyhoof, looking at the two ponies in turn. “You'd best get some rest too. It's been a long day.”

They nodded and went their separate ways.

“What about me?” asked Pinkie.

“Sugarcube Corner is on the way back to the library,” said Twilight, beginning the trek home.

“Oh, right,” mumbled Pinkie, falling into step beside the others.

Twilight couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness as she watched Pinkie walk. A slow, depressed trudge replaced the usual bounce in her step. Twilight felt overcome with cold fury when she thought of Pinkie's pain at murdering her own best friend against her will. How could the Princess do this to us? she fumed. I'll make sure she answers for this.

When they arrived at Sugarcube Corner, they bade Pinkie good night and continued to the library. The streets were deserted once again. I guess everypony fled to their homes in terror, mused Twilight. I'd give anything – anything to return things to how they once were. Her heart panged for the simpler days of even a fortnight ago, when there wasn't a potential murderer seemingly lurking around every corner of town, waiting to claim its next victim. When they entered the library, they noticed Spike fast asleep.

“That dragon really can sleep through anything, can't he?” chuckled Greyhoof.

“We need a plan for tomorrow,” said Twilight in earnest.

“Before first light seems to be the most wise,” said Greyhoof.

“Will we be safe on the road? How about the train – or the balloon?” asked Twilight.

“I think the road would be our best bet,” said Greyhoof. “If Celestia wants us dead, she could easily hear of our impending arrival and prepare a reception for us, or simply destroy the train.” His brow furrowed. “The balloon is also too obvious. She'd see us coming from miles away.”

“You really think she'd try to kill us in broad daylight?”

Greyhoof arched an eyebrow at Twilight. “Remember the Ursa?”

The tips of Twilight's ears reddened. “Yes, but that was more indirect, wasn't it?”

“While she has been using somewhat indirect methods thus far,” said Greyhoof. “By exerting such power to control an Ursa like that has more than likely shown her hoof. I'm sure she would have no qualms with striking us down en route if she felt she could make it look like an accident. If we take the road and go on hoof, she may not be expecting it.”

Twilight nodded. “Right. What do you propose once we reach the castle? Luckily, I spent much of my fillyhood there, so I know a good deal about it from the inside.”

“That's where things get tricky. Do you have a book that has the layout of the castle?”

“I'm not sure. I'll look through this side,” said Twilight, indicating a large array of shelves. “Why don't you search that side?”

In a matter of moments, the library was engulfed in a flurry of books sailing through the air as Twilight and Greyhoof both frantically searched for an appropriate book.

Cities of Equestria?” said Twilight hopefully, skimming through a particularly hefty book. “No... no... no. Not in here.”

The mountain of books got larger and larger until all of the bookshelves on the ground floor were bare.

“You didn't find anything?” said Greyhoof with a hint of frustration.

“No,” said Twilight, slumping on her flank, resting her muzzle on her forehooves.

“Aren't there more books in the basement?” asked Greyhoof.

“You search down there, I'll search upstairs.”

Greyhoof went down the staircase into the library basement. Twilight climbed the stairs to the top floor and began rifling through her books with renewed vigour. Book after book yielded no results, much like those on the ground floor. She was in such a hurry, she didn't bother to put any of the books back, creating a small mound of them, which appeared to be a sort of tribute to the mountain of tomes on the ground floor.

Twilight heaved another frustrated sigh as she realized that the upstairs books were just as barren of the desired information as those downstairs. She trotted down the stairs and was about to go to the basement when she almost crashed headlong into Greyhoof, with a fairly musty tome that clearly hadn't been read in some time, floating at head height.

“I found it!” exclaimed Greyhoof, completely ignoring the near miss.

“Let's see,” said Twilight, clearing a space on the floor with her hooves.

Greyhoof set the book down and opened it to the appropriate page. Sure enough, there it was – an exact blueprint of Canterlot Castle. Every single room, passage, hallway, chamber, and turret was all clearly labeled and accounted for.

“There's the throne room,” said Greyhoof, putting his hoof on an important-looking place on the map.

“What do you think we should do?”

“When we get inside,” began Greyhoof, “I'll go to the east tower while you can talk to the Princess, who should be in the throne room, directly. Don't be direct about the accusations. Just tell her she has a subject seeking an audience in the east tower; it doesn't look like that room is used for anything. That way, we can be in a more secluded area of the castle when we confront her.”

“That might work,” said Twilight. “The last thing we need if it turns into a fight is Royal Guards coming to her aid.”

“Exactly,” said Greyhoof. “It is also imperative that she believes you to be alone.”

“This would be so much easier if my brother was there,” grumbled Twilight.

“Your brother?”

“Yes, Prince Shining Armour, former Captain of the Canterlot Royal Guard,” explained Twilight. “Unfortunately, he's retired now and is off with his wife, Cadence, at some place or other preparing for the Summer Sun Celebration, so we might run into some complications.”

“Too bad,” said Greyhoof. “It would be far simpler, wouldn't it? Well, with any luck, we can get her into the east tower alone. I pray that she'll feel confident enough to refrain from summoning her guards.”

“It sounds like the best plan we've got,” said Twilight reluctantly. “There's nothing for it now but to get some sleep. It's a long way to Canterlot.”

Greyhoof embraced Twilight, softly caressing her mane. “If one of us doesn't make it out of this alive, I just wanted to say, thank you.”

Momentarily taken aback, Twilight returned his hug after a few seconds. “Thanks for what?”

“For showing me the way,” said Greyhoof simply. “You've shown me how much more there is to life than knowledge, not only through the wonderful friendship you've shown me, but that you share with the others as well.”

“I – I don't know what to say.”

“Then say nothing. Sleep well.”

Greyhoof released Twilight and gave her a warm smile before climbing the stairs, heading toward his bed. Twilight, her heart racing, began to follow, but her hoof knocked a loose book across the floor on her way to the stairs. She looked at it and noticed it was Ancient Equestria. She opened it, staring at the place where the pages were torn out. After gazing for a full minute, she slammed it shut and flung it across the room.

Perturbed, she began slowly climbing up the stairs. Why, Princess? Why? As she tucked herself into bed, her mind lingered on the treachery and betrayed trust of her mentor, the one pony she had idolized above all others.