• Published 20th Dec 2012
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Cultural Artifacts - Dan_s Comments



A little piece of Earth arrives in Equestria, a human and it's home. The citizens of Ponyville and Princess Luna struggle with this newcomer, as it struggles with them.

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43) Ninety Day Wonder

Cultural Artifacts - Ninety Day Wonder
Dan's Comments
DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

Day 90

Pinkie's forehoof reached out, then as wakefulness increased, and she didn't find what she was searching for, the movement encompassed a larger area of the bed. She opened her eyes and looked around. As a baker, she was used to awakening early, but today she'd thought she could sleep in to 'early for anypony else'.

" 'Old bird' my fluffy, pink mane," she told the figure getting dressed in the darkness.

"I've been a soldier all my life," Glorious Sunrise replied, walking over to nuzzle Pinkie, "That implies a good deal of physical stamina."

Pinkie snorted at that, then frowned. "You be careful," she told him as she hugged him, "I know things are planned out, but I shouldn't have to tell you about the unexpected."

He raised her chin and scratched behind her ears. "I am prepared for the unexpected, I try to make sure the unexpected is not prepared for me."

She grinned at him. "Okay, I won't ask you to Pinkie Promise, but try your best," Pinkie said as she slipped out of bed.

"I should demand the same from you," he told her as he adjusted his uniform and armor, "You're going to use the Elements at some point. I can fly away and I have an army watching my back. You'll have to run, and I think I have the edge on speed."

Pinkie waved a hoof. "Oh, I have a few tricks that'll make up the difference, and I think the 'civilian' guards are going to take guarding the royalty very seriously. Some will even work on the Schmooze." She kissed him to keep either of them from talking for a while. They both knew how the other felt, so words would just get in the way.

------------------------------

"My crown!" Twilight shouted as she pursued the cloaked figure down the crystalline hall.

"Bring that back!" Twilight heard Rainbow shouting as another cloaked figure winged past with Rainbow in hot pursuit.

Twilight teleported, only to discover the figure had changed course and was headed down the side corridor. Twilight turned and raced after the fleeing figure.

Once she had a clear path, she teleported again, and ran straight into the thief's cloak. Before she could disentangle herself, she heard Rainbow's shout, and then Rainbow crashed into her, sending them both spinning along the floor.

The pair painfully pulled the two cloaks away and looked around the corridor for the thieves. While many guards had blocked both entrances, only Shining Armor and Cadence were present in the doorless, windowless corridor.

Her heart sank as she saw that Cadence had both the crown, and Rainbow's necklace. Shining Armor's expression was one of controlled fury, directed at the two Element Bearers.

"You left this out on a table, where anyone can steal it?" despite his expression he asked in utterly emotionless tones, and turned to Rainbow, "Did you think we provided you with a lockbox bolted to the table and instruction how to use it, and why, just to keep your snacks in?"

Twilight withered at the tone and even Rainbow cringed back.

"We are under threat from two enemies, one a master infiltrator," Cadence said, looking more angry that Shining Armor. She held up the Elements. "These are critical to the protection of Equestria and you treat them as if they are costume jewelry: unimportant and easily replaceable." Cadence handed the Elements back to their Bearers. "You owe NIGHTMARE MOON thanks that the real infiltrator was stopped before she could get to your Elements. Now go put these in the lockboxes, where they belong, and you can explain to Celestia why you were so careless in your handling of them."

Twilight slunk back to her room and carefully placed the crown in the heavy, armored box that Shining had told her to put the crown in before she retired for the night. The loud click meant more than just a mechanical sound, it signified she'd let everypony down, and risked the safety of Equestria over her carelessness.

------------------------------

The amber unicorn moved away as far as the chains allowed as the wolf sniffed her once again. The other wolf in the room looked on with an utterly bored expression.

"You can't eat her until she lies to us, and we can prove it," Hotaru said, "And then you only get to eat one of her legs."

The male wolf sat back and stared at Hotaru.

"NO, you can't suck out one of her eyeballs and eat it, even though I agree she has a spare," Hotaru told him.

He snorted on the unicorn and walked back to the corner of the cell to stare at her while obviously fantasizing about ripping her flesh from her bones.

"Aren't you going to ask any questions?" the mare asked, "I know a lot about Canterlot."

"I'm trying to figure out what questions to ask that you'll lie about," Hotaru said, "We were promised we could nibble around the edges when you lied."

"I know secrets that would be very useful to you!" the mare insisted.

"The only secret I'm interested in, is whether you'll taste better stir-fried or slow roasted," Hotaru said, "Or raw. It is a conundrum." As expected, the mare fainted.

Hotaru swore the wolf was laughing. She responded by picking up the can Holly Hock had provided and gently brushing some of the master chef's 'secret sauce' on the mare's leg.

"By sunrise she'll be ready to tell the interrogators everything," Hotaru explained.

The wolf seemed to accept this and curled up in a ball to wait for the mare to wake up.

------------------------------

The Schmooze was right on schedule. Tom noted that its advance was right along expected lines, and at the expected speed. In a few hours, I'm getting my 'bombs', and then we'll see how you do, he thought, Whether Harmony or Chaos prevails, you will not be part of it.

He knew such hatred was corrosive and he looked down from where he floated in the predawn darkness, expecting it to be dripping off him and burning a hole to the planet's core. It wasn't happening, but he couldn't help despising all the Schmooze represented. At least Celestia and the tree of Harmony had the decency to hate Discord's excesses. This thing doesn't care as long as it eats whatever independence lies in front of it, good or bad, chaos or harmony. As long as it reduces everything to bland sameness, it is satisfied. Not on my watch.

He was aware of Celestia's approach, and the danger the alicorn was putting herself in. Though second-hand, Tom had seen Dieppe, Normandy, Caen, Bergen-Belsen, Pusan, and the Yalu River. He was immune to what the Schmooze represented, not so Celestia. So he kept an eye on her as she watched it grind forward.

"We have to stop it," Celestia said, "Short of dropping the sun on it."

"There are myriad other avenues," Tom said, "Many are being moved forward."

Celestia looked at him. "You care about Discord, don't you?"

"If you are asking 'is he my friend' then yes. He's also part of me, and I part of him, like a child takes after its parents," Tom said.

"So I take it you are prepared to do anything to protect him," Celestia said.

"I draw the line at sacrificing my friends," Tom said, "Everything else is on the table."

"In the castle of the Pony Sisters," Celestia said.

"Already used the Predakanin, no effect," Tom told her, "Remember, Nightmare hates this thing as much as you and Luna do. And she has access to all Luna knew until the Elements removed her."

Celestia stared at him, then looked down at the creature. "That doesn't leave much. I thought that was too horrible to ever contemplate using. And the Breezies don't have supermagic here. The mirror might work, but would just inflict it on another world."

"We'll beat it, or there will be no one left to care about our defeat. Even the creatures in Tartarus won't be able to beat it," Tom said.

"Not the epitaph I wanted," Celestia said, "For myself or my people." She looked away as if searching for the dawn. Something that wouldn't happen unless she willed it. But what lay below them was immune to her will.

------------------------------

The early risers had already breakfasted and were dismantling the thunderhead into cloud cover and 'ammunition storage' for the main attack. Equestria had sent weather teams to provide more cloud moving. The changeling nations had sent everyone they could spare, changelings and groups who had 'adopted' their infiltrators, as a way of accepting the Empress' suzerainty, and to try to cover over their participation in Chrysalis' abortive invasion. It also drove home that changelings could be symbiotes and not parasites.

Twilight was everywhere, jotting down notes, collecting quotes, and trying to get as good a 'prehistory' snapshot of the people and their thinking as ponilly possible.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie helped prepare the food for the growing throng.

Discord stood back and watched it all. Controlled chaos, the very idea made him shudder, But while pure chaos is fun, we need some organization. He had visited the dumps where the canisters of hot sauce stood ready for the final ingredient. He had watched the various griffon regiments making their prebattle arrangements. Some prayed, some polished their buttons and medals, some prepared wills or final letters home. There was a grimness to them that even the doughtiest ponies lacked. Discord, clad in a sergeant's uniform, with 15-star general's insignia marched through and 'complimented' any slackers. It had the desired effect. They straightened up and flew right.

When he was sure Celestia and Woona were otherwise occupied, he blipped off to Canterlot, collected the statues he needed, and put them where he or Tom could retrieve them for the drop.

"The Lord of Chaos, and I so want to just skip to the end . . . oh good grief, I can." He vanished for a moment, and returned. "I don't believe it, I just don't," he said as he shook his head, "All these brave warriors ready to surge into battle, and that's how the story ends? I don't believe it." He shook his fist. "You bastard!"

------------------------------

The Big Guy approached as the last Equestrian train pulled into the station. No more would be arriving, and Railroad Tie's team had the trains still here pointed back down the tracks for a hasty withdrawal. He paused to enjoy the sounds and smells of his youth, when steam ruled and diesels meant trucks, not trains. The place is waking up, he thought of the increased activity, Soon they'll be growing up. Suddenly, I don't know if that's good or bad.

Nurse Redheart and some of the Ponyville medical staff stepped out. The pony who'd been the heart of the 'get the Ponyville Monster out of Ponyville' movement looked awkwardly at the Big Guy. She sighed, and saluted their welcoming committee. "We have a full field hospital ready to go."

The Big Guy nodded and turned to Marigold. "You know where the medical centers are assembled."

The pony nodded and escorted the Ponyville medical staff to where they'd set up. The Big Guy ignored the nervous glances from the others, who'd also been prominent in the movement. He had no time for recriminations or to listen to apologies, whoever made it through could deal with it.

"It seems Discord was right in a way he didn't expect," the Big Guy said to members of the Apple clan who were disembarking.

"You made it!" came Fluttershy's happy call as she swept down to hug a huge buffalo who was stepping out of another railcar. Chief Thunderhooves blushed at the mare's frantic hug, then approached Big Mac and the Big Guy.

"We understand that the enemy may be beyond us," the Chief said as the rest of the war party disembarked and assembled, "But we are strong, we are swift, and we are your allies."

"We'll need internal security," the Big Guy said, "Molybdenum Blossom -"

"That monster still lives?!" the chief demanded.

The Big Guy stepped back. "She is one of our enemies, and she's likely to send infiltrators into the city."

The chief's expression he'd seen all too often in his youth. He'd worn it himself as often as not. "We will hunt them, we will destroy them," the chief said, "She is a monster too frightening to even scare unruly children with. An old, old enemy." The chief gave a grin that would have chilled Nightmare. "It is good we are here, to course her to death as we were denied so long ago."

"Make sure Shining Armor knows that, and I think Twilight might be interested in any old legends about her tactics and personality," the Big Guy said.

Fluttershy and the chief nodded. The Apples had already spotted the food preparation area and were headed that way. Once they were out of earshot, the Big Guy boarded the train.

"Okay kids, out, you've been drafted," he called into the seemingly empty railcar.

Scootaloo crawled from under the seats, and Tank came from the opposite aisle at the far end of the car.

"Everybody else," the Big Guy said.

Angel, Applebloom, Gummy, Owlicious, Opalescence, Sweetie Belle, and Winona crawled from their hiding places among the seats and cabinets of the train car.

"How did you know we were in here?" Applebloom asked.

"Oh, I know kids, and I would have just walked the length of the train until I found you," the Big Guy said.

Tank hung his head while Angel face palmed.

"Now, you're all drafted," the Big Guy said, as he pulled the 'wand' he'd crafted, and they all vanished, to reappear in the observatory at the top of the tower. There Spike waited. "You owe me two bits," the Big Guy said as Spike face palmed.

"Now," the Big Guy said, "Molly B's attack can come in any direction. So with the most powerful telescopes and binoculars in the Republic, you lot will keep watch on all four quadrants. One with a wide view, the other with a narrower focus. Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Angel will watch each section, with Spike relaying the reports to the command post."

Angel thumped his foot quickly and glared at the Big Guy.

The Big Guy knelt so he still towered over the rabbit, but could easily look him in the eye. "Molly B will kill and eat her opponents, Fluttershy included. I want to prevent that, how about you?"

The rabbit snorted, hopped over to stool and with a mighty kick, positioned it so he could use the tripod-mounted binoculars.

"Any questions?" the Big Guy asked.

"There's more than eight of us," Sweetie Belle pointed out.

"You can pick your partners," he told them, "And one of you as a relief."

"I think we can handle it," Spike assured him.

Angel whistled, when the Big Guy turned, the rabbit ripped off a sharp salute, then glared at everyone as if to say 'get to your posts'. The pets were quicker to get moving than the Crusaders were.

------------------------------

Glorious Sunrise watched the ponies and a few griffons assembling the 'ammo dump' piece by piece, like laying tile across the sky. Once the cover was extensive enough, out of a hundred 'ponies' in regimented masses arriving to set the tiles, only 90 would race off in a chaotic flock to gather more cloud pieces.

The remainder assembled above, changing to griffons, or if they were griffons, organizing the changelings into formations.

As the cloud cover extended, the officers began putting the 'changeling-griffons' through their paces, while more changeling and griffon arrivals formed new formations.

Glorious Sunrise smiled at the deception, and at the thought of the surprise.

------------------------------

Vladimir and Fragrance nearly collided with Celly as they exited the Constitution's engine room.

Celly grinned at why the pair were distracted. "The weapons are online, and ready, even with the reduced energy output," she told them, "Luna and Woona have the areas of structural weakness marked, so no one will fall through."

Vladimir nodded. And glanced around. "It seems a shame, but use it or lose it," he said.

Celly nodded, but left her head bowed at the end. "I know you can never forgive my counterpart, and looking back at what I did to my Blueblood, I doubt he could forgive me. But I ask you to forgive yourself. You served, as badly as you were treated, you did far more good than harm, and in the end, even here, you've served Equestria with distinction."

"Thank you," Vladimir said, "I tried to be 'the one they needed', rather than 'the one they deserved'."

"I think Discord has taken that place, and he relishes it," Fragrance said.

"A worse and more deserved fate I cannot imagine," Vladimir said, in 'Blueblood' tones.

The trio laughed before parting to complete their checkouts.

------------------------------

Rainbow paced, on the ground. Celestia's 'I'm very disappointed in both of you' rang in her ears. She'd been moved from the weather teams, where she'd do some good, to the auxiliary control room.

"There's nothing happening here!" she shouted at the empty room full of tables and binoculars, "This isn't a command center. This is a conference room with a good view."

"What did you expect of an auxiliary command post before a battle?" Selene said as she flew in 'dragging' a carpet full of binders. She set them on the table at a few places and the bulk in the center of the table. "So you're the guard? You got off lucky. When I screwed up, I got punished a lot worse."

"It's not like I didn't notice!" Rainbow said.

"Yeah, it's not like my aunt, the master sneak thief, didn't have to drop something noisy to get your attention," Selene said.

Rainbow cringed at that. "I would have caught her."

"No, you wouldn't have," Selene said, "I heard about the Nightmare Night race, you couldn't get away from her."

"I'da caught anypony else," Rainbow said.

"I never knew you were a thief taker," Selene said as she rolled up the carpet, "I've watched Hotaru and her wolf-friend stalk things I didn't even know were there. I've seen master infiltrators follow me despite everything an alicorn could do to evade them. If the thief was any good, you never would have caught her. Fortunately for you, Hotaru and her wolf friend are religious about stalking the castle. Making sure only the ones who belong are in here."

"Hotaru . . . you mean Nightmare Moon as a wolf? Why's she protecting anything?" Rainbow asked.

"Why are you pacing around feeling sorry for yourself, instead of just sleeping on the table?" Selene asked, "It's about duty to your friends. Nightmare may hate that she's been 'ensnared' by us, but she's as protective of us as any other guard dog." Selene flew out the window.

Rainbow was left frowning. Then she dashed to the windows, and looked out each one. Satisfied no one was coming in, she opened one of the binders and began to read.

Elsewhere in the Tower, Celestia smiled at that.

------------------------------

Glorious Sunrise was getting nervous, but in a good way. More and more griffons, and changeling-griffons had assembled above the pony-built cloud deck. Slipping in in small numbers, but now became a mighty host. He'd begun to realize that the platoon-level swoops were being performed by companies, company-level envelopments were being performed by regiments, and battalion-level feints and counterstrikes were being performed by divisions.

Changelings are so inter-coordinated, they can pull off those maneuvers, he realized, They know where all the others are, and from their leaders, where they need to be.

He looked at the largest, most powerful griffon force that had taken the field since the wars against the Three Kingdoms. And it's mine, the entire griffon kingdom could be mine for the taking, nothing they could field could touch this force, he thought, then laughed at himself, But it will be fun telling those 'swivel-chair hussars' that conquering them wasn't worth my time and effort, and Sand Cobra will be the perfect conduit. He grinned. I wish I could be there when they receive my report.

------------------------------

Trixie had lunched early, gotten a nap, and then her carpet had lifted off to scout ahead of the army. The two changelings aboard were both guards and 'radios', they would let the command post know when they spotted the Schmooze. Tom, Discord and Celly were also scouting as the aerial armada assembled.

"Nervous," she asked the changelings.

"No, just a tad overfed," one replied, "Nice place for a quick bite, but not where I want to live." The other nodded.

------------------------------

Flim poured the last ingredient into another canister, and sealed it by hoof, magic was a risk nopony wanted to take with these things. He raised his blast shield and looked at Flam and the other inventors carefully pouring and sealing the hundreds of canisters.

Will we be heros, or forgotten? he wondered, Being heros would be nice, but there are down sides to being known.

He moved to the next container, and poured, gently poured, observantly poured, the premeasured final ingredient, and saw the mix was remaining quiescent, again. He waited until he'd sealed the canister before he sighed with relief. Assembled five to a revetment, once he'd done five, he moved to the next revetment, letting the transport crew take the 'live' ones to the field for the bombers to pick up and five more with premeasured final ingredient left in the revetment for processing.

------------------------------

Derpy hugged Dinky as her daughter climbed aboard the Sphinx's broad back. "I'll keep her safe, and she'll keep me safe," the Sphinx told her.

Derpy nodded. The Sphinx would be a scout, she lacked the ability to affect clouds, and was not an accurate bomber. The binoculars, rifle and boxes of ammunition marked her as an aerial sniper and scout. One of those who'd guard against Molly B's treachery, or anything unexpected.

And who'll run when things get too hot, Derpy thought as she watched them take to the air, Not like me. She glanced around as the bomber corps stretched out and got ready. I'm going into the thick of it.

She checked her goggles and flight helmet. Things she normally eschewed, but for this mission, she kept. Changelings were mixed in the formation as 'radios' to report success, failure, or anything headquarters needed. She took a deep breath before thinking, God, the Big Guy seems to think you can get him, and us, out of this alive. I don't know who you are, maybe you don't know who I am or we ponies are, but any help would be appreciated.

She looked around self-consciously. " 'There are no atheists in foxholes,'" she whispered, "Why do I feel like I just asked Discord for a favor?"

------------------------------

The Big Guy walked up to the edge of the low balcony of the Tower. Hundreds of faces turned to look at him, as they awaited the order to take to the air, or go to their battle-stations. Discord had arranged that everyone would hear and see him. He hadn't mentioned that Canterlot, Ponyville and a few other capitals were included in that 'everyone'.

" 'I address you tonight, not as the Ponyville Monster, not as a leader of a country, but as a citizen of this world. We are faced with the very gravest of challenges. My people call this day: Ragnarok, the final battle and possibly the end of all things. And yet, for the first time, in the history of the planet, our species have the capability, to prevent our own extinction.

" 'All of you praying with us need to know, that everything that can be done to prevent this disaster is being called into service.

" 'The thirst for excellence, knowledge, every step up the ladder of science and magic, every adventurous reach into the unknown, all of our combined modern technologies and imaginations, even the wars that we've fought have provided us the tools to wage this terrible battle.

" 'Through all the chaos that is our history, through all of the wrongs and the dissension, through all of the pain and suffering, through all of our times, there is one thing that has nourished our souls and elevated our species above our origins, and that is our courage.

" 'The dreams of an entire planet are focused tonight on those many brave souls traveling into the Heavens. May we all, citizens the world over, see these events through. Godspeed, and good luck to you.'"

As the Big Guy stepped back from the balcony's edge, no one needed be told they were dismissed. They headed to their battlestations, on the ground or in the air. All of them stood or flew prouder, acknowledging the weight of their responsibility, but not crushed by it.

------------------------------

Celestia looked at the legions of ponies, griffons, changelings, and others moving so purposefully, with such a determined will. She felt odd feeling the beauty and rightness of it, the concentrated purpose of all those around her. What could be done with that in other realms? she wondered.

" 'It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grown too fond of it'," Vladimir told her.

She shuddered at that, but couldn't help but be taken in by the majesty of what she was seeing.

------------------------------

Trixie watched the host form up and move forward.

"Gray leader standing by," her 'radio' changelings repeated, "Red leader standing by."

"Yellow leader standing by."

"White leader standing by."

Trixie smirked at that. Celly being the only one in her 'weight class' she was a group all to herself.

"Blue leader standing by," she reported to the changelings. On the off-chance their communications were monitored, she was to simulate an entire battlegroup.

"Purple leader, standing by."

"Orange leader, standing by."

"Paisley leader, standing by," Discord reported. Like Celly, he was close support, if anything got past the griffon high cover, or unlike Celly, the Schmooze did anything strange. The Schmooze had proven quite resistant to Alicorn magic.

Trixie was actually glad the draconequus was in the air with them. If anyone can be ready for the weird, it's Discord.

"Look at the size of that thing," one of her 'radios' muttered.

"Stay focused on your job, keep chatter off the channel," she told him.

The changeling nodded.

"The Schmooze has reached the North Ridge," one of the 'radios' announced.

"Launch the first wave," the Big Guy ordered through the radios.

------------------------------

Through the tripod mounted binoculars, Rainbow watched the mass of pegasi and a few griffons of the Inventor Corps seize clouds and race forward. Maybe being in the aux control isn't so bad, she thought as the formation dipped out of sight beyond the horizon.

------------------------------

"CLEAR!" the Spike shouted and everyone stepped away from or put down their binoculars or telescopes.

The actinic flash of the first lightning strike glowed in the distance. Sweetie Belle stared at the smoking hole bored through Applebloom's hairbow.

"Looking through binoculars, that would have been your eyes," Spike said, "That's the other thing we're watching for."

The 'Observer Corps' all nervously nodded and went back to scanning the area around the tower.

------------------------------

"No noticeable effect," the changeling reported to the command center. Like the auxiliary, but larger and better staffed.

"Second wave," Vladimir ordered and returned to the huge, central table the progress and forces were displayed on, "Casualties?"

"None," Luna reported, "It hasn't started fighting back."

"That'll change soon enough," the Big Guy added, then turned, "Gold Group, you'll go in with the third wave."

"Understood," came Derpy's reply through the changeling radios.

"Clear!" came Spike's order, and everyone pulled back from their binocs.

"Third wave," Vladimir said before getting the damage assessment.

------------------------------

"Gold Group, this is Paisley Group," Derpy heard Discord's voice as did everyone else, "Make your attack run, I'll draw its fire on your egress."

Derpy nodded then shook her head, "Roger." She didn't know who 'Roger' was, but etiquette was etiquette, even when it made no sense.

Especially when it makes no sense, Derpy thought, I wish we could have kept the Jericho Trumpets, but when carrying a bomb there's no place to hold them that wouldn't deafen us as well. She glanced down at the tube held in all four legs, and briefly wished, This might be fun, in a different setting, with a different thing wrapped up in my legs.

"Targets are marked," Derpy told her team. As ferocious and painful as the lightning was, this was the alpha strike.

"Schmooze has reached the Bunker Hills," came the report.

"Remember, don't release until you see the whites of its eyes," she shouted a reminder as Gold Group split up to target the nearest mouths that the lightning attacks had started growling.

"Clear!"

Her goggles magically darkened at the tremendous flash, as did all of Gold Group's. Even through darkness that would have let her look at the sun, the brightness was painful. Even her fur was warmed by the flash.

"We're going in," she said, and was alarmed at how calm she felt.

Training, and this is just like the mail delivery drills, she thought as she dove, let go of her package and raced away. No one knew how the Schmooze would respond, and no one wanted to be the closest when it did.

------------------------------

Dinky was scanning the Schmooze as Gold Group dropped their bombs and raced away. Everypony was racing away, except Discord, and the Sphinx whom Dinky was riding on.

"The Schmooze's eyes have shrunk to little dots," she reported, using a radio spell, like what the changelings were doing, "Red spreading from the mouths, now orange, yellow . . . it's all plaid!" She scanned all she could see. "All of it! Paisley Group get out of there!"

A column of flame erupted from every mouth she could see, she reported that and looked closely at the eyes. "I think it's awake," she reported, "And I'd guess it's angry. 'You hurt my child' level angry."

"Then I'm getting us out of here," the Sphinx said as one of the Schmooze's hands scooped up itself and threw a piece at Discord. Dozens of other hands did the same.

------------------------------

"Discord! Are you all right?" the Big Guy shouted as the draconequus seemed to drop out of the sky.

Discord materialized in the control room hugged about a dozen people, Vladimir, the Big Guy, Celestia and Twilight among them. "You like me, you really, really like me!" He kissed Celestia on the forehead and vanished, letting them tumble to the floor.

"Stay low on egress, that thing has terrible gun depression," came Discord's voice over the changeling 'radio' net.

While the others were shaking their heads, Rainbow briefly flew in, pointing a hoof at the Schmooze who was still roaring and shifting side to side instead of advancing. "That was so incredibly AWESOME!"

"Yes it was," Vladimir said, "Back to your post. That was the griffons, now the Equestrian Postal Service goes in. Fourth wave now. Platinum Group on stand-by. Fifth Group stand by to attack immediately after Platinum drops."

"If the second attack is as effective as the first," Shining Armor began, then noticed every 'Crystal' glaring at him, even the 'radios', although the Equestrians seemed mystified by the fury. "Right, Finagle and Murphy, never mind." Armor slunk away from a still-glaring Cadence and Vladimir. "Break a leg?" Armor added lamely, which seemed to have the desired effect.

" 'Finagle and Murphy'?" Twilight asked.

"Murphy - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

Twilight looked around as the chorus of every 'Crystal' died down.

The Big Guy faced her. "Finagle adds 'at the worst possible moment'. O'Toole commented that 'Murphy was an optimist'."

Twilight shook her head and was going to rebut, but Trixie's voice interrupted, "All groups, new group of signals, the dragons are coming."

"All groups keep your eyes open," Vladimir ordered, looked at the aghast Armor and shrugged, "They were going to show eventually. Not now would have been better."

------------------------------

The force had rested among the clouds, a few of the restless had flown to patrol, but most stretched, worked out kinks in their muscles, held tactics talks, and generally prepared.

When the first wave had gone in, Glorious Sunrise roused them and got them in the air. They'd shaken out their formations and Glorious had positioned them where he felt the dragons would be coming from.

Trixie's spotting had confirmed that his instincts were as sharp as ever. Like every aerial hunter biologic or machine, speed was everything, height could be traded for speed, so as they maneuvered for position, they climbed.

With 'eyes' below the cloud deck, he knew where the enemy was, but remained unseen. Again, his instincts of the pounce told him exactly where and when, except this time the 'hunters' had no idea they were the hunted.

He smiled as the nearby bannergriffs signaled, and Colonel-General Glorious Sunrise, three times Hero of the Empire, led the greatest swoop not only in history, but even in legend.

------------------------------

Dinky watched the spectacle, she'd heard stories about armies that 'blackened the skies' with their wings, but she hadn't believed it, until now. Through her binoculars, she saw the plant-dragons couldn't believe it either. Some just stopped and stared, others flew on, but no wall of flames incinerated the oncoming griffons and changelings.

Changelings dropped their disguises, and formed the impact shell of green fire and rammed the dragons in their hundreds.

"Twenty dragons down, the rest are being closely engaged," she reported and watched. But something nagged at her. "Didn't they have more than that?"

"I think so," the Sphinx said, "Let's head back towards Trixie's area."

------------------------------

Spike stared at Angel and Tank. "You're sure it was only thirty?"

Angel nodded.

Spike sighed but reported, "Command, we have confirmed sighting of only thirty, I say again: thirty plant-dragons."

Tank nodded.

"Pick up your scans," the Big Guy ordered through Spike.

The teams returned to scanning the entire area.

------------------------------

The Big Guy stepped up to Vladimir. "They're coming for the city."

"Do it," Vladimir said and nodded, "Good luck."

The Big Guy nodded and glanced around, seeming to collect a few others. The group left the command center.

"Celly, report to the Constitution, leave the rest of White Group to guard that flank," Vladimir ordered.

"Where are they?" Shining asked as he stared at the situation table, and several maps of the surrounding area.

------------------------------

Celestia watched and understood the logic of the plan. Ponies can't sustain the emotions for a sustained fight without losing themselves to it, she thought, But this is more like a grand prank. She looked over at Pinkie, who was watching the battle and commenting on it like it was a sporting event. Some ponies will go to great lengths to sustain a prank, but pranksterism can be put down and picked up. Practice until it becomes reflex, and keep the exposure low. I don't think we've lost a single flyer to Schmooze fugue.

She settled back to watch, trying to dull the urge to race out and do. And do nothing of any value, she admitted, Except distract them from their jobs. I'd be something so far out of their training, I'd break the entire rhythm they've set up.

She sighed and for the first time, envied Discord who'd been accepted as 'a regular person'.

------------------------------

Derpy watched Silver Group drop their loads and bug out, low as Discord had instructed. The Schmooze hurled handfuls of itself at them, but its 'gun depression' was so awful, none came close. The roaring of the Schmooze was becoming continuous now. Obvious the bombs were having a lasting effect. To highlight that, it was now a continuous dull red, rather than the gray it had been at the start of the battle.

The bombs are having less and less effect, she thought and looked at the dwindling stockpile that had seemed so limitless when she took off the first time. Will we run out before these have no more effect, or after?

------------------------------

Fragrance was awaiting him on the Constitution's bridge, along with a full suite of Changelings, including Sapphire and the Empress. The Big Guy noted than many of these Changelings were formerly Chrysalis' hivemates. Eager to prove real rather than feigned loyalty to the new boss, he thought.

"Manned and ready," Fragrance reported, "All the specials are installed and ready."

"Thank you," he said, "A skeleton crew was agreed on, you don't have to be here."

"Time's a-wasting youngling," the Empress said, "I may be too old to ride fire on that thing." She waved a hoof in the general direction of the Schmooze. "But I can fight sitting down like nopony's business."

"Very well," the Big Guy said as he took the Captain's chair, "Clear all moorings. One-quarter power to climb, until we have a target, then punch her up to full speed ahead."

"Mooring's cleared," Sapphire told him.

"One-quarter, and climbing," the Empress told him. "You've been sharing a lot more songs and stories. Considering the effect they had, I can see why. But I think we need another."

He smiled at having the old changeling see through his plan. " 'Here may it wave, our boast, our pride, and joined in love together. The thistle, shamrock, rose entwine, the Maple Leaf forever!'"

The massive ship began to move up and away from the city. Another flash of lightning bathed the ship in its glow, and it briefly shown as a second sun. Then it climbed above the cloud deck and was lost to view.

------------------------------

Trixie had extended her scouting out beyond what was projected, or even wise. I've been in bandit country before, she thought as she and the changelings peered around.

A blast of dragon fire that missed her carpet was her first warning as dozens of dragons dropped out of the cloud deck.

"They weren't above, or below, they were inside it!" she called to the 'radios' as she swept the carpet into a series of maneuvers that should have made her airsick. The bolts of fire got farther away, but there were too many to maintain this dodging forever.

"Some help would be really nice!" she called as she jinked, rolled, and dodged.

She heard the changeling using an anti-fire spell and assumed they'd been hit.

"Not bad," the changeling reported.

"We're on them, Trixie," came the Big Guy's voice, "Hold on."

Trixie wouldn't admit it, but she wasn't sure she could, the hours of flying were catching up to her and while careful manipulation was her forte, moving this much mass was not.

Streams of lightning passed the other way, killing or driving off the five dragons who'd stayed on the pursuit. "Old I may be, dead I am not!" came the voice of the Empress.

Trixie grinned in relief, knowing that could be transmitted and amplified to the Empress by the two 'radios'.

"We've got them," came the Big Guy's voice through the changeling, "We're going to take on the rest."

Trixie watched the Constitution briefly dip below the cloud deck so that all the dragons saw it, then it climbed above. The plant-dragons pursued. Trixie followed orders, she ran for it.

------------------------------

The battle-stations alarm fell silent as the Constitution plowed ahead. The dragons had no formation, and acted like they didn't need any. Bolts of fire struck the ship, but the shielding absorbed the energy.

"Hold your fire," the Big Guy said as his eyes swept the shield panel and the growing charge held within, "Let more of them get closer."

"Are you going to ram them?" Fragrance asked, "Thirty seconds to impact."

"Hold your fire," the Big Guy said, the only calm one on the entire bridge.

"Continuous fire!" he barked, and the changelings in the gunnery positions let loose the lightning. Arcs would hit one dragon, and arc onto another close-by. Nearly a third of the horde were destroyed, another third wounded.

But the Constitution didn't press its advantage, fire slackened as the machine moved away, gaining speed. The dragons quickly figured out where the fire was the weakest, and doggedly pursued down that avenue. They might not have, if they'd seen the smiles shared among the Constitution's bridge crew.

------------------------------

Molybdenum Blossom was vaguely disturbed that she had to depend on the many Tear Twirlers to coordinate the effort. She had expected to maintain mental control over the plant-dragons, but she'd gradually lost her mental grip on them as they moved away. It was a frustration, but a minor one.

"The Constitution has engaged our dragons," the Tear Twirler told her.

"Maintain pursuit, don't let it get away," Molybdenum told her, "Destroying it and the Big Guy will break their morale."

"It puts off the timetable, and the force attacking the ponies has taken unexpectedly heavy losses," the Tear Twirler said.

"The timetable is only for us," Molybdenum said, "We must break them, piece by piece. If it takes longer, so be it."

"As you command."

------------------------------

"Clear!" Spike shouted as another wave of lightning flashed down on the Schmooze. The forces were attacking the arms and eyes that were targeting and launching pieces of the Schmooze at ponies and changelings who were attacking it. Several had been hit, but the steady attacks were keeping down the accuracy of those attacks.

"It's still coming?" Sweetie Belle asked, as she was facing directly away from it, and was still scanning her sector.

"Yes," Spike said, "The bombs don't seem to be slowing it down anymore."

The creature was a bright orange now, but the last bombing had no other effect.

"How soon will it begin throwing that stuff into the city?" Applebloom asked.

"Too soon," Spike thought as he moved to where Tank and Angel were watching the battle between the Constitution and the bulk of the dragon swarm. Only flashes amid the diminishing cloud cover could be seen, and a dragon or two falling from the sky. The series of tally marks Angel kept making told Spike that it would be a while before the Constitution prevailed, but they were winning.

"Command, Constitution continues to defeat the enemy, and they are drawing the dragons away from the city," he reported and went back to pacing.

We need some new tricks, Spike thought as he watched the battle, I wish I was a full-sized dragon. Maybe I could race out there and help.

He put that thought aside and continued pacing.

------------------------------

Derpy overflew the depot. She couldn't believe it was empty. Those huge stacks had seemed so vast and such overkill were gone, expended on an enemy they had slowed but couldn't stop.

She looked up at the lines of pegasi, griffons and changelings still racing in to deliver blasts of painful lightning. She considered joining them. Yeah, with my luck with lightning . . . no chance, she realized.

She caught the eye of Right Wing, "I need to check out our rear flank."

"How far to our rear?" the old postman could guess what she really meant.

"About a hundred and fifty miles," she answered, "Give or take."

He nodded. "Good luck, I'll get them organized to help the lightning teams."

She nodded and raced off.

------------------------------

"We're pulling away from them," Sapphire reported. They'd been spreading out their fire to damage as many as they could, rather than slaughtering a handful of individual.

"Maintain course and speed," the Big Guy said, "I wish Molly B was as smart as everyone claims. I have a terrible feeling she's going to miss what we're doing and go back after the city."

"She can't possibly be that stupid," Fragrance said, "Anyone with a map and a ruler could figure out our plan."

"Never underestimate the capacity of your enemies to do the inconveniently stupid thing," the Empress told the others.

------------------------------

"The Constitution has begun to disengage from our dragons," Tear Twirler reported, "They have damaged many and are able to outrun those they have not killed."

"Of course," Molybdenum Blossom said, "It was a trick. They are trying to draw our dragons away from the city. The ship must be more heavily damaged than we thought."

"A decoy?" Tear Twirler said, "They weren't specifically trying to cripple rather than kill, they couldn't manage the kills?"

"Exactly," Molybdenum Blossom said, "Break off the attack. Have the dragons form up, and head back to the city. There's no point in chasing something our forces can't catch."

"Are you going to heal them?" Tear Twirler asked.

Molybdenum Blossom thought. "If I do, I will lack the strength to leave, and while the Schmooze will have little effect on me, I don't relish being trapped by its advance. While I relish the chance to see the destruction of all those ponies and their rekindled hopes, I don't intend to risk myself to do it."

Tear Twirler nodded as the message flitted through her network to reach the dragons.

------------------------------

Trixie watched as the dragons broke off and began forming up. She reported it, and flew the carpet where she could watch them, but they couldn't spot her back. She'd had time to examine her carpet, and the small burned patches told her that she would have to be much more cautious against this enemy.

"Don't broadcast: How's it going with the Schmooze?" she said.

The changelings glanced at each other. "They're out of bombs, and the lightning, while it hurts it, doesn't seem to be slowing it down much," the pair told her, one saying one phrase, one saying another, until they'd finished.

Trixie felt uncertain, but needed to buck up her team. "Hey, we're gonna win. I know the Big Guy, he's got another trick up his sleeve. You're going to get the autographed picture once we land."

One changeling nodded eagerly while the other facehooved.

The facehooving changeling got a thoughtful expression. "Why didn't you give that ling a picture before we took off?"

"Everypo - everyone knows if you've got a picture of your family or friends," Trixie explained, "You're the one that gets knocked off in the fight."

She wasn't sure the changeling crossed its eyes, but that was what she guessed its expression meant.

------------------------------

Twilight stepped up to Celestia. "I can't be positive," she said quietly, "But the Constitution appears to be no longer leading those dragons away. They're heading straight for Molybdenum Blossom's base instead of reengaging them."

"The base was always the plan," Celestia said through her frown.

Vladimir laughed at that. "True as far as it goes, but false in toto. Reengaging them would be your plan," he said, "It would never be his. Watch and learn."

Twilight looked at the table as the representation of the Constitution slowed.

------------------------------

"Okay, all ashore who's going ashore," the Big Guy said as the ship slowed enough for the Changelings to safely disembark. He watched through the hatches as Celly carried Dinky onto the top hull of the Constitution.

Fragrance walked up to him. He leaned down and accepted the hug from her. "Thank you," she told him, "For everything."

"DUCK!" the Empress shouted.

Derpy stopped well short of the hatch. "I've gotten a lot better," she testily told the old changeling before she also hugged the Big Guy. A moment later Dinky landed on Derpy's back, and Celly stole a kiss as she headed for the bridge.

"We've got the wounded off, and all but a skeleton crew on the ship," Sapphire said, "And I'm staying."

"Why?" the Empress asked.

Sapphire smiled sadly. "You aren't the decrepit, old thing you were a few weeks ago. Being here, rescuing your creator, and defeating Chrysalis have invigorated you. You'll have a few decades to groom a successor," Sapphire said and shrugged, "And frankly, having seen the job, I don't want it."

The Big Guy chuckled at that.

"I want to be with my herd, and right now, they need me more than the Changelings do," Sapphire said, and accepted the nuzzle from the Empress.

"You do us credit no matter where you go," the old changeling whispered, then joined the throng flying at a right angle to the ship's projected course.

------------------------------

The pony was surly, coarse appearance, and seemed to lack any real drive to do anything other than what it was ordered to do, and that begrudgingly. It hadn't even glared at the guards who'd practically had to drag it into the command center. It ignored Rainbow's horrified questioning and Fluttershy's gentle ministrations with equal indifference.

"I give you perfect Harmony's natural consequence," Discord told the command staff, "Will not do anything that might offend others, although it will grumble equally at a pat on the head or a kick in the ribs."

"Harmony is not like that," Celestia said.

"Harmony tempered with individuality, and differing skills and personalities is not like that. This is untempered, unrefined, and unmoderated. That's what being Schmoozed will do," Discord said, even he wouldn't close with the pony, despite his usual violation of everypony's personal space, "He got hit and fell in, that's what I pulled out. The original pony is still there, but frankly, he'd be just as happy in a hovel all alone, as in a palace surrounded by admirers."

"Are you through talking about me like I'm not here?" Spitfire asked, "And I'm a she!"

Discord stared at Celestia as if to say 'see?'

"What are we going to do?" Rainbow asked as she orbited around the transformed Wonderbolt.

"We're going to win," Vladimir said, "Or we're all going to end up like this." He turned to the guard. "Find the Captain someplace to sleep, off the common paths. If she becomes motivated enough to leave, she will."

Spitfire gave the guards a sour look and then trudged along with them.

"That's horrifying," Fluttershy said.

"That's why Sombra went insane," Shining said, "He thought he was facing that for his entire empire." Shrining stopped at that, but everyone knew the rest of that sentence.

"The Constitution reported they are under power and moving again," one of the Changelings reported.

"You aren't horrified by that?" Cadence asked the changeling.

"We'd all starve to death," the changeling said, "No emotions strong enough to feed on. Being in that state when you starve would make no difference." The changeling said and waited for Cadence's nod to return to its duties.

Cadence caught Shining's eye and the pair departed the command center.

"We have to win," Celestia said, and looked at Luna, who was peering in the direction of the Constitution. Most ponies figured out where she really wanted to be.

"We bought ourselves some time. The Schmooze is temporarily halted, gathering itself for the final push," Discord reported, "It advanced steadily while it was asleep, now that it's awake and thinking, it has taken a moment to decide how to act, instead of reacting."

"Maybe we can talk to it," Celestia said.

"Sombra tried that," Vladimir said, "On several occasions. The answers could be boiled down to 'you are food and I will eat you.' We're not dealing with a grand intellect and delicate personality. It's a thug who wants what it wants and knows how to get it."

"And what it wants is despair," Discord said, "So getting promises from it, is counterproductive, especially since we'd have to depend on its willingness to keep those promises. It's too powerful for us to enforce them." Discord bowed. "But you are certainly welcome to try. Don't worry about going 'Tyrant Sun' on us, surly apathy is the universal state of the Schmoozed. But not so apathetic that they'd starve to death. They just wouldn't care enough about anyone else in trouble, or reproducing."

Celestia frowned at that. "So in your not so subtle way you're telling me not to?"

"In my own subtle way, I'm saying 'if you do, you won't slaughter us all when you get Schmoozed'," Discord replied, "Luna and Woona can still raise the sun and moon, for as long as anyone lasts."

"Although staying buried in the Schmooze would eliminate the real problem of 'eternal night', the creature would redistribute the heat of the sun over it entire body, so life would remain possible, in so far as no one would freeze or roast to death. Do you suppose Molly B had some thermophilic plant life, or was she planning to reposition herself so that the constant light of the sun would nourish her and only her?" Vladimir asked.

"Turn us all inta that," Rainbow said and gestured at where Spitfire had gone, "Just so she could make everything that lived after ponies and everypony else just died?"

Vladimir nodded. "We aren't dealing with Discord or Tirek here."

Rainbow dashed to the balcony with Luna and shouted, "Blow her up real good!"

"Everyone eventually comes to that conclusion," Rarity said, she looked at Vladimir, "And I thought I was the only one who figured that out."

"Sombra did as well," Vladimir said, "That's when he went from being desperate and nearly insane with terror, to frighteningly calm about things."

"To the detriment of every pony in the Empire," Twilight added.

The Crystals all nodded.

------------------------------

Hotaru and the wolf finished destroying the escape vehicle that Molly B had planned to use. Nothing apparently wrong with it, it just no longer would work. They'd hunted down and either destroyed or booby-trapped all the secret escape routes/methods. The 'front door' was all that was left. And you'll use that last of all, Hotaru thought, And I can tell them I left her a way out, and was all ready to accept her surrender. Just because I know she'll never use it, doesn't mean those idiots won't see it as merciful.

She wanted to laugh at that as the pair of them raced around the perimeter, to be waiting if the impossible did happen.

I'm prepared for that as well, she thought, I may have to show mercy, but the lovely Geneva Convention explains what to do with false surrenders. She had to struggle mightily to not laugh at the box they had Molly B in.

------------------------------

Molybdenum Blossom didn't understand the data. "If they aren't turning around to go after the dragons, and they aren't moving to attack the Schmooze, where are they heading?"

"Directly towards us," Tear Twirler explained, trying not to trigger the 'kill the messenger' tendency of her master.

"But towards us makes no sense," Molybdenum Blossom raged, towering over Tear Twirler, "They would be allowing us to destroy their capital! Why would the Big Guy do that?"

"I suspect that the Big Guy is no longer in charge of the Constitution," Tear Twirler said, "Your daughter may be in command."

Molybdenum Blossom shrank back. "My daughter. My daughter," she mumbled, and the penny dropped, "What does she care about the ponies, or the city?"

The huge plant cast around, as if looking for answers in the walls of her fortress, now becoming more of a prison. "She wants me!" Molybdenum Blossom thundered, "Prepare the escape craft."

"It's been destroyed," Tear Twirler said, "We could take a cutting and - "

"Never!" Molybdenum Blossom said, "If my daughter commands, she'll still be easily cowed by me. Recall the dragons. All of them, and have them besiege the Constitution."

"They will never make it, unless you heal them all," Tear Twirler said, "That it will eliminate the chance of you fleeing."

"I will do it. And the girl will learn why and how I cowed her all those years ago," Molybdenum Blossom said.

------------------------------

Vladimir had been listening to Spike's and Trixie's ranging reports, while simultaneously helping get Glorious Sunrise's force reorganized and ready to drop on the dragons like a ton of bricks.

"Uh, this is Marigold," one of the changeling 'radios' reported, "The wounded on all entrained, and ready or on their way to Equestria. Uh, over."

Vladimir smiled at that. "Very well, thank you, anything else to report?"

"The other trains are ready to take anyone who wants to evacuate. We'll fill them front to and send them out full, over."

"We'll keep that in mind, call if you need troops to keep things orderly, over and out," Vladimir said. He looked up from the status board and saw Celestia passing out the Elements to their Bearers. He saw Celestia and the Bearers had missed the new, heart-marked piece had been added to the order of battle.

"Blueblood!" came Spike's frantic call, "All the dragons have turned around and are headed back the other way!"

"Confirmed, Vladimir," Trixie's 'radio' reported.

"The smile on Vladimir nee Blueblood's face would have sent shivers down Discord's spine," Discord whispered in Vladimir's ear, and materialized subtitles in 6-foot neon-green letters overhead, "Cause it did."

"You're enjoying this?" Fluttershy asked.

"You enjoyed charging with the Army of Liberation," Discord said, "I'm enjoying that Molly B is being completely outsmarted. She beat me once, without the Elements. Now she's up against the very thing she always thought she was, a good planner with a fine grasp of psychology and military strategy." He turned to Twilight. "So, do you see how he drew the dragons away from the city."

"Not just the city," Vladimir said, "All of them, those few trying to get to the lightning corps also turned and left. Wounded, and run back and forth to exhaustion, they'll be in no condition to challenge us when we sweep for them, if they survive the night."

"We still have one problem," Celestia pointed out.

"And assets to engage it," Vladimir said, "The trains are waiting, if you want to evacuate. Your Royal Car is on a siding and ready to go."

"I still think you've overestimated your chances," Celestia said.

Vladimir shrugged. "Have the inventor corps bring up those cannons." He turned to Fluttershy. "I assure you, your skunk friends are unharmed."

The yellow pegasus nodded.

------------------------------

"Range to the dragons?" the Big Guy asked as he paced the Constitution's bridge.

"After their acceleration, I adjusted our speed," Celly said, "They'll arrive just about when we arrive over Molly B's fortress."

The Big Guy smiled. "Okay, let's not be late," he said, "Our appointment is very important."

------------------------------

Molybdenum Blossom couldn't pace. Healing, then supercharging the dragons had left her utterly exhausted. "How soon will the dragons reach the Constitution and engage?"

"After it's arrived overhead," Tear Twirler said.

"More speed," the huge plant-monster shivered as she ordered it.

"They're at maximum now. We'll lose some at that rate anyway," Tear Twirler told her master.

"It was not a request, it was an order," Molybdenum Blossom said listlessly, "If they all die, and we survive, that is victory."

"The order has been sent," she said, "But if they don't attack in strength, we won't win either."

"Before you decide to think for yourself about running away," Molybdenum Blossom seemed to gain strength as she said, "You will not survive long without me, and whatever sabotaged all the escape routes, must still be out there. You would be just a morsel for such a force."

Tear Twirler nodded and withdrew.

Molybdenum Blossom stared into the distance. "And what will you do about the Schmooze, daughter dear? Gain your revenge at the cost of all your dear, dear, new friends. You and I are not so different as you wish to believe."

------------------------------

Fragrance saw to the loading of the wounded changelings aboard a train, but the train wouldn't leave yet. The love aura of the Crystal Republic is stronger medicine than anything that Equestria has to offer, she thought, briefly considered where she needed to go next, Vladimir would like to see me, but I think Cadence and Armor need me more. She headed back to the base of the tower, and the growing crowd of 'noncombatants' assembling there.

------------------------------

Glorious Sunrise led the griffons and changelings in. The griffons didn't have the magic to call lightning from the clouds, but the changelings did, once they changed to pegasi. The griffons flew distraction: fired crossbows at the huge eyes, dropped irritants, and distracted from the changelings suddenly becoming pegasi, and unleashing the heaviest lightning barrage yet.

Just the reflection off the distant mountains was painful. The Schmooze yowled like a cat losing a fight with a rocking chair. Its eyes were closed and it flailed at the attackers. Glorious Sunrise led them away to rearm and organize themselves with the rest of the force. He spotted Right Wing integrating the bombers into the lightning teams.

"This is the Xankov's own day," the griffon said, referring to a 'Murphy-spreading' creature of Griffon legend.

"We're still gonna beat'em," the pegasi replied.

------------------------------

"Shields," the Big Guy ordered as they slowed. There was some fire coming from the hidden fortress, but it was safely absorbed by the ship's defenses. He kept an eye on that indicator.

"Dragons," Celly reported, "They're firing."

A few lightning guns of the Constitution's massive array fired, but not many, they didn't have the crew for it.

"Full stop," the Big Guy ordered. The sound of dragon fire against the shields could now be heard. The indicator climbed.

"Visual to tactical," Sapphire announced and the main screen changed from the view outside, to the representation of the Constitution, the base, and the horde of plant-dragons.

"Soon," Celly said and she too watching the tactical and shield indicators.

------------------------------

Nightmare Moon had never run from anything before in her life, but she saw no reason to stand on ceremony. The wolf was behind her. She stopped. "I'm an idiot," she said and the pair vanished. To reappear in the command center.

"CLEAR!" she shouted and the pair of them dragged Luna out of the balcony.

------------------------------

"Ninety," Celly reported, "Ninety-one, two, three."

The dragon fire was falling almost continuously on them.

"Five, six," Celly reported.

"Invert the lower shield!" the Big Guy ordered.

------------------------------

The stored power of the Constitution's shields vented straight down, all the dragon fire and other attacks in a single massive pulse. The closest thing Equestria had seen to a thermonuclear weapon pelted down on Molybdenum Blossom's base.

Stone flashed to vapor and the spells woven through them burned away like dew. The horrific experiments incandesced, becoming vaporous ash. As the bolt burned down through every defense known to ancient Three Kingdoms' magic and technology, the complex began reradiating the heat. The ground around the base vitrified to glass meters thick, sealing the entire crater in a mass of a greenish glass shot through with carbon forms normally found in space as a result of stellar cataclysms. But the heat went up as well as down, and the weakening spells forcing the clouds into solid matter were boiled away as well. The lower shield offered a few moments of resistance even as the spells and mechanisms generating it burned away to nothing. The upper shield dumped all that power back down before it too faded, creating a second pulse that burned through the remains of the fortress and superheating its deepest catacombs. But then there was nothing to restrain the outflow, and the noise and shockwave raced out. The armada of plant-dragons joined the fate of everything else in that hellish pulse: heated to boil off anything that would vaporized and residue and vapor combusted. Nothing escaped the double pulse into the earth, or the rising heat from below.

Half a mile wide and nearly as deep, Molybdenum Blossom and her legacy were burned from Equestria leaving an impressive grave marker. But even that would be denied her. The marker would become a monument to others.

------------------------------

"What's the condition of the Tear Twirler we have in the cells?" Vladimir asked, and a guard raced off to find out. He swept the room. "We still have the Schmooze to fight."

"They're gone," Celestia said as she stared out the window towards where the Constitution and Molybdenum Blossom were immolated. The hot wind and noise that passed through seemed to echo her sentiment.

"Maybe they teleported?" Twilight said as she and others arrived at the balcony.

"How far can you teleport, Sugarcube?" Applejack asked, "And carrying how many? She wouldn't have left Derpy and Dinky, and how many others aboard."

Twilight looked back at Vladimir. "Why?"

"No one else could," Vladimir said, "And that is what needed to be done. Not just Molybdenum Blossom but a thousand plagues awaiting her order, or failure to order, to release on Equestria, the Crystal Republic, the Griffon and Minotaur Kingdoms, or anywhere else. That all had to be burned clean."

"And you let him?" Rarity asked.

"How was I or anyone going to stop him?" Vladimir asked, "He was my friend, but I couldn't do what needed doing. I couldn't in good conscience stop him. You had to threaten the same to bring those librarians to heel, and they hadn't had a millennium to prepare their vengeance if they were attacked. Look at what they managed in weeks, if Discord hadn't intervened, it would have worked."

"So you let him march out and -" Rainbow Dash said as she cocked a hoof to clout Vladimir.

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Green Grass ordered, "You don't know enough about what's happening here to even form an opinion, let alone start laying blame." She marched over to confront the Bearers. "If you can't behave as civilized guests, I'll have the lot of you thrown in irons and you can discuss the weather with the pony who tried to steal your ill-guarded Elements." She focused on Rainbow. "And most don't know, but I'm well aware of your 'get him out of Ponyville' sympathies. So don't try your crocodile tears on us now that he's gone. You got your wish, now choke on it."

The almost gleeful roar from outside, from the Schmooze told everyone that it had sensed not their discord, but their despair.

"Easy, Captain," Vladimir said, "That will not honor his memory." He looked around at the command staff who were coming to grips with what the victory had cost them.

"Mares and stallions stop your dreaming, can't you see their spear points gleaming," he sang as he waved for others to join in, "See their warrior pennants streaming to this battlefield."

"Mares and stallions stand ye steady," he sang and was joined in ones and twos, "It cannot be ever said ye, for the battle were not ready," he sang.

"Crystals, never yield," they sang back.

------------------------------

The penny had dropped for the griffons a lot quicker than it had for the ponies. Then again, heroic sacrifice against a powerful foe was well-woven into the griffon sagas, but the sagas left out why the drink flowed freely among the survivors for days afterwards.

Glorious Sunrise was smiling, not at the loss, but that the Big Guy had prepared them, even for this. As the griffons had realized their strongest pillar had been broken, and lost heart, Glorious Sunrise had taken up the brag-song that Cadence had sung.

" 'But I rise from my feet you can't beat me. Oh, and that's why I gotta stay, and that's why I gotta say."

" 'I'm undefeated,'" some of the griffons and changelings sang back.

" 'And standing tall. I don't want to be the loser,'" the general sang and waved a claw at the Schmooze, " 'When the winner take it all.'"

Many of the griffons had joined in, and with that, a dispirited mob had gone back to being the most powerful army the world had ever seen.

Glorious Sunrise looked at the Schmooze as its eyes and mouths filled with confusion. It had surged forward at the call of such a buffet of despair, but now someone had snatched the tables away. Complain all you like, the old griffon said as he heard a dozen songs rising from the city behind him, We have ways to deal with the likes of you.

------------------------------

Tom collected the statues from their hideyhole, and moved over the volcano that had either spawned the Schmooze, or was its gateway onto the surface. The individuals cast in stone were among the more reprehensible tyrants, psychotics, and perversions of the ancient days. Megalomaniacs all, just differing on who and how their victims suffered. Some had been part of Nightmare's abortive coup, and had met the Big Guy, only to fall into his trap.

Fall into, how appropriate, he thought as he awaited the signal to add these to the mix.

------------------------------

The inventors' corps' sang 'The Impossible Dream' behind their protective facemasks and bodysuits as their last weapon fired. Dozens of guns whose last use had been firing rotten apples. Now they used carefully harvested skunk juice, mixed with poison oak. The gun crews were in full bodysuits with airlines. No one wanted to actually breathe the fumes.

The fusillade was swift, and the crews abandoned the weapons once they'd been safed.

"Paisley's a good look for that thing, brother mine," Flim said as the utterly silent Schmooze stood stock still, covered with an ever-changing paisley pattern.

"I couldn't agree more," Flam replied, "A victory for science and a blow against conventional fashion sense."

------------------------------

"You may fire when ready," Celestia had told them, both to give permission, and to distracted them from their first sighting of the Schmooze and the almost crippling paralysis that gripped most ponies on seeing it.

Twilight and Fluttershy shook themselves loose first. Pinky started moving a moment later, but kept looking back at it with horror. Applejack 'woke up' after she backed into Rarity and reflexively apologized.

Rarity stared open-mouthed at the vision of the variegated coloring of the monster.

"Rarity?" Rainbow asked as she noticed her friend's distress.

"I can't decide if that's a bold statement, or a fashion disaster," Rarity replied and ignored the facehooves all around, "Oh well, a question for the ages."

The glow from their Elements filled the command center.

The rainbow raced out and struck the Schmooze dead on.

The still-paisley Schmooze absorbed it, then stared straight at the tower.

"WHAT!?" Rainbow shouted, "Oh come on!"

------------------------------

Use the Force, Tom, he thought, Let go, Tom.

"Okay," Tom said as he released the statues, and disrupted the spells that held many of them in stone. Live ponies and other things had a few moments to consider their freedom, before they dropped into the Schmooze.

"You're welcome," Tom called, and fled at his best speed.

------------------------------

The army was scattering, the Elements had sent a message no one was going to ignore. Discord raced to join the circle of ponies and others surrounding the Crystal Heart. Ponies of all types, Griffons, Changelings, and a smattering of the other races of Equestria.

Discord considered a quip, but felt the moment was wrong. Instead he focused on his friends, and his rivals. He wasn't sure he could love them, but he could appreciate them, and wished them well. He hoped that would be enough.

Neither Cadence nor Shining Armor said anything, words were unnecessary. The Schmooze could be seen, everything else had been thrown into the battle, only the Crystal Heart remained. They bowed their heads and the Heart glowed with inner light.

The field the emanated from the Heart slammed into the Schmooze, and to the Schmooze's utter amazement, pushed it back.

Although from its expression, I don't think staying would be first choice, Discord watched as the Schmooze changed from begin forced back, to desperately using the 'tailwind' to escape. The other effect of 'crystallizing' the Crystal Ponies, other ponies, griffons and Changelings worried Discord for a moment, At least it left me out. Being encased in stone isn't something I even want reminders of.

"The volcano is sealed," came Tom's broadcast from the Schmooze's source, "We won."

Cheers came from the Crystal Ponies. Cheers that faltered as they realized what their twin victories had cost. The Crystals looked around nervously, especially those around Cadence, Shining and Discord.

"Celebrate your freedom, and your future," Discord told them, "That is what his sacrifice was for, and you'd honor him by doing so."

The explanation and the cheering spread. Discord was not in a cheering mood. He understood why, perhaps too well. There are things adults have to do, Discord thought as he returned to the command center, And costs to those actions.

Some of those celebrating couldn't bring themselves to cheer. 'To dream, the impossible dream,' began and spread across the city, allowing those who couldn't find it in themselves to cheer, could celebrate alongside the others.

The 'Observer Corps' was getting a mix of hugs and scolding from their siblings or owners. Vladimir had retired from the room. Celestia seemed torn between following him, and remaining with her sister, who had returned to staring out the balcony at the cloud of dust in the distance.

He nodded to her and gestured towards Luna, who already had Woona trying to console her and Selene. Celestia joined them. Discord noted a very disheveled Spitfire entering the room, a bit worse for wear from being Schmoozed, but something she'd recover from. Discord climbed to the top of the tower where all the telescopes lay uncrewed. He watched the celebration spread across the town, and knew that word would spread across the world.

"I would think you'd be out in the middle of the party," Tom said as he arrived.

"Just waiting for you to show up," Discord said, "And frankly, I'm a little partied out."

Tom nodded. "I'm going to go check, and make sure we got her, and all her little dragons too." With that, he was gone. Discord watched as the cheering again subsided, and many ponies broke down in tears while many others joined the song. There wasn't much damage to the structures close to the city. We'll have to survey the structures farther out, he thought, And we'd better keep the rumors of any libraries or even bibliophiles' homesteads from spreading to Equestria. Sad that none of the ponies from that time survived the long years being in stasis after being Schmoozed. That would have put an interesting spin on things. He pondered that. Why did the ponies outside the Schmooze survive, but those inside go away? The answer came to him, along with what happened to all the children, and he put that thought in a very deep, dark dungeon. I don't want to be able to think like that, he resolved, I'll give the trains the all-clear signal that they can bring the evacuees home. I'll leave the destination of the wounded in the medical experts' hooves.

He vanished to complete his mission.

------------------------------

Tear Twirler's last plant clone pounded on the cell door. "Can you shut that blasted mare up!?" She looked at the mare on the floor of the next cell, endlessly begging for forgiveness, offering apologies, and excuses.

"Fine, I forgive you," Tear Twirler said, "NOW SHUT UP!!"

Wait, she tried to steal the Elements? Tear Twirler thought as she briefly focused on the mare's ramblings, I can use this.

The door opening was unwelcome on the tail of this revelation.

"You want to be moved," Shining Armor said, flanked by three alicorns, "We're moving you. It seems we're going to need something new in the statue garden. There's plenty of sunshine and quiet."

"What happened to all the statues?" Tear Twirler said and glanced back at the delayed opportunity.

Shining looked at Celestia, who shook her head. "You have no need to know," Armor told her.

As she looked back, trying to burn the thief's appearance into her mind, she saw Blueblood entering the mumbling mare's cell.

"Hello, Sunset. Welcome home," the Equestrian poof said, before a corner broke line of sight with the scene.

------------------------------

Sunset Shimmer focused on the unicorn she almost recognized. "Prince Blueblood?" she said, "What is this? Old home week? I met Cadence, now Princess Cadence, and heard Celestia, now you? Who else? Eagle Bell, your mother, or that irritating Fancy Pants?"

"You're in the Crystal Republic, formerly Sombra's long-lost Crystal Empire," Vladimir said, "He's dead by the way. As for whom, well, there's Celestia's sister, who was formerly possessed by Nightmare Moon, there's Nightmare Moon, now known as Hotaru, who was the wolf who caught you." He smiled at Sunset's shying on that reminder. "Discord was freed, reimprisoned, then released as part of a gambit by Nightmare to mass all of Equestria's great villains into one force. He sided with a mole in the organization, to deliver all those enemies into the hooves of the Elements of Harmony and accepted reimprisonment. But not before he created a thoroughly gentlestallionly version of himself as an offspring. There was an attack on Canterlot by a faction of the Changelings under Chrysalis, opposed by many other changelings, the ponies of Ponyville and the Royal Guard. Discord freed himself during that battle and dealt with Chrysalis, while another unicorn dealt with the bulk of Chrysalis' army. They discovered the lost capital of the Unicorn Kingdom, recovered all the books of the Lost Library of Equipolis. I was exiled from Canterlot by Celestia. There were another pair, Celestia and Luna, going by Celly and Woona, from another dimension. Luna is here, Woona in Canterlot. A villain lost in the mists of time named Molybdenum Blossom raised her head, and recent had it chopped off. A race of sentient trees in the Everfree has been rediscovered and diplomacy is on going."

Vladimir noted the look of horror on Sunset's face. He smiled and continued, "The Schmooze, a country-eating monster whose existence drove King Sombra insane was freed as a consequence of freeing the Crystal Empire, and recently dispatched with its tail between its legs, figuratively speaking, back to sulk in its volcano home. A huge city-sized plant monster was discovered and destroyed outside the Castle of the Pony Sisters. And an alien with a house full of alien technologies and literature arrived, and spearheaded the battle against all these villains."

"That all happened since I left?" Sunset demanded.

"Most of that happened in the last 25 weeks," Vladimir said, "Your replacement did some of it. The alien did a lot of it in the last 12 weeks." He considered. "Yes, your betrayal and departure was so traumatic, Celestia had another filly in your place in . . . 60 days, no, it was 43. I remember because that was about the time I tried to make friends with her, and the new shining star showed up to make everything all better. She's a dutiful mare, never questions Celestia, goes into danger without backtalk or introspection, she doesn't ask embarrassing or difficult questions, she just does what she's told. Celestia considers her a significant improvement."

Sunset snorted. "She would," Sunset said.

"Now you have a choice, and if you're thinking about betrayal, I suggest you take the easy option and go beg Celestia to get back to Equestria, she'll forgive you, there'll be a party with balloons and ice cream, and you can go back to your old ways."

Sunset frowned, her ears plastered against her head. "Thrilling. What's the other option?"

"The hard option, the very hard option, is you stay here, and learn friendship with us. Another agile mind and problem solver would be welcome."

"Friendship," Sunset said as she rolled her eyes, "Celestia taught me all about it."

"Celestia wouldn't know real friendship if it bit her sun-emblazoned ass," Vladimir said sharply, "To actually learn friendship, your replacement had to be shipped off to a farming town on the edge of the Everfree Forest, where most of the locals are completely crazy."

"Sounds familiar," Sunset replied.

"The point is, it worked," Vladimir said, "An alien unlike anything we'd ever seen landed on the outskirts of town, and was immediately befriended by a pony family, said alien was gathered into Nightmare's villain team-up, and out of friendship, subverted it, brought Discord along and taught him about friendship, who brought the disaffected Changelings into alliance against Chrysalis' invasion, broke Nightmare Moon by trapping her in a place of horrors beyond your imagination for the alien to rescue and befriend her."

"I know about more horrors than you think," Sunset told him.

"Reading about them is very different than living through them," Vladimir said, "Then the whole lot of us broke the spell on the Crystal Empire, set up barriers to forestall the Schmooze, invaded to drive off the last of Sombra's followers, used Molybdenum Blossom's infiltrators to destroy any faith the locals had in a monarchy so we could establish a republic, brought in still more friends to hammer the Schmooze into position so we could hit it with the knockout blow. That's been in 12 weeks, that's the real magic of friendship. A band of disparate entities all working together for a general goal. Friendship, real friendship, remade the world in less than the time it takes the seasons to change. The question is: do you want to be part of that? Or go back to the pit of grinning snakes that is Canterlot?"

"I suspect that if I went with you, and betrayed you, I'd wind up at the bottom of a hole I could never climb out of," Sunset said.

"Probably due to its depth rather than the finality of your condition," Vladimir said, "But essentially correct. We face adult problems, and deal with them with adult solutions."

Sunset nodded. "The farm town sound like my best option," Sunset said, "I can't make the promise you'd need. My one shining example, has feet of clay. I will always be looking out for me. I'm not ready to be part of a group. Even the 'band of brothers' you describe." She shook her head. "You and Shining Armor on the same side, I've seen some pretty weird aliens in my time, but that I have a hard time even visualizing."

"Be warned, the alien and their home may be like nothing even your experience has prepared you for. If you do go to Ponyville, I have one warning, there are no wasted ponies there. However frivolous or simple they seem, everyone there earns their keep. Unlike Canterlot where a family's reputation trades more than current accomplishments, there you earn your daily bread."

"So I'm free to go?" Sunset asked.

"You'll be escorted to the train station. Once you're in Ponyville, you'll have the magic blocker removed. You'll still have a criminal record here, but the sentence is banishment."

"And here it would have been community service?" she asked.

"Imprisonment, and a work program, in the library of the old Unicorn Kingdom," Vladimir said, "But there's the alien's library in Ponyville, so your quest for power can continue there."

"You were a foal when I left, how do you know about that?" Sunset asked.

"You were an excellent negative example," Vladimir said, "If Celestia was hiding so much of what even I knew about her powers from you, then what could anypony accept from her at face value? None of us would ever be ready for all we'd need to do and to be adults."

Sunset nodded. Vladimir signaled for the guard. He was disappointed in Sunset, but not surprised. When you grow up a bit more, you'll long for that foalhood innocence, he thought, 'Feet of clay', where have I heard that?

------------------------------

Day 91

Celestia had to struggle to keep her expression somber and severe. Jackpot Venture and Smoky Bolt had 'revealed' that Pinkie Pie was actually something like Discord, creating ponies, families, perhaps even entire towns out of thin air.

"What will happen if she decides she doesn't like us anymore?" Jackpot nearly shouted.

"What happens if she decides we're merely an annoyance and does away with us?" Smoky Bolt added, "It might be that's what really happened to the Three Kingdoms. That they never existed, she just created all the history for us and we'd never know."

When he heard the snicker, Smoky Bolt turned on the smirking noble, Glory Belle. "Can you prove you aren't just a figment of the imagination of some capricious force? Can you prove you're real?"

Glory was clearly considering offering direct, empirical evidence, but held off. Instead she gasped, "You mean nopony told you?" She held out a card she finally understood why Discord had handed her and all the Equestrians who'd been part of the battle in any form. "You don't have one of these?" The card read, in very large type 'This one's real.' Celestia, Spitfire, Eagle Belle, and dozens of others held out their own card.

"You're right," Glory said, "You aren't real. I'm very sorry for you."

Celestia gestured and Red Shirt escorted the utterly stunned and horrified pair out and to a cell. "Sir Eagle Belle, as insanity defenses go," Celestia said, "That was a more inspired one."

Many of the nobles started smirking and nodded, finally getting it, so they thought. Most knew the front of the card said 'Veteran of the Battle of the Crystal Republic'. Only a few understood the front of the card was the camouflage, the back was the pay off.

"I do wonder if they will take a lifetime of commitment in an asylum over the years they'd spend in prison," Eagle Belle said.

"The question is, do they believe their own words," Celestia said, "So sad if they've lost their wits so much."

"Tragic," Eagle Belle added.

------------------------------

Day 93

Pinky had been working her hooves to the bone. Glorious Sunrise had been a welcome shoulder to lean on, and the griffons seemed to have a better grasp of what this needed to be than any of her friends. When was the last time they had to have a somber party? But this is no Grand Galloping Gala, she vowed silently, and consulted the notes the Big Guy had left behind and smiled, Not that there won't be a lot of laughter. Strange thing, laughing at a funeral/wake, but it is what he set up.

"It's done," Discord said, as he arrived, "I thought if we were going to 'piss on Molly B's grave' there could hardly be a better way."

Pinky giggled. Then gave Discord a hug. "You didn't do anything wrong," she told him, "You all knew what would be needed, and you did it. It's perfectly normal to be sad, but understand it isn't your fault."

Discord nodded and headed to his quarters. All the people in the Republic had been celebrating in a restrained matter, until Shining and Cadence had read the proclamation that the Big Guy and Celly had generated, basically ordering them to celebrate their victory and their freedom, that a time of mourning had been scheduled. The celebration had picked up, but there were still a lot of somber faces.

Rarity poked her head in the office and took it all in. "Twilight would never believe you could be this organized," she teased.

"It is a party," Pinkie said, "And can't be done slap dash."

"Well, our rehearsal is in 10 minutes, so I came to remind you," Rarity said.

"Got it," Pinkie said, "I almost can believe what it would take to do all that. Maybe that's why the play, and why this display. When you have to go on, you go on."

------------------------------

Sand Cobra watched the bodyguard of the Emperor arrive around them. The security detachment looked at her, and Glorious Mystery. Their contempt was manifest.

"What makes you think either of you two deserve an audience with His Highness?" the head guard asked, "A skulker, and a bookworm."

Glorious Mystery shrugged, and Sand Cobra felt her stomach drop.

"Oh, maybe because we fought in the Battle of The Crystal Republic," Glorious Mystery said and cocked his head, "And who are you?"

The guard commander blanched at that and stepped aside. Discord's little speech about those who served having the trump card was coming true. The outdoor pavilion was filled with dozens of griffons, near the center, under guard, was Glorious Sunrise. The Emperor looked on with trepidation.

"What makes you think I should let you return?" the Emperor said, and looked around nervously, trying to gain strength from the army, but clearly doubting which side the troops would come down on.

"Your Highness," the old griffon said, "I did not come here to request my right to return, but for two fledglings who served the empire well." He somehow picked Glorious Mystery and Sand Cobra out of the crowd. "I intend to return to Ponyville, and perhaps write my memoirs, and a few tactical manuals. I would consider it a - personal favor, to a retiring, faithful general, to allow them to return."

The Emperor looked to be building up to a screech, when he realized that the old general was basically telling him he didn't want the Emperor's job, not that he couldn't take it if he wished, and masterful general that he was, he was letting the Emperor 'banish' him yet remain magnanimous.

"I will honor your reasonable request, considering your retirement," the Emperor said and relented.

The old general nodded, seeing that the pair understood each other. Some of the senior generals, who had been considering scheming against the Emperor, but not without a figurehead/scapegoat, looked disappointed.

"The greatest power of friendship," Glorious Sunrise said, "Knowing how helping your true friends, can cut your real enemies to the quick."

The Emperor looked at his aghast general staff, the grin he gave Glorious Sunrise was genuine this time.

"So tell us the tale. I never met the Ponyville Monster, yet you served alongside him," the Emperor said, "There is much to learn about things, I think."

Glorious Sunrise bowed. "By your command." He motioned Mystery and Sand Cobra forward. "The enemy was unlike any living being had ever faced." The old general would unwind the tale slowly, part intelligence briefing, part boast, and a warning about those thinking that the Crystal Republic was ripe for the taking.

------------------------------

Twilight loaded the parchment onto the creaking wagon, and marched off to interview another survivor, this one, the Changeling Empress, who'd been aboard the Constitution until the 'Death Ride', as it was being called.

Spike trotted along, occasionally steadying the towering, teetering stacks of notes. Twilight hadn't asked him about his actions. The cobbler's children have no shoes, he thought and any resentment about being ignored died, Besides, when I publish my book . . . He fought to stop grinning. It was half done, and was entirely from his perspective and was a straight chronology, so he hadn't needed to do anything like the interviews and interpolations Twilight was doing and would have to do. He was content. It'll also smooth the way, since I'll already know the pitfalls of publishing before Twilight needs to know them.

------------------------------

Discord had done a masterful job. The wide stairway down into the pit was cut with pictures of the fallen. Not just those lost in the death ride, but other ponies who'd expired during the battle. And in a brilliant bit of irony, the cenotaph specifically said, 'We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave souls who struggled here have hallowed it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.' Molybdenum Blossom would be remembered along with the diseases and living traps she had created, only as a target. She was not referenced on the Cenotaph anywhere.

The ceremony began with an a cappella choral rendition of 'Mares and Stallions' by singers of all the races and subgroups who'd taken part in the battle. Followed by several of the other songs the various factions had learned. Hotaru and Trixie sang Amazing Grace to the accompaniment of Discord on bagpipes.

Luna and Selene took the stage and sang and ancient pony song that had been written about the pony sisters, while they sang they showed pictures of Celly studying, fighting, cuddling with her herdmates, and in the end looking into the dawn of a new day.

Vladimir, Cadence, Shining Armor and Woona sang a foalhood song about mirrors, while showing Sapphire and other changelings, rescuing Celestia during the battle of Canterlot, rescuing Twilight, fighting Chrysalis, and changing to the music that accompanied it, the charge against Sombra's army.

Right Wing and several of the Inspectors and Trainers carried a picture of Derpy onto the stage. There they sang the Post Office's unofficial anthem 'Couriers and Their Appointed Rounds.' As they finished, they flipped the picture over, displaying Derpy with Dinky, Derpy wearing a Chief Postmaster's hat and the gold medal, the highest award the service gave.

Rarity, Pinkie and Fluttershy climbed onto the podium. Rarity lifted the containers of glitter while light played over them. The glitter formed images. They sang, "It's been a long road, getting from there to here."

The image was of a young man on a farm. Other than species, Big Mac or Applejack could have been exchanged, only a look of worry towards the horizon marked him as different.

"It's been a long time, but my time is finally near." The young man and dozens of other were boarding a train with suitcases or rucksacks, proud and worried parents and siblings waved to them as they headed out.

"And I will see my dream come alive at last." The man and others stood in ordered ranks, clad as soldiers as they boarded an immense ship, one of many in the harbor. The man stared intently at the aircraft that flew above them. "I will touch the sky."

The training was a good deal more violent than ponies received, even the griffons rustled with discomfort. "And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna change my mind."

The man rode in the small boats through the rough seas approaching a coastline. "Cause I've got faith of the heart." He and about a dozen others bailed out and charged through the surf and into combat. "I'm going where my heart will take me."

The fighting did not go well. Many of the small group were cut down all around him. "I've got faith to believe. I can do anything."

Carrying a wounded comrade, he reboarded a boat and helped get it off the beach and headed home. The boy had aged noticeably in the short time. "I've got strength of the soul." The hard eyes looked back at the coast and those watching could feel the vow of 'I shall return'. "And no one's gonna bend or break me."

He was back in training, no longer a boy, but a man and a warrior. "I can reach any star." He looked over the side of the ship, part of an armada that beggared the imagination. "I've got faith, I've got faith, faith of the heart." Again his hard eyes tracked the aircraft flying over them, and for a moment he smiled.

The same figure, in a white shirt and tie working in front of a drafting table. What was there looked like an elaborate arrowhead. "It's been a long road, getting from there to here." Then design in metal, it was very large. "It's been a long time, but my time is finally near."

Teams painstakingly went over the beautiful vehicle, and soon it took to the air. "And I can feel the change in the wind right now." The aircraft showed the shockwaves of a rainboom, and still accelerated. "Nothing's in my way." The tests put the aircraft through its paces.

"And they're not gonna hold me down no more, no they're not gonna hold me down." The aircraft had a slab of metal like a giant cleaver slice through the vehicle. Some people watching wept, others couldn't watch. But a familiar pair of hard eyes watched them and had already come to a conclusion. The warrior had returned, if ever so briefly.

Endless forms, and discussions with bureaucrats and fellow engineers. "Cause I've got faith of the heart." The welcoming of the man to a team, and the image of what looked like a giant bug. "I'm going where my heart will take me."

The bug was large, and the man worked with the team on a thousand blueprints, talking with the workers building it, and attending tests of it. "I've got faith to believe. I can do anything."

The huge black and white striped rocket thundered off the pad and into the heavens. "I've got strength of the soul." The bug descended to the gray surface of another planet. Landing safely. "And no one's gonna bend or break me."

The head of the bug rocketed back off the alien world. "I can reach any star." The three huge, bright orange parachutes brought the conical spaceship to a successful splash down. "I've got faith, I've got faith, faith of the heart." While others whooped and hollered. The man quietly shook the hands of the team, they knew what they'd accomplished.

Another black and white rocket launched. The violence of the explosion in the serenity of space was all the more jarring. "It's been a long night." The man and the team were going over drawings, paperwork, and models of the bug. "Trying to find my way." With an incredibly complicated blueprint, he went over it with a couple of the workers.

"Been through the darkness." The man and others were before a diagram of the two-piece bug, the cone and the cylindrical section that had exploded. The path simplified the route from one planet to another, but no one trivialized that distance or the difficulty. "Now I finally have my day."

The man, a team of engineers and workers were looking at the model of the bug's engine. The hard eyes were back, but saving lives, not threatening them. "And I will see my dream come alive at last." The conical section approached a blue-white planet that seemed to scream 'home' "I will touch the sky." The flames that surrounded it obscured it for a moment.

"And they're not gonna hold me down no more." The familiar trio of bright orange parachutes as the conical section landed again in the ocean. The celebration in the background was almost pony-like, but the man just radiated satisfaction. "No they're not gonna change my mind."

It was a different bug, instead of a gray surface it sat on, it was red. "Cause I've got faith of the heart." The man was older, and the bug was definitely much smaller. "I'm going where my heart will take me." The apparent path for this bug was much longer. The blue-white and gray planet for the earlier bug was a corner of the plaque. The red planet was the goal.

"I've got faith to believe." The rocket was different from the other, but it raced into the heavens. "I can do anything."

"I've got strength of the soul." The bug landed on the red planet. "And no one's gonna bend or break me." The people in the office were ecstatic when the first pictures from the bug of the red world were received.

"I can reach any star." The man was old now, and was indicating the path of another device to a room full of younger men and women, flying far past the red planet, and seemingly out of the system of planets. "I've got faith, faith of the heart."

He was a young man again, in uniform, saluting to a field of crosses that would have dwarfed Sweet Apple Acres. "I've known the wind so cold, and seen the darkest days."

The old man stood before a group of youngsters. Diagrams of the bugs and the planets behind him as he held them enthralled. "But now the winds I feel, are only winds of change."

Surrounded by family as a very old man, he silently received a folded flag. He seemed broken for the first time. "I've been through the fire and I've been through the rain. But I'll be fine."

He looked at himself, younger, and Ponyville outside the windows of his house. "Cause I've got faith of the heart. I'm going where my heart will take me."

A discussion with Discord, the two seeming to argue, but as friends. "I've got faith to believe. I can do anything."

Working with Pinkie on her flyer. Pointing out a few things while Pinkie stared open-mouthed at him. "I've got strength of the soul. And no one's gonna bend or break me."

Fighting the plant monsters. "I can reach any star." The plan to defeat the bandits. "I've got faith."

"I've got faith of the heart." Snuggling with Derpy and Dinky, who seemed to love him as much as he cared for them. "I'm going where my heart will take me." Showing Dinky the engineering books and her rapt fascination with them.

"I've got strength of the soul." Studying at the ancient library. "And no one's gonna bend or break me." Planning the defense of Canterlot with Vladimir, Trixie and the changelings.

He was back as an aged human, with a much smaller human on his shoulders. Before them was an arrowhead-shaped craft bolted to an orange tank and two rockets. "I can reach any star." The assembly roared off the launch pad and into the heavens while the little one pointed and yammered excitedly. "I've got faith, I've got faith." The rockets, then the tank fell away as the arrowhead-shaped craft headed into the blackness of space. "Faith of the heart." The craft approached a spindly-looking assembly of pipes and panels, and docked to it.

Images of other beings like the Big Guy playing and doing experiments, in space. "It's been a long road."

------------------------------

Epilogue

Several large ponies played with a group of similar aged hippogriff chicks. A very pregnant Fluttershy rested on her couch while Pinkie Pie kept an eye on the kids. Angel, a female rabbit and several younger ones served tea. A rather nervous and thoroughly scrubbed minotaur bounty hunter/detective sat across the living room table from Fluttershy.

"I'm afraid I must return your money, I couldn't find them," the minotaur said, "But I was able to track their trail. But as soon as the products or processes went on general sale, they sold the company to the employees and were gone. Also, the pattern was occurring with overlapping time frames in different countries," the big minotaur said as she laid out photos, diagrams, and a few example of the 'weird inventions' that had cropped up, scattered all over, over the last few years. "I could examine every start up across the entire planet, but that would be horrifically expensive and require an army. And I suspect the one or two I missed would be them."

"That does sound like them," Fluttershy said, "I expect you to keep enough of the advance to cover your expenses, properly itemized of course."

"Of course," the minotaur said and set down several typewritten pages of items and their cost, along with the balance of the earnest money Fluttershy had paid a month ago.

"I suspect that these ghosts are staying out of sight for a good reason," the minotaur said, drank the rest of the tea before her, and stood, "They may step out of the shadows when they are ready, but until then, a paranormal detective may be a better choice."

"Thank you." Fluttershy nodded as the minotaur took her leave.

She was just out of view of the cottage, when she was surrounded by Royal Guards. "I was not bounty hunting in Equestria," she told them, "I was reporting to a client. I have my papers in my satchel, if you'd care to examine them."

"I think we just want to talk," Celestia said as she stepped into the clearing. She looked at the minotaur hard, not a glare, but searchingly.

The bounty hunter raised her hands, but otherwise stood very still.

"After all this time," Celestia asked as she circled the minotaur, "Am I still such a source of fear?"

"Your Highness, you are the sovereign, and they are your guards, " the bounty hunter said, "You have made your opinion of bounty hunters quite plain in the past, and you are here in person and in force. There are obvious conclusions a simple minotaur can draw."

Celestia stepped in front of the minotaur. "That isn't what I meant and you know it."

"Apologies, I can't help you," the minotaur said.

Celestia paced in front of the minotaur. "It's more than the inventions, processes, materials that are cropping up. There's new magic," Celestia said as she stopped in front of the bounty hunter, "Improvements to the Zebrafrican postal system? Yet nothing in Equestria, why?"

"I had thought that Premier Fragrance and her husband were generating many of those with the Crystal's Inventors' Corps," the minotaur said. She kept her hands raised, but watched both Celestia, and the guards.

"Not all of them," Celestia said, "So, you are a bounty hunter, how do you tell a fugitive that it is safe to return to a place? My entreaties to Vladimir fall on deaf ears; invitations, private notes, supplications, even invitations to share the Royal Box at the Equestria Games in the Crystal Republic are politely but firmly turned aside. But there are others who should know that there is no headpony awaiting their return."

"Perhaps they do not view coming to Equestria as 'returning'," the bounty hunter said carefully, "And as for the Premier and her husband, weren't they competing in the polo matches? Athletes of that caliber need to be ruthless in their focus. His team's clean sweep of the gold medals clearly shows where his mind was at the Equestria Games."

"I just want them to know they can come home," Celestia said.

"Highness, with respect, home is where your family is," the minotaur said, "Not an address or even a nation. If people do not wish to come to Equestria that is their choice, and has little bearing on the crown, or the pony wearing it."

Celestia frowned, but nodded. "I apologize for detaining you," she said and signaled the guards to accompany her away.

The minotaur stood in the location for at least ten minutes, then used every trick she knew to detect and foil a tail. Finally, she arrived at a wagon and a little campsite deep in the forest. "It's good to be home," she said, before transforming into Trixie again.

"Earned your bits," the Sphinx said, "I never expected Celestia."

"Next time they want a message delivered, let the mail mare do it," Trixie said and shook herself, "That was a performance I don't want a curtain call on."

The pair entered the wagon and set about planning the next leg of their trip.

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Comments ( 64 )

By Celestia's Sunny-Side-Up Flank!:pinkiegasp: That was one heck of an ending!
Glad I stuck with this one to the end, it was worth it.

Wow. That was. Just wow.

Sort of a "Drawn with the Night" feel at the end there. I do remember you saying you originally intended to use that here at some point.

.....ITs over.....*sits down* wow...and yet...even though the story finish with a bittersweet tone....one thing still comes to mind.

I has a sad, this great story is marked complete... I hope we can get a sequel, following 'The Big Guy' and his adventures was fun...altho keeping hidden from Celestia might not be as fun to read, which is why, I wager, you ended it here.

So after reading it and thinking about it for a bit, have NO idea what happened at the end. Or how Luna got pregnant.



Hotaru says she's an idiot and teleports to the balcony where Luna is...and presumably drags her to whereever the BG and his herd vanishes off to...except she and Hotaru later attend the memorial service. So is Luna NOT in Bg's herd? Was she ever? If she wasn't, just HOW DID SHE GET PREGNANT BEFORE DERPY?!?!

Well. That was...

I have to say, I was actually not expecting it to end there. When Discord mentioned seeing how it would end, I figured it'd be underwhelming or something. Even when the ship went up, I figured they'd got out of it somehow, that they'd show back up later. I didn't really believe it was actually over until I saw the epilogue. It left me with one of those 'I'm happy overall, but if I was a slightly more emotional person I'd probably be crying at the same time' smiles.

So, congratulations. I can't remember exactly when I started reading, since I tend to pick up new stories in bulk and I've reread it a few times here and there, but it was quite a while ago, and I've looked forward to this story's updates ever since. It's always an odd but nice feeling, when a writer finishes a story they were working on, especially when it's been a good-quality, long one like this.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to reread from the start again. Get the full experience, as it were. Good luck, and have fun.

Hhmmm seems like somebody watched Enterprise with that montage sequence

This story has been strange, disjointed, occasionally preachy - and frankly, just plain weird - but I loved every chapter of it, and I'm sad to see the Big Guy and his friends go. I hope you enjoyed writing this as much as I enjoyed reading it, Dan!

...Why didn't either Discord or Tom simply teleport the Big Guy and crew to safety just before the blast? Even if Discord was busy with everything he was doing, Tom is supposed to be almost as powerful as he is, and the only thing he was tasked with was dropping some dead-weight into a pit. Surely either of them could've easily taken the couple of seconds required to get them out, so why didn't they?

A glorious end to a glorious story. Thank'ee kindly for the writin's to read. Always love your stuff. Also... Nicely done. Just enough ambiguity to make it perfect. Admittedly, through this story, I've had to go back and re-read a few times to make sure I understood something right, but I usually got it.

8161892 Who said they DIDN'T. Or, even if they didn't, that they didn't install a bolt-hole like the one from the Big Guy's house to Celestia's chambers? Or that there wasn't some other plan? Just because we didn't see it, doesn't mean it didn't happen and the story implies that something wasn't as it seemed with the Big Guy. It's ambiguous, but that doesn't mean it was by default the 'bad' end.

So, this is the end of this amazing fic, eh?

8160567 8160587 8162063 8160987 Thank you glad you enjoyed it. Yes, this is the end.

8160621 Then ask them, since I don't have to protect spoilers, I may give less devious answers.

8160611 8161892 Yes, I always intended to do this, it's just that Drawn With the Night came up and I actually spelt it out there.

8160808 Luna's relation to the herd is complicated, but remember Cadence is also pregnant and she and Armor have only been married a few weeks. So the pregnancy is VERY early. As for Derpy, she doesn't have Alicorn biology so she may get pregnant later. Alicorns tend to discount 'we only did it once' if they seriously care about their partner. Hint. Hint.

8162278 Oh, and I'm not sure how the Smooze was defeated exactly. I know the other villains in statues were used for something, but not clear on what with that.

8162400 A series of hammer blows that eventually broke its morale and sent it fleeing. Lightning, hot mustard, super skunk cannons, some attacks by Discord and Tom, suddenly having the despair it desperately wanted snatched away from it, then the full power of the Elements, the sudden inclusion of Equestria's most villainous, followed by the Crystal Heart. Under that onslaught, it decided to call it an eon and retreat.

It couldn't understand all the ways it was being hurt, and from where, so it ran away.

8162442 That was made unclear. And that is just delaying and not getting rid of. And it didn't show how the volcano was sealed. And I don't know how dropping the villainous into it effected it.

8162278 so, did the Big Guy faked his death, brining his 'herd' along with him around the world, and the Emperess changeling, with everyone else...add in to make sure Big Guy never shows up? Make sure that even if life goes on with everyone else...he somehow still survives?

This was amazing. It's been a long hard ride. Good-bye, So Long, Farewell, Toodle-oo.

8162278 So Luna does care?


I seem to have a habit of thinking up my comments, getting around to typing them..and forgetting to put my point in.




Maybe I just misunderstood BG's character way too much. We(especially Luna) were hammered over the head that:
1)He wanted to be needed.
2)He is older, had kids grow out of the nest, but family is important to him.
3)Luna needed to stop being tsundere. I don't remember her actually stopping, or that she loved BG. Came off more like an infatuation. So did Celly but ironically she is more believable since BG saved her and Woona. Luna just never seemed to progress beyond "You're interesting".
4)BG is not a horsefucker. Derpy didn't seems too attracted to BG physically either. (Was Luna empowered by the big ritual? Did she just get better a shapeshifting?) We were shown that Derpy and BG were working on it, then suddenly Luna's pregnant?!? THAT's what was throwing me off, not biology.



With all that in mind, the ending is confusing to me for this reason:Luna. If they really were going off to their death, I might buy Luna staying behind, since she's pregnant and all. But family is super important to BG, and Derpy AND Dinky blow up with him? But if the plan is to save Equestria and immediately GTFO in the confusion, why leave Luna behind in the first place? In case the plan failed and the dragons destroyed the ship? Then what was Hotaru going on about?

If Luna joined up with BG, why is she later at the memorial? If there was a big reason for her not going with the herd, How did she even get knocked up?


If she just wanted a sperm donor like Bon Bon, well BG already gave her Selene, so...


Everything I've seen instory implies that they were not at a point in their relationship where they were sexual, but working on it, then boom pregnancy. Unless they spent a month+ in the Crystal Empire? Still, see above.

I feel like for this plot thread, I saw the train pull into the station, but can't see any of the tracks leading into said station.

I don't know if the Big Guy did the same thing Admiral Cole did in the Halo series or not, but it's a good place to end the story.

It's been a long journey, but the end is finally here...and it was fantastic.

Guess now you have more time to continue "You and your human: I am not Spartacus"

Thank you for a great story, would still love more of a backstory for the big guy:pinkiehappy:

Well then.

Here we are at the end of one of the of the most bizarre and interesting fanfics in this corner of the internet. One of the few epics on this site that was actually told from start to finish, and wrapped up most plot points and story threads (although I'd claim that you used some very overtly complex knots in tying some of those threads.). I think it was all most two years ago when I commented to one prickly (yet fimfiction famous) author why your stories needed effort and re-reading on the readers part to fully understand the story simply because converting it into an easy digestible format would lengthen each chapter by an unreasonable amount of words that would be impractical to write up as a simple hobby. And while I can now follow your writing fairly clearly and with only 1-2 re-readings instead of the standard 5-6, I still find myself confused on what to think of the story.

It's not a traditional one, there's little evidence of the heroes journey or a 7 beat story structure. It holds little similarity with other epics on this site like Fallout: Equestria or Past Sins. It's unique in a way that I think only "The Other Side of the Spectrum" has come close to. A comparison that leaves a sour taste in my mouth given the recent drama reveal around that story and the out right demonetization of TCB and the Fetishization of humanity. And yet its semi-evidence in just the culture crossover that's exemplified in earlier chapters. The Big Guy gets to showcase animation, cinema, technology, mathematics and general cleverness. Around the mid-point of the stories he gets to dive into the more abstract concepts such as mentalities, strategies, and mindsets. At the end he's taken charge as both a tactical, moral, and social leader as others react and change their mindsets to the "Better" efficient/practical/smart alternatives. And I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

Is it a byproduct of exploring the scenario of a well adjusted, fully lived human being dropped into a children's TV show where Friendship Lessons are considered a new and unexplored field of magic? Or is it a criticism on the idea that a society of content/per-destined citizens with little to threaten or harm them cannot live a life even remotely complex enough to resemble humanity? Or maybe it's story born of pure frustration with the show and the how fans have seemed to shrug off or play for laughs injustices and bias that are portrayed in the show. I can't really settle on any one.

The characters in the story seem to offer no guidance either. Celestia doesn't seem to change what so ever despite everyone talking through her own stupidity, arrogance, etc multiple times throughout the fic. Luna holds the same mindset but seems to change, only to apparently be abandoned and rejected by The Big Guy. And it doesn't seem to make sense from the story perspective. Did you need to have each character walk through the same arguments about the foolishness of Celestia, or the nativity of the traditional Pony way/morals and values? Why? I think Celestia was lectured on the same subjects by maybe 7 or 8 different people, not counting repeating and ongoing conversations between the different characters. And at the end of the story she still hadn't learned. What was the point then?

You use a lot of "Damned by their own hand" in characters actions/scenarios and tack on comfort and understanding in the conversations and words following the suffering. After they've learned the lesson through pain instead of trying diplomacy or conversation first. Rather than taking initiative in teaching new thoughts, your characters are content to let ponies fail without understanding, waiting for them to wisen up on their own. I don't know what to think of that. There is a sense of wisdom in letting them mature to the point where they ask for help but at the same time, letting a child fail without giving any unprompted direction/help seems incredibly mean spirited.

This "story" is one large compilation of different characters growing/regressing/or stagnating when being brought into contact with "humanity". A setting that was based on our culture being compared to the original and being found... lacking. And I don't know what to think of it. I know I've found it interesting, but I don't know if I enjoyed it. I know I've grown from reading it, but I don't know if I agree with it.

Culture Artifacts is one of the best experiences I've had in this fandom. At the very least, I can say that I didn't regret sticking with it and that I won't forget it. It confuses me, probably because it's length throws so much at once that I'd need a solid month to re-read and map out all the little nuanced feelings I have about individual parts. But I am still confused and of two minds none the less.

Although one think I am certain in is that I think "I am NOT Sparticus" is probably your better story. At the very least it lacks the moral lopsided conversation this story seems to have and balance it with both the Ponies and the Humans. And honestly, a Friendship talking, Slave walking society being confronted with an earth human would be interesting with or without the Ponies.

As a follow up question to this long reflection/ramble, do you write stories in other fandoms? Or maybe a published book? I've seen your work on Equestria, but I'm curious about how you'd tackle other scenarios and settings. What words would you weave with Kingdom Hearts? What stories would you build in Star Wars? What weird conclusions and references would I need to look up when you tackle Marvel Comics? Your words challenge both my reading comprehension and my ideology. A healthy challenge that I'd like to indulge in more frequently if it's possible.

Tek

Great story

I have to admit from reading this and "I am not Spartacus" story of yours, it seems to me your stories always end leaving me wanting more. Maybe that's just the best way to end a story with the audience still wanting more rather than dragging a story along well past the point where the readers are interested as some other stories, and mainstream television shows do (I'll leave each reader decide what shows / stories they want to fill into each of those categories).

I am definitely curious as to what your next story may end up being able and containing.

What a good story. Going to keep this one around for a good long while.

That was one hell of a ride. And the Big Guy (seemingly) made the ultimate sacrifice.
Still, though... wow. You certainly know how to keep the audience captivated (not to mention confused until dots were connected) for the entirety of the story.

This probably also takes cake as the longest story I have read to date. And I loved every single second of it.

Bravo, bravo!

This leaves me speechless... the good kind.

WEll. It's finally over. Bravo.

15-star general

ha.


Corrections offered without malice.

"Nervous," she asked

"Nervous?"

heros

heroes (twice)

The pony was surly, coarse appearance,

coarse in appearance

Vladimir nee Blueblood's

né …I suppose Discord cares little for grammatical niceties, though.

to distracted them

to distract them

from begin forced back,

being

Fantastic story. Sad it is over but greatly looking forward to your next epic :-)

Awesome story, thank you for sharing it with us. :)

Read up to when this fic was only halfway done and quietly hoped that it would gain ground again. I come back after seeing a few more updates and its finished, time to start from the beginning and love this fic all over again (now all the way to its end.).

Wow and aww as well one were the series 2?
:heart::heart::heart::heart::fluttercry::fluttercry:

So I finally picked the complete epub and gave it a full proper reading, from start to finish. It's been a long ride, and it ended sane as it began - with me not understanding jack shit about what is even going on. But I take it BG gave some ponies a push to become adults and those ponies moved to Crystal Republic, science/magic advanced greatly, Equestria is still stuck in it's old ways(and becoming less relevant due to lack of progress) thanks to Celestia still not being able to grow up and finally BG decided to play dead, grab his harem and GTFO from anywhere Celestia could find him and just have fun in the other parts of the world and finally have a family. Oh, maybe that's how Luna got pregnant. Only Celestia is not the part of his "inner circle".

So many names to remember need a notepads with the names and what ch these new ppl are in

8163422

Well then.

Here we are at the end of one of the of the most bizarre and interesting fanfics in this corner of the internet. One of the few epics on this site that was actually told from start to finish, and wrapped up most plot points and story threads (although I'd claim that you used some very overtly complex knots in tying some of those threads.).

Sometimes there's a simplicity in complexity. With the trademark mind-warping answers out of of the way, I did promise plain speaking.

I think it was all most two years ago when I commented to one prickly (yet fimfiction famous) author why your stories needed effort and re-reading on the readers part to fully understand the story simply because converting it into an easy digestible format would lengthen each chapter by an unreasonable amount of words that would be impractical to write up as a simple hobby. And while I can now follow your writing fairly clearly and with only 1-2 re-readings instead of the standard 5-6, I still find myself confused on what to think of the story.

It's not a traditional one, there's little evidence of the heroes journey or a 7 beat story structure. It holds little similarity with other epics on this site like Fallout: Equestria or Past Sins. It's unique in a way that I think only "The Other Side of the Spectrum" has come close to. A comparison that leaves a sour taste in my mouth given the recent drama reveal around that story and the out right demonetization of TCB and the Fetishization of humanity. And yet its semi-evidence in just the culture crossover that's exemplified in earlier chapters. The Big Guy gets to showcase animation, cinema, technology, mathematics and general cleverness. Around the mid-point of the stories he gets to dive into the more abstract concepts such as mentalities, strategies, and mindsets. At the end he's taken charge as both a tactical, moral, and social leader as others react and change their mindsets to the "Better" efficient/practical/smart alternatives. And I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

It's only universally better in a crisis. As Celestia notes, most ponies can't handle the stress (at the time she was talking about combat, but it applies to other endeavors as well). Even the Big Guy had to factor that into the attack plan.

The story's 'main' characters are actually a backdrop for the reactions of the background characters as a whole. This is a revolution with the schema of the two sides personified. Each background character takes their own journey, and arrives at their own conclusions, which is why it seems that there is such a strange set of reactions/personal growth patterns.

Is it a byproduct of exploring the scenario of a well adjusted, fully lived human being dropped into a children's TV show where Friendship Lessons are considered a new and unexplored field of magic? Or is it a criticism on the idea that a society of content/per-destined citizens with little to threaten or harm them cannot live a life even remotely complex enough to resemble humanity? Or maybe it's story born of pure frustration with the show and the how fans have seemed to shrug off or play for laughs injustices and bias that are portrayed in the show. I can't really settle on any one.

I think you need to know what Cultural Artifacts are. They are remnants that give insight into another culture by how they were used.

It's going to feel like that 'You are, Number Six' type of thing, but the Big Guy does have a 'pony name', it's right there in the title. Soldier, rocket scientist, father, grandfather, learner, mentor, killer and sage, those are all the ways he's been used by his culture. From the depths (Bergen-Belsen), to the heights (Apollo, Viking and Voyager Programs), he's covered and experienced a lot of the possibilities of humanity.

It's called Cultural Artifacts. Who is the other Cultural Artifact? Celestia. The Warrior-Mother who has ruled in peace and stability for a thousand years. She is the Equestrian ideal and archetype.

The irony is as terrible as parts of the Big Guy's life have been, he's happy or accepting, and for most of it, proud of what he's done. And for all her successes, Celestia is burdened with guilt for not being able to do enough.

The major point is the acceptance of stability versus innovation. And is that innovation life-affirming? Even the Big Guy knows that some of what he brings is not. How much of what remains is useful or desirable depends on the pony you ask. And the use they put it to may not be what you expect. E.g., the Sailor Moon art book will affect Equestrian fashions for a generation, but the Dragon book Spike gets will only affect him. While burning out the stump is all Applejack really needs, Applebloom wants to cross the Big Guy's apple trees with the Equestrian cultivars.

The characters in the story seem to offer no guidance either. Celestia doesn't seem to change what so ever despite everyone talking through her own stupidity, arrogance, etc multiple times throughout the fic. Luna holds the same mindset but seems to change, only to apparently be abandoned and rejected by The Big Guy. And it doesn't seem to make sense from the story perspective. Did you need to have each character walk through the same arguments about the foolishness of Celestia, or the nativity of the traditional Pony way/morals and values? Why? I think Celestia was lectured on the same subjects by maybe 7 or 8 different people, not counting repeating and ongoing conversations between the different characters. And at the end of the story she still hadn't learned. What was the point then?

Look at what they do, which is done after reflection, versus what they say, which is usually heat of the moment. BTW Luna wasn't abandoned, she just couldn't go through 'dying' with the rest of the group, so she keeps home and hearth in The Crystal Republic, and the others discreetly visit.

I'm going to use the terminology of the Matrix since it is a cultural touchstone. There are red and blue pills. Except here there is no right or wrong answer, and there are gradients. Among the fully Red-pilled are Vladimir, Spike, Discord, Celly, Nightmare/Hotaru, and of course the Big Guy. Among the fully Blue-pilled are Twilight, most Canterlot nobility, Rainbow Dash, Bon Bon, and Molybdenum Blossom.

Unlike the bulk of the Matrix, there are Red-pilled who continue to operate in the Blue-pill world and even prefer it. Celestia, Rarity, Luna, Woona, Pinkie Pie, Cadence and Shining Armor are all in this class. They all know the limits of the Blue-pill world can easily be transcended, but choose to operate in a more limited way, for the most part and for a host of good reasons.

The Red pill is innovation and creativity, the Blue pill is stability and certainty. Rarity fully understands what the Big Guy can do, even before he does in some cases. Because she isn't learning his tricks, she's already there. She essentially tells him to release the Disney song barrage (or something similar) because she recognizes his ability to and the need to give everyone a catharsis after the Changeling Invasion. (The one it gives Twilight allows her to outgrow 'ALIEN BOOKS OMG!'.) But while fully understanding the well-spring the Big Guy represents, Rarity will never move to the Crystal Empire, or step too far out of her comfort zone for a prolonged period. Like what Discord becomes, she's a safe outlet of innovation and creativity into the Blue-pill world. She's both an inspiration, and safely dismissed as a frivolous hick/social climber. And Vladimir warns her twice that Canterlot is very Blue-pill and to avoid being seduced by it.

The people who break through and take the Red pill often are quite angry about it, Blueblood for one. Note, it isn't just Celestia he's angry with, but Canterlot 'society', and his mother as well. The difference is Celestia is the only one with the guts and moral character to go check on him and weather the storm. But Celestia never throws the ponies out, even in the epilogue she wants to tell them they are welcome to come back. Not out of avarice, but she does genuinely care. Continued separation is the Red-pillers' choice, not Celestia's command. She knows most ponies want the stability she offers, even if just for a little while. Did she not raise Blueblood's exile after the battle as a mistake, or did she figure as conqueror he wouldn't care and flout it anyway? Thus letting him thumb his nose at Canterlot Society? Her only real miscalculation was understanding that she'd hurt him as deeply as she had. The 'Cat's in the Cradle' reference was Discord's way of telling her 'your son grew up just like you' Vladimir is the first unicorn in a long time worthy to be a King, thanks to Celestia's teachings and example, but like the father in the song, the son has no time for the person who never had time for him.

On a side note, serious emotional traumas have to be dealt with at the mental age of the person when the trauma was inflicted. So for Vladimir, Celestia (or someone else) would have to deal with Celestia's actions as if Vladimir was say 4 to 6 years old. All Celestia could do is weather is outburst and let him know she heard what he was saying loud and clear.

Celestia never 'defends herself' against the slings and arrows of the Red-pillers, because she knows they are correct in their particular case, but often completely wrong in general, and their complaints are nothing she hasn't heard before, from other Red-pillers. She notes that even the Big Guy has moved to the 'Red-piller working in the Blue-pill world', when she notes that ponies can't handle the stress of prolonged combat, she sees the attack plan rotates them in and out of the attack line very quickly and the attack is not too different from ordinary weather bucking and mail delivery. Her mind-swapping with the Big Guy was a way to let him 'win' the revolution as far as most ponies would go, and clearly show the limits of what he can offer to the general populace. What he did in response (the nobles' review and the chilli) was clearly demonstrate he had mastered feeding ponies the change in small doses. He literally proved he could both change the world, and wasn't the existential threat he had seemed, so Celestia saw no reason to continue to be concerned about him.

Celestia doesn't learn, because she's already learned her way for most ponies is the right way, they prefer the stability her way offers versus the 'better way' of the Big Guy. The Crystal Republic's ruling council keeps comparing themselves to Sombra, and practically demands to have an alicorn princess on station when they deliberate, to give the aura of her approving or disapproving of what they decide. They've been force-fed the Red-pill, and still hunger for the Blue-pill world. The curb on Blueblood's ambition is they'll offer (their opinion) /threaten (his opinion) to make him King if he shows too much interest in running things. They eventually made Fragrance the Premier as a way of tying the 'heroes' into an ersatz royal house/oligarchy. They know they can't step out of line without sparkly, magical heroes looking over their shoulder. So Celestia doesn't have to learn, she's already seen the Red-pillers' rage, but knows most ponies want the Blue-pill.

She is also well aware that Equestria needs the Red-pilled, and that they are volatile to begin with. Vladimir dismissing the revenge road out of hand is rare, and very welcome. Yet, after a time to cool down, she still wants him to feel able to come back.

You use a lot of "Damned by their own hand" in characters actions/scenarios and tack on comfort and understanding in the conversations and words following the suffering. After they've learned the lesson through pain instead of trying diplomacy or conversation first. Rather than taking initiative in teaching new thoughts, your characters are content to let ponies fail without understanding, waiting for them to wisen up on their own. I don't know what to think of that. There is a sense of wisdom in letting them mature to the point where they ask for help but at the same time, letting a child fail without giving any unprompted direction/help seems incredibly mean spirited.

Are they 'failing' or are they naturally resistant to the change? Le Chatelier's principle is that a system under stress will act to relieve that stress. If something is placed under stress and it doesn't act to relieve that stress, then the condition isn't a stressor, or the expected relief action is a greater stressor, essentially driving the equilibrium back the other way.

If a person doesn't change, then the change is a greater stressor than whatever is motivating them to change. They have to want to change, or they are at peace with the 'failure'. I am content to never see an Adam Sandler film, a failure, or a choice on my part?

This "story" is one large compilation of different characters growing/regressing/or stagnating when being brought into contact with "humanity". A setting that was based on our culture being compared to the original and being found... lacking. And I don't know what to think of it. I know I've found it interesting, but I don't know if I enjoyed it. I know I've grown from reading it, but I don't know if I agree with it.

The important idea is that it works, not that it doesn't measure up. Most ponies have taken what they want of human culture, and tossed away the rest. What is apparently valuable is not necessarily what they consider valuable. They aren't stupid, in fact they are very insightful. Look at Nurse Redheart's plan to get rid of the Ponyville Monster, then look at the actions the Big Guy actually takes at the end. Redheart wanted him to feel secure enough in his home and his family, that he'd explore elsewhere and only visit.

What did he do? He took most of his family with him and left a small portion (Luna and Selene) behind to keep the home, and went exploring. He adopted Redheart's plan almost word for word. Another reason he didn't rebuke her when she arrived. He couldn't tell her she was right all along, but that is what happened.

None of the ponies really gave up who they were. All who came into close contact with the Big Guy became aware of other options. They aren't wrong or weak that they decided not to pursue those options. That's the real thing the Big Guy brought, the option to pursue other ways. And even Celestia took advantage of that when she told the ancient librarians she was going to ship them back to be incinerated. Most looked at the vistas opened to them, and pursued them (Blueblood, Sapphire, Discord), shied away from them (Redheart, Applejack, Eagle Belle), or something in between (Fluttershy, Rarity, Spike, and Celestia).

A good example is Blueblood's staff. They wanted their old lives back, despite the chaos that would surround Vladimir and his allies. They wanted a chance to do their jobs again. They were well aware of who and what Blueblood actually was and who he appeared to be. They were fine with that, maybe they even missed it. The same with the troops of the North Border Fusiliers, they regard him with amused affection, and were willing to follow him into possible hell and definite insanity, because he had gotten them victories, even if only on the polo field. They didn't care about the weird stuff, they were his soldiers and weird was his job, not theirs.

Culture Artifacts is one of the best experiences I've had in this fandom. At the very least, I can say that I didn't regret sticking with it and that I won't forget it. It confuses me, probably because it's length throws so much at once that I'd need a solid month to re-read and map out all the little nuanced feelings I have about individual parts. But I am still confused and of two minds none the less.

Thank you.
You are in the position most of the ponies are in, thinking about options. Taking time to consider and reflect on things that seem almost too tangled and dense. The Big Guy was in Equestria or nearby for three months, and look at the lasting changes that aren't in canon. Bonbon and Lyra have a family, Pinkie Pie found the most unlikely soul-mate, someone's finally taking a broom to the Equestrian bureaucracy, new food source for the griffons, Trixie became content in her own skin, Derpy and Dinky are out traveling with a beloved family, the Changelings have an abundant food source and are no longer the monster in the shadows. Choices that each made. The art, literature, science, and other innovations are subtle, and haven't taken the world by storm, but they are having an influence. The Crystal Republic Inventors' get the attention with their whizzbangs, but the Big Guy's group drop the small ideas that sweep the world.

Discord gets it when he changes from fighting Harmony, to being an acceptable case-by-case choice. It's all about choices. Choices that can change, 'there's lots of gray and beige', as Discord, what the Big Guy represents doesn't have to be taken as one lump.

Although one think I am certain in is that I think "I am NOT Sparticus" is probably your better story. At the very least it lacks the moral lopsided conversation this story seems to have and balance it with both the Ponies and the Humans. And honestly, a Friendship talking, Slave walking society being confronted with an earth human would be interesting with or without the Ponies.

There are the cows and sheep in canon who are as intelligent and even as sapient as the ponies, but have less freedom than dogs, cats and other pets.

I didn't delve into that too deeply in Cultural Artifacts as it would open another whole can of worms.

As a follow up question to this long reflection/ramble, do you write stories in other fandoms? Or maybe a published book? I've seen your work on Equestria, but I'm curious about how you'd tackle other scenarios and settings.

A lot of this is practice for a series of stories I intend on publishing professionally.

What words would you weave with Kingdom Hearts? What stories would you build in Star Wars? What weird conclusions and references would I need to look up when you tackle Marvel Comics?

I've never played Kingdom Hearts so I lack the schema to do it. Star Wars is too lawsuit happy (and full of plotholes you could drive a truck through shotguns beat Jedis).

As for Marvel, the current set up, or the 80-90's set up?

Your words challenge both my reading comprehension and my ideology. A healthy challenge that I'd like to indulge in more frequently if it's possible.

That's part of why I wrote it. You can poke holes in the Equestrian system, but if it is the system that the populace willingly set up, then they will go with what works for them. Bits and pieces of the new thought might be added, but more than likely, the reasons for the original will be uncovered and reaffirmed or repurposed. The Lake Association ceased to have a real purpose, but was repurposed as an 'Omega Company' where you stick all the bad apples so they can't hurt anything important, threaten the ponies you can get back on the straight and narrow, and let pensioners do some part-time work to still feel useful. (The pensioners with nothing else in their lives clean up after the screw-ups, so they are useful).[/pre]

Let me just go ahead a say that this story has been a trip. One of the few these days that had me going back and re-reading every chapter cause it was truly a one in a million story. My only problem with this story is how it ended, the ending was beautiful, well written and almost had me in tears when it was describing's the big guys life up to this point. It was an excellent way to end the story but killing the big guy, derpy and celly seemed a little unnecessary. With celly and the big guy both having magic why didn't they teleport back to safety? And Luna's pregnancy kinda made no sense to me it seemed the big guy was uncomfortable with being with a pony and out of all of the herd it seemed like derpy would have been the one that happened with. If I missed anything that explained what I just said I apologize and despite these two things I still loved this story and it will be going in my folder with my top favorites.

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Let me just go ahead a say that this story has been a trip. One of the few these days that had me going back and re-reading every chapter cause it was truly a one in a million story. My only problem with this story is how it ended, the ending was beautiful, well written and almost had me in tears when it was describing's the big guys life up to this point. It was an excellent way to end the story but killing the big guy, derpy and celly seemed a little unnecessary.

Please reread the Epilogue. If Celestia is certain they aren't dead, and even Fluttershy suspects they aren't . . .

The destruction of the Constitution at the end of the deathride was necessary to spread despair through the defenders, to draw the Schmooze in, then the songs that were so liberally spread in the previous chapters caused them to regain morale. It was like uncovering a buffet, then hitting any would be diners with a baseball bat.

With celly and the big guy both having magic why didn't they teleport back to safety? And Luna's pregnancy kinda made no sense to me it seemed the big guy was uncomfortable with being with a pony and out of all of the herd it seemed like derpy would have been the one that happened with. If I missed anything that explained what I just said I apologize and despite these two things I still loved this story and it will be going in my folder with my top favorites.

Luna's pregnancy – it only takes once. As for Derpy, she'll get her chance. Once Derpy figured out the 'trick', Luna could copy it. Except Luna rolled box cars and Derpy hasn't (as of the deathride).

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I was under the impression from fan art that she had one kid, and one teenage daughter.I can't remember the name of the other, but it wasn't also Dinky. Granted, that was awhile ago, and the official family might be different.

Wow. Finally read the whole thing.

Let me just say that this is the quintessential HiE in the best possible way. Instead of just putting a human in Equestria, it allows the technologies, cultures, and ideologies of humanity and Equestria to interact in a way that deconstructs the faults in the world and characters without necessarily saying that they are wrong for the ponies. You hit every single note of long HiE fics (not giving human a name, music & philosophy, romantic and politics, G1 villains, etc). Also, this is one of the largest stories that I have ever seen that has largely stayed with established characters and locations in FiM instead of journeying into other nations to worldbuild.

The first time I read this a year ago, I was put off by chapter 5 like quite a few people. Looking back, however, I can understand a lot of what was done. The villains were chosen for a reason (Nightmare was central, Discord was needed, Nistag became a large plot point, and Tirek helped BG associate the world with G1 ponies which led naturally to the schmooze). Likewise, the outcomes (BG gets reputation, starts seriously scaring Celestia, and gets Discord in his head to help translate and start reforming) all came up in a really big way.

The ONE big head-scratcher I still have about that chapter, given the benefit of hindsight, are the 'Cassandra Letters'. I kinda-sorta get that using Cassandra's name foreshadowed the mental link he had with the villains. On the other hand, the 'Conversion Bureau Letter' seems... out of place. Considering that the actual TCB Celestia was encountered later on, the earlier reference seems to be a bit out of place. It doesn't appear to 'foreshadow' much, it doesn't seem too ironic (even with Discord pointing out to evil Celestia that she could have asked for volunteers like in the BG's letter) and I don't remember much commentary from any characters on how similar the situation was. It just seems like a loose reference... to something referenced far better later on. I might be missing something but it seems like that letter could have held just about any chaotic threat and held the same literary function.

I want to like this story and it has a lot of cool ideas, but the presentation, weird jumps in the script, typos and most of all the godlike and all wonderful yet misunderstood human praise while making ponies look like inbred, retarded children is killing me here.:pinkiesick:

All good things must come to an end.

This story is, in my view, the (second) greatest story on FimFiction. Some stories can make you feel, some can make you think, but this is one of the rare few the can do both. There are many that have a human protagonist journeys to Equestria and becomes a better person. These are a dime a dozen, and ultimately forgettable. Here the dynamic is brilliantly reversed. The Big Guy is helping Equestria become a better place. This is perhaps the only story that does this. Like first Dinotopia book (I refuse to speak of the others), it is less a traditional yarn then a voyage of personal exploration. All the characters involved end up growing as individuals, some more so then others. The analysis of the characters are amazing. Fluttershy being afraid of her own anger. Celestia's fear is not going full blown Tyrant Sun, but giving in to her most vindictive desires. Spike hording connections, because that's what ponies value. Sombra being an earth pony. And it's not just the characters. Equestrian society as a whole is put under a lens. I think the only other work that can rival it is Triptych and it's related stories. The estimation of how ponies think and act, that they "reflect and refract" those around, how humans have to deal with thoughts that come faster, are eye opening. It also deserves credit for having the intellectual honesty to take a good hard look at what kind at the way pre-Heartswarming Eve ponies behaved. Not just that, Cultural Artifacts is one of but a handful of fics that acknowledge the plight of the cattle and sheep. The ending epilogue demonstrates the consequences of Equestria's cultural fickleness in regards to innovation. The helicopter seen in "Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3" seems to be a 1960's design, yet aside from Pinkie's design we haven't seen any similar aircraft in the series. This suggests that when a new invention appears, it is treated as a fad, with a only a few dedicated hobbyists working on its continued development.

It's not perfect. My biggest complaint is not that it's hard to understand, but that plot threads are dropped, and we're left guessing when they will be pickup again. In the 27th chapter, the Big Guy visits the - dimension? - with the giant skeleton. Was the plot point resolved? Even after rereading it I'm left with not much more then guesswork. The girl is Megan, I think, but I'm unsure of the identity of the pegasus. Ditto for the location of Hippoastrumpolis. Is it from G1, another franchise, or was it your own invention? The "seekers" that Celestia were in contact with, I'm guessing that they were the producers for the original G1 (or the owners of the franchise), and the cycles that he mentions are the previous generations?

Anyhow.

But then comes along a wonderful moment were Cultural Artifacts delivers on it's promess. Blueblood turning the tables on his craven family. The Big Guy defeating Twilight not through overblown magical power, but using Disney songs. Actually doing something with Pinkie's candy copter that we saw in "Griffon the Brush Off". The exploration of the preserved Unicorn city and the discover of Hippoastrumpolis fill the reader with a sense of wonder that is all too rare on the site. The final chapter does not disappoint in the slightest. Perhaps is would have been more satisfying for Molybdenum Blossom to have a Downfall-like meltdown. Or not. Probably not, as I don't think it would have suited the "feel" of the final chapter. The intro song from Enterprise was unexpected, but surprisingly appropriate, given that the theme of Cultural Artifacts - exploration.

It's not too important, but I still haven't been able to figure out the significance of Moly-be-damned's name. According to my chemistry textbook, it is alloyed with metals to increase their strength, toughness, and resistance to heat, and it was once thought to be a type of lead ore. Noting about toxicity, so I'm not sure if there what the meaning of her name is.

Final rating: Five out of five stars

Bah, I hate that I missed the updates until now. It's kind of hard to see all this end after five years of abject craziness. I want more, especially of the new undercover adventures, but I guess that is the hallmark of a great story.

It took a little more rereading than normal to figure out who some of the minor characters were again, but it was worth it to see these minor characters who had a paragraph or two years back to contribute. My only real note is that it could have been clearer who went on the suicide run. Until the funeral scene I thought it was just Celly and the Big Guy, and even after that I missed that Sapphire had gone with them as well.

Honestly, this feels like one of these "I am sick of writing this story, let's just be done with this already" endings. Which, after nearly seven hundred thousand words, I can certainly understand. But still.

This is really good

Damn this was a good story an that was one heck of an ending glad I got to read this amazing story! Thanks for ze awesome read

Yeah alright. Take my favorite and my thumbs up.

I liked how this one was going but it lost me on the way. First it was sort of slice of life, then suddenly he is kidnapped, then slice of life until somehow he is helping an amalgamation of villains but ... what?

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I've already seen it and honestly speaking I can see why the ponies of the past feared her.

Whelp, this story has been read. :applejackunsure:
Moving on... :unsuresweetie:

Unstoppable force meets unmovable object...
To find an answer that is so satisfying on a quantum level in a pony fiction story has made my day.

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