• Published 7th Jan 2013
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Asylum - Daemon of Decay



When Twilight Sparkle went to bed, she had friends she loved and a life she enjoyed. But she awoke to hospital gowns and padded restraints. And the doctors, they keep telling her that she is sick and none of it was real. They’re lying, right?

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Chapter 10

Asylum

Chapter 10

“Are you sure your eyes are okay? Like, really sure?”

“Yes, Pinkie, my eyes are just fine,” Applejack replied wearily, giving her another reassuring smile. It was the sixth or seventh time Pinkie Pie had asked the question, and each time Applejack’s grin grew a little more strained. “There wasn’t any damage done. Don’t get yourself worked up about it, I’ll be right as rain in a day or two.”

“That’s really good news,” said Twilight from across the cafeteria table, hoping to cut Pinkie off before she forced Applejack to repeat herself for an eighth time. “I mean it. I was worried something serious had happened.”

After the unpleasantness of her morning shower – and with memories of what had happened the previous night still fresh in her mind – Twilight had jumped for joy when she had finally spotted Applejack waiting for her at one of the nurse’s stations. She had barely managed to say goodbye to Nurse Coldheart before bombarding Applejack with questions: How are your eyes? What happened to Rainbow Dash? Are you feeling well? Applejack had weathered them well, answering as best she could while the two had made their way to the cafeteria. The morning had only improved once they had met up with Pinkie Pie. The presence of two of her good friends, both wearing honest smiles, had been a soothing balm to her nerves. Lost in the conversation with Applejack, she hadn’t even looked at what they had been served for breakfast. She had run on autopilot, following along as they took their seats, fully absorbed in finding out everything that had happened since yesterday.

That had been ten minutes ago. Her tray rested on the table, untouched. As she looked at them both, she could almost convince herself that everything was normal, that everything was as she remembered. Her eyes lingered on Applejack’s bandages.

Almost.

“I can appreciate how hard it was for you two, but I’m fine now. Honest,” said Applejack, injecting her voice with as much confidence as she could muster – which only made her accent come through even stronger. “It’s just a few scratches. Heck, I’ve gotten worse pickin’ weeds back on the farm. There ain’t any reason for the two of you to worry, alright?” Twilight nodded when Applejack looked her in the eye. She turned her head to glance at Pinkie Pie, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Alright?”

Pinkie bobbed her head eagerly. “Alrighty, Doctor AJ!”

“Excellent! Now that that’s settled, why don’t we focus on havin’ breakfast before it gets cold? You two have been keepin’ my gums flappin’ all mornin’. I’d like to actually eat sometime today.” Applejack gave them both a teasing smile as she rubbed her hooves together. Pulling her tray closer Applejack eagerly picked up her spoon and glanced down at her meal. She hesitated, staring at the contents of her bowl as her energy was drained away, before her shoulders finally slumped in defeat.

Twilight’s expression mirrored her friend’s as she looked down in disbelief, her stomach twisting in on itself at the sight of what sat on her tray. It was the previous day’s leftover porridge with a few bags of gravel and chaff thrown in, and sour milk as a thickener. It was chunky and runny; viscous and clear. It was a scale model of a fetid and stagnant bog attempting to be passed off as a meal.

“It looks like snot,” Pinkie Pie said, scrunching up her face and sticking out her tongue, but sounding more amused than disgusted.

“This isn’t food. This is a crime against cooking,” added Twilight, channeling a bit of Rarity in her look of pure abhorrence.

“At least it’s warm,” Applejack offered after she and Twilight glanced up at one another, the doctor doing her best to put things in a positive light. It was part of her job not to be negative around the patients, but Twilight could tell that under her forced smile she was wishing she had brought something from home. “And it’s all we’ve got this morning. So, tuck in?”

The unicorn made no move to pick up her spoon.

Applejack’s weak smile faltered and gave way beneath Twilight’s unconvinced stare. Reluctantly, she returned her attention to the quivering mass that lay in her bowl. She pushed her spoon into the depressing concoction slowly, as if fearing it might attack. Upset by the violation it resisted her efforts to pull free, unwilling to release its grip on her spoon so easily. She tried harder. There was a wet pop as it finally came free. It was a dauntingly large mouthful, excess gunk dripping over the sides like chunky molasses. All three mares stared with morbid fascination as she lifted her spoon higher, their eyes tracking each lump that dripped over the sides and fell back into the bowl to land with a horrid plop.

“It even sounds like snot,” said Pinkie. Twilight nodded dumbly.

“It’s perfectly fine, you two. It just... looks odd, is all.”

Twilight couldn’t tear her eyes away from the dripping mound of goop clutching Applejack’s spoon. “Are you sure about that? I mean, you are still recovering from your wounds.”

She had the feeling her words had managed to upset the doctor inside Applejack. She gave both of them a stern frown. “Yes, I’m sure! It’s perfectly fine, and both y’all need to eat your breakfast. Look, I’ll show y’all that there ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of.” Mustering her courage, Applejack shoved the spoonful into her mouth before she had a chance to stop herself. Nopony moved for the longest time. Twilight didn’t know whether to be disgusted or amazed when Applejack finally pulled the spoon free, the white plastic perfectly clean. Eventually Applejack forced her jaw to start moving, her left eye twitching slightly. Her chewing was robotic, the quick but steadied pace of someone trying to get through something without having to think too hard about it. After she was done chewing Applejack tried to swallow, but it was soon clear that she was struggling – Twilight couldn’t tell if it was because of the taste or if the food was fighting back. With a grimace and a pained expression, she finally managed to finish her first bite of the meal.

“How did–” Twilight’s question was interrupted by a raised hoof as Applejack made a grab for the styrofoam cup resting on her tray. Throwing her head back Applejack downed the instant coffee in one smooth motion before gasping like a swimmer coming up for air. Twilight waited for her to catch her breath. “So... how did it taste?”

The doctor did her best to compose herself. “It wasn’t that bad,” she declared hoarsely. Twilight gave her a disbelieving look. “What? Okay, fine. It ain’t great, but it is edible.” She paused. “Just, ah, start small, alright?”

Her friend’s words did little to assuage her concerns about what she was supposed to willingly put in her mouth. Twilight shifted her eyes between Applejack and the lumpy mess before digging in with her spoon. I need the energy if I want to keep going today, she told herself as she pushed the spoon past her lips. She regretted it instantly.

She never would have imagined that it could top yesterday’s dinner, but Broadhoof’s cafeteria workers had managed to really outdo themselves. What was placed upon her tongue was both tasteless and disgusting: the grey-brown sludge had the consistency of book paste and left a slimy residue behind that she feared would never leave. Desperation overtook her as she swallowed as quickly as she could, hoping to get the mouthful down before she could rethink which direction she wanted it to go.

Applejack failed to hide her amusement as Twilight made a mad grab for her own cup. “Oh sweet Celestia, that is vile!” she declared once she had finished gargling her coffee, the searing and bitter liquid scouring her mouth clean. She fought down the urge to scrape her tongue along her teeth. She turned her narrowed eyes on Applejack. “You! You said it wasn’t that bad!”

Applejack tried to look apologetic. “Well, you really do need to eat somethin’, what with all your medication and all. It’s my job to look after your health, Twi. And would you have eaten anything if I told you how bad it was?”

She glared at her friend, but her anger quickly fizzled away. “Well, I can’t be that upset with you, not after making you try it first,” she admitted with a smile that Applejack happily returned. “Still, this is probably the worst thing I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.”

“Oh, it ain’t nothin’. When I was a little filly, Big Mac once got me to eat a slice of dirt pie.”

Twilight nearly choked. “Wait, what? How did he get you to do that?”

“We was playin’ truth or dare, and he said I would be a chicken if I didn’t. So I ate the whole thing, worms and all, just to prove the big galoot wrong.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more stubborn group of ponies in my life than your family,” declared Twilight with a grin.

There was an odd look on Applejack’s face, but it vanished when she chuckled. “Yeah, well, it was all worth it when I got him back later. And this,” she gestured at their bowls, “is not that bad. It’s just a little overcooked. Or undercooked. Or both, I dunno. But it’s not that terrible, once you get over the shock of that first bite.”

“You can’t be serious. This is probably the worst thing to ever come out of a kitchen that didn’t end up killing somepony.”

“Okay, I admit, it ain’t exactly restaurant quality grub, but it ain’t going to make you sick. It’s just barley oats... I think. And you really do need to eat.”

“I have serious doubts that this is better for my health than going hungry.”

“Twilight,” Applejack said her name slowly, her tone becoming more serious. “All kiddin’ aside, your medication will give you an upset stomach if you don’t get some food in you.”

The unicorn exhaled. “Fine.” She quickly swallowed another small spoonful, giving Applejack an exaggerated grimace. “There, see? I’m eating. I’m just... taking my time. Giving my body a chance to acclimate itself to this sludge.”

“And you call me stubborn,” said Applejack, her eye roll as equally exaggerated as she forced herself to swallow some of her own breakfast in turn. She coughed. “You know, I’m startin’ to look back on that dirt pie a little more fondly.” Twilight laughed.

“All it needs is some sugar,” Pinkie stated assuredly as she filled her mouth with another heaping spoonful, swallowing it without hesitation. “Oh, and some cinnamon would be nice. And some milk. Maybe a little butter too. And maybe some maple syrup. But besides that, it’s still pretty good.” Twilight and Applejack watched in silence as Pinkie Pie tilted her bowl back to pour the last of her porridge into her open mouth before swiftly licking it clean. The two shared a mutual look of disbelief.

Applejack eventually managed to close her mouth. “That’s... just...”

“Impossible,” Twilight finished as she shook her head. Still, she couldn’t disagree with Pinkie on all the particulars. It’s hard to think of anything that wouldn’t make it taste better, she thought, eyeing her meal distrustfully. Twilight reluctantly spooned more of the goopy mess into her mouth. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for some fruit right now.

The trio descended into partial silence. While Twilight and Applejack forced themselves to eat with the resignation of the condemned, Pinkie Pie held a one-sided conversation in between mouthfuls of porridge from her second bowl.

Twilight sighed softly into her bowl as she half-listened to Pinkie’s meandering story, letting her mind wander in turn. Inevitably, her thoughts coalesced around the same issue that had been hovering over her all morning: her dream. Was it a dream? On any other day I wouldn’t have to think twice. It was too crazy to be anything but a dream. She looked up from her plastic dishware and glanced around the cafeteria. But now? she thought, the question hanging in the air as she watched two orderlies wrestle a screaming mare back down into her seat. The patient sitting beside her kept his head down as he slowly wrote something out over the table with his porridge. Past him she could see another set of patients being fed by a bored looking nurse.

Now, everything is crazy.

Returning her attention to her friends, Twilight took a steadying breath, their presence giving her the strength to push away what little fog still clung to her mind. As much as she thought of herself as a reasonable and logical mare, she knew better than anyone how she could let her doubts and anxieties get out of hoof.

But not today, she promised herself. The confidence was a welcome change of pace. Warmth saturated her body, the fire of her conviction visible in the set of her jaw and the confident gleam in her eyes. Today is going to be different. Today, I’m going to use my strengths. Today, I’m going to keep organized. Today, I’m going to fight back against whatever sent me here to this broken place. I am Twilight Sparkle, protege of Princess Celestia and bearer of the element of magic. I can handle this challenge, just like I have overcome all my previous tests. I am here with my friends, and there is nothing that can stand in my way. I can defeat this world’s lies with the three greatest weapons known to ponykind: research, studying, and deductive reasoning!

“What was that Twilight?”

Applejack’s question yanked Twilight back to her senses. She blinked at her friends, meeting the gaze of the curious doctor and the equally curious patient. “Huh?”

Applejack shrugged. “I just thought I heard you say somethin’, is all.”

“Me too,” Pinkie Pie added. “It sounded like something about ‘researching studded duck seasonings’.” Her face brightened. “Or maybe ‘read arch-’”

“It was nothing!” said a blushing Twilight loudly. She lowered her voice to normal levels. “Really, it was nothing. I was just... thinking aloud about, um, my schedule for the day.” She pulled her schedule free from one of the shallow pockets on her green vest and slapped it down onto the table a little harder than intended. She forced herself to give them a broad grin.

Applejack’s eyes watched Twilight’s for a few seconds before she shrugged again. “Alright. Well, if you have any questions about anything, just let me know. After your meeting with Doctor Rose, I can go over the schedule again with you, if you like.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Twilight replied, her fake smile vanishing as soon as Applejack turned away to reluctantly answer Pinkie Pie’s question about ‘studded duck seasonings’. The embarrassment at being caught speaking aloud became scorn. That was a stupid mistake, she chided herself as she returned the schedule to her pocket. What if I had said something else? This Applejack might be my friend, and she might have some connection back to the mare I know, but she is still part of the staff here. I can’t let anyone know what I’m thinking until I have a better idea of what I’m dealing with – especially the doctors. Nopony can be trusted.

She continued to eat her breakfast, reluctantly spooning more of the meal into her mouth as she updated her mental checklist, careful to underline her reminder to watch what she said. She couldn’t afford any mistakes. Still, she wasn’t as worried as she once would have thought. If there was one area in which she knew she excelled, it was in doing things carefully.

Twilight’s thoughts soon returned to the previous night’s dream. Hours had already passed, but fortunately – or unfortunately, she considered – the nightmare had been so vivid that the details were still seared into her mind. But was it just a dream? she asked herself again, repeating the question a little more forcefully. I fell asleep, experienced whatever it was, and awoke afterwards. It fits the definition for a simple nightmare. But then, considering what this world is like even when awake, it isn’t irrational to entertain the possibility that it could be more than a dream. Her eyes flickered around the cafeteria. This whole experience pretty much argues in favor of the impossible being possible, but does that really prove anything?

She replayed her memories of the dream through her head. At first it had been so real, she couldn’t help but feel homesick as she remembered the sight of Ponyville resting just outside her bedroom’s window. Everything had been just as it was supposed to be, down to the scents of ink and parchment that dominated the library. Even after the insanity had begun, it had retained a truly visceral feel that she couldn’t remember experiencing in a mere dream before. But everything else? My friends’ behavior, my impostor’s temperament, the physical transformations... everything else had been so strange, so impossible, that the only logical assumption is to label it all a fantasy.

The longer she debated the idea with herself, the more certain she became that her dream had been just that: a dream. It had been a frightening and particularly vivid dream, certainly, but in the end it was still just a dream. Even Sombra’s magic had relied upon the creation of a realistic illusion, she thought in a professional, scholarly tone. Memories of school debates and oral examinations passed through the back of her mind as she continued her inner dialectic. That’s what made it so effective – you could subconsciously believe the illusion because it played off of your fears while giving you no room to doubt it. Your own doubts made the scenarios seem realistic.

But dreams are not limited to keeping themselves within the realm of believability, even though you might think they are real at the moment. When I dreamt that I was an alicorn, not for a moment did I ever question why I suddenly had wings and was able to fly. It was only after I woke up that I could recognize how absurd such a sudden transformation was. Like then, my nightmare’s illogical and impossible nature is readily apparent when I reflect back on it. While my appearance within this world defies logic, the hospital doesn’t have hungry shadows or ponies with melting faces. This world is as real as anything – even though it’s some strange alternate dimension, or magically altered reality, or some other scenario I haven’t yet come up with. But last night’s affair was just a dream, and that’s that, Twilight thought with a final nod, considering the matter settled.

Picking up her spoon she returned to her meal, focusing on something other than the lingering questions at the back of her mind. Despite attempting to make her logical examination of the question definitive, she couldn’t banish all of her doubts. She sighed. Big change there. Ever since I woke up yesterday, I’ve been doubting everything. I’m a stranger in a strange land – and the strange dreams aren’t exactly helping me stay focused.

The last few words echoed within Twilight’s head as she paused, the warm touch of realization passing over her mind like the dawn sun cresting over a sloping hill. And ever since I woke up, they’ve been giving me pills and unknown medication. They... they’ve been drugging me! Dozens of suspicions and theories came together in an instant, and Twilight didn’t know whether to revel in her success, or hit herself for taking so long to make the obvious connection.

The only thing she knew with certainty was the surge of righteous anger that welled up within her breast as she glared at the oblivious Applejack. The dreams, the argument with the bathroom mirror, my mood swings: they’ve been drugging me to make me believe I’m crazy! That’s why they wouldn’t give me a medical reference, so I wouldn’t know what they were poisoning me with. They want me to believe I’m crazy and give in, because...

Twilight’s thoughts trailed away. Wait, why would they need me to believe I’m crazy? They already have me locked up, and everypony already thinks I’m insane. Isn’t what I believe irrelevant to them at this point? She sagged down into her seat like she had sprung a leak. She quickly erased a couple of lines from her internal list. Alright, so it doesn’t explain everything, but it’s the most rational theory yet. It just... has some flaws that need to be ironed out.

Despite her tendency towards focusing on the negative side of things, Twilight was pleased at how much confidence she still felt. Of course, confidence is no excuse for not doing everything step-by-step. Finishing off the last of her lukewarm breakfast, she began running through her checklist once again. It irked her that she didn’t have quill and parchment handy so she could create a physical version, but she refused to pay it any mind. The last thing she needed was to leave clues behind for others to figure out what she was planning.

A soft chiming sound filled the air, dragging Twilight’s attention up from her empty tray and away from the imaginary scroll that had been floating in front of her eyes.

“Okay girls, breakfast is over,” announced Applejack as she stood up, answering Twilight’s unspoken question. After stacking their trays for cleaning they followed Applejack towards one of the exits, passing other ponies milling around in loose lines. Just before they reached the door the doctor turned back to look at Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie, go ahead and line up with your group. Me and Twilight have to go see Doctor Rose.”

“Aww, I wanted to spend some more time with you,” she pouted. “I was hoping Twilight could be in my therapy group today.” Pinkie glanced at the unicorn as her frown reversed itself into a large grin. “Today is show and tell day, and that’s always fun for a laugh! And you look like you could use a laugh, Miss Super-Serious-Face.” Twilight pulled her head back just in time to avoid having her cheeks pinched, her look of irritation only making Pinkie’s smile grow larger.

“I don’t–” Twilight started to protest, but Pinkie simply cut her off.

“Oh nope nope nope! You definitely need a good laugh. I’m the expert on that sort of thing. I know when a pony is feeling down in the dumps. It’s my special talent!” she declared as she turned herself to reveal the familiar three-balloon cutie mark.

The cutie mark not covered in scars. Twilight glanced away, trying to keep her dark thoughts from showing on her face. “But–”

“I can always tell when a pony needs some cheering up. And the best way to make someone happy is with a party,” Pinkie continued over Twilight. “Just, you know, they don’t let me throw parties... but if I could I’d totally throw a ‘Cheer Up Twilight’ party. Oh, and I could combine it with my ‘Doctor AJ Isn’t Hurt’ party, too!” she added, glancing over at the doctor.

Twilight opened her mouth. “Well–”

“You two will have plenty of time to spend together later,” Applejack interrupted, earning an irritated glare from the unicorn as well. “You can tell Twilight all about what happened when you see her in school this afternoon. But you need to scoot, sugarplum.” She tapped her watch. “If you’re late lining up with your group, you won’t be able to spend time with us. So go on, and just tell us all about it next time you see us.”

Pinkie Pie nodded with eager obedience, her disappointment vanishing the moment Applejack promised they would all meet up later. “Oh, yeah! I forgot all about that! I’ll be able to give you both all the fun details later,” she said loudly, waving over one shoulder at the other two mares as she trotted away. “See you later, Doctor AJ! See you in class, Twilight!” They both waved back as she was swallowed up by the crowd.

“Well then, let’s get going,” Applejack said with relief as she ushered Twilight towards the door. She set off at a quick pace, forcing Twilight to canter along beside her. “Rose wanted us to get there a little early, so we need to hustle. He wanted to give you plenty of time so there wouldn’t be a repeat of yesterday's, uh, events.” She glanced over at Twilight, her expression softening with concern. “You need to trust him, Twi. The best thing you can do is be open and honest with him. He’ll answer all your questions and try to explain things.”

Explanations were something Twilight desperately needed, there was no way she could ignore that point. Getting herself and her friends home was a puzzle with all the pieces hidden away beneath unanswered questions. Her thoughts were filled with theories and conspiracies and suspicions about the world she was trapped in, each one a possibility but with disturbingly little to back it up. She was playing chess blindfolded, unable to see the board, the setup, or even her opponent. Until she discovered more, any move could be the wrong move. She had to be patient and focus on getting as much data as she could.

However, there was precious little of that focus in Twilight’s mind as they hurried down the halls of the hospital. Instead, her thoughts were dominated by a single burning question – one she didn’t need Doctor Rose to answer.

“What did you mean by ‘school’?”

“What’s that?” Applejack asked, slowing down to glance back at Twilight.

She looked Applejack firmly in the eye. “What did you and Pinkie mean by ‘school’?”

“Well Twilight, every filly has to go to school until they’re an adult and graduate. Just because you’re at Broadhoof doesn’t mean we’re going to let your education suffer.”

“I did grad–” Twilight caught herself, knowing it was useless to protest anything about her real past. She frowned. “Okay, how am I not already a full-grown mare? You’re supposedly old enough to have completed med-school and begun working at a hospital! How am I still supposed to be taking classes?”

The question brought Applejack to a full stop. She stared back at Twilight, giving her another odd look. There was a long, uncomfortable pause. “Twi, how old am I?” she asked carefully.

“Twenty,” Twilight replied automatically. Having friends had been such a new experience for the unicorn that she had gone to great lengths to memorize their birthdays. Her books had stressed that remembering birthdays was a vital part of maintaining friendships, and Twilight was nothing if not studious. The thought of embarrassing herself and her new friends in a social situation had been a powerful motivator indeed; she was absolutely confident in her knowledge of her friends ages.

Another length of silence passed between them as Applejack continued to stare at her. “Twilight... I’m twenty-six.”

Twilight blinked. “No you’re not.”

“Yes I am, sugarcube. If I were twenty, I would still be in college.”

“No. That’s... that’s not right,” Twilight declared louder, shaking her head as if trying to force Applejack’s words out of her mind physically. “You’re not that much older than me. You can’t be twenty-six!” She scowled and turned away, glaring out one of the nearby windows. “I... no. No!”

The long hallway began to close in around them, slowly crushed beneath the oppressive quiet that hung in the air. She ignored Applejack, keeping her eyes locked on a tree outside. She knew it wasn’t that important; it was a small detail from a broken world. What did it really matter if this Applejack was a little older than her, a little older than the real Applejack? It had so many other things wrong with it that her friend’s age was inconsequential in comparison. Twilight knew and believed that fact with absolute certainty, but still felt her heart racing. She continued to gaze outside, running the revelation over again within her head, trying to figure out why the thought of Applejack being older had her so upset. She didn’t glance over when she heard Applejack move closer, the doctor’s stride careful and measured.

“Twilight... how old are you?”

The question froze Twilight in place. Her ears flattened against her skull; the hairs on her neck stood on end. Slowly, her body fighting her every step of the way, she turned her head to stare back at Applejack. She ran her tongue along the inside of her dry gums. “N-Nineteen,” she whispered.

Applejack's expression shifted from concern to pity in a heartbeat, but her soft eyes did nothing to soften the thunderous blow against Twilight’s resolve. The unicorn struggled to keep her knees from shaking. When Applejack said nothing, Twilight spoke instead. “Applejack, how old am I supposed to be?”

Despite her prompting, Applejack still hesitated. She glanced away. “I don’t–”

“How old am I, Applejack?” repeated Twilight forcefully. She had to know.

The doctor sighed. “Seventeen. You’re only seventeen.”

Twilight blinked. She had been expecting the revelation to crush her flat, to bowl her over and send her mind scrambling to recover. It wasn’t enough for this world to take her past, her friendships, and her accomplishments – it also had to take whole years of her life. It should have sent her reeling. Instead she felt... well, not much, really. She frowned. I should be more bothered by this. Why am I not upset?

Her silence was enough to get Applejack to look up from the tiles on the floor. “Twi, are you alright?” she asked softly, her voice dripping with concern.

“Y-Yeah, I am.” Twilight shook her head slightly and looked into Applejack’s green eyes. “I mean, I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine. You would think that being told you’re the wrong age would be a bit more... shocking, but it’s not.”

The two mares stared at each other with matching expressions of mild bewilderment. “Really?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah.” She played the information over in her head. She wasn’t in shock, and she wasn’t in denial. Why then, was she so okay with this? She was supposed to be some insane patient with amnesia and-

Everything clicked. Her sudden grin caused a flash of concern to cross Applejack’s face, but she ignored it. “Aha! Don’t you see? That is just more proof that I’m right! It’s more evidence that I’m not crazy after all!” laughed Twilight, all of her previous worry flowing out of her in a burst of excitement. Despite herself she did an excited – and graceless – dance in the hallway.

“Twilight...” Applejack began, but Twilight cut her off.

“No, Applejack. Please, hear me out,” she said as she excitedly hopped over to Applejack, pushing her head in close to the doctor’s and giving her a beaming, confident grin. “Doctor Rose told you that I might be suffering from some retrograde amnesia due to my new treatment, correct?” Applejack’s stared back. “Correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct, but I don’t see–”

“Well, there’s your evidence that something isn’t right!” Twilight declared, pulling back and doing a little spin in celebration. “Don’t you see?”

“See what?” Applejack said flatly, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice.

Twilight planted her hooves and struck a confident pose. “That means he is either lying, or this world really isn’t mine!” She felt like she were back in front of the class delivering some perfectly researched and endlessly practiced report on magical theory. It wasn’t just that she was right – now she had some firm, solid, and undeniable proof to back herself up. She ignored Applejack’s disbelieving look and continued. “Retrograde amnesia doesn’t work that way, not when I still have all of my memories. Sure, anterograde amnesia can lead to confusion over one's age, because it prevents the sufferer from developing new memories, preventing them from realizing the passage of time. But that’s not what they say I have. They claim I have retrograde amnesia. As in, my memories of the past are missing. But that’s not true!”

Pacing back and forth with her head held high, Twilight ignored Applejack’s attempts to interrupt her diatribe, determined to get her point across. “I have all my memories of my real life. The doctors claim they are delusions, but that doesn’t fit the facts. Here I am, with perfectly clear memories going back to foalhood, but somehow they don’t match up to what this world claims is true. More importantly, somehow my delusions include two full extra years of a life which I supposedly didn’t live. That is not how amnesia, much less schizophrenia, works! Neither of those illnesses would result in me crafting a full fantasy past for myself that is longer than my real life. Amnesia takes memories away, leaving nothing but gaps. Schizophrenia can create false memories through delusions, but it couldn’t cover up all of those gaps and add on two extra years to my life! Especially not while simultaneously leaving me with absolutely no memories of the real world!”

Turning to face her friend, Twilight leaned forward until her face was just inches away from Applejack’s. “Come on doctor, really think about it! How is it that my memories are perfectly fine going back as far as I can remember, and yet I’ve somehow lost every single detail about my ‘real’ life? How can I remember everything from my school years, from a life in Canterlot that supposedly never happened, and not have a single memory about Broadhoof? How is it that I have two extra years worth of memories from something that you all claim didn’t happen, but not anything about this entire hospital before yesterday morning?” She jabbed a hoof at Applejack. “Does that make any sense? Does that match any of the medical knowledge you’ve been taught over the years?”

“I, uh, well...” Applejack stammered, her indecision only fueling Twilight’s sense of triumph.

“No, it doesn’t! And you know this doesn’t fit what you have been told either. I can see it in your eyes, Applejack: you’re starting to doubt the official story. Which is good! I knew I could count on my friends! Whatever has sent me here, whatever caused all this, it just doesn’t match up with the medical explanation.” Twilight’s look of relieved victory switched to a desperate appeal. “Applejack, I need your help if I’m ever going to get back to my own home, but you need to know the truth: I am not supposed to be here, locked up like this. I don’t know if this is some alternate dimension and I’ve replaced a truly insane Twilight Sparkle, or if something has twisted reality around so everyone thinks that I’m supposed to be locked up, but it’s just not true. In my world, the real world, I really am Princess Celestia’s pupil. We were close friends in Ponyville, Applejack. I’ve met your family, helped out on the farm, and we’ve gone on adventures together! I’m the element of magic while you, Applejack, you’re the element of honesty. I know you can see that I’m speaking the truth here. We need to get out of here so I can set things right. I know this is a lot to process, but please, you need to get this magical limiter off of my horn so we can–”

That’s enough, Twilight!” Applejack shouted, taking a step forward. “I am not going to sit here and let you continue to delay our meeting with the doctor so you can try to convince me to take off your dampener! That isn’t going to happen!”

Twilight’s eyes widened in alarm. “But–”

“No! No buts! We are not gonna have this discussion now, and you are not gonna convince me to let you harm yourself by taking off your limiter. It’s for your own health, and for the health of those around you, that you’re silenced. And I don’t want to hear any more about this, you understand?”

Cold claws drove themselves into her lungs, causing her breath to catch in her throat as her chance for freedom began slipping out of her hooves. “But the–”

Do you understand?” Applejack hissed, taking another step forward.

Twilight nodded weakly. “Y-Yes...” she answered, her voice barely audible even in the silent hallway.

“Good. Now follow me. We’re already late enough as it is.” Her words were delivered with a finality that brooked no disobedience. Without another glance Applejack turned back around and headed off down the corridor at a quick trot, the clip-clop of her hooves a staccato soundtrack to Twilight’s disbelief.

Why? Why won’t she believe me? The thoughts pounded in Twilight’s head as she obediently followed in Applejack’s wake. She ran through her words again and again, trying to figure out where she had erred. It didn’t make sense. Surely Applejack could see the truth? She was a medically trained professional in this world, but even an amateur like Twilight could tell that not everything was as it should be. Sniffing and rubbing her eyes, Twilight hurried to move parallel with her friend.

Turning her head, she watched Applejack walk with determined strides, pointedly refusing to meet Twilight’s stare. Her narrowed eyes were locked on their destination ahead, her jaw pulled tight. Why is she angry? Twilight asked herself, pushing back her own doubts. She had promised herself she was going to stay strong, after all. And for once, she had something firm to hold onto, something solid she could base her confidence around. The age difference made no sense and didn’t match up with what she had been told about her condition. Why couldn’t Applejack see it too? Why was she angry at Twilight for pointing out the truth?

She glanced over at her friend again. The earth pony’s jaw was still locked tight, giving her the firmly stubborn look that Twilight was familiar with. But her green eyes... there wasn’t just anger there. Twilight’s heart skipped a beat. It was doubt. There was doubt there, hidden beneath the tough exterior Applejack was trying to maintain. It took all of Twilight’s self control to keep from giving a whoop of joy and tackling her friend in a hug. She had done it! Something she had said had gotten through to her friend!

Even if she doesn’t believe me yet, she’s at least asking questions. That’s the first step. Twilight felt a hundred pounds lighter as she turned away. Her friend didn’t believe her – not yet – but at least something she had said had struck a chord within Applejack. It was just a starting point, but for Twilight it felt like she had already won. After so long spent suffering through self-doubt and fear, she was finally making progress. The more she learned, the more knowledge she obtained, the greater her chances of making her way home.

They didn’t speak for the rest of the journey, each mare lost in her own thoughts. Thankfully, it didn’t take long. The thick oak doors announced their arrival as clearly as the gold plaque mounted on the wall. “Alright, here we are.” Applejack stopped and looked back at her. She opened her mouth to say something else but hesitated. Her jaw snapped shut as she silently turned back to the door and knocked politely. A muffled “come in” managed to penetrate the thick slabs of wood. Pushing the doors open Applejack turned to usher Twilight inside, not meeting the unicorn’s stare.

Twilight didn’t mind. She would let Applejack take her time. Besides, she had questions that needed answers. Lifting her head high, Twilight strolled into Doctor Rose’s office.

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