• Published 25th Mar 2013
  • 2,911 Views, 73 Comments

Equestria Divided: The Pink Samurai - The Kobold Necromancer



Pinkie Pie is brought to Equestria Divided, an alternate universe where the Mane 6 have turned against each other, warping Equestria into a nightmarish war zone. For her new friends, Pinkie fights against the odds as the Pink Samurai.

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Prologue Part 1 - The Discovery of the Samurai

THE SEARCH CONTINUES.

I NEED TO FIND HER, OR HIM… IN WHATEVER FORM IT MAY BE…

ONE THAT IS NOT TOO PEACEFUL, NOR TOO BLOODTHIRSTY.

I MUST FIND HER, TIME IS RUNNING OUT.

THE JESTER IS SETTING THE STAGE.

THE DRAGOON IS ERADICATING.

THE GEM IS CUTTING INTO THE HEART.

THE STAR IS TEARING ASUNDER.

THE THUNDER IS SHAFTING LIFE.

THE FOREST IS STRANGLING.

IT CANNOT GO ON LIKE THIS FOR MUCH LONGER, OR ALL WE KNOW, ALL WE LOVE IS LOST.

SO MANY I HAVE CHECKED, SO MANY I WILL SEARCH THROUGH…

UNTIL I FIND THE ONE WHO CAN SAVE US ALL...

THE PINK SAMURAI.


The definition of rebel in Mareiam-Webster is "opposing or taking arms against a government or ruler."

Therefore, no matter how wild Pinkie Pie was, she was not truly a rebel. When she was just being Pinkie, she wasn't opposing or taking up arms against any kind of authority. Some would argue that she rebelled against the laws of physics or the law of gravity, but Pinkie more or less played with them rather than rebelled.

Somepony had once told Pinkie Pie that every pony, every being, is special. Everypony has lived every day of their lives, experienced new and old things every second they were awake, had dreams and hopes and ideas. Thus, everypony was special, and the mauve mare had taken that to heart.

Violence would never be called for in this world of Equestria. There were no wars, no major conflicts. The worst was when diamond dogs tried out Mareiam-Webster's definition of rebel, and had to receive a smacking. Pinkie Pie thus never had any call to be "rebellious," as she had no reason to be violent in such a happy world.

That being said, her friends were not one hundred percent sure of that at the moment as Pinkie Pie stared them down with enough intensity to bore holes right to the back of their heads.

"No one," she snapped, "is to embarrass my sister when we go into this concert! You understand me, girls?"

"Why would we," Twilight Sparkle tried to reason, "want to humiliate your sister-"

"I AM ASKING THE QUESTIONS HERE, AS WELL AS MAKING LOUD, BOOMING ORDERS!" Pinkie raised up on her forelegs, her hind legs bent at the knees so she could pump her fists up at the sky. "DO NOT FORCE ME TO KEEP SHOUTING, AS IF I ACCIDENTALLY HIT THE CAPS LOCK KEY AND HAVE NOT YET CORRECTED IT!"

AS TWILight tried desperately to figure out what on Equestria meant by this, Applejack decided to intervene. "Pinkie, we all promise not to embarrass yur sister. We'll watch her performance with the utmost respect."

This answer worked rather well, as Pinkie's roaring rampage of bombastic ordering melted into her smiling at Applejack. As the farm pony wondered how that worked so easily, a small scoff could be heard amid the small group.

"Yeah, you're not going to have problems with me," Rainbow Dash said. The pegasus was glancing around the lobby of the theater, hoping they had snacks. "After all, I'll be asleep by the second piece of classical music."

"You will NOT snore during my sister's orchestra, Dashie," Pinkie exclaimed, getting right in Rainbow's face, so much so that her nose honked against her friend's.

As Applejack tried to calm down the apprehensive Pinkie, the others double-checked their tickets. The theater was rather large, normally for grand plays and performances, but tonight, it was for classical music; most of them did not want to miss it.

Pinkie's older sister, a few days ago, had sent them seven tickets for the large performance in Canterlot. While the others were rather shocked that said sister of Pinkie Pie was the famous musician mare Octavia, Pinkie was ecstatic. She was overjoyed to not only see her sister again, but for her best friends to see her sister play.

Rarity was probably the most thrilled, checking the ticket once more, admiring how great the seat was. She had worn one of her best dresses for this occasion, catching the attention of many stallions, and some mares. She didn't mind the attention, of course, but Pinkie Pie was giving her suspicious stares, as if non-verbally accusing her of trying to overshadow her older sister with her fancy dress.

"Darling," Rarity said, also joining into the confrontation of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, "please calm down. Now we all are excited to be here, and we all will make sure to be at our utmost best. Right, Rainbow Dash?"

Of the seven in their main group, Rainbow Dash was the only one who had any objections to attending a classical concert. Even Spike was interested, as he would head it for hours during Twilight's study periods, and practically was being raised with the music. Thus the prismatic tomcolt was the odd-pony out on not being thrilled over this.

"Look, I'm not going to do anything crazy, like yell fire," Dash assured Pinkie. She huffed and rolled her eyes. "I have a little more class than that."

Spike, walking next to Twilight, rolled his own emerald eyes underneath the dapper hat Rarity had chosen for him. "You tried to pawn off your ticket to Cloud Kicker yesterday."

"What? Who told you that?"

"Fluttershy."

Rainbow glared at Fluttershy, who squeaked and practically hid behind Spike. "Well, I, um, had to make sure you didn't try to skip out on this, as Pinkie's very excited we all go."

"And what, you told Spike so that there'd be a witness or something? Sheesh, you all are ganging up on me."

"Rainbow Dashie Dash Dashers," Pinkie snapped, up in Dashie Dasher's face again. "You will be good during my sister's performance! Got that?"

"I got it, I got it! Now can I get some popcorn or something?"

"They don't serve popcorn at classical orchestras, Dash," Twilight informed her.

Dash groaned, face-hoofing and ignoring the stares from passerby ponies. "This is just way too posh for me. Seriously, I feel underdressed even in this fancy dress Rarity made for me to make me wear!"

She gestured at herself, her dark blue dress rustling around by the moment. Pinkie continued to frown at her friend, and hissed, "We all dressed up nice because Tavi deserves the best kind of audience. Now for the final time, Dashie, be good to my sister. Pi-"

"Yeah, yeah, I Pinkie Promise and all that. You made me do it three times."

"Don't make me have to make you triple-dog Pinkie Promise you, Dashie! No embarrassing Tavi!"

The seven entered into the theater, shuffling through the crowd of posh ponies, trying to find their seats. Rarity kept stopping to make chitchat with Canterlot ponies she knew, only for Pinkie to yank her away to hurry over to their seats.

The girls, and Spike, had rarely ever seen Pinkie like this. They knew she wasn't aggressive, for the most part, and they had chalked it up to this being family and good impressions. It was the only reason they could think of as to why Pinkie would give Fluttershy a stare that would rival the animal tender's.

"Flutters, I just want you to promise me you won't do any of that wild cheering of yours!"

"Of… of course, Pinkie. I'll keep it very modest."

"Thank you, Flutters. And Dashie? No snoring if you do fall asleep."

"Hay, if I do fall asleep, how can I help-"

"RD, stop provoking her, daggnabbit," Applejack hissed. "Just smile and nod for once!"

"Yeah," Pinkie interjected, "listen to AJ, RD? Kay-kay?"

When they finally found their seats, the group of seven settled in. Pinkie kept shushing them, even though the show had not begun, and they weren't being particularly loud either. Applejack adjusting her squeaky seat got her a loud shushing from Pinkie.

"She must really like her sister," Spike muttered to Twilight. "Have we ever met her, by the way?"

"No, I don't believe so, but Pinkie says we will after the performance," Twilight said.

"Yeah, four hours later," Spike muttered, crossing his arms. He sighed and added, "I like classical as much as the next dragon, Twilight… well, maybe a little more, but I don't know if I can sit still listening to it for that long."

Twilight smiled at the baby dragon, then used her magic to pull a candy from Bonbon's shop from her dress's pocket. "Treat for the wait?" she asked him, and he nodded.

When she unwrapped the treat, the crinkle noise alerted Pinkie, who shushed them. She also almost snatched the candy, if Twilight hadn't been fast enough to pull it away.

Rarity hummed as she adjusted her dress, and Pinkie shushed her. Dash yawned, she was shushed. Fluttershy coughed, Pinkie almost alerted the whole theater with her desperate shushing.

When the lights went down, Pinkie squealed in delight under her breath. She appeared ready to explode, her grin as wide as Pinkie-possible. The others, glad that the shushing was over, watched as a well-dressed pony walked center-stage.

"Gentlecolts and mare ladies," he said a with a deep, sophisticated voice, the kind that made Rarity swoon, "it is my great delight to introduce you to our entertainment for the evening.

"This band of professional classical musicians have prepared you an enchanting night. As there has been a bit of a dearth of the fine arts in this day and age, it's my utmost pleasure to tell you that you all could not find five greater musicians in the art.

"On the piano is Frederic Horseshoepin." He gestured to the side of the stage, where a tan stallion with a pure white mane entered with a distinct flair to his step. The audience applauded politely, as the piano was gently pushed on the stage for Frederic.

"On the harp is Parish Nadermane." A purple stallion with a straight, blue mane walked onstage, giving the audience a polite bow. He waited for his harp to be rolled onstage before taking a seat on the stool that was brought for him.

"On the violins are Symphony and Concerto." A pair of ponies trotted onstage, also politely bowing. The mare sported a yellow coat and a dark purple mane that matched Rarity's in elegance, and the stallion had matching brown coat and mane.

"And last, we have the leader to our band," the host said, "we have Octavia on the cello."

The gray pony with an ebony mane stepped out onstage, to applause slightly louder than the previous ponies. She smiled and bowed gracefully to the audience, then to the host. When her cello was brought out for her, she hoisted herself up on her hind legs. As she bowed again to the audience, she prepared to speak.

"THAT'S MY BIG SISTER, EVERYPONY!!"

Octavia blinked in shock, then noticed the commotion near the front of the audience. Pinkie Pie, having held in her pride and joy and love for her big sister, hadn't been able to contain her excitement any long. She was now being restrained by five other ponies and a baby dragon, as other audience members glared at the interruption.

The audience weren't the only ones, as Octavia's band members were glaring first at the shouting mare, then at Octavia herself. She merely smiled at them, and said quietly, "That… would be my little sister."


"You seriously want to keep this up?"
"Maybe we should try taking another leg. They usually talk when we take another leg."
"Alright, but it's my turn, you got the… oh!"

The pony strapped down to the wooden table could barely see the being that had walked into the room. This was mostly due to the bruising around her eyes, the blood that had collected there and made her vision blurry.
All the pony knew was that her captives seemed rather afraid, she could smell their fear. This did not bode well for the now three-legged pony.
"Results?" the pink pony asked, her soulless voice sending a chill down the spines of all those in the room.
The first torturer standing next to the table nervously shuffled her hooves. "Um, Miss Laughing Mare… The? Is it Miss or The? I never was told-"
"Do not concern yourself with titles, we are all equal here." The bells on the pink pony's jester cap jingled as she swished her head towards the captive pony. "Even those who we require information from, in worst possible ways."
"Alrighty then! Well, this wildling pony ain't talking. She just snaps and snarls," the first pony said, gesturing wildly with the bloody sickle she was holding. The second pony had to dodge a particularly wide swipe, frowning at her fellow torturer.
"Yeah, either Lady Fluttershy is training these feral ponies to be better at pain toleration than we would think," the second one said, rubbing a hoof through her white mane, or as white as it could be with blood splattered all over it, "or she just don't know anything."
The wildling pony snarled and muttered, "Even if I did, I wouldn't talk. Not even in death, cultist scum!"
The first torturer shook her head, tsk-tsking behind the mask she was wearing. "Really? That's so cliché."
"We take your right foreleg, your ear, several of your teeth, hit you, and yet," the second torturer said, "you no talk. Why you no talk?"
As if to agree with this, the first cultist torturer swung her sickle down at the wildling pony, slashing her flank. The vines the pony wore around her sides did nothing but soak up the blood from the wound, and she ground her teeth in the agony. She had thought she could last until she bled out, but that mercy hadn't happened.
"What should we do, O' Laughing Mare?" the first torturer asked.
"You cannot squeeze blood from a stone that has nothing to bleed," the Laughing Mare stated.
She walked in front of the wildling pony, observing the nature-dwelling mare face-to-face. Though having lived a feral life, the wildling pony was not ready for what she saw.
The Laughing Mare's eyes were hollow, save for a sadistic, red glow that were pupils in the abyss sockets. The pink coated pony's lips were gone, scars curving upwards into a permanent smile; it was painful to see, especially up close.
When the cultist leader raised a hoof to lift up the captive pony's head, the wildling pony saw the burns and scars on her legs. Terrible scars that should have meant death, including the ones that could be smelt but not seen underneath that dried blood red-and-white checkered jester costume the pink pony was wearing.
Again, the jester hat bells jingled when The Laughing Mare stared down into the wildling pony's eyes. "A stone that cannot bleedy-weedy is a rock. A rock must be pulverized to make your way around."
"Meaning?" the second torturer asked.
"… Killy-willy."
"Duh," the first one scoffed at the second, "I knew that!"
The bloodstained sickle swung down in a killer arc, impaling deep into the wildling pony's head. She let out a growling cry, then a whimper as blood oozed down her head. Though she closed her eyes in death's quick embrace, the body refused to stop twitching violently.
"Want me to make her stump wriggle around?" the first torturer asked. "I think I got the right movement in the brain to cause it to happen."
"Will you stop already?"
"Hey, Miss Laughing Mare, I bet I could get this one as well to piss itself after death! Wanna see?"
"The pleasures of death will have to wait, we must check the second stone."
"Oki-doki," the first torturer said cheerfully. "Just me, or you want Crazy Legs here too?"
"Both presences would be appreciated, doki-loki."
As the two followed The Laughing Mare, Crazy Legs elbowed the first torturer. "Look, I know you want to get ahead here, but we kind of failed on that prisoner; this isn't something to be proud of."
"We performed wickedly, and provided another one of the Laughing Dead army. I don't know what cult you joined, but those are results here."
"Just keep pushing, Crimson Sickle, I dare you. We'll see who gets the last laugh here."
The three entered another room in the torture hall, screams of agony and wild laughter echoing down like some kind of antechamber music. This room had an earth pony strapped down, gasping for air. The torturer bowed to The Laughing Mare, then blew a raspberry at her leader; the latter motion was returned.
"Well, Miss Laughing Mare," the raspberry blowing stallion said, lifting up his happy-sad mask to look his leader in the eye sockets, "I have some great news, given to us by my friend here."
He gleefully pat the bloody stump of the earth pony's foreleg, making him cry out in pain. The pony was a soldier, as not every injury was from the torture. Though his missing eye, ear, and tail were not from battle. Blood and bile stained his mouth, and he appeared ready to die any moment.
"My friend has told me that House Earthborn is indeed planning to make a movement on the area where the others have gathered," the torturer continued. "He has been brave, very brave, but I'm afraid I had to show him just how funny it is when I don't get the information needed."
"You have performed quite well, Slashen Hack."
The Laughing Mare pat the torturer's shoulder, then his victim's. "House Earthborn still has the kind of tenacity earth ponies are made of. You do my kind proud, fallen knight."
The earth pony, despite the agony, sneered at her. "We are Equestria, you are death. We are nothing like you, rotting corpse!"
"You might want to watch it," Crimson Sickle shot. "The Laughing Mare can pull your heart out and show it to you before you die!"
"About that…"
The Laughing Mare turned to Crimson Sickle and Crazy Legs, shaking her head. The pupil glow in her eyes was glowing brighter. "Slashen Hack is one of many who produced results. Results that will help us when the time comes. But you two, no results.
"Though you two have provided a single corpse for my army's numbers," she continued, not noticing or caring how much the two ponies were shaking in fear, "I need at least one more for… certain purposes. The Cult of Laughter needs to make its stand in this combat, and we cannot be party poopers for this major party, can we?
"Do we have a volunteer for the fun mission?"
The mare and stallion cultists exchanged glances. Their teeth chattering so hard in their terror, they couldn't make any words out. It should have been excitement for them, this should have been an honor…
… but The Laughing Mare had a way of making even those who followed the way of laughter to stop laughing.
"Crazy Legs volunteers," Crimson Sickle exclaimed, pointing a hoof at her colleague. "He wants to fight!"
"Why you!" was all Crazy Legs could say, his legs becoming jelly under him, his bottom jaw failing to provide words as it was working too hard to keep him from throwing up.
"Thank you for volunteering."
The Laughing Mare shot her hoof forward, striking Crimson Sickle in the chest. The torturer fell back on her hindquarters, but was kept upright by the claws emerging from the Laughing Mare's hoof.
The claws ripped into Crimson Sickle's chest, and she felt it encircle her heart. Her very heart beat against them a couple times in her leader's grasp. Then a sickening ripping sound followed.
The Laughing Mare's cackle filled the room as she held the still beating heart upwards. Slashen Hack's delighted guffaws followed, next was Crazy's Legs first relieved then equally sadistic laughter. The three cackled as Crimson Sickle's eyes rolled up in her head.
Her last thoughts were on how, even as she died, this wasn't going to be the end for her.
Insane laughter rolled throughout the halls and rooms, and all members of the cult followed suit. Their leader was amused, and thus were they too.
Such is the way of the Cult of Laughter. Everything was funny, as it was the only way to keep them from screaming over how cruel the world had become.


Rainbow Dash let out a quiet, but audible, sigh as the band finished another classical piece. The audience was clapping with great approval, and she truly felt like the oddball out. Even Pinkie Pie, who Rainbow would have sworn would be asleep listening to classical music, was applauding with much gusto.

Octavia's presence onstage was the only thing keeping the prismatic maned pegasus from dozing off. The earth pony's smoldering look and poise were almost like a model rather than a musician.

"And heck, I'm straight," she mused mentally, smirking a little. "Pinkie's sister does have something going for her, even if that's not my thing. I wonder… if Octavia is the kind for-"

"For the next song," Octavia spoke to the audience, adjusting her pink bow tie, "I would like you all to think of Equestria's grand team of the Wonderbolts."

Rainbow's half-closed eyes shot open as if performing a stunt by said team. "Your sister knows about them?" she asked Pinkie, who hushed her frantically.

"I am sure some of you have seen the Wonderbolts perform, or at least heard of them," Octavia continued. "The beauty, elegance, and dare I say, power that they exhibit is breathtaking.

"Therefore, I'd like to request something a little odd, if you will trust me. Close your eyes during this next piece. To the pegasi in the audience, imagine flying through the sky.

"To the non-pegasi, imagine watching the elegance of flight, the freedom and passion of the pegasi you know. And enjoy this next piece, as it is one we like to play for Wonderbolt performances."

Octavia started to play, her band following suit. Rainbow Dash went along with her suggestion, and soon enough, could imagine herself up in the air.

"Feels like I'm soaring right now," she thought, leading her rainbow-topped head back and smiling. "Wow… I remember this at the last Wonderbolts' performance. This is classical? Ponies above, it's amazing."

She continued to listen to the music with her eyes closed, spreading her wings to feel it even closer (nearly hitting Twilight and Fluttershy with them). If ever she wanted a theme for joining the Wonderbolts, this would be it.

With the most critical of the bunch now on the side of classical, the rest of the concert passed by with rapt attention. At the end, when the audience broke out into applause, Pinkie sat up as high as she could and clopped her hooves together with much gusto. Her friends joined in doing this, and thus the audience followed suit.

The standing ovation last a good while before the band left the stage. As the ponies filed out of the theater, the chatter was positive among the audience members.

"Simply a dreamy performance! I felt like I was floating a few times."

"Indeed, they are the most talented bunch of ponies! Shame classical is becoming under-appreciated."

"What was up with that rather loud pony at the start?"

"Family pride, I would wager. I don't know if I approve such rash behavior, but if I had a sister that played that well, I might bally lose my calm if she took center stage."

"Oh dear, you're too funny."

The group of seven found themselves in the lobby, where Pinkie Pie said Octavia would join them after the performance. As they waited, Rainbow Dash stretched her wings and hovered around the lofty lobby.

"Gotta say, Pinks, that was a lot better than I thought it would be," she said. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not gonna be rushing out to get classical records, but this was a lot of fun."

"Darling, you must tell us more about Octavia," Rarity insisted. "I mean, you have a famous sister in Canterlot, and you never told us."

"Tavi tours a lot, so she doesn't really live in Canterlot," Pinkie explained. "Plus, nowadays, her band is not having the best of luck with booking concerts, because pop music is all the rage."

"That's a shame," Dash said, "but hey, I'm all for rock. If you listen to too much classical, you could officially become posh; it's science."

"It is not," Twilight replied, frowning at her.

"Oh it is too. I mean, I loved the concert, Pinkie, but if I listened to another hour, I might have to wear eyeliner like Rarity."

"If you do, I would suggest a light shade of purple," Octavia suggested as she walked up from behind Rainbow Dash, startling the pegasus. "It would suit your coat and mane very well."

"Tavi-Lavi," Pinkie cheered, rushing over to glomp her sister. The gray pony obviously had experience with this, because she positioned herself so that Pinkie did not knock her over in the embrace. She smiled as she hugged her sister back.

"You know I always hated that nickname, Pinkamena."

"Eww, you know I don't go by that anymore! Keep that up, I'll call you by your original name too!"

"You wouldn't dare!"

Octavia wisely shoved a hoof in Pinkie's mouth as she let out Tavi's original name ("Gmmrmeemh!"). After removing the hoof from that smiling mouth, she smiled at her sisters' friends. "Well, my sister has written me so much about you all, I feel as if I know you all already."

"Darling, you put on a spectacular performance," Rarity gushed. "We enjoyed every minute!"

"Oh yes, very well done," Fluttershy agreed. "Your band is really good! You must practice a lot."

"Thank you all, you're being far too kind," she said. Her voice was like her musical talent, smooth and silky. The more she spoke, the harder it was for the group to believe she was Pinkie's sister.

"Why don't we head out for dinner?" Octavia suggested. "It'll be on me."

"Darling, we couldn't ask you that," Rarity insisted. "Why, your sister alone would cost a great deal to take out at a Canterlotean restaurant."

"Hey! … Wait yeah, that's true," Pinkie admitted.

"It's okay, I know of a good place to eat that's not too expensive," the musician said, holding her hoof up to Rarity to insist no more arguments. "I hope you all like cauliflower, they specialize in that as well as other vegetable meals."

"That sounds delicious," Twilight said cheerfully.

"Classical music, green foods," Rainbow said with a sigh. "You all are plotting to make me some kind of posh pony, aren't you? Do I have to learn to keep my chin up as I walk?"

The prismatic pegasus practiced this walk, and crashed into the wall. As Applejack helped her back up, Octavia and the others had to resist laughing. "You didn't tell me Rainbow Dash," Tavi said to her sister, "was so humorous."

"Oh, she gets a little loopy when she is caged up in a building for a while. She can be a silly-filly like that."

"Right, I see. Now you're okay with cauliflower, right Pinkie? I remember it wasn't your favorite back at home."

"I'll manage."

"Good, because they also have red velvet cupcakes for dessert."

One could practically hear Pinkie's blue eyes widen in excitement. "Oh YAY! Take me wherever this blessed restaurant is, you could replace my head with a cauliflower for a red velvet cupcake!"

The group of eight headed over to the restaurant, where, thanks to Octavia's fame (and maybe a little eye flutter at the maitre d'), they had a nice table outside. At first, some of them were confused why Octavia picked an outside table; however, as Dash was stretching and hovering around a lot, letting out pent-up energy for being stuck inside so long, they realized what the musician had done.

The day carried on with rather pleasant conversation, and a surprisingly hushed Pinkie let her friends and sister converse. Octavia was intent on learning more about her sister's friends, and thus insisted they talk about themselves.

Applejack told of her farm and family. Fluttershy told her about her animal friends, and she, as was the norm for her, talked openly as if cured of bashfulness when it came to animals. Rarity gushed about her business and fashion, insisting that she show Octavia some of her work one day so as to make the musician look her best on-stage.

Twilight and Spike had a few things to mention about Ponyville and home, but they mostly talked to Octavia about Canterlot. As the musician spent most of her time in the large city, it was something they had in common.

And then, Rainbow Dash talked about herself. This lasted until dessert, and then some.

"And of course, when I do join the Wonderbolts, I aim to be leader by the end of my first year with them," Dash boldly stated with a proud smile. Octavia nodded politely as she sipped her tea. Dash's friends all rolled their eyes, except for Pinkie, who was eating her fourth red velvet cupcake.

"I wish you luck, dear," Octavia said. "I happen to know Spitfire, she's very stern about who joins and who doesn't."

"Oh yeah, I got that gist at Wonderbolt Academy. She's one tough nugget, I'll tell you; I like that!"

"She's normally a lot more laid back, she just becomes a different pony when at the academy."

As the conversation carried on about the Wonderbolts, the waiter came with the check. Octavia tried to pay for the whole dinner, but Rarity wouldn't hear of it. While Rarity pitching in some bits for the meal was not a surprise to the group, Rainbow Dash paying for some of it was.

"You know, I've had a good time, good eats, good music," Rainbow explained to the astonished looks of her friends, "and I love meeting Pinkie's sister. She's cool, and I'd like to see her again."

"Yeah, any pony who can listen to you ramble about your skills is a prize, sugar cube," Applejack snarked with a cheeky grin.

Rainbow frowned at her, then continued. "So yeah, I just wanted to thank Pinkie for all this. We should do it again some time."

Pinkie's forelegs suddenly moved in robotic twitches, miming the shape of a light bulb over her head. Her hair became extra fluffy as a burst of static from nowhere could be heard, and the lightbulb-shaped area over her head lit up. Before any of her friends could question this, Pinkie exclaimed, "Brilliant, Dashie!"

"Hmm?"

"I need to organize a party. A family get-together party, and get all of your families and mine in the same place! It's… it's brilliant! You're so smart, Dashie!"

"I am?" Rainbow asked, then collected herself. "I mean, yeah, of course I am. And you know what, Pinks? I think I'll help you with this."

"Aw, Dashie, you're the best friend a pony could ask for!"

As Pinkie glomp-hugged her friend (knocking her down in the process), Octavia chuckled at her sister's antics. "I guess you all are used to my sister by now?"

"Truth be told, one cannot get fully used to her, but we love her," Twilight said. "I'm guessing growing up with her was quite the experience?"

"Like living with a bunch of hyperactive bunnies and birds buzzing around," the musician said with a wistful reminiscent tone in her voice.

"Really?" Fluttershy asked. "Because I am, and it's relatively calm."

"Then I guess I'll have to think of a new metaphor."

As Octavia and the others laughed, Dash struggled on the ground. "Argh, gerroff me, Pinks! Stop hugging me so much in public! You're killing my image!"


A caravan consisting of five nervous ponies was trekking across an open dirt road. Two of them had spears, the unicorn carrying it with magic and the earth pony in his mouth. At the front, an earth pony of considerable size was pulling the large wagon.
The other two, a pegasus lady and a colt, were watching the area from all angles. The colt even glanced down at the ground, as if expecting something to burst out from the dirt. He was that terrified.
And in the time frame of a heartbeat, he had every right to be. Several pegasi darted down at the caravan, the shrill whistle of wind the only warning. The lady pegasus screamed and huddled against the wagon, trying to avoid being hit.
The colt covered his eyes and prayed it would be over soon. For the earth pony with the crude spear in his mouth, it was. A real spear imbedded in his neck, and he started gasping and gagging for air. A couple seconds later, another pegasus shanked him in the side with a blade attached to her wing, piercing between the ribs and into the heart.
The unicorn managed to survive a few more seconds, deflecting the trident that was thrust at her. She snarled at her opponent, but when she saw who it was, her courage died.
"You… you're-"
She never got any further. The cyan-colored pegasus drove her trident deep into the unicorn's chest, knocking her onto her back. Struggling against the fatal blow, the unicorn tried to remove the weapon, but her attacker drove it further down. She twitched once, and then lay still.
Rainbow Dash removed her trident from the dead unicorn, blood spurting from the fatal wounds. She glanced around the one-wagon caravan with her good eye, frowning darkly. Her soldiers, about twenty in total, were all positioned perfectly; maybe too perfectly, it seemed excessive for a one-wagon caravan.
"Is this it?" she asked.
"It's all I see, Commander," one of the pegasi, armed with a trident and pointing it at the colt, called out to her.
"Commander, these three are all that are around," said a second pegasus warrior, landing next to Rainbow Dash and saluting her. His wing blade, still stained with the earth pony's blood, clinked against his bronze helmet.
Rainbow Dash nodded, then approached the earth pony who had been pulling the wagon. He had two pegasi staring him down, armed with spears, and he was in no position to fight back. Still, his concern was over the pegasus lady that was huddled against the wagon, also with two pegasi watching her with weapons ready.
"Which house do you serve?" Rainbow asked the earth pony.
"We… we don't serve any house. We are just a couple, simple villages."
Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes, an unnerving sight for the earth pony. He wondered briefly if that red eye, pure like a marble inserted in her eye socket, could still see. It was a red island in a sea of charred skin that spanned up to her helmet and down into her breastplate.
"It's an awfully big wagon for a trip," Rainbow said, glancing at the vehicle again. Flapping her wings, she checked the inside contents. "Food, water, clothing, blankets… what is the purpose of your trip?"
"I… we…"
"Come clean, or we will finish off another member of the caravan."
The pegasi that were standing over the caravan's pegasus tightened their grips on their weapons. The earth pony saw this, and shouted, "No, please! She's my wife!"
"Then answer."
"We… we are two villages who are trying to remain neutral in this war, ma'am. We aren't warriors."
"There should not be anyone neutral in a war about the very future of our world," scoffed Rainbow. She thumped her hoof against the center of her armor, where a lightning bolt emblem gleamed. "Do you know who I am?"
"You… you are Rainbow Dash."
"Force Commander Supreme Rainbow Dash, to be specific. And I am here because I am here to win a war. Now, where are these villages?"
"They… we are heading for one now."
"Alright, then this is what we are going to do, earth pony."
Rainbow Dash gestured to the couple of pegasi who were hovering above as a look-out. Instantly, the two began unloading the wagon, as their leader hovered back to the earth pony.
"We are taking your supplies, for House Stormwing. You, and both of these villages, will be serving us. Our fight is your fight."
"But… we are not warriors!"
"There are other ways to fight. We need farmers, among other things. You and your wife may assist us with this."
"My… my children," the caravan's pegasus whimpered. "Please, I don't want them to go to war."
The prismatic-maned pegasus walked over to her. After staring her down for a moment, there was a flash of steel and wing. The pegasus lady fell backwards, clutching her face.
The earth pony bolted towards his wife, screaming her name, but the two pegasi on him had him pinned down instantly. Rainbow Dash pointed her wing blade the earth pony's face.
"She lives, it is merely a scarring wound, for her to wear in pride," she said.
The pegasus lady sat up, staring at her husband. "Don't fight them, dear, they'll kill you!" She was trying her best to put on a strong face, clutching her bleeding cut on her cheek with a hoof. The earth pony nodded, grimacing and wishing death on Force Commander Supreme.
"We need strong pegasi to join us, to make this world a better place," Rainbow continued. She trotted over to the colt that was still shivering in terror; he was even more scared when he saw her. "Is this one of your children?"
"N-no," the pegasus lady said. "He… his parents were killed a few months back. We… we are looking out for him."
"Very good of you. I will relieve you of that responsibility, as he will be a fine addition to our ranks." Rainbow used her trident's pole to tap the colt's wings. "He has some good balance to him, he just needs proper training.
"Now let's get down to business," Rainbow said, grinning with confidence. Her prismatic tail flicked around as she talked, brushing against her scarred hind legs. "Steel Wind, Razor Wing, I want you two to have the earth pony show you the village they were traveling to. Make note of its location, and then return with reinforcements to draft them.
"And make no mistake, earth pony," she said, frowning darkly, "you try anything, like try to get the villagers to flee or fight back, we will kill everypony. Starting with your wife and children."
He nodded humbly, and Rainbow continued. "Hawk Eyes, Fervent Flight, you have the lady here escort you back to the village they were at. Same rules apply, lady, don't try anything funny. And get that cheek looked at, we wouldn't want an infection, would we?
"Death Wings, escort the lad here to Cloudsdale. He'll need to be put into training immediately, and maybe some food; he looks half-starved. What on Equestria are you two doing to him?"
"Food has been scarce, ma'am," the pegasus lady explained. "P-please believe us, we have been doing our best."
"I am now your commander, so you will address me as such."
"Y-yes, Commander."
"Very good. Now you have your orders, please carry them out."
"But… but…"
The pegasus lady was glancing at the bodies of the two guards. She glanced at Rainbow Dash, pleading for mercy without daring to say it. The Stormwing leader shrugged, and said, "Your dead comrades are of no concern to you anymore. Go now, and welcome to House Stormwing. You've done everypony a good deed by having them join the right side of the war."
As the soldiers escorted the three new draftees, Rainbow Dash addressed the remaining pegasus soldiers still at the scene. "Take all the supplies you can. The dead bodies, you know what to do with them.
"And whoever sees Scootaloo next, tell her I want to see her," she said, wiping the blood off of her trident on the grass. "Some pony needs to tell her, in a scouting report, the difference between 'caravan' and 'single wagon'. Understood?"
"YES, COMMANDER," the Stormwing soldiers exclaimed in unison.
It made Rainbow Dash grin, seeing and hearing such loyal soldiers, under her command. It picked up her mood a little, which had been tense ever since she heard intel of a major battle coming, of which House Stormwing wasn't ready.
Oh, who was she kidding? House Stormwing was always ready. Blood was going to be spilt when the pegasi attacked from the sky, and this battle would be no exception.


One week after visiting Octavia in Canterlot, Pinkie Pie had all the preparations for a family get-together party. Her friends didn't know how she could have, especially since she had managed to find a day where none of their parents, or families, were too busy to come.

Twilight Sparkle's family had been the most difficult to plan, but as it turned out, Shining Armor and Cadence were available, even with the approaching Equestria Games. Twilight didn't believe at first that they could up and leave the Crystal Empire for a day, but Shining's letter to her cleared that up.

"Don't worry about it," he had written. "We have a couple formidable crystal ponies in charge in our absence, ones we are training for such authority, and we believe this'll be the perfect test.

"Plus, Princess Celestia not only said it was okay, but insisted we attend. She seemed rather pleased at the idea of a family get-together… did Pinkie tell her about it?"

Truth be told, Twilight Sparkle wondered if Pinkie had asked the princess herself to make sure her rather busy family was available. She shrugged off this theory after a moment of thought. Pinkie was capable of many unpredictable things, but being able to have Princess Celestia assist her in planning a party? That was impossible… right?

Pinkie worked herself up in a frenzy over the upcoming party. That is, if frenzies are usually described as gleefully excitable blurs of mauve that smell like sugar and party cannon powder. (Mareiam-Webster has absolutely no such description.)

With two days away from the big party, Applejack decided to help Pinkie Pie, as she had an afternoon off. When she arrived at Sugarcube Corner, she was rather shocked to find Pinkie sitting at a table, flicking idly at a napkin holder.

"Hey there, Pinkster," she said, trotting up to her friend, "what's got that famous smile upside-down?"

"Oh, hi, Applejack. Nothing's wrong, really," she said with the most unconvincing of tones. The farmer pony frowned, and nudged her friend. "Well, I just got a letter from my parents."

"Oh, the ol' rock farmers! What's up?"

"They cannot come," she sighed rather heavily and leaned back in her chair. She almost toppled over, had not her hind legs caught herself at the table, keeping her almost at a horizontal state as she stared up at the ceiling. "There's a rock shortage emergency in Colterado, and thus my mom, dad, and Bellamina are going to have to be working hard on the farm. So they cannot make it."

"Aw, sugar cube, that's too bad, really," Applejack said. She placed a hoof on Pinkie's shoulder, but was careful to apply pressure, as she might knock her down with her sitting in a chair propped up on two legs. "But Octavia's still coming, right?"

"Nopey-dopey. Didn't I tell you? Big concert sign-up that happened a day ago, she is going to be performing in front of a huge crowd in Fillydelphia. Even bigger than the one we saw her at a week ago… blargh!"

She threw her hooves up in the air, wobbling dangerously in her chair as Applejack tried to steady her. "The universe is working against me! I knew it would one day! How could you betray me, universe, after all we been through?"

"Sugar pie, we could always reschedule the family get-together," Applejack suggested as she balanced Pinkie Pie out, settling the chair on all fours. "After all, if none of your family can come-"

"Can't do, Applejack," Pinkie lamented. "Princess Cadence and Shining Armor cannot reschedule their schedule, they are scheduled to run a kingdom! Rarity's parents are gonna be gone for a few weeks after this week, and worst of all, Angel Bunny has been very stern about Fluttershy's schedule."

"That blasted bunny of hers, who's he think he is?"

"I tried to argue time frames with him, but he knows wrestling. Luckily, I was able to pin him down for ten seconds with a scissor hind leg suppression, so he lost the argument on if she can stay up late for the party night. I don't want to go for another round with that bunny, Applejack, he fights dirty."

Applejack shook her head. "Yeah, see, this is why Ah prefer dogs. But sugar cube, it's your family that's missing out, and it's your party. Are you sure?"

"They gave me their blessing to continue, but…," she sighed heavily and buried her face in her forelegs at the table. "It's not going to be the same with them."

"Of course it isn't. But mark my words, sugar cube, we'll meet your family one day."

"They live really far away, almost like a universe away. Curse you again, universe! Ruining the party again!"

"Sugar cube."

Applejack made the party pony raise her head, her apple-green eyes staring into Pinkie's sky blues. "Listen. We all are going to be very sad that we don't get to meet y'all's whole family, but this party ain't ruined."

"You really think so?"

"Pinkie, Ah've seen you throw hundreds of parties, over any slight reason. Here's a party with more reason, purpose, and heart, so of course it's going ta work out. It's a Pinkie party, and it's gonna involve family. It cannot go wrong!"

Pinkie Pie managed to smile at this. "You shouldn't used jinxed words like that."

"Bah, words are words, Pinkie. Now stop being more sad than a woodpecker who's discovered he's been working on a phone pole for the past hour."

"Right-o, partner! I need to start using the party cannon to get the big decorations ready!"

Soon, the frenzy was back in full-blast, quite literally. Applejack was more of a spotting assistant ("Ya missed a spot there, Pinks,") than really helping, but she didn't mind.

"So non-family are invited too, right?" Applejack asked as she dodged a particularly close cannon blast.

"Yeppy yeppers! Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle asked me if Scootaloo and some other friends could come, and I told them it was fine!"

"We aren't going to be having a lot of the Apple family. Just Babs, Braeburn, Apple Fritter, and a few others; they were the only ones to make it. Hope that's okay."

"Shame, I wanted the whole Apple Family."

"They all already were here a few weeks back for the reunion, if y'all remember. Besides, they wouldn't all fit in here, squeezed in tighter than hay in a silo."

"Shame, I haven't thrown a party in a silo since forever!"

As Applejack tried to think of how that was possible, she dodged another cannon blast. "Anypony else coming?"

"Sure! Lyra and Bonbon, Berry Punch, Derpy and her kids, the Doctor, the Cakes, Cherilee, Carrot Top, and anybody else who wants to come! Friends are like family!"

"'Anybody' else?"

"Yeah, Cranky and Matilda might come, Zecora, maybe that minotaur friend of Fluttershy!"

"Ah don't think they were friends, Pinkie…"

"Friends can always be made, maybe that's why he'll come. Oh, and I have a special friend coming, but it's a surprise who! Not telling!"

Pinkie Pie hummed as he lined up a particular shot of her party cannon. Applejack watched her focus, as the party pony added, "I made myself Pinkie Promise with myself, and I'd kill me if I broke my promise with me; you have no idea how stern I get with me'self, I'm like a whole new pony."

Applejack chuckled and shook her head. "Oh Pinkie, what would we do without ya?"

"Your right, AJ."

"Yeah, Ah guess Ah do get to be once in a whi-"

BLAM!

"Gah! Pinkie!"

"Well, I warned you! 'Your right,' but did you move? Nope! … Wow, maybe I should have phrased that better."

Applejack dusted off the confetti from her hat, scowling as her friend skipped up to her room, babbling about getting some special items for the party involving music and such. The farm pony couldn't help but laugh at herself.

"Seriously though," she said under her breath, smiling again, "what would we do without ya, Pinks?"


Applejack stared long and hard at the map, frowning as she tapped her right fore-hoof against the sturdy oak frame. The other ponies around the gigantic map, the size of a grand table, watched her. Her singular eye darted around, as if trying to find some kind of weakness.
"We all know that Twilight Sparkle is planning to take New Ponyville," she said aloud, alerting those around her, "but how does she plan to cross Shattered Care River?"
"Maybe she will have her troops dam it?" Apple Fritter suggested. "Y'all know her troops are capable of powerful magic, wouldn't be the first time she tried such a tactic."
"But would she really risk throwing off the river's flow like that?" Apple Bloom asked. The yellow-coated mare scratched at her flank, feeling self-conscious about being the one who was skilled in creating weapons, not using them, was here at this meeting.
"Twilight Sparkle," Applejack snarled, pounding the side of the frame with a hoof, "does not give a damn about the damage she causes to this world. Ah am amazed she hasn't tried to burn the whole world past her precious Canterlot."
"May not be that simple, Commander," Big Macintosh said, tapping the map over the end of Shattered Care River, which passed through two major cities and emptied into the Gulf of Manehattan. "Should she dam the river, Manehattan and Baltimare would lose their water source."
"Mistress Rarity would take large umbrage to her city and its neighboring trade partner losing the river," Apple Fritter agreed. "Losing the support of House Whitegold is something she can't afford ta do, not with how limited her unicorn troops are compared ta our troops."
Applejack glanced over at her cousin, staring hard at her. She knew Apple Fritter was a dedicated General, but something had always bothered her deep down. Apple Fritter always played a more emotional stand-point when it came to strategy, something that all these years of war had never changed.
Still, she had rarely been wrong. It was because of Apple Fritter that Big Mac had led the troops to conquer Fillydelphia against a siege of Fluttershy's troops. They might have won the pushback follow-up fight, had hydras not appeared.
"Do you think she'll try to use Redheart's Refuge as a neutral sanctuary?" Apple Bloom asked.
"That's possible… but Redheart's Refuge is only for the sick, the injured, and the neutral," Applejack mused. "Ah highly doubt they would allow an army in there."
"By force, maybe," suggested Big Mac.
"And we cannot afford to forget," said Caramel Apple, pointing at the Everfree Forest, "that Fluttershy might attack again, y'all."
"Or House Stormwing attacks when we are busy attacking each other," Apple Cobbler added.
"Or the Cult of Laughter," Apple Fritter muttered, scratching her chin. "We really are caught between a few hard points, aren't we?"
The three Apple Generals stared long and hard at Manehattan, all thinking the same thing. Applejack could see it on their faces, and her brother's too. "Maybe it's time to consider Rarity's offer?" was the question that burned so hard, it seemed to form visible words that could be seen on the back of her eyepatch.
"Ah would rather pluck out mah other eye," she said aloud, glaring at them, "than let that steaming sack of deceit and lies assist us in this fight. Too many times has she played us, too many times has her information been faulty. We do this with our sweat, hooves, and blood, not her gold-grabbing mercs."
The room was silent for a few moments, with all of them looking at the map of Equestria. Four Apple Generals, the Supreme Commander, and the Master Blacksmith were so busy thinking about their plans, they missed the cough of the lone pegasus.
"Um, hey y'all," she spoke aloud, catching their attention with her attempt at imitating their accent.
"What, Cloud Kicker?" Apple Fritter asked. "You have a plan?"
"Well, you all are so worried about Twilight crossing the river, so why don't we do it first?"
"Cross the river to meet her troops?" Applejack repeated. "Is that your proposal?"
"I could lead a scouting patrol of pegasus followers, and discover where the troops of House Moon and Star are, then we will flank their sorry flanks."
"That's not a bad plan, but you are forgetting that our army still needs to cross. How do you plan to ford the river?"
Cloud Kicker chuckled, glancing over at Apple Bloom. "Is your bridge invention ready yet, cutie?"
"Sure is," Apple Bloom said. "Ah have heard back from my tinker team at New Ponyville, the mechanical bridge is ready to be deployed."
"That is ready now?" Applejack questioned. She remembered Apple Bloom talking about the device, a long bridge that could extend a good distance, then set up legs on the other side for proper support. "Why was Ah not informed?"
"Ah only heard about it last night, Commander; mah apologies, Ah should have told ya sooner than now."
"So long as it works, Ah don't mind at all."
Supreme Commander Applejack smirked as she thought about how this would work. "Twilight's usually the one on the offense; she thinks we're gonna be running with our tails between our legs. Time for her to feel the earth shake when her troops are on the defense."
"Ah would like," Apple Fritter spoke up, "to be the one ta lead the charge, commander. I work best with the pegasi of Earthborn."
"Granted. Sorry, Apple Cobbler," she said, addressing the Apple General, "I know you were planned, but Apple Fritter is best with these situations."
"Then with your permission," the orange coated General said, "Ah would like to lead to have a small portion of troops to guard New Ponyville, in case any of the houses have any funny ideas on attacking it during the battle."
"Granted."
Applejack tilted her bronze helmet-hat down, casting a shadow over her eye and eyepatch. Her chain mail armor jingled as she hoisted herself up on the table map, and placed a hoof south of New Ponyville's position. "And here, Caramel Apple, Ah want you to keep to keep a thousand troops."
"My Commander, why so many? And why there?"
"If Ah am guessing right, one or more of the houses may have hired mercs from Mistress Rarity," Applejack explained. "Ah want you to make sure any pony, or any dog, that comes that way isn't going to attack from behind.
"No prisoners, y'all hear? This is not a tactical battle, this is not a skirmish. We are going to spill a lot of blood, and Ah don't want any mercy. We're gonna be showing a sign that we are going to end this war; it's been going on too long, we've been too soft with them."
All of the ponies nodded, and Applejack moved back down off the table map. "Cloud Kicker, Apple Fritter, prepare for movement. Ah expect to see y'all ta be leaving Appleloosa before the sun goes down. Got it?"
"Yes, Commander."
"Yes, Commander."
"Apple Cobbler, Caramel Apple, same can be said for y'all too. Now go prepare, I will speak with the troops before they leave. Big Mac and myself will travel to Fillydelphia tomorrow to better assist y'all in the attack, in case it drags on.
"Peachy Sweet will be taking care of our capital; Apple Bloom, you are to assist her and keep her up to speed, as well as the other Apple Generals. Y'all understand?"
"Yes, Commander," they responded in unison.
"Perfect," she permitted a proud smile on her normally stern face. "Y'all make me proud, ya really do. The following week is going ta be a glorious victory for House Earthborn, Ah kin feel it.
"We must send messages to Apple Strudel, Braeburn, and Strongheart and the Thunderhooves posthaste. The attack could start as soon as tomorrow, so there is no time ta lose."
Later that day, Applejack was standing on what she called the Army Addressing Balcony. The large building in Appleloosa was the War Apple, a building where Generals, council members, and important figures debated the important aspects of the war. The back of it had a large balcony that faced the barracks, and the large field in the center.
Now, thousands of soldiers were lined up perfectly, their polished armor gleaming in the afternoon sun. Pegasi auxiliary troops were standing on the sides, wings spread proudly.
The heavily armored juggernaut troops, each the size of Big Mac, shined the best in the light; it amazed Applejack to this day how troops that fought like fierce rhinos could keep their armor appearing so well.
The cannons were polished as well, and the rocket launchers, designed by Apple Bloom and crewed by very brave ponies, were lined up evenly.
It made Applejack so proud to see them like that.
She walked up to the balcony's railing, and thousands of hooves saluted her in unison. As she gave the at ease order, Apple Bloom and Cloud Kicker walked up to her side. The two were great morale boosters for the troops, no matter if they were male or female, pegasus or earth pony.
"Soldiers of House Earthborn," Applejack shouted to the troops, her voice booming across the court, "Ah stand before you, proud of what Ah see. You do me proud, you do Equestria proud!
"Tonight, y'all will be marching to New Ponyville, and defending one of the most pivotal points, our landmark, the symbol of our strength and determination.
"And we will not falter! Ah know you will not, we will crush any force that tries to fight us!"
Many of the soldiers cheered and roared in agreement. Cloud Kicker pumped a hoof in the air, the pegasi warriors did the same.
"If any unicorn of House Moon and Star dares to fight us, we will stomp their feeble bodies into pulp, and add their horns to our collection!"
More roars and cheers followed, and Supreme Commander Applejack raised her hoof in the air, shouting their famous quote.
"WE! ARE! EQUESTRIA!"
The troops shouted back with enough force to be heard from a mile away. "WE ARE EQUESTRIA!"


Frederic Horseshoepin slammed the phone down, so hard that it left cracks in the device. His bandmates flinched, even though these days, his outrage wasn't so uncommon.

"We've been cancelled," he snarled.

Symphony gasped the loudest of the group. "What? But we had the theater for a week now! How could they buck us off like that?"

"Apparently, they've been polling the ponies of Fillydelphia to see what they would really want," he said, a little hard to understand with how hard he was grinding his teeth. "They don't want classical music, they want that techno-pop horse apples that is all the rage."

"Damn it all to Tartarus!" Parish shouted, sitting down on the couch. He glared at Octavia, and said, "You promised us this would work."

The cellist raised an eyebrow at the accusation, but didn't justify it with anything else. She had been sitting in a chair, fearing the worst when Frederic took that call. Merely sighing, she glanced out the window.

"This is just so predictable," Concerto grumbled. "Ousted again for that horse apple nonsense."

"Who was it?" Symphony asked. "Did they say who was replacing us? Was it that creep that stole the concert hall from us in Manehattan? Oaken Burner? DJ Pon-3? DJ-TDI CB?"

"Does it matter?" Frederic asked. "We are out of a job again, this is happening too many times. This is not how I planned my career!"

"It's not how any of us planned our careers, you selfish creep," she fired at him. "Maybe I should have left when Beauty Brass did!"

"Sure, get yourself knocked up too," Parish snarked. "With how you've been playing the violin, you should get used to screeching noises."

Symphony made her way over to smack him, and a hoof-fight might have broken out if Octavia hadn't stopped them. It took a minute, but they finally calmed down enough to talk again.

"Well, obviously," Frederic said, "we should look for another place to play."

"We looked all over after Canterlot," Concerto said. "We're royally out of a job. There's no major events for a couple weeks now, not even in Canterlot."

"We were really booking on this," Symphony griped, running her hooves through her royal purple mane. She ended glaring at Octavia, and added, "If you hadn't banked everything on this, we wouldn't be stuck in this position."

"You're supposed to be the leader, Octavia," Parish commented. "So what's your excuse this time?"

"I don't need an excuse," she snapped at them, narrowing her orchid eyes. "What happened was out of my hooves, and blaming me won't change that fact."

"Maybe some pony else should book our concerts," Parish continued. "Some pony who will make sure we are not bucked off for techno drivel."

Octavia glanced around at her bandmates, and sighed heavily. She hated how her band had descended into this, squabbling like children over every dispute. It made her long for Pinkie, and one of her calming smiles…

The thoughts of her sister, and her sweet friends, came to Octavia in such a rush that she audibly gasped. Rushing to her date book, she flipped through to confirm the date.

"Tomorrow," she said.

"What's this?" Concerto asked, alerted like the others. "Do you know of a place we could perform?"

"Huh? No, I'm sorry. The family get-together my sister had planned is tomorrow, in her hometown Ponyville. I was going to miss it because of this concert, but with nothing on our plate, I suppose we could attend."

Her bandmates stared at her as if she had suggested they learn how to professionally play the accordion. "You're kidding, right?" Frederic said with a loud scoff. "A no-name village? Would they even pay us?"

"I wouldn't ask my sister to pay us for playing at a party she invited me to."

"Oh, well that's just GREAT!"

Parish knocked over the coffee table in his outrage. Symphony and Concerto flinched, but Octavia didn't budge at this temper tantrum. He went on, "You're asking us to play for free? We are out of work at the moment, we need to find a job, and you want us to go off to nowhere and play for free?"

"I looked all over for the job that we just lost," Octavia said, standing her ground. "It was the only one. The only other events are in next week, involving auditions and try-outs for big performances and parties; this week, there is a movement called-"

"And now you want to abandon us," Parish snapped at her, narrowing his eyes, "and run off to your little sister's party."

The question wasn't really a question when said with such venom. Octavia wondered if there was a way to gently answer it. Then, she thought, the way he was acting towards her, he didn't deserve gentle.

"I will be taking the train to Ponyville to see my sister, and be back in two days to our hotel here," Octavia said, trotting to her room to gather her things. She glanced over her shoulder at the band, adding, "You are welcome to join me, but you will behave yourself if you do come."


(The Day of the Party)

(Created by Party Cannon Inc.)

(Which is short for Party Cannon INCOMING!!)

The party unofficially started in the early afternoon, as that was when the children would be able to join. The Cutie Mark Crusaders, including Babs Seed, and Apple Bloom's friend Twist were enjoying the games Pinkie set up.

Applejack's immediate family were there. Granny Smith, who had been watching Apple Bloom and Babs Seed since the morning, was asleep in a rocking chair that Pinkie had set up for her, just in case.

The Derpy family arrived shortly, sans Doctor Whooves who would be arriving later. Derpy's biological daughter, Dinky, immediately playing with the other foals while her adopted daughter, Amethyst, made small chat with Twilight.

Carrot Top joined them, snacking on the sweets Pinkie was making, while Derpy, naturally, attacked the muffins.

Soon, several of Ponyville's residents, and friends of Bearers of Harmony, were entering the party to pay respects and join in the games Pinkie set up. Cranky and Matilda showed up, though briefly due to Cranky's knees acting up on him; she made sure to give them a doggie bag stuffed full of treats.

Apple family members were arriving soon, including Braeburn. He was keen to get to know Applejack's friends more, and he had almost as much a motor mouth as Pinkie. While he would talk to everypony, he seemed a little more partial to Rarity. City folk ladies sure put the whammy on him.

Apple Fritter, who had brought many homemade dishes, was being hit on by a rather amorous Cloud Kicker; while Apple Fritter didn't mind so much, Kicker's best friend Blossomforth was trying to yank her away to stop her from causing a scene at a family get-together.

"Stop this, we're guests," Blossomforth pleaded.

"Hey, I just have a hankering for apples," Kicker replied with a cheeky grin.

"You two always like this?" Apple Fritter asked playfully.

Rarity's parents were the first to arrive. Her father, Magnum, started a hearty conversation with the Cakes, helping them with Pound and Pumpkin; he always did love caring for babies, and thus shared his stories on baby Rarity and Sweetie Belle. Neither of the girls knew, so they couldn't stop their father from spreading such embarrassing stories.

Rarity's mother, Pearl, started chatting with Granny Smith. She talked about everything, from family to the cities they saw to the good old days. About an hour later, Rarity would inform her mother that Granny Smith was sleeping, and not just being a good listener.

Then Rainbow Dash's moms arrived. Most of her friends knew that she, like Applejack and Fluttershy, were Love Children, born in a family with two moms due to fertility-love elixirs, thus it wasn't a shock to Dash's friends that she had two moms.

What was surprising was how calm and collected they were.

Dash's parents were very sweet and soft-spoken, complimenting all of the ponies there. Both pegasi mares were eager to meet Rainbow's friends, and especially joyful to see Fluttershy again. As they met others' parents, they were lavishing praise on everypony.

"Well, now we can see how Rainbow Dash got her ego," Applejack whispered to Fluttershy. "She must have been praised almost every day."

Fluttershy's parents were as nice as any pony could expect, even more complimenting than Rainbow's parents. While Fluttershy loved her parents very much, she still felt shy over them gushing over her friends and neighbors, and especially when they started telling stories about filly Fluttershy.

She stepped away, near the front door, where a certain familiar couple were trotting in. Bonbon didn't look too thrilled, however.

"I don't know why we're coming here, Lyra," the candy making pony grumbled. "I mean, it's a family get-together, we're not family."

"Pinkie Pie invited us, now please be nice," Lyra pleaded. "If we upset our friends' parents, they'll never forgive us."

"I'd be a little more obliging if they had paid full price for the candy for tonight."

"I offered Pinkie that discount. Please, Bonbon?"

"Look, I'm don't like being grudging…"

The two stopped when they nearly bumped into Fluttershy. The timid pegasus huddled up when she saw Bonbon, because, contrary to what she just said, the candy maker was still a little grudging over the trash incident a few months ago.

"Um, hello," Fluttershy said, bowing a little at them. "It's really nice to see you two come!"

"Thank you, Fluttershy," Lyra said, smiling at her. She nudged Bonbon, who sighed and nodded.

"Yeah, thanks for the invite," Bonbon said. "I'm sure it'll be a good night."

Sensing Bonbon's frustration, Fluttershy took it upon herself to escort the couple to the treat table. Soon, the two were eating and conversing.

"Good save there, Flutters," Pinkie said, popping up behind the rather startled pegasus. "Bonbon seems a little upset still… maybe tonight's not the night I ask when she and Lyra are going to finally get married."

"Oh, um, I don't know," Fluttershy admitted, glancing at the two. "I mean, uh, how long have they been seeing each other?"

"Approximately-"

Before Pinkie could share her detailed knowledge of her friends, Twilight's family walked in. Princess Cadence caused a moment of silence as everypony started to bow to her. She held up her hoof, and pleaded with them.

"No no, please! Today, I am not a princess or royalty," she said, smiling at everypony. "I am simply Twilight Sparkle's sister-in-law."

Twilight's parents were with her and Shining Armor, and thus started to mingle. The foals practically swarmed Cadence, asking her all sorts of questions. Fluttershy's parents chatted up Twilight's.

Shining Armor tried to make conversation with Big Macintosh. Tried being the key word.

"So, you're Applejack's big brother right?" Shining asked politely as he had some of the punch (missing Gummy bathing in the bowl).

"Eeyup."

"Is Sweet Apple Acres doing alright these days?"

"Eeyup."

"How's Twily doing around here? Good?"

"Eeyup."

"… You don't say much, do you?"

"Nope."

Shining Armor tried to think of what else to ask Big Mac as Fluttershy came by. She refilled their drinks, and thanked them again for coming. When both stallions thanked her in unison, she blushed and scampered off, stammering something about trying to find others who needed punch.

"She sure is a timid thing, isn't she?" Shining asked Mac.

"Eeyup."

"Is she sweet on you or something?"

"What? What makes you think that? Err, I mean," Big Mac cleared his throat. "Nope."

Fluttershy almost crashed into two pegasi when fleeing the scene. Big McLargehooves, the large, snow-white pegasus with tiny wings and big heart, and Thunderlane, who was watching his little brother playing with the other foals.

She always found it a little hard to talk to them, Big because of his stature, and Thunderlane because, well, she always had a thing for him; he had such a nice flank. "Oh, um, hello!" Fluttershy managed to say as she approached them. "How are you guys doing? We're glad to have you, having a good time?"

"YEAH!" McLargehooves replied, causing Fluttershy's mane and Thunderlane's mohawk to be blown in the wind of his enthusiasm.

"We're fine, Fluttershy, thank you," Thunderlane said. As Fluttershy trotted off, he frowned at Big and said, "Dude, what have I told you about indoor voices? Mares prefer stallions who don't make them deaf."

"Sorry, buddy."

As Fluttershy trotted off, she, for the second time this party, almost ran into some pony. This guest caught the snazzy sunglasses that almost fell off her face, then grinned at the flustered pegasus.

"Hey there," she said with a friendly smile. "Somepony call for a DJ?"

"VINYL!"

A pink blur that both Fluttershy and Vinyl were used to darted at the DJ; however, Vinyl was ready. With the kind of timing that only experience could bring, the unicorn caught Pinkie mid-glomp, spun her around in her hooves using Pinkie's momentum, and then embraced her in a hug at the end of the spin.

"How's my favorite DJ?"

"How's my favorite party girl?"

Fluttershy watched them, covering her mouth with her hoof. "Oh my! I know you," she said, watching Vinyl Scratch. "You're famous, aren't you?"

"A little. I mean, not as much as I want to be," Vinyl admitted, after leaving Pinkie's hug. "So you're Fluttershy, cutie? I know a little about you, as much as Pinkie's written me."

Fluttershy's face was normally yellow, but now she seemed like her head was a thick coat of red. Pinkie bonked Vinyl on the head, and the DJ grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Pinks."

"Um, well, yes, err, so," Fluttershy tried to speak, then spat out the question on her mind, "so how do you know Vinyl, Pinkie?"

"Oh, I never told you that?" Fluttershy shook her head, and Pinkie grinned her 'story telling time' smile. "Well! You know how I was a rock farmer at first, but I left home to spread parties around Equestria until I found a place of my home?"

"I believe you titled it 'The Journey of Jubilation Celebration,' when you told me."

"It's a working title, for now. So anyway, as I am hosting a party at a hotel lobby, I meet this fine lady right here!"

She pat Vinyl's shoulder and the unicorn flicked her neon blue mane back. "Yeah, it was pretty crazy! She wanted some music, so I started up some wub dub, and that party was fun!"

"So we kind of toured together, throwing parties and playing music! It was a wonderful relationship, and we had such good times!"

"True, but it wasn't all sunshine and roses," Vinyl pointed out.

They both nodded somberly, staring down at the floor in remembrance. Fluttershy glanced at them both, wondering what to say, until Vinyl grinned.

"Aw, who are we kidding, it was pretty dang sweet!"

"Sure was!"

Fluttershy couldn't help but laugh with them. "So, I am going to guess that along the way, you two found your way to Ponyville?"

"Sure enough, and that's when I met the Cakes. They had a room available in a sweet bakery, I couldn't turn that down! So sadly, that was the infamous splitting of Pinkie-Vinyl."

Vinyl nodded, taking off her shades for a moment to let her ruby red eyes adjust to the bakery's light. "It was sad, but by then, I had a small following, and a stage name: DJ Pon-3."

"If I may ask, how'd you come up with that name?" Fluttershy asked.

"Pon is a combination of Pinkie's name and my birth name. Sorry, not telling you that just yet, Fluttershy, no matter how cute you are. And three's my lucky number. Now then…"

She put her shades back on, and said, "We need some music going on here! Pinkie told me that this wasn't a wubbing dubstep rocking world party, just something nice for family."

"Oh yes, if you could, Miss Scratch."

"Don't call me that, that sounds funny," Vinyl said with a laugh. "But if you wouldn't mind showing me where the record player is, Flutter-bunny, I have a fine selection in my saddlebags!"

A blushing Fluttershy led the way, while Pinkie nudged her DJ friend. "Hey come on now, Fluttershy's very sensitive, you cannot keep flirting with her like that!"

"I cannot help it, she's cuter than a kennel of puppies! Seriously, wasn't she a model? I could have sworn I saw her in a magazine…"

"Now now, just be nice to her, and you'll do better; I don't mind you flirting, just don't scare her."

"Okay, okay, anything you say, Pinks. So who are all these wonderful looking ponies?"

Pinkie grinned her 'introduction times' grin. "I'm glad you asked! They are…"

As they followed Fluttershy to the record player, Pinkie pointed her hooves. "That's Princess Cadence, co-ruler of the Crystal Kingdom with her hubby and Twilight's big brother, co-ruler Shining Armor. That's Derpy Hooves, Dinky Hooves, Amethyst Sparkler, Derpy's BPF Carrot Top, Aloe and Lotus the massage twins…

"Cloudchaser and Flitter, Big McLargehooves and Thunderlane (and doesn't he have a sweet flank?), Roseluck and Daisy and Lily, that's Cloud Kicker hitting on Apple Fritter as Blossomforth tries to stop her…

"Cheerilee is the one watching the kids: Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Babs Seed, Twist, Rumble (lucky colt, all those girls around him, eh?)…

"Those are Rarity's parents, Fluttershy's parents, Rainbow Dash's parents, Twilight Sparkle's parents, Cherry Berry, Lyra Heartstrings, Sweetie Drops a.k.a. Bonbon…

"Granny Smith, who's still asleep, is this her normal sleeping time, Applejack? That's Applejack, Apple Fritter, Caramel Apple, Braeburn, Big Mac… stop staring at Braeburn, Vinyl, AJ's defensive of family and I haven't even introduced you to them yet. That's Rainbow Dash's cousin, Rainbow Blitz…

"That's Twinkleshine, Caramel, Colgate, Sea Swirl, Berry Punch… who is sloshed already…"

"Berry, you're drunk," Colgate was saying to her close friend, "go ho-"

"I ain't going home! Why ish everypony alwaysh telling me to go home? It'sh not like being home shobersh me up any! Hic!"

"That's Mr. and Mrs. Cake, handling Pumpkin and Pound (aren't they kee-uuutest?), and oh! There's Time Turner, a.k.a. Doctor Whooves!

"He's been a friend to Derpy and her daughters for years, like, when Dinky was an itty-bitty filly," she whispered to Vinyl. "No pony quite knows their relationship…"

"Sorry I'm late, everypony," Doctor Whooves said as he trotted in. "Terribly sorry, Pink Slice! I hope I haven't missed anything!"

"Pinkie Pie, and it's okay; Derpy's enjoying the last batch of muffins."

"I figured as much, but thank you! Oh, hello, Butterflies," Doctor Whooves said as he passed by Fluttershy, who was preparing the record player. "Are you going to be singing a song? That'd be lovely."

"Sing? In front of everyone?"

Fluttershy began to shiver at the thought, but Pinkie slung a foreleg around her shoulders. "Now now, don't be scared! Your Auntie Pinkie Pie will sing along with you."

"Pinkie, didn't I tell you-"

"And your other Auntie Vinyl Scratch will join in!" Vinyl said, nodding a great deal. "C'mon, let's sing for the families!"

"Singing?" said Derpy, muffled from all the muffins stuffed in her mouth. "Mmm! Are we doing karaoke?"

"That's something we rocked in the Pinkie-Vinyl parties," Pinkie said. "You want to join, Derpy?"

"I'd love to!"

"Yay," Dinky cheered. "Momma's gonna sing!"

Fluttershy was still shivering and blushing, but took solace in Vinyl and Pinkie holding her close. She saw her moms watching, and decided that just this once she could be brave.

As Vinyl prepared a song they all knew, Rainbow Dash toasted them. "Yay for some singing, Fluttershy! Yay!"

Colgate joined in the cheering. "Yes, bravo! We all love it when you sing, Flutters!"

"Yaysh! Shing your little heartsh out!"

"Berry…"

"I shtill ain't going home! You cannot make me… even if I'm gonna faint now…"

A thud later, Fluttershy warmed up her throat, humming a little to prepare. "I can do this, I can do this," she thought to herself.

"You can do this, Fluttershy!" Pinkie encouraged.

Fluttershy smiled, and began to sing with Pinkie, Vinyl, and Derpy, as the music picked up…


The wildling pony pack leader tried to shove away the zebra shaman who was treating him. "Will you get off and help a pony or zebra who needs it? I'm fine!"
"Your injuries are more deadly than you believe," the zebra scolded him. "Until you're healed, your side I won't leave."
"We suffered a lot of damage in that raid, my burns are not as life-threatening as some of the others!"
The zebra continued to ignore him, wrapping healing salve-soaked bandages around his burns. The wildling pony stiffened a pained grunt as the medicine took effect, stinging like bees. He hated it, but it did mean the healing effect was happening.
Glancing over at his fellow wildling ponies that were in his pack, he prayed that they were fairing better. No suck luck, as the zebra shamans and wildling medics tried to desperately treat them.
One wilding unicorn was trying desperately to not collapse in agony, her horn damaged in the battle. A wildling pegasus had a wing burned off completely. Two of the wildling ponies were trying to remove the fur armor that had been burnt into their skin off of their bodies.
The pack leader then saw the most injured of his pack leaning against a wall, trying to stand when one of his hind legs had been scorched clean off, the wound almost completely cauterized. The amount of burns and magic damage he had suffered was noticeable, especially to the Everfree Wraiths…
The most feral of all ponies, mutated by shaman and natural magic, were pacing around the injured wildling, hissing at him hungrily. The pack leader saw their tongues lapping at their razor teeth, swishing their tails around, predatory eyes narrowing as they sniffed the burnt flesh on the limping pony.
"Stay the Tartarus away from him," the pack leader shouted, pushing his zebra healer away to head towards them.
"Everybody stop."
Ponies, feral and wildling, and zebras halted their actions. A yellow pony walked into the clearing where the troops were being cared for. The fur jacket seemed to gleam in the light of the rising moon, reflecting off the pony's antler headdress.
Though what glowed the most were the pony's eyes. The bright green radiance that came from not just the pupil, but what was the former whites of the eyes. These radiating eyes were scanning every being in the clearing, searching for answers.
"What happened with the scouting party?" Lady Fluttershy asked. "Pack Leader Vine Whip, report."
"We patrolled Whitetail Woods, hunting the scent of unicorns, my Lady," the pack leader said, shrugging off the pain of his injuries. "The tunnels are still operational, just in case you were wondering-"
"I want to know how the scouting report went, pack leader."
"Y-yes, my Lady. You… you were right. House Moon and Star is moving west, possibly to New Ponyville. We were watching them from Whitetail Woods, near Redheart's Refuge, when we were ambushed by a scouting party… led by an Celestial Inquisitor."
Lady Fluttershy growled, a guttural noise that would frighten even a bear. She lifted a hoof and squeezed. "Those life burning monsters… what happened?"
"We… we lost five, and you can see the state we are in now. But I am happy to report that the Inquisitor, as well as the scouting party, is dead. We reported back, they didn't."
The pack members nodded in agreement, including the crippled one. The Everfree Wraiths snarled and closed in on him, but a single order from Lady Fluttershy made them pull back.
"My Lady, I hope that you are pleased with our report," Pack Leader Vine Whip continued. "We could consider this a victory for House Everfree."
Lady Fluttershy glanced back at him, then stomped her hoof down. The earth itself seemed to shake, the trees rumbling with their leaves whispering ominously in the vibrations. The night grew colder, especially for Pack Leader Vine Whip.
He was staring into two, dark green abysses that felt like they were sucking the very soul out of him. His heart hammered so fast, he feared it might explode; his body threatened to quit and let him die from terror.
"Tell me," Fluttershy hissed, "how you consider this a victory? You were a scouting party that suffered five casualties and numerous injuries, with a battle approaching us by this very night! Your only claim for victory is slaying a single pony!
"ONE PONY! HOW IS THAT VICTORY?"
The ground and wind both rattled from her bellowing. Pack Leader Vine Whip, and every pony and zebra there, had to resist wetting themselves in their primal terror; even the Wraiths were shivering. The most injured pony couldn't hold back his any more, and couldn't even cross his hind legs to hide his shame.
The pack leader took several deep breaths, trying so very hard to push away his own heart-stopping fear. "My Lady, the Celestial Inquisitors are infamous for being extremely powerful magi in House Moon and Star. How many have been reported to be killed in all the years we have been at war? We killed many unicorns from their house, we've slain their toops, but an Inquisitor?
"They burn our trees, our troops, the very forest screams in agony when they let loose their inferno magics. And now one is dead, unable to fight another day, especially in this upcoming battle, in which we know could traverse over the river and against our forest.
"Therefore," he continued, feeling that now he was either doomed or proving his point, so he might as well say it all, "we should consider the efforts of those who died to be victorious, in slaying one of the Inquisitors. To think of it as anything else would be insulting to the ultimate sacrifice they made in claiming this victory."
He bowed at the final statement, finally being able to look away from that horrible, horrible Stare; it didn't make him feel any less uncomfortable. The forest, normally a hodgepodge of noise, was dead silent.
Vine Whip feared he would be soon too, but at least he said his piece.
"You may rise, Pack Leader," Lady Fluttershy said. When he did, the green glow in her eyes was gone, her normal eyes back. "There is much logic in what you say; we should remember our fallen for what they achieved."
Lady Fluttershy glanced over at the most injured wildling, who now had the Everfree Wraiths staring him down again. Pack Leader Vine Whip nervously glanced between her and the wildling, and thus was rather startled when a new voice joined in the conversation.
"My Lady Fluttershy of Everfree," Zecora said, approaching the leader of House Everfree, "I have information to give to thee."
Vine Whip scampered out of the way for Zecora of the Northern Zebra Tribes. He took a moment to admire how she appeared, truly a remarkable representative of their house. The vine wraps, the shaman gear made from the strongest wood and twine, and just her exotic beauty made Vine Whip forget his problems for a few seconds.
What Zecora said brought him crashing back to reality. "House Earthborn is moving towards the Shattered Care River. Thousands of troops strong, they plan to deliver."
"House Earthborn, and House Moon and Star, marching together towards New Ponyville," Lady Fluttershy said. "Is this yet another battle for the city?"
"It may more than that, it may not be just the two in this spat," Zecora lifted the leafy veil that covered her face, then pulled her hood back to look her leader in the eye; her own pupils glowed slightly, a haunting goldenrod.
"The scent of pegasi, in the sky… the feel of corruption, when the Cult causes disruption… even a whiff of greed, of those who are hired for dirty deeds…"
"We might be dealing with every house in this battle," Fluttershy said. "Tomorrow may be the start of a six-way battle… Zecora, Vine Whip, what do you think we should do?"
The two exchanged glances, as the one zebra who had been treating Vine's injuries started to do so again, now that she knew Vine Whip was not going to die. "Well, my Lady," he said, "I would not recommend attacking full force, at least not at first."
"I see what the pack leader is saying, and I agree," Zecora said. "Pick them off, snipe from afar, then flank and attack without mercy."
"House Moon and Star does not know of the tunnels, the scout party was killed," Vine pointed out. "If the battle carries on, we could attack them from the back!"
Lady Fluttershy nodded. "I agree, it was what I was thinking. The trouble is, it will take some time for me to rally the Mindbreakers, and our troops that specialize in such hit-and-run tactics are not present.
"I will need your troops to be able to start the attack tomorrow, as scouting and hit-and-run." She motioned towards the Everfree Wraiths. "They will assist you; your word is my word to them for the time being."
"Yes, My Lady. Thank you."
"Will those of your pack be ready by tomorrow morning?"
He glanced at his surviving pack members. The pegasus now with one wing saluted with that single appendage as the zebra continued to treat his stump. The unicorn winced, but nodded. The earth ponies, as well as the other pack members, all gave the same encouraging gusto.
The only one to falter was the three-legged wildling, who tried to show support but almost collapsed. The Everfree Wraiths started to close in again, licking their chops and growling hungrily, but Fluttershy gave them the order to stop.
"A pack can only move as fast as its slowest," she said, turning to Vine Whip. Her eyes were not glowing, but stern and judging. "In the wild, no amount of enthusiasm or bravery can save an injured animal.
"I need your pack to begin the assault, Vine Whip. Everfree needs you all. The Wraiths are hungry, and they need to be fed; we have no meat on us, no rations they will eat except… prey."
Her gaze fell on the crippled wildling. "I do not take joy in this, but necessity is stronger than a pony's preference. What would you do, Vine Whip?"
Vine Whip shook as if struck. He stared at the earth wildling, feeling more thunderstruck than when Lady Fluttershy stared him down. The crippled pony wasn't even shaking as much as him.
Very slowly, the injured one nodded to his pack leader. Vine Whip swallowed hard, then said, "Like you said, Fluttershy… necessity trumps a pony's own preference. It must be done."
"Very well."
Lady Fluttershy gestured to the Everfree Wraiths, and hissed, "Feed."
The predator ponies, more fierce and vicious than a pack of hyenas, let out slobbering barks as they lunged. The three-legged pony had collapsed before their razor teeth tore into him, but even resignation didn't stop him from screaming in agony as he was torn apart.
Pack Leader Vine Whip couldn't prevent hearing the screams, or the sound of the pony being feasted on. He walked away, talking to the one-winged pegasus as a diversion. Zecora watched this, and turned to Lady Fluttershy.
"He is still not able to embrace the true side of the wild," she said to her leader. "Perhaps being promoted to pack leader was too early for one this mild."
"Do not be so hard on him," Lady Fluttershy said as she too walked away from the carnage. "That was his brother."
They walked from the clearing, up to a small hill that allowed them to see the edge of Everfree Forest. With eagle eyes, one could see the beginning of Ghastly Gorge. Fluttershy had such vision, but she couldn't see what she was truly staring at: New Ponyville, a great distance away.
"I pride myself in knowing about my followers, those who have joined us despite the sacrifice it entails," she said to Zecora. "The five who died," a pause, then a small sigh, "six, six who died, it was for slaying one special troop and a scouting mission.
"It has been three years since we managed to successfully expand the forest. Three years, and it feels like three decades. I must maintain my composure and not order a full-out assault, or we will be as badly injured as that scouting patrol."
"We always did have to play it safe," Zecora stated. "The times we wait, it does indeed chafe. But we started off as a collection of outcasts and waifs.
"Now," she gestured her ebony hoof towards the forest's clearing, "we have the strongest beasts, the fastest packs. Our troops more than make up for in ferocity where in numbers they lack. So do not think we are up against the wall on our back…"
"Because all will tremble," Fluttershy finished, "when Everfree attacks."
She let the power of nature course through her, and then let out a howl that rivaled the mightiest wolf. It was not a battle call, nor a mourning cry, but a message that said, "We are here, and we are strong."
Howls erupted throughout the forest, not only of wolves, but any creature. The wildling ponies and feral equine cried out, zebras pleated, minotaurs roared, and nature itself seemed to tremor from the force.
Tomorrow, Everfree would spill blood. And Lady Fluttershy hoped it tasted delicious to her followers.


"I do not know what to make of this wub," Zecora admitted to Vinyl. "Or am I getting it wrong, is this dub?"

"No no, it's not called dub, it's called dubstep!"

Night was approaching Ponyville, as Luna took charge of Equestria in place of her sister. The foals had all started to nod off, and thus were taken home by family or friends.

Big Mac and Cheerilee took most of the kids home, Rarity's father took Sweetie Belle to their house, and Thunderlane left with his sleepy brother (and many watched that fine flank of Thunderlane's as he left). Amethyst took her little sister home, letting her mom and Doctor Whooves stay for a little longer.

Spike managed to stay awake for a little longer than the foals, but eventually started to nod off. Twilight took him home real fast, as he protested amid several yawns that he was still capable of partying on. With the kids asleep at their homes, it now became a full-blown adults' party!

"Extra frosting on the cupcakes~," Pinkie Pie declared, serving them with such enthusiasm that she was practically throwing them.

Berry Punch had crashed on Pinkie's sofa upstairs, with Colgate trying to sober her up. Cloud Kicker had stopped trying to hit on Apple Fritter, what with both Blossomforth and Applejack watching, and instead was flirting with Roseluck, Daisy, and Lily; she did have bravado, and probably more optimism than Pinkie.

All of the family members were talking to each other, and not just about their daughters, sisters, or cousins that were the main six ponies of the party. Vinyl Scratch was working the music, and tried to play one of her favorite songs.

Clover! Whoa-oh-ohh-ohhhhhhoh!
She was in the right, she wasn't dumb
More cleverer than Princess Platinum…
Clover! Whoa-oh-ohhhhh-ohhhh-ohhhhh-

Pinkie hurried over to stop the song. "No no no! Rarity hates that historical song, she thinks it's biased towards the Princess!"

"But even Princess Platinum admitted in history that Clover was-"

"Yeah, Rarity's been strong about that since she played the Princess during the pageant."

Vinyl shrugged. "Alrighty, got you, girl. We'll have to play something else. What have you got?"

"Classical music, polkas, and "Weird Corral" Flankovic."

"You still like "Weird Corral" Flankovic?"

Pinkie pumped her hooves up in the air, and shouted, "NO ONE SHOULD EVER TIRE OF THE FLANKOVIC!"

Rarity walked as she made that declaration, and chuckled. "Vinyl dear, you'll never convince her otherwise."

"Oh I know, she and I are big fans, I just wanted to see if she'd do the declaration again."

Rarity raised one of her perfectly groomed eyebrows. "I see. Well, darling, it has been wonderful to have you here, meeting Pinkie's travel companion that brought her to us. Tell me, though, where will you be performing next?"

Vinyl hissed in a nervous breath, scratching the back of her head. "Um, yeah, I don't know."

"What?" both Pinkie and Rarity asked in unison.

"To be honest, I don't know what my next gig is going to be. Things are a little… complicated for me, I didn't want to say anything, but I knew sooner or later, Pinkie would drag it out of me."

"But," Pinkie Pie exclaimed, then calmed down so others wouldn't overhear. She quickly put on "Weird Corral" Flankovic to cover up the noise.

"Vinyl, what's going on?" she asked more gently, surprising for any pony who didn't know that Pinkie could have that side to her. "Are you having financial problems? Booking gigs?"

"That's the thing, Pinkie, I'm not having that kind of trouble, I'm just," she sighed, and finally spat out what was bothering her. "I would really like to have a place to live. I have been living in hotels and random places, and… I kind of want to have a real place."

She gestured to the party, where every pony and zebra were talking, dancing, or eating, all enjoying themselves. "I mean, I want to have a real social circle, like you do. I can run my DJ business from a real home."

Pinkie let out a gasp with enough wind power, it pulled the needle on the record player, causing "Weird Corral" Flankovic's song skip back to the first chorus. This caused Rarity's dad to crash when he tried to dance to the music change.

"Vinyl, you," Pinkie stammered in excitement. "Do you want to live here? In Ponyville?"

"Is there any room in your place for a second attendant?"

Pinkie's face fell so hard, it was practically audible. "Oh, Vinyl, that's not possible, Mr. and Mrs. Cake have used up all available room for the babies. My room's rather small, I couldn't fit you in."

"Is there anything available in Ponyville otherwise?"

Rarity tapped her chin. "Well darling, Roseluck knows that best. I'll go ask her."

As Vinyl and Pinkie waited for her, they watched the party. The DJ was used to total strangers rocking as loud, booming music shook the dance floor as much as the dancing hooves did; this felt a little better to her.

Cadence and Shining were having a dance, despite how silly the song was, with his parents sharing one right next to them. Derpy and the Doctor were sharing a dance; actually, it was mostly him trying to make sure she didn't crash into anyone. Big McLargehooves had gathered the courage to ask Blossomforth to dance, and she had politely accepted.

Applejack was sharing her second dance with Twilight Sparkle, spinning her unicorn friend around. The reason for multiple dances was mostly because, as Twilight's best friends knew, the lavender unicorn became a dance nightmare to behold if she was dancing by herself. Thus, any pony available needed to dance with her to not have her scare ponies.

Rarity was done talking to Roseluck, and returned to Vinyl and Pinkie, pausing only once to glare at Cloud Kicker when the flirtatious pegasus brushed the seamstress's flank with her tail. The look on her face when she approached did not spark confidence in the party pony and DJ unicorn.

"Vinyl, I'm sorry to say there's only a two-pony house available. It's a really nice place too, so unless you make a considerable amount of bits, I doubt you could afford it on your own."

The DJ sighed, then blow her lightning blue bangs off her forehead. "Aw well, maybe if something opens up. Keep me posted, Pinkie?"

With how important the conversation was, it was no surprise that Pinkie missed who came in the front door. The first to notice her was actually Lyra and Bonbon, near the door.

"See, you're having a good time," Lyra was saying to her soulmate. "You really seem to like Fluttershy's parents."

"Yeah, I guess so." Bonbon snacked on another extra-frosted cupcake. "They really are nice ponies."

"It reflects on their daughter. You should try to get over that trash incident, Bonbony, she's apologized so many times for that."

"I know, I know! I don't like how I'm holding a grudge so much, I want to make myself better," she was saying when she spotted who came through the door. The candy maker blinked several times, shaking her head as if trying to clear it.

"Bonbon? Something wrong? Did you take another one of those experimental candies?" Lyra frowned at her. "Last time, it made your voice sound like a grizzled fisher-stallion. It was not fun hearing you sweet talk like that-"

"Lyra, look at who just arrived."

The mint unicorn glanced over where her soulmate pointed her hoof, and then her eyes bulged. Octavia was glancing around, trying to find some pony. She adjusted her bow tie, appearing nervous of maybe being overdressed.

"Oh sweet Celestia, is that Octavia?" Lyra whispered in surprise. "Octavia of the band Philharmonica? The greatest classical music artist in the greatest band ever? My musical role model?"

"Why are you telling me what I've known since the day I met you," Bonbon whispered right back in response, "when you could be getting her autograph?"

"Oh, do I dare talk to her? Am I worthy? Can I?"

"Lyra, move your flank over there, and-"

"TAVI!!"

An extremely happy, pink blur leapt over Caramel, Rainbow Dash's mom, Flitter, and Berry Punch (who had come down to sober up). Octavia once again positioned herself and caught her sister without being slammed down painfully to the floor.

"You came! I cannot believe you made it! This is so surprising! I've never been so surprised, except for when I saw you come in, and then I was all like I was the time I first met Twilight-"

"Glad to be here, Pinkie," Octavia interrupted her rant with politeness, a trick she had learned when growing up with her.

"My big sister at one of my parties since the days on the farm! I'm so happy! Come! There's some pony I want you meet!"

"Wait, 'sister'?" Lyra repeated to Bonbon. "Octavia, the greatest classical artist ever, is Pinkie Pie's big sister?"

The mint unicorn slumped on her hind knees, face-hoofing in regret. "I'm a horrible friend! Pinkie knows everything about us, she always is so nice, and I don't even know who her sister is!"

"Lyra, don't beat yourself up. Tell you what!"

Bonbon rested her hooves on Lyra's shoulders. "I will go home real quick, grab all of your Philharmonica records, and bring them here. Just go talk to her!"

"Oh thank you!" She hugged her soulmate, shaking a little with excitement. "Thank you, thank you!"

"The sooner you let go, the sooner I can talk to her!"

Pinkie Pie was bouncing around, trying to find Vinyl, who had gone to use the bathroom. Rarity, meanwhile, took time to chat up the more fancy of the Pie sisters.

"So darling, I know Pinkie didn't ask, because she's just too thrilled to see you, but what happened to your concert?" the seamstress asked, tilting her head to the side. "Did something happen?"

"It was cancelled. One of the downsides of being a classical band, in this day and age, you unfortunately need to worry you'll be replaced by the hip and new."

Octavia sighed as she sat down next to the record player, glancing at it "Weird Corral" Flankovic continued his mad, crazy parodies. "But, truth be told, I probably would have cancelled it anyway."

"What? Why on Equestria would you do that, dear?"

"I miss my sister too much. After I met all of you, and saw how happy she was, I thought about how much I didn't want to miss this party. So it was kind of the silver lining of the cloud I could make it."

Rarity nodded, though she didn't understand fully. Then again, she mentally noted that Octavia and Pinkie Pie had been living apart for years, and she was still seeing Sweetie Belle on a near-daily basis.

With her best understanding-though-not-entirely smile, Rarity said, "I think I get you, dear. You miss her a lot. And she sure missed you; she mostly talks about you since we visited your concert."

"Thank you, I-"

"Tavi," Pinkie Pie exclaimed, popping up in front of the two posh ponies, "meet my traveling buddy when I left the farm, Vinyl Scratch!"

She pulled the grinning DJ over, and, since Pinkie Pie hadn't told Vinyl about who her sister was either, the reaction of astonishment on both sides was equal in height, but different in tone.

Octavia knew who Vinyl Scratch was, or more so who DJ Pon-3 was. She was one of the most well-known DJs who specialized in dubstep, remixes, and other forms of music that didn't involve, in Octavia's opinion, real instruments. All of the problems she and her band were having problems with were because of these crazy, new styles of music.

Vinyl Scratch knew who Octavia was, and she almost knocked her sunglasses off with her eyes bulged out.

"Octavia is your sister?" Vinyl asked, correcting those bright blue shades. "You're THE Octavia?"

"Yes, she is," Pinkie cheerfully exclaimed. "I told you my sister played classical music."

"You didn't tell me she was one of the best music artists of our time!"

Vinyl took Octavia's hoof and shook it vigorously, so much that her own sunglasses really fell off this time; Pinkie Pie caught them as her DJ friend carried on.

"I'm a big fan of your work," she was gushing to the rather surprised Tavi. "I've even been to some of your concerts! It's an honor to meet you!"

"Um, thanks," said the normally-not-shocked shocked Octavia. Her violet eyes were blinking like crazy, as if not entirely believing what she was seeing. Her ears even flopped around a bit, as proof she couldn't believe she was hearing this too.

"You two get acquainted," Pinkie said, "I'll go get some food for you two… still like coconut shavings on your cupcakes, Tavi-Lavi?"

"Yes… and please don't call me that."

As Pinkie bounced off, Rarity looked between the two music artists. "Well now, we have Pinkie's sister and her traveling companion. This is rather fascinating."

"I think it's amazing," Vinyl said, "that we haven't met until now. Maybe we both had to become accomplished first, or something?"

Rarity chuckled, while Octavia continued to stare. She knew it wasn't sophisticated, or even the least bit polite, and yet she couldn't stop herself. Here was the pony that helped her sister make her way when she left home, the same pony that was, in many aspects, the bane of a classical music artist like her.

And she was nice too.

"You seem pretty shocked there, Octavia. Do I have something on my face?" Vinyl joked. Though when she really looked at that astonishment, she started to understand what it was about. Sighing, she said, "I guess you weren't expecting a DJ like me, huh? I kind of know what classical artists and uptown folk think of me."

"Darling, don't start that," Rarity scolded her. "I'm sure Octavia doesn't think of you that way."

"Well, if she does, it's okay," Vinyl shrugged, then tapped the side of the record player. "See, I do work these babies, and the big booming stereos more, I guess that's the stereotype that I fall into."

"I," Octavia found her voice, "I didn't mean to imply when I was quiet, that…"

Rarity's eyes darted between the two, trying to figure out what to say to make things more at ease. She knew this kind of awkward: it was how she and Applejack first met when Rarity set up shop in Ponyville.

"Look, Octavia, Vinyl," she said, placing her hooves on their shoulders, "we all come from different backgrounds, and it's a little awkward at first. But you two both love Pinkie, and honestly, that says a lot about you."

The fashionista tittered over her own joke, and added, "So why don't you two just shove aside the awkwardness, and enjoy yourselves?"

Vinyl grinned at the offer. "Why not? Tell me, Octavia, did you bring any instruments? We could jam together!"

"No, I didn't… you play?"

"I know a few instruments, including the cello and the accordion," she said.

"Really? You play instruments that much?"

"It's how I got my Cutie Mark," Vinyl said, patting her flank right on the music note mark. "Got it when I discovered I loved to make music."

"Oh my, I would have assumed," Octavia caught herself and stopped, but Vinyl knew where it was going. She even chuckled at this.

"What, that it would have been a record or something? Naw, I wasn't scratching those babies when I got this mark. It takes musical talents to be a real DJ, to understand it, to really curve tunes out and not make a bunch of mess…"

She was pantomiming with enthusiasm, until both Rarity and Octavia chuckled at her gusto. "I admit, that was what I thought at first," the cellist said, "but I guess I was just being ignorant."

"That's the spirit," Rarity gushed. "Now, why don't you two share a dance or something? You'll have to dance with Twilight to keep the dear from dancing with herself, customary for a party here. Now go on, I'll put on something more fitting!"

Vinyl's grin grew even more as she gestured Octavia to the dance floor, and the cellist accepted with a smile. Rarity took off "Weird Corral" Flankovic, and picked one of the records she had given Pinkie a long time ago: a classical ballroom jazz collection.

Soon, more dignified (but less weird, sadly) music played. Octavia and Vinyl started to dance, with Vinyl leading, and trying hard not to bump into Twilight and Applejack. Other ponies danced about, with partners or just alone for fun.

Berry Punch was trying to dance alone, when she nearly crashed into the ponies who entered recently. Parish Nadermane was nearly knocked over, and growled at the drunk mare.

"Will you watch it?" he barked.

"I'm shorry," Berry apologized, wobbling as she tried to stand upright, "but pleashe, don't tell me to go home. Everypony's alwaysh telling me to go home! It ain't right!"

She threw herself on Parish, sobbing loudly. The other band members stared awkwardly, Symphony trying hard not to giggle. As Frederic tried to pull Berry off, Colgate trotted over to help.

"Berry? Berry, what are you doing?" the dentist pony asked, pulling her friend off of the musician. "Berry, why'd you come down here, you're supposed to be sobering up."

"I wanted to have fun!"

"I am so sorry about her," Colgate said to Parish. "She just had too much to drink."

"Village drunk, I should have expected one here," Parish muttered, almost pushing Colgate and Berry aside as he moved into Sugarcube Corner.

Concerto and Frederic also moved passed her, with only Symphony pausing. She motioned as if to apologized, then sighed and trotted on.

Rainbow Dash's parents almost crashed into Concerto as they passed through the dance floor. Apple Fritter winked at Frederic, giving the music artist the impression of some country hick coming onto him. Parish caught a glimpse of Cadence talking to Rarity's parents, and was particularly astonished.

"What is the princess doing here in this dump?" he said aloud, some of the guests overhearing him.

"I do not know, maybe she has family here," Symphony guessed.

"What's that say about the state of the world, when even princesses have relatives in sad, little towns like this? Seriously, it's giving me a headache being here."

"It's cheery enough," Frederic tried to reason. "But yes, I wouldn't want to live here. Feels dirty, with no roads, just dirt paths on the way here."

"I'm surprised a train stop was even here," Concerto grumbled. "Is this place even on the map?"

"Whatever," Parish muttered, ignoring the glare he was getting from Carrot Top, who overheard the impolite banter. "Let's just get Octavia, and get-"

He stopped when he saw who was at the far end of the dance floor; the view had been blocked by Twilight and Applejack swinging around like a couple dancing lunatics. Octavia was dancing with Vinyl Scratch, and all of the band members knew who the DJ was; after all, banners of her being displayed on theaters and concerts they had wanted to play at seemed to be mocking them.

"YOU," Parish shouted, startling almost every pony and zebra at the party. Octavia and Vinyl stopped dancing immediately, and the cellist was more than a little surprised to see her band.

"Oh, you came?" she asked with the utmost simplicity. "Was it on the train after mine?"

"How could you do this, Octavia?" Frederic asked, getting between Parish and her before their harpist would lose his temper. "You know DJ Pon-3?"

"I just met her today, she's a friend of my sister."

"Hi," Vinyl said, grinning and waving her hoof at them. "I'm a big fan of your band, and-"

"Shut up," Parish snarled at the DJ. "You… you artless rogue, you've seriously crossed a line now!"

"What," was all a very surprised, and slightly hurt, Vinyl could muster.

Parish trotted over to Octavia, and hissed, "Do you want to know what we did when we went off on your merry way to this backwater village? We were actually trying to find a place for us to play!"

Symphony rolled her eyes as she said, "Didn't do us a lot of good. Every place from Appleloosa to Saint Trottersburg has been booked full!"

"No thanks to DJs like this pony," Concerto added, gesturing towards Vinyl. "Apparently, there is a big movement going around."

"Excuse me," Rarity said, trotting up to them with a concerned frown. "But what's going on? Where are your manners… oh! Octavia's band?"

"Excuse me, but," Frederic snapped at her, "we are not her band. She may be the lead, but we are all credited music artists."

"My apologies," Rarity said, being as sociable as possible. "But please, we are trying to have a civil party here."

"Yes, we could tell with the drunks and hicks we marched by," Parish scoffed. "Nice place."

"Excuse me, but-"

"And you're a rather sad attempt at trying to be a lady. That dress you are wearing, it looks hoof-stitched… by a donkey."

Rarity felt her eye twitch at such an insult. She would have fired back, but caught herself with Octavia standing next to her. Symphony cleared her throat, and said, "My apologies, we didn't have a fun train ride, and he's grumpy."

The train ride had consisted of a consistently crying, and amazingly loud, foal. Not to mention the snack trolley guy accidentally knocked a tray of donuts on Parish, and Concerto lost the book he had brought for the trip. They were all on the edge, and needed to vent.

"Don't apologize for me, Symphony," Parish snapped at her. "I will not have you acting like I am a child!"

"Maybe if you stop acting like one-"

"Shut up!"

"You keep calm," Frederic said to the harpist. "This may not be a particularly sophisticated town, but we can at least be civil."

"Aw, civility be damned," Concerto snapped. "You're too polite, it's what is costing us our careers."

"Oh, I am ruining our careers? You were the last one to pitch a fit with-"

"Will you all stop?" Octavia said. "You are all guests here, and you're acting extremely rude."

The bandmates all glared at each other, Vinyl and Rarity watching nervously. Parish glanced over at them, particularly at the DJ unicorn. "You know, it shouldn't surprise me to see you dancing with some pony who's pretty much our enemy."

"Wait, I'm not the enemy," Vinyl exclaimed. "Come on, dude, I love your work-"

"I really, really don't want to hear it. You're just mocking us, aren't you? Mocking us that we are desperately struggling to make our living, to advance our careers; meanwhile, you put a record on the spinner and consider yourself an artist.

"I'd spit on you if you were worth it."

Octavia was in Parish's face in a second. "How dare you. You have gone too far. I have had it with your attitude."

"I have had it with yours, Octavia. You go prancing off to a party when everything falls apart on us. I am entirely, utterly, and unashamedly sick of you."

"Hey hay, everypony," Pinkie chirped as she returned, balancing a small tray of cupcakes on her back. "Oh hey, is this-"

"You have always tried to be a figure of sophistication, but it's obvious now that you're dancing with some DJ skank like this," Parish continued, "that you are actually a sell-out, a high-priced whore."

Rarity's gasp of shock was muffled by the sound of the cupcake tray crashing on the floor. When Parish turned to see what the noise was, he received a pink hoof in the face, sending him sprawling across the room and into the record player. The song was cut off with a record scratch, as the harpist slumped on the floor in a daze.

Pinkie Pie glared him down, the blue pupils in her eyes replaced with a fiery, irate yellow. "Do not," she hollered, "ever talk about Tavi or Vinyl that way! EVER!!"

Parish was relatively dazed, but he regained his anger quickly. He glared first at Pinkie, who was being held back by Vinyl, then at Octavia.

"Your sister… just hit me."

The cellist didn't respond, and he continued to stare her down as he got to his hooves. Every pony and zebra was looking between him and Pinkie Pie, wondering what could have made the sweet, party girl punch some pony.

"I've had it," Parish snarled as he approached Octavia, though keeping a safe distance from Pinkie. "I've had it with all of you."

"Octavia," Frederic, recovering from the shock of what happened, "your sister has gone too far. Even if Parish was kind of asking for it."

Parish glared daggers at the pianist. "You and your… that's the last straw! You can go rot, for all I care. I quit this band!"

"What?" Pinkie exclaimed, the fire in her eyes dying instantly. "No!"

"Parish," Frederic said, "you-"

"My career would be so much farther without you all! I'd be leagues ahead, if I wasn't being pulled down by you all, especially you, Frederic. You always were the weakest link, with your shoddy piano playing."

"My piano playing is suburb!" Frederic shook his hoof at him. "Maybe this is what I needed as well! I had it, I'm embarking on my own."

"Wait, stop," Pinkie tried to plead.

"You all cannot do this," Concerto muttered. "If any pony was going to leave this sinking ship, it would have been me."

The three stallions appeared to be ready to have it out with each other, then made an attempt to leave first before the others. Symphony sighed, and muttered, "That's too bad, guess I have to go on my own too."

She glanced over at Octavia, leaving one final comment, "You know, you and your family just split apart the band. I hope you're happy, we just came to talk. Good-bye, Octavia, good luck wherever you can possibly get work these days."

She trotted off as the three former bandmates all struggled to get to the door first. When they stomped off, they knocked over Bonbon, spilling the records she was carrying.

"Hey, watch it," she snapped at them. "Bunch of jerks, what's your problem?"

Inside Sugarcube Corner, the party was completely silent, every pony and zebra muttering about what that was all about. Some of them knew the band Philharmonica, and were startled that their break-up happened here, of all places.

"I cannot believe they could be so rude," Derpy was saying to Doctor Whooves, who nodded. "I… I hate it when ponies act like that."

The Doctor embraced her in a comforting hug, as Braeburn glanced outside, seeing the band members storm off. He turned to the nearest pony, who happened to be a zebra, and said, "Maybe Ah should go an' lasso them, bring them back? We should try ta talk some sense inta those city folks."

"It would do little good, it's not just that they're not from this neighborhood," Zecora noted somberly. "The blind, dear Braeburn, aren't the only ones who cannot see. They are clouded by, shall we say, shades of vanity."

"Ain't that the kick in the head truth," he replied, sighing.

Speaking of shades, Vinyl saw her shades lying on the ground, having been dropped by Pinkie Pie. She picked them up, but didn't put them back on. Glancing at Octavia, seeing the shock on her face, she didn't know what to say.

"Oh darling," Rarity, who had gathered her wits sooner, hugged Octavia tight. "Darling, I am so sorry! Oh, that was so uncouth of them, bordering barbarism. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she managed to say. "I… I am fine. To be truthful, I saw this coming a long time ago. It's not surprising, really."

She let out a big sigh, then glanced to her side. "Pinkie, are you okay? … Pinkie?"

Pinkie wasn't there. The three of them looked around, and saw the party pony running upstairs, sobbing. Rarity gasped, then faced Octavia again.

"Octavia, dear, you need to talk to your sister."

"What? But-"

"Darling, I know you know her best, she's your sister and all," Rarity said, gesturing towards the stairs, "but Pinkie Pie can be very sensitive, especially about the feelings of those she cares about. And can't you see?

"She blames herself for what just happened."

"What? No, it's not her fault-"

"But she doesn't know that. Please, go up and talk to her, she needs you now."

Octavia glanced at the stairs, then looked back at Rarity, and managed a small smile. "You really are a good friend of hers, Rarity. Thank you."

"I do what I can, Octavia."

Octavia headed upstairs as Rarity and Vinyl watched her. The DJ whispered, "Are you sure this is okay? You don't think Octavia is actually really mad at Pinks?"

"Trust me, I know about these things."


"You may enter."
Fancy Pants, dressed in his armor, made his entrance into the most royal room in all of Manehattan. He quickly surveyed his surroundings.
Their leader, the pinnacle mistress ,was sitting at her grand throne, watching him and waiting. Her guards stood at attention at her sides and at the door, though they didn't feel the need to stay alert with the General of all ponies. A diamond dog in enhanced plate armor, the mistress's elite bodyguard, was watching with more intensity.
To the side, Sweetie Belle was watching while combing her mane. When General Fancy Pants nodded to her, she gave him a pleasant smile and waved at him. He wondered briefly if she was preparing for a performance tonight, she certainly was dressed and groomed for it.
"You have something to ask of me, General Fancy Pants?" said the pony seated in the extremely ornate throne.
"Yes, Mistress Rarity, my apologies for hesitation," he said, approaching her and bowing. "I have had quite an ordeal today, debating with delegates from three Houses."
"They seem particularly interested in our services," Mistress Rarity said. She rose from her throne, walking around as she spoke. Her tail gently caressed Fancy Pants's side, a habit of hers when she managed to speak with him without his wife present. "Did you come to any deals with them?"
"No, I figured that would have been impertinent without consulting with you, my lady."
"You are too thoughtful, but I don't think you need to come to me for every business deal involving our mercenaries."
"Except that, as you said, they're particularly interested. I even suspect the House Earthborn representative was here unofficially."
Rarity rubbed the bottom of her chin with her good foreleg, until she accidentally bumped some of the crystalitis forming on her jawline. Frowning in disgust, she stomped her good hoof down and glanced over at Sweetie Belle.
"What do you think of this, Sweetie?"
The singer flinched in surprise. "Me? Um, well, if House Earthborn came unofficially… maybe it's the politicians of the house who want support and not Applejack?"
"That's what I was thinking," Rarity said, smiling at her sister. She pranced around Fancy Pants more, and said, "Did any of the representatives seem desperate? The ones from Stormwing, or Moon & Star, were they as pleading?"
"They all seemed equally earnest, but kept their composure. It would be my suggestion that we let them hire some of our mercenaries each, to maintain our standing."
Rarity shook her head, trotting back to her throne. "No, let them stir on it. This battle is obviously going to last a while, maybe weeks. I want them to squirm before I give them support."
"My lady Rarity, is that wise?"
Many ponies would rather break their own limbs than call out Mistress Rarity. The rumors of what happened to those that caused trouble in Manehattan was enough to provoke nightmares.
Fortunately, Fancy Pants was not just any pony. His question merely made Mistress Rarity chuckle.
"Oh my dear sweet Fancy Pants," she said as she seated herself. "How long has this war been going? How long has House Whitegold been playing the nice child of the war, giving out troops and supplies to the houses when they asked for it?"
"If we tantalize the three houses, we might lose the neutral status we have maintained for so long."
"I am aware of that, but I am also believing that if we cannot be aggressive, House Whitegold may belong to some pony else in a few years. The Cult of Laughter is growing most uncomfortably fast, Everfree Forest is getting so big, and now three warmongering houses are going to be fighting in a free-for-all soon.
"I would like to monitor this fight. Send some of your best troops to monitor… and possibly assassinate some of the figures there, I want to hurt the other houses anonymously." She twirled her crystalized foreleg, humming in thought. "Maybe ask your wife to assist in this case."
"I am afraid I do not know where she is, Mistress Rarity."
"Oh dear, Fleur de Lis is being off doing who knows what again?" Rarity tittered at first, then threw her head back and sighed. "I used to respect your wife, Fancy Pants, I really did. But one cannot respect a lady who doesn't act like a lady."
General Fancy Pants didn't answer, he stared down at the high-quality carpet of the room. Sweetie Belle approached him, a fair smile on her face. "Would you need help from the Nighthooves," she offered, "or the Praetorponies, sir Fancy Pants?"
"No, but thank you, Lady Belle," he replied. "My best troops, some of the finest soldiers, spies, and assassins one could ask for, will suffice in the lady's request."
"Reliable as always, Fancy Pants," Rarity praised her. "You may go now."
Fancy Pants bowed to her, and started to leave. He stopped, then turned back. "Mistress Rarity, there were two concerns I had on mind."
"Two? My my, you have been busy."
"You mentioned the cult's activities, and I believe there may be a strong influence in some of the districts other than the Undercity."
"I'm sorry, but I don't believe that. Our guards and troops would know if the cult's influence was there. You are the patron of The Wall, so if they are inside the city, you haven't been doing your job; and I know you have, I have faith in you, Fancy Pants.
"The slums, that blasted Undercity," she clenched her crystalized foreleg, and something resembling diamond scratching diamond echoed throughout the room, I want you to double your efforts. And do not be so lenient like I know you have been. If you are not more rough with your investigations, I will send Constable Hoity Toity to inspect. And you and I both know he will not be gentle with his search."
Fancy Pants nodded with a tight-lipped frown. "And the other issue I had was the growing concern of the… auctions in the District of Delight-"
"No, Fancy Pants. We have gone over this before."
"But my lady, the kidnapping numbers have been rising-"
"Numbers mostly in the Undercity, and I'm sorry. I do not like the idea of young mares being 'sold,' but they are sold as servants. Your imagination is what leads you to believe they are sex slaves or the like."
Fancy Pants didn't budge, but his frown grew. "My concerns are still strong, my lady."
"I know they are, Fancy Pants. But rest assured, when the day comes where we do not need this source of income and moral for our city, I will eliminate it. You are dismissed, my dear."
"Yes, Mistress Rarity."
When the General left the room, Rarity motioned for the guards to leave too. Only the diamond dog bodyguard and Sweetie Belle remained, and the House Whitegold gestured for her sister to come over.
"He is growing too soft," Rarity said, staring at the door to her spacious chambers. "He is more concerned about prostitution and possible slaves than the war."
"He fears for the rumors that young mares are being auctioned off into terrible lives," Sweetie assured him. "His daughters are coming of age, you should understand his concern."
"How did he ever have children with that frigid pony?" Rarity muttered. "I would have been much better for him, a real stallion like that deserves a real mare. If Fleur de Lis wasn't so good at what she did, I would-"
"Rarity, don't."
Sweetie Belle lay her hoof gently on Rarity's shoulder, her good one. The two sisters stared at each other for a moment, before Rarity spoke. "You have grown up so beautifully, Sweetie Belle. I would do anything to have your beauty."
"You are still beautiful, sis."
"Do not contradict me, I hate that so much."
Rarity rested her crystalized hoof on her forehead, the diamond scratching sound echoing again. She hissed in frustration at the noise, and muttered, "I hate the other houses so much. They keep pushing me, pushing me to act, when I am trying to make a life for myself."
"Rarity-"
"It ends today," she hissed. "The tunnels are growing, our army is growing, and they are tearing themselves apart. Today, we join the war, unofficially of course. I will not allow House Whitegold to be brought down, I will only see it rise."
"Such plans will take time, Rarity."
"Indeed… and I have the patience. With you by my side, Sweetie Belle, I could wait another fifteen years."
The two sisters hugged, but it was cut short when Rarity violently shivered. Sweetie looked over her in concern, and asked, "Is it acting up?"
"The crystalitis doesn't hurt normally, this is," she shivered again, grinding her teeth, "unusual. Maybe aggression is something that triggered it? Either way, could you…?"
"Of course, sis."
Sweetie Belle's horn glowed green, and soothing healing magic spread over the crystalized coating that had grown from Rarity, from her horn down to her left foreleg. The feeling of the restomancy spell usually helped, a little, but tonight wasn't the same for Rarity.
For in her mind, she was plotting of how she could properly manipulate the three houses that were at least civilized enough to bargain with. She was planning on how she could use her forces to, in the long run, gain some more ground. She was thinking of how she could motivate Manehattan to be ready for such bloodshed and violence.
And most of all, she wondered what she was going to do with her former friends if she ever got her hooves on their hides.


Octavia had only once been to Ponyville before this day, when she visited Pinkie Pie after she had moved in to Sugarcube Corner. Thus, she knew where her room was.

Pinkie was lying on her bed, sobbing and covering her face. Octavia knocked on the door, but it went unnoticed. The musician walked in anyway, and sat down on the bed next to her sister.

Pinkie didn't even feel the first caress of her older sister's hoof to her poofy mane. After a few strokes, she finally did notice her sister there.

"My band was bound to split up for weeks," Octavia said. Her voice was steady and calm, as she continued to pet her sister's mane. "They had lost sight of what was important a long time ago."

"But… but… I hit that stallion, and he quit because of me!"

"No, you were just an excuse for him to quit. Parish had been acting unbearably rude with us, and our clients. I know you wouldn't understand this, but he wanted some pony to something like that to him to give him an excuse."

"W-why? You're right, I don't understand."

"My band members were, for some time now, anxious to try and break off. They didn't trust my guidance, and believed that they could do better against the tide of pop music that's been hampering our careers."

"Did… did they blame Vinyl? Do you?"

"No, I don't. I blame," Octavia sighed and laid back on Pinkie's bed. "I don't know who to blame, Pinkamena. I guess it's one of those things that you cannot pick a specific pony to blame."

"Seems kind of unfair."

"That's life. I could blame pop DJs, ponies for not wanting classical, my bandmates for being egotistical and rude, or myself. But I cannot, because really, there is nothing to be gained for blaming others."

Pinkie tried to dry her eyes, staring over at her sister. "Are you… are you going to be okay?"

"I think I will manage, we'll have to see. But there's something I need ask you."

"What's that?"

"Why did you hit him? Was it what he said about Vinyl?"

"It was what he said about both of you! It was," Pinkie tried not to scowl or clench up her hooves, "it was unforgivable!"

"Why? It wasn't true, what he said."

"But that's why it was so wrong!"

"Pinkie, you shouldn't get mad over what ponies say when it's not true."

"But… but if it were true, why would I get mad?"

Octavia opened her mouth, then the confusion sunk in to silence her. Eventually, she just started laughing, her polite, upper-class laughter that still somehow synced with Pinkie giggle-snorting. The two mares were soon laughing, about a subject neither fully understood.

When it died down, Octavia nudged her sister. "Hey now, your party is running downstairs, and I'm sure your friends want to see your smiling face."

Pinkie nodded, and braved going downstairs, wondering what everypony thought of her now. Sure enough, the party was back in motion; though the sisters didn't know, everypony had done this solely to encourage the party pony to come back down and be happy again.

Those closest to Pinkie immediately checked on her to see if she was alright. Though some of them were worried about the fact that Pinkie had decked a pony across the room, others were okay with it; both Rainbow Dash and Applejack admitted they wanted to hit Parish when they heard what he said.

As the party carried on, Twilight broke off from talking to Shining and Cadence. The bookworm approached Pinkie, who was trying on a lampshade.

"Hey, Pinkie?"

"Yeah, Twilight? How's this shade look on me?"

"You know, normally I expect to hear that question from Rarity."

"Silly Twilight! Rarity wouldn't be caught dead wearing a lampshade."

"No, that's not what I… never mind. I just wanted to ask you, what's your sister going to do now that her band split up?"

Pinkie tilted the lampshade up. "Well, I don't know, to be honest. I think she may have to move… I wonder if she'll go back my parents' home. Bellamina's still there, but she likes the rock farm."

"Well, Rarity was telling me everything about the situation," Twilight said, "and I was just thinking. There's that two-pony place available in Ponyville."

"Yeah, but she cannot afford it alone, Twilight. You think I should room with her? The Cakes have told me I'm really helpful with the bakery!"

"That was one thought, but then Rarity told me about Vinyl's predicament, and-"

Twilight never got to finish the sentence, as Pinkie Pie glomped her and snuggled into her, lampshade bouncing happily on her poofy mane. "Oh Twilight! You smart smarty smartest of smart ponies, you! You're a genius! A smart genius!"

"Ow… Pinkie, thank you, but… can you get off?"

"The appreciation hug will not be halted until it is done!"

"Okay, okay, but how long does it last?"

Twilight's dad, Night Light, passed by on his way to get punch for him and his wife. He couldn't help but grin, and say, "You only have to dance with her to stop her from dancing with herself, Pinkie, you don't have to pin her down."


Within a week, Vinyl Scratch and Octavia were moving their belongings in their new place, in Ponyville.

Mayor Mare had been beyond delighted. "Two celebrities here! Oh, the tourism will be so good! And how nice to have more of the Pies here! Pinkie, you make sure to properly show her around our fine town!"

Sea Swirl, one of the town's small-time jobs ponies and a fervent romantic, was immediately asking if Vinyl and Octavia were in a relationship. "If they are, what kind of music do they listen to together?" she had asked Pinkie, matching the party pony's energy with her gusto.

Several of the ponies in Ponyville were there to help. Big Mac and McLargehooves helped move in large furniture, while members of the Apple family helped move in the lighter stuff. Roseluck even helped plant some of the flowers around the building.

Of course, Lyra was thrilled, coming a close second to Pinkie's gusto. She and Bonbon helped with the move-in, and Ms. Heartstrings got the autographs she wanted. Even if the band had broken up, Octavia was her main inspiration.

There were the usual gifts from ponies who were always keen to greet new neighbors. Derpy and her daughters gave a box with her homemade muffins, Carrot Top gave a vegetable basket, Berry a bottle of her favorite wine (unopened, of course, she may have a drinking problem, but she's not thoughtless).

Doctor Whooves showed them around town, giving them a grand tour. Derpy was along side for the walk, and she let them know she'd be their mailmare. As she pointed in the wrong direction of the post office, Vinyl and Octavia were a little concerned about future packages.

The biggest present was from Pinkie, Twilight, and their friends. With donations from Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and a generous portion from Rarity, the six paid for the first month of Vinyl and Octavia's new place.

Octavia was thrilled and thankful for all the generosity and kindness she was being shown by ponies she had only known a week. Her only cause for concern was when Vinyl Scratch had a big stereo brought in their new place.

"You're not going to play that at night, are you?" she asked.

"Aw, no, of course not! But once in a while, I'm gonna have to test the bass on my baby! You haven't felt music until you felt the bass of a big stereo."

Octavia tried to smile, but cringed. "We're gonna need to buy new windows a lot, aren't we?"

"Nope! I have my bass-resistant set of windows, and the Apples are gonna help me install them!"

"Oh dear, we really are going to be an odd couple, aren't we?"

Twilight helped organize the move-in, and even with positioning the large furniture; she had read a book on the art of such positioning, and was putting it to work at its fullest. She kept lifting heavy stuff with her magic, and placing it in certain areas; however, she had to admit, she didn't know which side of the house to put the giant stereo in.

While helping the DJ and cellist move in, Twilight's mind was wandering slightly, thinking about something that had been bothering her. She had been glancing at Pinkie, who was explaining to Cranky what had happened to lead to these new neighbors.

After assisting, Twilight wrote a letter herself, not wishing to have Spike hear her concerns.


Dear Princess Celestia,

I'm happy to say I'm writing this letter with some good news, rather than simply my concerns. You could consider it a friendship report, but I already knew the joys of assisting friends, old and new.
Pinkie Pie's sister, the famous cellist Octavia, and her traveling companion when she left home, the equally well-known DJ Pon-3, a.k.a. Vinyl Scratch, have moved into Ponyville. Every pony, donkey, and zebra is happy to meet the new neighbors, and it truly is heartwarming to see so much joy and kindness.
I am sure the two will get along just fine in Ponyville, even if they come to different areas of life and culture. If my friends here in Ponyville have taught me anything, it's that ponies of all kinds can be friends.
However, there is one thing I want to ask you about that concerns me. About a week ago, Pinkie Pie hit some pony. Many say it was justifiable, as he insulted both Octavia and Vinyl Scratch in an inexcusable manner. But part of me still worries.
Pinkie Pie has never been violent, not even when corrupted by Discord. At the least, I have never seen her like that before until that day. So part of me worries about her, and I would just like to know if I should be.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle


Twilight asked Spike to read the letter, and thankfully, he didn't ask any questions. The bookworm was anxious for a response, working herself up inside. Part of her seriously worried that she had worded that letter wrong; she didn't want to insinuate she thought Pinkie was a psychopath deep down.

It actually surprised her when Spike burped up a letter in response a couple hours later. Twilight eagerly read the letter, hoping that she hadn't started something she couldn't take back.


Dear Twilight Sparkle,

It always pleases me to hear about good things like these splendid events. Sometimes, and you really do not know the half of it, you only ever hear about terrible things, bad news, worrying events, and the like. Actually hearing some good news, pleasantries, it is a breath of fresh air.
Addressing your concerns about your friend, I would say, from what I know about Pinkie Pie, I would not worry about her. Everypony loses their temper, though I dare say imagining her hitting some pony, that's rather amazing.
But I am digressing from my main reason for writing this letter. Twilight Sparkle, I would like to invite you and your six friends to the Canterlot Castle. Right now, I am organizing a tour for you seven, and I would very much appreciate it if you all can attend. If not all seven can attend, I could easily reschedule the tour.
If you are curious about the sudden timing of this, let me just say that I not only had it planned for some time, but your letter has merely confirmed that it will be for the best. Do not worry, it is not bad; Pinkie Pie is certainly not in trouble, and neither are any of you.
So please, make sure that you, Pinkie Pie, Spike, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Rarity can come tomorrow. Arrive by noon, if you can. I look forward to seeing you all.

Most sincerely,
Princess Celestia

P.S.: If you have any cupcakes or cake left over from the party, could you bring some? Luna's been a bit down these days, and no pony makes better sweets than Pinkie Pie and the Cakes. Thank you!


Twilight Sparkle read the whole letter three times over, a huge combination of emotions and intrigue swirling around in her.

She rushed around Ponyville to check on the others and see if their schedules allowed a trip tomorrow. Sure enough, everypony was available; Rarity even threw her calendar out the window and exclaimed how nothing would prevent her from visiting Canterlot.

The last she came to was Pinkie Pie, who bounced up and down in excitement. "Canterlot Castle? I've never been to a party there!"

"It's not a party, we are going to be given a tour around the castle."

"That's equally exciting! Are we going to see Princess Celestia's chambers, and her secret collection of royal socks?"

Twilight blinked in confusion, then shook her head. "No no no! See, I took the tour once, when I was a little older than a filly. It's fascinating, you'll all love it!"

"I'm sure we will, Twilight! Thank you so much!"

"For… for what?"

"For everything!"

Pinkie Pie picked her up at the shoulders and spun her around, laughing merrily. The unicorn at first wanted to be put down, but quickly found herself enjoying this moment.

Twilight found herself counting her blessings as she danced around with her friend. She truly was living a blessed life.


The war room of Canterlot Castle was tense, as three of the brightest unicorns, and a pegasus, were studying the map table. A earth pony slave stood next to one of the Grand Mages, watching him observe the map of Equestria.
"I'm not convinced that this is as easy as it looks," Grand Mage Arpeggio said, tapping his chin. "We did take many variables into account, and our invasion on New Ponyville shouldn't be causing so many doubts."
"I think you are over-thinking this," Grand Mage Noble Laureate commented. He used his magic to levitate a pointer, tracing it from Hoofington, around Whitetail Woods, and to New Ponyville. "Simple as that. We have planned this for months. What has your anxiety up?"
"It's never an easy thing to plan a "simple" fight when we are waging war against five enemies."
"One is a cult that would never have the nerve to fight directly, one has been sulking in the forest a great distance from this city, and we have no reason to believe the other houses will be involved."
"No reason with tangible proof, I admit, but I believe we are underestimating our opponents. It has been a fault we all committed, because if we-"
"What are you implying? I don't care for your tone!"
"Now who's reading too much into this, you-"
"Enough!"
The third unicorn slammed her hoof on the edge of the table, and the Grand Mages silenced themselves. That unicorn studied with violet eyes, eyes that seemed to glow with arcane magic. They matched her mane, her coat, and even the clothes she was wearing.
When she used magic to levitate the icons on the table used to represent the troops, she hesitated at the river. Placing the troops back down, she tilted her hat up so she could stare directly across the table.
"Commander Duskwing," Archmagister Twilight Sparkle said, voice stern and strong, "what is your opinion on our troops' chances against House Earthborn in this upcoming battle?"
The two Grand Mages exchanged upset glances, offended a pegasus, even a midnight pegasus, was being asked instead of them. Commander Duskwing had not once stopped studying the map with his yellow eyes, which seemed to narrow in lizard-like fashion when he studied the strongholds of the enemies.
Finally, his bat-like wings spread. "Archmagister, if I may be so bold, I would say we are setting ourselves up for the greatest ambush since our failure at Dragonpoint Outpost."
"How dare you," Noble Laureate snapped, his horn brimming with energy. "You forget your place, you-"
"Enough, Laureate," Twilight Sparkle snapped. "Duskwing, what do you mean?"
"We are at the disadvantage, trying to cross a river when attacking the enemy. I know we planned for the cannons and weapons of House Earthborn, but has it occurred to any of you that we could be flanked from all sides?"
Twilight Sparkle observed the map more. "House Stormwing from the north, House Whitegold from the south, and a possible ambush from the east from any pony."
"But Archmagister," Laureate protested, "no pony is in those woods. And only Redheart's Refuge is to the east; they are a neutral city, a large refuge camp in a way. You don't think they'd try something, do you?"
Twilight rubbed her chin, then glanced at the communication stone she had nearby. Pressing it with her hoof, a magically projected screen appeared above it with a light blue glow radiating the sides. The picture was blank, until the unicorn on the other side answered the communication.
"Yes, Archmagister?" Grand Mage Trixie Lulamoon responded. The conversation was as casual as if both were in the same room, not miles apart. "Trixie is here, on schedule."
"How is everything looking? And do not skimp on details," Twilight ordered.
"We are passing by Redheart's Refuge, on our left. The river is within far seer spell range. The Great and Powerful Trixie's army is ready to attack if you believe us to succeed a night attack.
"We are not fatigued," the Grand Mage was speaking with great confidence, and some of the ponies in the war room wondered if this was because of her ego, or she wanted to sound sanguine in a mission where a Grand Mage, not a Battlemage, was taking control.
Twilight Sparkle raised an eyebrow, her mana-touched skin shimmering with the movement. "Anything wrong, Trixie?"
"No, Trixie is," Trixie stopped talking, then rubbed her white mane underneath her spell caster hat. "Actually, Trixie is loathe to admit it, but she sent a scout party towards Redheart's Refuge an hour ago, to ensure none of the other houses were hiding there.
"They haven't reported back. I made sure…"
"Oh no, she's dropped the third-pony talk," Twilight thought. "She only does that when something's truly wrong."
"They were skilled at long-range Blink," Trixie continued, "and one of my Inquisitors went with them. I'm sorry, Archmagister, I should have asked you for permission first-"
"You are within your right to command Inquisition troops when they are on the battlefield with you, Trixie. But if they went to the neutral city, and didn't return…"
"You think this may be a trap?" Trixie asked, glancing to the side. "Does one of the houses know we are coming? But how? This mission was top secret!"
"It could be," Duskwing spoke, "that they did not plan to intercept a raid from us. Maybe they were planning an attack on some pony else; we accidentally stuck our hoof in the bear trap for another."
Twilight ground her teeth in frustration, which caused the mana touches on her face to shimmer even more. "I am inclined to agree with Duskwing, and with Arpeggio's suspicions. Somehow, the other houses have set up some kind of ambush. We should play this defensively."
"If I may suggest," Arpeggio said, trying hard not to smile at Laureate's shamed face, "maybe we should set up camp across the river, and set up defenses with our troops. Any ambush will run into it and meet certain death."
"I agree, and what's more," Twilight said, grinning at the thought that had crossed her mine, "Trixie, I want you to send a large group of our troops to Redheart's Refuge under the guise of needing medical assistance. Then, we will see what side they are on."
"Excellent, Archmagister," Trixie exclaimed with a sadistic grin on her face. "Trixie will do all of this, no trap will catch us!"
"Wait, Archmagister," Arpeggio said. "Redheart's Refuge is a neutral city. Are we planning a battle there?"
"I did not say that, Grand Mage Arpeggio, but it is something to consider. Trixie," Twilight turned back to the communication stone's screen, "I want a report at sunrise. For Celestia and Luna!"
"For Celestia and Luna, and our Archmagister!" Trixie bowed respectfully, with the flair she was known for. The communication stone's screen vanished as the magic powered down.
Twilight turned back to the three Generals. "We may have to consider something forceful with Redheart's Refuge. We are having enough time trying to get troops across Whitetail Woods, it is strategically in place."
"I don't know if I fully agree," Arpeggio confessed. "Grand Mage Apple Polish is not here, but I think I would speak for her when I say that trying to get involved with neutral cities is not something we should delve in."
"Apple Polish is shamed with a history of earth ponies and pegasi in her family blood line," Laureate snarled. "When we have had to deal with neutral towns and negotiations, it has shown. She is a Grand Mage for her strategy and excellent control of troops and battle machines, not because of her pony opinions.
"And speaking of which, why did you bring a slave here to a war meeting?!"
Arpeggio glanced at the sullen slave at his side, who didn't even glance up. "My apologies to you, Archmagister, but I was called to the meeting so quickly, I hadn't time to finish the business I was attending to. Do not worry, she is under close quarters and watch, she is loyal to me."
Twilight glanced at Duskwing, and the midnight pegasus tilted his head at the slave pony. She nodded, and he obeyed. One moment he was standing still, the next he was on the other side of the map table, a wing blade penetrating the slave's head. The slave's eyes rolled up into her head, and she collapsed to the floor, blood oozing from the fatal strike.
"You should know better than to bring a slave to a war meeting," Twilight chided Arpeggio. "My apologies if this makes your duties a little harder to follow, but you truly should know by now."
"My apologies again," he humbly stated, trying to ignore Laureate's haughty, triumphant grin. Instead, he observed his dead slave, blood pooling around her head. "I shall get some pony to clean this up right away, then return to my duties."
"Thank you. Stay vigilant, as I may need you again soon, if this battle turns out to be more difficult than we anticipated."
He turned to leave, when she called out to him. "And by the way, Arpeggio, I hear your wife is expecting."
"Yes, Archmagister, that is true."
"You have my congratulations. I am sure he or she will be a wonderful unicorn, maybe join your first daughter in our research labs. Or maybe she will become a Grand Mage like her father."
"That would truly be wonderful, though I would like to win this war before she becomes old enough to serve at that level."
"Well said. She will grow up in a new, better world then. For Celestia and Luna, Grand Mage Arpeggio."
"For Celestia and Luna!"
After Twilight Sparkle excused herself from the war room, she entered her own private study. She started to flip through the book she had been studying before she and the Grand Mages had gathered in the war room.
"Thine actions were not necessary."
Twilight rolled her eyes and glanced to her left at the speaker. The ghost, cuffed with golden, ethereal bands around his hooves, was frowning at her. He, almost nonchalantly despite the mood, stroked his beard; she knew it was his thinking habit by now.
"Killing that slave wasn't for any reason but to be cruel," Starswirl the Bearded commented. "Thou art a leader and a unicorn, not a cold-blooded killer."
"It was a slave, an earth pony, barely at the level of being called a tool," Twilight muttered. "Too many of them out there already, what's one less?"
"Every being serves a purpose. Simply destroying them because they are alow thee does not serve aught, except asserting power that thou already have."
The Archmagister groaned in frustration, and spat, "Fine, I just ordered it because I'm getting sick to death of things not going as planned. You should know by now that nothing aggravates me more than that."
"Smart ponies doth not blame the tools, Twilight Sparkle. That was something Celestia taught me whenas I drew breath."
Mentioning the princess's name helped subside some of Twilight's frustration. She sighed, then walked over to the ghost of Starswirl. "I want to show you something, Starswirl."
She channeled her magic to teleport herself and the ghost, using the shackles on his ghostly legs as a means of targeting the spell, up to the highest tower of the Canterlot Castle. There, the two could see not only the entire city, but a great deal of Equestria that stretched as far as their eyes could see. The magic shield around Canterlot was, fortunately, transparent enough not to hamper such a glorious view.
"Celestia and Luna kept this world in an amazing state long after you passed away," she said to Starswirl. "Unicorns have always believed in the Sisters. We work to expand the magic of this world, research cures and medicine, study history, and much, much more.
"Out there, pegasi pollute the skies with their presence, believing they are better because they can work clouds. Out there, earth ponies trample everything they can because they think they own the earth.
"Our opponents for a better future are as follows: a sadistic, insane cult led by some earth pony who poses as some pony I knew; a pegasus who wants us all to lie in the dirt like beasts; an earth pony who lives in hypocrisy and lies leading earth ponies too stupid to know anything except how to pound things…
"A gullible yet still treacherous pegasus who thinks herself a great warrior; and a unicorn who is so enveloped in her greed and profiteering, that it blinds to actually fight for what she believes in.
"That's what is out there on Celestia's land. Under the Sun and Moon that they worked so hard to provide for all these ungrateful ponies. So forgive if I do not care about one damn slave who was so thick, she didn't even bother to look up when we spoke about her possible execution."
Starswirl didn't respond to this, he continued to stare out at the city and land in front of him. Before Twilight could demand a response, he said, "When House Moon and Star controls Equestria, thou may find it too spacious for thee to maintain a unicorn superior culture yonside all corners."
"Celestia and Luna could spread the sun and moon all over their domain. It will take time, no denying that, but once we wipe out the traitors," she growled and clenched her fist, magic radiating from her hoof, "I will see to it myself. For their glory, for a better future, one without drooling earth ponies and pompous pegasi who do nothing."
"Thou wilt claim domain over yon earth and sky, Archmagister Twilight?"
"It is my destiny to. Celestia chose me all those years ago, this is what she would want. This is what Luna would want, Starswirl. This is what my parents would want.
"This future I have in mind, it is our future. Don't tell me you didn't imagine a world based on progress, on magic, under their name."
"Twas a meet future I had imagined several times ere, verily."
"And soon, I will make it a reality. All I need is a little more time, a little more success, maybe a push or two in directions that I will have to regret later, and then, Equestria will be… perfect."
"Forsooth, Archmagister Twilight Sparkle."


"Pinkie, we are going on a tour of the Canterlot Castle!" Twilight insisted. "You don't need to pack anything!"

"But what if I run into a situation where I desperately need a juicer? There I'll be, no juicer, and I'll have to shout, 'Oh heavens above, there be no juicer here for juicing!' You have to plan these things, Twilight!"

Twilight had followed Pinkie to Sugarcube Corner, when the party pony had dashed off to prepare for the trip tomorrow. Despite the insistence beforehoof, Twilight hadn't been able to convince Pinkie of packing light or not at all. Here she was, still trying to plead the case.

"Pinkie Pie, trust me when I say that you won't need a juicer for a tour of Canterlot Castle. And wait a second, isn't that my juicer?"

"I borrowed it in case I have a juicing emergency at home. Spike said it was okay."

Pinkie proceeded to juggle the juicer, as well as several items from her pack, as if trying to showcase her point to Twilight. Her unicorn friend stared blankly, then sighed.

"Look, just trust me, Pinkie. I assure you, you don't need any of those things, even your party cannon."

"But I-"

"Yes, yes I know." Twilight rubbed her temple as she tried to think of how to handle this. "Okay, compromise time: you can bring the party cannon, as well as a few other things, as long as you come as normally as possible."

"That sounds reasonable. I need to bring my towel though, one should never forget their towel when traveling."

"Now don't embarrass me on this trip, Pinkie, please? I know a lot of ponies in Canterlot, and I think I've earned good behavior from you after I've been good at your parties and your sister's concert."

"Deal!"

Pinkie Pie even Pinkie Promised her. The two then shared a laugh, as they talked about what they would do when they reached Canterlot. It was going to be a big day tomorrow, and neither could wait.

"But when we get back, you have to help me with the welcoming party for Octavia and Vinyl!" Pinkie insisted along their walk. "I haven't done that yet, and they deserve it!"

"Of course, Pinkie, of course."


AT LAST.

THIS IS THE ONE I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR.

SHE FITS THE REQUIREMENTS I NEED, THAT THE WORLD NEEDS.

NOT TOO INNOCENT, AND YET NOT TOO MUCH AGGRESSION IN HER SOUL.

I NEED HER, THE WORLD NEEDS HER.

I ONLY HOPE SHE WILL FORGIVE ME FOR THIS…

I DOUBT SHE, OR ANY PONY FOR THAT MATTER, WILL FORGIVE ME.

BUT MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, SHE WILL UNDERSTAND.

SHE IS THE PERFECT CHOICE IN THE MILLIONS OF PLACES I HAVE LOOKED, AFTER ALL.

AGAINST THE JESTER, THE DRAGOON, THE GEM…

AGAINST THE STAR, THE THUNDER, AND THE FOREST…

THE SAMURAI WILL PREVAIL.


Pinkie Pie's ears twirled out of sync, her haired turned spiny for a few seconds, and her head bowed as she let out an exclamation. After that passed, she frowned in concern.

"Okay, that's new," she muttered. "I am so taking my towel with me. And my party cannon. And maybe the juicer too; I don't want to be caught off-guard if someone attacks with fresh fruit.

"And my anti-pointed stick device, just in case. I hope Twilight's okay with that; I still need to try it out."

Author's Note:

I know it's unusual that the action hasn't officially started yet, with this seeming like a major backstory first chapter. But it's a gamble I am going to take! *roars like something that roars*

Also, I'm still learning how to upload my chapter properly, I feel like I'm doing it wrong. Seems like this happens with me a lot. Blargh.

Questions? Insults? Fire away, I welcome it all!