The Elements of Friendship, Book II: Chaoskampf

by Amras Felagund

First published

Discord's return is the harbinger of the end times. And what past connection does he have to the Queens of Equestria...?

Peace has found Equestria once more, and they have had their Queen of the Night returned to them! But a dark figure who looms over Equestria's past returns to the present: Discord. The chimerical despot over Equestria in a bleaker age threatens to throw the stable regime into a dominion of anarchy. Worse still, he has removed his one weakness, the Elements of Harmony, from the equation. How will Twilight Sparkle defeat the draconequus deity without the Elements of Harmony? How will her and her friends stay in unity without the Elements? And what connection does Discord have to Equestria's Queens...?

Updates on Wednesday afternoons.
Can be found on TV Tropes.

The Elements of Friendship, Book I: Harmony
The Elements of Friendship, Book IS [interlude one-point-five]: Bonds
The Elements of Friendship, Book II: Chaoskamπf
The Elements of Friendship, Book IIS [interlude two-point-five]
The Elements of Friendship, Book III
The Elements of Friendship, Book IIIS [interlude three-point-five]
The Elements of Friendship, Book IIII


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Canterlot, the capital city of the magical land of Equestria, held many locations of grand historical or cultural significance, which served as a beacon for grosses of folks from across Harmonia. Most apparent was Concordia Sorores, the palace of the Alicorn Queens, peaked by the twin towers Sol Invictus and Selûne Ferratus, the former as beautiful as the latter was terrible. Grand parks served as preservations for specimens of rare and endangered flora and fauna, each in an enchanted biosphere meant to more closely emulate the clime of their places of origin. The Colosseum of Steeplechase drew great crowds of all sorts to marvel at its ancient construction, its sturdy resistance to the decay of time, its history of competition and camaraderie between Equestria and her neighbors. Opulent theaters housed the olden manuscripts of bygone recitations and the preserved uniforms of long-deceased scops and scribes and playwrights, drawing the admiration of megagrosses around the world. And all across the stately mother-city could be found the glorious and intricate works of stained-glass craftsponies, detailing the craft of those who worked in the buildings those glasses were set in.

All told, Canterlot was colloquially referred to by many as the capital of Harmonia itself, for all of the beauty that it presented… if one could overlook the snobbish attitudes of the manticore’s share of its citizens.

Long having been held aloft above the Saddle Valley in the metropolis built upon the very mountainside of Alicorn’s Peak, a very many Ponies, Zebras, Centaurs, Minotaurs, and other such denizens came to see themselves as being different, blessed when set beside others of, in their eyes, less noble stock. In their eyes, their very presence was essential to keeping affairs orderly for Equestria, both within and without. If deprived of such nobility, chaos would surely fall upon the land of ponies.

But far from being a collection of cultural hot-spots spattered across a cesspool of arrogant white-collars, Canterlot had a golden heart, beating within the chest of the monarch who had led Equestria to a hitherto unseen era of peace: Celestia Apolinaria di Equestria.

The glowing Alicorn, embodiment of the harmony of the three Pony races − Earth Pony, Unicorn, and Pegasus − had reigned immortal for a meggrossium, alone and without her sister Selena. The two had formerly ruled as dual queens regnant, before Selena the younger Alicorn sister grew envious and attempted a coup, transforming into the miasmic NightMare Moon. Using the mysterious Elements of Harmony, Queen Celestia sealed NightMare Moon within the Moon itself for a dozen-gross years. Upon the possessed Queen of the Night’s return, she banished Queen Celestia in turn, but was cleansed of the Miasma by the Elements of Harmony, wielded this time by Celestia’s protegee Twilight Sparkle and her five friends forged in fire.

The return of Queen Selena Artemis di Equestria brought about turmoil and dissent amongst the bourgeoisie of Canterlot, so used to currying favor solely with Queen Celestia. What sort of operatic performances did Queen Selena favor? Which concert musician was she most apt to attending a recital of? These questions and many others came about at many dinners attended with Queen Celestia.

“You simply must know; you’re her sister, Your Majesty!”

Queen Celestia smiled, her tea-cup setting itself down upon its saucer with her sunny dwimmer shimmer, “Well, Upper Crust, let me ask you: Do you know everything about your husband?”

“With all due respect, Your Majesty, what does this have to do with Queen Selena’s favorite orchestral conductor?”

“Indulge me, my little pony. Do you, for instance, know the details of your husband’s childhood life?”

Upper Crust’s ears drooped slightly, her eyes casting about uncertainly.

“Well… it’s not exactly a subject of discussion between the two of us.”

Queen Celestia smiled, “And therein lies my point, dear Upper Crust. My sister and I seldom spoke to each other even before our falling out a meggrossium ago. With her maintaining Equestria’s night-time cycle, and myself holding the Sun’s reins, we would oft go months or even years without prolonged contact. So there are many secrets that she has kept from me and keeps from me, and secrets that I keep from her. As surely as even the most tightly-knit lovers do not tell each other every detail of themselves, Selena and I are not beholden to reveal every facet of ourselves to each other. Nor is anypony else. After all…” The serene Alicorn brought up her cup of tea to her lips once more. “What is life without a little surprise now and again?

“But, it is known to me who Selena’s favored orchestral composer is. His name was Archlute, and he was the premiere musician of Equestria a dozen-gross years ago.”

Upper Crust blanched, “So… you’re saying… that your sister’s favorite musician was from before her banishment? Are today’s musical performers so far below her tastes that she favors the past over the present?”

Queen Celestia shook her head, “Oh no, my dear Upper Crust, it is not as though today’s performers do not appeal to her. It is just that she has had barely two months now to acclimate to the culture shock of a dozen gross years lost. Our cousin Leo has taken strides towards aiding her in being reacquainted with international matters as well; the Cosmic Council was created after NightMare Moon’s banishment.”

“I see…” Upper Crust murmured with glance askew. “But perhaps Your Majesty’s sister would be eager to join us in a concert by the noted cellist Octavia Melody?”

Queen Celestia smiled, “I’m sure Selena would be delighted. In the meantime, would you care to partake of some cake, my little pony?”

Even amidst all of the social butterflies of Canterlot, all of those who sought to ride the coattails of other more powerful Ponies, Zebras, Centaurs, Minotaurs of the city, there was one site in the capital that Queen Celestia Apolinaria di Equestria sought to ensure remained a cultural nexus for all Equestrians to congregate around. All you had to do to access it was to take a right down the road leading to the Royal Canterlot Archives, then turn left to a path leading along the western face of Concordia Sorores, entering the Canterlot Sculpture Garden.

Statues, larger than pony-life, dotted the otherwise humbly arranged garden, flowers and shrubs of many sorts leading up to the fabled Canterlot Labyrinth. Each one of the statues represented a different virtue which Queen Celestia prized, which Equestria was meant to yearn for:

Friendship − a representation of three ponies, each of indeterminate gender, leaping about one another, smiling gleefully. For friendship brings joy to the heart and lightness to the mind.

Victory − a single pony with a flag held aloft from her saddle, prancing purposefully in her pose unstuck in time. For victory grants the feeling that one’s cause is true.

Knowledge − a pony with a scroll as long as her spine slung across her back, a contented look upon her stony features. For knowledge clears the mind and the heart.

Grace − a stately and beautiful pony wearing a sweeping cloak, a serene look upon her face. For grace grants one the fortitude to face whatever hardships may fall upon you.

Love − a buoyant Pegasus pony (for the present-day Alicorn Of Love, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, was born a Pegasus) with a crossbow slung across its back, the arrow-head of the arrow loaded into it representing a heart. This statue was unique in that it was enchanted to change form based upon the birth-race of the ever-reincarnating Alicorn Of Love. For love is unique in every appearance, yet always recognizable and beautiful.

These and many more statues filled the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, crafted by ponies of time immemorial to commemorate the greatest facets of ponies and all of Harmonia. It was a place where one could find many a philosopher musing upon the origins of such virtues, whether they were a mutation in the most recent evolutions of Harmonia’s sapient races or something which had persisted for giggrossiads before the first pony crawled out of its cave; where good-deed-doers of all kinds could be found to remind themselves of the path they had chosen, of the goodness that could be found in even the smallest and meekest; where a great peaceful state of mind could always make its way to you.

But of all the statues in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, of all the virtues espoused by the graven depictions of ponykind, there was a singular statue that not only failed to represent a pony, but also was not representative of a virtue:

The statue representing Discord.

Standing upright upon a narrow dais, its serpentine tail twirling down around to the base, was a statue of a tall reptilian creature, odd and mismatched. None of its limbs matched one another, as though the sculptors who crafted it could not agree as to what creature that they were depicting. Its right forelimb, a lion’s paw, was crossed across its belly in a deep and unheard laugh, its left forelimb outstretched as if to beckon one to join in its mirth. Its equine head was nearly split in two by its jaws spread wide in a silent cackle. On its back, spread wide, were a batlike right wing and a Pegasus’s left wing.

Nopony knew what creature the statue represented, so different it was from any pony who ever lived. When asked, Queen Celestia would only refer to it as a “Draconequus”. Uncanny was the level of detail applied to the statue; even individual strands of hair could be made out on its coat, creases of joy at the corners of its closed eyes. Even the individual scales in its right hindleg, that of a dragon’s, could be identified at a glance. You could even think that the statue breathed.

You could even put an ear to Discord’s chest and swear that you’d heard a heartbeat.

With each pulse, a hairline fracture spread out from the statue’s chest, propagating across the entire surface of the Draconequus statue. An invisible light beyond the comprehension of almost all who lived grew from within the statue, a low rumbling chuckle shaking Canterlot to its foundations.

For the state of Equestrian peace was not easily attained. Nor had the rise of the two Alicorn Queens two-and-a-half meggrossiums prior gone uncontested.


CHAPTER i: Cotton Candy Clouds

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“Good morning, Mom,” Twilight Sparkle said softly, tilting the watering can over the potted agave. “Guten Morgen, Vati.” Next came the potted cactus, and the lavender Unicorn smiled sadly down at her transfigured parents.

“Good morning, Mom,” said a mulberry Dragon cub cheerily as he stepped out onto the wooden balcony, the shade of the higher branches of the Golden Oak Library falling across his slitted eyes. “How are Grandmom and Grampa doing?”

Twilight turned brightly towards Spike, her leonine tail sweeping slowly across the polished woodwork. Her sapphire cloven hooves clacked brightly as she trotted towards her surrogate son, the watering can in her pink dwimmer shimmer being set down between the potted plants.

“They’re as healthy as they have ever been, Spike,” she smiled, nuzzling against the side of Spike’s head, the drake chuckling slightly as her bowl-cut forelock brushed against his fins. “I want Mom and Vati to be receive as much sunlight as they can before winter comes. And winter is coming, Spike.”

Spike stood onto his hind limbs and hugged one of Twilight’s forelegs. She brought up her other foreleg and rested it on his back.

“I suppose a small heliogenesis spell wouldn’t be a bad idea, would it?” Spike offered.

Twilight smiled down at her son.

“You’ve read my mind, Spike. That’s exactly what I was going to do. Provided, of course, that Green Hoof’s greenhouse is unavailable. I’d rather not impose Mom and Vati on her. I don’t know if I’m really friends with her. Besides, Golden Harvest will need as much space as she can for her wares to flourish in the winter months.”

“I guess,” replied Spike, rubbing the back of his head. “Hey, you don’t suppose we could hang out with Rarity and the gang today, do you? It’s a nice day out and stuff, you know?”

The lavender Unicorn did not need a special talent in psychiatry to puzzle out Spike’s ulterior motive in this regard; the mulberry drake was rather childishly shallow in that regard. Then again, he was a child, a dozen years old being a baby by the standards of Dragons. There was no way that she could fault him for that.

And while the Twilight Sparkle of four months would have foregone the opportunity to stroll about town in exchange for reading books in the solitude of her home, sometimes for leisure, sometimes to inspect theses and essays and volumes of text relating to thaumaturgical metamorphosis…

All of that changed with the botched Summer Sun Celebration and the advent of NightMare Moon.

The insane miasmic Alicorn, truly the brainwashed Queen Selena of the Night, banished Queen Celestia to the Sun and instituted a regime of everlasting night that lasted nearly two months. Twilight Sparkle, Queen Celestia’s personal protégée, saw the signs of NightMare Moon’s return and warned her teacher of the oncoming threat. However, Twilight found herself assigned to the exact location of the Summer Sun Celebration, Ponyville, on the express mission by Queen Celestia to “make some friends”. As begrudgingly and furiously as Twilight took this task, it proved to be the salvation of the world, as those friendships she forged in the fires of NightMare Moon’s adversity proved the catalyst for activating the Elements of Harmony and purging Queen Selena of her evil.

So did Twilight Sparkle and her ward Spike the Dragon leave behind Canterlot, with all of their effects, to live in the Golden Oaks Library of Ponyville.

With − Twilight’s heart fluttered at the thought of the words − her friends.

“Yes Spike,” beamed Twilight, looking out at the puffy clouds floating across the Saddle Valley sky, the sun shining bright at high noon. “Today is a very good day. It would be a shame to spend it sequestered here on this balcony.”

“So, we’re gonna hop on down to Ponyville and hang out with Rarity and the guys?”

Twilight smirked, “Hop on down, Spike? Did you mean that literally?”

Harlequin eyes alight, the mulberry drake nodded vigorously; this was entirely more fun than Twilight was before she’d made friends!

Her tail set down beside Spike, the little Dragon climbing up the elongated Unicorn dock and settling upon Twilight’s back, claws clutched around her barrel.

“Now, let’s go!”

Cloven hooves clacking against the balcony floor and then the railing, Twilight and Spike dove down from the second level of the Golden Oak Library to the solid ground below.

“That may not have been…” Twilight winced as Spike popped the dislocated fetlock joint back into place. “Ouch! − the smartest decision I’ve ever made.”

“It’s a good thing you don’t just read for fun,” Spike murmured ruefully.

“Mm-hmm,” Twilight mused to herself, testing her weight gingerly on her left forehoof. A dull pain shot up her leg; judging based upon her medical knowledge, she must have sprained it in the landing.

“I suppose Dr. Horse can look at it later,” she breathed through clenched teeth. “But for now…”

Twilight’s alicorn lit up pink as spell matrices aligned within, the dwimmer shimmer flickering slightly as a faint blue glow settled around her left fetlock. A cool sensation ran down and around her left forehoof, as though it had been dipped in a tub of iced water. Twilight let out a sigh of relief, albeit maintaining more weight upon her other legs.

“Well, that could’ve gone better for me,” she said, taking a further step into Ponyville. She turned her head towards Spike. “But that was fun, wasn’t it?”

“Well… apart from you twisting your ankle like that, yeah,” Spike replied.

“Then it was all worth it.”

Spike smiled sheepishly; Twilight being so open with her affections was still new to him.

“So,” Twilight began, “shall we stop by Sugarcube Corner first and see if Pinkie Pie can free up a couple hours from her schedule? I mean, it is the closest, and we should really tackle each place our friends can be found in in a logical chain leading to the next-closest in the chain.”

But of course, Spike thought, it would not be Twilight if she was not so prudent and logical.

He shrugged internally. Ahh well. Guess Rarity can wait.

“Can we get sapphire cupcakes?”

Twilight smiled warmly, wincing a bit at her tender forehoof. “We’ll see.”

Passing through Ponyville was almost entirely different from Canterlot. Not a single thatched rooftop save for the Gazebo and Golden Oak Library was higher than two or three levels above the street, so unlike the towering stone and marble constructs that lined Canterlot’s cobblestone roads. Most of Ponyville’s paths were well-trodden earth, and the fragrance of well-tended flowers flowed calmly through the hamlet. Even the way that ponies called out to her by name and Twilight Sparkle called back in turn was a far cry from the capital. Most of the denizens of Canterlot would not have cared less to know Twilight’s name unless they knew that she was the Queen’s pupil.

“Good afternoon, Twilight Sparkle!” called out an Earth Pony mare from her carrot stall, green eyes shining brightly behind a curly orange mane.

Twilight smiled back, “Good afternoon to you too, Golden Harvest. How are the carrots coming along?”

“Almost ready to rotate into the greenhouses for the winter. May I ask where you are headed this fine autumn day?”

“I’m − ouch − on my way to meet Pinkie Pie.”

Golden Harvest looked worriedly down at Twilight’s ankle, “Are you feeling alright, Miss Twilight?”

The lavender Unicorn crossed her other foreleg across her twinging hoof, offering a placating smile.

“Just a bad trip, nothing more. I’m fairly certain I’ll live. I’ll see the doctor at the hospital before the day’s end.”

Golden Harvest gave one last look at the rough-looking fetlocks round Twilight’s left hoof, before offering a hesitant smile and saying, “Well, in the hopes of your speedy recovery, how about a carrot, on the house?”

“Oh no, I couldn’t…”

“We’ll take it!”


“What?” Spike said defensively, catching the carrot in both of his claws. “Every little bit helps.”

“I guess…” Twilight murmured as Golden Harvest waved them off with a smile. “But you still undermined my authority as your mother. If we’re to do this whole mother-son thing, then there need to be clearly defined roles in play. Without those roles being enforced, we don’t have harmony. And without harmony, without those roles being adhered to, we would be exactly back where we were with NightMare Moon or Trixie…”

“Whoo-ee, Twilight!” interjected a country drawling voice, and Twilight turned to see the Apple family’s apple-cart being tended to by a burly orange-coated Earth Pony mare with angled features and a scarred physique. Her freckled muzzle was pulled into a wry smile as she continued, “Ah hope that Ah didn’ catch y’all at a bad time. It sounded like yer about as riled up as a rattlesnake that’s bin bakin’ in th’ sun fer four days straight.”

Twilight smiled sheepishly, feeling her heart lightening mildly at the look and sound of her first Ponyville friend.

“Ohh, it was nothing, Applejack,” she replied evenly. “It was just a minor dispute between me and Spike here. I might just be a little testy because of… Well…” A cloven sapphire hoof lifted off the ground, the fetlocks about it ruffled and lightly tinged with frost from the earlier cooling spell.

Applejack looked bemusedly at Twilight’s outstretched forehoof, adjusting her red neckerchief and Stetson in turn. “Ah don’ rightly know what ta be lookin’ at, sugar-cube.”

“Twilight let me ride on her back off the balcony!” Spike cried joyously. “It was awesome, more awesome than any other time we’ve left the house!”

Twilight winced as she flexed her fetlock.

“Yes, I bet it was. But − Autsch! − I must’ve landed badly on my foreleg. I’m not as strong as you are, Applejack.”

“Aww, yer jus’ sayin’ that. Yer strong, alright; strong in th’ real way.”

“If I may play drakonakis’s advocate, AJ, one doesn’t simply will a limb to not be dislocated.”

Applejack looked sadly down at the scar running down her right foreleg.

“True enough, Twilight. True enough.”

The palomino Earth Pony looked brightly back up with emerald eyes, her full blonde mane bouncing as she said, “But enough with the reminiscin’. What brings ya outta th’ library t’day? Lookin’ ta buy some apples? Or maybe some other wares a’ th’ Apple family?”

Twilight waved her bad hoof gently.

“I think I’ll pass today, Applejack. I just want to hang out with my friends. I was going to start with Pinkie Pie over at Sugarcube Corner, but I didn’t realize that you’d scheduled for your cart of wares to be set up here at noon today. I don’t want to impose on you when you have wares to sell, so I’ll just…”

“No, wait Twilight,” Applejack interjected, raising a hoof at the lavender Unicorn. “Ah’d like ta have a word with ya ‘bout sumthin’. Ya think Spike could give us a bit of mare-ta-mare talkin’…?”

“Uhh, sure,” Spike pondered. “But I’m sure that whatever you have to say to Mom, you can say it around me―”

“No, that won’t really be necessary, Spike,” Twilight interrupted. “Could you hurry along to Sugarcube Corner? I’ll meet you there shortly.”

Spike’s fins drooped slightly, his slitted pupils dilated slightly.

“Are you… Are you sure that you don’t need me, Mom?”

Twilight felt her heart melting at the sight of Spike’s morose face. Bringing her right foreleg around his back, she brought Spike closer to her and nuzzled him. His face brightened up and his fins stood up straighter.

“Don’t worry, Spike. It’s just going to be for a few moments. I’ll be right after you. And if I’m late, give the Cakes my regards.”

Spike nodded smilingly up at his mother. “Sure. Do you, uhh, want this carrot then?”

The proffered carrot lit up in a pink dwimmer shimmer, Spike’s claws loosening upon it as Twilight drew it up to her side.

“Get whatever you please at Sugarcube Corner, Spike; it’ll go onto my tab,” Twilight explained, nibbling at the end of the carrot. “And mind the volume of your voice; the twins are only a couple weeks old, and they probably won’t like ponies being too loud, and that includes Dragons. And be sure to chew thoroughly so that you don’t choke on anything. And keep a tight watch on your caloric intake so that you don’t put on any undue weight. And… “

But Spike was already quite a ways out of earshot, waving idly over his shoulder to his mother’s shrinking form.

Applejack covered her muzzle with a sand-colored hoof.

“What’s so funny?” asked Twilight with a sapphire eyebrow quirked.

“Well, it’s jus’ that… Ah really didn’ take ya fer th’ maternal type when Ah first saw ya, Twilight. That little drake jus’ seemed like he was some kinda little assistant.”

Twilight smiled after the retreating mulberry shape as it approached the confectioners’ delight that was Sugarcube Corner, just around the bend from where they stood.

“I would be lying if I said that he was not like that at all to me. You can’t believe how many all-nighters I’ve pulled reading everything that I could on any number of subjects, how he would keep me supplied with coffee by the carafe, replace books back on the shelf as soon as I was certain that I had perused them as thoroughly as equinely possible, offer a second opinion on any given subject that I may have required a second opinion on, make sure that Mom and Vati stayed watered…” Twilight traced a double-path in the dirt with a cloven hoof. “Good gracious, I’ve really been asking a lot of him in exchange for giving him a roof over his head. I was no mother to him. But now, Owlowiscious is glad to help me in re-shelving books. And now, with fewer books to read, I have more time to spend with my friends. It’s a win-win!”

Applejack adjusted her Stetson slightly.

“That’s right good for ya, sugarcube.”

A pregnant pause followed.

“So… Nice day, huh?” asked Twilight.

“That it is,” Applejack answered shortly. “Rainbow Dash an’ th’ weather team were due ta give us a clear an’ sunny day fer a bit now.”

“Yeah…” Twilight’s purple eyes looked up and met Applejack’s green eyes; the mare stood about half a head taller than her. “So, what did you want to talk about with me?”

Applejack looked away from her Unicorn friend’s gaze.

“On that day… that night… when we got all a’ th’ Elements a’ Harmony together, an’ you managed ta activate yer Element a’ Magic…”

The palomino was blushing now, her lips pursing slightly.

“Ya did sumthin’ ta try an’ calm me down from mah silly little cryin’.”

Twilight cocked an eyebrow, trying to cast her mind back to what happened at the end of that months-long night. It had been such a trying series of events, with the rising of the puppet-dead and the showdown between the Wonderbolts and Shadowbolts and Rainbow Dash’s brush with death and NightMare Moon’s nightmare worlds for each of them and…

“Ya kissed me.”

“Wait, what?” Twilight blinked. “Oh yes, now I remember that! I was trying to comfort you about the puppet-dead rising up from Ponyville Cemetery, because you were worried about… well, I don’t think you’d like me to talk about it…”

“Ah’d rather not, thank ya very much, sugar,” replied the farmer mare. “But what Ah wanna know is: Why’d ya do it? There ain’t rightly many reasons that come t’ mah mind about ponies kissin’ other ponies. But th’ most likely reason that Ah cin think about…”

Twilight’s heart twanged in her chest at Applejack’s statement. She did not need to be tremendously adept socially to understand where this conversation was going.

“Well… The reason that I did it should be pretty obvious:” Twilight began, “It’s what a friend would do, isn’t it? I mean, you were in distress, and I remember being kissed by my parents when I was upset as a filly.”

“Oh… So that’s why?” Applejack asked, the red flushing in her face diminishing to pink. “‘Cause Ah was thinkin’ thatcha… ya know, had a inklin’ ta be romantic with me or sumthin’.”

“What? Oh no, that wasn’t it at all,” Twilight answered. “I’m not the romantic sort at all, Applejack. Ponies don’t interest me that way.”

Applejack’s eyebrows raised.

“Ahh, so yer one a’ them… non-romantic type a’ ponies?”

“The proper term for ponies like me is aromantic,” explained Twilight, “but as you could imagine, for the longest time I thought that I was incapable even of friendship, until I met you and the others. And I just… I never thought that I could experience the joy I get from reading books by spending time with other ponies! This is giving me so much material to write about…!”

The Earth Pony farmer smiled at her bibliophile friend.

“Ah’m glad fer ya, sugarcube. Really I am. And… ta be honest, that weren’t the answer t’ mah question that Ah was expectin’. But… well…” Applejack crossed a front hoof across the other. “Ah’d be lyin’ if Ah said that Ah weren’ disappointed.”

“Applejack… I…”

“Aww, so you’re not just an egghead, but a heartbreaker,” smirked a rainbow-maned cerulean Pegasus mare with narrow features, flapping just overhead. Twilight shook her head; she’d neglected the intermittent whooshes of wind just moments before as a gust down the Saddle Valley.

“Rainbow Dash,” snapped Applejack, “were y’all listenin’ in on our private conversation?”

“Kinda hard not to, since we’re in public space, after all,” Rainbow retorted. “How’s the apple sales going, by the way, Apple-snack? I think I’m noticing a bit of a line forming.”

With a flick of a grayish-blue hoof, the cerulean Pegasus indicated a line of variously indignant or curious ponies, evidently waiting their turn for the purchase of Apple family wares.

Twilight Sparkle laughed nervously, her tail twitching.

“Well, I… suppose I’ll be on my way to Sugarcube Corner to make sure Spike is okay,” she said, making for the aforementioned bakery before turning to Applejack one more time, “You don’t suppose you could spare some time with us later?”

“Ah’ll see what Ah cin do, sugar-cube,” replied the Earth Pony. “Maybe Big Mac cin fill in fer me later, Ah dunno. But Ah see about wranglin’ some spare time to spend with y’all. Take care!”

“Mmm-mmm-mmm!” Spike smacked his lips and patted his belly. “You make some of the most tasty cupcakes, Pinkie Pie! I’d go so far as to say that they’re better than Mrs. Cake’s!”

“Aww, you’re just saying that~”

“No seriously, I mean it! She should take maternity leave more often! Seriously, what do you put in this stuff?”

“Soooo, what you’re saying is that you want to know the secret ingredient?”


“Well, you see…”

The door slid open with a jingle of the bell, a lavender Unicorn with a sapphire mane in a bowl cut trotting briskly into Sugarcube Corner. Purple eyes swept quickly, before she beelined straight for Spike’s seat.

“Spike, thank goodness I got here just in time!” Twilight gasped, drawing out a napkin from the nearby dispenser and wiping stray flecks of icing from the drake’s cheeks. “Just look at you, you’re a mess! You made sure to chew thoroughly, didn’t you? And you gargled water to make sure that no crumbs lodged themselves between your teeth? Because if you get a bad case of tooth decay because I wasn’t there to make sure that you ate those sucrose-ridden confections properly, I’d never forgive myself!”

“Aww, c’mon Mom,” Spike complained, folding his forelegs in resignation. “I’m fine, really.”

“Yupper-deenie he is, Twilight~” assented a round and pudgy pink Earth Pony. Pinkie Pie grinned broadly, more broadly than should have been possible on any pony. It being Pinkie Pie, though, Twilight learned not to question it too much. “He was such a keen little cupcake-eater, I’ll have you know!”

“Well, even so,” Twilight continued, “proper dental care is essential to any growing child. I would die if you ended up losing half of your teeth because I wasn’t stringent enough in maintaining a rigorous―”

“Whoa, cool down there, Ms. Twilight; I almost thought my wife teleported out here,” interjected a lanky yellow stallion, entering from the living quarters backstage. Mr. Carrot Cake looked rather more haggard than usual, a bright-orange stubble visible across his muzzle and shadows under his eyes.

“Oh hello, Mr. Cake,” beamed Twilight. “How are the twins doing?”

“Still as fussy as ever,” sighed the nonetheless proud father. “Little Pumpkin keeps fidgeting whenever I try to change her diaper, and last week Pound was crying for a new diaper even before he needed one, and when I went to change it…” The Earth Pony baker shuddered, his ears flattening against his head. “Thank Queen Celestia that the sink was nearby…”

“My sympathies, Mr. Cake. And… how about their magic outbursts?”

“Well… so far as we can tell, the wards you’ve set up are keeping our little Pumpkin Cake from magicking herself out of here, and we’ve barred the windows at your suggestion, to keep our Pound Cake from floating out of his room. It… feels a bit wrong to cage our children, though.”

“I can understand how you’d think that, but it’s all for the best to ensure that your foals stay safe and secure.”

“I suppose.”

“What I still don’t get,” Spike cut in, “is how Mr. and Mrs. Cake − two Earth Ponies − ended up having a Unicorn filly and a Pegasus colt.”

“Well, you see, Spike,” Twilight smiled, “it’s all a matter of genetics. You see, ponies carry multiple pairs of what are called chromosomes that carry our genetic ancestry, such as coat color, mane color, subcategory of pony type, etc. As such, it is possible for one’s offspring to unexpectedly turn up as the race of a distant ancestor, even if said race had a minority representation in your genetic coding.”

Pinkie Pie nodded vigorously, but both Spike and Mr. Cake tilted their heads in a rather bemused manner.

“Uhh, well, my great-great-great-great grandfather Bundt Cake was a Unicorn, and Cuppy’s great-aunt's second cousin twice removed, Fairy Cake was a Pegasus. Uhh, we think that there might be other Pegasi in her family history, but…”

“Just like how my Granny Pie was a Pegasus, and I got such cute little fluffy little feathers from her!” Pinkie squealed, waving baby-blue forehooves about and showing off the bright-pink feathers that marked her fetlocks.

“Pffft! Big deal!” came a cocky and scratchy voice from the door. Hovering in the doorway was Rainbow Dash, rubbing a hoof across her feathery chest. “Both of my parents were Pegasi, and all four of their parents were Pegasi, so I’m pretty sure that I’m all Pegasus through and through!”

“You said it, Rainbow Dash!” called out an energetic young voice, a light-orange Pegasus filly with a wild cerise mane scampered in from underneath. Behind her were a pair of other fillies: a pale-yellow Earth Pony filly wearing a large pink bow, and an off-white Unicorn filly with a curly pale-purple-and-pale-rose mane and tail.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders, as they called themselves.

“Ohh, wow,” laughed Mr. Cake nervously. “Are we getting so many customers all of a sudden? That’s… quite the surprise. Ohh, do I hear Mrs. Cake calling for my help? Don’t worry, sugarplum, I’m coming!”

And he’d disappeared back into the private quarters of Sugarcube Corner.

Rainbow Dash’s ears twitched.

“He was lying; I didn’t hear nothing.”

“Give it to him, Rainbow,” Twilight grumbled, sitting beside Spike. “He’s got enough on his hooves being a new father. He deserves a bit of respite.”

“And that means… more Pinkie Pie-style cupcakes~!” giggled the selfsame rosy baker mare.

“Ya hear that, girls?” piped in Apple Bloom, placing her forehooves upon the top of a table. “Pinkie Pie’s gunna make us some cupcakes!”

“All right!” squeaked Sweetie Belle.

“This is gonna be awesome!” added Scootaloo.

The three fillies each put a forehoof in the air.


I swear, they could give Queen Selena’s Royal Canterlot Voice a run for its money, Twilight thought ruefully, ears flicking irritably.

“Wait a second,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “If your two friends are here, Scoots, then does that mean that…?”

“Big Mac decided ta take over Applejack’s spot at th’ stand,” Apple Bloom answered, “on account a’ th’ fact that Ah said that Ah had Crusader biznis down in Ponyville.”

“And Rarity decided that her clientele was pretty slow today anyway,” added Sweetie Belle.

(Sweetie Belle’s parents were taking a vacation in Vanhoover and had left her in the care of her elder sister.)

“Oooh, so Applejack and Rarity are outside?” Pinkie Pie asked cheerily. “Is Ponyville still standing?”

“Ha-ha-ha, very funny, Pinkie, Pie,” remarked a slender alabaster Unicorn who stood at the doorstep of Sugarcube Corner. “Would you kindly take a seat elsewhere, Rainbow Dash? You’re cluttering the doorstep.”

With a vague grumble, Rainbow Dash settled down at the table adjacent to Spike’s, beside Scootaloo. (The small orange filly beamed from ear to ear.)

“Two cupcakes, if you please, Pinkie Pie,” continued Rarity with a new brightness to her tone, moving to sit beside her little sister…

“Hey Rarity!” Spike called out, eyes wide as he patted the cushion on the floor next to him. “Sit here, Rarity! I saved this seat for you!”

Twilight tried not to laugh at Spike’s overtly obvious crush; he plainly thought that he was being a clever little lad with his overtures towards the alabaster Unicorn. Let him have his little fantasy; most everypony in Ponyville was canny enough to notice, but too good to point it out.

“Oh come on over here, Rarity!” cried Sweetie Belle. “Come sit with your sister!”

Rarity looked warily back and forth between the two eager parties, both waving happily at her.

“Well, shoot, this is lookin’ mighty crowded in here,” came Applejack’s drawling voice from the doorway. “Doncha s’ppose that we oughta take this party out ta th’ outside tables?”

“Oooh, an outdoorsie party? I can get behind that~” squealed Pinkie, practically cartwheeling across the room and bounding off of Applejack’s shoulders.

“Well, I suppose that would make this whole situation a modicum less claustrophobic,” remarked Rarity, shaking one of her forelegs unconsciously. “It’s suddenly feeling rather close in here.”

“But won’t the outdoor tables take rather longer to set up?” asked Twilight. “No… wait. Stupid question. It’s Pinkie Pie.”

“That pony ain’t right,” commented Apple Bloom.

“Apple Bloom, we talk nice about older ponies,” Applejack said sharply.

Tense flare-ups aside, the party quickly migrated to the outdoor tables which, sure enough, had been completely set up by Pinkie Pie, cupcakes and all. Wisps of cloud had migrated into the space around the Sun, offering ephemeral respite from the bright light of midday.

In the end, Rarity was sat between Spike and Sweetie Belle, with Twilight on Spike’s other side. Next came the Apple sisters with Applejack at Twilight’s other side, then Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo, then Pinkie Pie at the end.

“So… what did everypony have for breakfast?” began Twilight in lieu of an ice-breaker.

“No, Twilight! We can’t start yet!” interrupted Pinkie Pie loudly. “Not until Fluttershy gets here! Dashie!” She rounded on Rainbow Dash anxiously. “What’s Fluttershy doing today? Is she gonna be in Ponyville? When’s she gonna be in Ponyville? Let me know?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged, “Beats me. Besides, how should I know? I’m her ex-fiancée, not her conjoined twin.”

“But it’s a Brunch of Harmony!” cried Pinkie, her mane deflating slightly. “If she doesn’t show up soon then this whole get-together could be thrown into utter chaos!”

“Cool your head, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy’s right there!” exclaimed Rarity, pointing a forehoof further down the road. The pink Earth Pony spun her head so rapidly that one could almost hear her neck snapping, and sure enough one could spot the butter-yellow Pegasus mare leading a small flock of ducks across the road, her sweeping pink mane falling across half of her slender face.

It seemed as though Pinkie Pie had winked out from her spot at the table to Fluttershy, the duck and her ducklings starting at the sudden appearance of the party mare and flapping off in random directions about the street. For her part, Fluttershy let out a high squeal at Pinkie’s grinning face and brought her long slender legs up in a panicked rear, before quickly darting off towards each of the errant ducklings. Letting out odd chirping quacks to draw in the hatchlings, her hoofsteps all the daintier with the soft flaps of her well-trimmed wings, Fluttershy managed to gather the ducklings and return them to their irate mother despite the persistent gaze of Pinkie Pie. Ignoring the prising eyes of the pink party pony, Fluttershy continued to lead the duck and her flock of younglings across the street and into the brush between the two houses at the other end.

“Sooooo, Fluttershy…” began Pinkie Pie slyly as the swanlike Pegasus emerged from the bush, “are you feeling keen for a Brunch of Harmony…?”

Fluttershy’s cyan eyes widened sharply at Pinkie, the edges of her irises glowing.

“Pinkamena Diane Pie, what has gotten into you? You could have trampled one of those poor innocent little ducklings, leaving Mrs. Quackers heartbroken! You’re just being… you… you…”

Fluttershy’s Stare tempered itself at the mortified expression on Pinkie’s face, the blue tint that was working its dominance over the Earth Pony’s rosy color. The yellow Pegasus’s expression grew horror-filled.

“Oh no, I’m so dreadfully sorry, Pinkie. I just lost my temper when I saw you getting so close so quickly. I don’t want you to be sad, Pinkie. Of course I’d love to have a Brunch of Harmony. Umm… I mean, if you think it’s still okay to have me.”

The dreadful expression on Pinkie’s face diminished the more that Fluttershy spoke in her more natural tone of voice, and by the time the yellow Pegasus had agreed to partake in their get-together, she had reacquired her own inborn color and beamed widely.

“That’s a big okie-dokie-lokie, Fluttershy! Harmony isn’t complete without Kindness!”

And with that matter settled, Fluttershy took Pinkie’s old spot at the table next to Scootaloo, Pinkie now seated between Fluttershy and Spike as the Brunch of Harmony came together completely.

“So, as far as breakfast goes,” Spike began awkwardly amidst the sounds of cupcakes being helped to, “Twilight and I had pancakes, that I made for us especially.”

“You really are a wonderful cook, Spike,” Twilight smiled, “but you really could have waited for me.”

“Nah, it’s fine, Twilight. Owlowiscious does enough around the place that I’d feel left-out. And, y’know, I felt like having something a bit more fun to eat. I mean, they aren’t exactly healthy, but it’s in a stack, so I guess you could say it’s a… balanced breakfast?”

Pinkie laughed, but she was one of the only ones who did; Rainbow Dash booed loudly, Applejack put her hoof to her face, Twilight joining in at the ridiculous face the Spike pulled in trying to salvage his pun, but the Cutie Mark Crusaders found it worth a small laugh, even more so because of Spike’s silly face.

“That was so funny, Spike!” Sweetie Belle squeaked.

“I know,” Spike replied with an attempt at a cool expression, rubbing a fist against his upper chest. “I have been known to let some good ones out. Mostly when I’m around a beautiful mare…”

He made a sidelong smirking glance at Rarity, who had not reacted in the slightest to his pun. At his sight, though, the alabaster Unicorn started and let out a high and stilted laugh that caused ponies walking the street to themselves startle and wonder what in Ponyville could have elicited such a noise from their residential fashionista.

Spike blew on his fisted claw, “I have that effect on mares.”

Rarity gave a forced smile.

“Humorous ribs regarding our breakfast items aside,” she said, “how goes your latest writing venture, Twilight?”

Twilight’s ears flicked at the mention of the word writing.

“Oh it’s going swimmingly, thank you for asking,” she answered brightly. “I’m glad you girls have taken such an interest in my treatise.”

“Probably the only saving grace,” Rainbow grumbled, “is that it’s partially written about me. First we’re talking lame breakfast puns, and now egghead writings about friendship? This is boring; I want something fun to happen!”

Ignoring the cerulean Pegasus’s overtures, Twilight continued,

“Well, for what it’s worth, my Treatise on the Elements of Harmony: A Study on the Long-Lost Artifacts Which Promote Order And Stability − that’s the full title − is an extensive article that I intend to submit to the Board of Science and Thaumaturgy in Canterlot. It’s presently two-gross-eleven-dozen pages long and growing, and it’s all about the friendships that I’ve made with you girls since I’ve come to Ponyville! …Well, admittedly, it is also about the Elements of Harmony and how those friendships have affected the way that they have behaved, but it is still all about us! I can’t imagine that it will be easy to peer-review, though, because of how personal a treatise it is. But then again, Star Swirl the Bearded wrote out spells based off of very personal events, and―”

Rainbow Dash let out a tremendous groan, her fangs flashing furiously.

“That’s it! I gotta go grab a thunder-cloud and slam this egghead hogwash out of my head, or I might go crazy!”

And the cerulean Pegasus shot up from the table at almost sonic speed, knocking aside one of her cupcakes and depositing icing all over the tabletop.

“Awww, come back, Dashie!” cried Pinkie plaintively. “We need all six of us here for it to be a Brunch of Harmony…!”

“Hey, take me with you, Rainbow Dash!” called out Scootaloo, her tiny wings flapping impotently at her sides.

Sighing deeply at her audience’s rogue elements, Twilight muttered, “At least Owlowiscious would find this riveting conversation.”

“Ohh, don’t be like that please, Twilight,” asked Fluttershy. “I’m sure you’re working very hard at your treatise.”

“Thank you, Fluttershy, really.”

“What’s going on with Rainbow Dash?” Scootaloo interjected, pointing up at the sky.

“It kinda looks like she’s flyin’, Scoots, nuthin’ any diff’rent frum any normal day,” commented Apple Bloom.

“I dunno,” Sweetie Belle added with an eyebrow cocked over a pale-green eye. “She looks like she’s fighting something.”

“Really? ‘Cause it doesn’t look like there’s anything up there with her.”

“Nah, Ah see what Sweetie Belle means. It’s like there’s sumthin’ stuck on her.”

“Something stuck on her?” Rarity queried. “But that would inhibit her ability to fly, would it not?”

“Oh my goodness,” gasped Fluttershy. “I hope she lands okay.”

Rainbow Dash’s flailing form came into clearer view; her wings seemed relatively clear of obstructions, but her forelegs and hind legs were tangled up in something unidentifiable and sticky. Her face was twisted in fury, snorting sharply out of her nostrils, as she tried to shake her legs free of whatever it was that had snared her.

“What. In. The. World. Is. This. Crap!” she growled.

“I don’t think that now’s the time for guessing games, Dashie,” Pinkie said worriedly. “We gotta get you outta that sweet-looking gunk.”

“It’s only pink, Pinkie Pie,” drawled Applejack. “Just ‘cause it’s pink don’t mean that it’s sweet. Ah doubt that it’s candy.”

“No, she’s right,” Rainbow Dash said as she safely crashed on the table, upending all but six of the cupcakes that had not fallen over. “I have no idea who thought it was a bright idea to stick some of this junk up in the sky, but the weather team is gonna hear about this.”

“So, what is it, Rainbow Dash?” asked Twilight curiously.

“It looks just like Pinkie’s mane,” Sweetie Belle said.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t really taste like it,” Rainbow Dash added, her tongue lolling out of her mouth as she licked at part of what covered her hoof. “It tastes like… cotton candy.”

“But… what’s cotton candy doing up in the clouds?” Twilight asked, suddenly feeling rather harried. “That doesn’t even make any sense. I mean, that’s the sort of prank I’d expect from you, Rainbow Dash―”

“Why would I prank myself, egghead?”

“―or from Pinkie Pie, but… Pinkie Pie can’t fly (or not for very long, at least), and it’s not like you two prank each other very much.”

“Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight started at the sound of that voice, at the clouds across the Sun dissipating at a flare of intense rays from above, a celestial shape descending from on high and coalescing into the shape of Queen Celestia herself. The majestic Alicorn, as bright as the Sun which she held in her reins, hovered down to the cobbled streets amidst the confused and even alarmed townsponies, and as she strode briskly up to Sugarcube Corner the anxious and alarmed expression upon her face struck existential horror into the hearts of all ponies who beheld it.

“Twilight Sparkle, you and your fellow Bearers must come with me to Canterlot immediately! Equestria needs your aid once more, urgently!”


CHAPTER ii: From The Sculpture Garden

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Twilight gave a start; what in the name of Equestria could have brought Queen Celestia so abruptly, and without a letter of forewarning at that? And − this gave pause the likes of which she did not feel at any point since she’d acquired her cutie mark − the queen regnant did not bear herself with her typical serenity, only the second time that Twilight had seen Queen Celestia act outside of her normal personality perimeters.

“Queen Celestia!” Twilight cried, galloping up to the glowing-white Alicorn and bowing down to her knees.

“Twilight, please don’t do that, we don’t have time for pleasantries,” said Queen Celestia, in far more agitated a voice than anypony present could ever recall hearing. Behind the Queen, Twilight could make out the Doo family, matriarch Ditzy bringing a hoof to a mouth shaped comically like a perfect ‘O’, little Dinky tilting an eyebrow quizzically as adopted elder sister Amethyst Star scratched her chin bemusedly.

“But, Your Majesty,” Twilight insisted, feeling very uncertain about the Queen’s suddenly far greater lack of interest in protocol, “what could possibly be more important than routine and order?”

“Twilight Sparkle,” answered Celestia in a profoundly more stern tone, her pale-blue eyebrows furrowing, “I will not say it again. This is a matter of quintessential urgency that requires you and your friends to come with me to Canterlot posthaste! Is that enough incentive, or should I make matters plainer?”

Twilight stood bolt upright and hesitantly saluted the Queen.

“Y-yes, Queen Celestia! Shall I… pair up my friends with myself and you for the ease of winking out? Rarity… really doesn’t think she has the skill to wink.”

“Well, not insofar as the magical terminology for teleportation,” interjected Rarity, waving a cloven hoof nonchalantly; “it seems a rather dreadfully complex procedure.”

Queen Celestia’s alicorn glowed as the Sun.

“Very well, then. Twilight, you shall wink Spike, Rarity − “ (Spike let out a resonating “Yes!” which Celestia allowed a small smile at.) “ − and your good friend Applejack to my throne room. I myself shall wink alongside Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie.”

“Directly into your throne room, Your Majesty?” asked Twilight as Spike clung to her barrel, Applejack and Rarity at either side wrapping a hoof around either foreleg. “Isn’t that rather untoward? Rude, even?”

“Given the present circumstances,” Queen Celestia’s eyes darkened, Pinkie leaping weightlessly atop her back as Rainbow and Fluttershy respectively grabbed a foreleg and a hind leg of the Queen (the cerulean Pegasus taking great care to not touch Celestia with any part covered in cotton-candy), “a breach in such matters is the smallest of our concerns.”

And the Queen counted off with an extended hoof − one, two, three − and on the fourth count, she and her protegee vanished in twin flashes of pink and yellow light.

“Well, this day suddenly got boring,” grumbled Scootaloo.

“Ah wouldn’ say that,” said Apple Bloom, looking up at the frizzy pink clumps drifting down from the sky.

“Oooh! Cotton candy clouds!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, her alicorn emitting pale-green sparks of joy.

Upon touching down in the throne room, Rarity immediately detached herself from Twilight and bolted to the nearest stained-glass window. As it always did whenever winking out, her mane lost any sense of cohesion and became a perfect sphere of frizziness.

“Why? Why does this always happen to me?” she shouted, her voice ringing up and down the audience chamber.

“Ah reckon we got bigger carrots ta fry than yer mane-do, Rare,” Applejack groused, earning a withering look from the alabaster Unicorn.

Twilight faced Queen Celestia as her three friends disengaged from the towering Alicorn, “Queen Celestia, is this about those peculiar clouds back in Ponyville? Is this not an isolated incident? Is it some creature from out of Tartarus? Has Cerberus abandoned his post? Has―?”

But Queen Celestia raised a greaved foreleg in a gesture for silence.

“Sister, bring the Elements, quickly!” Celestia called towards the dais at the end of the throne room. At the Queen of the Day’s calling, Selena the Queen of the Night approached with a glide. Stately and regal, though less beautiful than her elder sister, the Queen of the Night leveled a stern gaze upon the seven attendants of Celestia. A gilded chest marked with six gemstones, each one of the primary colors of the rainbow, was held in her royal-blue dwimmer shimmer. At her side, clad in slender golden armor, was the Royal Guard named Paper Mache, Queen Celestia’s prospective personal bodyguard.

Twilight bowed.

“Queen Selena, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

‘Time is of the essence, Twilight Sparkle,’ answered Queen Selena shortly. ‘Sister, the locks!’

“Yes, little sister,” replied Queen Celestia, her sunny dwimmer shimmer seeming all the brighter next to Selena’s. A pair of locks, each marked with Sun and Moon, resonated with the magical signature of each Queen, unlocking themselves.

“Umm, Queen Celestia?” Twilight asked nervously. “What exactly do we need the Elements for…?”

“Trust me, Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia responded without looking at her pupil, “you will know what to use these on when you see… him.”

Initially, Twilight was baffled as to why her mentor had stopped talking, and had not got much further than to think Him? before her unspoken query was answered.

“What? What is it, Your Majesty?” asked Paper Mache, one of her eyebrows quirked inquisitively.

Queens Celestia and Selena used their dwimmer shimmers to tilt the unlocked and opened chest for Twilight and her company to see. The interior, lined with purple velvet, was empty.

“The Elements are gone,” Celestia murmured.

Selena turned worrisome eyes upon the Queen of Day, ‘Elder sister, dost thou believe that He hath made off with them?’

Queen Celestia bowed her head, resting a cloven forehoof on her tall golden crown. “That may be our only answer. It wouldn’t make sense for anyone to pilfer them, but He is beyond sense.”

“Umm, Queen Celestia…” asked Fluttershy. “Umm, can I ask… Is your crown too heavy? I mean, umm, it looks like you’re having trouble with it.”

Celestia’s eyes met Fluttershy’s.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown, my little pony.”

“Well, if it’s so heavy, then just take it off,” called Rainbow Dash, flying up to Celestia’s head and setting her hooves to the golden crown.

“NO!” screamed Celestia, eyes wide, her alicorn flashing as bright as the Sun itself, sending Rainbow Dash reeling. Fluttershy flapped up in alarm, catching her ex-fiancée in her forelegs. Twilight and the remainder of her friends looked back and forth between the Pegasi and Queen Celestia. If the Queen looked unsettled before, then she now looked to be verily unhinged. Her face was broken out in a sweat unbecoming of such stately and lovely royalty, her pupils dilated almost to pinpricks, breathing raggedly as she adjusted her crown to ensure that it remained steadily perched.

“Cool down, Queen C,” the cerulean Pegasus quipped. “I was just trying to help.”

“Perhaps,” replied Celestia slowly, her breathing returning to normal, “but this crown… I cannot remove it. Ever. It is a part of my contract with the ponies of Equestria, that He shall never have Equestria.”

“Who’s this ‘He’ you guys keep talking about?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Spike added.

Celestia and Selena made eye contact, purple to cyan, round pupils to oval pupils. Once more Twilight felt as though the Alicorn sisters were sharing a conversation without speaking. Was it their sisterly bond, or something unique to their breed? A sudden thought shot through Twilight’s mind: Where were the other Alicorns? Knowing the general tale behind the creation of the Alicorn of Love, Twilight knew that there was no real connection to wherever Queens Celestia and Selena came from. Who was their father? their mother? Did they have any other siblings? And if they did, what happened to them…?

“It seems that an old foe of mine and Selena’s − one whom we’d formerly hoped to have thwarted forever − has returned.”

Twilight blinked.

“Wait, what? An old foe? It wasn’t the Relict Windigo, was it?”

Queen Celestia shook her head.

“If it was that abomination, it is likely that life would have been wiped from this continent by now. No, the Relict Windigo remains entrapped in the amber of Concordia Arbos, in the very deepest cell of Tartarus. The foe I speak of is one who would rather play with his food before eating it.”

Queen Selena nodded, shifting her gaze to the nearest stained-glass window, the one which Rarity stood under.

‘Our age-old foe: Discord.’

The alabaster Unicorn looked up to it, as did her companions. Twilight gasped slightly; it was the same stained-glass image which had captivated her when she and Zecora had passed through nigh on a month ago. It was the horrific image of a creature uncannily akin to the statue representing discord in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, holding a pony of each race at the end of puppet strings over a flaming pit. Once more did Twilight Sparkle feel a chill down her spine at how disturbingly realistic the ponies were portrayed with their distended screaming mouths and their twisted limbs. But perhaps more disturbing was the expression on the beast’s − on Discord’s − face: one of twisted diabolical glee, eyes staring widely down at his pony prey.

“Before the founding of the Equestrian Duumvirate,” Queen Celestia explained, “Discord reigned over Equestria − the world of Harmonia − everything beneath the Firmament − in an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness. Selena and I were born into this miserable world under his iron hoof, and we have no recollection of how much time had passed between our births and when Discord had arrived from the Far Beyond.”

“And… how is he connected to cotton-candy clouds?” Rarity ventured.

“Discord is the spirit of disharmony and chaos, of things not behaving in ways they were meant to behave, or being where they should be. The seas were as roiling wine, driving the world to madness as the fumes swept inland on outward-bound winds. Mountains of sugar-lumps rose up from the sky, crushing entire swathes of civilized land. Ohh, it was a time of misery.”

Selena continued, ‘But let it be known that Celestia and I did not suffer his reign to continue. We sisters and our olden companions did forge the Elements of Harmony and subsequently assail the draconequus despot, turning him into stone.’

Rainbow Dash put a hoof in the air triumphantly.

“Alright, Queens! You rock!”

Queen Selena tilted her head bemusedly, ‘Thy modern terminology still confuseth thy Queen, Rainbow Dash. Prithee explainest to Selena one day how one dost “rock”.’

“With any hope,” Queen Celestia cut in, “that day will pass swiftly. For Discord has broken free from his encasement in the Sculpture Garden, and seeks to bring his archaic reign of anarchy upon all of Creation once more.”

“Hey look, guys!” Pinkie Pie interrupted, pointing at a stained-glass window directly to the east − to the left − of the dual thrones. “We’re famous!”

Squinting down the hall at the stained-glass in an effort to humor the pink Earth Pony, Twilight felt her heart skip a beat at the sight: It was an artistic depiction of herself and her five fellow Bearers, each wearing their respective Element of Harmony, with beams of light connecting them to a cowering NightMare Moon.

“Your return of my sister was a momentous occasion in the history of Equestria,” Queen Celestia said softly, “but not solely in the manner of your utilization of the Elements of Harmony to purge my sister of NightMare Moon. You six have demonstrated a greater resonance with each respective Element far more than their former Bearers… which ends a process that had begun with Selena’s banishment a meggrossium ago.”

“What do you mean?” asked Paper.

“I mean that the moment that I turned the Elements upon one of their two core makers, their connection to the original Bearers weakened severely. I can only suppose this is why NightMare Moon was merely banished to the Moon with my little sister, rather than being expunged entirely. Ever since then, I’ve been feeling the seal upon Discord weakening as my own tether to the Elements waned. Now, I fear, the ability to wield the Elements has passed from Selena and I; I could no more wield them than command them to dance.”

“Oooh, could I command the Element of Laughter to dance?” Pinkie Pie interjected. “‘Cause that’d be so fun~!”

Knowing you, Pinkie Pie, it’s entirely possible, Twilight thought.

‘What my sister is trying to tell ye,’ Selena said as she stepped forth, ‘is that it is no more upon Celestia and I where the duty to rein in Discord falls. The only ones who can defeat him… are you six, the present Bearers of the Elements.’

“But without the Elements, what can we do?” Twilight asked plaintively.

Queen Celestia hung her head, ears drooping.

“I know not, my most faithful student. I had hoped that we could strike while Discord was still weak from his recently regained freedom, but he anticipated my move. I was clever enough to outmaneuver NightMare Moon, but not enough to outflank Him?”

“Oh, chin up, dear little sunshine,” said Discord, running a claw up Celestia’s chin. “It does little to brighten my day seeing you so dim.”

Everypony gave a start. Twilight and her band leapt back in alarm, shrieking, Fluttershy covering her face with her wings, Spike cowering behind his mother’s cannons.

The draconequus looked alarmingly different from either his stained-glass depiction or the stony effigy of his prison. Stripped away were his fur and scales and flesh, leaving behind merely a muscled skeleton. Empty eye-sockets marked only by the muscles for eyebrows offered no insight as to where − or even how − this master of chaos turned his gaze.

Discord?” Celestia cried, her wings unfurling and her alicorn shining fierce. “How long have you been here?”

“Hmm…” Discord fingered at his chin with a bony claw. “Yes, that is true. But… if you really want to nitpick, I suppose you could say I’ve been here since the chapter was posted.”

“Wow, really? Where were you hiding?” Pinkie Pie asked, curiosity overcoming the fear of the herd. “Where was it exactly?”

“Why, in the cipher at the end of the chapter,” replied Discord, his tone of voice indicating his joy where his rictus grin could not. “And the code is DISHARMONY to all of you diligent readers out there! We’re making this one easy for you~!”

Pinkie Pie giggled, “I like this guy!”

“Same here, random pink pony!” Discord laughed. “You’d make a good right-hoof mare!”

‘Pinkamena Diane Pie, withdraw thyself from that beast!’ Selena cried, carrying herself up to the vaulted ceiling. ‘He is a villain and a murderer!’

“Ohh, I see that you’ve brought your little sister back from time-out on the Moon,” Discord said cheerily to Celestia. “Though if you’d like me to be frank, I’m surprised your baby sister changed her mind because you used your orbital friendship cannon.”

‘Stay thy tongue, thou whey-faced churl! The times have been far kinder to myself than to thee, I see!’

Discord looked at both skeletal forelimbs − lion’s paw and eagle’s claw − and sneered, “Oh yes, well, I would have liked to appear in my Sunday best, but somepony had turned me into stone for two-and-a-half-dozen-score years! Being in that state has truly been murderous to my complexion…!”

“Enough of the prattle, Discord!” Celestia flared, her mane and tail actually gleaming a sunny yellow for an instant. “Where are the Elements of Harmony?”

“The what?” asked Discord, head tilting confusedly (his spine cracking horrendously at the movement). “Ohh-hoho, you mean those little baubles? Well, I knew that as soon as I’d left the time-out corner you’d so ungraciously dumped me in, you’d gather up your little lapdogs to stone me for you. So… I decided to borrow them. You know, just so that you can don’t unduly imprison me before knowing that I am ready to be reformed.”

“What? ‘Reformed’?” Twilight echoed.

Discord’s head spun about to face the band of Bearers, his neck making even louder cricking noises as he did so.

“Well well well, if it isn’t the new Bearers of Harmony,” he said, stepping backwards so that he could still face them. “You must be Twilight Sparkle, the Bearer of that most elusive of all the Elements − Magic. Quite the little bookworm, you are, aren’t you?”

“Hey! You lay off of her!” Rainbow Dash cut in. “Only I’m allowed to call her a bookworm!”

“Thanks, Rainbow Dash… I guess,” said Twilight.

“And you must be Rainbow Dash, famed for her honesty − the Element you represent. You never really learned how to keep a lid on it, have you?”

“I’ll teach you how to keep a lid on it!” snarled Rainbow, bringing a hoof back.

“Rainbow Dash, wait!”

If Twilight hadn’t seen it come out of Fluttershy’s mouth, she would not have believed it. Fluttershy, advocating that Rainbow Dash hold back from a known enemy?

“Flutters, what the hay? You’re killing my moment here!”

“Come on now, Rainbow Dash. I know he looks more than a little frightening.” Indeed, the butter-yellow Pegasus was keen on avoiding glancing at the towering skeletal figure. “But… I mean, look at Queen Selena. She looks pretty scary, too. But we can trust her. And… well, Discord hasn’t done anything mean to us, so…” She smiled at Discord, clearly trying to focus her eyes somewhere past him. “I think that he can be a better person if he really tries.”

Discord’s body spun around beneath his head, wholly facing the Bearers now.

“And so, you are Fluttershy, Bearer of Kindness. Such a sweet soul, though prone to naïveté.”

“Fluttershy, no!”

Queen Celestia flashed into the space between Discord and Fluttershy, leveling a fierce gaze upon the draconequus.

“I will not let you sway the Bearers, fiend! You have wrought too much ruin upon the world as it is! Your reign of terror will not―!”

“Up-upupupup,” Discord placed a bony finger on Celestia’s lips. “Pipe down while Daddy’s talking, sunbeam, or you’re going into time-out next.”

Celestia’s brows creased.

“Your Majesty…” Twilight’s voice was like a beam of serenity into Celestia’s heart, and she felt the power and rage burning in her heart began to cool as she turned her gaze down to the lavender Unicorn.

“Your Majesty,” Twilight said again, “I don’t know all of the details of the Age Of Discord, but… two and a half meggrossiums is a very long time. Don’t you think that, perhaps, Discord is being sincere with his plea of reformation?”

“Well, I really wouldn’t say I’m reformed, per se,” interjected Discord, “but if I was given just a small, tiny, teensy-weensy chance and not be forced to ‘taste the rainbow’ as soon as waking up…”

“But Twilight, don’t you know about the timeless age of misery…?”

“I do know, Your Majesty, but… Your own sister was wrapped up in her rage for a dozen-gross years, with nopony but her own thoughts, and the Miasma’s. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t take long at all for her to return to her senses after she and the Miasma came free.” Twilight offered the draconequus a hopeful smile. “Maybe Discord is the same way.”

“But…” Celestia turned a frightful gaze to Discord. “You don’t know him, Twilight…”

“No I don’t. But I’d like to give him a chance, get to know him myself.”

Celestia teared up, looking down on Twilight with a mortified expression as if Twilight had lost her horn.

“Well, this is unprecedented,” Discord contemplated. “A student defying her teacher. Who’d have thought it?”

He snapped his eagle’s claw, and in a flash of bright − but somehow not blinding − light, the draconequus Discord appeared as he should have with flesh and fur and scales. His feathered blue wing and his scaly bat-wing flexed on his back, his tan hoofed leg held up in a limber stance by both paw and claw.

“Ahh, that’s much better. I’m practically feeling reformed already.”

Red irises set in yellow sclera settled on Celestia.

“See that, sun-flare? You get more flies with honey than with vinegar~”

Celestia looked dumbstruck, her jaw slack as she watched Discord stride off to meet with the Bearers of the lost Elements. Selena flapped to her sister’s side.

‘Sister, dost thou believeth this course to be wise?’

Celestia looked to Selena.

“I have no idea, little sister. We both know the depths of his depravity and how far he falls from a decent person, but Twilight Sparkle’s judgment seems sound, and we have no idea where Discord has hidden the Elements anyway, so…” She set her eyes upon Discord, who had started to dance on Twilight’s head without causing her to cave into the ground. “We keep an eye on him, and expand our patrols. Search for the magical signature of the Elements.” She looked down to Paper Mache. “Can you do this for me, Paper?”

“I’ll get right on it, Queen Celestia!” she said, snapping to a salute before galloping out the double-doors.

“Whoo-hoo~!” Pinkie Pie rose to her hind legs and began to perform a strange dance that she had to have made up herself. “Shake it, Dizzy! Boogie down!”

“I can see why you’re the Element of Laughter, Pinkie Pie!” Discord chortled. “You’re a real hoot!”

“…Please get this freak off of my head,” Twilight grumbled.

Selena narrowed cyan eyes at the dancing draconequus.

‘His power is still weak from his imprisonment, but it will restore itself quickly,’ she said softly so that only her sister could hear. ‘We must not let him leave Canterlot.’

What was that? mused a voice in her head. ‘Leave Canterlot’? Don’t mind if I do!

And in a split-second, faster than either Alicorn could react, Discord stopped mid-twerk and snapped his fingers, he and his seven companions vanishing in a flash.

Celestia sighed.

“We can only pray that Twilight knows how to rein in Discord without the Elements.”

Selena smiled at her glowing sister.

‘She hath brought thine younger sister back. Surely she can manage such a feat.’

Celestia looked back to the stained-glass depiction of Discord’s reign, focusing on the equine leg where his lion’s paw was now…

“I hope you’re right, little sister.”

“Oh my goodness!” cried Roseluck, pointing down the road past the Gazebo. “Twilight and her friends have brought a terrifying monster into town!”

Lily and Daisy cried out as well.

“The horror, the horror!” screamed Lily.

“It’s the end of Ponyville as we know it!” shouted Daisy.

And the three of them bolted into their home.

Applejack quirked an eyebrow at the display.

“Well… if th’ Flower Triplets ‘re gunna react so strongly ta Discord showin’ up, he really mus’ be on th’ level.”

Discord cocked a shaggy white eyebrow. “Really? They always react so strongly to an upset in the balance? Interesting. I’m going to enjoy my stay here in Ponyville after all…”

“Do try not to cause them too much strife if you must,” Rarity said shortly, eyeing Discord suspectly. “We’d rather not have to deal with the disruption.”

The draconequus heaved a sigh, scratching at his black mane.

“Very well, if I must.”

And with a snap of his fingers, the road beneath them turned into soap, bubbles drifting in the air. Discord’s six pony attendants came to a slippery halt, Rainbow Dash instinctively taking flight. Pinkie Pie completely lost her footing, comically sliding onto her face.

Discord began to slide on the soap, veritably skating on his hind legs, biting his bottom lip in an obvious attempt at curtailing a laugh.

“You should see how silly you all look right now!” he chuckled.

“Yes, we look positively droll, I imagine,” groaned Rarity.

“This… doesn’t even make any sense,” moaned Twilight.

Discord shook his head ruefully, “‘Make sense’? Ohh, what fun is there in making sense? Once you learn to see things my way, you’ll see that things tend to be a bit more flexible.”

As if to demonstrate, Discord’s extremities all swapped positions with each other, his horned gray head where his lion’s paw was, his eagle claw where his head should have been, his feathered wing where his eagle’s claw was, a hooved leg sticking from his back next to his lion paw, his amaranth tail where his dragon leg was, his bat-wing where his tail used to be…

“Ooooh, neat~!” gasped Pinkie Pie. “You’ve got some real talent with your magic!”

Discord covered his mouth with a paw in a mock yawn.

“You think that this is talent? I haven’t even shown my biggest tricks yet… I just need a bit of time for my power to restore itself after… well, I’m sure you heard back in their throne room. Or, should I perhaps call it their ‘overthrown room’!” he finished with an acid tone. His eyes widened in realization, and in a snap his physique had returned to normal. He cleared his throat.

“Right. Well then… First one into town is a fresh egg!”

And so Discord began to skate down his own soapy road, for all intents and purposes appearing to skate forwards while actually moving backwards, his dark-brown body receding into the village streets and out of sight.

Applejack faced Twilight with a concerned expression.

“Sugarcube, are ya sure it’s a bright move ta trust a feller goin’ on the way he does?”

“The way I see it, especially because of the way he acts,” Twilight said in what she assumed was a reasonable tone. “Without the Elements, we need to find an alternative solution to disarming him. And logically speaking, what better way to negate whatever threat his power shows than to make sure that he turns good?”

Rarity rubbed her right-front fetlock against her chin. “Be that as it may, darling, you do recall that his reign lasted for an indeterminate number of years? Claims of reformation or not, I feel that we should take Queen Celestia’s trepidation into consideration. She did experience Discord’s reign first-hoof, after all.”

“Yeah, but wasn’t that, like, a baggrossium years ago or something?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“A ‘baggrossium’ isn’t a real number, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said instinctively.

“Whatever. But wouldn’t it just look worse to her because of how long ago it was?”

“I suppose,” Twilight conceded. “As it is, I have read a number of books regarding the so-called ‘Age of Discord’, which I suppose is not such an abstract descriptor for that era after all. However, many of them were based off of hearsay, or the accounts of mad ponies. By all accounts, those books were most likely unreliable; I have no idea how they stayed in print for so long.”

“Who cares if it’s probably a bunch of made-up malarkey?” Spike asked. “It’s probably because some ponies find that kinda stuff interesting.”

A thought occurred to the lavender Unicorn.

“Wait a second. Rainbow Dash, you bear the Element of Honesty. Does Discord seem like he’s being forthright with us?”

“I… I don’t know.” Rainbow Dash, for the first time since Twilight had known her, looked uncertain. “I can always tell whenever somepony’s being a liar, ‘cause it’s not cool to brag about something that’s not real. But… when I hear that guy talking… I just can’t tell. Even if I know if it’s true, just the way he talks about it…”

Fluttershy gave a squeak and attempted to hide behind Rarity, a feat made altogether more difficult by the slippery road that she now strode on. From behind one of the thinnest branches of the nearest tree popped out Discord, breaking logic in two across his knee.

“Was somepony talking about me?” he asked inquisitively, without a shred of malice or threat behind his tone.

“What gave ya that idea?” Applejack replied.

“My ears were burning,” Discord answered, and sure enough his ears were indeed on fire.

Twilight sighed; truth be told, she could do without the visual puns.

As could be expected, the atmosphere in Ponyville grew altogether more tense as the passersby caught sight of Discord. The Flower Triplets had raised such a din over the years that only the youngest of Ponyvillagers took their outbursts seriously. However, with the descending clumps of sticky cotton-candy from the sky and the roads gradually turning into soap while the slender draconic being gaily skated about on hoof and claw, they began to feel a slight foreboding creep into their chests.

‘Oh dear dear dearie-me,’ mused Mary Smith-Noir, the light-blue Unicorn mare placing a cloven hoof on her muzzle. ‘This seems mildly unsettling.’

“Ahh, do lighten up, ma chérie,” remarked her wife Pinot Noir, suggestively bumping her rump against Mary’s, prompting a blush. “Per’aps you need a glass of my latest brew, take some of ze tension off… and perhaps a chaser?” She winked slyly.

“Mother, Maman, who’s that dragon guy?” asked Mornen Noir, their rosy Unicorn daughter.

‘I… well, I don’t quite know, dearest,’ Mary remarked hastily, Pinot’s tail wrapping around her back and prompting her face to flush a more furious shade of red. ‘I have never seen a creature like that before, but I… I think that it might be a draconequus.’

“Wow…” Mornen’s lime-green eyes widened in wonder.

“Mmmm…” Pinot nuzzled her head into the crook of Mary’s neck, inhaling deeply, her cutie mark rubbing against her wife’s. Mary began to sweat profusely; Pinot was getting altogether too amorous in front of their daughter.

‘Pinot, w-would you kindly stop rubbing your b-b-beautiful bum against me?’

Discord did a pirouette of sorts and landed on a single digit of his lion paw, a singular bar of soap appearing where he touched down.

“My goodness does it feel good to be free again!”

Discord stretched out his eagle claw and legs as if to work out any soreness or tiredness, snapping his fingers and producing sparks. Immediately Pinot began to convulse, her nostrils flaring as she drew back from her wife with a grimace on her face.

“Discord!” snapped Applejack. “What did ya jus’ do ta Miss Noir?”

“Who, me?” Discord replied innocently, a halo actually appearing over his head. “I was just stretching. A stone body-suit is not my go-to fashion choice, after all!”

Pinot Noir sneezed, a comical blubbering noise…

And her house behind her and her little family fell backwards from the trio, as flat as a pancake.

Discord laughed uproariously.

“I’ve been waiting to do that for a very long time!” he wheezed between chortles.

“If you’re looking to seek reformation,” hissed Rarity, “you’re not presenting a very good figure for the denizens of Ponyville.”

“‘Pony-ville’?” echoed Discord, biting his lip. “Well, that certainly fits for a village full of Ponies. I daresay that there are probably a veritable menagerie of locales throughout Equestria called Ponyville by this age. Goodness knows, looking about the decor of this place, ponykind has gotten into a bit of a rut since my reign.”

“Oh no no no no no,” Twilight cut in nervously, wearing a hesitant smile. “Equestria has really flourished in the past two-and-a-half-megagross years. We have a counting system that is consistent across the three pony races now, we have a wide variety of transit systems to get ponies from one side of Vespucca to the other with all due speed, our technology is far more advanced than it’s ever been… Really, things are perfectly fine as they are!”

“Are you sure?” Discord asked, who’d been idly fiddling with his goatee. “That’s not how I see it… I mean, really, doing the same thing over and over again, and receiving the same result? It seems so… boring.”

Twilight’s ears folded back. She did not doubt the threat that Discord potentially showed despite his whimsy and carefree demeanor. Despite the fact that Queen Celestia’s word was not printed in a book, she gave careful consideration to the options laid before them, as few as they were, and chose the choice most apropos.

But now, with a growing dark look on Discord’s face…

The draconequus’s jaws split open in an uproarious guffaw.

“Oh-hoho, you should see the look on your face, it’s priceless! Did you − You really thought I was gonna turn Ponyville inside-out and upside-down? Oh-hohoho, you really are that little sunbeam’s adorable little gofer.” Twilight grimaced as Discord pinched her cheek with his eagle claw.

“Be that as it may, turn the Noir house back to what it once was,” Twilight snapped.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” answered the draconequus.

“And why not, or are ya too big ta tell us?” cut in Applejack.

Discord’s expression grew rather cross.

“Because I spent all of that time inside of a beautiful stone statue of myself, my control of my chaotic powers has been rather…”

His eagle claw flew up and snapped, seemingly involuntarily. As Discord looked at his own claw in surprise, a chorus of splat!s made their way about the streets of Ponyville. Looking about, Twilight realized that it was presently hailing pancakes, complete with maple syrup and butter by the looks of it. As the syrup and the melted butter began to splatter from the fallen hotcakes, the Ponyvillagers spending a seasonable autumn day outdoors suddenly found themselves seeking shelter in the nearest home (the Noir family ended up bolting towards the home of the Flower Triplets, banging fruitlessly at the door).

Discord smiled sheepishly. “Oops.”

Twilight groaned, placing a hoof on her face.

“Hey! Here’s an idea!” Rainbow Dash said brightly. “Why don’t we all go someplace near Ponyville where Discord’s magic can’t do bad by anyone?”

“And where in th’ name a’ Ponyville would that be?” Applejack asked with a raised eyebrow.

Rainbow Dash smirked.

“The reservoir…” Twilight mused aloud. “I must admit, Rainbow Dash, this is quite the handy spot. Nice, secluded… we should all take a picnic out here someday!”

To her surprise, Rainbow Dash groaned in dread. Twilight frowned.

“Is there something wrong with that idea?”

“Well no, not really,” Rainbow said with a shrug. “…Unless it’s gonna be rigidly scheduled just like your slumber-parties!”

“Hey! I’ll have you know that I like to perform things by-the-book! Checklists are important to ensure that optimal levels of fun have been achieved, in order for a slumber-party to fit within the official perimeters.”

Rainbow growled, “Do you have any idea how stupid that sounds? It’s a slumber-party; anything can happen there! Truths can be told; dares can be dealt; bottles can be spun!”

“Bottles?” Spike interjected. “What about bottles at sleep-overs?”

“Nothing, Spike!” Twilight answered nervously, too quickly. “Nothing at all! There’s… nothing in Slumber 101 about any games called Spin-The-Bottle!”

“You gotta kiss the one the bottle points at,” Rainbow Dash hissed over Twilight’s shoulder, earning a sharp glare from the latter.

Spike gasped deeply, his claws flying to his cheeks.

“I love this game! I’m gonna ask Rarity if she wants to play!”

“That… won’t really be necessary, Spike,” Twilight cut in, stepping in front of the mulberry drake’s beeline towards Rarity. She hoped that she looked reasonable and reassuring, and not at all nervous and terrified at the notion of her little baby getting his first kiss so soon.

Then again, came an idle voice inside her head, Rarity would probably not be a bad first kiss for him…

Twilight shook her head internally.

No! Twilight, du Schwachkopf! Spike is still a baby, and Rarity’s a full-grown mare! Don’t enable him, or he’ll think that this crush is something deeper!

“Actually, now that I think about it,” Twilight said, coming upon an idea, “Spin-The-Bottle can also be used as a means of playing the game Truth-Or-Dare. Who knows what you could catch by kissing somepony. Cooties, maybe…”

“‘Cooties’?” Spike cried in alarm. “I don’t want cooties! They’d scuttle under my scales and nibble away underneath them…!”

Twilight smiled softly, “Then you just wait a few years until you’ve developed immunity to cooties, and then you can find your first kiss. I want you to be safe, Mein geliebter Drache.” She nuzzled against the crown of Spike’s head, the mulberry drake smiling in turn. “Now, if you like, I’d like a private word with Rainbow Dash, so… could you give us some space?”

“Whatever you say, Mom,” Spike said, scampering off to join the others by the reservoir.

Twilight rounded on the cerulean Pegasus. “If you’d be so considerate, I would like it if you didn’t go over my head regarding my son!”

“Hey, he wanted to know the game, and isn’t knowing half the battle or something?”

“It’s a good thing that Spin-The-Bottle is more than just a kiss-a-random-pony game, or that would have been an altogether more awkward save. I don’t want my little boy to be playing a game that’s all about kissing random ponies over and over; he’s too young for something like that!”

“He’s a dozen years old, Twilight.”

“That’s still a baby in Dragon years!”

“Maybe, but let the little guy have a bit of fun.”

“And that’s why I’m going to add Truth-Or-Dare Spin-The-Bottle to the itinerary of our next slumber-party.”

“Again with the schedules and the itineraries and the checklists, Purple-Smart! Not everything needs to be so written out and pre-planned! You’ve gotta be spontaneous sometimes!”

“Spontaneity is the enemy of Harmony! If somepony starts to act spontaneously too much, then we run the risk of falling down a great slippery slope of everypony just doing what they like when they like to do it. And if that were to happen, that would lead to the downfall of this great civilization that the Queens built for us! I won’t let myself become the harbinger of the downfall of Equestria just because I feel like abandoning my checklists!”

“The whole world won’t end because you decide to do something unplanned just once! This is getting ridiculous, Twilight! You’ve gotta loosen up and go with the flow!”

Twilight would have replied with a sharp retort, but she suddenly felt as though every bone in her body had disappeared. A great sinking feeling happened all about her, and before she knew it her alicorn flopped uselessly between her eyes as they sunk back into her head, her legs giving out beneath her and Rainbow Dash looking down at her in horror.

“Whoops! Sorry, Dusk Twinkle! My fingers slipped~!” called Discord from the side of the reservoir.

Twilight tried to mouth off to Discord in Germane, but without a jawbone connected to her mouth muscles all that came out was a faint gurgling sound. This was a horrendous feeling, worse than anything than Twilight had ever felt in her life. Her eyes rolled lifelessly up towards the sky, falling upon the Sun, her heart beating against her liver…

And suddenly she was standing upright again, coughing horridly.

“Oh, I guess that was just a temporary skeletal displacement spell,” mused Discord, now floating over Twilight and Rainbow. “That could’ve been so bad… for you. Welp, in any case, care to join us all down at the reservoir?”

Twilight flexed her legs, her elbows, her fetlocks, her leonine tail, just to see if even a single bone had fallen out of place. Feeling suddenly exhausted at having been deboned for so many seconds, Twilight could only blearily nod. Giggling gleefully, Discord disappeared in a flash down to the reservoir, suddenly wearing a one-piece swimsuit.

“Uhh… Wanna take it slow, TS?” Rainbow offered nervously.

Twilight nodded again, offering an assenting moan. Her speech seemed to be deprived at the moment.

Rainbow alighted beside Twilight and the pair of them began a walk down to the reservoir, the latter staggering slightly as she became reaccustomed to having bones.

If there was one bright side to this, it was that the limp in her left foreleg had vanished.

“So, umm, Discord?” asked Fluttershy.


“Umm… What sort of things could you do with your powers when you were… well, at full strength?”

Discord scratched his chin in thought.

“Well, that’s a tough question. Really, I suppose the real question is what I couldn’t do at my peak. Magic was all mine to command, and with it, all of reality.” He leveled red eyes upon the butter-yellow Pegasus, grinning a grin full of fangs. “I was able to do as I pleased with you little ponies as my playthings, what you were made for, and now…”

Discord snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. Five times more he snapped them, each with the same result. He sighed.

“The same reaction to the same action… Such a quaint notion.”

In spite of her recent victimization at the hooves of Discord’s chaotic magic, Twilight could not help but to sympathize with him. Losing her magic, as uncontrollable as her mana was in her youth, would be the worst thing to ever happen to her. She knew stories about Unicorns who had lost their horns and therefore their ability to use magic, and the effects that this had had on their lifestyle. Twilight prided herself on two things: Being well-read, and being a magical prodigy. To be so robbed of your power when you knew that you had such a great potential must have been the worst feeling ever. To be so impotent, like a composer gone deaf…

“I’m sorry to hear that, Discord,” Twilight mused, her voice scratchy but serviceable. “If only there was something one of us could do…”

To her surprise, Discord grinned broadly, and she did not like the look of it at all.

“Oh, I daresay that all you lovely little ponies are going to be doing quite a lot for me in the future…”

“Who! Who!”

Twilight’s ears perked up at the sound of very familiar hooting. Looking off towards Ponyville, she caught wind of her Owlowiscious flapping towards her with all due speed. The tawny ball of feathers nearly collided with her face, the owl still hooting up a storm.

“Owlowiscious!” Twilight shouted. “What in Ponyville has gotten into you?”

The owl perched on Twilight’s horn, pointing with a wing at the distant Ponyville…

Only Ponyville was unrecognizable with half of its buildings floating about in the air at angles that one would expect in a surrealist painting. Cotton-candy clouds dotted the sky over the hamlet, pancakes and syrup and butter still falling upon it, only now it was joined by what looked to be a rain of spiders as large as ponies.

Twilight’s jaw dropped, horrified. How in the world did this happen…?

She almost didn’t register Discord’s laughter.

“Oh-hohohohoho, isn’t this such a blast? Look at all the delightful chaos being sewn down in Ponyville! I knew that I could do all kinds of crazy things there from wherever I wanted, but it’s just so much more delicious to think that…” Discord covered his muzzle with both paw and claw, trying to restrain even greater fits of laughter. “…to think that you believed that my powers were affected at ALL…!”

“You lied to me? To us?” gasped Fluttershy, tears at the corners of her eyes.

“I know!” Discord laughed uproariously, rolling about on the ground with both arms on his belly. “Wasn’t it just splendid? To think you actually believed me… Oh-hohoho, it’s too rich!”

And the remainder of Discord’s statements were lost in insane laughter.


CHAPTER iii: The Crown Thrown Down

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“Aaaagh! IT’S IN MY MANE!” screamed Diamond Tiara, trying vainly to rub the maple syrup from her pink-and-white hair. “Get it out get it out get it out!”

“Keep still, DT!” cried Golden Parachute, trying to support a bucket full of water in her hooves. “I think I can clean it off of you… if you just… stay still!”

The cream-colored Pegasus swayed unsteadily as the water sloshed in the bucket, spilling on Roughshod and Toady as they tailed the bucket-laden filly.

“Watch it, Goldie!” snapped Roughshod. “Diamond needs to be washed off, not me!”

“Sorry! This bucket’s kinda heavy, and the water’s―…!”

Whatever the water was remained locked behind Golden Parachute’s lips, as a giant spider fell on top of her. The filly immediately began to shriek, the bucket flying aside and dampening a pell-mell pile of pancakes five hooves to Diamond Tiara’s right.

“Eee, get it off me get it off me get it OFF ME!” Golden Parachute screeched, flailing her hooves about to try to swat the oversized arachnid off, its long spindly legs encroaching around her barrel and scrabbling wildly.

“Get this off of me first!” Diamond Tiara squeaked. “It will take so much conditioner as it is to fix up my…!”


Freezing at the sudden wetness, as though she had been dunked into a tub of water like some common carnival harlequin, Diamond Tiara wiped away her forelock to look at the pony who’d thought to dump water on her. Standing before her, a second bucket before them, were her old friend Silver Spoon, as well as…

“How dare you…!” Diamond snarled at the Cutie Mark Crusaders, those insipid little blank-flank twits. Her namesake tiara slid down from its precipitous position on her poll. “How dare you, you stupid blank-headed blank-flanks! Who gave you the idea that I wanted to be soaked through to the bone?”

For some strange reason, the Cutie Mark Crusaders looked confused about the accusation, and Silver Spoon gave the trio of fillies an astounded look. The bespectacled Earth Pony filly blinked, before letting out a minute gasp − what was that about? − and pointing accusingly at the three.

“Yeah!” Silver Spoon shouted. “What’s your deal, you stupid blank-flanks? If she wanted an ice-cold shower, she’d have asked somepony!”

Apple Bloom’s peach eyes narrowed slightly, her jaw dropping.

“B-but… we weren’t th’ ones who―…”

“Look at what your bucketing did to her mane!” cried Silver Spoon in indignation, taking a piece of Diamond Tiara’s curling mane in her hoof. Already the perfectly conditioned mane was becoming frazzled and unkempt from the undue soaking.

“But you’re the one who did the bucketing!” snarled Scootaloo, looking mutinous.

“Don’t listen to them, Di!” the gray filly cut in, her expression startlingly tense. “They’re just a bunch of lying liar dung-heads!”

“But,” Sweetie Belle looked teary, “we didn’t even do anything…”

Get out of here!” Silver Spoon shrieked, pointing off towards the distant Sweet Apple Acres, her glasses falling askew and shining menacingly in her anger.

Evidently deciding to grace Diamond Tiara and her posse of friends − and Silver Spoon − by vacating the premises, the Cutie Mark Crusaders scampered off, erratically evading skittering spiders and sticky piles of syrup and melted butter.

“Umm… thanks, I guess?” mused Diamond Tiara, adjusting her tiara atop her mane. “I really could’ve shouted them off myself, though.”

“Oh. Well…” Silver Spoon stammered, her ears going slack. “You see, they didn’t know that you were so messy, and it just so worked out that you’re all clean now.”

“Yeah,” the pink filly replied bitterly, wringing out part of her mane. “Soaked through from poll to fetlocks, but clean.”

“What are you even doing here, anyway?” snapped Golden Parachute, Silver Spoon whirling in astonishment at the rich Pegasus’s accusatory tone. “You aren’t Diamond Tiara’s friend anymore, aren’t you?”

“Yes, she’s right,” said Snake-in-the-Grass, approaching slowly with an ominously swishing tail. “You threw her aside when being a friend wasn’t convenient to you.”

“What sort of friend does that make you?” Roughshod hissed.

Silver Spoon shrunk back, slipping slightly on a freshly fallen pile of pancakes. Diamond Tiara made to step forward towards her former friend, but hesitated as she looked about at her posse.

“Guhh, where’s all this coming from?” Toady grumbled, in between bites of pancakes stacked high with melted butter.

“No idea,” Diamond Tiara said shortly, looking concerned. “This is just such a mess everywhere!”

That statement rang true to most everypony in the circle around her. Pancakes and hot melting butter and dollops of maple syrup were falling from on high, seemingly from out of nowhere. The residents of Ponyville, perplexed by this sudden and bizarre precipitation, began to bring out their umbrellas on an otherwise cloudless afternoon. Then the spiders began to come down, and the streets were filled with screams of terrified ponies running from the oversized arachnids.

“Maybe it’s some bad prank from a weather-pony,” Silver Spoon suggested.

“Hey!” snapped Silver Lining. “My mother is a proud weather-mare, albeit waylaid by that upstart Rainbow Dash. If she was not a Bearer of the Elements of Harmony, I’d ask Mother to have her fired for―…!”

“Wait a second!” Diamond Tiara interrupted. “The Elements of Harmony! Those blank-flanks know the Bearers! We have to go find them!”

And with that the posse of seven fillies began to make their way down the streets after their detested classmates, impeded by the straggling adults and the spastic spiders and the falling breakfast items.

Discord the draconequus continually rolled about on the ground, almost literally laughing his insides out. The grass that he rolled about across changed into pencil shavings, the flowers into buckets of popcorn kernels. Twilight and her band gaped at him in horror, glancing back at Ponyville intermittently.

“I… was wrong about you, Discord?” Twilight snapped. “What were you planning to do by pretending like you were reformed? Was this a ploy for time so that you could get your powers back all while keeping the Elements out of our hooves?”

Discord sat up, hands on his belly, sniffling and bringing up his claw to wipe away tears of mirth.

“Oh no no no, it’s nothing like that,” he beamed. “I just felt like starting small with pulling at your tails. I mean, my power is at a whole other level from anything that you mere mortals could comprehend. I am immortal, omnipotent, and I didn’t even need to bust out my biggest tricks to pull the wool over your eyes!”

The draconequus’s lips quivered in obvious mirth, his eyes watering afresh once more. The seven-member herd simply stared at him in shock and horror.

A curious tweeting reached their ears, and a small canary flitted up from the canopy of trees afar to the east. Fluttershy’s eyes followed it with fear as it drew nearer and nearer to Discord. The draconequus stared at it with widening eyes, reaching out a talon that the canary graciously landed upon. Twilight’s heart lifted; maybe, just maybe…?

“Pffft,” Discord snorted. “Bo-ring…!”

And with a snap of his lion’s paw, the canary gave a terrible squawk and its feathers shrunk into its flesh, organs pushing their way through the gaps in its ribcage as its eyes bulged horrifically.

Twilight’s stomach lurched in alarm as Fluttershy gave a shriek, the butter-yellow Pegasus’s cyan eyes wide as they followed the canary as it fell twitching to the grass, where it made retching noises as its wings feebly attempted to flutter.

“There, much better!” Discord said gleefully, barely covering his quavering grin with a shaking lion’s paw.

To the astonishment of everypony else in the band, Fluttershy stomped forward with fury etched into her face, and force in her hoofsteps. Her wings flared, and she flapped up to Discord’s face with eyes wide.

“You… big… dumb… meanie!” she snarled, with uncharacteristic vitriol, her pupils narrowed to points. “You turn that canary back to normal right now, or you’re gonna regret it!”

Discord’s eyes boggled out at Fluttershy… almost literally, as the optic nerves snapped straight out at the suddenly assertive Pegasus, his eyes less than a few centimeters from her own. Still, Fluttershy stood her ground, her wings flapping more fully than they commonly did.

With a smirk, Discord pushed his eyes back into place and rubbed paw and claw together.

“Well well well, I think I like this Fluttershy a lot more; so… aggressive,” he finished with a flick of a snake tongue at the ‘s’ in aggressive. “Why, you should come out and play more often. It would be quite… titillating.”

As he spoke, Discord slowly began to reach his claw towards Fluttershy’s temples, the butter-yellow Pegasus’s eyes refusing to budge from the draconequus’s…

Fluttershy!” cried Rainbow Dash, darting up and pulling her friend back from Discord’s reaching claw. As soon as feeling the cerulean Pegasus’s grip around her, Fluttershy’s wings went slack and the lines of rage in her face vanished. She gave Rainbow Dash a frightful expression.

“Oh my… I’m so sorry, Dashie. I just… I don’t know what came over me. I saw what Discord did to that birdie, and then I…”

“It’s alright, ‘Shy,” Rainbow Dash said with a rare tenderness. “It’s not your fault; it was Discord’s.” A fresh venom entered the Pegasus’s voice. “You should know how Fluttershy gets about animals; you were able to figure out which of the Elements we bore!”

“An’ what about them Elements, ya backstabbin’ varmint?” snarled Applejack, a faint emerald glow swimming behind her eyes and dancing about her hooves.

Discord sighed in frustration.

“Such a one-track mind, you little ponies. Your simplistic modes of thought have always been such a bore to me, far moreso than any of the other playthings I’ve had in all my time. I mean, really, if you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. And oh please do! Your homes are all so much more fun now!”

“Fun? This is just a bunch of horse-apples!” snapped Rainbow Dash, eyes and fangs flashing. “What sort of reason could somepony have to do this to a bunch of innocent ponies?”

“‘Reason’?” Discord echoed, twiddling his antler in between the talons of his eagle claw. “No reason at all! Chaos has no reason; it just happens! I mean, suppose things didn’t happen as they ‘should’ happen for a very good reason. That would make too much sense. Trust me, sense is far too common these days; you would not believe some of the absolutely sane things I have heard while entrapped in that Sculpture Garden. Inane drivel about ‘sharing some of the wealth with the proletariat’ and ‘creating jobs for the working class’ and some other third thing…”

Replacing his antler in his head (point-first), Discord floated into the air without the aid of his wings, the reservoir beside him rising upwards as a flurry of perfectly round drops of snow which turned into sugar-cubes and salt-licks…

Water turning into salt? Twilight’s eyes widened. But that’s impossible!

“So, while we’re all here,” Discord said suddenly, with a rather chipper grin on his face, “anypony want a flugelhorn?” He clapped paw and claw together, and when he pulled them apart the double-trumpeted trademark instrument of the Crystal Empire appeared as if out of nowhere.

“Ooh ooh ooh!” Pinkie Pie began to eagerly wave a forehoof in the air. “I want a flugelhorn!”

Discord dangled the flugelhorn temptingly in front of the pink-maned Pegasus mare.

“What do you have to say, Shutterfly? Want a flugelhorn?”

“Umm… I… think I’ll pass, if it’s okay with you.”

“I won’t pass!” Pinkie cried out, waving both of her forelegs over her head. “I want want want a flugelhorn!”

“Very well then,” Discord huffed before presenting the instrument to an Earth Pony mare. “What about you, little AJ? Do you want a flugelhorn?”

Applejack frowned, “Ah’m not much of a music pony, if ya don’ mind.”

I mind!” Pinkie shouted, looking and sounding quite cross as she stood on her hindlegs and waved her forelegs like a windmill. “I want that flugelhorn!”

Now frowning himself, the draconequus forced the flugelhorn into the face of a feathered filly.

“Come on now, Roy G. Biv! Surely you want a flugelhorn?”

Rainbow Dash sighed frustratedly, “No thank you! I don’t like playing music instruments!”

I like playing them, and I want the flugelhorn!” screamed Pinkie Pie, jumping and stomping furiously. Her coat and mane had actually gone rather red, her irises gleaming yellow.

Discord growled in his throat, steam actually streaming out of his ears, before he rounded on Twilight Sparkle and…

“No, Nein, not in a giggrossiad, Discord, would I ever take something from you even if it was mana from the Elysian Fields!”

“Hoo!” Owlowiscious hooted in sharp agreement.

Long face contorting in rage, Discord knelt sharply down towards Spike, flugelhorn held between two claws. The mulberry drake shrugged, “I dunno, I kinda think Pinkie wants it.”

The sound of a deep breath being taken caught everypony’s ears. Turning towards the source, only Twilight Sparkle seemed astonished at the sight of Pinkie Pie drawing in a deeper breath than anypony should have possibly been able to, her head actually swelling beyond its natural size. Her eyes bulged out of her head, focused on Discord.

“I… WANT… THAT… FLUGELHORN!” she shrieked.

The crimson Earth Pony clenched her teeth, breathing heavily out of her nostrils, her head shrinking back to its normal proportions and her color returning to its regular rosiness.

Discord cocked a shaggy white eyebrow at Pinkie’s display, clapping his paw and claw together and making the flugelhorn disappear with a loud and rude fart noise.

“Well then… Aren’t you an interesting little pony? You may very well indeed be my right-hoof~!”

Twilight bristled at the thought of one of her friends being turned against her, especially for such a random and illogical foe.

“Pinkie will never join you, Discord. And just to save your breath, none of the rest of us will either!”

Momentarily disregarding the fact that cotton-candy clouds had descended on her hamlet home, joined shortly by pancakes and syrup and butter, along with spiders far larger than most and yet not so large as acromantulae, and the fact that the Elements of Harmony were in a place yet unknown to them, Twilight Sparkle turned a rage-filled expression upon the mad draconequus, her alicorn flaring pink as dozens of offense-spells cycled through her mind to cast upon the diabolical trickster…

A flash of golden fire blazed from the North Equinus Mountains, Discord reeling in reflex towards the south as the flames licked the salts and sugars that were once the Ponyville Water Reservoir and giving off a strong scent of caramel.

Eyes turning up to the source of the blast, Twilight and her band bore awestruck witness to the Sun-Queen of Equestria with her power unsheathed.

Mane and coat blurred together in a haze of golden-orange, eyes burning like flames set inside coals, her feathers, mane, and tail all trailing streaks of fire that stretched back to the capital of Canterlot. Twilight’s heart grew cold; she had never seen Queen Celestia bearing such rage before.

“Oh hohhh…” chuckled Discord, rolling back the fur and feathers on his arms like sleeves. “I see that precious little Sunshine has taken off her kiddy gloves…”

Queen Celestia collided with Discord, carrying him bodily away from Twilight and her band, leaving nothing but a trail of heat behind and the echo of her bellowing tones,

Thou wilt not touch my beloved apprentice, thou old serpent!”

Twilight gaped in mingled terror and elation at the sight of her mentor in all of her immanence, snarling in rage as she plowed a manically laughing Discord through the air towards the South Equinus Mountains in all of their jagged foreboding. She shuddered involuntarily as she beheld the peaks of the austral mountain range that helped to form the bowl of the Saddle Valley; for grossenturies the southern half of the pair of Equinus Mountain ranges had held a fell air to the ponies of Equestria. The subject of many a writer’s final confrontation in innumerable fantasy and, more recently, science-fiction novels, the location of numerous sacrifices and alien landings…

But Twilight Sparkle knew that the odious reputation of the South Equinus Mountains did not originate from these fantasy or sci-fi novels. To the contrary, these novels were inspired by the reputation that South Equinus received.

And why? Why was it that these mountains instilled such fear and unease when gazed upon, as though some horrific menace loomed over the Saddle Valley rather than simply a jagged mountain range?

Queen Celestia and Discord passed through the mountain range as though it were not there.

“Wait… What just happened?” Twilight asked, blinking.

“I saw that too, Mom,” Spike added wondrously. “I mean, if what you saw was Celestia going right through the mountain like some kinda smoky magic trick. That was what you saw, right?”

“Yesserroonie, we did see that one, Spikey!” squealed Pinkie. “She must really be pushin’ Dizzy away something hard!”

“Pinkie Pie, stop calling him Dizzy,” Rainbow Dash grumbled. “He’s not a good guy; you can see that.”

“Umm, well, it’s really your decision, Pinkie,” interjected Fluttershy, offering a miniscule rendition of a nervous smile.

“And in addition,” Rarity added, “it did not appear entirely as if she had plowed through the mountainside, but rather as if… do you recall how Twilight’s ursa-banishment spell passed straight through Trixie’s false ursa major?”

“Lahk it happened yesterday,” answered Applejack. “But… Those South Equinus Mountains, they can’ possibly be ‘not there’. Ah mean, they’re jus’ too big.”

‘Thine eyes can be deceived, fair Applejack; so trust them not.’

Queen Selena had descended fewer than a dozen hooves away, the scent of caramel being wafted by her wing-flaps. She held a golden object in the purple-spotted black prehensile tip of her mane; after a moment, Twilight recognized it as Celestia’s queenly crown.

“Queen Selena… what’s going on?” Twilight asked, almost forgetting to bow before cantering quickly to the night-Queen. “I’ve never seen Queen Celestia like that, at least not in person. I mean, I’ve read accounts of her in a rage, but… Why are you holding her crown?”

As Celestia’s unclear bellow at Discord echoed down from miles away, Selena looked darkly down at the crown.

‘Thinkest thou of my sister and I as powerful, thou dost, Twilight Sparkle?’

Twilight nodded slowly.

‘But our true power lies far beyond what thou couldst comprehend. So powerful are Celestia and I, that the merest whim of our magic couldst rain incontinent terror and death upon Equestria − neigh, Harmonia. Elder Sister’s powers wert always so strong, so uncontrolled, as roiling and as deathly as her Sun. Mine own control of my dark powers hast always been stronger… barring the apparition of the Miasma, and NightMare Moon. As it is, needeth not your Queen of the Night external forces to constrain her ability. But mine elder sister hast had her regalia enchanted to holdest the true scope of her Alicorn powers back, such that her very equine emotions wouldst not sway the world unduly.’

“I know exactly what that’s like, Queen Selie,” said Pinkie Pie with a surprisingly dour expression. “I can do all sortsa things that other ponies can’t, all sortsa fun things like jumping in two opposite directions at the same time or hugging ponies with more legs than ponies have, and I don’t wanna do them too much ‘cause other ponies can’t do them, and other ponies might freak out if they see or feel or anything of me doing that, and then they would be sad and that wouldn’t make me a very good party-planner pony, would it?”

The pink Earth Pony, as always, said all of this very quickly, and finished with a very wide grin.

Queen Selena cocked an eyebrow, ‘Thou didst say that thou callest the Descort Fields thy place of birth?’

“Wellll, not really. See, Mom and Dad’s rock farm is at the edge of the Descort Fields, and it’s been there for way way way way way way longer than anypony in our family can remember. Now, I know that my family really really really really loves rocks and farming rocks and selling rocks and everything there is to do with rocks, and there are a lot of rocks all about the place where we are at the edge of the Descort Fields, and…”

‘Stay thy tongue, rosy one,’ interrupted Queen Selena, a slightly wary expression on her face. ‘The Descort Fields doth have a murderous history; twas the site of mine elder sister’s and my final confrontation agaynst the diabolical Discord. Twas in that fell place that did fall the first seeds of Everfree, and the air of wild magic began to grow.’

“Discord… Descort…” Twilight mused to herself.

‘Yes, Twilight Sparkle, that indeed was where the “Descort Fields” did acquire their appellation. Even now, what you have seen of my sister is but the faintest glimmer of what she couldst accomplish on that day...’ Selena shook her head. ‘Neigh, twas not a “day” as any of ye wouldst perceive it. The Sun and Moon didst spin endlessly about the planet, but not with regularity; sometimes did they approach perilously close, and sometimes swinging out till they were but a twinkle and a memory. There was no counting of time; no use was there for calendars or sun-dials. Twas the dusk of the Age of Discord.’

Selena’s batlike ears twitched, and she cocked her head off towards the south. Giving a curt nod, she allowed her eyes to rove over the band of seven before taking flight towards the South Equinus Mountains. As she followed Selena’s path through the air, Twilight caught sight of a brilliant golden-yellow glowing figure hovering over the South Equinus Mountains, the clouds in the sky wavering behind it the sign that it was emitting a formidable level of heat. Squinting as Queen Selena approached the flaming figure, Twilight had a shrewd idea of what − or rather, who − it was as the sunlike glow faded from the being floating up there.

“What in tarnation was that all about?” queried Applejack, her scarred muzzle scrunching up in consternation.

“I think I know,” Twilight answered. “I just wish that I knew more.”

Seven pairs of eyes followed the distant figures as they approached from the high peaks of the South Equinus Mountains. The shapes of Queen Selena and Queen Celestia resolved into view as the flying figures grew closer, alighting beside the reservoir. Queen Celestia’s pristine white coat seemed to be stained by what looked like ash, but apart from that she appeared perfectly fine.

“Queen Celestia,” Twilight gaped, “what in the world just happened?”

Celestia’s expression was dark.

“I could not bear to see you and Ponyville so beset by Discord and his madness. His prior reign is such a bitter memory to me that I could not bear to see it unfold again. Not with you in it, my little pony. So…”

‘Elder sister did ask if I could unlock her full power by removing her crown as soon as we’d left Canterlot airspace,’ Selena continued.

“You see,” Celestia said slowly, “my true special talent is not merely to guide the Sun through the cosmos, ostensibly to supply Harmonia with light and life. No, it is my destiny to be the Sun. For as long as I can remember, I have exuded an aura of terrible nuclear fire whenever I could not keep my anger in check.”

“‘Nuclear’?” Twilight and her band echoed.

“Suffice it to say that the flames I project are not merely extremely hot, though that alone would be enough to incinerate most ponies within a few score hooves’ distance from me. No. If I ever removed my crown… then the aura that would radiate out would cause horrendous mutations in all life physically near to me.”

“So that’s why you were untouched by the Sun’s harmful radiation during NightMare Moon’s reign!” Twilight gasped. “You yourself project it as part of your own magical talent!”

Celestia nodded.

“Yes, but can you imagine my horror, Twilight, when this broke out? I spent years isolating myself, trying to hold my magic in, using whatever spellwork I could to contain my own incontinent sun-fire. That is, until the mages of the nascent Canterlot helped to produce that which you see here,” the Queen of the Sun spread each leg out one at a time, balancing on three legs as she did so, showing the golden greaves she was shorn in; the golden bracer on her chest gleamed as brightly as her crown. “As long as I wore this regalia in full, I could walk safely amidst my little ponies, and bring no harm to them. As I said to you in the throne room, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’.”

“So… what happened to Discord?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“I disintegrated him with my nuclear fire,” Celestia replied simply.

Twilight felt her heart lurch in her chest. Disintegrated?

“Whoa nelly…” gasped Applejack.

“Oh my…” Fluttershy breathed.

“But, that being the case,” Rarity mused aloud, looking back to Ponyville, “why is our town still so besotten with such wanton chaos?”

“Because I can regenerate from the mana in the air,” replied a completely unexpected voice from the puddle of caramel in the reservoir. Discord lounged back in a chair made from melted salt-licks, an umbrella perched up just behind his head that rained what smelled like vinegar all over him. “Throw whatever you want at me, it doesn’t matter, I’ll just pop right back up again! So really, what did you accomplish apart from raising your blood pressure, my dear little ray of sunshine?”

Reaching up inside of the umbrella, Discord produced a vacuum cleaner. Plugging it into his own nostrils, he began to sweep it none-too-gently all across Celestia’s body, the ash coming off all too easily. With an affronted expression, Celestia rounded on Discord as he unplugged the vacuum and ate it.

“And I must say, sunbeams, that you haven’t changed at all in the time you’ve had me in time-out,” Discord smirked. “You’ve still got that spark going for you. Really, you do. Why, we could have it just like in the good old days.”

“There never were days that we shared which were good, Discord!” Celestia snarled. “Now tell me where the Elements of Harmony are, or else I’ll―…”

“You’ll what, ‘Celestia’? Roast me again like a shish kebab at the barbecue? All you’re doing is wasting my time doing that.” He sighed. “But I suppose I could humor you lot and give you a sporting chance to find the Elements. Let’s see if you can puzzle this one out:”

The draconequus cleared his throat, snapped his fingers to produce a pair of reading glasses in a flash of light, and looked down at his paw as though to read from it:

These words I speak are clear and loud,

And though harmony is hereafter disavowed,

Another chance will I give to you,

A brand-new adventure for the whole crew!

But what you search for is not what you think;

Into the quagmire of discord you may sink.

Generosity can be found in greed,

As want can be discovered in need.

To discard your joy is a mortal sin;

To find laughter, simply look within.

Fidelity is a trait found in deep straits,

Shining brightest behind hostile gates.

With all of the troubles that set one at unease,

Being kind and loving is not such a breeze.

To find the truth, you will have to seek

Where the air is strong and the earth is weak.

Twists and turns are my master plan,

And you will find magic back where you began.

Shaking his paw out as though to remove a fly that had settled on it, Discord removed the glasses and shook them out as well, turning them into a pair of drinking glasses, one filled with strawberry milk, the other with lemonade.

“So, anypony want a drink?”

Stony silence greeted his request. Even Pinkie Pie had had her fill with his mad chaos, what with his refusal to even acknowledge her desire for a flugelhorn.

Again, Discord found himself sighing.

“Fine. Guess I’ll just drink these glasses myself.”

Tipping his head back, Discord tilted the entirety of the glass of strawberry milk into his mouth, the glass flowing around the pink drink and down the draconequus’s gullet while the liquid stayed in place.

Inspecting the glass-shaped blob of strawberry milk with narrow eyes, Discord lobbed it over his shoulder nonchalantly, the pink beverage exploding violently upon contact with the caramel reservoir. Waving his now-free claw in the air, Discord produced what looked like some sort of sieve and, holding it upside-down over his mouth, poured the lemonade through and produced a lemon which he caught in his teeth. The draconequus grinned comically as he clenched his jaws tightly, crushing the lemon and spewing bitter juice all over the herd of ponies (and Spike).

“So yeah,” Discord said as he clapped paw and claw together, the sound of a bicycle horn emanating forth. “You six little ponies are gonna get a small respite from my chaos magic for a wee bit. Just wanna see if you can puzzle out my magic little riddle. And until next we meet…”

Discord floated up into the air, smiling manically.

“Good luck, my little ponies~!”

And with one last mirthful laugh he vanished in a flash of white light.

“What in tarnation was that all about?” Applejack muttered.

Before anypony could answer the apple-farmer, Queens Celestia and Selena lifted off of the ground and, as one, flew off towards Ponyville. In the flare of their manes, Twilight momentarily caught a glimpse of intense resolve on their faces before they escaped her line of sight.

“Quick, after them!” cried Twilight, galloping at full speed down the path back to Ponyville, with Spike on her back and her friends at her heels.

Ponyville itself was in pandemonium even with the pancakes and syrup and melted butter and giant spiders having stopped falling. Lyra Heartstrings nudged her wife Bon Bon back into their co-owned shop the BonBonnière, the aquamarine Unicorn levitating a black hoodie over their Unicorn daughter Toot Sweet. Ditzy Doo carried Dinky Doo under her barrel and over scurrying arachnids and sticky piles of mangled breakfast items.

“Remain calm, everypony!” cried out the Mayor, squinting about; a spider had smacked her pince-museau glasses off of her muzzle some time before. “Remain calm! The weather team has been dispatched to try to find some clouds that haven’t turned into cotton candy!”

‘Constable!’ called out Queen Selena, alighting before the Mayor, who squinted at the Queen of the Night.

“Queen Selena…? And is that…?” Her eyes widened.

“Yes, Mayor Stable. Your Queens have come,” answered Celestia with a dark expression. “And we will set to the task of cleansing Ponyville of this chaos.”

Two horns lit up sun-yellow and night-blue, and immediately several piles of pancakes began to levitate up and off of the ground, vanishing in dual flashes of light.

“I’ll see if I can help, Your Majesties!” Twilight interjected, her own alicorn flashing pink as she cast her mind about to all of the pancakes that lay about the streets of Ponyville…

Wait!” cried Fluttershy, diving onto Twilight’s back and knocking them both to the ground.

Twilight gaped. “What is wrong with you, Fluttershy?”

The butter-yellow Pegasus pointed at one of the further splattered piles of pancake; a small gray ball of fur was currently nibbling away at it.

“You could have zapped that poor little possum,” she said with wide eyes. “That poor little thing; it must’ve woken up from all the screaming…”

“Yeah, I suppose. They are nocturnal, after all.”

‘“Nocturnal”?’ echoed Queen Selena, cantering curiously off to the creature in question, tilting her head down for a closer look. The possum looked up from the pancakes and sniffed inquisitively at the nightly Alicorn’s nose.

Selena’s pupils expanded to fill her entire visible eyes, letting out a squeal of delight.

‘Oh Celly! Gazeth thee upon this creature! It is so adorable and lovable!’

The possum was swept up in a deep-blue dwimmer shimmer and brought swiftly up to Queen Celestia’s face, the bright Alicorn recoiling slightly at the sudden invasion of her personal space by the slender grey rodent.

“Selena… It is just a possum.”

‘A possum, thou sayest? Such an unbecoming name for such a fascinating creature. Nocturnal and adorable… Why hast such a creature not been brought before mine eyes afore now?’

Celestia weakly replied, “Well, most ponies see them as pests, Selie…”

‘Pests? Hardly; surely this creature is the product of nobler lineage than thou or I.’ She set the possum down on the now-cleansed pathway at her hooves, beaming down at the small creature. ‘Tiberius thou shalt be, my familiar!’

The gray critter immediately perked up, scampering up Selena’s leg and across her back and up her neck, perching himself just behind her crown.

Celestia just blinked.

A shrill cry brought them back to Ponyville, still beset by giant spiders and the detritus of so many pancakes and so much melted butter and syrup. The Cutie Mark Crusaders and a group of other foals were being herded together by an advancing cluster of spiders.

“Sweetie Belle!” cried Rarity in horror, but before anypony could so much as steel themselves, Spike launched himself forwards from atop Twilight’s back, bolting on all fours towards the clutter of spiders and the frightened foals.

“Don’t worry, Rarity! I’ll save them!” he cried.

Meanwhile, the foals were not in a very friendly position.

“Keep them back, keep them back!” shrieked Diamond Tiara, rearing up in fright. “Do something, you useless blank-flanks!”

“Ah can’!” Apple Bloom squeaked. “They might touch me!”

“So much for ‘masters of the earth’!” snapped Roughshod, nonetheless keeping a close eye on the spiders with their pincers and grasping legs…

Spike took a deep breath and, taking care to keep his aim off of the ponies, sent a blast of sparkling green fire all about the oversized arachnids, a torrent of columns of green-yellow smoke soaring into the air and towards the distant towers of Canterlot.

The mulberry drake wiped at his mouth, removing flecks of drool, before turning to the foals.

“Is everypony alright?” he asked with a worried tone.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both heaved sighs of relief, and Sweetie Belle was fixing Spike with a wondrous gaze, a faint blush creeping into her cheeks, but for the non-Crusader foals, Spike may as well have not spoken at all. The pink filly fumbled with the tiara upon her head, and the gray one held one hoof against her glasses to keep them from falling away. Each of those eight foals offered Spike looks of varying levels of distaste.

“We didn’t need your help, lizard,” hissed Snake-in-the-Grass.

“We were perfectly capable of handling the situation on our own,” Golden Parachute growled.

“Hey!” Sweetie Belle snapped, face flushing. “You leave him alone; he did what he could to help us!”

Diamond Tiara scoffed, “Leave it to the blank-flank to defend the dragon-cub. What will your little fillies look like, I wonder? As stupid as you are, probably!”

Spike folded his forelimbs, narrowing his eyes to demonstrate his displeasure even as his fins involuntarily drooped to represent his sadness.

“Git offa Spike’s case!” snapped Apple Bloom, rounding on the cadre of bullies. “He done saved us from them spiders, fryin’ ‘em up the way he did.”

“Well…” Spike rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t really ‘fry them up’. I kinda sorta teleported them to Queen Celestia’s bed-chamber.”

“You what?” squealed the five fillies and three colts who still held themselves back in alarm from imaginary spiders.

“Oh dear…” murmured Fluttershy, gazing up at the distant parapets of Canterlot. “Those poor spiders are in a habitat that they’re ill-suited towards…”

Rainbow Dash groaned.

“Really, Flutters? A mad god of chaos has just broken loose, turning all of Ponyville upside-down, and you’re worried about some creepy-crawlies?”

“Well, it’s just… I don’t think that those poor spiders should be left alone in Celestia’s chambers. We − we really should return them to the Everfree Forest.”

Return them?” Rainbow Dash’s eyes boggled. “Discord just called ‘em in from outta nowhere, and you think they belong in ―”

‘Neigh, Lady Rainbow Dash,’ interjected Queen Selena, Tiberius nibbling away at a loose strand of her forelock. ‘What the Lady Fluttershy sayeth carryest the ring of truth. Matter it does not from whence thy soul originated, but only that thee shalt find thy place in the universe.’

“I agree,” added Queen Celestia, nodding her head and wheeling off into the sky, vanishing in a whirling vortex of sunlight.

“So, uhhh…” Roughshod began nervously, her ears falling slightly limp, “you’re Queen Selena, aren’t you? Uhhh, I’ve always really thought your nights were pretty and, uhh…. nice?”

‘I thank thee, child,’ Selena said with a small nod, ‘but in the present circumstances, I find that our thoughts best be turned towards more immediate concerns. Come, little children.’

Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo approached the Queen of the Night with a giddy little trots, but the remaining foals each hesitated for a moment or two. Each one shared more or less the same thought: Queen Selena may like them, but she’s too good for these blank-flanks. I don’t want to go near them, even if it’s near… the Queen of the Night. Nonetheless, it was Diamond Tiara who cantered forwards first to Selena’s welcoming wing, then her posse of Roughshod, Golden Parachute, Toady, Silver Lining, and Snake-in-the-Grass, who huddled close together as they approached, to made sure that Silver Spoon did not get a clear shot back to the side of her ex-best friend. Once the ten foals were settled at either side, though, Queen Selena brought her feathered bat-wings about the young herd.

Silver Spoon shuddered.

“Your wing doesn’t have feathers at the ends; they feel weird,” she quavered, her ears flopping flat against her head.

‘My apologies, dear filly,’ Selena replied, ‘but thy nightly Queen cannot amend that which is a part of her body. But thou may rest assured, for we are the safest place that any of ye could hopest to find, as in darkness one can not perceiveth the chaotic madness.’

The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked up at Selena in adoration, while the remaining foals bore expressions of mixed wariness and nervousness.

A bright golden flash alit none too far from the Queen Selena and her wards, and Celestia had returned.

“Well, now that those spiders have been transported to a proper environment,” she said, her alicorn lighting up like the Sun, “let us restore some order to these proceedings.”

‘I am with thee, elder sister,’ said Selena, standing tall and lighting her horn as well.

“Me, too,” Twilight added, horn glowing pink.

In relatively short time, the sporadic splatter of falling pancakes and their syrup coating ebbed away, the giant spiders vanishing in twinkling flashes of pink, yellow, and blue as they were transported deep into the Everfree Forest, the piles of hot-cakes following suit.

“So, where exactly are y’all sendin’ them pancakes?” asked Applejack, the palomino arching an eyebrow at the decreasing number of piles of breakfast materials.

“I am sending them,” Celestia said matter-of-factly, “to my Sun. What better place to dispose of unneeded chaotic waste?”

‘Thy Queen of the Night was disposing of these fried cakes of the pan,’ Selena replied, ‘within the caves beneath Canterlot. T’is an environment that is inhabited not, and the wafting sweetness shalt enricheth the air of the capital.’

“Really?” Twilight said, glancing at the dark Alicorn. “I’ve been dispersing the pancakes at the atomic level, so that they only leave the aroma of pancakes about Ponyville.”

The gleaming-white Alicorn smiled approvingly down at the lavender Unicorn.

“Again and again, you remind me of your ingenuity, Twilight,” she said glowingly. “Out of all of my faithful students, you were probably the keenest, which is not to speak lowly of those who came before you. I am sure that you’ve seen many of their names in history books, whether or not you’ve seen them connected to my name.”

“Yeah, Twilight is amazin’!” piped in Apple Bloom.

“Well, Ah do hope that Ah cin measure up ta her anymore, li’l sis,” Applejack said with a slightly lopsided smirk.

“A’ course ya do, yer mah big sister, Applejack!”

“Don’t forget Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo interjected, her undersized wings fluttering excitedly − “Oh no, they got them started…” grumbled Silver Lining, a hoof on his face − “She’s the head of Ponyville’s weather team, and soon to be the biggest, baddest Wonderbolt to have ever lived!”

“Here’s to hoping, kid,” Rainbow Dash grinned, running a hoof through Scootaloo’s mane. “But I gotta hear back from them first, see if they’re even going to let me run these boring-as-all-get-out flying tests, and even that’s only enough to get me into the teamwork exercises.”

“Hey!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, seeming uncharacteristically indignant, her leonine tail swishing as though to swat flies at her sides. “Everypony else has gotten the chance to gush about their favorites. Let me take a shot at it!”

“Ohh, well, of course you may, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, waving a finely filed hoof in her little sister’s direction.

“Okay then… Spike is the greatest!”


If nopony had been watching Sweetie Belle, they’d have thought that the Unicorn filly’s voice was being imitated by Discord in a mean-spirited attempt at chaos and confusion. Nevertheless, however, the curly-maned filly was pronking about as though she were Pinkie Pie’s little sister.

“He’s just such a brave dragon! He stood up to those big nasty spiders and used his magic fire-breath to send them off to be punished by Queen Celestia! He’s just so great and swell and… amazing!” This last was said with her head tilted at Spike and her eyelids batting in a childish attempt at appearing alluring.

The mulberry dragon cub scratched at the side of his neck nervously.

“Err, yeah, that’s great,” he said with a nervous smile, retreating behind Twilight’s furthest hind leg, Sweetie Belle practically skipping along after him with a bewitched look to her face.

The collective groans of seven foals sheltered in Selena’s wings gave the impression that a very surly hydra had suddenly acquired the ability to understand such sapient matters.

“Good grief, you’re laying it on pretty thick, aren’t you, blank-flank?” sneered Silver Spoon.

“I hate to say I agree with the bad friend,” grumbled Snake-in-the-Grass, “but I do. This is a disgusting display.”

“Hey!” snapped Scootaloo. “Let Sweetie Belle do what she likes with whoever she likes!”

“Come on now, everypony…!” Twilight snapped crossly, the dwimmer shimmer of her horn dimming slightly as she levitated Spike up onto her back, leaving Sweetie Belle pawing ineffectively up at the lavender Unicorn’s flank. “We’re losing focus on what’s really important: Setting Ponyville back in order and finding the Elements of Harmony!”

“Awww…!” Sweetie Belle’s ears flopped back. “But I wanted to take him home with me and give him cuddles…!”

Beneath Queen Selena’s wing, Diamond Tiara made retching noises. Spike tried to avoid Sweetie Belle’s gaze, his scaly face burning pink.

In almost no time at all, interruptions regarding possums and spiders having been dealt with, the pancakes had been cleared away.

“But there’s still a ton of maple syrup all over everything in Ponyville,” complained Silver Lining, muzzle wrinkling in disgust.

“Oh, oh! I have an idea!” Scootaloo interjected. (“That’ll be the day,” croaked Toady.) “Rainbow Dash is the head of the weather-ponies here in Ponyville; I’ll bet that she and all the flying ponies in Ponyville could get some clouds together and rain on that syrup’s parade!”

Roughshod tsked loudly in Scootaloo’s direction. "I guess that leaves you out, doesn’t it, Scootalow?”

“You leave this kid alone!” Rainbow Dash growled, baring her teeth as she flapped up to the recalcitrant little foals... who were still presently in the dominion of Queen Selena’s wings. Upon realizing who she was confronting with such hostility, Rainbow Dash balked, her ears falling back. Almost automatically, the seven foals besides the Cutie Mark Crusaders began to affect exaggerated expressions of fear and terror.

“Rainbow Dash, please do not raise your voice upon these foals,” Queen Celestia said with only the faintest hint of crossness in her tone. “You are only stooping to their level by indulging in such hostilities. Besides, they are young, and likely to change their ways as they mature. So, if you please, do as the young filly says.”

Without a grumble, Rainbow Dash swallowed her bile and took to the skies. In no time, she had rounded up the Pegasi of Ponyville’s weather team, who scattered themselves about the skies of the Saddle Valley to procure proper rain-clouds. Within minutes, Pegasi were sweeping the hamlet below with small dark puffs of cloud, light downpours weaving their way down the many streets of Ponyville, diluting the syrup and filling the air with a gentle earthy aroma.

“Ahhh...” Applejack sighed as she breathed in heavily through her nostrils. “Take great big whiff a’ that. That right there, that’s th’ smell a’ the world at its best.”

‘Aye, t’is an agreeable sentiment, fair Applejack,’ nodded Queen Selena, betraying the lines of worry from her eyes to her muzzle. ‘The scent of the midnight dew... The chill wind of sunless morn... This is what makes the world a wholesome place to belong to. But if that old serpent did haveth his own way, then no rest would there be to find in all the four corners of the earth.’

“Yeesh…” murmured Rainbow Dash, who had returned from her weather errands, standing by Fluttershy. “Sounds like our adventure’s so popular that it got itself a sequel.”

“Your Majesty,” Twilight said suddenly, approaching Queen Celestia. Spike was looking up to the Queen of the Sun as well, partly because it also took his eyes off of the staring Sweetie Belle. “When you had assaulted Discord, you and him seemed to… vanish into the mountain range. What in the name of ponydom was that about?”

The ethereal wavering of the sunly Alicorn’s mane and skirt-of-tail seemed to falter almost imperceptibly, the Queen bowing her head slightly.

“The Age of Discord,” she began, “was too long for any pony to count. Nopony born at its onset lived still when it had ended. But, the First Age of Equestria before that, following the Time of the Three Tribes, could be counted in greater years than the Present Age. Even now, I can see a resurgence in what ponykind was able to accomplish in working together, albeit far sooner than before because of the more longstanding union of the three pony races.”

Rarity raised an eyebrow, perplexion on her beautiful face, “Queen Celestia, Your Majesty, what in the world are you talking about?”

“Far more than just knowledge was lost to the Age of Discord, but technology as well,” Celestia answered darkly. “Machinery the likes of which lies beyond the daydreams of the most fantastic science-fiction writer. The South Equinus Mountains − all that forms the southern border to the Saddle Valley − is a mass glamour of mine and Selena’s invention. What lies beneath, is the fallen capital of Old Equestria, Liath Macha. A metropolis as wide as a mountain range… wiped out, at the whim of Discord. I will not bore you with the details of this world of technology that was lost because of a mad god, but suffice it to say that ponydom had come a very, very long way, before it fell into an age of darkness, and ignorance, and madness.”

Twilight felt teary. “Ohh, Queen Celestia, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize just how entrenched Discord’s evil was. If I’d only known, if I’d even bothered to ask why you were so adamant…”

“It could not have been helped, my dear apprentice,” Celestia said with a sad smile, kneeling down to nuzzle the lavender Unicorn. “If anything, your actions may have given us a bit more time, keeping him preoccupied with simpler tricks that involved little of his unfathomable magic. Paper Mache and my most eagle-eyed Guards are scouring the land, searching for traces of the magic of the Elements of Harmony.

“For you see,” Celestia continued, with a slightly mischievous twinkle in her eye, “though so much knowledge of the technology of Old Equestria was lost to the ages, some of that knowledge remains within one of those born in the dusk of that golden era.” The white Alicorn tapped a golden hoof to her temples, the crown behind her alicorn glinting in the sunlight.

“So, you’re saying...!” Twilight gasped.

“That so many of your Guards have super-sci-fi tech to track down the Elements?” Spike beamed with his claws balled into fists.

Celestia giggled shortly, “More or less. The technology is old, though, and imperfect; it has gone unused for meggrossia, and what back-up supplies that could exist to repair them are in as poor shape or worse. Nevertheless, Paper and her fellow surveyors will be able to pinpoint the locations of all six Elements, to within a few furlongs’ diameter.”

The lozenge-cut amethyst set into Queen Celestia’s bracer began to light up intermittently, emitting a high beep as if it were some extravagant alarm clock. She brought up one of her greaven hooves and pushed into the gemstone, which depressed itself and began to emit a bright-blue cone of light, terminating in a life-sized and translucent image of Paper Mache.

“Ooooh, fancy~” Pinkie Pie said with wide blue eyes.

“Wh… What happened to Miss Paper?” Fluttershy asked worriedly.

Paper Mache snapped to a salute for Queen Celestia.

“Your Majesty.” Her voice carried a modulation, as though she were speaking through a tinny radio broadcast.

“Paper,” said Celestia with a delicate tone, “Have you and your search party turned up any clues as to the whereabouts of the Elements?”

The see-through Unicorn nodded. “Affirmative, Queen Celestia. Each of the Elements has been located. My party and I will rendezvous with you and the Bearers in the Canterlot throne room at dozen-six-gross hours.”





CHAPTER iiii: A Mystery Wrapped in a Riddle Inside an Igneous

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The atmosphere of the throne room of Concordia Sorores was so thick that one could almost suffocate in it. The Queens Celestia and Selena sat at their respective thrones, set to perfect balance. This was, according to Twilight’s recounting, an event that only took place in the most dire of emergencies, symbolic of how any threat to Equestrian security was a threat to both Sun and Moon, and so necessitated cooperation from both queens regnant, rather than changing the dominant ruler based off of the time of day. Philomena the phoenix sat atop a roost, gnawing on the bark of a cinnamon tree; Tiberius the possum continually nibbled on a loose bit of Selena’s forelock from his perch atop her poll. Kibitz the steward sat at his usual position at the base of the scales, looking as harried as ever. Before the scale of the thrones stood two parties: Twilight Sparkle and her son and fellow Bearers of the Elements, and Paper Mache and her search party of mingled Day and Night Guards.

“Our sensors have confirmed, Your Majesty,” Paper Mache began, once all parties had been settled, “the general whereabouts of four of the Elements of Harmony.”

“Four?” Queen Celestia echoed.

“But, I recall you saying in your report to us,” Twilight said warily to Paper, “that you’d located all six.”

“That was the case,” answered a Bat Pony named Night Lark, biting her lip as she paused, “but… there’s been some interference, and we’ve been unable to pin down two of the Elements.”

“And,” Paper continued, “the locations of the other four Elements have changed, and we’ve only gotten a very general idea of where they have been relocated to.”

‘Discord…!’ snarled Selena, fangs glinting in the light of the sunset to her right.

“This is exactly what I feared would happen when the Elements vanished,” Queen Celestia said in a low voice, bowing her head slightly. “As soon as we get close to unraveling his schemes, it transpires that he has changed his plot on a whim. That old serpent is playing a game with us.”

“Well, duh!” interjected Pinkie Pie.

“Pinkie Pie!” snapped Rarity, a cross expressing crossing her countenance. Her mane still showed the ill effects of having winked out to Canterlot twice in one day. “This is a serious matter, regarding the state of all of Equestria; a degree of sobriety would be appropriate, if you don’t mind!”

“He gave us a riddle to try and crack!” Pinkie countered, looking surprisingly surly herself. “We’ve got to try to solve it if we wanna get our Elements back!”

“A riddle…?” echoed Paper Mache.

Rainbow Dash groaned, “This isn’t the time for joking around, Pinkie. You have to be serious for a change!”

“But maybe that’s exactly why we can’t find the Elements!” Pinkie replied. “We’re not playing his game, so he’s making it super-duper-gooper-hard for us trying to stop having fun!”

“‘Gooper-hard’…?” repeated Fluttershy.

“This ain’t no game, though, Pinkie,” Applejack said with an arched eyebrow.

Twilight prepared to open her mouth, but out of the corner of her eye noticed a curious expression on her mentor’s face. Celestia eyed Pinkie with a pensive look in her eyes, drawing up a foreleg to idly rub her chin with a fetlock.

‘Sister,’ Selena asked, ‘dost thou have a thought?’

Celestia looked to the darker Alicorn, “Forgive me, little sister, but I feel like Pinkie Pie may be onto something.”

What?” echoed Kibitz, and several of the mares in Twilight’s party.

“What, for real?” mused Spike. “Is that how we’re seriously gonna find the Elements, Mom?”

“I’m not sure, Spike,” Twilight answered, “but it’s the best option we have, I think.”

‘But, elder sister, Discord ist mad. Surely, thou dost not seriously suggest that we match his madness with the same? T’is not how we and our compatriots did fell his ancient dominion.’

“Not at all, Selena, but we were able to forge the Elements of Harmony back then, a one-in-a-giggrossiad chance. We have no Elements this time; if Discord is offering us a chance at reclaiming them, we will have to take it.”

‘Surely this doth reek of skullduggery.’

“No doubt, little sister. But, you underestimate the cleverness of my most faithful student here,” Celestia turned a warm gaze upon the lavender Unicorn standing before the dual thrones.

Twilight’s ears fell flat as she flushed pink at such praise.

“You’re too kind, Your Majesty,” Twilight said softly. “If I was so clever, I would have figured how to activate the Elements in your old castle, to prevent NightMare Moon’s empire from lasting more than moments… how to remove the Alicorn Amulet from Trixie without her falling into her coma…”

Paper Mache’s eyes met Queen Celestia’s, the two sharing dark looks that went unnoticed for all the looks that were turned upon Twilight Sparkle. The moment passed, though, and the white Alicorn’s eyes fell upon her lavender pupil once more.

“You sell yourself short, my dearest Twilight,” said the Queen of the Day. “Nopony can see the future on command; not even the renowned Forget-Me-Not could call upon such clairvoyance. We can only act based on the knowledge that we hold in the now, and I trust that you will be able to not only narrow down the locations of the missing Elements, but circumvent any of the tricks and traps that that old serpent Discord has awaiting you and your friends.”

After a moment’s ponderance, Selena nodded slowly.

‘Concurreth do I, Twilight Sparkle,’ she said. ‘Thou and thy friends didst bring about the downfall of the NightMare, the Miasma which didst cloud my mind and control my body. And, thou didst see through the nature of Lulamoon’s magickal enhancement. Surely, with thine analysis of that loathsome riddle of Discord’s, as murky as the dwellings of the Umbrum, the Elements shalt again ours be.’

Kibitz, taking note of what each party spoke in the meeting, gave a trepidatious glance up first to Selena, then to Celestia.

“Well… if Your Majesties command it,” he murmured through a bushy mustache, before jotting down his own aloud thoughts.

“So, lay it on us, Twi,” Rainbow said with a degree of impatience. “Do you remember the riddle that mismatched freak spat out?”

“Of course,” Twilight replied steadily; if there was one thing she was proud of, it was never forgetting anything… though she was less proud of it at some points than at others. “‘These words I speak are clear and loud, and though harmony is hereafter disavowed…’ Well, that’s not giving us any clues in the slightest. I’m going to jump ahead to where he’s hinting at where the Elements are…”

Twilight took a deep breath, preparing herself. She had not given great thought to Discord’s riddle even when he had recited it, for her attention had been called hither and thither by the chaos spreading in Ponyville and the summons to Canterlot in the hopes of finding the Elements in a quick and logical fashion. If Pinkie Pie was right, though, beating Discord at his own game was of paramount necessity.

And may the Maker help us if we’re wrong, Twilight thought, as she began to recite the six rhymes ostensibly related to the Elements of Harmony.

“Hmm…” Celestia mused to herself once Twilight had finished. “It should go unsaid that the first part of the riddle relates to the Element of Generosity, but to find generosity in greed… greed can be found anywhere, in anyone. Even the most ascetic soul holds a kernel of avarice deep inside, waiting for the right downpour to cause it to germinate.”

“But also,” Twilight countered, “you can find selflessness in even the most selfish of ponies. Moondancer did come to find us when she heard that we’d left Equestrian soil under NightMare Moon’s reign.”

Celestia nodded. “That is also true, my dear Twilight.”

Rainbow Dash groaned.

“Oh, for the love of… Are we here to talk philosophy, or to try to find the Elements?”

‘T’is an obstinate riddle, Lady Rainbow Dash,’ interceded Selena, looking slightly cross. ‘Wert thee not a Bearer, we wouldst hold thee in contempt. The answer to a riddle lieth not upon the surface, but doth require adroit mind and broad wit.’

“Come on now, Rainbow Dash,” said Fluttershy meekly. “Let’s put our heads together on this.”

Looking quite put-out, the cerulean Pegasus flapped down to her ex-fiancée’s side, the latter offering a gentle nuzzle which evoked a deeply flushed face in the former.

“Now,” Celestia continued, “the following rhyme − the one about finding laughter within − is scarcely any clearer.”

“Yes,” agreed Twilight. “‘Within’ what? If I had to guess, some far-off treasure chest buried in a shipwreck at the bottom of the ocean… or, maybe, inside the stomach of the Kraken, wherever it is.”

‘We would not put that past Discord, Twilight Sparkle,’ nodded Selena. ‘Always did he endeavour to make the right path as miserable as possible for decent ponies.’

“Still, this is something we will need to think on, but quickly,” Celestia added. “The longer that Discord remains free, the more peril will fall over the world.”

“Right,” Twilight said with a tilt of her head. “Laughter was always one of the trickier Elements, wasn’t it?”

‘Not entirely, Twilight Sparkle of mine Element,’ Selena shook her head. ‘Its forger and first Bearer, she found it not to be temperamental at all. Indeed, even afore the Element of Laughter didst spring from her bosom, her amusement didst a rock prove to be.’

Pinkie Pie tittered, “A rock… and the Element of Laughter is a gemstone…!”

‘But again we digress,’ Selena added loudly. ‘If the first two Elements of the riddle cannot presently be located, then push on to the remaining four we must! What stanza didst follow, Twilight Sparkle?’

And Twilight recited the next two lines of Discord’s riddle.

“‘Shining brightest behind hostile gates’…” echoed Celestia, placing a hoof on her chin with a slight smirk. “Discord, you are slipping. There are a seldom few nations on Harmonia that retain a grudge on our land of Equestria, but one comes immediately to mind.”

“Orlalvov,” gasped Kibitz, his quill scribbling furiously in his dwimmer shimmer.

“The Soviet Republic of Griffons,” Twilight hissed with furrowed brow, Spike clutching onto her barrel from astride her back.

Curiously, Selena bore a wistful expression as she and Celestia traded melancholic glances.

‘Alas, dearest sister, that the old alliances could have died out. There was a time when Griffons and ponies could smile and laugh alongside one another. But alas, there remains but one place where these two races can coexist, and the Hippogryph Archipelago it is called. Aye, but t’was Grizelda, matriarch of the Orlalvinian imperial family, who didst forge and bear the Element of Honesty.’

“Wait, what?” shouted Rainbow Dash, flapping back into the air, eyes and fangs flashing. “You mean to tell me that I share my Element of Honesty with some no-good revvie cat-butt?!”

Rainbow Dash…!” Celestia rose up from her throne, and to the eagle-eyed the scale started to shift such that her seat rose slightly higher than Selena’s. A fire burned in the white Alicorn’s eyes. “Grizelda was a dear friend of mine and Selena’s, letting us know when we were at fault and did not know so. Were it not for her, Harmonia would not have been, but would have become another in an endless chain of worlds ended at Discord’s claw. So, think before you speak!”

The cerulean Pegasus faltered, settling down on her haunches beside Fluttershy, looking all the more meek of the two.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” she said to Queen Celestia. “The only books I’ve opened up in so many years is the Daring Do series.”

“You mean, ‘are the Daring Do series’,” Twilight corrected compulsively, “and perhaps for now, I can offer you a brief history lesson on Griffons, Rainbow Dash:

“For countless generations, the imperial family of Orlalvov reigned uncontested, son passing on the mantle of King to his son, and daughter to her daughter. Until a few douzaides ago, everything was good… until Perun arrived.

“Perun was a Griffon of great stature and even greater speech. He felt that it was unfair that the imperial family should have so much, while his fellow working-class Griffons should have so little. He could have headed a petition of grievances to the imperial family, a peaceful end to the gap between the rich and the poor. Instead, he headed a revolution, with armies of dozens upon grosses of unsettled Griffons at his claw. Perun killed the King Gavriil son of the old King Guto, and enacted the slaughter of the entire royal family.”

“Ohh, oh my…” shuddered Fluttershy.

“Well, he sounds like he was a low-down snake,” Applejack growled. “Ah hope that we cin give him a piece of mah mind if’n we ever go up his way in Griffon territory.”

Gavrik was a dear friend and a valued ally on the Cosmic Council,” Queen Celestia interjected, her throne levelling itself out beside Selena’s, “but avenging his usurpation would be a meaningless matter. Perun is dead, slain at the claws of his own great-nephew Pyotr, the Perviy of Orlalvov, Pyotr Rokin, Pyotr the Rock. Now, matters are the same as Perun perceived them, but with his own blood actively pressing down on the Griffons of Orlalvov.”

Rainbow Dash wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Those dang revvie dirt-bags… Who do they think they are, saying that you and Selena―” The latter cleared her throat sharply, glowering sharply at the cerulean Pegasus. “…sorry, you and Queen Selena don’t move around the Sun and Moon? I mean, it’s not like these things happen on their own.”

“There was a time, when that was so,” Celestia answered, gazing darkly at the stained-glass window depicting Discord’s era. “But, after He ruined the world, so much did not behave as it would anymore. It became the hard duty of gigagrosses of ponies to set to right the balance of nature, with their own in-born harmonic magic. Why, it took nearly a dozen years to set the world back in relative order, although at the cost of so much being unable to act on its own accord.”

“So that’s why Ah gotta buck down them apples every harvest season!” Applejack gasped.

“And why the weather-team has to move the clouds around to make sure plants get enough water?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Selena nodded for her sister, ‘Precisely, and a hard-fought battle it was. The chaos of Discord’s first reign did not easily die, and though the Everfree spreads from that first acorn dropped at the edge of the Fields of Descort, the work of grosses for grossenturies did bear fruit.’

“But the Everfree continues to expand, despite the fortifications we made along the ley lines of this vale,” Celestia added grimly. “I fear that by the end of the next grossentury, the untameable beasts of the Everfree may overwhelm Ponyville.”

Applejack ran a forehoof down the scar on her foreleg, the scars along her muzzle darkening as she bowed her head in the dusky light.

“Ya don’ think that that’s gonna happen anytime soon, do ya, Yer Majesties?” she asked warily.

Celestia gazed down upon the palomino Earth Pony.

“I would hope that, by that point, the power of Chaos − the power of Discord − would have waned such that the untamed Everfree would fold in upon and devour itself… or, perhaps, the imbalance itself would disperse itself to the level it had formerly held prior to Discord’s return to this world.”

“He ‘returned’ to this world…?” Twilight asked suddenly. “I thought that he had… Where did Discord come from before, why did he leave, and why did he return? What is Discord, Queen Celestia?

“Discord is,” Celestia answered cryptically.

The white Queen’s words carried a power behind them that gave Twilight pause. Although her question did not bear the fruit of an answer, what it had merited made it quite plain that such an avenue of thought was ill-suited for the present time and place. As such, Twilight Sparkle decided that it was perhaps better to return to the subject at hoof: Finding the Elements.

“Well then…”

She cleared her throat, and recited Discord’s rhyme about Kindness.

“‘Not such a breeze’…” she finished. “Well, that could mean that the Element of Kindness is either in a place with a very stiff lack of a breeze, or with a constant breeze.”

“But, that could really be anywhere!” Rainbow Dash cut in. “Weather ponies gotta be changing up the wind currents all the time, ‘cause not every type of tree or plant needs a good breeze all day every day.”

“And I can scarcely imagine a place that is completely devoid of wind at all,” Rarity commented. “Why, a good breeze does make my mane flow most eloquently, but too strong and it begins to become what you see now…!” She finished with a slight whine, pawing morosely at a wavy lock of amethyst mane.

“Fluttershy, were you about to say something?” Pinkie interrupted, almost nose-to-nose with the meek yellow Pegasus.

Fluttershy withdrew sharply, her ears flattening and wings flaring.

“Ohh, I… don’t think so? Should I be?”

“I dunno, but you totally had a look on your face like you wanted to talk about Breezies~”

“I… You know what? I rather do,” Fluttershy beamed. “I just couldn’t help but to think about those sweet helpless little things as soon as I heard Twilight saying the word breeze in that riddle, and I just would love so much to see them right now. Of course, their habitat is strictly off-limits to most races because of how delicate and endangered they are, and I don’t think that it would be in my rights to…”

Rainbow Dash groaned, “You just had to get her going on that, didn’t you, Pinkie Pie?”

“Ooops, sorry…” Pinkie grinned nervously.

The cerulean Pegasus looked to her former fiancée with a bold look. “I didn’t say she should stop.”

“Nor would I,” Twilight cut in, “but we really need to focus on the matter at hoof, not get sidetracked by wistful wishing to watch creatures that are… out of reach and out of the way…!” She beamed. “Of course! That’s where Discord’s hidden the Element of Kindness… in Breezie territory!”

“Ohh… Oh my…!” Fluttershy’s eyes widened, joy and fright fighting for dominance of her expression. “You mean that, we could go out to Brisarheim and see the breezies in their natural habitat, and all of the creatures that normally dine upon them…? I mean, I love the poor little dears, but to see them be born, live, and die first-hoof…” A slightly dazed expression came over the butter-colored mare as she gazed unfocused out a stained-glass depiction of Cap’n Nemo’s battle with the Kraken and murmured, “Nature is so fascinating…”

Cerise eyes narrowed nervously at Fluttershy.

“Uhh, Flutters?” Rainbow Dash began. “Are you sure you want to see the Breezies live, or die…?”

“Regardless of her thoughts on the matter,” Queen Celestia said in sharp intervention, “we must establish a garrison in Hrenway posthaste, so that one of our own can easily be ascertain the presence of the Element of Kindness, and reclaim it for us.”

‘Shalt I contact Captain Shining Armour and inform him of this, elder sister?’ asked Selena.

“Do it, if you please, little sister.”

“The Captain?” Twilight asked sharply, and with surprising unkindness. “Where is he, by the way? Why isn’t he here, pestering me?”

“He is off in the Crystal Empire, Twilight,” answered Celestia, “petitioning the Crystal Queen to pledge a reasonably-sized garrison to aid us in the search for the Elements.”

“Fair enough,” Twilight said, not meeting her mentor’s eyes. “Queen Mi Amore Rubina is a fair ally on the Cosmic Council, as I recall.”

“We will need to call an emergency session of the Council,” Celestia noted, partially to Kibitz and partly to herself. “The highest nations of the world must be informed that their magical defenses be bolstered, so as to ward off Discord as long as they can. He will find a way in everywhere eventually, but we can only hope to forestall his chaos. This world is better prepared than it was then.”

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Yer Majesty,” cut in Applejack, “but, how so?”

“I am here,” came the reply, “as is my sister. And, we have you Bearers as well.”

“Yeah, and, speaking of us and the Elements,” Rainbow Dash interjected impatiently, “where the heck is my Element of Honesty?”

Twilight started slightly (Spike adjusting his position slightly to kick the numbness out of his back claws), “Ohh, yeah… right!” She chuckled nervously, before reciting the next verse.

“‘Where the air is strong and the earth is weak’…” The lavender Unicorn scoffed. “Well, there’s only one place where that can be.”

“Really, where?” Rainbow asked curiously.

“It’s elementary, really,” Twilight said. “It’s been hidden in the High Eyries, overlooking the Descort Fields.”

Both Pegasi in the Bearers’ party blinked.

“The burial site of Commander Hurricane?” they gasped.

Night Lark the Bat Pony had a dark look on her face.

“I’ve heard stories about that place,” she said. “They say that Commander Hurricane’s armies, loyal to her ideals, still march in the misty darkness even now, meggrossia after Pegasopolis’s dissolution.”

“I haven’t heard any of these stories,” Twilight confessed. “I never set much stock in myths or legends… well, apart from… you know…” She glanced up at Queen Selena awkwardly.

“Well, it was a myth about a ticking time-limit,” Spike commented dryly. “Of course you’d be drawn to it.”

Twilight gave her mulberry son an admonishing look.

“Nopony likes sass, Spike. And besides, that book was an assignment from Queen Celestia herself. I… think I can guess why.” She cast a soft look up at the Queen of the Sun, who nodded in affirmation. “But still, the legend of NightMare Moon and the Elements of Harmony does mean that some legends have more basis in fact than others. What do the legends say about the High Eyries?”

“Well…” Rainbow Dash’s body language startled Twilight; the cerulean Pegasus was not the kind of pony whom Twilight associated with fear or trepidation. But presently, the rainbow-maned Pegasus was clamming up into herself in a way that reminded Twilight of the other Pegasus she’d befriended in Ponyville.

“Well,” Rainbow began again, “when Commander Hurricane froze to death, she did so while she was expressing her undying hatred of any pony who couldn’t fly. They say, that when she was buried in the High Eyries, she left a curse on the cliffs about there, that any pony who entered her burial site who could not fly would become weakened, while any who could… would become her new army from beyond the grave.”

Twilight scoffed, “I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. Ghosts have been scientifically proven to be a myth. Souls cannot be tethered to anything of this mortal coil apart from the body they are bound to, and when that body has passed on, the soul departs from this realm.”

“Eeyup… it’s true,” Applejack nodded slowly, her ears flopping slightly as she glanced up and out one of the stained-glass windows.

“Has anypony ever gone up to the High Eyries to investigate the veracity of these legends?” Twilight asked.

“Umm, I don’t think so,” Fluttershy answered. “Everypony is just too scared.”

“It’s, like, way too close to the Descort Fields, too,” Rainbow added. “And I think any of us would wanna steer clear of that place if we can avoid it.”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement, but she was one of the few who did. Neither Paper Mache nor Night Lark, or any of the Royal Guards in their party nodded, not even the Pegasi. None of Fluttershy’s fellow Bearers save Rainbow Dash shared the gesture.

‘We apologise, fair Fluttershy,’ Selena said in a low voice, ‘but thou and thy comrades must plunder the tomb of Commander Hurricane and her inner circle in order to secure the Element of Honesty. As loathsome as the tales may be, act we must in order to safeguard the future from further rampant chaos.’

“Sensors confirm Twilight Sparkle’s analysis, Your Majesty!” interrupted Paper Mache, looking into what looked like a glowing monocle which had extended out from under the golden brow of her helm. “Pegasus Guards sweeping the air-space around the easternmost edge of the North Equinus Mountains can confirm a magical energy reading matching one of the Elements, in the vicinity of the High Eyries!”

Celestia sighed in relief.

“Good; we at least know where Discord has hidden one of the Elements. And since we puzzled it out through his riddle, it’s sensible that the Element should not move from the spot where Discord left it… though we should keep an eye on the read-outs to be sure that that old serpent does not play any further games with the Elements. Though they are caustic to his touch, Discord will still attempt to cross us in this twisted game of his.”

“Twilight Sparkle,” Night Lark interjected, the Night Guard’s wings unfurling slightly. “There was one more stanza to the riddle, wasn’t there? Do you think,” she continued, after Twilight had nodded, “that we could hear it?”

“Of course. Who would I be if I didn’t?”

And before Pinkie Pie could answer her rhetorical question literally, Twilight loudly repeated the last rhyme of Discord’s riddle.

“‘Back where you began’?” Paper Mache repeated. “What does that mean?”

“I have no idea,” Twilight confessed. “Back where I began where? The hospital I was born in? The bed where I was conceived? The School for Gifted Unicorns? The castle courtyard where I read that Griffon book on Equestrian history?” She growled. “Macher im Elysium, verdammt, und Pferdeäpfel!

“Are you swearing, Twilight?” smirked Rainbow Dash. “You’re totally swearing, I knew that you knew swears!”

‘The matter of Twilight Sparkle’s usage of what you would call “colourful language” aside (the meaning of which escapes me, as language cannot have a colour),’ Selena said abruptly, ‘the location of the Element of Magic is irrelevant to these matters.’

“Agreed,” Celestia nodded, beaming at her sister. “Whenever the five Elements of Harmony would synchronize, wherever the Element of Magic was, it would be summoned to the location of the remaining Elements. Even Discord’s quintessential thaumaturgy cannot hope to contain the call for Magic.”

Twilight turned from the dais to face her friends.

“So girls, ready to go save the world again?” she asked dryly.

Each mare gave their answer in her own personal way: Applejack crossed a foreleg in front of the other and winked with a lopsided grin; Rainbow Dash performed a loop-de-loop and flexed her forelegs as though prepared to punch somepony; Rarity lifted a foreleg into a regal posture and gave a slow nod with a light smile; Fluttershy bowed her head and gave a quick nervous smile; and Pinkie Pie sprang up onto her hind legs and struck a dramatic pose, confetti bursting out of the floor below her.

“We’re going on a road trip~!” she squealed excitedly.

Departure from Canterlot back down to Ponyville, to ensure that they had collected their saddle-bags in preparation for a long journey, had progressed smoothly, although there were the odd setbacks that slowed down the process of packing… namely, Sweetie Belle tailing after Spike with a lovestruck look in her eyes. Wresting Spike away from the amorous filly was comparatively easier for Twilight than deciding on what books to bring: among them, Enveloping Entropy: A Concise Chronology of Chaos and Dissertations on Discordant Draconequi. Seemingly on a whim, Pinkie Pie had decided to bring along her home-built gumball-radio, explaining to the Royal Guard’s accompanying garrison that they could most probably tune in their lost-technology communicators to send messages to them. After a short test-run, Pinkie’s hypothesis was proven correct, to the guardsponies’ astonishment.

“So, where exactly are we headed again?” Rarity asked in a slightly strained voice. “And why, pray tell, with such short notice to pack necessary supplies?”

The caravan they rode in was not quite so large as the one which had transported the seven from the bultungin-infested village of Chekacheka to the Pundamilian capital, but it was still decently sized. Queen Celestia felt that a comfortable ride was a small compensation for what she was asking of them, but quicker transit was yet unavailable, even with the application of the salvaged remains of the lost technology of the past. Three days yet it had been of near-constant travel and little in the way of movement for the parties in the caravan, unless you felt like trotting back and forth in the narrow low-ceilinged space for a few minutes.

“We’re only going to my family’s rock and rock-molasses farm, Rarity~!” smiled Pinkie Pie, the small Earth Pony practically bouncing off of the walls in her glee. “It’s been a diamond dog’s age since I’ve been back to the farm − come to think of it, how long do diamond dogs live? It seems pretty weird to say ‘it’s been a diamond dog’s age’ when you wanna say that it’s been a really long time, but if was that long a time, wouldn’t we all have long, gray beards? − what was I saying? Oh yeah, I haven’t been back to the farm in a really, really, really long time, and I really wanna introduce you guys to my sisters ‘cause my sisters are the best sisters in the whole wide world! I got two big sisters and one baby sister who’s only younger than me by a few minutes, but she’s still kinda my big sister because everypony in my family is so so so SO big~~~!”

“Ehrrr, Pinkie Pie,” Applejack began slowly, “are ya sure ya’ve bin feelin’ alright?”

“Yeah, of course~! Never better~” came the chipper reply, but Twilight had to admit that she saw what Applejack was seeing as well.

“Ah mean, yer eyes look a mite bit… swirlier than before.”

“My eyes are always swirling about, Jackie, tryin’ to find the best way to make all my friends happy~”

“No, I mean…” Twilight began, before she felt something ponderous pressing against the back of her mind, telling her to drop it. She fought to break past that urge, but the more that she persisted to continue her train of thought, the greater that feeling in the back of her head became, to the point where it felt like her skull was going to burst.

Pinkie Pie is one of my best friends, she told herself, but I don’t even know what she is. Whatever she is, she’s not a pony anymore, but how did this happen to her? What made her this, and how did the Sonic Rainboom catalyze it?

Oh, but are you sure you want to know? asked that ponderous feeling at the back of her mind, in a voice that sounded uncannily like Discord’s. Are you sure your little pony mind can handle the truth?

Yes… I think so.

Are you sure~?

Twilight prepared to repeat herself with greater emphasis, but one more glance at Pinkie Pie stayed her mental tongue. Although the pink Earth Pony was not presently engaged in any inequine activities, there was still something in her unashamed giddiness in spite of the rise of a mad draconequus that made Twilight Sparkle second-guess her internalized notion of “When you hear hoofbeats, think ponies and not zebras”.

…I’m sorry, Pinkie, but I can’t think of you as a pony anymore. You’ll always be one of my best friends, but after you’ve hugged me with a dozen hooves, after your stint as a mime in Pundamilia, after everything I’ve seen you do that no magic can make a pony do…

“Twilight? Are you alright?”

She blinked, looking about herself. Fluttershy’s oval-shaped cyan eyes were creased in concern, pinkish hoof curled in towards her foreleg nervously. Each of Twilight’s friends was giving her looks of confusion matching so much of her feeling inside.

“You were kinda staring at Pinkie Pie,” Spike added, one of his brows creasing quizzically.

“Yeah, you were totally spacing out,” nodded Rainbow Dash.

Twilight brought a dark-sapphire forehoof up to scratch behind her ear, “Sorry, girls, I was just… thinking. Something was just… pressing on my mind just now. About Pinkie. But… we have to focus on finding the Elements, and quickly, before Discord’s taken too many strides towards taking back Equestria.”

“Seems like he’s already takin’ it a tad slow, doncha think?” asked Applejack, resting an amber hoof on the sill of one of the ports along the inside of the caravan. The passing landscapes, from the ridges of the North Equinus Mountains, to the flat expanse of the Wide Earth Plains, had thus far proven to be almost unsettlingly peaceful. Occasionally, though, they would sight something that just should not be, like an octopus swimming along through the air while budding infant octopi from its body, or a purple cart with eyes where its hitches should have been continually murmuring putt-putt, putt-putt to itself, or an over-sized flaming hayburger wearing a crown half-humming the words what is love? on its spot along the road. But generally, considering Discord’s admission of pulling their collective legs over having been at a diminished level of power, it was surprisingly how conservative his chaotic spree had been thus far.

“Maybe he’s just really bad at being chaotic,” offered Rainbow Dash with a shrug.

“I dare not say,” answered Rarity. “Goodness knows he disrupted the proceedings of Ponyville, even with what seeming ‘little’ he did.”

“That wasn’t chaotic,” Twilight shook her head. “That was just nonsense. I mean, chaos is like… like…”

Blushing, Twilight closed her mouth. What was chaos like? Who was to say that chaos was different from what Discord provided? Flipping through the pages of Comprehending Incomprehension: Recountals of Witnesses to the Age of Discord did little to elucidate the mystifying period of Discord’s rule; if anything, it only served to make that era even murkier in Twilight’s mind.

“This doesn’t add up,” she murmured.

“What doesn’t, Mom?” Spike asked, looking over Twilight’s shoulder into the pages of the book she was reading, at the minuscule cornuscript of long-dead Unicorn scholars.

“Just… these accounts are completely unreliable. Not a single recounting of any event matches, even between two ponies who were supposedly side-by-side as the event occurred. It’s like nopony bothered to cross-reference any of these witness accounts…!”

Rainbow Dash scoffed, “Really, Twilight? ‘Oh no… the Age of Discord isn’t neat or orderly at all.’” Her falsetto impression of the lavender Unicorn was paired with her hastily messing with her forelock, in an attempt to get it to mimic the bowl-cut of Twilight’s. Shaking her mane back into its normal messy shape, the cerulean Pegasus continued with a cross tone, “For real, Purple-Smart, you need to see the possibilities. I mean, you’re friends with Pinkie Pie!”

“Yup, that you are~!” added the rosy Earth Pony, her eyes practically glowing with her joy.

Twilight sighed, a smile nonetheless crossing her muzzle.

“Thank you, Rainbow. This is a very unusual situation for me − for all of us, really − and I’m used to the answer being very clear, or at least logical. This whole ‘second Age of Discord’ ordeal is the very antithesis of logical, so I should probably begin to get used to such uncommon thought processes…” She smirked. “Especially since I’m likely to spend the night at your family’s rock farm, Pinkie.”

“Ah don’ rightly know th’ Pie family, but Ah feel kinda like Pinkie’s th’ special snowflake a’ th’ family,” Applejack commented, before turning to face her fellow Earth Pony. “You are a diff’rent sorta pony from the rest a’ yer folks, aren’cha?”

“Weee~ell, kinda. I mean, I am a Pie, but I was never really the sort to do the rock-farming that my family has done for grossenturies because I was always a little round pudgy little round Earth Pony filly and my sisters were always made of the toughest stuff that Earth Ponies could possibly be made out of − would it be fair to say that Maud isn’t an Earth Pony and is really an Iron Pony? − and then I saw Dashie’s Sonic Rainboom even though I didn’t know that it was Dashie’s Rainboom at the time − I thought it was just a really pretty rainbow − and have I mentioned that I really really really love you, Dashie? − and then I got my cutie mark for making ponies smile and then Daddy found that deposit of rock molasses and I went to the university for making all sorts of contraptions and gadgets for making ponies smile and…”

Pinkie slowed to a stop as she looked at the ponies (and Spike) seated around her, the only sound being the huff and puff of the hired stallions drawing the caravan as well as its rattling wheels. Her friends were all giving her looks of tremendous astonishment. Ears twitching nervously, Pinkie gave a small toothy grin.

“Oopsie… Sorry, everypony, I just got waaa~ay too chitty-chatty there and I think that everypony didn’t need to hear me getting so chit-chit-chatty.”

“Don’t worry none ‘bout it, Pinkie,” answered Applejack with a flippant wave of a forehoof. “Ah jus’ asked a question ‘bout’cha an’ yer family; ain’t no big problem that’cha got so much passion fer yer ma, pa, an’ sisters.”

“You said that your family’s farm is located at the edge of the Descort Fields, right, Pinkie?” asked Twilight, Comprehending Incomprehension closing in her dwimmer shimmer.


“Well, judging by the way the mountain range is starting to recede,” the lavender Unicorn continued, looking out the right-hoof windows of their forward motion, “we are closing in on the edge of the Descort Fields themselves. (The High Eyries must be really close to your family’s rock farm, now that I think about it.) Do you think you could share some pertinent details about your family so that we know what sort of protocol to follow?”

Pinkie verily began to shudder in her seat, the round pudge of her physique almost quivering like a bowl of jelly, a grin practically splitting her face.

“My sisters are all the best sisters in the world ‘cause Limestone runs the farm all super-serious-like and gets kinda angry when ponies get too close to the Quarry of Holder’s Boulder and just anytime she really wants to be but she really is a nice pony deep deep down, and ‘cause Maud is just the smartest funnest big sister ever with such a big heart and the best pet ever next to Gummy of course and she’s going to get her rocktorate in rock science and we’ve traded rock-candy necklaces since we were fillies and she’s just so awesome, and ‘cause Marble is the sweetest shyest pony I’ve ever met and I’ve met a lot of ponies ever since I graduated from the university and even though she’s really quiet she’s still really good at farming rocks and making sure that the right minerals are in the right magic streams in the right fields and just you guys are finally gonna meet Mommy and Daddy and Limestone and Maud and Marbly and you guys are gonna get along so great with them~

Rarity laughed hesitatingly.

“Well, your enthusiasm is quite apparent, Pinkie Pie, darling, but…” The alabaster Unicorn grimaced slightly. “Maud Pie? I am almost afraid to ask, but… is she named after mud pie?”

Pinkie replied with a high giggle. “Of course not, Rarity. Her full name is Maudstone Rock Pie and she was named after the maudstone which is a type of sedimentary rock, her favorite kind~”

“Well, guess that worked out, didn’t it?” Rainbow Dash quipped. “Didn’t have to change her name with her cutie mark or anything, did she?”

“That’s rarer than you think, Rainbow,” Twilight interjected. “A pony changes her or his name to reflect on their cutie mark for reasons related to the field of employment that their special talent calls for, or related to more of a personal connection to their cutie mark than the name they were assigned at birth, or a myriad of other reasons that somepony could have for changing her name. I mean, it’s not like I changed my name to Magic Tome or something of that sort.” She laughed dryly. “That would be absurd.”

“Lady Twilight,” cut in the low voice of one of the stallions drawing the caravan, turning his head back while his compatriots kept their eyes ahead. “We are approaching a settlement at the edge of the North Equinus Mountains. The Pie family rock farm complex should be close by.”

(“Ooooh, I hope that we bump into somepony in the marketplace~” Pinkie squealed in a voice rising so high that only the Drow Bat Ponies would have been able to hear her if she’d continued.)

“Thank you, sir,” Twilight said with relief; it was nearing sundown, and the sight of groves losing their hue as their leaves surrendered to the looming autumn was weighing on Twilight’s spirits, and she felt the urge to find somepony to talk to who had read books. The Pie family had a long history in their farm nestled at the border between the North Equinus Mountains and the Descort Fields, and there were surely some history books kept in their old store-rooms which held answers to the Age of Discord.

And then, from there… the High Eyries, and the Element of Honesty!

The caravan came to a slow halt at the edge of a paddock fencing in cows at the edge of the village of Holderton.

“Are you certain you wish to disembark here, Lady Twilight?” asked one of the Royal Guards as Twilight and her band disembarked.

“I’ll be alright, Phalanx,” Twilight said steadily, Spike attempting to carry Rarity’s saddle-bags despite how far apart the girth-straps were compared to his forelegs’ span. “My friends and I can handle any trouble that comes our way. And besides…” She added with a light laugh as she tilted her head towards the cobblestone thoroughfare into Holderton. “Do you really think we could run into any trouble from Discord out here?”

Phalanx’s eyes traveled briskly yet fearlessly across the passing bands of Earth Ponies from one side of the thoroughfare to the other, each one almost as dully colored as though this was a motion picture at a high-class theater. Nearly every expression was subdued, even somber, as though joy itself was a foreign concept to them. A beard was bestowed upon all stallions, and each mare’s mane was tied up in a bun. It could not have been more different from Ponyville, a town so overflowing with love and happiness.

Phalanx let out a short snort of a laugh through his nostrils, “I see your point. Are all of your belongings secured, ladies?”

“Yes, sir!” grinned Rainbow Dash with a mock-salute, which all six caravan-stallions returned.

“Well then, we wish you the best of luck, Bearers,” added one of Phalanx’s partners, and in short time the caravan had turned itself around from Holderton and traveled back up the road it had come from.

Twilight prepared to turn to pass down the thoroughfare, but a particular palomino pony blocked her view.

“Sugarcube,” began Applejack, “are ya sure that we shoulda ditched them as escorts ta th’ Pie farm? Ah mean, we’re in completely unknown territory; ain’t there safety ta be had in numbers?”

“Ohh p’shah, Applejack,” beamed Pinkie Pie, her eyes darting back and forth between her party and the thoroughfare so rapidly that it seemed as though each iris and pupil had gone from a circle to a beam. “We’re in my ‘hood right now; nopony’s gonna do anything to try and hurt us while I’m here~”

“You came from a place like this, Pinkie?” asked Rainbow Dash with a liberal amount of skepticism. “Sorry, but… when it comes to wet blankets, this place looks like it’s soaked. Seriously, how much more Haymish could you get? And, well, it always surprised me to hear that you weren’t Mr. & Mrs. Cake’s filly; you look so much like you could be their kid.”

“Nope, I’m not~ (at least, not biologically),” answered Pinkie gaily. “They gave me a roof over my head and all the sweets I could eat in exchange for digging Sugar Cube Corner out of its debt crisises − long story~ − and Ponyville’s been my home away from home ever since! It’s been so forever since I’ve seen Ma & Pa and Limey and Maud and Marbly and oooh I can feel the Haymish flow through me ‘cause I’m calling ‘em ‘Ma & Pa’ again instead of ‘Mommy & Daddy’~”

“If I may ask,” Rarity said sharply, drawing the band’s attention, “must we continue to crowd this town’s doorstep, or will we proceed to the Pie family estate?”

“Oh my,” breathed Fluttershy, staring down past her chest-fluff to her dainty hooves with a degree of guilt. “Were we really crowding this spot so much…?”

“Heavens, no, Fluttershy, darling, but… well, let us progress, girls!”

“Ah agree,” Applejack nodded. “Sooner we get to a place a’ proper shelter fer th’ night, the happier Ah’ll be.”

“So,” said Rainbow Dash, “where is the Pie family rock farm?”

“Weee~ell,” grinned Pinkie Pie, “we could just follow the scent of rock molasses~”

Turning her nose up to the air, Twilight did catch a light smell in the air that she hadn’t quite noticed before. It made her want to retch.

Rainbow Dash beat her wings more fervently than before, to try to waft the odor away from herself.

“Urgh… What curled up and died here?”

“That, Rainbow Dash, is the scent of rock molasses,” explained Twilight.

“We put this stuff in our food?”

“Well, it has to be processed before we eat it―”

“It smells like something lost a foreleg and then just bled out out in the fields―”

“Rainbow Dash, keep your voice down; we don’t want to seem rude to the villagers of Holderton.”

The cerulean Pegasus sighed heavily.

“We’re not here to make friends, Ms. Friendship-is-magic; we’re here to find my Element of Honesty, and we gotta start somewhere!”

“MAUD!” screeched Pinkie Pie suddenly, beginning to pronk up and down so quickly it seemed as if gravity was taking little part in how she’d accelerated back to the ground. Her eyes were set upon a particular tent in the thoroughfare’s marketplace from which a particularly large pony had already emerged, a rather petite mare waving the giant of a pony off.

“That’s one big stallion, isn’t it?” Spike gasped at the slate-gray frame as it trotted slowly down the thoroughfare.

“Very burly, too, by the looks of it,” Twilight added in assent, noting that the muscles rippling under that coat made Applejack seem like a twig.

“And, with such a subpar sense of fashion at that,” Rarity mused with a wary look at the giant Earth Pony’s dull-blue frock.

“Ohh, I think she looks very nice,” said Fluttershy.

“Wait, what?” Spike blinked at the Pegasus mare.

“You mean…” Rarity double-taked.

“That that pony’s not a stallion?” Twilight kicked herself. Now that she looked more closely, there was a feminine shape to the eyelids of that over-sized mare, eyelashes which she had overlooked before.

“WE’RE OVER HERE, MAUD!” Pinkie Pie bellowed down the thoroughfare, and slate-gray ears twitched at the shout. The Earth Pony who could only be Maudstone Rock Pie turned her head slowly towards the pink Earth Pony, slowly and surely turning on the spot and making a beeline for the band.

A very, very, very slow beeline.

“Well, she sure ain’t in a big hurry, is she?” hissed Rainbow Dash.

“Rocks don’t move too often,” Pinkie Pie replied in a voice of low excitement. “Maud doesn’t move much sometimes, either. So sometimes, Maud really is like a rock~”

As Maud approached, it became increasingly apparent to Twilight Sparkle that “giant” was a very accurate assessment. Though it was easy to see that the populace of Holderton was generally bulkier than most ponies from Ponyville, Maud Pie was a figure of particularly intimidating statue. Not even Big McIntosh could hope to meet Maud at the withers, although he could have met her eye-to-eye if she stooped low. Her expression became clearer as she reached the end of the thoroughfare, and it was obvious that the only word which could describe Maud’s expression was stony. Her face was frozen in an expression of dull disinterest bordering on mild irritation, light-turquoise eyes half-lidded beneath the flat curtain of a pale-purple forelock.

This is one of Pinkie Pie’s sisters…? Twilight gasped internally. Whatever she had expected when she thought of relatives of Pinkie Pie, it was not this.

Maud stopped a few paces short of Pinkie Pie, bouncing excitedly before her big sister. The size difference was almost comical; even holding her head upright, Pinkie would have been able to trot straight under her sister’s barrel. Where Pinkie was round and fluffy, Maud carried the look of being able to turn a boulder to dust if she felt the motivation. Where Pinkie was in constant motion and constantly changing expression to varying ways of expression unbridled joy, Maud may as well have been a statue with how stiff her well-chiseled features were.

Then she tilted her head down to look at Pinkie Pie, and when she spoke, it was in exactly the sort of voice one would expect from looking at her: A flat droning tone that inspired absolute boredom and tedium in the listener.

“Pinkie Pie, we heard about what happened in Ponyville. The message arrived just yesterday about what happened. You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you alright.”

“I know~ I’m so happy to see you too, Maud~” Pinkie squealed, throwing all four legs around one of Maud’s. The gigantic mare’s expression did not change a whit, not even as her eyes passed along the five mares and the mulberry drake who accompanied her (Spike looked quite faint at her gaze).

“Ohh yeah!” Pinkie dislodged herself from her big sister’s leg (an act which Twilight assumed was a difficult task otherwise, given how much she idolized the stolid mare), and gestured with emphatic glee at her fellow Ponyvillagers. “Maud, these are my very very very best friends who I made in Ponyville when we all saved the world from NightMare Moon! This is Twilight Sparkle and she likes vanilla ice-cream and books but is afraid of quesadillas so don’t try to offer any to her and she’s really smart and knows just about everything you could print in a book, and this is Applejack and she’s a farmer like you except she farms apples instead of rocks and she’ll really stick with you through the good and the bad and she keeps her orchards safe from all the monsters of the Everfree and she has the scars to prove it, and this is Rainbow Dash and she wants to be a part of the Wonderbolts and she’s waiting for their letter right now and she also made that Sonic Rainboom that made me realize how much I loved to smile and making everypony in the world smile and I really really love her, and this is Fluttershy and she takes care of all the animals around Ponyville like Marbly did that one time we had a bunch of bunnies come in from a warren in the Everfree except that Fluttershy takes care of all the really big nasty tough ones and you can see all the scars that she got from taking care of them and she’s really sweet and shy and I really think she’s cute, and this, last but not least, is―…!”

“Thank you, Pinkie Pie,” Rarity said abruptly, placing a hoof gently in front of Pinkie Pie as a polite gesture of interruption, “but I believe that I can introduce myself with a bit more volume control, if you don’t mind.”

The alabaster Unicorn cleared her throat.

“Miss Maudstone Pie, I am Rarity Belle, proprietor of Carousel Couture and eager designer and manufacturer of all manner of garments for all manner of incomes!”

Maud blinked. “Never heard of it,” she said flatly.

Rarity withdrew slightly, her ears flicking and her winning smile faltering for a moment.

“Uhhh… yes well, Carousel Couture is a local establishment in Ponyville, hardly a blip on the radar at the moment. But the quality that I aspire to cannot be denied! I see that you are a mare of fashion? Tell me, what does your outfit say?”

“It doesn’t say anything,” Maud replied. “It’s a dress.”

Rarity looked ready to press the subject, and Twilight didn’t like the new furrow to the mare’s brow, so she stepped in.

“Rarity,” she hissed, “I’m sorry, but we’re not here to advertise for Carousel Couture.”

The alabaster Unicorn held her gaze with the lavender one, and for a moment looked almost tortured, before letting out a low sigh.

“Very well, Twilight Sparkle. I will refrain.”

And so Rarity fell back to a spot beside Fluttershy, nose in the air.

“Ehhh, so, why don’t we all head back to the rock farm, right, Maud~?” Pinkie beamed with a slight nervous crease to her smile.

“Sure,” replied Maud, turning back down the thoroughfare. “Oh, and Pinkie, if you thought that apatite was high on the Mohs scale of hardness, wait until I tell you about quartz.”

“Ooooh, neat~” Pinkie seemed genuinely interested. “Now, listen up, everypony. My baby sister Marbly cooks up a mean brew of rock soup, so I hope each of you brought your apatite~”

Twilight groaned; rock puns?

This would take forever.

If there was a higher being in charge of rock puns, Twilight suspected that she or he would have become really rather cross with what followed mere moments after they’d entered Holderton: Most everypony reacted to Pinkie’s presence in town, offering her bright and jovial greetings… or, rather, as bright and jovial a greeting could be from those born and bred in a Haymish county such as Holderton. Each one knew Pinkie Pie by name, and she greeted them in her usual Pinkie Pie fashion.

Based off of old census knowledge which she had overheard at the end of certain meetings of Queen Celestia’s prior to her personal lessons with the monarch, Twilight knew Holderton to be a county of a much larger populace than Ponyville. Nearly a dozen-gross ponies called this town their home, all of them bearing a long lineage consisting nearly exclusively of Earth Ponies. The more she looked about herself, the more the uniqueness of Ponyville was impressed into her mind. Almost everypony in that hamlet settled beneath Canterlot held some degree of mixed blood in their heritage, and that did not require a look at any genealogy charts to confirm. Here in Holderton, the strength of Earth Ponies remained untouched (relatively speaking) by the branches of the genealogical trees of either Unicorn or Pegasus.

(Well, excepting Pinkie’s famed Granny Pie, who was apparently a Pegasus.)

The stench of raw rock molasses grew stronger and more pungent as they followed a particular path through the winding streets of Holderton. A far more rural setting than Ponyville it was, which at the very least conceded to a very slow trickle of technological advancement. This town was like stepping back in time a grossentury or two. There were no mass-produced products; everything was made-to-order by speaking directly to the pony who you requested that particular good or service from.

The sandstone-framed homes became smaller and sparser as they reached the southern edge of Holderton, the plots of land allotted to each household becoming larger as the cliff-faces of the abrupt eastern edge of the North Equinus Mountains loomed closer and closer, the overhanging cliffs casting a deep and dark shadow from the setting sun behind the range. A sign denoted the edge of Holderton property, marking the path ahead as progressing towards the Pie Family Rock Farm (with ‘and Rock Molasses Foundation’ added in almost as an addendum below it). Atop the sign, though, was a far older piece of signage, its age much more closely matching the pole the sign was mounted to, indicating that the Rock Farm signage was a more contemporary addition. The sign bore only a single character upon it:


“What in tarnation is that?” Applejack asked, a sandy eyebrow quirked inquisitively at the monogrammed sign.

“It’s a table, silly filly~!” bubbled Pinkie Pie, prancing about on Maud’s back as she eyed the symbol.

“It’s the letter ‘pi’, the character representing the ‘p’ sound in the Magnesian alphabet,” Twilight interjected smartly, rubbing her chin with a sapphire-colored forehoof. “It’s the dozen-and-fourth letter in their alphabet, and is used in mathematics to represent―”

“Booo-riiiing…!” Rainbow Dash droned by way of imitation of a fog-horn. Twilight scowled at the cerulean Pegasus, but abstained from verbal comment.

“The rock farm used to be home to a group of cultists dedicated to rocks,” Maud Pie explained. “They called themselves the Cult of Pi, because pi encompasses everything in its circumference, as rocks encompass our entire planet. The pi became Pie with an ‘E’, and the cult became a real family.”

“I think I remember,” Twilight explained, “Queen Selena mentioning something about pi that happened in the past… something that wasn’t quite so kind, or sane.”

“What happened in the past doesn’t affect us now in the present,” Maud replied flatly. “We know rocks waaaaay better than we did back in the old days. Did you know that some rocks make very great pets?”

“Errr, well, I can imagine so,” Twilight stammered in reply. “I mean, not very much in the way of upkeep, I imagine.”

“You’d be surprised.”

Maud reached into a small (for her) pouch in the corner of her frock and in her hoof was balanced an unremarkable pebble… except that it was a pebble for Maud’s size, so it was nearly as large as one of their own heads. She tossed it to the ground where it settled with a loud thump.

A beat.

“…His name is Boulder,” Maud said with as much affection as her vocal chords could muster… which amounted to zero.

Another beat.

“Ohh… well, look at you, Boulder,” Fluttershy began awkwardly as she kneeled down to run a pink-ish hoof along Boulder’s surface. “You’re such a… well, a big rock. I… I think that you and Angel Bunny could become really close. So that I could smash his fluffy little head in…!

The words almost didn’t register in Twilight’s mind, but there it was: a small change in her intonation, a new tension in the Pegasus’s posture, and it was like the Pegasus was a whole new pony. It was as though some other soul was inhabiting the body of her good and kind friend…

Then she stood upright from Boulder, backpedalling with all the speed her hooves could afford her, and she was Fluttershy again.

“Ohh… oh no… oh no no no no no no…”

The fear that they saw on Fluttershy’s face was startling. Even the puppet-dead of NightMare Moon had not provoked such a frightful expression out of the yellow Pegasus, her cyan eyes constricting tight around her pupils as she flared out her wings as if to fly away and never return.

Maud quickly swept Boulder up into her hoof and pocketed the pet rock.

“Does your friend have petraphobia? …That’s a fear of rocks.”

Pinkie dove off of her big sister’s back and bolted towards Fluttershy alongside Rainbow Dash.

“No, don’t come any closer!” Fluttershy continued to backpedal down the road. “I don’t want you to get hurt!”

“What could possibly hurt us?” Rainbow Dash asked, a deeply concerned look on her normally wild face. “Come on, Fluttershy, what’s going on?”

“I don’t like it when one of my friends is sad,” Pinkie said with a slight whine, the tip of her forelock starting to uncurl as her ears fell limp.

“I…” Fluttershy’s face creased itself in wrinkled fright, bearing her teeth. “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s… it’s too hard.”

“Maybe talking about it will help!” Rainbow Dash persisted, placing a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder.

“I always like to talk!” Pinkie offered, standing on her hind legs and attempting to place her forehooves on Fluttershy’s chest-fluff…

But the lanky Pegasus withdrew sharply, tears streaming down her muzzle.

“Please, just… stop. I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t talk about it! Not even with you, Dashie… Please, don’t ask me anymore!”

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie gaped at Fluttershy with eyes full of astonishment, as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They weren’t alone, either; Applejack bowed her head and brought her Stetson down slightly, Rarity brought a hoof up to her mouth as her eyes locked onto Fluttershy, and Twilight Sparkle was narrowing her eyes at the lanky Pegasus as though she were trying to decipher a particularly difficult cryptogram. Maud Pie’s gaze was set down the road towards their destination, and Spike was gazing at his lavender mother in concern.

“What’s going on, Twi − Mom?”

“I… don’t know, Spike,” she answered. “If I had to guess, Discord is behind this somehow. But, it can’t be made up out of whole cloth, or it wouldn’t have affected Fluttershy so badly. Based off of her reaction, though, I don’t know if I’d be able to get much from her…” Purple eyes locked onto Fluttershy’s face. “What in the world happened to her…?”

“Amethyst geodes are good for enforcing peace of mind,” Maud said suddenly. “They help me to prepare for my entrance exam to Shale University. I can ask Marble if we can borrow from her geode collection to help your friend feel better in her sleep.”

“Oooh, that sounds like that’ll help~” Pinkie said with a quick beam. “And the sooner we get to the farm, the sooner we can help you out, Fluttershy~” She pronked up and planted a quick peck on Fluttershy’s cheek, and the yellow Pegasus locked wide eyes upon the small pink Earth Pony before hiding her pinkening face behind the curtain of her forelock, though Twilight could have sworn that she caught a small flash of a smile

Pinkie really does love everypony, thought Twilight. Sometimes, though, she has a really weird way of showing it…

The remainder of the journey to the Pie Family Rock Farm was spent in trepidation as the sun set even further behind the mountain range to their right, Pinkie straddling across her big sister’s back and waving absentmindedly at Rainbow Dash. Twilight looked back and forth between Fluttershy and the bulge in the side of Maud’s frock where Boulder doubtlessly sat. Something did not sit quite right in her mind about this whole situation.

What in the name of ponydom just happened there? I’ve never seen Fluttershy act like that before… well, since before Discord turned that canary inside-out. Her insides turned at the memory. He has us all on a silver platter, so why is he giving us a chance to find the only items which can defeat him…?

Fluttershy’s thoughts were racing as well, her face largely hidden still behind her mane, although enough of a gap was present for a single eye to keep the Pegasus on the road with her friends.


She turned her head sharply; it was Rarity. The alabaster mare gave her a look of deepest sympathy.

“As one of your oldest friends,” Rarity began delicately, the verbal equivalent of testing one’s steps across thin ice, “let me caution you on one regard: a pony hiding a huge secret about her past can be positively murderous. Sometimes, letting one’s friends in on such secrets can be the only way to ease the pain.”

Fluttershy could not meet Rarity’s eyes. Her ears drooped.

“Well, sometimes… a big secret needs to be kept from a pony’s friends, so that they won’t be hurt…” A fresh bleeding pain was in her eyes as she looked towards her oldest friend in Ponyville. “I wouldn’t want to see you girls hurt.”

Rarity nodded.

“I see. Well, in its own time, I suppose… provided you ever feel the urge to share in it.”

The Pie Family Rock Farm complex was comprised of a small number of buildings, the oldest and smallest clearly being the living quarters of the Pie family. Like so many buildings in Holderton, it was clearly built for ponies of a larger stock like Maud Pie, so Twilight and her band felt utterly dwarfed as they approached. A windpump and a silo beside the old timber-framed abode showed their age, while fresher and newer windpumps demonstrated the more contemporary side-business of rock-molasses. A new facility stood behind the home building, built of stucco and plaster, with larger windows than could be seen on the Pie Family home, doubtlessly based around the processing, packaging, and shipping of rock-molasses. The other buildings, roughly the same size as the household, had to be live-in residences for the hired hooves to assist in the rock-farming and the processing of rock-molasses. A quarry sat at the left-hoof side of the pathway approaching the complex, a rough-hewn path leading down into the stone abyss hidden away by the dimming daylight. The work out in the fields seemed to have come to an end with the setting of the sun; the lights in the live-in residences were coming on, the chimneys sending forth smoke carrying the aroma of burning wood.

“Well, here we are,” Maud said flatly, almost morosely.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEE…!” Pinkie started shuddering so vigorously that Twilight would not have been surprised if she fell to pieces on the spot. Instead, the pink Earth Pony almost literally rocketed off of her big sister’s back, a succession of pink after-images flashing behind her as she darted at Rainbow Dash speeds towards the front door. Standing on her hind legs, Pinkie rapped crimson forehooves against the door with such speed that it sounded as though two giant woodpeckers had taken an interest in the oaken panelling.

“Ma, Pa! Marbly, Limey! I’m back and I’m with Maud and all my bestest friends from Ponyville…!”

Twilight wondered if the Queens could hear Pinkie all the way in Canterlot.

After a few moments, the door swung outward, Pinkie skipping backwards to avoid being struck.

A bluish-gray mare stood in the doorway, lank opalish-gray mane ending in a perfectly horizontal line over dark blade-shaped eyebrows dropped in a perpetual scowl. She was not large like Maud was, actually slightly smaller than Applejack, but with a burlier build, and with a demeanor that demanded that you would underestimate her for her diminutive stature at your peril. Her eyes, the left a dull beige, the right a bright piercing green, fixed themselves upon Pinkie.

“Welcome home, Pinkie,” she grumbled in a voice that carried nothing but contempt. “We’re glad to see you in one piece.”

“I’m glad to see you with me in one piece too, Limey~!” Pinkie leapt forward to embrace her big sister, but found herself being swept back by a beige hoof.

“We don’t have time for any of your silliness right now, little sis. You brought in some newcomers to these parts, so first thing’s first: laying down the ground-rules.”

The bluish-gray mare narrowed her eyes at the party behind Pinkie, pulling down the eyelid of her green eye with a dry and cracked hoof. The effect, Twilight noted, was quite striking; her constricted pupil stood out all the more against her piercing iris, and it felt as though the curses of ancients were being cast upon the lot of them from that staring eye.

“Gaze into the eyes of Limestone Pie, newbies, and remember this: Ma & Pa might own this farm, but the one that keeps it running is me. So long as you don’t cross me, we just might get along alright. First and foremost rule is this: Keep out of the Quarry of Holder’s Boulder!” She pointed with her eyelid-pulling hoof towards the quarry to her right, her mane spiking straight from the back of her head, and Twilight caught a flash of her cutie mark as she turned, a slice of a half of lime over two salt rocks, before directing her gaze to the quarry which caught her eye on the approach. “It’s bad enough that Holder’s Boulder fell in there and split ages ago, so just leave the Boulder’s halves be!”

“Limestone Miriam Pie, hast Maudstone returned from the market?” asked a matronly voice from within.

Limestone Pie stepped sideways from the doorway and glanced at the two approaching figures from within: an Earth Pony couple of stocky build and stately posture. The stallion had a dull amber coat, a scruffy mane gray with age, and brilliant-amber eyes framed by sideburns. He wore a simple white collar accented with a black necktie, and a broad-rimmed black hat. His wife beside him had a grayish-opal mane tied back in a very tight bun, piercing arctic-blue eyes behind gold-framed half-moon glasses, and a light-cobaltish-gray coat.

“Yes, and she brought Pinkie Pie with her, and Pinkie’s friends.” Twilight could not help but to wonder if Limestone always held such a contemptuous tone, or if it was particular to Pinkie and her band.

Ma & Pa Pie turned their eyes upon Pinkie, who was waving with unabashed glee at her parents, and then upon the group of mares with her.

“We bid ye, friends of our third-born daughter Pinkamena Diane Pie, welcome to the Pie Family Rock Farm!” said Pinkie’s father in a projected tone. “I am Igneous Rock Pie, son of Feldspar Granite Pie.”

“And you shalt know me as Cloudy Quartz,” said Pinkie’s mother.

“May Providence smile upon all of ye,” finished Igneous Rock.

“I thank ye, Mr. & Mrs. Pie,” replied Twilight with a bow, offering the customary Haymish response. “Your daughter has been a very dear friend to myself and my herd, and surely her good heart had to have come from the ones who raised her.”

Igneous & Cloudy glanced sideways at each other, their stolid faces softening with tender smiles.

“Thy words show thy benefaction, friend of Pinkie Pie,” Igneous said with a less forced tone. “Please, come inside, one and all, and partake in the Pie family’s traditional dinner, prepared by our youngest, Marble Magdalen Pie!”

“That was seriously the most boring conversation I’ve ever heard,” Rainbow Dash hissed through gritted teeth into Twilight’s ear. The lavender Unicorn merely bowed her head and trotted through the doorway into the Pie household.

A sparsely decorated hallway with dully-colored wallpaper greeted her, dotted with fading portraits of long-dead members of the Pie family. The far end of the hall displayed a large framed portrait of a small round pink filly bouncing up and down in front of a table laden with all manner of party wares, a fresh glow from her hind flanks as her parents and three sisters looked on with pride. This could only be representative of the moment when Pinkamena Diane Pie earned her cutie mark. A particularly peculiar aroma grew as they trotted down the carpeted corridor. Twilight had never smelt it before, and it was…not necessarily good or bad, but simply… indescribable.

“A work by our Marble for last year’s Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant,” explained Cloudy Quartz, as they passed a small table. Sat upon it was a carving of a traditional Hearth’s Warming image: Smart Cookie, Clover the Clever, and Prancing Pansy the three founders of Equestria standing in a circle, facing inwards. Each one traditionally wore a solemn look upon their faces in commemoration of the three ponies lying dead and frozen at their forehooves: their seniors Chancellor Puddinghead, Princess Platinum Platter, and Commander Hurricane, their faces contorted by blind hate even in death. Though each figure was not even a hoof tall at the withers, it astonished Twilight just how intricately detailed each one was; curiously, Chancellor Puddinghead seemed to resemble Limestone. Shrugging internally, Twilight felt she should offer Marble Pie her compliments over dinner.

The kitchen was unsurprisingly ascetic for such a household, with amenities that were more befitting of the time of a grossentury past. Polished-wood drawers set into sandstone counters ground down to smooth cutting surfaces, and a steel stove with a pipe leading up and out of the ceiling. Standing at the latter was a lanky pale-gray mare with a long gray mane covering half of her face, holding a stirring spoon in her mouth as she worked at a saucepot that could only be the source of that scent. She was less than two hooves shorter than Maudstone Pie, but her slender barrel and thin legs gave the false impression of greater height. It was obvious now that Limestone was the odd pony out for being (comparatively) shrimpy in the Pie family. Her cutie mark was of three deep-purple spheres, doubtlessly marbles, and she had patches of feathers as dark as her mane along her shoulders.

“Marble Pie, is the dinner nearly finished being prepared?” asked Cloudy Quartz.

Marble turned her head to face her mother, revealing a pair of violet eyes, and let out a meek Mhm. She prepared to turn back to the saucepot, but double-taked at the sight of Pinkie Pie’s party behind her parents. At the sight of the new mares (and the drake Spike), her pupils narrowed and she hid her face behind her mane in a very distinctly Fluttershy-esque fashion, her ears flattening as she tried to look invisible.

“Awww, don’t be shy, Marbly~” smiled Pinkie Pie as she darted up to her twin sister and leapt onto her back, squishing her sister’s cheeks together in her forehooves and turning her head to face the newcomers. “These are all my very bestest friends from Ponyville! I wrote all about them to all of you and I know you know all about them but I didn’t send any pictures so I’m just gonna give you the run-down! They’re Twilight Sparkle the purple Unicorn book-horse who bears the Element of Magic, and Applejack the orange Earth Pony apple-farmer who bears the Element of Loyalty, and Rainbow Dash the rainboom-ing Pegasus who wants to be a Wonderbolt and who bears the Element of Honesty, and Rarity the pretty dress-making Unicorn who bears the Element of Generosity, and Fluttershy the shy and quiet animal-loving Pegasus who’s exactly one year older than me and you and who bears the Element of Kindness! Aren’t they all just the bestest best friends who I could have other than my adorable little baby sister~?”

Marble’s face burned pink, the stirring spoon left to idle in the saucepot, and she tried to look somewhere other than at the new ponies who had suddenly more than doubled the amount of servings that would need to be dispensed at meal-time. But at a small nudge by her elder twin, Marble Pie nodded quickly and uttered one word:


I guess Pinkie does all the talking for the both of them, Twilight thought. That certainly explains Pinkie’s inability to remain silent.

Twilight felt an elbow poking her in the side, and she looked up and to the side, to see Applejack winking slyly at her. Knowing that AJ had to be sharing the same thought as she did, Twilight felt a boost in her spirits despite their rocky entry into the Pie Family Rock Farm.

“It’s a good thing that Marble always cooks far more than she needs to for dinner,” Limestone grumbled, “considering how many more mouths we have to feed tonight…!”

“Yep, it sure is, big sis~” smiled Pinkie with an unironic smile on her face.

“Limestone, these are Pinkie Pie’s good friends,” Maud said with a trace of irritability in her tone, although the change in her expression was limited to perhaps a microscopic creasing of her eyebrows. “We should treat them with the respect that you normally reserve for Holder’s Boulder.”

“Look here, Maudstone!” Limestone growled, practically nose-to-nose with her eldest younger sister. “Just because you’re the biggest Pie here doesn’t mean you’re in charge!” She glanced down at Fluttershy, who was withdrawing behind her mane more and more as Limestone’s voice rose in volume. The firstborn Pie gritted her teeth, ears flopping, her mismatched eyes flicking down to her hooves. “But… I suppose I can try to be less abrasive.”

“Thank you, big sister,” Maud said.

“Mhm,” Marble smiled with a quick little nod.

The stirring spoon started to rattle in the saucepot, and the youngest Pie mare let out a soft gasp and turned off the stove’s heat.

The following minutes found both parties − the Pie family, and the band of Ponyville friends − seated around the Pies’ dining room table, the latter party seated atop a stool apiece so that they could reach the tabletop.

The meal of the day: rock soup.

Twilight grimaced at the bowl in front of her. She really should not have been surprised.

“Ughhhh… I had too much rock soup…”

Twilight groaned as she came to at first light the next morning, a hoof rubbing her belly tenderly. The rock soup of Holderton was one recipe on the books which she had always found questionable at best, unnecessarily taxing on the gastrointestinal system at worst, but never in her worst nightmares had she ever dreamt that she would end up eating some of it. It was incredible what Earth Ponies could stomach, as hardy a race as they were.

Still, she thought as she gazed at the mulberry drake curled up in a basket at the foot of her bed, at least Spike seemed to enjoy it the most of the Ponyvillagers.

Well, discounting Pinkie Pie, but she grew up on rock soup seemingly from birth. Even Applejack, the other Earth Pony in their group, was complaining of stomach cramps prior to turning in the previous night. Pinkie, meanwhile, had worked out some way to somehow drink the rocks themselves straight from the bowl.

Leave it to Pinkie Pie to drink rocks, something that’s supposed to be solid, she thought dryly.

Not helping matters at all was the sadistic grin on Limestone’s face as each of the six took their first sip − or bite − of the rock soup.

Spike and the Pies had the least trouble passing the rocks of the soup through their systems, but Twilight and the Ponyvillagers had difficulties until Maud provided a tonic of antique invention that aided non-Earth Ponies in the digestion of rocks. Applejack, being an Earth Pony, was able to pass the stone with time, but not at all with the ease that the Pies could.

Two-dozen-gross-and-a-half years, and the consideration of one race for another still astonishes me, she thought.

Breakfast in the Pie household consisted, apparently, of rock toast. How the Pies were able to produce bread from grinding up rocks and using the resultant powder in lieu of flour was beyond Twilight’s comprehension, but at least with the tonic that Maud provided it proved to be quite palatable. The addition of their own rock-molasses as an ingredient helped greatly; it really was top-of-the-table when it came to naturally-forming molasses.

“I just wish that Maud could have waited at least till this morning to tell you about the petropepsis tonic,” grumbled Limestone as Marble gathered the dishes to carry to the sink.

“But why in the name of Cloudsdale should she have waited? Those rocks were a nightmare before that!” Rainbow complained loudly.

Limestone smirked devilishly.

“Because it’s fun to watch newbies squirm.”

Sadistic tendencies of Pinkie’s eldest sister aside, the band of Ponyvillagers found their saddle-bags’ provisions stocked with rock-based food products, as well as liberal amounts of the petropepsis tonic.

“No food lasts longer than the sort that has rock as an ingredient,” explained Maud on the doorstep of the homestead, turning to her youngest sister. “Isn’t that right, Marble?”


“But why the tarnation don’cha just put that whatchamacallit tonic in th’ rock foods ta begin with?” asked Applejack.

“Ohh Applejack, you silly~” Pinkie smiled brightly. “It’s ‘cause then there wouldn’t be any rock in the rock-foods, and they’d be no-rock-foods like no-rock soup, or no-rock bread, or no-rock candy~”

Twilight laughed sheepishly, “Well, I guess that makes sense.”

“Dost thee have to leave so soon, Pinkamena?” asked Igneous Rock, looking quite concerned.

Cloudy Quartz had a hoof to her shawl as she added, “Thou hath only just returned to the domicile which took you in and raised you.”

Wait, what? ‘Took you in’? Twilight froze. Pinkie Pie was adopted?

“Ohh don’t worry, Ma & Pa~” Pinkie beamed. “We’ll be dropping back in no time at all as we find each of the Elements of Harmony again! It’ll be like our own little base of operations away from our base of operations~”

And when we come back, Twilight thought, I’ll have the time, I hope, to research this Cult of Pi, find out what its connection with Discord was, and what they may have known about Discord’s reign…

“Where are these Elements of Harmony this time, anyway?” Limestone asked impatiently.

“We have strong reason to believe that Discord has hidden one up there,” answered Rarity, pointing an azure hoof up at the cliffs to the west, “up in the High Eyries.”

“Not too far away, then,” noted Maud. “You’ll be back in no time, then.”

“No we won’t,” Rainbow Dash countered with an edge of fright in her tone. “That place is frickin’ haunted.”

“Commander Hurricane’s armies sleep up there,” continued Fluttershy in a quavering voice, “just waiting for some silly little mortals to stir them from their undead slumber…!”

“Ghosts aren’t real,” Maud said with a miniscule lift to her eyebrows.

“Like that needs to be said,” Twilight replied. “But considering that we’re dealing with Discord here, we’ll need to be ready for anything.”

Pinkie hugged first her mother’s right foreleg, then her father’s left.

“I’ll be sure to keep my friends safe and happy, Ma & Pa~!”

“May the Maker and Providence smile upon thee, Pinkamena,” Cloudy Quartz said tenderly.

“Thy friends are welcome back here anytime,” said Igneous Rock.

Limestone begrudgingly allowed Pinkie to embrace her, her eyes glancing off to her left.

“T-Try not to get yourself hurt, okay?” she grumbled into Pinkie’s ear.

Pinkie giggled, “Let yourself be happy for a change, Captain Grumpy~”

“Be sure to tell me about the types of rock you see up there, Pinkie,” Maud requested as Pinkie embraced her foreleg.

“Of course I will, Maud!”

Pinkie leapt up and clutched to both of Marble’s forelegs, locking her youngest sister in place.

“Keep an eye on Limey and Maud, okie-dokie-lokie, Marble~?”

Marble nodded imperceptibly, “Mhm.”

With the farewells out of the way, Pinkie’s band trotted down the road leading north from the rock farm complex.

Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight caught a pinkish light coming from the quarry. Taking a glance, Twilight saw something at the bottom that had not been visible in the dusk: a large geode, as large as a small house, cracked in twain dozens of hooves below. The pink glow was from the tremendous quantities of pinkamena gemstone within.

So, Holder’s Boulder was a gigantic geode, Twilight thought. Is that what was so important about it…?

As soon as the main homestead of the Pie Family Rock Farm left her over-the-shoulder field of vision, Twilight gave voice to a thought that had been nagging her since they’d prepared to leave.

Very loud voice.

“You were adopted, Pinkie Pie?!” she shouted. “Why didn’t you ever tell any of us?”

Pinkie tittered nervously, “It was just never important. Ma & Pa always treated me like I was one of their own. And plus, you never asked~”

Twilight’s eyebrow twitched.

“Mom…?” Spike said hesitatingly.

“But, you said that Marble is your twin! How could she be your twin, unless you were both adopted!”

“Twilight, lighten up,” interjected Applejack, concern creasing her freckled muzzle. “Maybe she was adopted same day as Mrs. Quartz Pie had Marble. That don’t signify fer anythin’ too significant, Ah think.”

A sheepish feeling crept up in Twilight from her stomach. It certainly made more sense than any of the dozens of other ideas that were prancing around in her brain.

“Yeah… Sorry about that, Pinkie,” she said softly. “Got a bit paranoid about nothing there.”

“No biggie, Twilight. It could happen with anypony~”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” muttered Rainbow Dash, flapping her wings with greater gusto. “Meanwhile, my Element of Honesty is getting antsy waiting for all of us to high-tail it up there!”

A flash of light, a thump, and Rainbow Dash going, “Ow!”

Twilight felt suddenly quite prickly, and also quite air-headed. Somehow, she felt more closed in than she had ever felt in her life. Shaking her forelock out, Twilight decided that she needed to stretch out her wings and get the aches out wait wings?

Looking down to her sides, left then right, and saw dark-sapphire and pink plumage along the length of a pair of lavender wings.

Am I… an Alicorn…?

Twilight tried to send the signal down her horn to perform a magic spell to detect her physiological changes…

But nothing happened.

Feeling cold, Twilight ran a hoof along her forehead. She felt smooth fur below her forelock.

She was not an Alicorn; she was a Pegasus.

Her ears twitched; the sounds of numerous mares raising a din reached her, and it occurred to Twilight that the rest of her band had all changed as well.

“My wings…!” Rainbow Dash looked mortified, tearier than she’d ever been in the time Twilight knew her. “I lost my wings! I’m all heavy and I lost my wings!”

“Oooh wow~” Pinkie Pie’s alicorn lit up bright baby-blue, and confetti and balloons appeared out of thin air. “Is this what it’s like all the time, Twilight? It’s so cool~”

“My goodness…!” Rarity’s indigo plumage was surprisingly rough, and her expression oscillated rapidly between unabashed joy and unreserved horror. “I have wings, but… I’m not an Alicorn princess…!”

“Ohh, ohh my…” Fluttershy seemed the least bit put out. “I… guess this is okay… I was never much of a Pegasus…”

“Holy drakonakis…!” Applejack lit up her alicorn bright apple-green. “How do ya use this thing, Twilight? Ah don’ wanna call mahself a green-horn here, but…”

A high laugh rose from everywhere, and a blinding light erupted from overhead. A flare from the source of light, and after blinking the spots out of their eyes, Twilight and her band bore witness to the source of their malcontent.

“So, while everypony’s getting used to their new limbs or lack thereof,” Discord sneered, “would you like to hear the story of how I became what I am?”





CHAPTER e: She Who Lies at the High Eyries

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“Discord…!” snarled Applejack, her horn emitting apple-green sparks. “Turn us back ta what we’re s’pposed ta be, right now!”

“Hmmm… nah, can’t be bothered,” Discord smiled, stretching out his forelimbs and cracking his knuckles… and causing nearby rocks to float up into the air and become pies. “I must say, you all cut quite the chaotic figures at the moment, with your mismatched magical pathways~” He covered his mouth with a lion’s forepaw. “I must say, I sometimes impress myself.

“But I digress. I believe that we need some musical accompaniment for my… sorrowful tale.”

A snap of his talons brought forth a bright flash of light, and when it dissipated and the spots vanished from seven pairs of eyes, Discord was dressed in the style of a mariachi performer, and three seemingly Manadan stallions dressed in the same stood behind. Discord carried a trumpet in his lion’s paw, and each of the stallions bore a guitarrón, a violin, and a guitar.

Before anyone could do more than gawk at the odd display, Discord began to blare away at the trumpet, and the stallions began to follow suit on their instruments, and the air was filled with the serenade of a traditional mariachi band.

After a few moments of vigorous trumpeting, Discord flicked the brass instrument away as it still continued to produce music.

“Well then,” Discord said brightly, slapping paw and talon together as the mariachi band continued to play, the trumpet floating about the stallions as they blindly proceeded on with their instrumentation, “let’s begin.”

He cleared his throat.

“A long time ago, in a far, far away place, I was made from clay to be the playmate of the earliest Alicorn gods. Well, less a playmate and more of a plaything. I made them their toys, but never really got played with myself, which you can imagine hurt quite a bit.” An unconvincing hurt look crossed Discord’s quasi-draconic features, but Twilight was not sure if the reason she found his expression so false was anything to do with the ceaseless mariachi serenade.

Discord continued,

“Well, time passed, and eventually all the Alicorns grew up, and left our cosmic nursery. I was alone, for thousands upon thousands of years. All my friends had left me, just because they had to grow up. I mean, how would you feel if you wanted nothing better to do than to play with your friends, and then their parents just turned around and said, Oh no, you can’t play with them, Discord, because you’re sixteen-hundred years old, clearly far too old to have fun.” He snorted. “Well, being all alone had its advantages, as I eventually grew enough in power that making a toy was… well, child’s play. I could do anything, even escape from the cosmic nursery in which I was left to rot.

“When I came down to this world, I saw that all the Alicorns had worked quite a bit of magic here, set everything so neat and orderly. Well, that really just wouldn’t do? So, I went all about your happy little world of Gaia, turning things inside-out and upside-down. But where oh where were all the Alicorns, you wonder? Well, let me tell you: they were all dead, nothing more than legend by the time I’d escaped from the nursery. Nopony alive had ever seen an Alicorn, and oh how much joy you can imagine coursed through me at the idea! All those stupid little Alicorn foals who couldn’t even treat me like a proper friend, all gone from the world! It was just so… invigorating.” Discord quivered in nostalgic elation, and Twilight wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“So, I spent the next so-and-so amount of years causing the sort of mayhem and chaos that an evil villain like myself is wont to engage in, and then these two nancy-prancy goody-four-shoes trotted on in and tried to spoil all my fun.” As he said ‘these two’, the draconequus spontaneously produced an artist’s smock and an easel, smearing brown paint all over it that somehow formed a rather coherent picture of Celestia and Selena pulling silly faces at one another. “Remember when I said that all of the Alicorns were dead? Well, turns out that I was lying. At least one pair managed to live long enough to make with the hanky-panky and produce these two little queenies here. They had these little crystal gems they called the Excrements of Harm-My-Knee or something, and they managed to cut off my right hoof with them…!” Discord looked down at his lion’s paw with a grimace. “I’ve done some good magic with that hoof, let me tell you, and I’m still not quite used to these things here!” He wiggled the digits at the ends of that paw, which Twilight believed were called toes.

“Anyway,” Discord continued, the smock, easel, and painting all vanishing in flashes of light, “little old Sunshine and Moonbeams were all like Ooooh Mr. Discord Sir, you can’t make a pony’s head be up his butt, he might be forced to breathe his own flatulence~ or Ohhh no Mr. Discord Sir, you can’t use the Sun to write out the words LUL DSQRD ROOLZ out in the ground~ or Noooo Mr. Discord Sir, you have to stop having fun~ and all sorts of silly coprolite like that. Umm, hello? I don’t believe we’ve been acquainted, sunbeams. My name is Discord, and it’s my duty to spread chaos and disorder! But yeah, before I know it, before I can fully grasp my brand-new paw here, I’ve already gotten stoned.”

“And then you wound up in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden?” Fluttershy said in a low voice.

“Uhp-uhp-uhp-uhp!” Discord said, waving a lion’s finger in Fluttershy’s face. “The mariachi band is still playing; can’t you see that I’m not done with my tragic backstory?”

A moment passed in which Fluttershy sank back down to her haunches.

“Very well. Now then… let’s see, what happened after I got stoned? Ahhh yes… forty-three-hundred years of doing absolutely nothing, which, if you know me, can be a bit of a downer. I am always keen on doing something, usually to somepony else to see them squirm, so being put in time-out for over four-thousand years… Can you possibly imagine?”

“Not really,” answered Applejack, “on account a’ th’ fact that none a’ us have ever heard a’ numbers like ‘hundreds’ or ‘thousands’.”

“Well, excuuu~use me if you little ponies never took up the decimal system,” replied the draconequus sourly. “Really makes it harder for me, you know that.”

“You speak of things being hard for you,” snapped Rarity, her new peacock-like tail-feathers rustling in irritation, “but in the same breath you switch our races around. Now, as fond as I can be of my new wings, I do rather miss my horn. So, if you don’t mind, return my horn to me, or I will be forced to bust out my father’s old hoofball moves on you!”

“Ohh don’t you worry, my pretty little pony; you and your friends will change races again in good time,” Discord replied with a genial tone belied by the cruel sneer on his muzzle, slinking about Rarity and her friends. “I just felt that our little game had gotten a wee bit dull, and needed a little bit of randomosity to shake things up. And I must say, I will be quite tickled pink to see what unfolds~!” Discord approached Pinkie Pie as he finished his statement, and his entire body shifted to varying shades of pink as he stroked her cheek with his lion paw. Twilight did not like the look that he gave her rosy friend at all, possessive and greed-ridden.

For her part, Pinkie flashed her horn at Discord with a distasteful glare, a cloud of confetti, a hoof-ful of party favors, and a rubber chicken flying into the draconequus’s face. Shaking the confetti out from his mane and horns, Discord gave a short and small laugh, clapping his talon and paw together to produce several flatulent noises.

“Well well well, looks like somepony’s already up the learning curve of her race swap here~! I should have expected as much of you, my little Pi―”

“Cut the small talk, Discord,” growled Twilight, flaring out her wings and attempting to flap up to Discord’s eye-level, stumbling awkwardly as she tried to work her two new limbs. In the end, she just settled for flapping herself into a rearing position. “We figured out part of your Verdammte riddle, and we’re on our way to putting an end to this game, so if those Alicorn foals meant anything to you at all, you’ll know that tearing apart the world that they made was wrong and that we deserve a fair chance at collecting the Elements!”

Twilight felt what felt like a great arm leaning over her shoulder, and looking in its direction found herself face-to-face with Discord giving her a sinister leer.

“You know what, Twilight Twinkle? You’re right. You and your little friends hold every right to make an attempt at thwarting my evil plan, so I’ll just leave it to you to see who lies up at the High Eyries…!

With a rising laugh, Discord began to run in place, his hind-legs each practically spinning like wheels as he kicked up more and more of a dust-cloud in the dry earth…

And blasted straight up into the air like the rocket-ship of any given sci-fi serial, piercing up through a cloud and out of sight.

Seven series of coughs cut into the sound of the persisting mariachi music, the swirling dust choking not just their throats but also their ability to hear the ceaseless serenade. When the dust cleared, the mariachi band was gone, the music fading away into the howl of the winds.

“That Discord, he just − cough − never lets up with his own uncouth brand of cough − sorcery…!” growled Rarity, a slightly raspy edge to her tone.

“Tell me ‘bout it, Rarity,” grumbled Applejack, eyes almost crossed as she looked up at her new alicorn. “Ah ain’ never dreamed a’ th’ day when Ah’d sprout one a’ these doohickeys.”

“Hey, Applesnack,” snapped Rainbow Dash, kicking a hoof against the ground irately, “how do you Earth Ponies do your magic? Something with your hooves, right?”

“Yeah, ya jus’ do this kinda thing with yer… with yer…”

The palomino’s eyes turned sharply down to her own hooves, her face screwing up in effort. Nothing happened.

“Ah… Ah can’ do mah Earth Pony magic.”

“I can’t use my magic, either,” Twilight replied haltingly, her forelock feeling discomfortingly close to her forehead.

It was perfectly clear in a matter of moments, a jolt of realization shooting through the six mares in an instant akin to the ancestral herd-instinct: none of them could access the magic of the race they had been swapped to.

“In changing all of our pony races, Discord has magically gelded us all,” Twilight spat, eyeing her dark-sapphire primaries with unease. “I’ve been reading up on the magic of the other pony races since I became friends with you girls, but I couldn’t call forth Pegasus magic if I tried.”

“But Pinkie Pie was doing Unicorn magic just now, with blowing that confetti all over Discord’s face,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing an azure hoof at the pink Unicorn. After a moment, that same hoof met her face. “…what am I thinking? It’s Pinkie Pie.”

“But Ah’m lightin’ up this here whatchamacallit just fine,” Applejack noted aloud, crossing her eyes to look up at the fresh orange horn glowing apple-green on her forehead.

“A Unicorn lighting up her alicorn is one of the most simple actions she could undertake,” explained Rarity, before hastily adding, “not that I believe your simplicity to not be charming on its own way, Applejack.”

Applejack frowned, “An’ what do ya mean by that, Rarity? Now, Ah might not know as much about fashion as you seem ta, or stuff mah nose inta books quite as much as Twilight, but Ah’m not stupid.”

“‘Stupid’? Are you sure you’re not talking about Rainbow Dash, darling?”

The cerulean Earth Pony snapped, “What? What the hay, Rarity? I’m not stupid; I can read, even if it’s not nearly as much as our own resident book-worm.”

Anger blossomed inside her the likes of which Twilight had never felt before, and she snorted in irritation at Rainbow Dash.

“Oh don’t you even start about books! I’ll have you know that without books, we would have no foundation for language, mathematics, history, thaumaturgy, or anything for that matter! We wouldn’t even know anything about animals, even though Fluttershy―”

Leave Fluttershy out of this!” snarled Rainbow Dash, almost lunging at the lavender Pegasus. “She’s wimpy and useless, but at least she’s out there with the animals!”

“I am not wimpy or useless, Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy snapped, the yellow Earth Pony locking eyes furiously with her ex-fiancée. “What about you, dashing about the sky from dawn to dusk, trying to prove to yourself that you’re awesome?”

“I don’t have to prove that to myself; I’m already awesome!”

“Ohh? Then why aren’t you in the Wonderbolts yet?”

Rainbow Dash looked hurt, “I…”

“Guys, come on!” Pinkie Pie squealed with mixed alarm and impatience. “We don’t have time to be succumbing to Discord’s chaotic influence; we’ve got to pony up and find Dashie’s Element of Harmony!”

The pink Unicorn’s words had an astonishing effect on her traveling band. Contracted pupils dilated, wrinkles of rage loosened on furious muzzles, and tensing muscles relaxed.

Twilight blinked, “Good gracious, what was happening? I just felt so… angry, like I wanted to argue with everypony around me…”

“Ah felt th’ same feelin’, Twi,” Applejack said, “an’ Ah ain’ never bin one ta pick a meanin’less fight.”

“And what in the name of the Maker could have possessed us to fight amongst ourselves so casually…?” asked Rarity, with a hoof idly rubbing the alicorn-less spot on her forehead.

“Oh, I don’t know, Rarity,” spat a heated voice from behind Fluttershy’s lips, her pupils constricting once more. “Why don’t you let some synapses not geared towards fashion fire inside that thick skull of yours…?”

“What the…?” Rainbow Dash recoiled. “Why isn’t Fluttershy back to normal?”

Pinkie bounced up to Fluttershy’s level, squishing her cheeks and making the lanky Earth Pony make a kissy-face.

Begone, snappy other-one~!” Pinkie said, with all the affectations of an antiquated diviner; indeed, a purple turban doubling the size of her head had appeared atop her frizzy mane. “Bring back to us the Fluttershy we know and love~~… !

The yellow Earth Pony’s face continued to contort in furious contempt, her ears flattening against her skull as if preparing for a scuffle…

But her eyes blinked shut sharply, eyelids creasing sharply for a brief moment, before flickering back open to reveal large round pupils. Her posture relaxed, wings folding back down, and her face became soft once more.

“I… oh no… she came out again, didn’t she? It’s been getting worse…”

“‘She’…?” asked Rainbow Dash, looking at her ex-fiancée with an uncharacteristic level of concern. “Fluttershy, you’re scaring me…”

I scare me, Dashie…” Fluttershy replied as Pinkie Pie landed back on the ground, the pink Unicorn’s turban gone without a trace. “I scare me all the time.”

“What’re ya gittin’ at, sugarcube?” Applejack asked with arched eyebrow.

“I…” Fluttershy’s cyan eyes scanned about the six. “I… I can’t hide it anymore. But… can it wait till we get back from up there…?” She indicated the High Eyries up above, a fell aura hanging over the precipices above that had nothing to do with the setting sun.

“Of course, Fluttershy,” Twilight answered, offering a gentle forehoof to Fluttershy’s forearm. “You don’t need to rush yourself; let it come out when you feel like it.”

“Thank you, Twilight.”

“So, what exactly was making everypony fight with each other?” Spike interjected. “And why exactly did Pinkie piping in make all the arguing stop?”

“I really can’t say,” said Twilight. “It really doesn’t make sense.”

A jolt of revelation flitted through the lavender Pegasus’s mind.

“…of course. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Ya reckin that it was Discord’s doin’, then, sugarcube?” asked Applejack.

“What else could have caused it, Applejack, darling?” Rarity said. “I mean, goodness knows I find your farmer’s life to be quite too strenuous for my tastes, but it’s how you’ve chosen to live your life. I could have chosen to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a hoofball player, or my mother’s and be a cook, but I instead chose the avenue of fashion, the avenue which most suited my sensibilities.”

“And boy do those tail-feathers suit your sense of style, Rarity!” smirked Rainbow Dash.

The alabaster Pegasus looked back at her peacock-like tail-feathers, giving them a twitch that caught the dying rays of the sun and dazzled the eyes.

“Well… I suppose they are quite agreeable to look at. If only I had my horn still…!”

“But, umm… excuse me, but…” Fluttershy cut in softly, “if we were all arguing with each other because of Discord, then how come we stopped fighting?”

Twilight put a fetlock to her chin in thought, following the chain of events beginning with her uncharacteristic anger at Rainbow Dash…

“The fight was escalating between the five of us, and the only ones who weren’t affected were Spike and Pinkie. Spike I can understand, because of dragons’ resistance to magical influence, but Pinkie? Well, that’s Pinkie for you. But… but then Pinkie mentioned the Elements of Harmony. Of course!”

Twilight beamed, and her band of friends looked at her with curious expressions.

“The word ‘harmony’ itself holds power over Discord, because it is the very antithesis of everything that Discord represents. Chaos, disorder, disharmony amongst ponies.”

“…Is that it?” Rainbow Dash asked with narrowed eyebrows. “That seriously can’t be it. Whatever happened to ‘sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you’?”

“Never underestimate the power of words, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight replied sternly. “For one, consider the power held behind the words I am. Words hold the power to change the world, the hearts of ponies. And for now, while we don’t have our Elements, the word ‘harmony’ may be our only safeguard against Discord.”

“Well spoken, Twilight Sparkle,” smiled Rarity. “Why, nothing quite gets myself motivated early in the day than to reaffirm that I am Rarity Belle.”

“Well, that’s real purdy and all, Rares,” Applejack said dryly, “but jus’ sayin’ Ah’m an Earth Pony ain’t gunna make this pokey little thang go back down.” She poked an amber hoof at her alicorn.

“So, what are we waiting for, everypony?” called Pinkie Pie, her horn giving off a bright baby-blue glow that eased the deep-orange glow settling about them. “Let’s get on up there and get started on our Elements Of Harmony collection again~!”

Less than an hour had passed before they’d reached the foot of the cliff-face beneath the High Eyries, and following it they found the winding path up the side of the sheer mountainside. For the anomalous magic of the High Eyries had once been the subject of amateur study in past grossenturies, and the hoofsteps of so many scores of aspiring thaumaturgists over so much time had ground a track not unlike a winding ramp to and fro along the western wall. It was fortunate for the band of mares and a drake that the way to the High Eyries was not limited to Pegasus means of being reached, as the ponies still needed time to adjust to their new physiques. Twilight and Rarity could not take flight from an idle position, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy could not magically adhere to more treacherous terrain, and Applejack and Pinkie Pie could not levitate themselves or wink out. (Although Pinkie seemed uncannily adept at producing confetti or balloons.)

The general consensus was that Discord’s “tragic backstory” was a load of total malarkey. Historical records surviving from the First Age of Equestria − which, they now surmised, must have been copied from more high-tech sources − did not in any context indicate the presence of Alicorns in any location except in heraldry and storybooks, so the draconequus’s account of there being these godlike ponies not only present but thriving at a certain point in Equestrian history was questionable at best. Even with Discord’s reign, something somewhere would have survived to let them be aware of herds of Alicorns shaping and guiding the world.

“I’d always asked Queen Celestia about her kind, why she had wings and a horn unlike everypony else,” Twilight had explained, once they’d reached a particularly broad plateau upon which to spread out, “and she explained that she was far more than just a Unicorn with wings, or a Pegasus with a horn. She was an Alicorn, bearer of the traits and magical power of all three pony races. She and the Queen of the Night − her sister Selena, as we now know − were the only two Alicorns that the Queen is aware of prior to the creation of the first Alicorn of Love.”

“Yeah, but, Twilight, Discord’s kinda had all of Equestria in the palm of his claw for, like, forever before the Queens took him down,” queried Rainbow. “Wouldn’t he have, like, wiped out any records of any earlier Alicorns to make his story seem more plausible?”

“He would have, if we took Discord to be a logical being,” Twilight answered. “He’s not such a thorough despot that there remains no trace of knowledge of what befell our history either before or during his reign. He’s trying to mess with our heads, deceive us into distrusting the Alicorns who supposedly abandoned him. If he really cared about making friends, wouldn’t he have been sincere in his bid for reformation earlier?”

“Geesh, Purple-Smart,” grumbled the cerulean Pegasus, rubbing one of her ears, “I was just playing drakonakis’s advocate here; didn’t need to talk my ears off…”

The lavender Pegasus grinned nervously, “Sorry, force of habit.”

“Although the question remains,” Rarity said, “as to whether he was deceiving us or not. I think I speak for all of us when I say that he has likely fabricated it from whole-cloth.”

A succession of nods and assenting Mm-hmm’s answered her, and the band settled down to a break. Even with Applejack and Pinkie’s dwimmer shimmers, they did not want to risk journey in the dark, with the new moon meaning that the only light of the night was from the stars and the nebulae surrounding them.

At first light, they continued their escalation of the winding cliff-face. As the mismatched mares ascended, the path they followed became less smooth and the cliffs more uneven in width. For the long-trodden paths of the past were reclaimed by the natural downfall of rain from the wild winds of the eastmost edge of the Everfree, returning the paths highest above Holderton to their previous wildness. Cracks in stone widened to fissures, and fissures led to avalanches which claimed patches of walking space, forcing them to take running leaps.

Twilight’s muzzle wrinkled in consternation. Ahead laid a gap too wide to jump across, even with a running start that she could not make from this hairpin-turn of a ledge. Her new wings bristled in anxious preparation.

“We’re going to have to fly our companions across, Rarity,” she said to her alabaster friend.

Rarity’s tail-feathers twitched, the white Pegasus sighing in resignation.

“I do hope that I have the strength to hold any somepony up as we cross; I have not undergone great physical strenuosity since my days of hoofball with Father.”

“Aren’tcha fergittin’ that trek we had ‘cross th’ Wide Earth Plains? It was only a couple months ago, Rare,” interjected Applejack, apple-green light sparking from the grooves in her alicorn despite the high-noon sun above.

“Ahh… Yes, well, forgive me, I did rather put that out of my mind. A lady does not try to contemplate such laborious activities.”

“But, don’tcha go out and, like, search for gemstones for your dresses out in Gnoll territory?” asked Rainbow Dash sourly. “You gotta have gotten into some scrapes with those diamond-dogs now and then.”

“I’m not denying that I’ve participated in such labors in order to maintain my practice as a couturière,” the alabaster Pegasus answered with an acid tone. “A lady I may be, but dare not ever say that I cannot defend myself in a pinch.”

“I’m not saying that, but there’s a world of difference between fight and flight, cootie-rear,” the cerulean Earth Pony countered.

“Noted. But, I feel like there remains enough muscle from our journey to the Crystal Mountains for me to carry one of you across. I shall not enjoy it, though…”

“Neither will I, Rarity,” Twilight added, “but if we want to reclaim the Element of Honesty, we’ll have to.”

Bringing herself into the air proved more of a challenge to Twilight Sparkle than she’d anticipated; it was nothing like levitating herself in her own dwimmer shimmer. Unlike the constant channelling of willpower towards a single action down her alicorn, she had to keep two limbs which she had not had a day before flapping in concert with one another, up and down, up and down, just slow enough that she caught air under her wings, but not so slow that she did not acquire any upward thrust. Out of the corner of her eyes, Twilight espied Rarity with a strained look on her face as her wings flapped too rapidly, kicking up dust from the untrodden cliff-face but not taking her cloven hooves off of the ground.

“No no no no, you’re doing it all wrong,” Rainbow interceded, taking one of Rarity’s wings in her forehooves. “Don’t flap straight up and down; you gotta angle your wings back as you flap ‘em down so that you move up and forwards. Flap slower on the way up and faster down, so that you get up and stay up. Keep your tail-feathers straight, and only angle them in the direction you want to turn.”

Guiding the alabaster Pegasus’s left wing in the appropriate motions, Rarity slowly began to mimic that movement in her right, and soon enough its actions mirrored the wing guided by her cerulean friend. In less than half a minute Rarity was airborne, crossing the chasm alongside her fellow former Unicorn. Neither of them would be expert flyers, but they at least had the basics down, laden as they were with their saddle-bags.

Spike slid down off of Twilight’s back, “It’s times like this that I almost wish that I could fly.”

“I’m sorry, Spike, but this was my first time actually flying,” Twilight responded despondently. “And hopefully, these won’t be a permanent fixture on my body. I really miss my magic already…”

She faced her fellow flyer.


“Yes, Twilight?”

“You don’t suppose we should take these off, do you?” Twilight indicated the saddle-bags she and Rarity carried. “It’s hard enough flying with these, and we’ll need as easy a time as we can muster if we want to carry our friends across.”

Rarity nodded, “Spike, be a dear and make sure that our bags don’t fall off into the walkways below.”

“Anything for you, Rarity!” the mulberry drake said brightly.

Rolling her eyes, Twilight set about to pry the buckle apart with her teeth. It was an awkward and clumsy task, as she was used to relying on her dwimmer shimmer to unhitch her saddle-bags. Not helping matters was that Spike had decided to help support Rarity’s saddle-bags as she did the same.

“You really are such a dear, Spike,” Rarity said sweetly, giving the dragon cub a small nod.

“Why, of course, milady,” Spike said with a bow, but Rarity had already taken flight across the gap.

Spike’s fins drooped, “Why doesn’t she notice me, Mom…?”

“Because you’re far too young for her, Spike.”

Spike looked up at Twilight, tremendously hurt.


Twilight felt her heart breaking at the sight of Spike’s expression, his slitted pupils dilating nearly to ovals. But, sooner or later, he had to face the facts.

“Spike… She’s just not going to be into you.”

“Why not? I’ve been being such a nice little dragon to her! I’ve been helping her out with everything I can think of. I even played the role of pincushion for her!” Spike scratched ruefully at a spot on his back.

“And I’m positive that she appreciated that, Spike,” Twilight said gently, “but as a friend. I hate to tell you this, especially with our lives on the line as they are, but Spike, Rarity just doesn’t see you the way that you see her.”

Spike looked as though Hearth’s Warming had been cancelled. Tears pricked at the corner of his eyes, his claws balled up in front of his chest.

Twilight reached out a hoof.


The mulberry drake withdrew towards Rarity’s saddle-bag, and Twilight felt as if an icy wall had erected itself between her and her ward.

“Don’t you have to take off your saddle-bag, Twilight?”

Twilight never thought that hearing her own name would hurt so much.

“Ohhh, what a travesty…!”

The lavender Pegasus gave a start at that voice. Her eyes flicking up to her left, she saw Discord, in miniature, poking out from inside her left ear.

“Well, I must say, color me impressed, Twilight Sparkle,” the draconequus hissed with glee, “that that was some excellent verbiage which you dispensed there. I couldn’t have broken that boy’s heart better myself~”

Twilight swiped her hoof at the shrunken draconequus, who withdrew inside Twilight’s head where she felt a buzzing like so many bees. A feeling like a cotton swab being pulled from deep in her other ear, and sure enough, there Discord emerged.

“Get out of here, Discord! You’re only going to make things worse!”

“Discord? What about Discord?” asked Rainbow Dash’s voice.

Twilight blinked, glancing back up at her ear. No Discord. The cerulean Earth Pony gave Twilight a quizzical expression as Rarity set her down.

“I just… I thought I saw…” She sighed. “Nevermind. I’m just being stupid.”

Shuffling her saddle-bags off, Twilight took flight across the gap separating herself from her friends Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy, but already she could feel a far wider gap growing between herself and her Spike.

It was barely five minutes further up, but to Twilight Sparkle, it seemed an eternity with only the weight of her saddle-bags upon her back. Spike trotted along on all fours, keeping a wide berth from both Twilight and Rarity and refusing to take his eyes off of the path. Twilight had known Spike long enough to understand that he needed a bit of space after a great revelation such as this, but even so, would he ever look at her the same again when the dust had settled?

“You think it was a good idea to bring Spike with us, Twilight?” hissed a grating voice in the lavender Pegasus’s ear. A cerulean pony with a rainbow mane raised an eyebrow out of the corner of Twilight’s eye.

“I… I really don’t know,” she said lowly. Spike was probably not listening to her, but why bank on the possibility that he’d put her out of his mind entirely? “I want to keep him safe, but is keeping him with me really the safest place for him? He really should have stayed back at the rock farm, and I can’t wink him out back there now. And even if I could, how would he see it after what I said to him?”

“Yeah… that was a pretty rough lesson to learn.”

Twilight met Rainbow’s eyes.

“I’m glad you understand at least, Rainbow Dash. Spike is…”

The mulberry drake’s fins twitched at either side of his head, but he gave no other sign that he may have heard Twilight say anything. Twilight’s eyes flicked away from her ward, to find something to take her mind off the pain of a mother scorned.


“We’re here~!” cried a voice from on up ahead, followed by a report not unlike Pinkie Pie’s party cannon. Somehow, not only had the pink Unicorn gotten ahead of her whole party without them spotting them, but had somehow brought along her party cannon as well, the settling of copious amounts of confetti betraying the aftermath of the cannon’s firing.

“We made it, guys!” Pinkie called out gaily, pronking about the high cliff as her alicorn lit up and generating more confetti as well as spurts of balloons colored exactly like her cutie mark. “We made it all the way up~!”

Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, the former Pegasi, did not look particularly enthusiastic about this accomplishment.

“Yay, hurray for us,” the cerulean Earth Pony grumbled. “So much closer to the may-be-haunted crypt of the military leader of a Pegasus police-state… I’m just shaking with joy.”

Reaching the plateau upon which Pinkie had parked her party cannon, Twilight had to admit that reaching the High Eyries was not as uplifting an achievement as she’d have previously reckoned. Scores of terra-cotta figures lined the path leading from the furthest edge of the cliff to the face of the mountain from which it emerged, evidently standing guard over the path Pegasi would take to pay their respects to the fallen Commander… but time was not kind to these molded sentinels. What were surely uncanny likenesses of the finest specimens of the Pegasus race, now stood with features blurred by the decay of time, forelegs or wings snapped off or worn away. In some parts of this earthen phalanx, all that remained were the pair of hind legs of a statue long since either stolen or blown away into the Saddle Valley below.

For the cliffs of the High Eyries covered the east and south faces of the mountain upon which they were perched, the easternmost corner of the North Equinus Mountains. The town of Holderton and the rock farm which Pinkie Pie was bred and born in sat far below, their proximity to the Descort Fields disconcertingly closer than the band had reckoned. The unnaturally checker-boarded patterns of the fields of spaghetti-grass, the floating clumps of chocolate that were once earth, the candy-cane trees… And at the westernmost edge of the Descort Fields, was where the Everfree Forest had been first seeded.

The eastern edge of Everfree was even wilder than the forested area closest to Ponyville and Canterlot. The trees carried with them more of the entropic anergy which birthed the Descort Fields than their occidental seedlings, and the wildlife that called those groves sanctuary. Even from this height of nearly two-dozen-gross hooves, the thrashing of clawed branches reaching for a meal to sate a bottomless hunger could be discerned. Their color was off as well, a spectrum covering nearly every hue of the rainbow. A fell noise reached up to them from the mouth of the Saddle Valley, a din of nameless beasts from beneath the swirling canopy of the eastern Everfree trees.

Applejack shuddered, “And Ah thought that our side a’ th’ Everfree was bad news.”

“This is extremely close to where the Queens had their fateful battle with Discord two-dozen-and-six-gross years ago,” Twilight explained darkly. “The first seeds of Everfree fell here, and so the chaotic magic that they were born from is strongest here. Wildlife and flora and fauna are more than just unruly here; they’re downright horrific. I… What’s down there, I’ve never seen it before, and I’ve only read about it. I… don’t like the look of it at all.”

“Did we come all the way up here to get a lecture,” groaned Spike, “or are we gonna get Rainbow Dash’s Element already?”

Under ordinary circumstances, Twilight Sparkle would have scolded Spike for such sass, but with the strain between the pair of them she settled for a slow and somber nod, her mind consumed with pondering how she would ever make up for this to her mulberry drake as the band crossed through rank and file of broken terra-cotta soldiers to reach the once-well-trodden path into the crypts of the High Eyries.

In spite of the early afternoon sun shining down behind the band, a dark abyss yawned at them from within the arch carven into the mountain itself, empty torch-brackets rusted through for grossenturies flanking the entryway. The distant grumble of Eastern Everfree echoed off of the mountain face ahead, enhancing the perception that some horrific beast lay dreaming ahead…

An orange glint caught Rainbow Dash’s eye from within the dark tunnel. She gasped.

“That’s my Element of Honesty!”

“Rainbow, what’re you talkin’ about? That’s just an empty tunnel…”

But before Applejack had even finished, the cerulean ex-Pegasus had already galloped at full speed down the tunnel and out of sight.

“Dashie…!” cried Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie in unison.

“We have to go after her!” Twilight cried. “Applejack, Pinkie, try to keep your horns aglow; it’s gonna be dark in there, and we can’t afford to be any more split up…!”

“Ah’ll try, sugarcube, but this thang ain’ exactly the most cooperative.”

The band of a half-dozen galloped into the High Eyries, and a darkness closed around them.

It became immediately obvious to the six that there was something very wrong, as the green and blue lights from Applejack and Pinkie’s respective dwimmer shimmers only carried so far as to illuminate their own muzzles. The arch behind them seemed to inhibit not just the sunlight outside, but the alicorn-lights inside.

“Twi…” murmured Applejack, blinking slowly. “Ah’m feelin’ plum tuckered right about now.”

“Applejack?” Twilight was concerned. The palomino mare was not one to tire quickly, and they had not been partaking in particularly strenuous activity for her, she who tended to her family’s orchards every day of the week.

“Twilight?” breathed Fluttershy, sounding quite weary herself. “This is what the legends said. When Commander Hurricane’s body was buried here, it rose up again, and cast a curse on these caverns. Ponies without wings become weakened, and those who do…”

“Fluttershy, you can’t honestly believe that hogwash,” Twilight shook her head. “I mean, come on, look at me and Rarity. Neither of us seem worn down, do we?”

Rarity nodded in assent, “I’ve never felt better, I don’t believe, now that you mention it, Twilight, darling. I feel quite invigorated…!”

“But don’t the two of y’all have wings…?” asked Applejack with a yawn.

Twilight froze, feeling her new limbs twitch at her sides. That was a point to be made. She and Rarity were presently Pegasi, even if they could not utilize the magic of the Pegasus race with their Unicorn magical connections still intact. Taking a more attentive glance at the others in her party, the lavender Pegasus noticed that lethargy seemed to be setting upon all of her companions save Rarity with alarming swiftness.

“What’s going on, Mom…?” Spike moaned blearily, too tired to remember that he was supposed to be mad at Twilight.

“I… really don’t know, Spike…” she answered frightfully, and it was the truth. She had no more idea what was happening now than what happened to a pony’s soul when it shuffled off from their body. All her life, Twilight Sparkle had laughed off any stories of the dead returning from beyond the grave, whether it be to haunt some site significant to them while among the living, or to feed on the flesh or brains of those alive, as being mere breezie-tales. But now, as the dark encroached around the edges of her vision and Applejack and Pinkie struggled to keep their alicorns alight, Twilight began to wonder as to whether the study of ghosts merited serious scrutiny.

“I’m sorry, Twilight…!” gasped Pinkie Pie, her bright and rosy mane falling lank, sweat beading around her blue-glowing horn. “I can’t… keep this up…”

Pinkie bowed her head sharply, her legs giving out as her horn went dark. Applejack’s legs held steady beneath her even as her own alicorn lost its light, leaving the six in pitch darkness.

Twilight cursed under her breath. In her alarm at the prospect of their having walked into a setting that was genuinely haunted, she’d forgotten which way they were headed.

“Girls…?” she gasped in fear. “Spike…?”

In these High Eyries, I remain.

The sound of Rarity screaming.

“Who said that?”

“Said what?” grumbled Applejack’s voice, interrupting itself with a yawn. “Ah didn’t… hear nuthin’.”

“I heard it, too,” Fluttershy’s voice squeaked.

“Discord, come out!” Twilight shouted, flaring out her wings instinctively and feeling the walls on either side with her primaries. “This isn’t funny!”

Who this Discord is, we knoweth not in these caverns, replied the voice, as cold and sepulchral as the corridor they now stood in. And who be ye that into my crypt enter?

Twilight gulped.

“You’re… Commander Hurricane?”

“Commander Hurricane? Where?” asked Pinkie Pie with quite a quiver behind her tone. It was hard to stand tall and be unafraid of a ghost if you could not see it.

A chill whirlwind swept the band, and Twilight jumped at the feel of claws at her back leg, but relaxed ever so slightly at the sound of Spike’s fearful gasps.

Mine inquiry thou dost not answer, snarled the voice of Commander Hurricane, for who else could it be that would first be roused in the High Eyries? Tellest me of the meaning of your encroachment upon mine hallowed catacombs, and in the company of such verminous scum as THESE PONIES?

In the pitch blackness, Twilight could not tell where her friends were, but she felt a strong presence flare up at her right side.

“Now hold your tongue, you ill-mannered poltergeist!” snapped Rarity’s voice. “I’ll have you know that these ponies are friends of Twilight Sparkle and I! We are here to―”

The voice of Commander Hurricane let out a piercing cackle, mirthless and icy. The vortex about them intensified, and there seemed to be shadows moaning at the edges of Twilight’s vision…

‘Friends’? Friendship betwixt the pony tribes existeth not! ‘Twas the fault of that despicable Platinum and that puerile Puddinghead that did lead to mine own demise. But even death cannot tame the master of the skies! Not I, Commander Hurricane! I, who doth provide the very downfall of rain! I, who provideth plenty and prosperity to my beloved Pegasi! I!

Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat; there was light up ahead! Dim and faint, but there it was! Somehow they must have gotten turned around in their panic over this encounter with the living dead, but if they could just make it there wait a second why was the light at the end of the tunnel moving?

Twilight’s blood ran cold. Those were eyes, aglow with the light of a life long since past, a light that was as dead as the body from which it emitted. The non-existent eyes set within the sockets of a skull, pale skin stretched taut across the bones of that lipless face. Below, yellowed teeth snarled, sharpened into fangs for the purpose of intimidating Earth Ponies and Unicorns long since dead themselves. Featherless wings spread, daggers of ebony from ceremonial armor making up for the lost plumage. A forehoof on the end of an emaciated foreleg, raised as if in preparation for a charge.

And all around, the glints of more ghastly eyes, the pained moans of so many more echoing in their ears…

I, hissed Commander Hurricane, whose army shall rise AGAIN!

“Twilight…?” Pinkie breathed. “It’s getting pretty windy in here; what’s Commander Hurricane doing…?”

“She wants living Pegasi, to make a new army to conquer Equestria,” gasped Fluttershy.

Well-versed thou art in mine endeavour, pony of the earth, growled Hurricane, prowling past Twilight who felt a chill in her marrow as the undead Pegasus crossed by. From what Pegasus hath thou learned about mine army of the living dead?

“I… I am a Pegasus.”

Taketh me not for a fool. Commander Hurricane can see that an Earth Pony thou art. But still, perceiveth me thou canst. How cameth this to be?

“Discord,” replied Rarity, “transformed us all into races which we are not. I was once a Unicorn, and a very beautiful one at that.”

The translucent skin above Hurricane’s eye-sockets creased, as though doubting the alabaster Pegasus’s claim.

Thy manner dost recall that of Platinum’s, my most-loathèd enemy of all. Mad was Puddinghead, her head as empty and foul as a freshly emptied chamber-pot, but hardly was she worth my time. But ever did Platinum sneer upon me and my kind. As if I were some tawdry pea-fowl who did prance vacuously about the square…!

“Ohh, I’m sure she meant nothing about you or the Pegasus race, Commander!” Twilight cried hastily.

Matter it does not, intoned Hurricane, the blades on her wing-guards glinting in the dead light from her eyes. For my interest thy friend hath piqued. Commander Hurricane commandeth thee, once-Pegasus! She addressed Fluttershy, who coupled with the aura of the crypt seemed on the verge of passing out. Tell thine eminent Commander, how came ye upon this foul curse of becoming transmogrified as you have?

“It… it was Discord,” breathed Fluttershy, trying not to meet the undead commander’s eye.

‘Discord’… echoed Hurricane, Who or what may be this ‘Discord’? For this doth mark thrice that you hath called upon that name. Art ye on a quest?

“Yes, we are,” Twilight sighed, feeling a path to pacifying this wrathful wraith illuminated ahead. “Discord is causing mayhem and chaos for all ponies across the land, or is planning to. He’s reigned over us before and been thwarted before, but now he’s back, and we need to find something he’s hidden in here.”

Thou hath spoken out of turn towards me, hatchling, Hurricane snapped, but, seeing as a Pegasus thou art presently, Commander Hurricane doth feel obliged to permit thee a chance to have spakest thy peace. A villain who doth threaten ponies with impartiality, sayest ye?

Twilight and Rarity nodded; Fluttershy, Pinkie, Applejack, and Spike had all but passed out.

Well then… Clear the sky doth become. My forces, amassed over my many many years of entombment, shalt subdue this Discord, and persuade him to transform ALL ponies into Pegasi…!

“Wait… No!” Twilight shouted in alarm. “Commander Hurricane, bitte! That isn’t going to work…!”

But the ghastly commander seemed to have come into her own world, the pale light in her sockets turning a sickly green, shadows in the grooves of her rotten teeth darkening.

Yes…! The true and final end to the scum of the earth, the Mud-wallowers and the Head-bones! For blessed are we, the race which inheriteth the wind beneath her wings! The myriad other races of Gaia shalt know the fury of our typhoons, the wrath of our storm-troopers, the fear of the name HURRICANE…!

Twilight opened her mouth to prepare a retort, but a strange numbness swept her whole body, beginning at her wings; she nearly fell over but for the patellas swiveling beneath her to keep her upright. For several seconds, all that she could hear was the howl of the whirlwind around them. Hurricane was oddly silent.

And then, the clickity-clack of distant hooves echoing about her.

And an orange glow

“Rainbow Dash…?” Twilight murmured, suddenly struggling to keep herself awake.

“What about Rainbow, Twilight?” Applejack asked curiously, sounding much revitalized. Then, she gave a startled yell. “What in tarnation? Who are you?”

A pause.

“No… that can’ be true. Yer dead!”

Realization pierced Twilight’s mind, but before she could voice any clarification…

“Oooooh, lookit these pretty things~~~” Pinkie beamed brightly, the growing orange light as Rainbow Dash undoubtedly came closer revealing that Pinkie Pie and Applejack had now sprouted wings.

Blinking, Twilight felt the numbness ebbing away, and she felt nothing upon her back. No wings, no feathers, nothing.

“Ohhh, I miss those wings… *yawn*… already,” Rarity breathed, wings and tail-feathers gone from her physique as well. “Ohh, do pardon me, I’m just… suddenly so tired…”

With a start, Twilight noticed that while Rarity was as wingless as the day she was born, there was still something missing…

“Hey guys! Hey guys! I beat my Element of Honesty outta Discord!”

Rainbow Dash, a fresh cerulean alicorn poking out from beneath her wild forelock, galloped straight into the antechamber, her own citrine Element signifying her brand of truth set dazzling on her chest. In the growing light of her approaching Element, Twilight saw that the room they stood in was circular and high-ceilinged. Alcoves shrouded in the dark from the glow of the Element of Honesty were carved with bas-reliefs of the effigees of Pegasi of old, all with fierce and militant expressions. Beneath were marked a name along with dates of birth and death in the antique senary counting system. Looking behind, Twilight could see the tunnel they had entered through, and darkness beyond. Had they lost track of time…?

“What the―? Where’d Hurricane go…?” Applejack asked sharply, glancing about the antechamber to the catacombs.

“Wheeee~~” Pinkie Pie flew with unabashed glee to and fro about the chambers, seemingly beside herself with joy over her new appendages.

Fluttershy staggered to her hooves, “Ohh my… I think that I must have been taken in… I… Where’s Commander Hurricane?”

“Pshhh, who cares about that lame-o?” scoffed Rainbow Dash, a feral light in her eyes. “You shoulda seen me when I took down that scum-bag Discord and bagged this baby again!” She rubbed at the citrine gemstone with an affectionate fetlock.

“Well, that’s wonderful and all, Rainbow Dash, truly wonderful,” Twilight groused, feeling her new Earth Pony weightiness pulling her down slightly. How did Pinkie Pie manage on top of the quarter-ton of sweets she ate every day? “But you still left us behind and charged blindly into the High Eyries. We’re a team; we stick together, thick or thin.”

“Left you guys behind? What planet are you from?” snapped Rainbow, looking absolutely flabbergasted. “I thought you guys were right on my tail, and you left me to take on Discord alone! But, maybe it was better that way; you guys would of just slowed me down.”

Twilight blinked. Even for Rainbow Dash, this was abrasive. And, even with just the golden light of Element of Honesty, the lavender Earth Pony reckoned that Rainbow Dash’s color was off…

“Rainbow Dash… tell us how you got the Element of Honesty…?”

“Ohh it was easy… Well, you see, after you guys ditched me and just sat in her with your heads up your butts, I ran for days and days and days, till I ran into Discord. See, he was wanting to sell my Element of Honesty on the black-market for a quick buck, and you can bet that I just wouldn’t let that stand. And then, you see, the Wonderbolts, they were there too, and Discord was creaming them… literally, he turned them all into whipped cream. And, like, all of Cloudsdale was getting turned out by that guy, so I had to do something! I mean, sure, he did rip my wings out a few times, but I gave him what-for in the end! Hah, he was literally seeing stars when he handed me over the Element of Honesty. And then the Wonderbolts all handed in their resignations and named me the One True Wonderbolt!”

Twilight’s mind froze; the entire room seemed to go deathly silent. Even Pinkie Pie had frozen in the air mid-flap, dumbstruck expressions all around fixed upon the cerulean Unicorn, who had never looked more proud or smug in her entire life.

“Rainbow Dash, that didn’t sound like it really happened,” Spike said confusedly.

“That’s because it didn’t happen, Spike,” Twilight answered, her voice filled with such mingled sorrow and rage that her tone was almost totally flat. “Discord must have taken Rainbow Dash’s shared characteristic with her Element − Honesty − and somehow, someway, turned it around. She’s lying.





cHAPTER 3!: Secrets Told and Untold

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Darkness closed in around Rainbow Dash as she gave pursuit to the light of her Element of Harmony. The voices of her companions hot on her tail bolstered her full gallop, even as the corridor opened up on either side to reveal the crypts of numerous Pegasi long since passed on. What their names were, or what deeds they had performed in the name of Commander Hurricane, the cerulean ex-Pegasus did not know. Any one of them could have been foresire or foredam to the indomitable General Firefly, but it didn’t matter. What was paramount was Rainbow Dash and her comrades reclaiming her Element of Honesty from Discord, the mad draconequus.
Rainbow Dash nearly stumbled, and out of the corner of her eye spotted the skeleton of a Unicorn, the petrified spine of a long-unreadable book laying beside it. Shrugging off the discomfort, Rainbow set her mind to following her Element again…

And then it turned down a left-hoof corridor.

Gritting her teeth, and pushing back the encroaching fatigue, Rainbow hung a left, catching a momentary glance of the citrine glint down the stony hallway before it turned right down at the next intersection.

It felt like the game of cat-and-mouse continued for hours. Left, right, two left, two right, four left… Just how much stamina did a stinkin’ piece of jewelry have?

Under ordinary circumstances, Rainbow Dash was capable of extraordinary peripheral detection, but that was when she was in the air, with her wings. As it was now, she was deprived of this ability because of Discord’s removal of her pride and joy, and as much as she willed it, Rainbow Dash could not force this innate ability forth if she couldn’t fly…!

The glint of her Honesty came to a halt at the end of a hall after one more turn to the right, and the cerulean Earth Pony bolted with all the speed she could muster in the face of the onsetting debility. The stale air and the scattered bones of so many lost travelers to these High Eyries did not forestall her, nor did the fabled weakness that would befall any non-winged ponies who dared make entry. Nothing would separate Rainbow Dash from her Honesty if she had her way!

The Element of Honesty floated glimmering above a cold stone tomb surrounded by solemn watchmares of graven rock. It had to be the burial site of Commander Hurricane herself, but Rainbow Dash didn’t care. All that mattered was this Element. And if she could be frank with herself, the sooner she got her hooves on it…!

Ahem. A word?”

Rainbow Dash spun about with a start at the sound of the oily voice. Standing to her right was a Pegasus who looked quite unfamiliar, old and ancient and definitely nothing like Discord. He had a look not unlike one of the stone statues about the chamber, one of the statues’ plinths empty and unoccupied…

Rainbow growled; she didn’t have time for ghosts. She jumped up and grasped for as much purchase as she could along the edge of the high grave of Hurricane.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry pal, ain’t got time for words. Gotta get my Element offa this… this thing here, whatever it is!”

“Not a mare of many words, I see? Ahh, but I see that you do fancy jewelry~!”

Rainbow Dash flushed.

“No, it’s not like that! I just need my Honesty, is all!”

“Ohh, ‘honesty’, you say?” The definitely-not-Discord stallion looked intrigued, his definitely-not-mismatched wings spreading slowly as the mountains grew. “Funny you should mention that; my special talent is in fact honesty itself. They used to call me Truthsayer, for that very reason.”

“Ugh… You know, you’re really not helping here.”

“Actually, the way I see it, it’s quite the opposite,” Truthsayer persisted even as Rainbow Dash continued her attempt to mount the tomb. “I don’t think you quite grasp what my special talent means. I always tell the truth, even if I don’t know that it’s the truth. It could be something that somepony would come up with centuries or millennia later, it could be something that just spills out of my mouth randomly; it just comes into my head what will happen. Whatever I say, I’ve seen that it will be the truth.”

Rainbow Dash wanted to roll her eyes, but something in the way Truthsayer said those words caught her attention. Clambering down from Hurricane’s final resting place, the cerulean mare examined Truthsayer’s cutie mark. Truth be told, it did seem to look kinda… truth-ish. Those eight arrows pointing in different directions… didn’t the truth take you to all sorts of different places?

“Uhhh so… you say you always tell the truth about stuff, right?”

“That I do.”

“So… could you tell me, what’s gonna happen? You know, after me and my friends defeat Discord?”

Truthsayer tilted his head to the side confusedly.

“‘Discord’? Can’t say I place the name.”

Rainbow Dash sighed; of course the spooky scary ghost up in the High Eyries wouldn’t know who Discord was!

“Big, scary, half-dragon-half-horse guy? Has a goat beard? Spirit of chaos and disharmony?”

“Ohh yeah? Well, good luck beating him with jewelry, dearie~”

“Hey! The Elements of Harmony beat him before, and they can beat him again!”

“Really? Were you there to beat him that first time? Uhp uhp uhp, no need to answer, I can see it in your eye. Aaaaand nope. I really don’t see it working out second time around. So, you know the drill: blah blah blah, eternal chaos, blah blah blah, end of the world, blah blah blah, rapid onset of societal and planetary decay, blah blah blah…”

Rainbow Dash never felt more disheartened, not when her father kicked her out as soon as she was old enough to take a job, not when the Wonderbolts had gotten that bad first impression of her, not even when Fluttershy called off their engagement. The weight of the bleak future pressed down upon her shoulders, and the indomitable mare felt suddenly weary.

“Are… are me and my friends going to stay friends, at least?”

Truthsayer laughed.

“Why don’t you see for yourself?” he cackled, his alicorn alight as he touched it to Rainbow Dash’s forehead.

The catacombs vanished around Rainbow Dash, and the sneering face of Truthsayer as well, leaving the cerulean mare in a void. To call it darkness would have been inaccurate, because even the dark is substantial. Nothingness yawned before Rainbow, threatening to consume her, before it yielded to a much more welcoming and familiar sight: Ponyville.

At least, it used to be Ponyville. Most everything was twisted and contorted, as though some artsy abstract painter pony had decided that their portrait of the village needed a bit of sprucing-up. The streets were paved from some sort of checkerboard soapy material, and the Golden Oak Library was turned into crystal for some weird reason. A sign floating through the air read ZHOFRPH WR SRQBYLOOH. A herd of buffalo could be seen traipsing down a side street in frilly pink tutu skirts, and whatever ponies could be seen were in such a state of delirium that it was all they could do to drool at one another.

Just as Rainbow Dash was beginning to wonder where anypony of even passing sanity was, six ponies faded into view. It was herself, and her friends! She wanted to approach, but found herself frozen. It was just as well; that one story in the Daring Do fanmag made it clear that if the same pony was in two different spaces at the same time, and that pony met themselves, their entire front halves would explode and the universe would end. But as the half-dozen mares came into greater clarity, Rainbow Dash felt something heavy forming in her throat at their expressions.




“Ah hope Ah never see any a’ y’all ever again!” snarled Applejack, stamping her hoof.

“Me too!” growled Fluttershy, looking more fierce than Rainbow could ever recall seeing.

“Fine!” snapped Pinkie Pie.

“That’s the one thing we’ll ever agree on,” hissed Rarity, eyes narrowed.

“It’s all settled, then,” said Twilight flatly, her alicorn glowing pink and the lavender Unicorn winking out to Maker-knew-where. The remaining five trotted off without taking a second glance back…

And the void claimed Ponyville, Rainbow Dash returning to the catacombs.

“No…” She took a step back from Truthsayer, who still definitely did not look like Discord, even with the lion’s paw or eagle’s claw. “Fluttershy… Pinkie Pie… It just can’t end like that…!”

“Well, don't look at me, the truth isn't easy,” shrugged Truthsayer as he stalked towards Rainbow Dash, “and it don't care if you get angry, sad, or queasy.”

Swirls of dying colors spiralled out from the center of each pupil, filling the totality of Rainbow’s vision as they peeled off from the rims of his irises…

“When all the truth does is make your heart ache,”

Truthsayer stood up on his hind legs, mismatched wings spreading out wide behind him as his grin spread impossibly wide…

You’ll find that a lie is easier to take!

“‘Lyin’’?” Applejack asked skeptically. “Now Ah’ll admit that that was a mighty tall tale comin’ from Rainbow Dash, but a liar?”

“Dashie doesn’t lie; she’s just brutally honest~” Pinkie said abruptly, coming to an abrupt halt from her darting to and fro about below the vaulted ceiling of the antechamber to speak her piece before returning to her Whee~~-ful soaring.

“But what other explanation can there be?” said Twilight. “Discord has nothing to lose and everything to gain from keeping us from being able to use the Elements of Harmony. He must’ve done something to Rainbow Dash when we’d lost sight of her…”

“What are you even talking about, Twilight?” snapped Rainbow, eyebrows knitting together. “Discord didn’t do a thing to me; I practically gelded him to get this baby back! Him and his parents, to boot!”

Twilight arched an eyebrow, “Funny, you didn’t mention his parents before. Was this before or after the Wonderbolts got creamed?”

Rainbow opened her mouth to retort, but the High Eyries around them began to quake. Dust and miniscule fragments of stone shook loose from the domed ceiling and settled among the seven standing (or floating, in Pinkie’s case).

“Oh no…” gasped Fluttershy. “Is Commander Hurricane coming back?”

Cracks appeared in the stony dome above, and larger rocks fell free. Spike gave a yelp as he narrowly avoided having his skull crushed.

“I don’t think so; the dead can’t affect the living world like this,” Twilight mused.

“Uhhh, Twilight,” Applejack cut in, “just in case ya missed it, we kinda had a bit of a rendezvous with th’ undead just a minute ago.”

“I know, but Applejack, Rainbow’s already had an encounter with Discord (regardless of what she claims happened therein). These High Eyries are nowhere near any areas of significant tectonic activity so it stands to reason that…” She sighed. “Look, the point is: everypony, RUN!

As soon the word had left Twilight’s mouth, the herding instinct kicked in in the small band, and the lot of them darted up the passage from which they had entered. The tremors intensified, dark fissures splitting the floor and walls and ceiling and making the otherwise straightforward path onto the starlit cliff-face rather more perilous. Falling stone or collapsing wall impeded their full gallops, but Pinkie Pie proved more able to maneuver around with her new wings. Applejack proved that not all of her strength came in Earth Pony magic by bum-rushing through a fallen rock or two, clearing the path for the rest of her galloping band.

The terra-cotta rank-and-file trembled but stood firm in the face of the boulders that fell from the mountainside above, even as some were claimed by the plummeting stones. Twilight found herself thanking her lucky stars that the seven of them made it out of the tunnel when they did, for mere moments later a great avalanche came crashing down behind them and buried the entrance.

But there still remained a very important question, voiced by Rarity in a shrill shout:

“How in Equestria are we to get back down…?”

Truth be told, the answer eluded Twilight Sparkle. Winking out was impossible, as she was now an Earth Pony and incapable of utilizing her Unicorn magic. And even if either Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy could manifest some semblance of Unicorn magic themselves, there was no chance that either would learn how to wink themselves down to the Pie Family Rock Farm, never mind their entire band…

“Quick, everypony, hop on!

Pinkie’s voice rang out far keener than anything should have in light of the escalating avalanche behind and around them. Looking off in the direction of where her friend’s voice had come from, Twilight gaped.

Pinkie was gigantic, huddled against the ground over a spot where several columns of terra-cotta Pegasi had been felled, wings spread wide for a speedy boarding and a quick take-off.

Under ordinary circumstances, Twilight Sparkle would most likely have blown a figurative gasket at this latest in Pinkie Pie’s flagrant disregard for so many laws of physics and thermodynamics. As it was, however, the drive to survive overrode any attempts at reaching for rationality.

“Goodness, Miss Pie, your plumage feels rather ill-kept up here…!” mused Rarity, trying to keep a level voice as she took her position on the over-sized pink Pegasus’s back.

“Sorry, Rarie, haven’t had any downy-ness on my back before, so I haven’t had the time to preen it up for anypony,” Pinkie said with a sad smile. Then she giggled, “‘Shy, Dashie, that spot tickles~!”

“No time to stay still, we gotta take off now!” Fluttershy squeaked in terror, her hind legs kicking frantically.

Rainbow Dash sneered, “Oh come on guys, we can take this on, just like we took on Discord together! Oh come on, you can’t tell me that you don’t remember that!” she snapped, upon seeing the incredulous and disbelieving expressions on her companions’ faces. “I mean, you guys didn’t help me out at all, but there’s no way you could’ve possibly forgotten how awesome I was when I took out that sword and took his head off!”

Spike glanced up at the mountain up above. The difference between starlit sky and mountainside was miniscule, but the silhouette of the latter could be discerned with enough of a squint. Large chunks of mountain fell away from either side, and there was a faint orangish glow from spreading fissures along its surface…

Pinkie lifted off from the cliff-face and with wide-spread wings began to glide down from the High Eyries. Just in time, it would seem, because the mountain-peak split asunder and a torrent of blazing lava burbled out from summit and fissure. What graven figures of Pegasi remained were quickly swept away from the cliff-face by the rushing eruption, the zig-zagging path the seven had used to scale up to the High Eyries being completely smothered beneath the lavafall.

Holding onto Pinkie’s back proved to be rather treacherous; this wasn’t like when she’d hoisted them all out of the water onto a Pundamilian beach. With a much larger mass to grasp onto, the odds of losing one’s grip would have seemed a matter of inevitability. But to Twilight’s mixed relief and befuddlement, a sort of fuzzy static kept the six of them firmly affixed to the over-large pink Pegasus’s back.

“What in the name a’ Queen Celestia’s happenin’…?” Applejack gasped, glancing back at the lava spewing forth from the mountainside.

“Must be the beast Lavan giving me a super-awesome send-off for having single-hoofedly taken down Discord’s monopoly on his magma shares!” Rainbow asserted.

“Dashie, please… just stop!” cried Fluttershy, her expression pained. “You know that that’s not true!”

“Oh knock it off, sweet-cheeks,” the cerulean Unicorn replied lasciviously. “You got so excited about me and how awesome I was to shrug off all that lava, that you took back that dropped engagement of yours and threw yourself all over me!”

Fluttershy’s jaw twitched, and her pupils constricted as her eyes widened madly at her ex-fiancée.

“Discord, you feather-flipping canary-killer! You get out of Rainbow Dash this minute, or so help me, you’re going to wish that you stayed encased in stone, because when I break your jaw, it will at least stay attached!”

“Whooo, Fluttershy, turn the boiler down a bit back there, I think you’re kinda singin’ my feathers a bit~” said Pinkie, her voice making her entire barrel rumble.

“Look!” Rarity cried, pointing down through a gap in Pinkie’s frizzly mane. “There’s the rock farm!”

“Okie-dokie-lokie, a dive-bomb it is~” squealed Pinkie.

“Wait what―?”

If it were not for the magical magnetism affixing the band to Pinkie’s back, they would all have been hurled off the instant that Pinkie drew her wings in and straightened out for a direct dive upon her family home, like an arrow upon a target. Twilight’s scream was barely heard over Rarity’s, but itself easily drowned out Fluttershy’s.

Limestone couldn’t help but to curse under her breath. While this would not have seemed out of her character, as she was wont to indulge in more colorful language than any of the rest of her family, the fact remained that she swore because she was worried sick.

As much as she pretended otherwise, and as cross as she could be with them, and as much as they wound her up with how high-maintenance they could be, she loved her sisters dearly. Maud, with her absolute adoration of anything related to geology; Pinkamena, with her uncanny ability to do whatever it took, even breaking the laws of thermodynamics, to elicit a smile from somepony; and Marble, with her sweetness and demure charm hidden behind her reluctance to speak…

And now, so soon after returning to the Rock Farm, Pinkamena had to go and make Limestone worry so much by running off to that Maker-forsaken cliff-face anypony in Holderton knew that to approach it was suicide!

Limestone gasped, which quickly turned into a surly growl. She felt a cold wetness under her green eye, her beige eye following suit barely a moment later. A feeling as if the world were trembling beneath her became apparent, as though to impress upon Limestone how little she could do to help her little sister at the moment.

“Damnit, Pinkie, why are you making me worry so much…?”

Her ears twitched; it sounded to Limestone as if there were some sort of disturbance out near the west field, like several someponies were bumping into one another. Was some group of ne’er-do-wells out to steal their rocks and boulders…?

But when Limestone kicked open the door and prepared to take in a deep breath to bellow at the top of her lungs for whichever trespassing party it was to make themselves scarce, she saw that it was Pinkie and her group of friends!

…At least, they looked almost exactly like them. But, Limestone was fairly certain that her little sister didn’t have wings, and that that ‘Applejack’ mare was not a Pegasus. The High Eyries were a fell and dangerous place, but what in the world could have possibly happened up there?

As it was, best to be sure that they were all alright…

“Pinkamena Pie!” Limestone shouted, stomping up towards the fallen mares (and drake). “What were you thinking, making us worry like―?”

The eldest Pie daughter stopped herself when the tremors she’d felt inside and dismissed as being inside her own mind began to intensify, along with a hellish orange glow from up at the cliff-faces that dimmed the light of the stars and nebulae. And beyond, numberless shapeless forms floated into the air the way that only clouds did…

“What in name of Holder Cobblestone…?” mused Igneous Rock, appearing at the door behind Limestone with his wife.

“The fault line remains unperturbed,” Maud said, looking out past her parents at the potent offender near to the quarry. “I don’t understand what could be causing this.”

“Marble,” ordered Cloudy Quartz, her mane having fallen out of its tight-knit bun for the comfort of sleep, “thou shalt help Limestone bring Pinkamena and her friends in.”

“Mhm,” answered the youngest Pie daughter, sliding between her parents to reach her eldest sister.

“It’s alright, Mrs. Pie,” groaned Applejack, standing slowly. “We cin handle ourselves fer now.”

“Regardless of the fact that that ruffian Discord has switched our races all around…” lamented Rarity, her lack of horn giving the impression that she was a particularly stick-skinny Earth Pony.

“He even made me into an Alicorn,” Rainbow Dash said proudly, “but I didn’t need to be transformed into an Alicorn in order to beat him!”

“Ohh, just… shut up, Rainbow Dash!” snapped Fluttershy, her mane flying about as she thrust herself at the cerulean mare. “You had to go and get your head twisted around, and now you’re going to break Fluttershy’s heart because she can’t stand to see you like this―!”

A great rumbling roar interrupted the normally timid pony’s tirade, and the mountain of the High Eyries almost literally exploded with the force of the magma within. The sky lit up red as a chain of fissures down the mountainside spewed forth lava that was heading straight for them…!

Twilight Sparkle shot to her hooves, “Oh no… Not after we’ve just gotten the Element of Honesty back! We can’t be buried in lava like the ancient town of Pommelpeii…!”

“Noooo…!” cried Pinkie, burying her head in forehooves and wings. “I can’t make parties to make ponies happy if I’m in a lava-bath…!”

Three dull blurs shot past the band as lightning crackled about in the sky, revealing the forms of Limestone, Maud, and Marble Pie, each of their faces creased into intense expressions. The three came to a halt in almost perfect unison as they reared up, Limestone bringing her forehooves down with such force that the stony ground cracked, a beige light surrounding her fetlocks. Chunks of rock ripped themselves out of the earth, enshrouded in that same light, before hurtling upwards to intercept the lava. As each great stone made contact, the lava seemed to disappear, apparently immediately cooling to a solid as soon as touching Limestone’s hurled rocks.

Maud brought down a single forehoof shining with a light-turquoise aura, the lava itself that had already hit the ground sweeping itself aside from the path and the rock farm into a single blob of glowing-red liquid stone. A channel carved itself out from beneath the lava-stream, ostensibly to allow for safer jumps across the continuing lava-flow.

Marble came down from her rear rather more timidly, the stone beneath the lava-blob of Maud’s making giving way to a perfectly circular depression which contained the lava, harmlessly away from any paths leading to or about the rock farm.

Twilight gaped. The marvel of Earth Pony magic never ceased to amaze her. It was far too easy to look at any of the three pony races, and assume that the Earth Ponies were the weakest because of their lacking of either horn or wing. But there was a reason that the Earth Chancellery had endured so long against the Unicorn Kingdom and the Pegasus Empire, and it was not because Chancellor Puddinghead was too insane to deal with.

Well, not entirely.

Maud tapped her other forehoof, and a wall of rock erected itself along the side of the path leading back to Holderton, deflecting any further running lava towards the fresh lava-pit.

Then she faced her elder sister.

“Care to join me in a late-night rock bath?”

Limestone rolled her eyes.

“Maudstone, it’s lava. Molten. Frickin’. Lava.”

Maud blinked. Slowly.

“It’s liquid rock. How often does such a situation present itself?”

But Limestone was undeterred, and Twilight watched with her mind still numbed by awe as Maud strode casually towards the pit of lava, her bare hooves treading across the semi-molten earth, the hardening lava that had barely a glow about it, before she set first her forehooves, then her hind hooves, into the circular pool of lava…

Before dunking her entire form beneath the molten surface.

The exact moment that Maud Pie had completely vanished below the lava, Twilight Sparkle’s mind caught up with her surroundings, and she snapped.

“Pinkie Pie, your sister, she just… nopony can… lava’s too… Your sister killed herself in lava!

But Pinkie just giggled behind a perfectly round forehoof.

“Oh Twilight, you silly filly! Maud really loves rocks~”


The sound of lava sloshing about cut off Twilight’s tirade with surprising effectiveness, and Twilight turned boggling eyes upon the source of the sound. Almost totally expecting to spot a burnt pony skeleton emerging from the pool of lava, Twilight gaped at the sight of Maud Pie, completely unharmed, minute volcanic crystals caught in her mane and coat and on the ends of her eyelashes. Her eyes were closed, and as the lava slowly sloughed down her back, a look of serenity crossed her face.

Spike crossed his forelimbs and raised an eyebrow at his surrogate caretaker, “Feeling kinda silly right about now, Twilight?”

Twilight barely registered the mulberry drake’s remark, as dismissive and cutting as it was. Just as she thought she’d made a full reckoning about the capabilities of Earth Ponies, something new cropped up and sent her reeling.

Maud’s eyes slowly slid open, and she addressed the gawking band.

“Dragons’ scales are capable of withstanding temperatures of dozen-and-six-gross degrees. Molten lava is only dozen-and-one-gross degrees. You’re more than welcome to join, little dragon. The lava has rejuvenative properties for dragons and Earth Ponies alike.”

Perking up immediately, Spike strode off to join the large gray mare without even asking for Twilight’s permission. For what it was worth, Twilight yearned to scold her ward for refusing to acknowledge her authority over such a reasonable statement as she’d made on the cliffs.

But, Twilight thought to herself as Spike slid down the side of the circular depression and joined Maud down in the lava, Spike wouldn’t see it as reasonable, would he? He had such a crush on Rarity, that he must have half-thought he was in love with her. I… I can’t fall in love… can’t I?… so I couldn’t understand how much it hurt, what I’d said.

Casting a glance to Applejack, Twilight tried to communicate with just a glance the hurt that she was nursing. The palomino Pegasus returned her gaze, the dim reddish glow of the lava turning her green eyes brown, but failing to mask the sympathy and the vicarious sorrow that the apple-farmer bore.

“Pinkamena, how in the name of granite didst thee and thy friends return so swiftly?” Igneous Rock asked wondrously.

“It was easy; we flew~”

Cloudy Quartz blinked blearily behind her glasses, “Pray tell thy mother & father what the true meaning of this is. Is it connected to thy new pair of wings?”

Pinkie giggled, spreading her wings to their fullest span.

“Yup, that it was. Bad ol’ Dizzy switched our races all around and I was even a Unicorn for a little while, and I was shooting confetti and streamers and stuff from my horn like pew, pew, pew~, but then when Dashie here came back with her Element of Honesty we got all switched around again and I got to have wings just like my Granny Pie, and then―!”

“And then you went big,” droned Twilight, ears going slack and her tail swishing irritatedly, her eyes wide. “What − what is wrong with you Pies? Everypony else is left magically gelded because of Discord’s swapping of all our races, except for Pinkie, who could use her alicorn as if she were a Unicorn her whole life, and her wings not six seconds later! And, she increased in size to fly us all down from those cliffs, even though I’m reasonably sure that she’s not a Burgeoning Earth Pony! And now, I’m looking at her elder sister, swimming about in a pool of lava like it was just a cool lake in spring!”

“Lay off my little sisters, purple!” snarled Limestone, blade-shaped eyebrow arched up over her green eye. “Maud’s got the toughness to stand the lava without even breaking a sweat! And Pinkie, she’s our special little Pie, so don’t think that you can question what she’s capable of doing when it comes to helping her friends and family!”

Twilight withdrew, suddenly feeling almost microscopic under the gaze of that evil eye of Limestone Pie’s, even if the Pies’ firstborn was barely much larger than she was.

“I’m sorry, Miss Pie,” Twilight said meekly. “I’ve… had a bit of an ordeal with this before, but whenever I feel like I’ve gotten Pinkie figured, something new happens and…” Her eye twitched. “Why can’t everything just be perfectly orderly and logical?!”

Limestone cast a glance at her youngest sister, “Got a bit of a stick up her rear, don’t she?”

Marble hesitantly gazed at Twilight from behind her mane, before nodding slowly, “Mhm.”

“Well, regardless of the orderliness of these proceedings,” Rarity said wearily, “I must say I’m quite overwhelmed at the moment. So much energy being forced into me while I was a Pegasus in the High Eyries, then having it drained with interest when I became an Earth Pony… I have never needed my fainting couch more in my life!”

Limestone blinked, “Your… ‘fainting couch’?”

Rarity turned to the bluish-gray mare, “Whenever I have worked myself to exhaustion on any given orders for dresses or saddles of any sort, I simply must call upon my most comfortable chaise lounge.”

“But, ya only have one chase lounge, Rare,” interjected Applejack.

“It is chaise lounge, Applejack,” Rarity replied with a brittle tone, “and I’ll have you know that that fainting couch has served me well through many stressful tribulations.”

“Well then,” asked Discord, poking his head out from the frizzing curls at the end of Rarity’s mane, “maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be able to call upon it at your leisure, now would it~?”

Everypony screamed in alarm, the Pies especially loudly, as they had not seen such a feat before. Maud was the only one who remained silent, not even flinching as lava splashed in her face from Spike causing a splash in shock.

“Stop doing that, Discord!” Twilight shouted, stomping a forehoof.

“Ohhh do pardon me, I was never given a proper lesson in etiquette and introductions,” growled the draconequus, crossing his forelimbs sourly as he returned to full size. Espying the Pie family, Discord suddenly lost all semblance of bitterness and beamed brightly… literally. Beams of light like spotlights emitted from his irises and pupils and caught Pinkie’s parents and sisters in his gaze.

“Speaking of introductions, I spy some little ponies who have not had the privilege of being told my backstory~”

The beams of light picked up Igneous, Cloudy, Limestone, and Marble like great hands, setting the four down into an opera box on the side of their house that everypony was fairly certain had not existed at the start of this sentence.

Discord cleared his throat. A spotlight shone down on him from up above, a most pompous and tacky theater dress appearing on him as quick as blinking.

He took a deep breath…

“Keep yer trap shut, Discord!” snapped Applejack. “We already dun heard yer so-called sob story!”

The palomino’s lips became either end to a zipper, a pull-tab roughly drawing her mouth shut. Discord’s claw-tips came apart, as if he’d personally drawn the zipper shut.

“No interruptions during the recitation,” he snarled darkly. “There’s a reason you can find eruption inside interruption; if they cut you off, you put them in a volcano!”

He clacked his cane against the ground, a sound like a bouncing spring ringing out.

“Now then, with that out of the way, in the shadow of my soon-to-be-completed fortress, I will tell you… how I became what I am!”

Spraying some perfume into his mouth, Discord brought up the cane which was suddenly a microphone, inhaled slowly…

“So a long, long time ago, I was known by a different name than I am now. Perhaps you may have heard of it, if you’ve ever opened up a book in your life. I crafted at least two-hundred-eighty-eight spells over the course of my life as a simple Unicorn from the North. It was my very special talent to plumb the deepest depths of our magical nature…”

Discord pulled off his monocle and wiped it off on a hoofkerchief held in a third arm, both of which had appeared as he needed them, for dramatic effect.

“Just to spell it out for anyone who hasn’t put two and two together yet, I was once Star Swirl the Bearded.”

A snort cut through the tense atmosphere, a laugh that was hastily disguised as a cough. Twilight had covered her mouth with her pastern, the creases under her eyes betraying the smile she wore. It evaporated almost instantly under the withering glare that Discord leveled at her.

“Well?” he hissed. “Care to explain what you find so amusing?”

“I’m sorry, but…” Twilight’s tense and wide-eyed look laxed into a silent snicker. “But you just can’t be Star Swirl the Bearded.”

“Ohh? And, why not, pray tell?”

“Well, it just doesn’t make sense, for starters, because―”

Twilight felt suddenly quite tongue-tied, and she felt as though she were involuntarily regurgitating something. Looking down at the something which was poking out of her mouth, she saw that it was Discord, still in his obnoxiously ostentatious outfit, wearing a triumphant expression.

“Well, there you have it. It doesn’t make sense, ergo it’s the only answer that makes sense about me.”

Light filled Twilight’s vision, and Discord returned to his place in the spotlight.

“Now, as I was saying, I, when I was Star Swirl the Bearded, that is, I studied so many different branches of magic, like… you know, that bit with the magic things and the, you know, the ley lines and such? It’s all kind of a blur to me. But then again, after what I’d learned, you’d probably understand exactly why it all became a bit of a blur to me.

“You see, everything changed for me when I wrote the omniomorphic spell.”

“The amniomorphic spell!” snapped Twilight. “Amniomorphic! With an ‘A’? If you’re going to bluff about your so-called backstory, at least get all your facts―!”

Her mouth kept moving, but no sound came out. Inhaling sharply, Twilight continued trying to speak, to no avail.

“Well, forgive me for expecting a mare who lives in a library to know the difference between ‘A’ and ‘O’,” Discord snapped. “Anyways, the omniomorphic spell let me freely transform any part of any creature into something else. The idea, I suppose, of poor old Star Swirl the Bearded, was to allow me to experience the world from the perspective of any other creature, how they touched magic. And so, as I morphed myself into more and more and more creatures, my personal knowledge of magic expanded… too much, it would seem, for my small pony mind. I suppose you could say that I ended up going completely bonkers.

“But I knew more about magic than anyone else who’d ever lived. I meant to share my knowledge of magic with all of Equestria, but all those little ponies just couldn’t stand the sight of me…! Well, I figured, if Equestria wouldn’t care for a lecture, then maybe they’d prefer a practical demonstration!

“Of course, it didn’t take long at all before these two pony mares showed up to me: my ex-fillyfriend and her little sister. Ohh I’m sure you know who they are~! She got so cross with me for wanting to share the true meaning of magic with Equestria that she pulled my right hoof out! Seriously, that was my last real connection to being a pony. It really didn’t do me much good, as you can imagine, but before you know it… poof, I’m trapped in a stone statue for centuries. So tell me, who’s the bad guy here: The guy trying to advance knowledge of the magics, or the divine figures who are trying to keep ponykind in the dark ages?”

Silence answered the draconequus, who stroked his goatee with an impatient look.

“Well… color me quite underwhelmed,” he grumbled, turning a quite powerful shade of underwhelmment.

“Knowledge is indeed power,” said a very dark and level voice. Maud Pie approached with Spike sitting side-saddle on her back, a light coating of volcanic glass crackling across her coat every time she moved. “But, with that raw knowledge must come the tempering of a calm temperament, a level mind. Only then, can the real cornerstone of a smarter future be set down.”

Discord rolled his eyes so hard that they fell out of his skull.

“Oh gracious, you’re just far too stolid for my tastes,” he growled. “You need to learn how to rock~!

He snapped his fingers, and in an instant Maud’s utterly plain and lank mane and tail frazzled themselves into a much more rockin’ and awesome style. When set against her dour expression, it was actually somewhat comical.

The secondborn Pie looked up at her mane.

“This doesn’t suit my style at all. I much prefer to keep it cut perfectly neat and tidy, so that I can really PARTY HARD!

The change was astonishing in its suddenness. Maud Pie’s face exploded with emotion, her stiff body language immediately being betrayed by a sharp head-bang and unabashedly violent buck, sending Spike flying. Twilight caught the flung drake mid-air in her dwimmer shimmer… or would have, if she’d had her horn still. As it was, he landed in front of the lavender Earth Pony dejectedly. Volcanic glass tinkled off of his hide as he avoided looking at Twilight.


Pinkie’s shriek sounded far harsher than anything that anypony present had ever heard out of the pink pony’s mouth. She flew to her sister’s side − figuratively or literally, a difference couldn’t be told − and leapt up to grab Maud’s face.

“Please Maud no, this isn’t like you! I can’t read your expression at all!

Maud gave a wide irreverent grin, nightmare-may-care joy bursting from her face.

“Who cares about reading, little sis? What we gotta do is rock till the sun comes up, and then from dusk till dawn~!

Pinkie began to sweat, a worried smile crossing her face.

“Ohhh, I get it Maud! A rock concert, because of rocks, right~?”

Fury blazed from Maud’s eyes, practically throwing Pinkie to the ground.


Pinkie shifted from pink to blue as quickly as a candle being snuffed out, her mane and tail unfrizzing as she gazed up at Maud with unbelieving eyes.

“Maud… no…”

“Mm-mm,” Marble shook her head vigorously. “Mm-mm, mm-mm, mm-mm, mm-mm!”


Fluttershy approached Maud-the-Rocker with the same degree of fury as she had the hemolupe on the Wide Plains. She tossed her head so that her forelock did not cover one of her eyes, and Twilight gave a double-take. Fluttershy was presently a Unicorn, but did she have…?

“You!” Fluttershy growled again. “Don’t you dare yell at Pinkie Pie! Even if you’re her sister, I won’t let you get away with this!”

Maud scoffed at the yellow Unicorn, “It’s none of your business how I treat my little sister.”

“It is, when she’s one of Fluttershy’s dearest friends!” shouted Fluttershy… or, was it another mare, speaking through Fluttershy? “I couldn’t stand to feel Fluttershy feeling so sad for Pinkie, so I’m here now to teach you a lesson!”

“Oh yeah? And what could you do to me with those little horns of yours…?”

I… Wait. Horns?” Fluttershy’s entire demeanor relaxed immediately, her cyan eyes looking up to the singular alicorn just at the base of her forelock… and then to either side, at the pointed bony nubs just in front of either ear, like a calf’s on the cusp of maturity.

“Fluttershy’s… growin’ horns…?” wondered Applejack.

“It’s a gift!” beamed Rainbow Dash, “From when I saved the Minotaurs from Discord with my first-ever Sonic Rainboom! I couldn’t be with the Minotaur Prince, but he gave horns to Fluttershy because he knew that our love was true!”

Discord laughed out loud, spilling half off his tub of popcorn.

“Ohh come on, Shutterfly, don’t stop now. It was just getting good~!”

Fluttershy turned her gaze upon Discord, pupils constricting to quill-points as they locked onto the draconequus’s muzzle.

“You’re the one who did this to Fluttershy! So, you’re the one who’s gonna fix it for her, or else I’ll…!”

She lunged at Discord, but he vanished into a cloud of Discord-colored smoke with a high laugh. Fluttershy swiped her hooves to and fro through the dispersing smoke, gnashing her teeth and shouting. In a matter of moments, though, her energy had been spent, and she collapsed into a shaky pile, burying her face in her forehooves. And if Twilight’s eyes were not deceiving her, then it seemed as though her horns had grown half an inch longer, maybe a shade thicker as well…

Licking their wounds and gathering their wits, the Pie family and their guests retired to the living room of the main homestead. Maud was detained for some seconds to ensure that she didn’t “track lava into the house”, and after a short outburst on her part regarding her everlasting hatred of all things related to geology, the party of eleven ponies and one drake had come to settle in various corners of the slate-colored room.

“I’m really not tired, I swear!” snapped Maud, fighting the pressing of her sisters onto a couch that was made from slabs of rock. “And I’m not gonna fall asleep on some stupid rocks! I swear, if you make me lay down on these slabs of stone, I’m gonna―!”

Whatever the Earth Pony planned to threaten was lost, for as soon as she made contact with the slab-couch, she began to snore at the top of her lungs, her eyes slamming shut and her posture relaxing sharply.

Now that they’d entered an environment of proper lighting, Twilight could see that Discord’s effect had on both Rainbow Dash and Maud Pie. She’d ascertained that Rainbow Dash’s color was off when she came back with her Element of Honesty, and it seemed as though some of her color had been washed away. It was as though a grayscale filter had fallen over the ex-Pegasus in Twilight’s eyes. It was difficult to say whether the same was with Maud at a single glance, but judging from the duller-than-usual shade of her frazzled mane and tail…

“Oh, what I wouldn’t give for my fainting couch right now…!” Rarity lamented. “After our ordeals up there, why, I feel as though I shall collapse where I stand!”

The alabaster ex-Unicorn flumped over to her side, apparently making good on her word… and rather than the hard wooden floor, felt a very familiar plush softness. Blinking, Rarity gaped in astonishment, along with most everypony else in the room, at the richly overdyed red chaise lounge which had popped into existence mere microseconds before Rarity would have hit the floor.

“M − my fainting couch! But, what… how did it… how could even…?”

At which point, Rarity Belle fainted for real.

The moment that her head hit the cushion, a puff of pink smoke emblazoned with the words ‘POOF!’ appeared overhead, producing a small scrap of parchment that fluttered down in front of Twilight Sparkle’s face. She read it:

A little gift to one of B̿̊͏̧͇͖̜͔̱͉̮͓̖̝̻͖̱͚̋͑̋̄͆̽̀̊̒̃̄͊̓̊̄̈́̽̋͆̄̑́̂́́͋̃̆͘̕̕͘͝͝͠͠͝͠W̸̐̍̿͘҉̅͊͏̛̹͉̫͉̣͇̥͍̘̟͙͇͉̳͕̺̺̉̆͋̓̐̈̔̾̾̇̇͋̉̾͆̾̍̌̈̅͐̈́̔̓́̿̊͌͐͘̚͘̕͝͝Z̴̢͓̩̬̮͉͕̩̣̘͇̘̣̣̍̌̆̅̇͗̋̌̓̈́̽̾͊͂̎͂̾̾́̅̀̒̒̾̋̍͛́̐̆̇̍̈́̆͞R̴̷̡̛͂͛͂̃̍̄̓̏͡͠͏͕͈̳̗̱͑̃̽̈́̉̿̅͊̇͋͠͝I̋̈́҉͋̓͛̍̓̀͋̾͢͝͝͏̛̮̝̱̲̹̫̤̮̬̲̣͍̦͓͎̄̆̓͐̈̆͊̌̾̒̊̌͒͒̄̂́͑̑̇̂̋͐̏̊̕͘̕̕͠͠Ứ̶̢̛̛̭̹̠͎̝̦̹̮͈̥̦͔͚̞͚̭̭͒́͋̓͑̇́͒͊̎̀̂́̈́̍́̆͗͋̾̈́̍̈́̿̄̎̄̔́̀͑̃͘̚͘͠L̸̮̖̮̦̫͉̮͍̰̺̘̟̫͉̆̊͐̈́̃͌͗̇̑̈́̋͊̈̊̽̏͋͒̋̋̄͗̈́́́͘͠͝͠͝͠͝W̴̶̦̟̘̱̼̼̱̯͔͉͓̳̱͎͙͐̽́̌͒̀̌̂̒̔̃͌̊̇͗̈̔̓̏͛̀̾̅̿̒̈́̊͑̅̃͗̆͗́̃̊̂̍̕͘̕͘͞͝͝Ç̵̧̛͕̠͇̘̣̹̻̳̘̫̖̩̻̩̠̳̗̱͌̅̐͆̔̾́̈́͂͌̒̿͂̌͒̄̀͌̌̃̈́̈́̌̂̓̃̌̓̍͛̇͊̇̉͒̑̄̉̃͌̚͘͘Ï̶̬͇̤͓̑͌̿̌͆̐̌̈́̅͗̈́̓͡͝G̨̝͍͔̲͓͔̐̒͗̐̿̏̄̅͋͂̾̈̑̌̿̐̽̄̂̉̕͝͠͡͝͞͝͠Y̴͎͉͓̜̙̩̥͇͍̥̼̟̖̟͈̊̇̀͋̀̌̉̎͋̀̀͑̈́̆̋̈́̌̏̌̾̐̇̅̓̓̑͑̊͌̊̉̑̆̂̀̽̔͌̓̋͊̇̐̍̕͟͝͡͝͠ͅͅ’s chosen bearers. I do hope that her ‘fainting couch’ will always come to her whenever she thinks of it~! Oh no, don’t bother thanking me; it’s always my pleasure to be ambiguously good or bad. You never know when you won’t need a fainting couch~~!

PS: Fine, you can have your voice back, Book Horse.

Twilight blinked her eyes rapidly at Discord’s note. For who else could have sent them such a missive? Part of it was illegible, almost seeming to bleed off and float in mid-air outside the edges of the parchment. But, leaning in towards the postscript…

“Did I read that right, girls?” she asked aloud.

Twilight blinked, flicking her ears.

Did she just…?

“You were reading it out loud the whole time, Twilight!” beamed Pinkie, looking up from her spot near the dozing Maud. “Bad ol’ Dizzy gave you your voice back! That’s so nice for him~”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow at the pink Pegasus. “Ya do realize that Discord ain’t a nice guy ta begin with?”

Pinkie’s eyebrows knitted together, “I said ‘That’s so nice, for him’, and that doesn’t mean that he usually does nice things. I just like calling him Dizzy ‘cause of how mixed-up he looks~”

“Oh you think Discord is mixed up?” interjected Rainbow Dash. “You really shoulda seen his parents, and his brothers and sisters! Man, just the… man, they were made of so many more creatures! But, none of them were a match for me on the warpath for my Element!”

“Please, Dashie…” whimpered Fluttershy, covering her head with her forehooves and hiccupping occasionally from her sobs. “Please… just, stop… I can’t take it… every time she comes out… my… my horns…”

Twilight looked down at the prone Unicorn… the term meaning ‘one-horned’ no longer being applicable in lieu of the burgeoning bull-horns in front of either ear.

“Fluttershy…” she began hesitantly. “I don’t mean to press, but didn’t you promise that you’d explain this… ‘she’ you keep speaking of?”

The yellow mare looked up from underneath her forelock, cyan eyes going red from tears.

“Twilight… please, you don’t want to know. I know I promised, but… You said I could take my time with letting it out.”

The lavender Earth Pony took a step back, her own words resonating in her head.

“Well… yes, of course. I’m sorry, Fluttershy. Whenever you feel up to speaking about it.”

“And… what I if I never feel like speaking about it?”

“That’s… that’s perfectly fine, too. I mean − all things considered − I’m not the best people-pony,” Twilight finally admitted, smiling meekly.

“Ah think what Twilight’s gittin’ at,” Applejack said, cutting in, “is that we’ll be there fer ya, regardless a’ whether ya feel like openin’ up ‘bout yer problems.”

Fluttershy wiped at her eyes and nose with a foreleg, slowly rising up and offering a demure smile to the palomino Pegasus.

“Thank you, Applejack. I… I think I’m ready to tell you about her.”


Rarity had recovered from her fainting spell, rubbing her eyes blearily. Her almond-shaped eyes were set upon the ex-Pegasus with sympathy.

“Yay, Rarity’s awake again~!” beamed Pinkie Pie, perching herself atop the backrest of the alabaster mare’s chaise-lounge.

“Yes, I am, thank you for your concern, Pinkie,” Rarity replied shortly, “but for now, I believe we should direct our concerns towards Fluttershy. Now, who is this ‘her’ and ‘she’ whom we’ve heard such ominous presentiments about?”

Fluttershy took a deep breath.

“There’s… there’s another Fluttershy. Only, she’s in my head.”

Twilight gasped, “Dissociative identity disorder?”

Rainbow Dash laughed at the lavender ex-Unicorn’s interjection.

“We don’t need any of your big-city thoroughbit words, Twilight. I mean, I never opened a book in my life, and look at me now! …Well, I mean, A.K. Yearling did publish some of my more humble exploits in certain little books you may have heard of. Does Daring Do ring a bell? Never read one of them, granted, but that’s ‘cause I lived them!”

“That’s enough silly little stories for now, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie half-shouted, half-sang, diving onto the cerulean Unicorn’s shoulders, clamping her forehooves over Rainbow Dash’s mouth. “That’s not the Rainbow Dash that I know and love…!”

“Thank you, Pinkie Pie,” Fluttershy said testily… or was it ‘the other Fluttershy’? After a moment to take a breath, the pale-yellow Unicorn continued in her usual soft tone,

“When I was growing up, my parents Warm Front and Posey… they hated each other. They fought all the time, screaming at each other any time the other one displeased them − which was almost every moment of any day. They… got mad at me and my brother whenever either of us were too loud… or too assertive… or too forceful. My brother, he was my only strength, but then… he ran away. That’s… that’s when Mom and Dad really started to put me down. And, then the other Fluttershy showed up.”

“Ya poor thing…” Applejack looked like she wanted to cry. “How did ya git outta that?”

Fluttershy bowed her head, trying to hide behind her mane as she usually did, but her new horns treacherously parted her forelock.

“It was after Dashie got kicked out of her parents’ home − ” The cerulean mare in question bucked mutinously under Pinkie but failed to dislodge her “ − and I had a really bad fight with Mom and Dad, and the other Fluttershy must have taken over, because the next thing I know I’m out at the Cloudsdale cloud-racetracks. Rainbow Dash was there, and she told me what had happened with her that day. We’d already been seeing each other a bit by then, and I’d been checking at home retailers during lunch-breaks at school and found a vacant plot for sale in Ponyville. I suggested to Dashie that we could move there together, and… well, we did. I took a job as animal caretaker to keep close to my beloved little critters and away from all the scary ponies, and Rainbow Dash became a weather-mare.”

Fluttershy looked about her friends to take in their reactions to her story. Once she saw that they wore wide-eyed looks of mingled fear and pity, she took a step back with flattened ears.

“Ohh, I didn’t realize how much I was talking. I’m so sorry…”

“You don’t need to apologize about anything, darling,” Rarity said, stepping off of the fainting couch and reaching out a hoof. “By all rights, you’ve been through a dreadful ordeal as a foal.”

“Did those sorry excuses for parents ever try to find you again?” Limestone growled, muzzle wrinkling up in distaste.

Fluttershy shook her head, “No… They didn’t. And, I never heard from my brother again, either. They must have thought I was too bad of a filly to bother finding again, especially after the other Fluttershy―”


As quiet as it was, Marble Pie’s dissent cut through the air like Queen Celestia’s heralded sun-bladed halberd. The imposing but withdrawn Earth Pony mare, tallest pony in the room, gazed down at Fluttershy with sympathy and shook her head sharply with another Mm-mm.

“Marble is correct,” nodded Cloudy Quartz. “Any parent that will not search for a runaway foal of theirs, regardless of where the fault lies, is no parent worth their salt-lick.”

“Much agreed, my wife,” Igneous said with a bow of his head. “Now, while we all are here, couldst somepony perhaps explain what has befallen Maudstone?”

“I… really can’t say,” Twilight replied lowly, “although it seems to be the same thing as Discord did to our friend Rainbow Dash. She’s been turned into a pathological teller of tall tales, and by all rights, your Maud’s been twisted around from a stoic lover of rocks, to a passionate lover of rock music.”

Cloudy Quartz brought a hoof up to her mouth, “Is there a way to reverse this, Twilight Sparkle?”

“Not to my knowledge,” she answered. “This is no hypnosis spell, because somepony who’s under hypnosis can’t be made to do something they either couldn’t or wouldn’t do on their own. You couldn’t hypnotize a painter into destroying her own magnum opus, for instance. And neither is this like any brainwashing spell I’ve ever read about.”

“But Ah thought’cha said that there weren’t no such thang as brainwashin’ spells,” Applejack queried.

“There is much in the way of spellwork that remains unknown to us,” Twilight said. “I still can’t understand how NightMare Moon worked hypnosis upon half the Royal Guard, but I think it safest to assume that that was the work of the Miasma. Discord, his hexcraft is a complete enigma to us. We have no idea how to unweave what he’s woven into Rainbow and Maud.

“And, even if I knew, I couldn’t do anything. You’ve seen what Discord’s done to us. I’m Unicorn without a horn, and an Earth Pony with none of the relative magic.”

“And I got wings like a Pegasus~” cried Pinkie, spreading wings and forelegs wide.

It only took a moment, but Rainbow Dash had bucked Pinkie Pie off her back, the pink Pegasus rebounding herself off the ceiling and sailing over to Marble, hovering beside her twin sister.

And then Rainbow Dash set off on her torrent of untruths.

“I was turned into an Alicorn by Discord, because he thought that he was setting it up to be a fair fight to stick me with a horn that I had no idea how to work. Heh… he really didn’t expect me to be a real whiz with this stupid doohickey here!” She flicked her prismatic forelock back to accentuate the presence of her anomalous alicorn. “He had to have ripped off my wings, like, eight times, but then I let him and his whole family tree know what was what! And you know what? The Wonderbolts were just so in awe of how awesome I was in getting my Element back that they tore off their own wings in commemoration! And then they called me Ghost-Wings Rainbow Dash, the One True Wonderbolt!”

Fluttershy had crouched down and covered her head in her forelegs, ears almost completely flat against her skull. Even from this short time contemplating the revelation that Fluttershy had a split personality, Twilight could sense two different body languages fighting for dominance of the ex-Pegasus’s body. One had more frightful and rapid gasping breaths, and the other longer and more ragged breaths. Twilight could only guess which one was the pony she’d known the past few months, but the fact presented itself that the ragged and furious breaths coincided with a minute growth in those two abominable horns by her ears…

“So, in short,” Twilight cut in with a sharp tone, “we’ve reclaimed the Element of Honesty, but in the process lost Rainbow Dash’s personal sense of honesty.”

“I dunno, I kinda think it’s a cool story, Twilight,” grumbled Spike, crossing his forelegs and offering a quick distasteful glance at Twilight.

“Twilight, darling,” Rarity asked gently, “is everything alright between you and Spike?”

“Oh sure, everything’s perfectly fine, Rarity, but what do you care?” the mulberry drake snapped, the shadow of a cry looming over his tone. “I mean, it’s not like Twilight thinks that things are gonna work out between us…!”

Applejack leaned down towards Spike, “Spike, tell us what happened. Did you an’ Twilight have a fallin’-out?”

Spike’s mouth opened and closed but made no noise as he glanced back and forth between Applejack and Twilight and Rarity, eyes darting between the latter two for several moments, before he darted off and out of the Pie living room. The clatter of his claws against the polished wooden stairs told them that he’d gone up to the room he’d been granted for their stay.

“Ah take it that that’s a ‘yes’, sugarcube?” Applejack offered a sympathetic look to her lavender friend.

Twilight nodded sadly.

“So, we can’t trust a word outta this one,” Limestone tilted her head irately towards the cerulean mare, “but what about that dragon-looking guy that twisted Maud’s head around all backwards? I don’t know about you six, but I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him.”

“None of us do,” said Rarity, eyes glancing up at the ceiling where Spike was, “because he’d spun us all a rather different tale as soon as we’d left earshot of the rock farm.”

“And also,” Twilight cut in, yearning for something, anything, to draw her mind away from her amanuensis-turned-son, “there’s no possible way that he could be Star Swirl the Bearded, aside from the obvious reason. While it’s true that Star Swirl the Bearded was a contemporary to the age of the United Tribes of Equestria, that was only possible because of the use of a time-travel spell.”

“Why?” asked Fluttershy, who had peeked back out once Rainbow Dash had piped down. “And how did…?”

“How did Star Swirl write that time-travel spell?” Twilight responded brightly. “I really don’t know, but it’s very fascinating! The history books made mention of a very unusual pony called ‘Star Swirl the Bearded’ who’d served as the mentor to Clover the Clever, who I think some of us would remember as a significant figure in Equestrian history.” She offered a glance to Marble Pie, who nodded shyly.


“But, how do we know that there weren’t two Star Swirls the Bearded? …s?” asked Applejack, looking nervous about her grammar.

“Well, it would be a very plausible theory… but, the fact of the matter is that the description of the two Star Swirls match perfectly, down to the bells on the brim of the hat, and also the distinctly luxurious quality of their beards. And also, Queen Celestia’s good friend Star Swirl had a very distinct coat and mane color, and that matches up with descriptions of Clover the Clever’s mentor, so the odds are far longer that there were two ponies named Star Swirl the Bearded at two different points in Equestrian history.”

“But why did Star Swirl the Bearded travel back in time in the first place?” Pinkie Pie asked, nuzzling in next to Maud on the rock-bed.

“Clover the Clever, at that point simply Clover, had a very particular mindset, a weariness of the stand-off between Cornucopia and the other two pony tribes, yet an open-heartedness that would allow for a bolder, more loving age. She had eyes of two different colors, though, a sign of bad luck among ponies in that day.” Twilight noticed Limestone grimace in her peripherals. “She would have been overlooked as a right-hoof mare to Princess Platinum, in favor of one more in line with the Princess’s staunch views. So, Clover had to train in some of the most advanced thaumaturgical arts of the time, work past the stigma of her mismatched eyes.

“If we only knew what was going through Clover’s head when that bearded, berobed figure appeared before her. When she learned that she would be taught the highest level of magic that a Unicorn could attain, though, she was positively beside herself. In short time, she was bedazzling the Court of Cornucopia with magic they’d never seen before. She was redubbed Clover the Clever and became a member of Princess Platinum’s inner circle, never leaving her side.

“Ohh, we can only wonder what would have happened to our history if Clover the Clever was not there with Smart Cookie and Prancing Pansy. With the fire of their friendship, Clover’s alicorn produced a fount of warm magic that banished the Windigoes to oblivion. It was around this magic that they drafted the Articles of the United Tribes, which Clover herself provided many points to.

“And none of that could have been possible, without Star Swirl the Bearded’s time-travel spell.”

“Whoa… That sounds like a dead useful bit a’ spellwork,” Applejack gaped. “How’d one get ta doin’ it?”

“Not terribly easy, as it’s apparently a specific weave of magical energy woven directly into a specially prepared piece of parchment, activated by a very specific incantation. If performed incorrectly, the results would be… undesirable.” Twilight shuddered. “As such, there were very few such time-travel scrolls produced. Officially, there are none that remain, but according to Queen Celestia herself, one or two might remain still. She wouldn’t say where, though, because time-travel is a matter of paramount national security. Nopony can guess what issues could arise from errant traveling through time.

“And, speaking of time,” Twilight turned her attention to Pinkie’s parents, “would it be too much to ask that we remain here while we decipher where the remaining Elements of Harmony are? It’s… not like we’re much safer here than anywhere else in Equestria.”

“Here?” asked Cloudy Quartz. “What has befallen Canterlot that would render it less safe than our rock farm?”

“Discord arose from out of Canterlot’s own Sculpture Garden, and if I had to guess, whatever he’s done to the North Equinus Mountains is going to have affected Canterlot as well. And other than that, it seems like Discord’s goals have been remarkably low-key compared to accounts of his reign so long ago. But, we don’t know exactly how the Age of Discord had begun, so we’ll need to remain on guard for any pony or, well, anything behaving in a nonsensical manner.”

Igneous shared a glance with his wife, before the both of them looked to Twilight once more.

“By mine honor as the son of Feldspar Granite Pie, I grant thee and thy company indefinite leave of our premises.”

Limestone growled, “If it was up to me, you lot would all be out on the doormat for what happened to Maud. That Discord guy wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for you. But, since Ma & Pa own the farm, my hooves are tied. Just, don’t get in the way of our jobs, and we should get along okay.”

“Also,” Twilight added, “if you have any books or ledgers or any reading material regarding the Cult of Pi, that would be―”

What does the Cult of Pi have to do with any of this?” Limestone hissed, eyes narrowed to beige-and-green slits. Twilight balked, but stood firm.

“Because I believe that knowledge of what brought the Cult of Pi here, here to this specific place at the edge of the Descort Fields, might be instrumental in our defeat of Discord.”

The bluish-gray mare’s face slackened, fury giving way to resignation.

“Very well,” said Igneous Rock. “If thou believest that it will help.”

Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea, Twilight admitted to herself, only nodding to the Pies. But any edge we can get over Discord is bound to be of assistance.

Unseen by anypony in the darkness of the new moon, the mountains of the North Equinus Range on either the east or west of Alicorn’s Peak left their earthly roots and floated like helium-filled bricks up to form a singular mass, miles above Canterlot…





Chapter 3√i: The Deepening Discord

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*…disappearance of the vast majority of the North Equinus Mountain range, which some postulate has…*

*…tired of those pesky cherry pies falling from the sky? Well, you can wipe those stains away with new patented…*

*…songstresses Countess Coloratura and Songbird Serenade have announced a planned collaborative musical project in favor of the Queens as opposed to…*

*…sightings of a strange mass above of Canterlot have caused numerous disruptions among the populace of the capital city. Concerns about the cost this will mean for the wealthy have reached the Queens’ ears…*

Applejack sighed, wings bristling, “Only them white-hitchcollar folks would look at th’ downfall a’ Harmony an’ worry ‘bout how much money they’ve got ta lose…”

“And while we contemplate the riddles that Discord has left us with,” Rarity mused, “we’re left in a rather untenable situation ourselves.”

“Ohhh, let’s not get ourselves stuck in a rut with all these sad politics channels,” Pinkie beamed, turning one of the gumdrop-dials of her diminutive candy-radio again. “I think Tavi’s radio-show’s gonna be on again soonie~!”

Static bursts bracketed numerous half-words broken out of the sentences of almost a dozen ponies across Equestria, filling the sitting-room with the sort of babel that would perhaps befall the whole of the planet if Discord succeeded…

Only to give way to a bizarre electronic thumping noise, interspersed with strains of what had to be a cello.

Pinkie’s eyes twinkled.

“Oooooh I think this is that new type of music that Tavi told me about in her last letter to me~! She said that they’re gonna call it dubtrot~~!”

Rarity’s ears flattened against her head, her lips pursing.

“Well, I suppose if you’re inclined towards that form of musical rendition…”

“I know, right~?” Pinkie Pie grinned, seemingly oblivious to the taut expression on her alabaster friend. “It’s just got so many different applications for different types of parties!”

“Pinkie, could you shut that thing off, please?”

Twilight had strode into the Pie family’s sitting room, a pentagon-shaped book clutched to her chest in her forehoof. Two days without a horn, and already she had adapted to a new alicorn-less lifestyle. Of course, judging from the shadows under her reddened eyes, there was one sort of adaptation she was ill-accustomed towards.

“Twilight,” Applejack said cautiously, “when’s th’ last time ya got any decent amount a’ sleep?”

“‘Sleep’?” Twilight answered crossly. “I have a collection of hitherto unread books regarding the history of the Pie family and the cult that came before it. Considering the proximity of this rock farm to Discord’s defeat in the Descort Fields, there has to be some secret here that could make it easier for us to defeat him again…!”

“Isn’t this the sole reason we’re devoting such time to pondering the riddles Discord left to us?” Rarity asked. “We need to find the Elements of Harmony again in full if we are to have any hope of bringing order back to our beloved and beautiful Equestria!”

Twilight’s eyes boggled slightly, her slightly frazzled mane bobbing as her nostrils flared.

“The Elements of Harmony didn’t stop Discord for good before, mein Freund. For the sake of future generations, we must learn all that we can about he was stopped before so that we can know what to do to defeat him more permanently!”

“Twilight,” said Applejack, standing up and approaching the lavender Earth Pony, “yer gittin’ a mite bit uppity about these books a’ yers.”

Twilight grinned far too widely, “Books give answers, Applejack! You know what they say: ‘Today a reader, tomorrow a leader’! These books, they have got to hold some sort of clue as to throwing down the prospect of Discord’s eternal reign of Chaos und Elend!”

“Twilight, pull yourself together, darling!” gasped Rarity, azure eyes widening in astonishment. “You’re becoming quite hysterical, and you simply must take a rest!”

“I can’t!” the lavender Earth Pony grimaced in pain, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “The longer all of this madness of Discord goes on, the longer that Rainbow Dash will be a pathological teller of tall tales, and the longer that my Spike will hate me for…!”

With a remorse-filled wail, Twilight Sparkle collapsed to the floor of the sitting-room, the book in her hoof falling open as it hit the floor with its covers facing up. On the front cover was a large π symbol within a perfectly drawn circle, along with a pentagon, a set of eight arrows radiating out from a singular point, and several more unfamiliar emblems.

“Umm, Twilight…” started Fluttershy, as Pinkie switched off her candy-radio. “Listen, I’m sure that Spike doesn’t hate you. He’s just… a bit… testy.”

Mein geliebter Drache,” Twilight sobbed, “he hasn’t spoken to me since Friday! And all because I was trying to brace him for a bad fall about you, Rarity!”

“It breaks my heart to see you so bereft, Twilight,” said the alabaster Earth Pony, “but your pain is not going to be set at ease by pushing yourself into books.”

“We’re all here for ya, sugar-cube,” Applejack said, holding out a hoof to Twilight. “Ya ain’t gotta hold the weight a’ th’ world on yer shoulders. Yer not alone; ya got us as yer friends. If ya need help in gittin’ yer family life back t’gether, all ya got ta do is ask us an’ we’ll come runnin’.”

Rubbing her eyes, Twilight looked up to the palomino Pegasus, that broad and comforting smile spread across her boxy muzzle. Letting a smile cross her own muzzle, Twilight reached up and took Applejack’s hoof in her own.

“Thank you, Applejack,” she said. “I… kind of lost my senses, didn’t I? I should probably get some rest soon; driving myself into insomnia won’t help us take down Discord.” She turned a weary smile towards her alabaster friend. “I might need to borrow your fainting couch sometime, Rarity.”

“As burdened as I am with not being able to control it,” Rarity said with a bowed head, “it would certainly do you some good, so…”

The ex-Unicorn fashionista brought her forehoof to her forehead, eyes rolling back into her head as she threw herself to the floor in an impeccable impression of fainting. In an instant, from beyond the peripherals of anypony in the room, Rarity’s fainting couch zoomed in under its own power and planted itself directly beneath its owner the instant before she would have hit the floor…

Rarity looked up at Twilight with a bright expression.

“Feel free, darling. What’s mine is yours.”

“Thank you a gross times, Rarity,” Twilight said tiredly, stepping past Applejack and collapsing onto the fainting couch as Rarity stepped off.

“So, Twilight-y,” Pinkie interjected, picking up the book from the floor, “what did you read in this crazy bookie here? It looks like a really funny picture-book with its not having any words on the covers!”

“It’s a log of sorts, written by a succession of high-ranking members of the Cult of Pi over the course of some grosses of years,” Twilight explained.

“An’, what sorta symbol is that?” asked Applejack, pointing at a circle with a pair of diametric whirls inside it. “That looks like some kinda yin yang―”


The open window gazing out into the open fields of rocks and boulders proved an alternate function, as Rainbow Dash clambered into the sitting-room from outside. She fell onto her chest before pulling herself up into a sitting position, the cerulean Unicorn’s horn standing out all the more for its position on the diamond-shaped light patch under her forelock.

“What’s Twilight doing on Rarity’s fainting couch?” she asked. “Can’t have been because of that rock-golem attack off on the south ridge that I totally fought off with my Alicorn powers…!”

Twilight groaned.

“I’ve just been tiring myself out from reading too many books in a language that I didn’t grow up speaking.”

“So basically, just flipping around in some useless books, weren’tcha?”

“Rainbow Dash, I swear to―”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling her frustration, Twilight turned her attention back to the query just before Rainbow had quite suddenly dropped in.

“Alright, AJ, let me take a look at that symbol.”

The palomino placed the book on the table in front of the couch on which Twilight rested. The lavender mare narrowed her eyes at the symbol in question.

“Hmm… Well, it definitely bears an uncanny resemblance to the tàijítú of Qín culture, but… I’ve never seen any depiction that placed such ambiguity on which is yīn and which is yáng.”

“How do ya mean, sugar-cube?”

“Well, you see, yīn is dark with a light circle inside it, and yáng is the reverse. This… I can’t tell which side of the tàijítú is supposed to be dark and which is light. And neither half has a circle inside it. This one has a pentagon, and the other… it looks like a golden apple.”

“Oooooh an apple~?” Pinkie interjected, fluttering up to Applejack’s face and rubbing her cheek against the burlier Pegasus’s. “And since Twilight found this in my family’s dusty old buried library deep beneath the rock farm, does that mean that me and AJ are really really really distant cousins~~? ‘Cause that’d be so cool because then the Pies and the Apples could have one big and happy and big family reunion and have, like, dozens and dozens more friendships between Apples and Pies and―”

“Pinkie, Entschuldigen Sie,” Twilight grumbled, “but I was talking, and I could do without any interruptions.”

The pink Pegasus’s ears drooped slightly as she smiled nervously, “Oooh, sorry there, Twilight.”

Twilight cleared her throat.

“But, as I was saying, this is a very unusual tàijítú, and I don’t recall ever seeing it anywhere in my readings on Qín. This has to be an emblem of the Cult of Pi’s devotion to Discord…!”

A cold stillness fell over the room as the words settled into comprehension. Pinkie’s wings stopped flapping and she remained suspended in mid-air with a slack jaw, and she wasn’t the only one. Dropped jaws and wide eyes swept the faces of everypony in the room, save Rainbow Dash.

“Heh, well that makes, like, way too much sense,” the faded-cerulean mare said with a snide tone and wide grin. “I mean, those guys were everywhere when I went to deal with Discord to get back my Element…!”

Twilight sighed; in the days since the return from the High Eyries, she and her band of friends had learned that contradicting Rainbow Dash’s so-called accomplishments would lead to a bout of rage-filled aggression that made Limestone Pie seem sweet and agreeable. So, until such time as their Elements of Harmony or some magic of Discord allowed for Rainbow to return to her normal self, they would have to collectively endure the lies.

“So, you’re saying that our family are a bunch of supporters of that dragon-guy freak?”

Limestone Pie stood in the doorway, evidently having finished a shift of crop rotation judging by the spattered layers of dirt and rock-dust… and wearing an expression of utmost fury and indignation. Behind her stood Marble Pie, along with their parents Igneous and Cloudy.

“Ohh no no no no no, Miss Pie!” Rarity said. “Twilight was just saying that―!”

“I didn’t hear it from you, girlie!” Limestone shouted in interruption, turning her mismatched eyes upon Twilight. “I heard it from the bookworm! You did not just accuse us of palling around with that dragon guy that twisted my little sister’s head around! I did not just hear that out of your mouth…!”

The firstborn Pie daughter’s face was contorted, baring her teeth at the lavender Earth Pony and seeming like a giant despite being within a few inches of Applejack’s height. Belying this wrathful expression, however, were the tears prickling at the corners of her eyes.

“Miss Limestone,” Twilight began, all tiredness forgotten, “I swear that I wasn’t saying that your family was in cahoots with Discord at all!”

“Really?” The burly Earth Pony mare looked like she didn’t believe Twilight at all. “Because from what I heard, you were just talking about the ‘Pies’ devotion to Discord’ just now! I literally heard it just as Marble and me’d come back in from working the fields! Marble, you’re with me on this, right?!” She rounded on her youngest sister.

Marble Pie looked back and forth nervously, glancing between Limestone and the ponies surrounding her twin, and the pair of ponies behind her. Her lips pursed and her eyes widened.


“Limestone Pie, leave thy youngest sister be,” Cloudy Quartz said curtly, “and let our guest speak her piece.”

“And preferably,” Igneous Rock added, “in more than simply simple sentences.”

Limestone nearly looked mutinous, but her mother’s eyes took on a steely sheen, and she faltered. Taking a deep and slow breath in through her nostrils, Limestone faced Twilight with a begrudging sigh.

“Very well, I’ll hear you out,” she said, before pulling down the lid of her green eye, “but you better not be pulling my leg…!”

Taking a deep breath herself, Twilight reached onto the table and pulled the five-sided book closer to her.

“Now, let me preface anything that I say right now,” she began, “by saying that I am making no assertions or accusations against anypony alive or present in this room. As far as this log indicates, the Cult of Pi dissolved many grossenturies ago.”

“The ‘Cult of Pi’?” asked Limestone, eyeing the wordless cover of the book that Twilight pulled open. “What in the world is that?”

“Mm…?” Marble asked with a nod of her head.

“It was an organization that originated in these parts, and was in essence the precursor to Holderton and to our Pie family itself.”

Numerous pairs of eyes locked onto Igneous Rock, the patriarch of the Pie family holding a forehoof to his chest.

“That’s… more or less true, Mr. Pie,” Twilight restarted, feeling mildly astonished, “but the salient fact of the matter lies in where the Cult of Pi’s allegiance was: to Discord and to what he preached.”

Igneous Rock and Cloudy Quartz both nodded.

“Pa, this can’t be true!” Limestone growled. “This has to be a lie!”

“‘Tis not a lie, Limestone,” he replied. “It was the ancestral origins of our family, of the settling of this region at the dawn of the Second Age of Equestria, that sought to worship chaos and sanctify madness.”

“But hold thy peace, daughter,” Cloudy Quartz cut in, raising a hoof to forestall the irate retaliation Limestone meant to offer, “for we do not say that this must be what our family is to be forever remembered for. By all rights, the meaning of the Pie family life does not lie in madness or chaos, but in rocks, does it not?”

“Well… yeah, it does,” Limestone conceded.

“Mhm,” nodded Marble.

“And in parties, don’t forget in parties, too~!” added Pinkie, bounding up and over the back of the couch to peer into the book at Twilight’s hooves.

“Yes. Yes, of course not,” said Cloudy Quartz, pushing up her glasses.

“Now, if thou wilt please, Twilight Sparkle,” offered Igneous Rock.

“Thank you, Mr. Pie,” Twilight said brightly, drawing a hoof-line along several archaic words in the text. “Now, based off of the text of this and some other books that I’ve procured from your archives…”

The sitting-room door swung open again, allowing the entry of another party into the room:

“I swear, she’s been lobbing rocks and books about rocks out the window and into the hall all day long, you’d think that somepony wouldn’t have so many rocks or books about ‘em…”

Spike came to an abrupt stop as he noticed Twilight in the room, the lavender mare and the mulberry drake locking eyes for several moments…

Before he turned and took his spot on the far end of the room, where the party’s saddle-bags had been set. He kept his eyes fixated at some point on the ceiling, a neutral expression on his face.

Of course, Twilight thought, trying to fight back the pain. He couldn’t have forgiven me in the short time since… no. Wait a second. How long was I reading those books again?

A sapphire forehoof slowly found its way to Twilight’s forehead.

Twilight, hast du Koprolith im Kopf? she thought. You’ve made your bed, now you’ll lay in it.

Shaking away the heartache, Twilight turned her eyes back to the Cult of Pi’s log book.

“So… this entire log is written in Old Equus, meaning that its penship dates back to the early Second Age of Equestria. The muzzlescript changes several times as it delves deeper into the back of this log, indicating that it was written by a great many ponies over the generations.”

“What’s it all written about, then, Twilight?” asked Applejack.

“It’s mostly a log relating to cult activities, such as recruitment methods and the origins of their cult. There are a lot of blank spaces and holes in the narrative these logs present, but I can piece together a decent enough history of the Cult of Pi for us to work with.

“During the Age of Discord, there was a colony of Earth Ponies who had elected that it was better to pledge allegiance to Discord than to allow themselves to be his toys. According to the logs, Discord was more than happy to have worshipers, but based off of what we know of him, I think we can guess that he just found them to be a laugh.”

“Heh, of course Discord would be like that,” Rainbow Dash interjected brashly. “I mean, Discord did time-travel me and the Wonderbolts back to the past before I totally whooped his butt and―!”

Rainbow Dash…!” Fluttershy snarled, approaching the cerulean mare with hunched shoulders and gritted teeth. Rather, it was the other Fluttershy, the brutal and assertive mare that normally dwelt in the dark recesses of Fluttershy’s mind. Her pupils constricted as she threw back her mane, her three horns standing out quite starkly now.

“Rainbow Dash,” the other Fluttershy growled again, “just… shut up! We don’t want to hear those idiotic lies of yours! You’re being the exact opposite of helpful right now, and I have half a mind to deck you in the face so hard your skull will heal concave!”

The yellow mare’s nostrils flared, but at the sight of the dull-cerulean mare’s look of astonishment, she let out a soft gasp, her posture relaxing significantly.

“Oh no… she came out again, didn’t she?” Fluttershy asked in a timid tone.

Rainbow Dash nodded swiftly, her muzzle scrunching up and her pale-cerise eyes wide.

“Well,” Limestone groused, “guess that’s one way to get her to tell the truth.”

“Or maybe,” Pinkie interceded, flapping about the room with a wide-eyed look herself, “Dashie is lying so hard that it’s looped back around to the truth again! She’s pulling a double-lie! But, wouldn’t that kinda make double-lies the truth? So does that mean that lies are only half-truths? My mind is totally blown!”

“Well, unblow your mind for a few minutes, alright?” grumbled Twilight. “I haven’t finished expositing on this clan that lived under Equestria’s nose for grossenturies, because it’s a sobering narrative.”

“What good is that gonna do anypony, Twilight?” Spike growled from his corner.

“I…” Twilight hesitated. “This… This clan that worshipped Discord, they must have known something about Discord that he let slip to them… Something we can use while we’re looking for the rest of the Elements…!”

Rarity nodded, “I concur. It may not have even been a week since Discord has arisen − Hurricane has not yet given way to Puddinghead yet − but he is already terribly subverting everything we hold dear!”

Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy all nodded in agreement; Rainbow Dash shook her head, which the party took to mean consent as well. Spike looked torn; if he agreed with Rarity, he would find himself agreeing with Twilight. He settled with curling up in the corner, facing away from everypony.

“Well, if it helps fix what that dung-head did to my little sister,” Limestone snarled, “I’m all for it. Lay it on us, bookworm.”

Twilight inclined her head lightly.

“Alright then. But from what I’ve read thus far, it’s been penned by some truly deranged ponies. With no bearing on the ponies who’ve so kindly granted us shelter,” she added with a

The lavender Earth Pony took a deep breath, opened the book once more, and began to translate:

The Greyfaces laugh at us who have Followed since the eighty-seventh Year of Our Lord Discord. But we care not; He befits us mercy as He does to nopony else. Because we do indulge Him in His whims without care, but with a laugh and with mirth. And though He made appearance that He was perplexed by our actions, in time did He plainly demonstrate His jollity at our piety.

And so did He, Discord, grant us many blessings, and we who survived such beatitudes were all the more reverent of Him. This was the greatest of pleasures to Him, and we did kiss Him at His hoof and claw. For though He had lost the favor of those who would hold Him to the greatest of praise, He found solace in our adulation.

The Recalcitrants grow in number behind the Feral and the Deceitful, their many eyes turned upon Him with a disdain most vile. They defy Him with His sacred notions of the year of five months each of seventy-three days; of the infallibility of anypony who He bestows papal rights upon; of the sacred Hodge and Podge, half and half of the Sacred Cow; of the holiness that is the letter five.

We have followed Him to the east, to this flat land which He leaves pock-marked with many a fallen rock from the sky. T’is our purpose in His guise to move these rocks about the plains, and to spread His gospel of Chaos to any who pass through. And so, because the number ‘π’ is divisible by five according to the Law of Fives, we shall call ourselves ‘Pi’.

The room hung in silence, save for the continuing commotion above in Maud’s room as she continued her de-stoning activities.

“Well, those fellas sound like they were a buncha lunatics!” mused Applejack, a pale eyebrow creasing down over one eye as the other brow arched up.

“There is a sort of demented logic to them,” Twilight remarked, trailing the edge of a cloven hoof into one of the dry pages and gingerly twisting it open, “but all in all, it seems as though everything that they were set about to do by Discord was simply to provide him entertainment.”

“It surely must be,” Rarity commented. “I mean them no ill will whatsoever, but may the Maker explain why they believe a cow of all things is sacred.”

“Ohh sorry, it must’ve sounded quite silly to say that, didn’t it?” Twilight said, turning back to the page that held that passage. “Because, it’s really now a ‘Cow’; it’s spelled C-H-A-O, but there’s a notation at the bottom of the page indicating that the ‘H’ is silent, for the purposes of… well, it says ‘education’, but I get the feeling that ‘indoctrination’ was nearer the mark.”

She looked about at the herd of ponies in the sitting-room.

“I know it’s selfish of me to say this,” the lavender ex-Unicorn said softly, “but I need to catch up on my rest. Once I’ve gotten my energy back, I’ll tell anypony who’s interested more about what I’ve uncovered about this Cult of Pi.”

Laying her head down upon the hoofrest of the fainting couch and rest overtaking her, Twilight barely registered the sounds of ponies shuffling out of the room… but not the scratch of Spike’s claws against the wooden floor.

Rarity found herself stepping out from the homestead, standing under the gray overcast sky. A wind from the west had carried wild Everfree clouds out over Holderton and the surrounding fields, casting a dreary pall about the area.

This did little, though, to mask the dark and hazy silhouette looming up above the North Equinus mountain range, which would surely cast a shadow of night upon this place as the sun passed midday.

Rarity sighed, bringing a hoof to the base of her forelock. How dearly she’d missed her alicorn, the ability that she had to detect gemstones by aligning the matrixes within it just right. It was a talent she had developed shortly before acquiring her cutie mark, to find the gemstones she would need for her dresses. It was then, really, that she had begun to discover her talent for creating truly gorgeous dresses and dress-saddles for anypony who called for it. Though, if Rarity could be frank with herself, it was a curious matter that Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom could have been the catalyst for the six of them all earning their cutie marks within hours of one another.

The alabaster Earth Pony looked down at her cutie mark, the three powder-blue diamond shapes, and wondered what good her talent would be in the grand scheme of thwarting that ruffian Discord.

I mean, she thought, it’s not as though being able to manufacture dresses will be able to help him see the error of his ways. Maker knows, he hardly seems to have any redeemable qualities whatsoever…

Looking back further, Rarity thought back to mere months before she had found that giant ‘dumb rock’ which was subsequently smashed by what was apparently the first Sonic Rainboom in grossenturies. Back to when she was a very different foal. Back when she was a…

A glint in the corner of her eye.

Rarity turned to look down into the quarry. Was it the fragments of the olden Holder’s Boulder…?

No. It was…

She blinked.

Was that… her cutie mark on the wall?

Overcome with curiosity, Rarity treaded cautiously down the rugged slope into the excavated earth, passing around the cloven halves of the giant geode of pinkamena and trotting towards the enigmatic sight. How could a set of three diamonds cut exactly to the shape of her cutie mark possibly be floating seemingly of their own power, glowing of their own light…?

Taking a step towards them, Rarity was taken aback when the gems floated off as one into the nearby wall, revealing the far greater shine of an even greater collection of diamonds.

Rarity’s world dissolved into a tunnel around her, focused entirely upon that which was HERS. She brought her hooves up and began to dig.

It felt as though she had been asleep for weeks, even months. Twilight’s eyelids were heavy and slid back slowly, almost defiantly. As the waking world came into focus around her, the lavender mare made out a pair of voices that she’d heard before; it was a stallion and a mare who ran a certain radio-show and spoke of some particularly astonishing and exasperating headlines. Pinkie’s candy-radio was apparently playing again, with the occasional little snicker from Limestone and… Marble?

Twilight shook her head inside; there were some things about ponies that still surprised her.

“Heeheehee, that story was a real doozy, wasn’t it, Marble~?” Pinkie’s voice asked.

“Mhm,” replied Marble’s small voice.

Sitting up from Rarity’s fainting couch, Twilight spotted that Pinkie and her sisters − excluding Maud − seated at the family couch in the corner, the rosy mare’s candy-radio perched atop a coaster on the oak table. Spike was also seated at the couch, atop one of the hoofrests and facing away from Twilight.

“Man, that was really messed up, that story…!” said the mulberry drake, claws resting on his knees. He looked as happy as he had ever been since arriving at Holderton.

“I know, right?” grinned Limestone, her mismatched eyes flashing. “These dung-brains just do the same stupid things every week. They just make Headline Hunter’s job way too easy…”


Marble looked past Spike towards the couch Twilight rested on, and the lavender mare smiled sheepishly at Pinkie’s twin. Spike turned in the direction that Marble was facing, and did a double-take at the sight of his caretaker.

“M-Mom! You’re…?” Spike coughed to interrupt himself, and his first happy, then shocked, air was quickly substituted with one of sharp irritation.

“Hmph. Of course you had to wake up, Twilight.”

Twilight found herself scowling.

“Spike, you don’t have to play coy with me. I’m not stupid; I know that you were happy listening to this show… that you are far too young to be listening to, might I add.”

“Oh come on, Twilight, it’s not like I’m the only kid that listens to it. There was that one filly barely older than me who sent in a card to them that―”

“That got mentioned on the air, I got it. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to listen to such vulgarity and idiotic tales of the dumbest of ponykind. I didn’t raise you that way!”

“Ohh, I suppose you didn’t; you raised me to crush all my dreams of a future with the mare I love!”

“You don’t love Rarity like that, Spike; you just think you do!”

“What do you know about being in love?”


Twilight faltered. What did she know about being in love? She did not want to lose face in front of Spike, not when such an argument could give her drake the wrong impression about what constituted “winning” an argument. And though she thought of herself as not being capable of feeling such affection for somepony, a very particular face began to float to the surface of her mind…!

“Twilight, yer awake?” asked Applejack as she came through the open door.

Twilight found herself flushing. That was certainly unexpected for the palomino Pegasus to trot in like that, just when she was thinking about…

She stopped herself. Did she think of Applejack that way…?

She shook her head vigorously. She couldn’t think about this now; there were more important things at the moment…!

Applejack cocked an eyebrow with a wry twist to corner of her mouth, “Really, Twi, ya can’ fool me, Ah cin tell thatcher risin’ an’ shinin’.”

“Oh AJ, I was just… nevermind. I was just having a word with Spike about…”

Rather than finishing, Twilight shot a cross look at Pinkie Pie, who had already switched off her candy-radio with a nervous smile.

“She was giving Spike grief for listening to us listening to What In Celestia’s Name Is Wrong With You?!,” Limestone explained lowly.

“But, more importantly,” Twilight interjected, facing Spike with a raised voice, “I was going to address the fact that he was enjoying himself while doing so.”

“Ohh, so now I’m not allowed to enjoy the radio anymore? What good is it being your son, anyway?” Spike snapped, his voice cracking and his eyes shimmering at the corners.

“That was not what I meant, and you know it, Spike! You’re smarter than that!” Twilight continued emphatically, ears flattening. “I mean that you’re only forcing yourself to be miserable whenever I’m around, to punish me for telling you that Rarity isn’t interested in you like that!”

“Why, though, Twilight?” Spike pleaded, claws curled up and mouth wavering as the tears he held back began to stream freely. “Why doesn’t Rarity like me like I like her? Is it my claws? Is it my breath? Is it―?”

“Spike, listen to me,” Twilight said with powerful tone, taking the mulberry drake up in her forelegs, fighting her own tears. “Listen, mein geliebter Drache. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re perfect, just the way you are. The thing is, Spike, that you’re just not Rarity’s type. You’re young, too young for a mare like Rarity, and you have all the time in the world to find your special soul-mate. I know it sounds like something you’d read in a book―” (“Which you probably did, to be honest,” Spike quipped.) “―but it’s still true. And who knows, you might not even grow up to want to be with anyone when you grow up. It’s your choice, my big boy, but I don’t want you to hurt yourself by chasing after an impossibility.”

Spike put his claws up on Twilight’s forearms, his slitted pupils dilating until they were almost perfectly round, his nictitating membrane blinking back his tears while maintaining eye-contact with Twilight. For a moment that lasted forever, it seemed like the grief that had come between them was to be dissolved, nothing but a distant memory…


Lavender ears flattened against Twilight’s skull, as she swiveled her head over to the sitting-room doorway to spy a very very dirty Earth Pony, her mane no longer coolly swept nor her hooves cleanly filed. In addition to the manic expression on her face, offset by the fact that she was missing her false eyelashes from her right eye, she carried herself in the awkward position of walking solely on her hind legs, her forelegs cradling a large collection of…

“Uhhh, Rarity, those are just a bunch of rocks.”

You don’t know anything about my babies here!” she screeched at the mulberry dragon-cub, stomping her forehooves down on the floor with a resounding crack from the wood… and the clatter of several stones as they inevitably slipped from her grip and spilled all over. Her eyes stared down with disbelief at the fallen rocks, before she glowered down at Spike as though he were villainy from the very deepest Tartarean circle.

Now look what you made me do, you ugly little lizard!” she snapped, her eyes popping out so quickly that the false eyelashes on her left eye drooped down onto her cheek and muzzle, making her look even more deranged. She adjusted her posture so that she stood over the rocks, perpendicular to the door frame. “You made me do that on purpose so you could get your greedy little claws all over my diamonds!”

Spike spread his claws out in prostration, “But I wasn’t trying to get my claws on your… diamonds?”

Immediately Twilight could see what had given Spike pause. While most of Rarity had become matted and ridden with earth and shards of rock, there was one spot that shone far brighter than ever before. Her cutie mark seemed to be sparklingly luminous… except, on close inspection, they seemed to be actual diamonds, embedded in place of the facsimiles which had previously graced her flanks. They looked cold and alien on Rarity’s body, but Spike seemed to be thoroughly hypnotized by the sight of them, his pupils narrowing to thinner slits than they ever had before…

“Spike…?” Twilight ventured.

“Li’l guy…?” asked Applejack.

Spike want!” the mulberry drake snarled as he lunged at Rarity’s gem-speckled hindquarters, which swiveled out of the way as the alabaster Earth Pony practically pirouetted on her forelegs and rose to a fierce rearing posture.

“You will NOT touch anything that belongs to me, ruffian!”

Twilight instinctively tried to reach out with her dwimmer shimmer and keep Spike from ripping out the diamonds from Rarity’s flank, and Rarity from busting Spike’s skull in, but recalled with dismay that she was still an Earth Pony. In an instant, she leapt up from the fainting-couch Rarity had bequeathed her, preparing to spring between them…


A great slate-gray shape barged in through the doorway, throwing Rarity clean over Twilight’s head and onto the couch she’d just vacated. Spike’s claws sunk into the fur along one of its forelegs. The faded eyes of Maud Pie stared down at the piles of rocks that had fallen from Rarity’s grasp, lines darkening as she scowled more and more deeply.

“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT?!” she bellowed. “I! HATE! ROCKS!” She stomped a hoof to punctuate each word, sending spidering cracks along the floor.

“Those are not rocks!” growled Rarity, losing her feminine edge to her voice entirely and sounding entirely too raspy. “Those are my diamonds, you big brute!”

Maud seemed to fill the entire room as she glowered down at the miniscule mare, and the fashionista found herself wilting slightly.

“Or, uhh, just… call them whatever you want, as long as you don’t touch them.

“I call them garbage, and I WANT THEM OUTTA HERE!

“Maud, please stop shouting at Rarity…!” Pinkie cried, flapping up to Maud’s face with her hooves out pleadingly. “She’s just all gray because Dizzy’s a big meanie-pants and made her all cranky and want to hold onto everything for herself―!”

“Oh shut your mouth, Pinkamena!” Maud interrupted, baring her teeth. “You’re so annoying…!” She raised her hoof to swat Pinkie out of the air.

“Hey, you leave ‘er alone!” shouted Applejack, green eyes narrowed up at the towering Earth Pony. “She ain’t tryin’ ta cause ya any grief, ya hear?”

“Don’t yell at my little sister!” Limestone suddenly bellowed, her eyes boring into Applejack’s. “She’s not in her right mindset!”

“Well, she’s yellin’ at one a’ mah friends! An’ at yer own sister ta boot!”

“Pinkie’s just got wings; Maud’s been affected in the mind! Pinkie can take it!”

At a glance, Twilight really doubted this; Pinkie was literally going blue as her mane and tail slowly uncurled, her legs sagging lower and lower beneath her…

“Would everypony please… stop… SHOUTING!

A lean Unicorn had strode into the room, her extra horns growing longer with each step that she took, lines of anger growing deeper and deeper along her features. The look in her eyes was that of a ferocious tarrasque having sighted the object of its proactive ire. Even Spike in his state of seeming hypnosis by Rarity’s bona-fide diamonds locked his eyes onto the approaching mare. For several moments as the other Fluttershy took in and let out deep breaths, the atmosphere was so thick that nopony could move…

But then Fluttershy’s pupils dilated, her demeanor slackening as she seemingly lost half her size and shrunk back into herself. Despite her fearful expression, her horns still very starkly flanked her features.

“I… I really didn’t mean to… It’s getting harder to… keep her back…!”

“Who do you think you are, yelling at me?” snarled Maud, looming large over the yellow ex-Pegasus. “Was it Pinkie that put you up to it?!”

“No no no no no no no no NO!” bellowed Pinkie, rushing from blue to red so quickly that she almost seemed to glow crimson. Her wings fluttered madly like a hummingbird’s. “Everypony’s all wrong! Rarity’s not supposed to be all greedy and insensitive, and Dashie’s not supposed to be lying about everything, and Maud’s not supposed to be a meanie who hates rocks! Why doesn’t everypony just all go back to normal?!”

Twilight opened her mouth in preparation of a comment to Pinkie that simply wishing for something had no way of making it be… but when she saw the glow that started around Pinkie’s right shoulder and crept up her foreleg and then leapt from one hoof to the other, culminating in a bright light that blinded most everypony in the sitting room, those words were lost in the back of her mind, to rot until her dying days.

“What… what in the name of the Maker and the Firmament above was THAT, Pinkie Pie???” Twilight shouted, blinking the spots out of her eyes.

Pinkie sunk to the ground, shrugging her forelegs nervously. “I… really don’t know, Twilight. It just… was something inside me.”

“That was…” Rainbow Dash stuttered, her jaw agape, “that was the most incredible thing you’ve ever done, Pinkie Pie, and I’ve seen you do some strange things!”

Pinkie giggled lightly, “Why, thank you, Dashie! How truly honest of you to say that~!”

Wait a second.

“Did… Rainbow Dash just… tell the truth?”

“Pfffft,” Rainbow Dash scoffed. “What do you think I am? Some kinda basket-case? I just tell it like I see it.”

The brash mare started to rub her forehead.

“But, I do kinda feel like I’ve been a bit… off lately…”

She sat down on her haunches, wrapping her forelegs with her primaries.

“I feel like I was in this bad spot where all of us were fighting and shouting at each other and… wait a second, my wings are back?

Twilight blinked, gawking at the prismatic primaries that had vanished from her sight not even two days ago. Not even daring to allow herself to hope, Twilight nonetheless found herself overcome with curiosity, crossing her eyes and peering up just ahead of her forelock. A familiar lavender point came into view.

Hoping against hope that her eyes were not deceiving her, she sent a signal from the point in her brain where her alicorn typically met her skull, and sure enough the matrices began to align to indicate that…

“How… how is this even possible?” Twilight breathed.

“Awwww, I don’t have the flappy wings anymore…” Pinkie said sadly, staring down at the floor in front of her hooves.


Rarity’s color was difficult to discern due to her ordinarily alabaster coat and the dirt that presently coated her mane and her tail’s skirt, but she was evidently still a duller shade than she was before. Spike’s eyes were almost completely pistachio-green, his pupils almost pen-stroke-thin. The mulberry dragon cub had managed to hoist himself up on the alabaster mare’s back, sitting backwards while attempting to grasp the diamonds that took the place of her cutie mark. Rarity, for her part, attempted to buck Spike off, snorting wildly from out her nostrils and making distinctly unladylike whinnies.

“How come we’re all back to normal,” Applejack asked, gesturing towards the once-more sedate and stoic Maud Pie, to the wild and rowdy Rarity surrounded by great quantities of rocks, “an’ Rarity an’ Spike ain’t?”

“I’m sorry, AJ, but I couldn’t turn back everything that Dizzy did to everypony,” answered Pinkie with a sad shrug.


Something inside Twilight that she swore she would not let snap again, snapped.

“That’s it, Pinkie Pie!” she shouted, rounding on the rosy Earth Pony… if that’s even what she was. “I’ve had too many questions for too long about you, and I love you dearly, but I can’t keep it back anymore! You keep doing things that no pony should be able to do; you could use magic as a Unicorn when Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash couldn’t; you could fly so easily as a Pegasus when me, Rarity, and Applejack had so much trouble; and just now you… you―”

A gray blur flashed in to fill Twilight’s vision, resolving into Maud Pie in an instant. Her face was as empty of emotion as it ever was, but Twilight felt a formidable force radiating out from the large Earth Pony mare as palpably as if it were a bonfire.

“I would like you to stop shouting at my sister, please.”

“Yay~, I’m so glad that you’re back to yourself, Maud~” squealed Pinkie, evidently throwing her forelegs around one of Maud’s hind legs. The rest of the Pie family gazed warmly at the two middle daughters, apparently glad for the return of Maud’s sense.

Twilight’s ears folded back at the intensity of Maud’s eyes.

“I… you have to understand, Maud, that I’m not trying to attack your sister in any way. I’m just as concerned for her as you are, and everything that she’s done, everything I’ve seen her do… this makes it a matter of even greater importance than ever to comb these books of the Pi cult that formerly called this territory home! Not just to find a weakness in Discord in case we can’t acquire the Elements of Harmony, but also to find out what he’s put in the bloodline of the Pies to make Pinkie do what she does! We’re going to have to look deep, and far back, to get to the truth!”

“How are we going to do that, Twilight?” asked Fluttershy, pawing nervously at the ground.

“Well, now that I have my horn back,” Twilight grinned up at her horn, “it should be a simple matter. I’ll use Hayscartes’s method.”



Chapter ρ%_TT: Reading Between The Lines

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“Miss Twilight Sparkle,” asked Igneous Rock Pie, “perhaps thou could elucidate for us, what is this ‘method of haycarts’?”

“It’s ‘Hayscartes’s Method’, Mr. Pie,” Twilight began with an instinctive correction, “and what it is, is basically a ‘read-between-the-lines’ spell which allows the caster to quickly discern the meaning behind a piece of text by transferring their consciousness into the document itself, to become privy to the subtext.” Her eyes twinkled at the thought. “Imagine… becoming one with a book… I wish I’d learned this spell sooner!”

“So, wait,” interjected Rainbow Dash, raising a hoof and an eyebrow. “If you knew a spell like that, why didn’t you use it on the letters that the Queen sent you in our first adventure?”

“Queen Celestia is a very wise mare; she has been adamant about casting magical barriers on most everything that she pens, to avoid having her thoughts while she was writing them becoming endangered.”

“So, you’re saying that the Queen doesn’t trust you, then?” Limestone said inquisitively.

“What?” Twilight double-taked. “No, Her Majesty trusts me; I’m her most faithful student! I wouldn’t let her down! She just has… a lot on her mind. She’s reigned over Equestria for meggrossia, and she holds far too many thoughts of regret and misery that weigh too heavy on her mind. If somepony were to use Hayscartes’s Method to peruse her writings… that weight would surely crush their mind.”

“Hmm…” said Marble softly, glancing down at the pile of pentagon-shaped books labeled with an assortment of odd markings.

“Something on your mind, little sis?” Pinkie asked in a soft tone.

“Mhm,” Marble nodded slowly, before kneeling down to her twin and whispering indistinctly into Pinkie’s ear. The pink Earth Pony looked up at her younger sister, meeting grayish-violet eyes with her light-cerulean eyes. After a moment, the smaller sister nodded quickly, offering a soft beaming smile.

“What pray tell was on thy mind, Marble?” asked Cloudy Quartz.

“Mmm,” Marble shook her head slowly, hiding her face behind her mane in a distinctly Fluttershyish manner.

Twilight looked at the Pie twins curiously.

“What was on her mind, Pinkie, may I ask?”

“Ohh, uhh… Marble just wanted to know if you, uhh, used your haycarty method to look into fiction books…?”

That was quite plainly a lie; No wonder Pinkie doesn’t bear the Element of Honesty, Twilight thought wryly as she examined the slightly nervous tweak at the edges of Pinkie’s smile and the sporadic saccades of her eyes flitting all about Twilight’s own face. It was quite plain that there was something that the youngest Pies did not want to share with present company.

But Twilight shrewdly decided to not press the matter, and instead to humor Marble and Pinkie.

“Well, you see,” she explained, “books which are copied from the original ungulascript or cornuscript of an author tend to carry the original thoughts which were passing through an author’s mind as they were writing it. And usually when an author is writing a story, their mind dwells on events later on in the narrative, or on ideas which they’d only considered but later scrapped. Additionally, they could be dwelling on personal inspirations for characters, events, or places, and not everypony would want to share that. As such, there’s a bit of a gentlemare’s agreement among those who know this particular method of Hayscartes to not dare touch fiction books with this spell; no need to spoil the story for oneself.”

(“Hmm…” Marble nodded, seemingly satisfied.)

“And also,” Twilight continued, “since the methods of Hayscartes are very old forms of magic, there are a great many safeguard spells that one could cast on a printed document to prevent somepony from sticking their nose in figuratively where it doesn’t belong. But these books far outdate Hayscartes, so I could very well look into what the cultists of Pi thought as they wrote them. My only concern is…”

A pregnant pause followed, swallowing the eleven ponies and dragon cub up in its heavy silence, broken only by the bestial hissing and spitting noises that Spike made every time he glanced at the diamonds on Rarity’s flank, glinting as only bona-fide diamonds could.

Spike, Twilight thought resolutely, her mind on the invisible barrier she had conjured up between her ward and the alabaster Unicorn to keep him off of her and to keep her voice down, what has Discord done to you? I swear, I’ll find the answer, mein Sohn

“Yer… only concern, Twilight?” Applejack’s voice interjected, and Twilight’s ears perked back up at the sound.

The lavender Unicorn flushed embarrassedly.

“Ohh, right. My only concern about using this method of Hayscartes is… it gives you a glimpse into the mindset of the pony who wrote the piece. What was on their mind, what their thought process was, the intensity of their feelings…” A chill passed over her body. “I can only imagine the madness that was passing through the minds of ponies who worshipped Discord, for generation after generation.”

Rainbow Dash’s wings quivered.

“You really think that they’re that bad?”

“I don’t know. I mean, nopony is perfectly mentally stable. There is always a degree of instability in anypony’s mind. And even though it’s clear that their descendants are at the very least functional―”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?!” interjected Limestone, pulling down the lower eyelid of her green eye as she glowered at Twilight.

The lavender Unicorn faltered, “I − you have to understand − I wasn’t insulting you or your family, Miss Limestone. It’s what I just said, that nopony is completely devoid of some strain of chaos or dissonance in their minds. Even my friend Fluttershy…” Twilight glanced at the yellow Pegasus, lilac horns sprouting near her ears flat against her head and a foreleg crossed across the other. “Even Fluttershy…”

“What dost thou mean about a ‘strain of chaos’ in the mind, Miss Sparkle?” asked Cloudy Quartz, staring at Twilight over her half-moon glasses.

“Ever since the Age of Discord,” Twilight explained, “all of ponykind has been struck with a long-lasting psychological trauma. Queen Celestia told me, that most everypony before that era were far more stable than ponies after. And though the world before the establishment of the Diarchy of Equestria was no less dangerous, ponies since the Age of Discord up to the modern day startle far more easily despite our evolving past the ‘every pony for themself’ mentality of the herd. Taraxippoi frighten foals far easier than before; bunyips alarm seafaring ponies with greater frequency; and even our longtime allies the Griffons have become…”

Twilight shook her head vigorously.

“I’m losing my focus. We need to look through these books on the Cult of Pi, and since they are far older than Hayscartes’s method of reading subtext, I should be able to dive into each book, one after the other, learn what wasn’t immediately obvious at a glance. What I have read… leaves a lot of lingering questions.”

“What questions?” asked Fluttershy.

Twilight’s evenly-cut forelock shadowed her eyes.

“I won’t say. Not until I have answers. I will request one thing, though, before I commence.”

“Oooh, what is it, Twilight?” asked Pinkie curiously, tilting her head like an inquisitive pup.

“Make sure nopony disturbs my body.”

Pentagonal books in varying states of weathering sat at the foot of Twilight’s bed. Candles flickered with a magical white flame, doubtlessly cast by a spell of its temporary inhabitant. The cozy space was fine for three or four ponies of the size of much of the Pie family, but for the entirety of the Pie family and almost half a dozen more mares, it became rather close and cramped.

“This book seems to be in the best condition,” said Twilight, looking down at a book at the top of the pile, her dwimmer shimmer placing the book in its own spot separate from the remaining books. “Though, that could easily mean that this was penned by cultists generations after the defeat of Discord, perhaps only a few generations removed from the establishment of this as a rock farm.”

“How do you make that leap from chaos to rocks?” Rainbow Dash asked, arching an eyebrow.

“That’s what I’m going to try to find out,” Twilight answered, before setting her mind down on the strangely-shaped book laid out on her bedsheets. Her tongue curled onto her upper lip, her horn beginning to glow with her pink dwimmer shimmer.

“Pardon, Miss Sparkle,” asked Cloudy Quartz, “but what shall this appear as to us?”

Twilight glanced at the elder mare, making eye contact above the half-moon glasses.

“You’ll see.”

The matrices aligning in her alicorn, Twilight closed her eyes and let the mindset needed for this spell of Hayscartes’s to work enter her.

Dualismus… Körper und Geist… Ich bin nicht mein Körper… Ich bin mein Geist… Und mein Geist wird verlassen…

Twilight Sparkle only knew the theory of this method of this method of perusing written materials, never having been exposed to documents that she could practice it on. So the sensation of her body falling away from her onto the mattress as her awareness drifted into the book that she cast her mind towards, it was a new experience for her.

To those on the outside, however, it merely looked as though a flash of Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer passed from her horn to the book. As soon as the light faded into the pages, Twilight passed out atop the bed, her forelegs falling to either side of the open book.

“Holy tarnation…!” Applejack gasped, rushing to Twilight’s side and placing a hoof on her back. “Twilight, are you…?”

Fluttershy gulped, “Is… is she…?”

The palomino rested her hoof on the lavender Unicorn’s barrel for several seconds, before letting out a soft sigh.

“She’s still breathin’,” she said to the room. “Mighty slowly, though. An’ Ah don’t reckon she’d respond to anything that we do.”

“So, is this that spell she was going on about?” asked Rainbow Dash, peering at the book in front of Twilight. “That spell that lets her go on a fantastic voyage inside a book?” She scoffed. “I know it’s useful and all, but still, what an egghead.”

Pinkie hopped up onto the bed, the pillow flying off and onto the floor. She picked up the book in her forehooves and rifled through the pages with her forelock.

“Oooh, so is Twilight in here somewhere?” she asked loudly. “Am I gonna see a tiny little doodle of Twilight walking around from page to page~?”

“Pinkie Pie, leave that crusty old book alone!” snapped Limestone, stamping a hoof and giving the evil-eye with her green one at her little sister.

“Awww, okay, Limey,” she said woefully, putting the book back down and slinking back to the group… albeit with her head still peering down at the book even as her body traveled much further than it should have allowed, her neck stretching thin like taffy to compensate to allow her eyes to practically glue themselves to the cover.

“Pinkamena,” Igneous Rock said sharply by way of a reprimand.

With a resigned murmur, Pinkie’s head snapped back to her torso, her neck rapidly coiling back to its proper proportions and then some, Pinkie’s head seemingly sinking into her torso for several moments before popping back out with a comical pop! sound.

“So,” Applejack mused with a glance at Twilight’s prone form, “Ah wonder what in Equestria she’s lookin’ into…”

…allowing the thaumaturgical currents to more effectively…

…the greatness of the unyielding…

…for the wonder of the metamorphic…

“What…?” Twilight wondered, looking about. “Is this what it looks like, inside a book…?”

For Twilight’s part, this was really rather not what she thought the inside of a book was going to be through Hayscartes’s method. There were no walls, nor floor or a ceiling, but there were… boundaries, of a sort. And all about her were… objects whose shape and sound she could not perceive.

Even for all of her self-education, there were no words that Twilight Sparkle could call forth to describe the majesty of the scene around her. The experience of this method of Hayscartes was so often spoken of in terms of being experienced rather than described, and Twilight could easily see why. Seeing without eyes, hearing without ears, feeling without flesh, she perceived the very thoughts, colorless and yet distinct, that went into what was written by ages-gone ponies.

It… was very scattered.

This was… not unexpected.

…giving way to that which covers the world…

…holding true to our heritage…

…to be steady, and filled with determination…

The cultish mindset of the members of Pi, that was quite evident in how the pen of the author jumped from thought to thought, from wordless sentence to wordless sentence, evidently preoccupied with the fall of Discord and avenging such apparent blasphemy…!

…moving the stones from field to field, allowing the thaumaturgical currents to more effectively imbue them with enrichment to their minerals…

…holding true to our heritage as rock-farmers, the greatness of the unyielding stone which stands guard over our plantation…

…to be steady, and filled with determination, for the wonder of the metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary…

Twilight hesitated. “Wait, what?” she thought.

Expanding her mind, Twilight brought the thoughts on the page (layer [world {dimension}]) around her into greater organization, and…

“I need to investigate this further,” she thought to herself.

She plunged (flew [galloped {swam}]) through the depths of the page (layer [world {dimension}]), reaching its edge and passing on to the next. She read (perceived [heard {felt}]) every thought that she passed, carefully cataloguing each strand of data she could find and piecing it together with thoughts that she collected beforehoof.

Though the answer was clear after only a few pages (layers [worlds {dimensions}]), Twilight made sure to thoroughly pass through (scour [penetrate {envelop}]) every page in the book. Time passed without meaning, because without a body to grow weary, Twilight Sparkle’s mind remained as sharp and keen as it had ever been.

Finally, Twilight reached the end of the book, the final page (layer [world {dimension}]) apparent to her by being unable to dive deeper into the subtext.

And with a full reckoning of what exactly was going through the minds of the ponies who had drafted this book…

Twilight gave herself a metaphysical face-hoof.

“I’ve brought them along with me,” Maud said flatly, carrying the invisible fields containing Spike and Rarity into the bedroom, ignoring the bestial hisses of Spike and the fierce catcalls of Rarity, setting them in the corner of the room near Twilight’s saddle-bags.

“Are you sure this was a good idea to bring them up here, Pinkie?” asked Rainbow Dash.

The pink pony shrugged with a smile, “The more the merrier, am I right? And maybe that mean old Dizzy’s tricks will wear off on them and we can all listen to Twilight telling us all about what those weirdo cult-of-pie ponies were like…!”

“The book is glowing,” Maud interjected, pointing a worn hoof to the book between Twilight’s forehooves. A pinkish light emanated from the spaces between its pages, giving the impression of the book being printed from light.

Pinkie practically vibrated on the spot, a faint yellowish glow surrounding her.

“Oh boy oh boy oh boy~” she squealed rapidly. “Everypony is here to listen to Twilight teaching all of us all about the weird and wacky ways of my ancient and insane ancestors~~~~~! :D

“That worries me more than anything right now,” pondered Fluttershy, idly rubbing at one of her horns.

The glow from the book’s pages magnified in brightness, but somehow did not hurt the eyes of those gazing on it…

Twilight’s eyes fluttered back open, the glow fading away.

“Back already, sugarcube?” asked Applejack. “Ya can’t have been in there fer more than ten minutes.”

“Well, that experience was certainly… illuminating,” she murmured. “Time must pass more quickly when you’re literally in a book.”

“So what was it like being inside a book, Twilight?” Pinkie interjected, somehow standing upside-down on the underside of the bed’s canopy, pointing down at the cover of the book Twilight had just vacated. “Was it all dingy and musty in there, filled with old-book smell? Were there all kinds of weird words in there that ponies don’t say nowadays except when they want to sound smarter than they really are? Were you walking around all over the pages as a little ink doodle of yourself and I just couldn’t see you because you were on all the wrong pages when I was looking for you?”

“One question at a time, please, Pinkie,” grumbled Twilight, rubbing the spot just below her alicorn. “I’m still trying to acclimate to having limbs again. Migrating my mind and soul into that book… it was a great experience, to become one with a book, but… I didn’t learn very much. This book is too new.”

“What do you mean, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked.

“I mean,” Twilight answered, taking the book in her dwimmer shimmer and setting it on a bedside table, away from the other noteworthy books, “that this book was penned grossenturies after the former Cult of Pi lost its way from what they’d originally believed. It was entirely about the thaumaturgy of rocks and the auspicious arrangement of stones of all sorts. In other words, the cornerstone (no pun intended) of the practices of the Pie family we see here.”

“Hmm…” mumbled Marble, nodding slowly.

“This is so exciting to learn more about my family’s history,” Maud said in a monotone.

“But how do you get from Discord to rocks?” asked Rainbow Dash, cocking an eyebrow. “I dunno, it seems like a pretty big leap to make.”

“I have a thought on that,” Twilight answered, producing a particularly worn book from the pile at the foot of her bed, “which is why I’ll need to confirm it by diving into more books―”

“Wait a second!” Rainbow interjected, her cerise eyes wide. Spike’s attempts to reach Rarity’s diamond-speckled flank halted momentarily for him to look in the direction of the shout, his ear-fins twitching, before he returned to his hissing and clawing at the infuriating invisible barrier.

Twilight sighed, turning her attention to the cerulean Pegasus, “What is it, Rainbow Dash?”

“We got back my Element of Honesty, remember?” She pointed over her shoulder and out of the room. “Why don’t we just use that on these books to tell us what we wanna know?”

The atmosphere of the room thickened as the proposal was processed. Several seconds passed.

Twilight scratched her stubbly chin, “We’ve never used any of the Elements of Harmony independently before. I don’t even know if they can be used separate from one another. And without the Element of Magic as a centralizing force… But still, it could be worth trying. Rainbow Dash, go get your Element of Honesty, okay?”

In a matter of moments, Rainbow Dash stood over the pile of books with her golden-yellow Element, her friends and the Pie family standing behind her.

The cerulean Pegasus thrust out her chest.

“Okay, Element of Honesty!” she said confidently. “Work your magic!”

The citrine lightning-bolt flashed with golden light, and the books levitated upwards with their covers parting, pages fanning out with letters glowing inside…

“It’s working…!” Twilight gasped with a faint disbelief. “Rainbow Dash, you’re a genius!”

No sooner did the words leave her mouth, though, than the books’ glows died and the lot of them fell back to the floor with a series of thump!s.

Rainbow Dash sighed in defeat.

“Well, it was worth a shot.”

Twilight put a hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder, “It was a good idea, though, Rainbow. I couldn’t have thought of it. You must really value your honesty.”

The cerulean Pegasus smirked at the lavender Unicorn, “Well, when you got so many ponies out there who keep things from others, you gotta clear the air a bit with a good bit of upfront truth…-iness,” she finished with an awkward turn to her smile.

The statement left an effect on Twilight Sparkle, though she kept her face the same as before. A thought ran through her mind, It’s a shame that they should think of me as ein Einzelkind… but they can’t know about… him!

Twilight turned her eyes back to the most worn book of Pi of the pile.

“Looks like it’s back to the original plan,” she said, laying the book open on the bedsheets and aligning the matrices in her alicorn for the spell. In moments, she was once more prone on the bed.

Applejack stepped around the bed so that she could look at the lavender Unicorn’s face. There were lines of concern under Twilight’s eyes, and downward turns at the ends of her lips. Her nostrils took slow breaths in and out, seemingly unconscious and automatic with her lack of mind or soul. The dark fur around her muzzle seemed darker still with the dark-sapphire stubble showing through, her dark plump lips standing out starkly against the fur around them…

“Hey uhhh, Applejack, she’s kinda not in there right now.”

Rainbow Dash’s voice snapped Applejack back to her senses. The palomino was less than a hoof’s length from Twilight Sparkle’s face, her own lips still somewhat puckered as she had leaned in for a −

Applejack stood bolt upright from the bed, trying to shake the apple-red flush filling her face. Did she really just try to…?

“Awwwww, I wanted to see Jackie and Twilight making kissie faces, Dashie…!” whined Pinkie Pie, her coat taking on a slightly heliotrope hue.

“Yeah, and Twilight’s not in her body right now, Pinkie,” Rainbow retorted. “That means that Applejack was gonna―”

“Ah got it, Rainbow, Ah was gunna take advantage a’ Twilight’s lack a’ consent an’ all that,” Applejack snapped, pulling her Stetson down over her forelock and eyes, before striding to the back of the room beside Spike and Rarity. “Now if’n anypony needs me, Ah’m gunna be right here, wantin’ ta die.”

The palomino curled up in the corner, her hat hiding her face.

“There, there, Applejack,” Fluttershy said softly, reaching out a dainty little hoof as she approached the apple farmer. “I’m sure that you didn’t mean any harm…”

A sudden weight dropped onto the yellow Pegasus’s back, and the jittery, seemingly perpetually sugar-induced vibrations told her that it could only be one pony.

“Awwwwwwwww you’re such a sweetheart, Fluttershy~! Is it any wonder that I love you just as much as I love Dashie~~❤?”

“You love everypony, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said with a scowl.

Pinkie bounced down to Rainbow and gave her a peck on the cheek.

“I do, Rainbow Dash, and that’s because love puts a big smile on your face!” Pinkie reared up and stretched her mouth open with her forehooves, revealing a mouth full of large shiny white teeth, each one seemingly larger than they should have been, each row filled with more teeth than should have been in the mouth of a pony…

“Mhm,” smiled Marble, nuzzling against the side of her twin sister’s head.

Rainbow Dash rubbed the spot where Pinkie had kissed her, slightly pink herself.

“Is it just me,” she asked, “or does Pinkie seem a little more… Pinkie than ever?”

“True indeed,” said Cloudy Quartz. “Even the day she acquired her cutie mark, she has behaved with more restraint that I or Igneous have seen for as long as we’ve had her.”

“‘Had her’?” echoed Rainbow Dash, facing the Pie matriarch, who matched her eye-contact curiously. After a moment, the cerulean Pegasus lowered her head slightly. “So, Twilight was right.”

“What do you mean?” Igneous Rock replied, raising his eyebrows and narrowing his eyes.

“Ummm… I kinda sorta maybe told Twilight that you guys adopted me…?” Pinkie said with a sheepish grin.

The five other Pies faced one another with curious expressions, almost fearful…?

The book glowed the color of Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer, and the lavender Unicorn in question rose back up.

“Well, that was certainly closer, but… Applejack? What’s wrong?”

The prone Earth Pony barely budged.

“Leave me alone, Twilight. Ah’m not feelin’ too good right now…”

Twilight paused; what exactly had happened while she had been diving into this second book? She turned to her other friends, towards the Pie family who looked rather tense and nervous, even Pinkie, a slightly flushed Rainbow Dash, and a concerned Fluttershy. Spike was still clawing at the edge of his invisible barrier towards a Rarity who was covering her ears and closing her eyes harshly. Her false eyelashes had fallen off from her left eye now, and her eyeshadow had been smudged off entirely. She looked almost unrecognizable as the mare of Carousel Couture now.

“Perhaps now would not be the best time to discuss thy friend Applejack’s angst,” said Igneous Rock. “Let her cool down. In the meantime, Mrs. Pie & I must confess that we have not been entirely honest.”

“Pinkamena Diane Pie is not our child by the water of my womb,” Cloudy Quartz confessed, a hoof on her chest.

“I figured as much,” Twilight said. “I overheard you bidding Pinkie farewell, on our way to the High Eyries.”

Pinkie’s mother and father met each other’s eyes, looking… afraid? After a few moments, though, this gave way to resolve, and they both nodded at the same time before facing Twilight Sparkle again.

“We found Pinkamena just outside of the farm the day that Marble was born,” Igneous Rock explained. “I was guiding young Maudstone around the rock farm, explaining to her the necessities of the various types of rock around our fields, while Limestone tended to her mother, heavy with the unborn Marble. As the sun set and Maudstone and I were about to return to the homestead, we heard a tremendous crash, as though the sky itself had rent asunder. It had come from the quarry just afore the homestead.

“When Maudstone and I arrived, we found Limestone standing at the edge of the quarry, looking down aghast. Our ancestral Holder’s Boulder had fallen into the quarry, cracking in two. Limestone had always adored it, looked up to it almost more than she did the Queen Herself.”

(“Pa…” grumbled Limestone, suddenly quite mousy as she tried to draw her mane across her face.)

“And, where Holder’s Boulder had fallen from…” Igneous Rock trailed off.

Cloudy Quartz took over, peering through the lenses of her glasses.

“That’s where Mr. Pie found her. A small pink thing, barely tottering along. She must have somehow let loose a great fount of earth magic that sent Holder’s Boulder tumbling.”

Igneous doffed his hat and held it to his chest, peering down to some spot below the floor, perhaps down to the very imperishable flame-ridden core of the planet.

“She must have wandered from a very far place, beyond the Descort Fields,” he continued, voice shaking. “She was nearly dead on her hooves. We simply had to take her in.”

“By the time Mr. Pie had come in, our dear Marble was already quite a ways along. As he brought the small pink filly in, a great twinkle of pink light emanated from the quarry just out the window. As it turned out, Holder’s Boulder was a great geode of pinkamena gemstone. Through the labor pains, I considered the light and the filly that Igneous Rock brought in.”

“And that’s how I got my name~~~!” Pinkie finished with a big bright gleaming smile.

Twilight rubbed her chin, staring out the same window that Cloudy Quartz ostensibly gazed out when she named her adopted daughter.

“That is how it happened, as we remember it,” added Maud, as though it needed any further refutation.

“I don’t doubt any of you; I mean, I’ve seen Earth Pony magic at its greatest, believe me, Maud,” Twilight smirked, recollecting Maud’s lava-bath, “but… there’s something that doesn’t quite add up.”

The Pies visibly tensed up.

Twilight asked, “One thing that came to me as I was diving into that book, was that the Cult of Pi held Holder’s Boulder in great esteem from the moment of the cult’s inception to the moment they lost their focus on worship of Discord. There was something about Holder’s Boulder that was important to Discord that warranted this level of scrutiny.”

Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz looked at one another.

“This matter is… something that Mrs. Pie & I are unknowledgeable of,” Igneous said after a long moment. “After all, this is our first time hearing such details about the cult from which our family is descended.”

“We knew only the base details, not the deeper intricacies,” added Cloudy Quartz.

We didn’t know a thing,” Limestone cut in, her nose wrinkled in irritation.

“It was not something you needed to know, Limestone Miriam Pie,” replied her mother crossly, gazing over her glasses. “When you became head of the Pie Family Rock Farm in name and in deed, you would have learned what we knew. But, I suppose now you’ll carry the knowledge with you of where we Pies came from.”

“But what about me and Maud and Marbly, Ma & Pa?” Pinkie asked.

“Maudstone seeks her rocktorate, to bring our farm’s knowledge of the magical properties of rocks out to broader Equestria,” Igneous Rock answered, “Marble will spread the culinary applications of rocks, and thou…”

He stepped forward, and put a hoof on his smallest daughter’s shoulder.

“Thou bearest the Element of Laughter, and helped return our second Queen to us. We had no idea what thou would do with thy life when we brought thou in, and though your mother and I hoped that the life of a rock-farmer would by thy choice, we could not be prouder parents to see that parties and spreading joy are truly the calling most suited to thee.”

Igneous Rock Pie’s stern expression had melted away to one of the warmest and gentlest smiles Twilight Sparkle had ever seen. As stoic as the Pie family seemed, almost comically contrasting against Pinkie’s endless exuberance, it was abundantly clear that all the joyous love Pinkie felt for most everypony was something she learned from the ponies who took her in. Wherever her bizarre abilities stemmed from, she had the emotional grounding to do good by her fellow pony.

“Umm, Twilight… are you… crying?”

Blinking at Fluttershy’s voice, Twilight felt something warm running down her muzzle, from her right eye, then her left. Flushing embarrassedly, the lavender Unicorn wiped them away on a foreleg.

“Sorry, I… just was overcome. I haven’t had a family in years.”

Cloudy Quartz’s eyes shined with sympathy.

“Thou poor dear… Had we known, we would have offered thee greater accommodations.”

“That’s not necessary, Mrs. Pie,” Twilight said, waving a hoof through the air. “My comfort isn’t important right now; what’s important is to go through these books and to piece together a rough timeline of the Cult of Pi.

“This second book I’ve dived into,” she took it in her dwimmer shimmer and put it atop the first one she set aside, “it seems to have held a general view of the belief of the Pi cultists, albeit from the latter end of the life-cycle of the cult. Most of the discussions of beliefs and tenets seem hazy and based off of writings that were outdated and badly faded even then. There was an awful lot of thoughts regarding ‘We will one day all turn into earth and rocks’, which I presume to be an allusion to Discord having been turned into a statue. There was also a great deal of ponderance on ‘faces as grey as the rocks around us’, which… seems to be a reference to something from an older version of the cult.”

Twilight picked up half of the remaining books to be perused in her dwimmer shimmer, appraising them both externally from how well-kept they were from the grossenturies, possibly even meggrossia, of neglect and lack of care, and from within using a basic detection spell. After a few moments, Twilight Sparkle settled down all but one, leaving the most worn book in her pink magical aura.

“This book here seems to carry the greatest level of thoughts on it,” she stated, “like many ponies over the years have pored over it and ruminated on its contents. That would keep those words and the subtext alive. This should shine a much brighter spotlight into the past of this homestead, and give us a greater understanding of what exactly we can expect of the Cult of Pi’s knowledge of Discord.”

“But, shouldn’t we really be looking for the Elements of Harmony, Twilight?” interjected Rainbow Dash. “I mean, they’re what we really need to put down Discord, aren’t they?”

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said sharply, snapping the book shut in an irritated fashion, “the more knowledge that we have about Discord, the more power that we have over him. He is a great black box, the greatest of them all, and knowledge of his reign is scant and contradictory. The more we can understand him, the more of a chance we can fight long enough to find the Elements.”

“Ah dunno, Twi,” Applejack cut in, rubbing behind her neck. “Ah kinda feel like Queen Celestia gave us some pretty clear instructions. The Elements a’ Harmony gotta come first, Ah think.”

“Well then, let’s hear it, everypony,” Twilight snapped, cocking an eyebrow about the room. “Does anypony have any bright ideas as to where we may find the other four Elements? Does anypony else have a brainstorm about Discord’s riddle to us?”

The band of Twilight’s friends and the Pie family glanced back and forth at one another in uncertainty.

“Well, it’s about time that little ruffian saw fit to leave be what is rightfully mine,” grumbled Rarity, cutting into the silence.

Spike seemed like he had finally expended all his energy to try and reach Rarity’s diamond-spotted flank and settled down to rest, his head on his hands and his nictitating membranes sliding over his eyes. The grungy Unicorn crossed her forelegs in front of her as though to shield her belly from him, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“Umm, Rarity…?” Fluttershy said cautiously.

“What is it now, Fluttershy?” Rarity growled. “I am very busy doing nothing, so if you don’t mind, I would be more than happy for you to not waste my time with inane discussion.”

“I believe that what Fluttershy was going to say,” snarled the voice of the other Fluttershy, the yellow Pegasus once more being seized up by a more aggressive body language, “was to ask if you and that silly little drake were gonna be nice to each other again, but I guess you’re just gonna bite everypony’s heads off!”

“You’re one to talk, you know!” snapped Limestone, stomping her hoof in the other Fluttershy’s direction.

The other Fluttershy whirled in the eldest Pie daughter’s direction.

“And what do you know? You just sit here on your pile of rocks and sneer at anypony who gives you a bad vibe! Even Fluttershy, and she’s such a sweet little… little…”

The assertive demeanor of the other Fluttershy melted away, her narrow pupils dilating and her posture becoming more timid. The yellow Pegasus backpedaled from Limestone in astonishment at how close she found herself to her.

“Oh my… I’m terribly sorry for whatever she said. I don’t… like it when she does this…”

“Are you kidding me?” Limestone was, to everypony’s surprise, actually grinning. “You were standing up for yourself! Or, I mean, a part of you was standing up for you. What in the name of granite could possibly be so bad about that?”

“Well, my Mom and Dad always told me that it was wrong for me to call too much attention to myself by coming to my own defense, or by contradicting them, or by being too loud…”

“And, what exactly were your parents’ standards for being too loud?”

Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was I being too loud?”

Limestone put a hoof to her forehead, growling, “Goodness garnet, you little…” She took a deep breath and met Fluttershy’s eyes. “Look. Just because they’re your parents means that what they have to say is right.”

“But, how do I know what is or isn’t right if not from Mom and Dad?” asked Fluttershy.

“You can just feel it in your heart~!” piped in Pinkie Pie, standing on her forehooves as she pressed her cheek to Fluttershy’s. (Somehow, despite the fact that she was far shorter than the yellow Pegasus…)

“Ah think we’re gettin’ a mite sidetracked, everypony,” Applejack said sharply. “We really oughta collect Twilight up an’ put our heads together ‘bout the Elements of Harmony agai―”

The reason for the palomino cutting herself off became immediately apparent. In hindsight, it should have been obvious when Twilight had not joined in the conversation for a good while. Applejack and Rainbow Dash both brought hooves to their respective foreheads, Fluttershy put a hoof to her chest, Rarity rested herself nonchalantly against the side of her invisible barrier and rested her head on a hoof, and Pinkie peered curiously down on the lavender Unicorn.

While everypony was distracted talking, Twilight Sparkle had dived into the book.

Suddenly, Pinkie Pie began to vibrate intensely. But it was not as though she was overcome with a severe case of the shivers. It was as though every bone in her body had disappeared at the same time as the giant claw of an invisible dragon was shaking her in place.

“What in the world is happenin’, Pinkie?” Applejack asked with wide eyes.

“Is Pinkie having some kinda seizure?” Rainbow Dash said worriedly.

“It’s her P-P-Pinkie S-Sense.”

The quiet, stuttering voice carried through the room with the gravity of a clap of thunder, if only because of the one who spoke it. All eyes in the room turned towards the meekest of the Pies, Marble. For it was her that spoke.

“It’s one of P-Pinkie’s most r-r-rare P-P-Pinkie S-Sensations,” Marble explained. ”When sh-she vibrates like th-this, it means that s-s-something b-b-big is c-c-coming.”

Marble flicked her head just enough to shift her forelock away from her covered eye.

“We c-call it her d-d-d-doozy.”



…the Hodge and the Podge…

…from Sweetmorn to Setting Orange…

If she still had eyelids (or even eyes) in this nonphysical state, Twilight Sparkle would have blinked in bemusement at the thoughts that she could read (perceive [hear {feel}]). With her personal perception of time sped up because of the lack of encumberment of a physical form, she tried to consider how each of these fit together.

“But how?” she wondered. “This is absolute insanity! None of these trains of thoughts seem to meld together at all! It’s even worse than Pinkie Pie…!”

She was struck by an epiphany, and it came to her in the form of four words flitting into her mind’s eye as though they had been conjured for the hearing-impaired: Think like Pinkie Pie.

”Alright then,” Twilight thought, feeling a swelling in her sense of purpose that was roughly equivalent to the act of taking in a long, deep breath. “Keep it together, Twilight Sparkle. Pinkie Pie’s mindset is not impossible to fathom. She just thinks so fast that her train of thought is already three subjects ahead of everypony else on the same idea. And relatedly, she’s also got a strong penchant for thinking outside the box and reaching unconventional solutions.

“So, let’s try to make sense of this.”

“The… ‘doozy’?” asked Fluttershy, her cyan eyes wide with fright. “What does that mean…?”

Marble seemed to realize that she had been speaking aloud, because her eyes locked down on her muzzle with the alarm that one saw on Fluttershy when she was caught singing in public, which didn’t seem to be too far a stretch given the similarities between the two mares. With a quick flick of her head, Marble’s forelock completely covered her face, muzzle and all.

“Uhhh, I don’t think we’re gonna get anything else out of this mare, Flutters,” commented Rainbow Dash.

“Still, Ah’m kinda surprised that it was yer little sister what spoke up about that, Pinkie,” Applejack remarked to Pinkie.

“Ma-a-a-arble ca-a-an be-e pr-e-e-e-etty-y-y cha-a-a-tt-y-y-y wh-e-e-en sh-e-e-e w-a-a-ants to-o-o b-e-e-e-e…!” Pinkie commented through wild shaking teeth.

“What dost thou supposeth this particular ‘doozy’ is going to be, Mrs. Pie?” Igneous Rock asked, concernedly gazing at his second-youngest daughter’s boneless vibrations.

“I cannot say, Mr. Pie,” replied Cloudy Quartz.

“But what exactly is a doozy?” Applejack pressed impatiently.

“Pinkie Sense’s ‘doozy’,” Maud began, “is when Pinkie Pie senses a major shift in dynamics either personally, locally, or globally. She was overcome with the doozy just before she returned to Ponyville for the Summer Sun Celebration, and she told us through a letter that the doozy jitters stopped just as she caught sight of a purple Unicorn flying into Ponyville in a chariot.”

Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash met each other’s eyes significantly. The arrival of Twilight Sparkle in their lives was most certainly a major change to all sorts of dynamics, and not just the dynamics of their friendships or of Ponyville. Her presence set in motion the decay of the animosity between Applejack and Rarity, the overpowering sense of Pinkie Pie’s enthusiastic personality to Fluttershy… the list could go on about her effects on each of them personally. And then there was the notion of the six of them being the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony who laid NightMare Moon low…!

A light groaning arose from the bed where Twilight Sparkle lay beside her Cult of Pi book of choosing.

“Ughhh, my head…” she murmured with a cloven hoof at the base of her horn.

“Well, it’s mighty fine a’ you to finally join us again, sugarcube,” grumbled Applejack, sap-green eyes narrowed at the lavender Unicorn.

Twilight blinked.

“I’m terribly sorry, Applejack, but I just couldn’t help myself. These books have gone unread for a very long time, and I had to know what the Cult of Pi knows about Discord!”

“With all due respect, Twilight, what could that possibly do fer us?”

“It could give us a clue as to how Discord’s mind works, so that we know how to work out his riddle!”

“Are you sure about that, Purple Smart?” Rainbow Dash cut in. “Or do you just really want to read some books?”

“I…” Twilight couldn’t respond. It would be foalish to deny that she really wanted to look into these books that had never been seen or read by scholars or bibliophiles. And while she was aware that there were a great many books out there that carried curses just from reading them, she knew that it was not the fault of the book itself but of the one who placed the curse to begin with. And though these books were not cursed, they did carry the thoughts of mad ponies who revered and worshipped a figure of great terror.

In the end, all Twilight could do was sigh.

“I can’t honestly deny that, Rainbow Dash, Applejack,” she answered, looking between her two friends. “But still, I have come to a greater understanding of what sort of ponies would revere Discord, and I have to say, it’s no small miracle that the Pie family is as mentally stable as they are.”

As she looked out across the Pie family, she quirked an eyebrow up at Pinkie Pie’s simultaneously violent and cartoonish trembling.

“Is… something wrong with Pinkie?” she asked, a trace of concern rising up in her heart and her voice.

“She’s sensing a doozy,” Limestone replied shortly.

“A what?”

“It’s part of her Pinkie Sense,” Fluttershy said.

“She sensed a doozy just before you came to Ponyville, apparently,” added Rainbow Dash.

Applejack paused, “If Ah had ta guess, it’s sumthin’ ta do with sumthin’ you’ll find in these books, Twilight. An’ Ah don’t know if it’s gonna be a good doozy or a bad doozy. Ah mean, you were a good doozy in our lives, one a’ the best that Ah could imagine.”

“We need to know what these books can tell us about Discord’s thought process from the ones who worshipped him,” Twilight pressed.

“Ah know, but… maybe we’re better off not knowin’ how they think. It could hurt us.” Green eyes met purple eyes. “It could hurt you.”

Twilight felt herself reaching out to the palomino mare. “Applejack…”

“Were thou not about to share what thou learned, Miss Twilight Sparkle?” asked Cloudy Quartz.

The lavender Unicorn blinked, finding that she and Applejack were nearly hoof-to-hoof. Blushing, Twilight averted her eyes from the palomino’s and cleared her throat.

“Well then, I… think I should share this while it’s still fresh on my mind.”

And so Twilight began to explain the nature of the Cult of Pi:

Putting together everything the best I can, the Cult of Pi seems to have been established here at the edge of the Descort Fields by a pony by the name of Holder Cobblestone, or at least the closest modern translation of such. Ostensibly not the same Holder Cobblestone as you in the Pie family revere so; from what I can piece together, it was not an uncommon name in the Cult as it gradually became more and more of a family. The founding of the Cult is listed as being ‘eighty-seven’ years after Discord descended from beyond the Firmament. The name of ‘Pi’ came from their belief in π being divisible by five, which they referred to as a letter.

This Cult completely rejected everything that came from the United Tribes of Equestria, even those that we take for granted. Even the way that we commonly tell time was rejected, as they made use of their own calendarial and counting systems. Their weeks consisted of only five days: Sweetmorn, Boomtime, Pungenday, Prickle-Prickle, and Setting Orange. They had only five months a year each called Chaos, Discord, Confusion, Bureaucracy, and The Aftermath. Evidently, each of these months were only ‘seventy-three’ days long. Whatever that means, I couldn’t tell, as whoever wrote this book wasn’t even thinking by our counting system as they penned it. Their counting of years began with the arrival of Discord in Equestria from the Far Beyond, listed as YOLD, for Year of Our Lord Discord.

The symbol chosen by the Cult of Pi was called the Sacred Cow. Not actually a cow, because it was spelled C-H-A-O. It resembled a tàijítú, or a yīn-yáng as some of you would think of it, except that the two halves were usually depicted as empty rather than as complementary colors, and the symbols in either half were a pentagon and a golden apple. The reason for the pentagon in the Sacred Chao was because of their bizarre belief that the number five was undeniably sacred and important. The proofs I encountered were either nonsensical or entirely tautological, like that two plus three equals five.

Of course, the Cult of Pi evidently held neighsayers in great disdain, referring to them as Greyfaces, for treating life so seriously that their faces became as grey as storm-clouds. Chief among these Greyfaces were the so-called Recalcitrants, lead by figures they only refer to as ‘the Feral’ and ‘the Deceitful’. Based off the way the author thinks of them, I can only assume that these are references to Queens Celestia and Selena before they became Equestria’s queens. There seems to be some degree of demonization regarding them, as the descriptions of the Queens are far too fanciful and obviously non-equine to reflect on them accurately.

The Cult did not fade with the defeat of Discord, but rather stepped up in intensity. They swore that the Recalcitrants, led by the usurping Queens, would pay for their blasphemy by being turned to stone themselves upon Discord’s de-petrification. By the sounds of it, they brought others to the Descort Fields forcefully, although there were no real problems to my understanding with romantic relations between close family members in the ranks of Pi. They made no distinction between pony races when bringing them into the fold, even welcoming in Bat Ponies when they were created by Queen Selena, though there was a bit of a learning curve regarding them because of the cultural differences of how Bat Ponies write.

“Wait,” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “How do Bat Ponies write different than the rest of us?”

Twilight felt bile rising in her throat at being interrupted.

“Well, for starters,” she said acidly, working to cool her tone as she continued, “I have it on Queen Selena’s word that the Bat Ponies were raised in isolation for grossenturies as she sought to create the perfect nocturnal race. They learned only by the light of the night, and grew to revere the Moon. As such, when they learned to write, they demonstrated a preference for starting their writings at the bottom of the page and working their way up, so that when they read it back, it would involve gradually looking up towards the Moon in the sky.”

“That sounds wonderful…!” Fluttershy sighed.

“So, what happened to the Cult of Pi after the Bat Ponies, Twilight?” asked Rainbow Dash, in a tone that suggested that she had nothing whatsoever to do with the interruption.

Deciding not to press any arguments, Twilight continued:

Now, the rest of what I’ve found is mostly from the previous two books that I’d dived into. The details about Bat Ponies joining the Cult of Pi was a mere addendum in the book, added on several generations later by a different pony. And by then, mere grossenturies before NightMare Moon, the Cult of Pi was already starting to lose its original sense of purpose. Their belief in the enemies of Discord being turned to stone began to metamorphosize into a reverence of stones themselves, possibly connected to the boulder that Holder Cobblestone dedicated at the heart of his Cult. As you can well imagine, the membership of Pi diminished, shrinking from several families to just one, and the worship of Discord and everything he stood for faded away from memory. That, is how Pi became Pie.

The room was filled with a heavy wonder, as though Twilight’s monologue had given birth to a specter of the Cult of Pi and given view of something old and wild to those rooted in the present.

With her monologue finished, Twilight spoke more casually, “One thing that came to me as I was diving into that book, was that when Discord was defeated, he’d lost his right forelimb.”

“He lost…?” gasped Fluttershy, a hoof flying to her mouth.

“Yes,” answered Twilight. “So we know that at least one part of Discord’s stories matches up with reality. Whatever it was, it’s not the lion’s paw that he has there now. But it did drift into the nearest object unaffected by the chaos around the Descort Fields: a gigantic egg-shaped boulder. The selfsame boulder that was consecrated by Holder Cobblestone.”

Pinkie’s family looked like they were starting to sweat a little.

“So, what I have to ask is: Mr. Pie, Mrs. Pie, was there something in Holder’s Boulder after it cracked in two?”

The addressed couple looked to each other intently. Twilight was still not great at reading ponies, but if she had to guess, it was that the pair of them wanted to be very deliberate in how they answered her question, as though not to create too much misunderstanding.

Well?” she said impatiently.

Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz faced Twilight with slightly cross expressions, though checked by a degree of understanding on their mature faces.

“There… was something inside of Holder’s Boulder as it cracked open,” Igneous Rock began haltingly. “Apart from the pinkamena geode, as thou can imagine. It… took a good while to take shape as it beheld myself, Mrs. Pie, and our daughters.”

“And as it did,” Cloudy Quartz continued, gazing over the rims of her glasses at Twilight, “it took the form of… a rather sizeable rock.”

Twilight blinked.


“It lies dormant now,” Igneous Rock said, “and we trust Maudstone to take care of it now.”

“It’s exactly as hard as it looks,” Maud added, holding Boulder out on a forehoof.

Twilight boggled slightly at the prospect; did Discord’s missing right foreleg seriously become somepony’s pet rock?

Maud blinked slowly, before turning her eyes down onto Boulder.

“No. Bad Boulder.”

“Heheh,” Twilight felt an unstable laugh burble out of her chest. “Ooooook then! I have no idea what I expected; making sense? Fine, Discord’s hoof is a pet rock now. Wonderful. Just great. The world makes perfect sense now!”

“Well, Ah reckon it makes sense, in a kinda-makin’-no-sense-at-all kinda way,” Applejack said slowly. “Ah mean, it makes no sense, so it makes sense fer Discord, right?”

“But, it literally makes no sense, Applejack!” Twilight shouted. “It just…”

The thought went through Twilight’s head again, and this time the prospect of Discord’s non-sense made altogether more sense in this degree. Still, it seemed unabashedly hazardous to carry around such a deceptively powerful magical object so casually.

“Aren’t you afraid it’ll… do something?” she asked Maud.

“I stop feeding him when he’s bad,” the Earth Pony replied.

“Okay…? You seem awful confident that he’ll behave. I… guess I’ll trust your judgment.”

Twilight thought that she could see a miniscule twitch at the corner of Maud’s mouth, too tiny to be spotted by almost anypony else. Was that how she smiled…?

“So,” Twilight said with an air of finality, “that seems to be everything that can be perused about the Cult of Pi, regarding the way that they thought of things. And really, with all due respect, it’s easy to see where Pinkie gets her outside-the-box thinking from.”

“Awwww, thank you, Twilight~” Pinkie said brightly.

“Ah suppose we could call this a day, then, Twilight?” asked Applejack.

Twilight nodded.

“Yes indeed.”

The sky had darkened considerably since she had started these treks into the books, and Twilight Sparkle admittedly felt a bit ready to lay down and rest her mind.

Marble kneeled down and whispered into her mother’s ear. Cloudy Quartz turned to the ponies serving her as an audience in Twilight’s guest room.

“Marble tells me that she will be preparing charoite-changas for dinner tonight, enough for everypony,” she said in a gentle tone.

“Mhm,” said Marble with a soft smile.

“Make sure to include cherry filling in mine, Marble~~❤” squealed Pinkie, pronking in place by her younger twin.

“Ah’m feelin’ a bit peckish mahself,” Applejack added.

“I just hope you got more of that whaddyacallit tonic to make your rock foods easier to digest,” Rainbow Dash said lowly.

“Me too,” Fluttershy agreed.

“Just… go on without me,” Twilight said with a wave of her hoof. “I think I need a little while to rest from all that book-diving. I don’t think that ponies were meant to use Hayscartes’s method quite so heavily.”

Pinkie’s family left the room behind them, followed by most of Twilight’s band of friends. Applejack cast a glance behind her at the lavender Unicorn, the pair meeting eyes for a moment before the palomino continued out.

Twilight turned her attention to the pair of invisible cubes that contained Spike and Rarity, weaving the spell in her mind to dissolve the enchantment around Rarity’s cube. The grungy Unicorn immediately stood to her full height, barely a hoof over Twilight’s height, and glowered deeply.

Where did you hide my babies?” she snarled, baring her teeth and snorting as she pawed at the floor.

Twilight traced the floor nervously with a hoof, “Well, you see, they were kind of unsanitary for the inside of this house, tracking around dirt that could get in the air and make somepony choke―”

“They were diamonds, my babies!”

“Rarity, you’re not in your right mind, you can’t possibly think those stones were―”

“They were more than stones!” Rarity bellowed, charging at Twilight, lowering her head to point her horn straight at Twilight’s neck…

Thinking fast, Twilight cast a sleep-inducing spell on Rarity and dodged to the side. The formerly alabaster Unicorn slowed to a canter, than a trot, before slowly bowing her head and falling asleep standing on the spot.

Taking her friend up in her dwimmer shimmer, Twilight carried Rarity to her guest room down the hall and laying her gingerly in the bed, pulling the covers over her.

Returning to her own room, Twilight considered lifting the barrier around the slumbering Spike as well, but hesitated. She had no way of knowing if the spell over his mind would go away just from Rarity’s diamonds being out of his line-of-sight, or if Spike would wake up in the middle of the night and maul her in her sleep. As it was, Twilight decided to expand the barrier around him to give him more room to move.

I’m sorry, Spike, she thought morosely, her ears falling limp. I just wish I knew more, so that I could do something more than… this.

One of her ears flicked. She had not yet dived into every book on the Cult of Pi. Maybe one of them held knowledge about how Discord’s magic worked…

In a matter of minutes, Twilight was weighing one book or the other, trying to determine which one seemed most likely to provide the answers she was looking for. And there were many.

What allowed Discord to subvert the fortress of one’s mind and turn them into the opposite sort of pony from what they normally were?

Where had Discord come from before he descended to Equestria?

How had the Queens of Equestria created the Elements of Harmony to defeat Discord the first time?

And why had it taken them so long to rise up against Discord to begin with if they were already so old by the time he’d been defeated?

A probing feeling emanated from one of the books. Tellingly to Twilight, it was one of the first ones she’d shown to her friends, one that she had not dived into yet, that described the two ‘Feral’ and ‘Deceitful’ figures at the head of the Recalcitrants. It was old, though; many pages were already slipping out of the binding. Placing the remaining books down on the floor, Twilight set the relevant book down gently down on the bed, and set herself in the mentality that would enable her to read between the lines.

…the Deceitful, as many faces as the Moon...

…the Feral, fury burning bright as the Sun…

…the glory of the fear they had sewn…



…fallen from grace…

Twilight found herself alarmed at the multitude of thoughts swirling in this book. So many of them were fractured, as though the author’s mind was constantly being torn one way or the other as they scribed. Expanding her consciousness, Twilight began to draw together the disparate lines of thought, trying to put together a picture from the mad thoughts of the Pi cultist.


The thoughts were laid bare before her. They spoke the plain truth, utterly unblemished by subjectivity and too internally consistent to be the fault of misinformation or misdirection.

But the revelation….

It just could not be true.

It couldn’t!

“Mmmm!” Applejack beamed. “Ah gotta say, Pinkie, Ah was skeptical about this ‘cherry-charoite-changa’ idea a’ yers, but it really hits the spot, it does!”

“I know, right~?” Pinkie grinned. The doozy shakes had died down, but she could still feel a faint quiver down her spine that told her that it was close upon them. “I also make a rock-free variety for parties that don’t have rocks on the menu! Although, I wonder if it should be called a chimicherry or a cherrychanga…?” She gasped “Ohh, I know! Chimicherrychanga!”

Fluttershy and Marble laughed softly at Pinkie’s remark… before realizing that either one was not the only one laughing and blushing shyly while looking away in fright.

Rainbow Dash let out a raucous laugh and pounded a hoof on the table, “Oh Fluttershy, you’re a hoot when you get so flustered!”

Limestone glowered across the table at the cerulean Pegasus, before turning to Applejack, “Is she always like that?”

Applejack opened her mouth to answer, but a shuffling sound carried from upstairs, as somepony evidently stumbled down the upstairs corridor and towards the stairs. The conversation and dining slowly died as eyes and ears turned towards the commotion. Just as they began to question themselves as to which of the two mares was stumbling about, the sound of somepony falling down the steps reached them, followed by a cry of pain and a low swear in Germane.

It was Twilight.

Applejack bolted from her spot at the table, followed quickly by Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy. The rest of the Pie family took up the rear at their own paces, worried for their house guest.

“Twilight, you alright?” asked Applejack, approaching the bottom of the stairs.

Luckily, Twilight had fallen down less than half of the staircase, and only seemed to be bumped and bruised a little. What worried Applejack more, however, was the way Twilight was carrying herself. Her mane and skirt had become quite frazzled, her tail swishing in agitation. Her pupils were shrunken, and her legs were slack. The lavender Unicorn’s face spoke to her mindset; she was breathing heavy, and she bore the look of a mare who’d received the most ill of news.

“Twilight?” Applejack asked again, as Twilight seemed to have not heard her. “Sugarcube?”


Twilight said her name, but didn’t seem to register the palomino right in front of her. It was like she was in another place entirely.

“Applejack…” the lavender Unicorn said again. “It can’t be true. Tell me… Tell me that it isn’t true.”

‘What isn’t true, Twilight?” Rainbow Dash asked worriedly, flapping down to the stairs to meet Twilight at eye-level.

“You don’t know…” Twilight shook her head. “Of course you don’t know. Nopony knows. But, who would believe it if you told them? They’re not even ponies… I almost don’t believe it myself.”

“Believe what, Twilight?” asked Fluttershy. “And who is it that aren’t ponies?”

“It’s the doozy… it’s the biggest doozy anypony could imagine. It has to be the doozy. What could be doozier than this?”

“I don’t know, Twilight; I don’t know the doozies as they come, just that they’re coming,” Pinkie answered, her jubilation abandoned for a more subtle sympathy.

Twilight closed her eyes, putting a hoof to her forehead.

“It’s too insane to be true, but this is Discord we’re talking about here. He brings insanity with him wherever he goes. It’s… too insane. It’s too crazy. I don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe that Discord is the father of Queens Celestia and Selena!”





Sweet Chapter: Crusading Amidst Chaos

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The school bell chimed to signal the end of the school day, and the fillies and colts could barely wait for the dismissal by Miss Cheerilee to trot off to the schoolhouse door. Many parents or other such guardians waited for them outside, to escort their charges back home in light of the chaos trickling down from Discord’s new domain over the Saddle Valley, heralded by the unearthly conglomeration of clouds engulfing the mountains to the east of Canterlot and Alicorn’s Peak.

Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes out the window as Silver Spoon left ahead of Diamond Tiara and her posse, the two sugar-lump rump fillies barely acknowledging each other.

“Big Mac ain’t here yet,” Apple Bloom said, Silver Spoon’s brother trailing behind after his sister after Diamond Tiara’s band had passed out the door.

“You don’t think something could’ve happened to him, do you?” asked Sweetie Belle worriedly.

“Hey, don’t sweat it, Sweetie Belle,” Scootaloo answered with a smirk, pulling her scooter out from under her desk and unfolding it to its riding mode. “Apple Bloom’s big bro is way too tough to let anything slow him down, even some crazy dragon’s crazy magic! Back under NightMare Moon, he kept Sweet Apple Acres running almost single-hoofedly, remember?”

Peach-colored eyes gave the gamboge Pegasus a withering look.

“Ah like to think Ah gave Big Mac all the help that Ah could, Scootaloo.”

“Eheheh, sorry about that, Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo said nervously, scratching the back of her head. “I was just saying that your big brother was a really swell stallion.”

“He really is, Apple Bloom,” said Miss Cheerilee, hooves crunching along the straw floor. “Sorry to cut in, but it’s my job as teacher to notice any sorts of pending disagreements between my students.”

“It’s fine, Miss Cheerilee,” replied Apple Bloom, waving a nonchalant hoof. “Ah wasn’ too upset about it. Ah still don’ quite know how much Ah did, but Granny Smith says Ah ‘did everything an Apple could expect ta do’, whatever that means.”

“Your Granny Smith has been part of this village for a very long time, Apple Bloom, since its founding grossenturies ago,” Cheerilee explained. “She’s seen a good many generations of Apples, and she must know exactly what an Apple can or can’t do. And based off of your older brother and sister, I feel like you’re gonna be a great Apple, Apple Bloom.”

Apple Bloom smiled at the cerise Earth Pony’s motivational speaking.

“Hey, Apple Bloom!” called a gray Pegasus colt named Rumble from the schoolyard. “Your big brother is here! So are your parents, Sweetie Belle!”

The bright-red Earth Pony stallion would have been hard to miss, as he easily stood poll and withers above everypony else in the herd. He waved a hoof in the air, a piece of straw clenched between his front teeth. The Cutie Mark Crusaders left the schoolhouse, two trotting and Scootaloo riding her scooter.

“Big Mac, how ya been?” asked Apple Bloom, hugging Big Mac’s foreleg. It felt cool and wet, almost sticky.

Feeling confused, Apple Bloom looked up. Big Mac to be covered in a cool dampness, despite the sky being apparently clear over Ponyville and Sweet Apple Acres. And on top of that, he seemed to smell like strawberries…

“Some sorta problems over at the farm, Big Mac?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Eeyup,” answered the stallion.

“Oh my…” Cheerilee approached Big Mac and the trio of fillies. “You smell like strawberries, Big McIntosh. What’s the occasion?”

“There was a… bit of Discord chaos magic down at th’ farm, Miss Cheerilee,” answered Big Mac rubbing a foreleg while averting his eyes, his cheeks going dark.

“Well, I think it suits you,” said Cheerilee with a faint redness in her own cheeks. “I’ve always loved strawberries.”

“W-Whatever makes ya happy, Miss Cheerilee,” the great red Earth Pony said, bringing up a foreleg to cover his face which was getting darker and darker.

“I… think I’ll ask my mom & dad if we can all hang out at their place,” Sweetie Belle said with an awkward smile, cantering off to Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles.

“W-W-Well, it’s been nice s-seein’ ya, Miss Cheerilee,” Big Mac stuttered, leading Apple Bloom and Scootaloo away from the schoolhouse.

“What was that all about, Big Mac?” Apple Bloom asked. “Ya don’ usually speak up quite so much.”

But her big brother remained silent.

Scootaloo’s eyes popped, a devious grin appearing on her muzzle.

“Oooh, I got it, Big Mac…!” she said slyly. “You’ve totally got the hots for Miss Cheerilee, don’t you?”

“Mah big brother an’ Miss Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom commented quizzically. “Would that mean that Ah’d git some sorta pass on mah tests?’

“N-n-n-nope!” stammered Big Mac, stomping his hoof down to reveal a far redder muzzle than anypony could recall seeing on his face.

“Awww, isn’t that sweet…?” sneered Silver Spoon, having apparently trotted away from her family, her glasses glinting in the afternoon sun. “But don’t think that nepotism will save you just ‘cause your big brother’s getting kissy-kissy with Miss Cheerilee!”

“At least Ah don’ pretend that mah brother doesn’ exist!” Apple Bloom countered.

Silver Spoon let out a great and slightly exaggerated gasp, her glasses slipping slightly askew. Her brother Truffle Shuffle and her parents spoke amidst one another a short distance away, mostly unaware of what the well-kept silver-gray filly was doing.

Apple Bloom!” called Cheerilee’s voice sternly, the cerise Earth Pony mare trotting authoritatively towards the youngest Apple sibling, looking down on her with a look that said that she was less angry than she was disappointed. “That was an uncalled-for remark towards Silver Spoon. I expect that you have an apology for her…?”

Silver Spoon turned from a look bordering on crocodile tears towards Miss Cheerilee, to give a barely disguised leer towards Apple Bloom that practically screamed yeah, apologize!.

Apple Bloom sighed.

“Alright. Ah’m sorry, Silver Spoon.”

Cheerilee smiled, “Very good, Apple Bloom!”

The glasses-wearing filly nodded triumphantly.

“Now you apologize to Apple Bloom, Silver Spoon.”

The filly’s violet eyes widened behind her glasses.

“Wait, what?” she cried shrilly, facing Miss Cheerilee with the expression of a filly who had just learned the night before that Hearth’s Warming was cancelled. “Are you kidding me, Miss Cheerilee?”

“You heard me, young filly,” Cheerilee said firmly, with her harlequin eyes narrowed humorlessly. “I know that you started this exchange, so I expect you to apologize to Apple Bloom in turn.”

Silver Spoon’s mouth began to wrinkle as though she was being forced to swallow a lemon rind. She glanced back and forth between her teacher and her fellow student, before heaving a heavy sigh herself and…


And before Apple Bloom could even fully process that she had received an apology, Silver Spoon bolted. Cheerilee raised an eyebrow as she cast a mildly disappointed look at Silver Spoon and her family.

“Well, I guess that’s the closest to a genuine apology we can expect from her,” she remarked softly so that only Big McIntosh, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo could hear. “I hate taking sides in altercations between my students, but I could see that you would be less unwilling to apologize.”

“Yeah…” Apple Bloom said. “Come to think of it, Ah think Ah went a bit too far with that.”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac nodded shortly.

Sweetie Belle scampered up gleefully.

“Mom & Dad said that it was alright, just as long as our Cutie Mark Crusading doesn’t upset Opal too much!”

“Alright!” Scootaloo said with a triumphant jump into the air off her scooter.

“Say, Scootaloo,” interjected Rumble, as he and his big brother Thunderlane flapped by. He looked more than a little anxious, his eyes darting around and trying to look at anything but the gamboge filly he spoke to, “You don’t think that ー I mean, you and me could ー if it’s not too much trouble…”

Behind Rumble, Thunderlane shook his head slightly.

Scootaloo blinked, cocking an eyebrow, “What’s the damage, Rumble?”

The gray Pegasus colt flared his nostrils slightly, but continued anyway.

Or at least, tried to.

“Ummm, you know, Scootaloo ー I mean, it’s just that ー us being in the same class and all―”

“Come on, little bro,” Thunderlane asked with a jovial tone, “Aren’t you gonna spit it out before the evening classes?”

Rumble’s lips slammed shut for a few seconds, before closing his eyes and silently mouthing the word brother to himself. Scootaloo froze for a moment; it was amazing how much a filly’s face seemed to show through Rumble’s features…

“I… I…”

The colt’s face went redder and redder as he spoke, trying to keep from looking at Scootaloo directly…

Before bolting off down the tree-lined road back to the main area of Ponyville, leaving a small gust of wind behind him.

“Ehhh, you’ll have to excuse my little bro,” Thunderlane said with an awkward smile. “He’s been feeling a bit… off lately.”

“He’s not sick, is he?” Sweetie Belle asked concernedly.

“He didn’t seem like he had come down with anything in class or in recess…” commented Miss Cheerilee.

Thunderlane shook his head, “Nah, not like that. Just… he’s been flying out past Carousel Couture an awful lot, looking at the dresses in the windows. Like he misses Rarity or something.”

“I miss her, too.”

“Well, Rarity’s yer sister, Sweetie Belle. A’ course yer gunna miss her.”

“So, why did he try talking to me instead of Sweetie Belle?” Scootaloo asked.

To this, nopony had an answer.

Scootaloo shrugged.

“Boys are weird.”

It transpired that Big McIntosh had fallen victim to clouds of blue raspberry cotton-candy clouds that rained strawberry milk, and despite his best efforts to set Sweet Apple Acres to right, still ended up with a thorough soaking. Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles offered to let the farmer use their family’s shower before he returned to Sweet Apple Acres, but he declined, leaving Apple Bloom to her Crusader friends.

“Big Mac, havin’ a thing for Miss Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom repeated bemusedly as the three of them sat over the ever-shrinking list of special talents to crusade for.

“Well, he has been picking you up from school an awful lot lately,” offered Sweetie Belle.

“Yeah, but still, Big McIntosh and Miss Cheerilee?” Scootaloo said, in an attempt at a scoff.

“Ah dunno,” Apple Bloom scratched her chin. “Ah mean, he’s mah brother, an’ Miss Cheerilee’s a real nice lady an’ all, so I reckon that they’d be a fine match, but…”

Sweetie Belle gasped so sharply and loudly that the other two Crusaders momentarily thought that Pinkie Pie had teleported in from wherever it was that she’d gone. She picked up a crayon in her mouth and quickly applied it to an empty space on the list of potential special talents.

“What’s she writing?” Scootaloo asked.

Apple Bloom gave Scootaloo a mildly incredulous look, “Does it really look like Ah can look through Sweetie Belle’s head?”

“It was a figure of speech,” Scootaloo said flatly.

“Done!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, flinging the crayon from her mouth across the floor and framing her newly scrawled addition with her little cloven hooves.

“‘Matchmaking’?” read Apple Bloom.

“What does that mean?” asked Scootaloo. “We don’t got a lot of dictionaries at the or − uhh, back home.”

“It means that you’re matching ponies up in a relationship!” Sweetie Belle explained gleefully. “Like, you never know who’s gonna be the next Mrs. Lyra & Bon Bon, but if we were to get our cutie marks in matchmaking, we’d know for sure how ponies would match up!”

“Great idea, Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom beamed. “So, how do ya reckon on gittin’ these marks?”

“We could try to get your brother and Miss Cheerilee together by Hearts-And-Hooves Day!”

“Wait… what?”

“Yeah! And then when we get our matchmaking marks, we can help out other ponies in Ponyville who don’t have special someponies!” Sweetie Belle’s eyes shone gleefully. “And, of course, I could even get my match made with Spikey-Poo…!”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo met each other’s eyes, before rolling them. Ever since Spike had saved them all from those overgrown spiders, Sweetie Belle had barely been able to put together two sentences without going on about the mulberry dragon cub under Miss Twilight’s care. All around her room, she’d taped up a great many pictures that she’d drawn of Spike in a variety of heroic poses, breathing a greater spout of green fire than he was undoubtedly capable of in real life, wielding spears and swords and shields and other sorts of weapons the likes of which Ponyville only knew from history books…

“Sweetie Belle! Kids!” called up the voice of Sweetie Belle’s mom. “Dinner’s just about ready!”

*…have convened with the rest of the Cosmic Council, including Queen Mi Amore Rubina of the Crystal, King Leo of Aquastria, the Mikado of Neighpon, and Tiamat of the Dragons of Banefold. Pyotr Rokin of Orlalvov has abstained from directly attending, dispatching his right-claw Griffon, Pavlo, instead. No word yet on what the Cosmic Council has agreed to, but…*

“Isn’t it kinda depressing to listen to this stuff when we’re having dinner?” Scootaloo asked, before taking another bite out of the hay-and-oats pizza slice in front of her.

“There ain’t anything wrong about keepin’ up with the ways of the world, is there?” Hondo Flanks said in reply.

“Ah guess not, but don’t we gotta look after our own first?” asked Apple Bloom, pushing her empty plate forward.

“If we know what’s goin’ on out there, we gotta better idea what could be comin’ at us,” said Pearl Bubbles, using her spatula to scoop another slice onto the Earth Pony filly’s plate. “An’ don’cha know that there’s an awful lot that’s gonna be happenin’ out there that’ll hit us back home.”

Sweetie Belle sighed, “I hope that Rarity’s okay out there…”

Hondo Flanks put a hoof on his daughter’s shoulder, “Oh, don’t worry about her none, Sweetie. Yer big sister can handle herself just fine in a brawl, even if she don’t like gettin’ her hooves messy anymore.”

Scootaloo scoffed, “Yeah, like I could ever see Rarity giving a speck of dirt the time of day.”

“Ah never really thought that Rarity woulda ever been one for roughhousin’,” Apple Bloom added.

“Well, it ain’t exactly roughhousin’ that Hondo was talkin’ ‘bout, but…” For some reason, Pearl Bubbles seemed to hesitate, looking as though she wondered if she could continue.

Sensing his wife’s hesitation, Hondo interjected in a slightly raised voice, “I think that’s sumthin’ that Rarity herself might wanna run by Sweetie’s friends if she wants.”

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo looked at each other with perplexed expressions, both of them turning towards Sweetie Belle at the same intuitive moment… but Sweetie Belle did not seem to have any of the same sense of confusion, at least by reading her face. Actually, she was nodding in quiet agreement with her dad, before returning to her meal.

The Earth Pony and Pegasus Crusaders looked to one another with inquisitive glances. There was something afoot about Rarity, and her parents and Sweetie Belle were in on it! Come to think of it, there were no pictures of Rarity around the house from before she’d gotten her cutie mark, most of them taken after Sweetie Belle was born. What was going on behind the scenes with that older white Unicorn…?

*…but fortunately, the Governor of Canterlot was outside of the capital before then. As it was, Governor Gilded Lily has established Fillydelphia as the acting capital of Equestria while Canterlot is unreachable. She says that, quote, ‘I will act as Queen Celestia would in her stead, and do the best to my ability for all of us little ponies’. A quote from the Mayor and Council of Fillydelphia indicates a full support behind…*

“Let’s put on sumthin’ a bit more peaceable, don’cha agree, darlin’?” asked Hondo Flanks. “All this political talk kinda gives me a bit a’ indigestion.”

“Yeah…” Pearl Bubbles agreed with a slightly somber tone. “NightMare Moon, then this ‘Discord’ fella… Just one a’ them woulda been bad enough for one lifetime.”

Her dwimmer shimmer lit up around one of the dials on the radio, a babble of voices shuffling out of the speakers one at a time, interspersed with spurts of static. After a few moments, Pearl Bubbles settled on one particular staton.

The soothing sounds of a cello began to emanate from the radio’s speakers, filling the room with the sounds of an elegant musical recitation. Serenity washed over the five ponies as they finished the meal and Pearl Bubbles gradually stacked the plates and transferred them over to the sink…

When a static-filled scream filled the air as the cello broadcast was interrupted. The three Cutie Mark Crusaders put their hooves to their ears, blocking out the high whine that was hurting their hearing.

After what seemed like half a minute, the static mostly subsided, albeit in sharp bursts that interrupted the following broadcast, which was not music but a voice.

A very familiar voice.

“Ugh, finally!” growled a rather passionate voice. “I should be coming through any moment, and then, they can know what no pony agency wants me to share…!”

“Wait a second, isn’t that…?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Yeah, that’s the super-crazy pony who thought that Celestia and NightMare Moon were the same!” Scootaloo cried, trying not to snicker.

“You know this pony?” asked Hondo Flanks.

Apple Bloom nodded, “He took over that deejay show under NightMare Moon an’ tried to spin this cockamamie about Queen Celestia an’ NightMare Moon. Looks like instead a’ takin’ over their broadcast buildin’, he managed to hijack their signal this time!”

By the time the Crusaders had finished filling in Sweetie Belle’s parents, Tinfoil Hat seemed to have realized that he was on the air, and affected a degree of personal concern over his obviously passion-filled tone.

“My fellow ponies,” he began, “as so many of you have probably noticed by now, a great deal of disorder and disharmony has befell us. Clouds transmogrified into cotton-candy, raining everything from hot cocoa to raw stomach acid. Home furnishings like couches and bunk-beds tearing off down the streets or sitting on their former owners. Entire streets unmooring themselves from gravity and floating freely over their landlocked villages.

“And why? Why have Queen Celestia and her sister Selena abandoned us in our moment of need? Well, fear not, my fellow ponies, for I, Tinfoil Hat, have reasoned out the reason for Queen Celestia and Selena’s departure for foreign lands so soon after our new mismatched overlord has arrived:

“Well, the answer eluded even more for quite some time, but I feel confident enough now in my hypothesis that I can tell you now, that this Discord is Queen Celestia’s ex-boyfriend!”

Scootaloo could not contain it anymore. Her hooves, which had previously been clamped over her mouth, flew from her muzzle in a noise not unlike that of a whoopee cushion, and the dining room filled with her irreverent laughter.

“I know… shocking, isn’t it?” Tinfoil Hat continued to his audience, apparently unaware of Scootaloo’s wordless derision. He sounded exactly like he cared. “But really, if you think about it, there’s no other apparent answer. Why else would the Queens have decided to flee to Aspicia and hobnob with our neighbors to the East? Why have communications with Canterlot ceased? The answer is obvious: The Queens were never the Queens to begin with.”

“This guy sure sounds like he got a few screws loose, don’t he?” commented Hondo Flanks, waving a hoof beside his head.

“Exactly like Mr. Rich’s wife,” added Pearl Bubbles with an air of sympathy.

The Crusaders nodded at the remarks by Sweetie Belle’s parents.

“…keeping the seat warm for Queen Celestia’s old flame, while he went on vacation to places you and I could not even begin to imagine. After all, the Queen kept a statue of this ‘Discord’ in the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, within eyeline of her throne room. She eagerly awaited his return so that she and her ‘sister’ could take a many-douzaides long vacation.

“Now, you’ll notice my hesitation to refer to Selena as her sister. And I will tell you why. Have you ever noticed how eerily unPegasuslike her wings were, how they look like a Bat Pony’s with a bit of plumage pasted on? Well, that’s because Selena is not the sister of Queen Celestia, but truly Celestia’s daughter by Discord’s Bat Pony half-brother!”

Scootaloo was practically rolling on the floor at this point, banging a hoof in front of her and choking out between laughs, “Please… I can’t breathe…”

“If you don’t believe me, if you prefer to stand by the figures who would tell you that a horn transplant is impossible because ‘the alicorn-neuronal connections differ wildly from pony to pony’ or ‘there is no way to make a severed alicorn function again even if reattached’, then you are deluding yourself! There is too much evidence that backs up my hypothesis, once you’ve gotten past all of the facts that contradict it!

“For you see, the search for the truth is a hard and arduous one. You have to fight and bite and buck and trample your way past all the facts that cloud it, following that gut feeling telling you that what you believe is true! You find those scraps of truth, no matter how small they are, and you never let them go, because those scraps among all the detritus of facts prove that you are right.”

“That sounds like the opposite of truth, in my book.”

The temperature of the room seemed to drop, and from the way that Tinfoil Hat seemed to sputter as well. Scootaloo coughed roughly as her laughs abated, staring at the radio as even the bursts of static seemed to go silent.

You again?! That DJ mare?” Tinfoil Hat cried, his distant voice indicating that he was facing away from his microphone. “How did you get in here?!”

“You left your door unlocked,” Vın̈yl Scratch said shortly. Her voice sounded different than from her previous shows, even the impromptu show when she and Octavia had to oust Tinfoil Hat from their own broadcasting station. The sass was gone, replaced with a monotone fury that carried forth all the promises of a bad time.

“Are you really a DJ?” accused Tinfoil Hat. “Or are you really an agent of Discord to silence my grasp on the truth…?!”

“No,” hissed Vın̈yl’s voice, growing louder as she apparently approached the microphone, and Tinfoil Hat. “I’m here to shut you down from cutting off mine and Octy’s broadcast…!”

There was an indistinct shout from Tinfoil Hat, and a burst of static, and then silence and a slight degree of feedback.

‘Well, let’s take a listen,” began a third voice, the Octy in question if memory served. Her voice echoed somewhat, as if there was a radio in the room with her tuned to the same station as she was broadcasting from.

‘Well, that’s that settled,’ Octavia continued, her voice settling back from continuous echoing into one. ‘We apologise for the interruption, fair listeners, and we appreciate your patience in returning to our regularly scheduled programme, here on Violas on Vinyl.’

And in moments the cellist had returned to the same musical piece that Tinfoil Hat had cut into with his pirated broadcast. It took far longer for the five ponies in Sweetie Belle’s dining room to settle from the frenetic assertions of Tinfoil Hat than it had from first tuning in to Violas on Vinyl.

Hondo Flanks trotted up to the radio and turned the volume dial down to Off.

“I’m sorry, Pearl, but I just can’t listen t’ the radio after that guy,” he said.

“Why not?” Scootaloo asked. “That was just so funny…!”

“I don’t know, that guy just sounded crazy, Scootaloo,” commented Sweetie Belle.

“If that stallion weren’t pullin’ some big prank on ev’rypony, then he probably is crazy,” Pearl remarked. “And crazy ponies like that need to be kept in a mental ward, for their own good and the good of the ponies around them.”

“Like Diamond Tiara’s mom?” Apple Bloom asked.

Hondo faced the youngest Apple daughter, “That’d be Mr. Rich’s daughter, wouldn’ it? Well, I dunno if his wife Spoiled Milk were exactly the most stable mare even b’fore she an’ Filthy tied the knot. She weren’ exactly the nicest mare, if I can be frank, right, Pearl?”

“”Nuthin’ wrong with the truth, Hondo,” Pearl replied.

“What happened with Mrs. Rich, Mom & Dad?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Hondo answered, “Well, she weren’t like most Ponyville ponies. Even though she grew up without a whole ton a’ bits to her name, she was always a bit less… agreeable than most ponies. Kinda bossy, but not exactly mean-spirited like some a’ the things Sweetie Belle told us about her daughter.”

“And then, when she an’ Filthy Rich became engaged,” Pearl continued, “all that money that he had t’ his name… it kinda went t’ her head. She got even pushier than ever, an’ when ya didn’ do what she wanted ya t’ do… well, ears started ringin’ from how she raised her voice.”

Hondo Flanks’s expression darkened, a slight foreboding crossing his expression that made the Cutie Mark Crusaders feel slightly chilled.

“When Filthy an’ Spoiled Rich had their daughter Dégueulis Dazzle Rich…” He paused. “Well, I’m not much of a stallion fer gossip, but I think that bearin’ a foal an’ givin’ birth… it mighta done sumthin’ to her upstairs. Made Spoiled go a bit screw-loose. Before Dégueulis even graduated from fohlengarten, her mom had ta be admitted ta th’ mental ward in Ponyville General. Filthy an’ his daughter visit all th’ time, but I hear that Spoiled Milk don’ even recognize her husband or daughter no more. Seein’ her mom like that… can’t be good fer little D. Rich.”

Apple Bloom heard a sniffle. Looking in the direction of the sound, she saw that Sweetie Belle was tearing up, a small dribble of mucus running down from a nostril as well.

“Ohh man…” Scootaloo said. “But, if Diamond Tiara really had all that bad stuff happen to her, how come she’s such a bad pony? How come she keeps talking back to Queen Selena and calling us blank flanks?”

“Yeah, that don’ seem like the sorta thing a pony would do if she knew what bad things felt like,” Apple Bloom added.

Pearl shook her head, “Some ponies jus’ don’t act that way, kids. Spoiled Milk may’ve had some pretty ugly thoughts fer a pony, but that don’t mean that Diamond Tiara bein’ separate from them would make her act nicer. We don’t know what’s in Diamond Tiara’s head, though we can prob’bly guess that it’s a lot sadder than first glance.”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders traded guilty glances with one another. Ponyville was a small town, so how could this information have escaped them for so long? Did Diamond Tiara really put so much effort into being mean because she didn’t want other ponies to pick on her…?

“But, if her mom being in Ponyville General is why she is the way she is,” Sweetie Belle sobbed, “then why doesn’t she just talk about it? It’s not like anypony here would be mean to her about it except…” Her pale-harlequin eyes widened.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo cast curious and slightly alarmed eyes at their Unicorn friend.

“What?” Scootaloo asked.

“What is it, Sweetie Belle?” Apple Bloom queried.

“The other foals that Diamond Tiara pals around with,” Sweetie Belle continued. “Golden Parachute and the rest. Toady, Roughshod, Snake-in-the-Grass, Silver Lining… They were never good even before Diamond Tiara pulled them all together.”

“Yeah…” Scootaloo breathed. “They always gave me a rough time for… this.” She flicked her tiny wings. “And to think if they learned that Diamond Tiara’s mom was just… gone, like that. And I get it bad enough for the same thing.”

“Ah know. Not havin’ a mom…”

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom’s eyes widened in sync with one another, snapping their heads towards one another.

“Scootaloo…? Are you sayin’ yer…?” the Earth Pony filly gasped.

“N-No! I didn’t say anything about… anything!” the Pegasus filly snapped in protest.

Sweetie Belle raised a forehoof, “Scootaloo, you’re not very good at lying. Please, don’t lie to us.”

Looking back and forth between her fellow Crusaders, Scootaloo sighed.

“My mom left me at the Ponyville orphanage. I never knew who my dad was. All I know is that my big sister lives somewhere here in Ponyville, and that’s why my mom left me here. I waited all my life for somepony to show up for me, but nopony ever showed up. So… I guess all of Ponyville is my big sister,” she smiled sadly.

Two pairs of legs threw themselves around Scootaloo.

“Ohh Scootaloo, you poor filly…!” Sweetie Belle cried.

“Why didn’tcha tell us…?” Apple Bloom asked. “Sweetie Belle an’ Ah wouldn’ta judged ya.”

“Guys… I didn’t want you to think that… that I…” Scootaloo mumbled, her mouth wobbling.

“Scootaloo…?” said Sweetie Belle.

“That you guys were the only family I ever knew!” Scootaloo blurted out, her eyes slamming shut, tears bursting out like a dam.

Hondo Flanks & Pearl Bubbles glanced to each other, an invisible thought passing between them. They nodded, before crossing around the table to the Crusaders’ group-hug.

“Scootaloo, how’d ya like to call us yer family?” said Pearl Bubbles gently.

The gamboge filly looked up at Sweetie Belle’s parents with disbelief.

“But… I want Rainbow Dash to be my big sister!”

Hondo smiled warmly, “Ya don’t have ta be legally related ta someone to call them yer family. Ain’t Rainbow Dash kinda like sisters ta her fella Bearers (except Fluttershy, I imagine)? Ain’t Apple Bloom like yer sister?”

Scootaloo’s ears fell slightly. “I… suppose… But I still really want to be with Rainbow Dash.”

Pearl Bubbles spread one foreleg out, “Well, we can at least give ya houseroom till Rainbow Dash comes back. We ain’t exactly the best family in all Ponyville, but we’d be happy to have ya, Scootaloo.”

Sandwiched between her friends, Scootaloo let a smile cross her muzzle as Hondo Flanks and Pearl Bubbles put a foreleg each around the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

Scootaloo looked around the room curiously. “This used to be Rarity’s room…?”

It certainly didn’t look it. There were cardboard boxes and old furnishings set in the spaces between the old bed and bureau, along with old picture frames devoid of contents. Certain squares of space on the walls were lighter than the rest of the wallpaper, where these picture frames had doubtlessly hung when the younger Rarity dwelt here.

“Well, it didn’t always look like this,” Hondo admitted. “Ever since Rarity moved into the old vanity room, we used this room as our storage room. But now, I guess we’re gonna be passin’ it on to you. At least, for as long as you live with us.”

“I don’t wanna put you guys out, though,” Scootaloo mumbled. “There’s gonna be an awful lot of paperwork for me, and… well… I still really want to be Rainbow Dash’s sister.”

“But you said it before, didn’t you, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle said softly, placing a hoof on Scootaloo’s shoulder. “All of Ponyville is your big sister. So you can take your pick of anypony to be your big sister.”

Scootaloo gave a tentative smile to her Unicorn friend. “I guess.”

“So,” Pearl Bubbles addressed the little Pegasus, “do you still have any personal items at the orphanage?”

Scootaloo shook her head, “All I own is the scooter I left by the front door.”

Hondo Flanks tousled Scootaloo’s mane, “Well, Pearl an’ me hope that we can get a fix on that sometime soon.”

Scootaloo smiled up at the big burly Earth Pony.

“Well, since you mentioned paperwork,” Pearl said idly, “what say we all go down to th’ orphanage and get this started?”

Sweetie Belle pronked gaily.

“We’re gonna be sisters for real, Scootaloo!”

Ponyville’s Center Square was less populated than it ordinarily was, and not for poor reason. With the increasingly chaotic activity encroaching on Ponyville from the east and the west, Ponyvillagers who would normally spend the better portions of their days wandering the streets and socializing with their neighbors instead passing straight through to their errands and then straight back home. Ponies clustered closely together and made hushed conversation, trying to ignore the sights of bizarre creatures flocking through the skies or the patches of unnaturally-colored clouds.

Lyra Heartstrings & her wife Bon Bon toted saddle-bags laden with bags of sugar from the grocer’s, accompanied by their petite daughter Toot Sweet. While the aquamarine Unicorn and her light-opal daughter looked rather worrisome, the light-apple-green Earth Pony wore a surprisingly stern expression for such a round-faced and freckled mare.

“Mama, why do you look so grown-up?” Toot Sweet asked her Earth Pony mother.

Bon Bon blinked, several lines smoothing out from her face as she looked down to smile at the apple of her eye.

“Ohh, did I really look so − sorry for worrying you, dearest,” she said as she cupped her daughter’s chin in an arctic-blue hoof matching her eyes.

“Aww, your mama’s just worried that the sugar might entice your aunt Bombe a bit too much,” Lyra said casually, leaning down and kissing her wife’s cheek speckled with blue freckles. Bon Bon blushed with a soft smile.

“But Bombe isn’t my aunt, is she? She’s one of Mama’s cousins, so she can’t be my aunt.”

“Bombe’s seemingly identical to your mama, Tootsie. I don’t see it; I can tell all your aunts apart from each other. Like, even though every one of them has a completely different personality, it’s like I’m the only one who can tell or something…”

“Well, I can tell as well, my heartstrings-tugger,” said Bon Bon slyly, evoking a snicker from her Unicorn wife.

“I’d hope so, or I’d worry for your sanity.”

“Ohh I’m crazy alright,” Bon Bon sighed with half-lidded eyes, before her legs elongated beneath her to allow her to kiss Lyra’s cheek. “I’m crazy for you.”

(Bon Bon’s special talent as a candymare had the magical side-effect of allowing her to affect the malleability of her own body, crossing the spectrum from becoming as stretchy and elastic as taffy, to becoming as hard as a jawbreaker. Although this had applications that could have been used in the career of a Royal Guard, she contented herself by using it either to reach items on high shelves in her BonBonnière or to repay Lyra’s kisses.)

Toot Sweet made a gagging noise at the affection between her mothers, though admittedly they were far worse on happier days. For Toot Sweet, the worst day of all for dealing with her mothers was Hearts-And-Hooves Day, when the goal of the day seemed to make their daughter die of embarrassment from how sickeningly sweet they were towards one another with their flirting and general kissy-kissiness. Seeking to avoid this for the day, Toot Sweet turned towards Lyra, “Mommy, is it alright if I ask Mama to give me one of her fun rides?”

Lyra smirked down at her Unicorn filly, “Sure, it’s alright with me, sport.”

“Mama, can I get a fun ride?”

Bon Bon snickered slightly at the ‘secret’ conversation her wife and daughter had had.

“Alright, if you insist. Majority rules!”

Her brilliant-gamboge dwimmer shimmer lighting up, Lyra levitated Toot Sweet onto her wife’s back, where the little befreckled Unicorn began to tap her hooves eagerly. Grinning, Bon Bon’s eyes began to flash with a magical shimmer alternating between cobalt-blue and light-fuchsia. In a matter of moments, the small round Earth Pony’s physique began to arc upwards as if pulled upwards by an invisible taffy machine. Her saddle-bags settled around her shoulders, her body molding itself in such a way as to keep them supported as she hoisted her daughter up with her taffy-like arching back, undulating upwards and downwards. Toot Sweet let out a high Yay! at her mama’s mare-made roller-coaster.

“That’s a neat trick that your mom has, Tootsie!” called out a familiar voice. Sweetie Belle was passing by with her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders and her parents.

“Hey there, kiddos!” greeted Lyra, exchanging hoof-bumps with each Crusader in turn.

“Good afternoon, kids. Good afternoon, Hondo, Pearl,” Bon Bon added as well, her voice surprisingly steady given that everything between both pairs of legs had stretched upwards and was presently giving Toot Sweet a taffy roller-coaster ride.

“Good afternoon, Heartstringses,” Hondo said casually. “Today’s gonna be a very special day fer me an’ my family.”

“Oooh, lemme guess, Hondo…!” Lyra said with a not-entirely irrational exuberance. “You two are pregnant!”

Pearl waved a hoof dismissively, “Oh, you’ll be right one of these days if you keep askin’ folks that, Lyra. But yer not entirely wrong, either.”

In front of ponies from outside her clique of Crusaders, Scootaloo tried to keep a façade of cool indifference even as Sweetie Belle threw her forelegs around her and squealed, “My parents are adopting Scootaloo!”

Toot Sweet’s eyes boggled up at on her mama’s undulating coils.

“That’s… Scootaloo doesn’t have any parents?”

“Wow, way to be sensitive,” Scootaloo said flatly.

“Whoa, for real?” Lyra’s brilliant-gamboge eyes popped as she stared at the little Pegasus. “I swear I’ve never seen you around the orphanage.”

“I’m usually scooting around Ponyville and practicing my tricks whenever I’m not at school, so that’s not surprising,” Scootaloo answered.

“And don’t forget Crusadin’ fer yer cutie mark,” interjected Apple Bloom.

“Ohh yeah.”

“So, you’re going to be Mr. Flanks & Mrs. Bubbles’s adopted daughter, then?” Bon Bon asked, the magical glow fading from her eyes and her body returning to its natural proportions.

“That’s so great, Scootaloo!” Toot Sweet beamed as she hopped down from her mama’s back. “How long were Sweetie Belle’s parents talking about it?”

Hondo & Pearl met each other’s gaze.

“We decided as soon as we found out she didn’t have a home of her own,” Hondo replied.

“Goodness… that is a quick decision,” Bon Bon commented.

“Well, we couldn’t just let ‘er go on without a family, don’tcha know?” Pearl said.

“Of course not,” Lyra shook her head. “I mean, the orphanage is normally pretty quiet, isn’t it? Foals don’t really stay there all that long… have you really been keeping it a secret all this time, kid?”

Scootaloo avoided eye-contact with the aquamarine mare.

“I didn’t want anypony to think that nopony loved me.”

Bon Bon gave Scootaloo a look deep with pity.

“Ohh, you poor little thing… Being an orphan doesn’t mean that nopony loves you. It just means that you’re waiting for the family that loves you to bring you in.” She put a gentle hoof under Scootaloo’s chin and guided her to meet Bon Bon’s eyes. “Adoption is just another way for ponies to become parents, for a child to find a happy home. And Hondo & Pearl chose you, Scootaloo. They chose you.”

A warm trickle down her cheeks. Scootaloo staggered slightly, rubbing at her eyes with a fetlock.

“I… I…”

The gamboge filly faced Hondo Flanks and Pearl Bubbles.

“Maybe I will be happy with you guys.”

Pearl put a hoof to her chest.

“Of course you will be. You don’t suppose Rarity’s generosity came from nowhere, don’tcha?”

“So, kiddo,” Lyra said brightly, “I guess you guys are off to put it down in writing?”

Hondo nodded, “We’re off to sign th’ paperwork sayin’ that Scootaloo will be livin’ with us, then file it down at th’ Gazebo ta make it official.”

Scootaloo smiled warily, “I kinda hope that Rainbow Dash is okay with this set-up.”

Bon Bon’s muzzle wrinkled slightly, “That mare spends most of her time napping when she’s not performing her weather duties. I don’t know if she’s ready for the responsibility.“

“Rainbow Dash isn’t that bad,” Scootaloo said sharply. “She told me that she’d sent in some application stuff to the Wonderbolts so that she can go to their academy!”

“Really?” Bon Bon raised a cobalt-and-fuchsia eyebrow. “I hope that she’s ready; they have to have some pretty intensive training to join. And even then, there’s the real chance that she could be shunted into the Wonderbolts Reserves instead of the main active unit.”

“But she’s still trying, and she’s not gonna give up on that dream!” insisted Scootaloo.

“I think we’ve both made our points here!” Lyra interjected nervously. “This is supposed to be a happy day for Scoots here, so…” The aquamarine held a hoof up. “High hoof, Scoots?”

Shaking off her grimace, Scootaloo fluttered up in the air as best she could and put a hoof to Lyra’s.

“If any of you feel like dropping by the BonBonnière, you’ll get a discount on whatever sweets you want to buy,” Bon Bon offered.

“We’ll see about takin’ you up on that, Mrs. Heartstrings,” Pearl Bubbles said with a grateful smile.

Scootaloo glanced up at the sheets of paper levitated in Pearl Bubbles’s dwimmer shimmer.

“So, that’s basically saying that you guys have taken me out of Caring Heart’s Home For Homeless Foals?”

“Yes indeed, Scoots,” Hondo said with a bright air. “The day ain’t exactly young, but ya do got a good n’ proper home t’ come back to. Not that Carin’ Heart’s a bad sort for givin’ homespace to parentless foals, but… ya know.”

Pearl Bubbles looked up to the darkening afternoon sky.

“I sure hope that the Mayor is okay with one more bit of paperwork for her to sign today. I understand that it’s pretty busy for her in light a’ all the complaints about Discord an’ all, but th’ sooner we’ve gotcha livin’ under our roof, Scootaloo, th’ better.”

Scootaloo slowed down on propelling herself on her scooter, turning away from Hondo & Pearl.

“You guys don’t really need to do this. I was getting by just fine at Caring Heart’s orphanage…”

“Well, ‘just fine’ ain’t enough fer a cute little filly like you,” said Pearl.

As soon as the word ‘cute’ left the mare’s mouth, Scootaloo’s muzzle wrinkled up and cerise feathers around her neck and shoulders began to bristle.

“I’m not cute…!” she growled.

“Awww, you don’t have to sweat it, ‘sis’,” Sweetie Belle said cloyingly.

Scootaloo scowled at Sweetie Belle.

“If you weren’t my friend, I’d hate you forever for being so sweet.”

“Well, it is in her name, after all, Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom offered.

“Apple Bloom?”


“Shut up.”

“No need ta be so glum, sport,” Hondo said in an appeasing tone. “Sweetie Belle means well, same as her big sister Rarity.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened.

“Wait… Rarity’s gonna be my big sister?”

“Of course she is, Scootaloo; you didn’t forget who my big sister was, did you?”

“But… she’s like the anti-Rainbow Dash!”

“Wait, so… you don’t like Rarity?” Sweetie Belle asked, looking and sounding hurt.

“What? No, of course I don’t not like her! I just… don’t want her to dress me up like a little doll. I’m too cool for that!”

“Oh believe me, I wish that I could be Rarity’s dress-up doll,” Sweetie Belle said flatly, her ears flicking slightly. “Ever since she opened up her dress shop, Carousel Boutique or whatever, her only dress-up dolls were her marrequins. She makes great dresses, but don’t expect them to be your size or even for you…”

“Seems like she makes a pretty good livin’ fer herself, though,” Apple Bloom commented.

“Still, it wouldn’t hurt for her to make a dress for me, would it?”

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt fer you t’ ask her, Sweetie,” Hondo suggested. “But in th’ meantime, we’re just about t’ Town Hall…”

Ponyville Town Square was, to the surprise of the family and friends, quite well-populated. A decently-sized herd had gathered at the front of the Gazebo, staring up at the mayoral podium. The Mayor stood up there, and seemed to be wrapping up a speech.

“…been rather isolated since the advent of this being that the Queens haved called ‘Discord’. And the very same six of our Ponyvillagers who saved Queen Selena from NightMare Moon have since departed for parts unknown to restore peace to our beloved Equestria.”

A rumbling barrage of ponies clopping their forehooves against the cobblestoned square filled the air. Sweetie Belle and her family and friends passed between Mary Smith-Noir and Stellar Eclipse to come closer towards the Mayor’s speech. As they passed through…

Daddy, why do I have to be here? I have better things to do than to stand her surrounded by rubes!”

Diamond Tiara stood beside her father Filthy Rich, as opposite in demeanor as they were in color. While the pale-magenta filly held her nose upturned, her eyes solely on her father, and kept a wide berth between herself and any other ponies, the grayish-amber stallion had an aura about him of being somewhat eager to see what this whole situation was all about.

“Well, daughter,” he began in a jovial tone, “I’ve been informed through the grapevine that a pony with the greatest currency of all has set her sights on Ponyville for the next stop on her tour. And as you can imagine, that is something that grabs my attention.”

“‘Currency’, you say?” Diamond Tiara said, suddenly much more interested. She rubbed a hoof under her chin thoughtfully. “Well, that could certainly be beneficial to our family! A true exercise in my special talent instead of just being stuck with a bunch of subpar low-class schoolfoals.”

“That’s really no way to speak of your classmates, Diamond Tiara,” Filthy Rich said crossly. “Now hush, the Mayor’s speech has begun again.”

“…with the privilege you’ve granted me by electing me as your Mayor, I take great pleasure in introducing you to a mare of great personal wealth, the Love-Yourself Pony herself… Silver Lining!”

The double-doors into the Gazebo opened at the Mayor’s signal, and out stepped a most particular mare.

“Whoa, Nelly!” Apple Bloom exclaimed. “That’s a big mare!”

“But, her name’s Silver Lining, the Mayor just said,” commented Sweetie Belle.

Whatever her name was, she was easily one of the largest mares anypony in Ponyville had ever seen, and definitely the largest Unicorn. Her pale-turquoise barrel was larger around than most Ponyvillagers were tall, even though her legs were all disproportionately short. And though she had an abundance of fluff to her coat, it was clear from her large round face and prominent extra chins that her size was not solely due to her coat being particularly thick. Over the podium that Mayor Stables had acquiesced to her, Silver Lining beamed broadly out at the ponies of Ponyville, and in that expression and those brilliant-orange eyes could be seen a boundless kindness and love.

“Oh my gosh, it’s so great to see so many ponies who’ve taken the time to come out here! I’ve never been to Ponyville before, but I can’t wait to get to know―”

What did Discord do to you?” cried out the voice of Diamond Tiara from the herd. The nearest mares and stallions in the crowd gave her withering looks. Still, there were others who gave the Unicorn at the podium their concerned gazes.

For her part, Silver Lining looked utterly perplexed at the question, her lime-green eyebrows knitting together.

“Nothing… why? Is there something on me? Some purple spots that shouldn’t be there?”

The turquoise mare spun around on her orange hooves, looking herself over. Her cutie mark was of a white star containing a small depiction of Silver Lining’s own face, surrounded by five orange stars. Her Unicorn tail was short and thick, ending in a lime-green broomstick-like skirt. But overall, nothing that seemed out of place on such an extraordinary mare.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s nothing about me that’s different than what it would be on any other day,” she continued with a relieved smile. “But to whoever asked that question, I assume that you don’t know about my condition, so I’ll explain in brief.

“You see, my body cannot burn or metabolize fat properly, so whatever food I eat stays with me a lot longer than it does for most anypony else. And when I was a little − err, well, a not-so-little filly − ” she added with a slight chuckle, “I was not quite the optimistic pony that I am now. I let me judge myself on the fear of the worst thoughts that other ponies could possibly have of me based on my quite substantial girth.

“But then one day, I met a filly about my age who was worse off than I was. She could not use her back legs at all and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair by her family. Her fathers were kind and patient, but she couldn’t help but to fear that they despised being put out or inconvenienced by her. I met her at the Cloudsdale market one day, when she broke down and cried to her fathers that she was just weighing them down. I felt something in me, something that I’d never acted on before, but I felt a drive to reach out to her.

“I talked to her for longer than I’d ever talked with any one pony at once before, but I helped her to realize that she was no burden, that her fathers loved her more than anything, and that she still was capable of many great things. In no time, I felt that she would be alright, and that she and her fathers would be more than alright. Then, I felt a warmth on my flanks, and I saw this!”

She turned her flank towards the audience, providing a look at her cutie mark once more. Upon second glance, it was apparent that the mini-Silver Lining face on her cutie mark was smiling.

“My special talent, that I learned that day, is to help ponies to see what they’re really capable of. I’ve traveled all over Equestria and helped a great many ponies who had no idea what to do with their lives, as I had thought as a filly. And believe me when I say that I’ve never been happier than when I could help ponies in need!”

Silver Lining turned her attention to a spot behind Sweetie Belle’s family. Turning around, they saw that it was Stellar Eclipse, with his hoof up in the air.

“You have a question?” Silver Lining asked.

The chocolate-brown Pegasus nodded, “Whatever happened to that filly who helped you get your cutie mark?”

Silver Lining let out a short giggle.

“Well, you’ve probably heard of her. Her name is Gilded Lily, and she’s currently the Governor of Canterlot!”

Significant murmurs broke out across the herd in front of the Gazebo, astonished at the effect that this admittedly quite bloated Unicorn had had on their modern history.

“But I didn’t come up to this stage to make this about me,” Silver Lining said in a raised voice, calling the attention of the Ponyvillagers again. “I came here to talk to you, Ponyville, about you. Because… I know that things look tough with this new ‘Discord’ fella, all the Chaos-beasts that he’s created that are roaming around the plains and spooking our towns, the bizarre and unthought-of ideas for the precipitation that falls on us.

“But all I gotta say is,” she continued with a deeper sense of optimism in her voice, “haven’t we as Equestrians toughed out problems like this all the time in our history? When the Windigos closed in, Pansy, Clover, and Smart Cookie did what they could to bring forth a new nation! When the Qílín of Misfortune threatened to bring down our system of society by spreading chaos between allies and best friends, everypony did their part to make sure we stood together! And when the Great Devil Lord of Tartarus tried to sap away the very magic from our veins, we did the same! For every one of the beasts that is sealed away in Tartarus, we have all done what we do best to stand tall: we’ve been ourselves, and we’ve loved ourselves!

“So I say to you now, Ponyville, as I say to every pony I’ve met since I got my cutie mark: be yourself, and above all, love yourself. As long as you stay true to yourself, you can do whatever you set your heart and mind to. And as long we love ourselves and each other, there’s nothing anyone can do to keep us down!”

Tears were running down the turquoise mare’s face now, energy and passion filling every fiber of her being, such that she seemed to radiate with light and power. It proved to be infectious, as nearly everypony in the Town Square had begun to cheer themselves, smiles and optimistic cries of joy filling the air. Earth Ponies stomped their hooves, Unicorn dwimmer shimmers of every color lit the square, and Pegasi called forth small gusts that buffeted manes and gladdened the heart.

Only one heart seemed untouched by Silver Lining’s motivational speech.

“Daddy, you said that she was rich,” Diamond Tiara sneered, “but I didn’t hear a single word about her finances.”

Filthy Rich looked puzzled for a brief moment.

“Ohh, of course! I did use the word ‘currency’, didn’t I? Well, when I said that, I didn’t mean that she was particularly well-to-do. What I meant for you to take away, Diamond Tiara, is that kindness and love have more to do with being well-loved yourself than any mountain of bits.”

The tiara-wearing filly looked utterly befuddled, but had little time to react much further as a gray Pegasus colt blurted out to his dark-coated big brother:

“Thunderlane, I don’t feel like a colt! I wanna be a filly and I want to wear dresses and makeup and all that!”

Half the eyes and ears in the herd turned upwards towards the Pegasus brothers in question. Rumble’s round purple eyes were wide and his (her?) mouth was tightly drawn, while Thunderlane eyed his little brother (sister?) with a degree of shock.

“Rumble…? You really…?”

“Being a colt doesn’t feel right, and doing colt things don’t feel like ‘me’! You’re such a great stallion, Thunderlane, but I wanna feel pretty, like a mare! And I… don’t really feel like ‘Rumble’ fits for me, either.”

The foal’s ears drooped and his (her?) eyes slid shut.

“Please, don’t hate me for not wanting to be your little brother anymore.”

A pair of forelegs looped themselves around the little Pegasus, and when he she looked, Thunderlane regarded her with a soft smile.

“How could I ever hate you for wanting to be yourself, little br − little sis. You can be whatever you want to be, and call yourself whatever you want. Tumble, if you want.”

The little Pegasus blushed pink.

“Well, that feels better, but… we’ll have to see, won’t we?”

Thunderlane nodded.

“Yeah, that we will.”

Big brother and little sister hugged. A chorus of Awwwws filled the air. Silver Lining beamed proudly at the scene from behind the podium.

“Well, that explains th’ mystery a’ why Rumble − uhh, Tumble was starin’ at Rarity’s dresses in the windows,” Apple Bloom said brightly. “He − err, I mean, she just wanted t’ feel more like a filly!”

“Yeah, but there’s still the unsolved mystery of Rarity’s more rambunctious past,” Scootaloo said with a sly grin.

“I thought we were gonna try to get our cutie marks in matchmaking…” Sweetie Belle mused.

Apple Bloom waved a hoof dismissively, “Let’s worry ‘bout all that later. Fer now, let’s just be glad for Tumble.”

“How sentimental.”

The voice seemed to emanate from every direction and from everything, but most eyes in Town Square found themselves turning upwards. The trio of Flower sisters were the first to scream and bolt for safety, followed by numerous fillies and colts and the wealthier families of Ponyville. For the most part, though, just over two-thirds of the Ponyvillagers in Town Square stayed rooted to the spot, staring upwards in terror.


And he wasn’t alone.

At his side, encased in what looked like an amorphous glass bubble, was the largest dog that anypony had ever seen, though it could hardly count for being associated with the likes of the Apple family’s Winona. Its form was more like a wolf than a dog, its fur long, black, and unkempt, and it had three heads, each with eyes that glowed a baleful blood-red. Around the necks of each head were manes woven of twisting black serpents, each one with glowing red eyes. Down the dog’s back did trail this mane of black snakes in place of shaggy black fur, and its three tails were long and thin, covered in black scales, each ending in the head of a snake. It had six legs, four in a row at the front. It clawed and bit ferociously at its enclosure, but to no avail.

And above Discord floated a countless many other… things. It was impossible to tell what any of them were or if they were related to one another. Each and every one of them swelled and shrunk, grew and lost limbs, became beautiful and then ugly, and changed colors in complete randomosity.

“I mean, isn’t it so nice when a little somebody decides that they don’t feel like the binary gender they were assigned at birth and insist upon one of the myriad of alternatives from what their body tells that they are.”

Discord then turned and faced you.



“I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.”

Apple Bloom asked, “Who’s he talkin’ to?”

“Oh, just a hundred-billion faceless shadows that stare down from beyond at every move that we make,” said a sly voice in the filly’s ear. Dozens of ponies screamed in alarm, as Discord was suddenly standing in their midst, the bubble containing the vicious and abominable dog much closer now as well. As each head thrashed about, three tongues could be seen in each mouth.

“What shadows?” growled Thunderlane, throwing himself as a shield between Discord and Tumble.

“Nothing that your feeble pony minds could comprehend,” Discord answered, the Chaos-beasts overhead descending slowly towards Ponyville. “There are things that creep outside your realms of comfort, between the waking world and the world of sleep, between this material world and the nothingness of Chaos, that would drive you to insanity just to behold them…”

The draconequus’s face split in a large grin.

“And I can’t wait to get you acquainted~!”

…a quite literal split in his face, as the upper half of Discord’s head rolled off and landed on the cobblestone square below. Ponies shrieked in terror and backpedaled away.

“But let’s not lose our heads here,” Discord said casually as he picked up his head and affixed it back in place backwards. “And let’s not get our heads all twisted about either trying to work things out.”

There was a sound like cracking bones and twisting muscle and skin as something happened with his misplaced head. Nopony who was present that day could say for certain to their dying day if they witnessed the lower part of Discord’s head spin around against the integrity of its own muscles and skeletal constructs to match the orientation of the misplaced upper half before the entire structure continued onwards with his head in its proper place once more, or if something far worse had happened and their own minds was substituting what had transpired with something they could process.

“I mean, let’s be real. I make all of this for you little ponies, everything from the most miniscule iota of a subatomic particle, all the way up to the grandest of planets orbiting this rock you call home, and when I decide to spend this universe’s remaining eons unraveling all those plans and just having fun instead, you decide that enough is too much.”

He scoffed.

“And I thought that I was the one who didn’t make sense.”


An otherworldly sound rent the air, as though the planet Harmonia itself had cracked in two like a great egg. The sphere that contained the three-headed dog had split, and the great beast landed with an earth-shaking slam. Now that it was much closer, the ponies of Ponyville could see that the vast bulk of its body, which reached far above Ponyville’s roofs, was marred by countless scars. All three heads set their hate-filled gaze upon Discord, each and every serpent head as well, and a low rumble like an earthquake filled the air.

Discord yawned.

“Oh do take a walk, Fido. You’ve gotten even friskier than my twitchy little whalobsquid, and who can really blame you? I mean, my little sunshine and moonbeams have left you on guard duty this whole time, keeping a lid on all that good juicy chaos that they decided they were just too good for.”

The three-headed dog lunged at Discord with a feral snarl, three snake-headed tails poised to strike the draconequus’s neck…

A snap of Discord’s claws, and muzzles appeared around each of the beast’s three dog mouths. As it reached Discord, he vanished in a puff of smoke and reconstituted behind the dog. With a snap of his lion’s paw, a collar affixed itself to each of the dog’s three heads, each leading to a singular strap held in Discord’s eagle claw. Another snap, and pet cones appeared around the dog’s three necks, and innumerable smaller ones around each of the snakes’ necks as well.

“There now, isn’t that much better, son?” Discord said in a saccharine tone.

Heads were spinning; this was just too much to take in at once.

“Ummm, Discord, sir…?” asked the Mayor frightfully. “Who is that dog? Is it…?”

“If you’re going to ask if this dog is Cerberus, then you’d probably be right,” said the draconequus casually, leaning against the now-identified dog as if he were a high table. “Of course, I always found that to be a rather pretentious name, but my little sunshine was always a touch dramatic. Something she never really lost, as a matter of fact. And then she had to go and lock away all her other brothers and sisters and assorted calamity-bringers in a big deep hole underground and set this bad boy here to keep them inside, all while keeping me sealed away in stone.”

Discord turned to make eye contact with each frightened pony in turn.

“I mean, is that any way to treat family?”

The word ‘family’ rung out through the herd louder than thunder. The Queens of Equestria were kin to the nameless beasts of Tartarus, and to this draconequus Discord…?

“But, if Cerberus is here,” asked Ditzy Doo uncertainly, “then, does that mean that…?”

“Bingo. I pulled the plug on Tartarus~”

Discord beamed broadly at the mortified Ponyvillagers.

“What can I say except ‘You’re welcome’~?”





chapter 0rang3_. Back On Track

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A heavy silence filled the foyer of the Pie family homestead.

“Thou art striking the nail upon the head, art thee not, Miss Twilight Sparkle?” asked Igneous Rock in a low voice. “Because, I doth recollect a connection between the Queen of Equestria and the Maker of the World being implied in the stone-graven compendiums of my forefathers.”

“There can’t be a connection!” Twilight repeated emphatically, her mane and tail seeming to curl and unravel on their own in her manic state. “The Queens are too good and pure to be connected to somebody so horrible! They just can’t be…!”

“Hey, Purple-Smart,” Rainbow Dash interjected, one eyebrow retreating into her forelock as the other wrinkled her eye. “Did we ever know anything about the Queens’ dad? I mean, that’s a bit of an empty void right there, isn’t it?”

“But not Discord!” Twilight shouted in denial. “Anypony but Discord! I’d even accept Fylfot of the Orden des Tetraskelion as their father over Discord! Or even Perun the traitorous Axex! Because at least they’re not horrors from beyond our three-dimensional frame of mind!”

”Sugar-cube…” cooed Applejack, putting a hoof under Twilight’s muzzle, pulling the lavender Unicorn’s gaze from an indeterminate spot below the floor, to meet her eye to eye. “Ya really need ta take a lie down. Yer gettin’ yerself all worked up. You’ve bin puttin’ yer mind inta way too many books today.”

Despite Twilight’s feeble attempts at protests, Applejack managed to hoist the Unicorn onto her back, the tooth-shaped scars on her back rough against Twilight’s belly. Feeling the steady breath and heartbeat beneath her touched something inside Twilight Sparkle, and she felt a peace burbling up through her from that point of contact. Matching her breath to Applejack’s, Twilight felt the knot of existential terror loosening inside her, being replaced with an all-consuming urge to cry.

Twilight’s mind slowed down to a crawl, her eyes closed, and the palomino below her seemed to take an eternity to reach her guest bedroom. The terror ebbed, but the shock of the revelation of the Queens’ paternity still remained. How could that be possible…? And why hadn’t Queen Celestia told her…?

Despite the invasive feelings of misery, Twilight felt her body sliding down onto a soft plush surface. They had reached her bedroom.

“Now, Ah’m gonna stick by ya till ya gotcher head back on straight, Twilight,” came Applejack’s voice. “Ah’m gonna make certain thatcha don’t get inta any books fer the time bein’, ‘cause there’s a price ta pay fer wantin’ ta know too much.”

Twilight had nothing to say. What else could she say? It’s not like Applejack was wrong. After all, it was the lavender Unicorn’s thirst for knowledge that had led to her discovering the unbelievable.

Her thoughts and emotions racing faster than light, Twilight Sparkle laid there with closed eyes, and cried.

“Y’know, it does kinda make sense,” the cerulean Pegasus mused aloud. “I mean, who’s ever heard of a pony with wings and a horn? It’s like some crazy mutant thing outta comics and fanmags.”

“Don’t go sayin’ that too loudly around the wrong ponies, Rainbow,” Applejack warned with a sharp tone.

“What? It’s the truth.”

“The truth can be a hard pill ta swallow fer some ponies. Just look at Twilight.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie Pie interjected. “I mean, the doozy’s passed, so what Twilight found out has to have been it. And hoo boy was that a doozy to end all doozies!”

“It really was, but…” Cerise eyes narrowed. “Nothing gets to you, does it, AJ?”

Applejack avoided Rainbow Dash’s gaze. “You’d be surprised.”

“I dunno, you seem to be taking this in stride pretty good.”

“Somepony here has ta be strong,” Applejack said darkly, pulling her Stetson down over her eyes.

“But what happens when you can’t be strong anymore?” Fluttershy interjected. “Won’t you need to let somepony else be strong for you?”

Applejack opened her mouth to say something, but froze. She tried to say something again, but failed.

“I can be strong for everypony,” the pale-gold Pegasus continued in an odd tone. “I’ve been strong for Fluttershy for so long, you know…!”

“No!” Fluttershy snapped, her head whipping to the side to face somepony that nopony else could see. “I know what sort of strength you think is strength, but you’re just a bully!”

Me? A bully?” the other Fluttershy hissed menacingly, her eyes and horns flashing. “I was the one who protected you from Dumbbell and his cronies when Rainbow Dash was away! I was the one who stood up to Warm Front and Posey when they scared Zephyr off! I was the one who stood up to that nurse at Ponyville General so that your friend Twilight could get a good hospital bed! I’m not a bully! You need me.”

“I don’t think I like this new Fluttershy,” Pinkie Pie whimpered, her mane and tail sagging slightly.

“Oh, I don’t know, I really like this ‘New Fluttershy’,” said the other Fluttershy. “And believe me, you guys are gonna be seeing ‘this new Fluttershy’ a lot more from now on! In this New Age Of Discord, everypony’s going to need a more assertive Fluttershy!”

Rainbow Dash looked pained at the changes in her ex-fiancée. “How did I never know that you were there…? I thought I knew Fluttershy better than anypony…”

“Oh you did, Rainbow Dash, apart from me, of course,” the New Fluttershy said. “But I’m not Fluttershy, I’m her guardian when nopony else will be there for her. When even you fail to stand up.”

Fluttershy’s jaw worked, teeth clenching together.

“You… won’t… talk to my Rainbow… like that!”

“Ohh, so now you’re defending her? What about that one time she pranked you by tricking you into thinking you were being chased by a creature of the Everfree when it was really her wearing a bunch of twigs and branches? What sort of friend or lover does that? I thought she knew how sensitive you were.”

“Wait, that really bothered you?” Rainbow Dash wondered, suddenly taken aback.

“Dashie wasn’t trying to hurt me, even if her taste in pranks can be a bit… overwhelming.”

“But it still hurt. You were alone in the dark, at the edge of the Everfree, and then…!”

“Shut up!” Fluttershy put her hooves to either side of her head, clenching her eyes shut. Her ears fell flat behind her horns, which were at least a quarter-hoof longer each. “Shut up shut up shut up! Dashie’s not perfect, but neither are you! And you may be part of me, but Dashie is mine! And I won’t let you talk down about her!”

The New Fluttershy sighed, “Well then… if that’s how it is… then you’re not gonna be hearing from me for a while. When you need me again, I’ll be there. But don’t ask for me, because I won’t be listening!”

As the last words left her mouth, Fluttershy’s body seized up and she fell to the floor, her mane draping over herself and Rainbow Dash as the cerulean mare swept over to catch her. She brushed aside the pale-rose mane to meet Fluttershy’s eyes.

“I had no idea that prank had hurt you like that,” Rainbow Dash said in a soft tone rarely heard out of her. “I mean, I do love myself a good prank, and I won’t lie because I do like getting under other ponies’ skins − ” (“Big surprise there,” remarked Applejack.) “ − but boy, if I’d had known that I wouldn’t of done that.”

“It wasn’t that important, Dashie, you were just―”

“Now don’t be goin’ on about how ‘you were just havin’ fun’, Fluttershy,” Applejack cut in. “Rainbow shoulda known better than ta pullin’ sumthin’ like that on ya, knowin’ ya fer so long an’ all that.”

“Umm, I’m kinda coming to terms with that on my own, thanks a bunch, AJ?” Rainbow Dash said with a prismatic eyebrow cocked.

Pinkie giggled, “I thought Dashie was the one who was the brutally honest one, Jackie.”

“Just ‘cause Rainbow’s the one with the Element a’ Honesty don’ mean that the rest of us are a buncha liars. And believe me, Ah ain’t gunna mince words when Ah see somepony who needs ta be called out.”

“So our Elements of Harmony are basically interchangeable, you’re saying,” Rainbow Dash quipped.

“Ah don’ think so, Ah’m sure we’d need ta ask Twilight about that, an’ Ah don’ wanna tax her mind at the moment.”

Fluttershy nodded, before leaning her head down unconsciously, Rainbow Dash beside her feeling the rough texture of the growing horns on the taller mare’s head grip against her mane.

“I think maybe you should go take a rest yourself, Fluttershy. Looks like dealing with that other Fluttershy pulled a number on you.”

Fluttershy made a soft Mhm in her throat, sounding almost exactly like Marble Pie before she trudged off to her guest room.

“Boy oh boy, there seems to be a lot of lackluster energy going on around here, isn’t there?” Pinkie Pie remarked to Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“We’re in a rock farm, Pinkie Pie, things are bound to be slower than snails,” grumbled Rainbow Dash.

“Ah don’ know if ya noticed this, Rainbow, but this here rock farm also gave the world Pinkie Pie.”

“Touché,” Rainbow Dash said after a moment.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m gonna go downstairs and hang out with Ma & Pa and Maud and Marble and Limestone ‘cause my kidneys are trying to switch places and that’s the Pinkie Sense for my family feeling all bluesy and I get the feeling it’s about the queens being Dizzy’s babies!”

And as quick as leaving an afterimage behind in the eyes of the two mares left in the upstairs corridor, Pinkie Pie darted downstairs.

“I’m gonna follow her,” Rainbow said.

“Ah’m stayin’ here by Twilight’s room.”

“You’re, like, way too close to her without being an item. When are you two gonna tie the knot?”

Applejack’s scarred muzzle turned red.

“It ain’t like that! Ah… Ah just wanna make sure Ah’m there when she wakes up!”

Rainbow Dash stared up at Applejack’s impassioned expression for a few seconds, before flapping into the air and gliding down the staircase and angling herself to the sitting-room, alighting on a pillow between the Pies Pinkie and Limestone.

“How fares thy friend Twilight Sparkle?” asked Cloudy Quartz.

“She’s pretty zonked out from what she’d found out about,” Rainbow Dash answered. “That filly’s got way too much curiosity for her own good. This wouldn’t of happened if she didn’t have her head in those books so much.”

“The mind is not limited in the level of knowledge that it can store,” Maud remarked levelly. “The pony brain is, after all, not at all like a rock.”

“Exactly, Maud~” Pinkie said brightly to the mare on her right.

“Uhhh, how exactly is she ‘exactly’ right, Pinkie?” Rainbow asked.

“The mind is a plastic organ, able to adapt to whatever information that it takes in,” Maud explained. “Rocks are old, and hard, and very resistant to change. It take thousands of years for a mountain to erode from wind and water.”

She rested a hoof on Boulder.

“No. Bad Boulder. No supper for you if you keep that up.”

Rainbow looked up to her left at Limestone, “Your little sisters are weird.”

Limestone’s green eye nearly popped out of its socket as it leveled at the cerulean Pegasus beside her. Suddenly, Rainbow Dash realized all too suddenly that her own torso was slimmer than one of Limestone’s own forelegs, which were tightening as the muscles rippled underneath her coat.

“You watch what you say, little mare,” Limestone growled. “I know that you Pegasi have a lot of hollow bones for flying. If you keep this up, I might just use you to find out exactly how many hollow bones a Pegasus has.”

“Awww, don’t be such a grumpy-pants, Limestone, Dashie didn’t mean anything mean by it!” Pinkie said while throwing her forelegs around Rainbow. “So really, saying that she ‘didn’t mean anything mean’ isn’t the most accurate thing to say. Why do we use the word mean like that when somepony couldn’t have meant anything mean at all? Oh well, I still love you lots and lots, Dashie~~!

And Pinkie planted several smooches on Rainbow’s left cheek.

“Uhhh, Pinkie, weren’t you just kissing Fluttershy the other day?”

“Oh, I love both of you, Dashie~!”

“Yeah, me and Fluttershy and your family too.”

Pinkie’s muzzle scrunched up as though she’d just tasted the most bitter extract from lemons or limes.

Ewwwwww no, I couldn’t love my Ma & Pa or any of my sisters like that at all, Dashie D:! They’re my family! But you and Flutters are just both so adorable~~~!”

Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz shared a glance with each other.

“Mrs. Pie.”

“Mr. Pie.”

The two of them gazed at Rainbow Dash with uncommonly soft looks.

“We give Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy our blessing, Pinkamena,” Igneous Rock said.

“Many boons be upon you,” Cloudy Quartz added.

“What are you guys talking about?” Rainbow Dash gasped out from Pinkie’s grip, utterly perplexed. “What position are you guys even in to give me and Fluttershy your blessing?”

But Pinkie let out a squeal so high that only Bat Ponies would be able to hear it soon and clenched Rainbow Dash even tighter in her grip.

“I can’t wait to tell Fluttershy the good news!”

Rainbow Dash groaned. What had she gotten herself roped into? It wasn’t just Pinkie and her sisters that were weird, it was the whole stinking Pie family!

With a sigh, Applejack turned her gaze back at the door to Twilight’s guest room. For a rare moment, she gave thanks to the lessons in subtlety and grace and façades and such from her Aunt & Uncle Orange. As much as she’d put on the airs that she’d remained unaffected, the truth was that she was crying inside.

That no-good good-for-nuthin’ Discord, the father a’ th’ Queens? she thought to herself. It just can’ be true! The Queens are just too good to be his kin! It’s just… consarnit, it’s just dang inconceivable! Ah wanna believe ya, Twilight, letcha know that yer way smarter than a silly little farmer like me could ever be, but this is just…!

She rubbed her left foreleg with a sigh.

Ah mean, how much a’ th’ Queens is even pony ta begin with? You know so much about all sortsa magical disguises an’ glamours an’ all that. What in the world sorta drakonakis creatures are they really? An’, what do they really think of us ponies…?

Applejack shook her head furiously, almost dislodging her Stetson.

No. Queen Celestia and Queen Selena ain’t like that, not one bit. What kinda pony am Ah ta think thoughts like that about the pair of ‘em? They built this beautiful land of Equestria fer the lot of us, riskin’ so much against Discord an’ the hordes a’ Tartarus. An’, that means that they didn’ just defy th’ spirit a’ chaos an’ disharmony, but their own father at that. Ah… don’ think Ah could do the same.

At that moment, she heard a shuffling behind her, from Twilight’s guest room door. Turning, she spotted the doorknob shining with a pink dwimmer shimmer, turning, the door swinging inwards as a disheveled and red-eyed Unicorn stepped out.

“Hi, Applejack,” she said with a weak cracking voice.

“Hi, sugar-cube,” Applejack replied.

“I… think I’m ready to get us back on track collecting the Elements again.”

“Umm, excuse me, Mr. & Mrs. Pie,” Rainbow Dash said through Pinkie Pie’s vice-grip, “but what the hay is there reason for you guys to give me and Fluttershy your blessings? You’re not even related to either of us.”

Pinkie’s parents exchanged quizzical looks.

“Pinkamena hast spoken so glowingly of thee every time she has written letters to us,” Igneous Rock said, “and with such color in her speech to boot.”

“Thou, thy Fluttershy, and Pinkamena feel as though you would have a wonderful dynamic, so we have given the three of you our blessing.”

Rainbow’s heart leapt into her throat.

Excuse me, world, she thought, her mind and heart racing, but I just had a breakup with Fluttershy a couple weeks ago for moving too fast and now I’m the one asking you to slow down! I mean, how did I get here with my friend who I didn’t think liked me like that kisses me and now her parents are saying we should MARRY? Me and Pinkie and Fluttershy?

“But I − it’s − just − you guys have only known me for, like, a few days at the most! We didn’t even meet before NightMare Night! How could you two have already decided to give us your blessing for a herd marriage?”

“We admit that it is rather hasty of us,” Igneous Rock nodded. “After all, Mrs. Pie’s parents did not give us their blessing for a whole week.”

Rainbow’s cerise eyes nearly popped out of her head.

“A week? And how long had you known each other before that?”

Cloudy Quartz answered, “We were chosen by the Choosing Stone a week before my mother and father gave their blessing, and betrothed within a fortnight.”

Two weeks?” Rainbow echoed in disbelief. “You only knew each other two weeks before you got hitched?”

“That is the life we know, Rainbow Dash,” Igneous Rock explained. “The Choosing Stone decreed ‘You shalt love each other’, and lo, it was so.” He and his wife locked eyes with what Rainbow could only assume were passionate expressions for such stiff ponies.

“And, you gave me your blessing after only knowing me for a few days.”

“I knowwwwww, isn’t it exciting~~~~~?” Pinkie squealed shrilly, rubbing her cheek firmly agianst Rainbow’s. “Ma & Pa, thank you soooooo much! 8D

Limestone cast her eyes past Pinkie and Rainbow Dash to Marble, “There’s no questioning Pinkie’s romantic interests.”

“Mm-mm,” Marble replied with a shake of her head.

“And truly, were it not for thy Sonic Rainboom, Rainbow Dash, it would be possible that our Pinkamena would not have acquired her cutie mark,” Cloudy Quartz said, and Rainbow Dash found herself hanging onto the matriarch’s words. The grayish-opal mare stared at Rainbow over the frames of her half-moon glasses. “Our Pinkamena was a very dull and gray filly growing up, but not enjoying the work about the rock farm as her sisters or any other Pie would.”

Pinkie Pie giggled, “I was literally gray…!”

“Wait a minute,” Rainbow Dash pushed away from Pinkie, no mean feat. “So, you mean you were gray more often than just that time in Pundamilia?”

Igneous Rock blinked at the cerulean Pegasus, “Thou hast borne witness to Pinkamena in a state of grayness? She did let us know that she had been overtaken by grayness while separated from her party of friends, but we were not aware that she had rendezvoused with her friends while still in such condition.”

Pinkie grinned nervously, “I, uhhh, might have left the teensiest little itty-bitty sprinkle of a part of that out.”

Cloudy Quartz produced a photo album from a nearby side table, and scrolled through the first few pages. As Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie drew around the album, Cloudy Quartz came to a particular photograph. Mr. & Mrs. Pie looked barely any younger, but their fillies clearly were. Maud had a surprisingly warm expression, and she stood almost on level with her parents. Marble’s forelock only barely covered one eye, and she already showed a degree of lankiness that grew ahead of her Earth Pony hardiness. Limestone’s mane hung flatter and less spiny, her expression less fierce, though she remained as stocky as ever. But the greatest change of all was Pinkie Pie.

She looked nothing like the round pink Earth Pony looking down at the album. Half the size of her twin, dull-gray in coat, ashen-white in mane that fell almost completely over her face, and with pitch-black spirals in pale-white eyes in place of irises or pupils. Marble beside her seemed downright bubbly and extroverted by comparison. Her tail curled around her haunches as she sat, as though she attempted to withdraw into herself and be unseen from the world. A more miserable expression on a filly could not be imagined.

“She spoke not a single word her entire fillyhood,” Igneous Rock said with a nostalgic gaze at the page. “For the whole time we thought her to be mute. That is, till the day she had earned her cutie mark. And then, that was when the rosy hue of her coat returned. And all the words that had remained unspoken for nearly a douzaide came spilling forth.”

“‘Returned’? She was pink before?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“The day we brought her in, Pinkamena was as pink as her namesake,” Cloudy Quartz explained. “Once she would have been old enough to speak, however, her coat dulled to what thou can see here.” She almost smiled. “Suffice it to say that we… quite did not expect her to speak at all. Now we cannot go by without it.”

“It was quite astonishing to hear that bright and cheery voice,” added Maud. “I had almost forgotten how vibrant Pinkie was as a newborn, so for a moment myself, Limestone, and Marble thought that she was a stranger filly who had wandered into our sitting-room and set up a party.”

“Mhm,” agreed Marble.

“But when we realized who the filly was,” Maud continued, “you cannot imagine just how overjoyed we were. Limestone, Marble, and I did not detest Pinkie for her foalhood muteness, but it still brought unfathomable delight when she was able to speak her feelings so plainly.”

Limestone nodded quickly.

Trotting hoofsteps came from the stairs just beyond the sitting-room, one set lighter than the other. Twilight Sparkle entered, levitating a dozing Rarity in her dwimmer shimmer, followed by Applejack. The lavender Unicorn had dark circles under her eyes, which looked slightly bloodshot. Paired with her growing stubble, she gave all the appearance of a vagabond.

“Sorry for my episode back there, everypony,” she said in a delicate tone of voice. “It was… quite a shock, to put it mildly.”

Rainbow waved a hoof airily, “I dunno, there’s like literally no other Alicorns in the world, so it makes sense that the Queens would be mutant draconequuses like Discord.”

“You’re forgetting the Alicorns of Love, Rainbow,” Twilight responded sharply.

“They don’t count, since the Queens made the first Alicorn of Love.”

“I guess, but still, who could have possibly called that regarding the Queens? And I’m not here to talk about the Queens, I’m here to get us back on track to track down the Elements of Harmony again.”

“Oh wow, really?” Pinkie Pie said brightly, looking up at… something above the ceiling. “How many chapters has it been since we found Dashie’s Element?”

“Ummmm, it’s only been two or three days, Pinkie?” Rainbow Dash said uncertainly. “And what do you mean by ‘chapters’?”

“Well, not all of them were about us, there was that one that dealt with the Cutie Mark Crusaders back in Ponyville and having to deal with a three-headed doggie that Dizzy dropped off there.”

What?” Applejack shouted. “What three-headed dog? The only three-headed dog Ah cin think of is…!”

“Cerberus?!” Twilight gasped. “But if he’s there, then that means that Tartarus is unguarded!”

The air left the room. If the guardian of Tartarus had been vacated, likely forcefully by Discord’s actions, then it was only a matter of time before the hordes within ate away at the other defenses keeping them locked down, and so spilled out upon Equestria.

“Oh no…!” Twilight began to hyperventilate. “Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no! This is bad! This is very very bad!”

“Ughhhh, my head…”

Rarity had stirred from her position where Twilight had deposited her. The curly-haired dirty-coated Unicorn straggled to an upright position, her nostrils flaring as she shook out her grayed mane.

“What in the world could you possibly be shouting about, Twilight?”

“Cerberus is loose! Tartarus is open! There’s very little keeping any of its interred threats from breaking loose!”

Rarity scoffed, “Tell me why I should care. You stole all my glittering baby diamonds from me, and I―”

Twilight screamed in frustration.

“I have HAD IT!” Her horn glowed pink. “You… Du selbstsüchtiger Hortender! This isn’t you, Rarity! And I can’t stand it! I can’t take it anymore!”

Tears flowing from her eyes, she leapt up to Rarity and pulled her down to her her level, touching her alicorn to the base of Rarity’s. Acting wildly, the matrices in Twilight’s horn aligned for a particular spell. One that she had no reason to assume would have any effect.

After an eternal two seconds of contact, it began at the point of contact between Twilight Sparkle and Rarity. A wave of color spread out along Rarity’s coat, past her eyes and up her mane and tail from the roots, down to her fetlocks and hooves. In no time, it became clear that whatever effect that Discord had effected upon Rarity was being reversed. At least externally.

Twilight blinked. Had she just undone the washing-out that Discord had forced on Rarity?

“R… Rarity?” She raised a hoof to the formerly alabaster Unicorn. “Can you hear me?”

The couturière rubbed her head with an unshorn hoof, eyes clenched closed.

“Twilight, darling, why does my head hurt so much? All I can remember is this terrible nightmare where I refused to share in my blessings no matter how much I collected.”

“Well, the nightmare’s over now, Rarity,” Twilight said.

“Yayyy, Rarity’s back~” Pinkie squealed.

Rarity opened her eyes, taking in Twilight’s appearance.

“Goodness gracious, Twilight, you look positively dreadful! Have you been besieged by nightmares yourself?”

Twilight glanced away from Rarity’s gaze, “You could say that.”

“Well, give me just a moment to collect myself and we can get you all polished up − SWEET CELESTIA WHY AM I SO FILTHY?!!”

Rarity stared with horror at the dirt stains and matted fur all over her coat, flicking her tail to check on her ordinarily highly styled skirt, turning in circles to take in all of the horrible lack of tidiness to her look.

How in the name of Equestria could I have let this happen to myself? And WHAT HAPPENED TO MY CUTIE MARK?

With a double-take, Twilight realized that Rarity’s cutie mark had not changed at all. The diamond-shaped symbols on her flanks were still replaced with actual blue diamonds of the exact lozenge-cut of her mark. They seemed to shine a bit brighter than they had before, but why had they not changed back as well?

“What exactly happened here…?”

“You were bewitched by Discord, and apparently given those diamonds in place of your actual cutie mark. I can’t say for certain why the diamonds haven’t disappeared when I cast my anamnesis spell on you. I still can’t believe that it actually worked! I was just… just so mad, and sad, that I thought I’d lost you.”

“Well, I for one am glad to be back,” Rarity smiled at Twilight.

“We all are, Rare, fer sure,” Applejack added.

Rarity looked around, “Where’s Fluttershy?”

“She’s snoozing after having a big argument with the mean Fluttershy,” Pinkie chimed in. “I mean, who can blame her? If I had a mean old split personality like that, I’d be arguing with her all the time! …or would she be a he? Just because he’s in a mare’s body doesn’t mean he’d be a she, right?”

“N-No, Pinkie Pie, no it doesn’t,” Rarity answered, crossing her forelegs. “So, may I inquire as to why everypony is up and about so late? It looks like Queen Celestia’s sun set some hours ago.”

True enough, the window outside was quite dark, only the faintest glow from the drying lava left behind from Maud’s bath.

“I… had a bit of a revelation in delving through the books regarding the Cult of Pi,” Twilight said softly.

“What sort of revelation?”

“I’m sorry, Rarity, but I’d rather not ruin your beauty sleep tonight. It will be our first discussion in the morning, after breakfast. And after that… we delve into Discord’s puzzle again. To find the remaining Elements of Harmony. We’ve waited far too long.”

“Indeed, darling. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, Mr. & Mrs. Pie, I think I’m overdue for a very thorough shower.”

“Go straight ahead, Miss Rarity,” replied Cloudy Quartz, and Rarity left the sitting room for the bathroom.

Applejack twisted about on her guest bed, her mind unable to either find rest or to focus. As relieving as it was to have Rarity back, there still remained the issue of Spike. He had not responded to the same anamnesis spell that Twilight had used to bring Rarity back to her senses, leading Twilight to ponder that Spike’s natural Dragon resistance to magic was hampering her spellwork. At least, that was what Applejack was able to discern from Twilight’s half-formed sobbing.

And there was still the heavy matter of the father of the Queens.

Ah know that they were good ponies − err, well, good sorts, that is, she thought, but sumthin’ still feels outta place here. What made ‘em turn on their kin like they did? Are there any other siblin’s a’ theirs who they managed ta bring over ta th’ good side? An’ if they didn’ turn… did they have to fight ‘em… or worse…?

Applejack’s door creaked open. Her ears swiveled about to catch the sounds of whoever had decided to pay her a bedside visit in the middle of the night. There were hoofsteps, slow and tentative, as though the pony in question were trying not to be heard.

“Applejack?” came Twilight’s voice, hushed and afraid.

The farming Earth Pony turned over onto her left side to face the bedroom door, the silhouette of Twilight Sparkle barely visible in doorframe.

“Twilight?” Applejack asked sleepily.

“I couldn’t sleep, and for some reason, I just felt like I should… be with you, tonight.”

A light feeling swept through Applejack starting from her heart, and because she knew exactly what was the cause of it, she was hesitant to give Twilight admittance. She had already tried to take advantage of Twilight while she was diving into a book earlier in the day. What if she couldn’t resist? Rainbow Dash wasn’t there to stop her from forcing herself on the smaller weaker Unicorn.

She refused to let herself say yes.

“Room fer one more, sugar-cube.”

Consarnit, AJ.

The bedsprings coiled below as Twilight climbed up onto the bed beside the palomino, who turned over onto her right side so as to avoid the temptation. And for a short while, it worked.

“Applejack? Look at me.”

Her muscles tensed.

“No. Ah can’, Twilight. Not while we’re sharin’ a bed.”

“Applejack, I need you to look at me.”

The words I need you stirred Applejack, and she found herself twisting around from laying on her right side to her left side…

And she saw that Twilight’s face was streaked with tears.


“I can’t take it, AJ,” Twilight murmured, “all this chaos. We lost the Elements of Harmony, the order of Equestria is in crisis, and the Queens are…!”

Applejack found herself moving automatically, raising a hoof to Twilight’s cheek.

“Ah know, sugar-cube, it ain’t sumthin’ that any of us wanted. We didn’ ask fer any a’ this. But we gotta stick t’gether an’ support each other through it. Ah learned that when Ah lost my Ma & Pa. Ah couldn’ just leave Big Mac an’ Granny ta raise Apple Bloom on their own.”

Twilight brought a hoof up to touch Applejack’s own.

“Why did we have to be friends in interesting times?”

“Ah don’ like to think about the sortsa folks who’d find these times ‘interesting’.”

“It’s a saying, purported to come from Koriel of Qín, although there are no records of it in any Qílínese documentation: ‘May you live in interesting times’. It supposes that the ‘interesting times’ in question would be determined by strife and war in lieu of love and peace.”

“That sounds like a downright grim lookout on life.”

“And sadly, it almost feels like we are living in interesting times indeed.”

“Tell me about it.”

“First the return of NightMare Moon and then the Queen Selena and now this. The history books will have a great deal to say about this. If there are history books in the future.”

“Now, don’ say things like that, Twilight. That’s not gonna help us at all out there, sniffin’ out the rest a’ th’ Elements a’ Harmony. Ah’m sure that plenty a’ folks in the history books didn’ think they’d live ta have their acts an’ deeds put down on paper.”

Twilight nodded.

“I suppose. The first Age Of Discord still lacks concrete coverage in historical accounts; it’s even commonly practiced in historical accounts preceding and succeeding the Age Of Discord to not assign it any years and to simply start over with the reign of the Queens.” She closed her eyes. “I’m sure they meant well, but… what are they?”

“They’re our Queens, an’ they wouldn’ta done what they did if they didn’ love every one of us,” Applejack answered softly. “An’ maybe, there’s a good reason that we don’ know exactly what they are.”

“I guess…”

Applejack withdrew her hoof from Twilight’s face, and turned over onto her back.

“An’ what does it matter, what they were like then? They’re our Queens now, an’ they’re fixin’ ta save th’ lot of us from all sortsa troubles from the Griffons to the odd rogue Dragon.”

A pair of hooves threw themselves around Applejack’s left foreleg, and she felt her heart skip slightly at the touch. Twilight looked up into Applejack’s green eyes.

“Stay with me, won’t you, Applejack?”

Once more Applejack found herself being piqued by Twilight’s choice of words, and one of her heartstrings plucked at the prospect of reciprocation. But her head ruled over her heart that there was no way a high-class Canterlot Unicorn could be interested in a low-class rube Earth Pony farmer like herself.

“Sure Ah will. As th’ Bearer a’ th’ Element of Loyalty.”

The morning of the dozen-third of Hurricane (which would be the sixtieth day of the month of Bureaucracy in the Cult of Pi’s calendar) came soon after, and though there was sufficient rest from the events of the previous night, the dawn came far too soon. Twilight knew that Rarity needed to learn what she had learned and what she told the rest of her friends, but the prospect of telling her was far from a palatable notion.

But even so, one sometimes needed to bite the arrowhead.

“The father of the Queens?” Rarity shouted shrilly. “But they’re both such lovely creatures and… that… is just so wretched and not even symmetrical!”

“Queen Celestia’s crown serves as a power limiter, we know that much,” Twilight answered, tapping a hoof against the wooden floor in front of her pillow-seat. “We can assume that the rest of her regalia functions in a manner not unlike a glamour, keeping her non-equine features locked away.”

“We don’ exactly need ta worry ‘bout that, though, Ah imagine,” Applejack said. “They’ve bin supportin’ us ponies fer a dog’s age, so they ain’ exactly likely ta be conspirin’ against us with their father.”

“But, supposing that the limiters on this glamour have, well, a limit,” Rarity insisted. “I have dreamed of the coming of the day when I could design dresses for the Queens.”

Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow at the alabaster Unicorn.

“Really? I thought we were done associating with the upper crust after that Blueblood character turned out to be a real heel, Rarity.”

“Well, it’s… not about him, you must understand, Rainbow Dash, it’s about… finding a broader clientele, pursuing a greater artistic challenge. And what would be more challenging than to provide Carousel Couture-brand couturial apparel for the Queens of Equestria themselves?” She waved a hoof sheepishly. “Free of charge, of course. I shan’t demand nor accept a single unbit of pay from either of them.”

“But if they’re not really ponies,” Pinkie Pie interjected, “wouldn’t that be even more of a super-duper challenge than if they were like the rest of Equestria? I mean, how many legs or wings or eyes do they have when they’re wearing their true colors? Like, they could totally have wings coming out where their eyes should be and a barrel totally covered in eyeballs or even birdie claws like the Griffons have…!” The rosy Earth Pony shuddered at the last part.

“They’re called ‘talons’, Pinkie,” Twilight answered flatly. “And really, Rarity, I think that there are greater things to be concerned about regarding the Queens than whether you’ll be able to design dresses for them if their pony forms are not indeed their true forms. And besides, it’s not like only the Griffons have talons. The Hippogriffs do as well, and theirs is a friendly nation to Equestria.”

Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash turned to Fluttershy.

“Just gotta warn you, Flutters, before the rest of the Pies come down, that you should… probably not ask too many questions about anything that they say to you.”

The pale-gold Pegasus gave her ex-fiancée a quizzical look.

“Umm… what sort of things will they be saying exactly?”

At that precise moment, as though some higher spirit was answering Fluttershy’s question, there came the sounds of hooves scraping above the ceiling. Although the Pie family homestead was a well-built house to last for generations, it was still an old building that left little secrets when it came to moving about the house.

“Tell me about it, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been woken up when Marble had to go for a middle-of-the-night sip of water!” Pinkie piped up gleefully.

“Beggin’ yer pardon,” Applejack interjected, “but who’re you talkin’ to, Pinkie Pie?”

“Ooooh, somepony very important, Jackie~!” replied Pinkie. “It’s the narrator, or the writer, or whoever’s reading this right now!”

The other five mares found themselves giving Pinkie a slightly wider berth, the sounds of hoofsteps now reaching the stairs.

“Pinkie Pie, are you sure you’ve been feeling alright?” Twilight asked hesitantly.

Pinkie’s eyes creased half-shut in a bright grin that almost literally lit up the room.

“I’m feeling better than better than ever, Twily~!” she said in an all-too-shrill voice.

The lavender Unicorn scratched at her stubbly chin, but before she could open up a further line of inquiry…

“Well, it sounds like Pinkie is feeling particularly perky this morning,” interjected Limestone, her much larger family members following behind her. Marble’s nightcap hung across her shoulders as a makeshift neck-warmer, and Igneous Rock was pulling on the cap that he had hung by the staircase the previous night. As soon as spotting them, Rainbow Dash threw a foreleg over Fluttershy’s shoulder and pointedly avoided looking at Pinkie Pie.

“The best of mornings to all of you,” Igneous Rock said in a tone carrying the faintest of joviality to it. Which, coming from Igneous Rock Pie, was an uncommonly warm tone.

“A very good morning indeed, it seems, for some of the youngest present, Mr. Pie,” answered Cloudy Quartz with a proud look at the pair of Pegasi.

“Umm, what exactly for, Mr. & Mrs. Pie?” Fluttershy asked, at a complete loss.

Igneous Rock looked perplexedly between the cerulean and pale-gold mares.

“Hast thy partner not informed thee? Mrs. Pie & myself have given ye our blessing.”

Fluttershy knitted her eyebrows. “Umm, I don’t… think that Rainbow Dash and I really require your blessing. And besides…”

“Awww, don’t turn this down on Ma & Pa, Shysie~!” Pinkie squealed, throwing her hooves around both Rainbow and Fluttershy. “We’ve got their blessing, all three of us!”


After a moment’s comprehension, the pale-gold Pegasus’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Umm, wait. But, we aren’t a couple − couples − a love-herd―” She brought a hoof to the side of her head, just below one of her horns. Her eyes clenched shut. “My head…! She… wants to come out again! But, I need to know… when did this happen?”

“Mr. Pie & myself have quite observed the ways in which you three behave together, and have found you to be perfectly compatible by the standards of the Choosing Stone.”

“Thy sensitivity and our Pinkamena’s deep-running love balance out against Miss Rainbow Dash’s headstrong personality,” explained Igneous Rock, “while thy groundedness and Rainbow Dash’s determination give Pinkamena a solid foundation for her to return to.”

“And so, after some admittedly swift deliberation, you three have the Pie family’s blessing in marriage.”

Pinkie Pie was beside herself with glee, but the same could not be said of either Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy. The cerulean Pegasus was shrugging her forelegs while apparently hardening one of her primaries with Pegasus magic to dig around inside her left ear. Her pale-gold partner, however, had clenched her eyes shut even more tightly, the spot between her eyebrows creasing, as both hooves clamped onto either side of her head, a strained sound escaping from between her clenched teeth.

“Don’t get too stressed, Flutters,” Rainbow said, flicking her erstwhile ear-picking primary to get rid of something too orange to be a part of the red feather. “I mean, it’s not like we have to get married, right? I mean, the blessing just means we have their permission. It’s not like it’s mandatory or anything.”

“I know, but… me and you, Dashie, we haven’t even gotten back together yet!” Fluttershy whimpered. “No, I don’t want you to do this! I don’t want you to…!”

The shy Pegasus froze ramrod still for several moments, drawing every eye towards her in concern.

And when her eyes opened again, they carried a different light in them.

“Well done, you’ve gone and scared Fluttershy away,” snarled the New Fluttershy. “She wanted so badly to tell all of you that she didn’t want this, but the idea of saying it overwhelmed her! And so it falls down to me to play damage control…!”

“Oh rock-lobster-apples,” swore Limestone. “Did you think about that other Fluttershy, Ma & Pa?”

Cloudy Quartz adjusted her glasses, “Mr. Pie & I would… really rather hope that the presence of both Pinkamena & Rainbow Dash would really rather keep this… odd temper tantrum of Fluttershy’s under control.”

“I am no temper tantrum!” shouted the New Fluttershy, looking ready to lock horns with the Pie matriarch. “I am the only one who Fluttershy can truly depend on! The only one who will never leave her side! I am Fluttershy’s rock!”

“But you look nothing like Boulder,” Maud offered, holding up the pet rock.

“Mm-mm,” said Marble, shaking her head.

The New Fluttershy’s pupils constricted, the horned mare looking ready to blow a gasket.

“You should really learn not to use metaphors around Maud, Newsie Floozie, she takes everything literally~” Pinkie said in a singsong warning.

“I am NOT a floozy!” the New Fluttershy shouted, preparing to wrap her hooves around the rosy mare’s neck. “I’ve made sure all Fluttershy’s life that no pony she can’t trust has ever laid a hoof on her!”

“Well, don’ that explain why yer so highstrung?” Applejack drawled.

“Don’t drag me off-topic!” the New Fluttershy hissed. “Everypony is talking about what they want for Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, but what about what Fluttershy wants? What about what I want as her rock? What if we don’t want any part of this? Why would I want to marry anypony?!”

“That sounds more like you’re just being an overprotective sister to me,” Maud commented.

Limestone nodded, “Maud would know that for sure.”

Marble followed suit, “Mhm.”

The pale-gold mare took to the air.

“None of you know what Fluttershy’s gone through! What she still faces when she sleeps! All of you idiots, moving rocks around the fields like that matters worth a damn! You rocks-for-brains, who wouldn’t know how to help a parentless filly if they fell out of the sky!”

The air in the room became frosty, the Pies looking up at the New Fluttershy with looks ranging from rage to hurt. Fluttershy’s Ponyville friends (which included Pinkie Pie) gave her looks of sheer alarm. In addition to the flagrantly hurtful statements which the New Fluttershy had flung around, it seemed that Fluttershy’s horns had almost doubled in length, beginning to curl backwards behind her ears like a ram’s.

The horned Pegasus’s forehooves flew to the sides of her head, her wings flapping more and more erratically, swaying beneath the light fixture on the ceiling and almost swinging into the mirror sitting between the sitting-room windows.

“No! No, no, no, no, NO!” she shouted, and the softness of her tone indicated that she was regular old Fluttershy again. “I won’t have you say another bad thing about the ones I love!”

“But, you don’t want what they want, don’t you?” replied the New Fluttershy.

“No… Yes… I don’t know!”

“How can you not know? You hate having to deal with obnoxious ponies with no sense of personal space! You should hate Pinkie Pie! You also hated rushing your relationship with Rainbow Dash, so why did you do it?”

“I… I don’t know! Just… don’t make me do this!”

“I don’t want to hurt anypony any more than you do, but if they keep trying to get closer to you…!”

“Not that… this!”

So entranced was everypony by what was unfolding between the two Fluttershys, that they scarcely noticed that the pale-gold Pegasus had landed in front of the mirror, and on the word ‘this’ had thrust her own face at the mirror and locked eyes with her reflection, wearing a look of unbreakable determination as her nose and forehead pressed against the reflective glass.

There was a faint cyan light dancing around the edges of her irises.

Fluttershy was Staring herself.

“Uhhh, Fluttershy? You there?” Rainbow Dash asked with cerise eyes creased in concern. She raised a wing, thinner than her forehoof, and tried to wave it between her eyes. The space was too thin for even Rainbow’s thinnest primaries.

“She’s Staring herself down,” Twilight said softly. (“Yeah, we can all see that, smarty-saddle,” Rainbow Dash growled.) “What could have driven her to think that was a good idea?”

“We’re gunna have ta take her with us when we go find the next Element on th’ list, so up ya git, Flutters,” Applejack said, lowering her head and pushing lightly against the slender Pegasus’s barrel.

She didn’t budge.

Clenching her teeth, the palomino put more of her hardy Earth Pony strength into the act, enough to pull an entire cart stacked full of cider barrels.

Fluttershy still couldn’t be moved.

“What sorta magic is there in this gal?” Applejack said with a heavy inhale of breath.

“Fluttershy did say that her mother was an Earth Pony, so maybe she’s expressing some of the ‘standing firm’ magic of Earth Ponies through her eyes to keep herself locked in place…?” Twilight hypothesized.

“But,” she continued, “what for? What’s going on in there…?”

The mindspace of a pony was a much-studied topic, but not one which Fluttershy herself had given a great deal of thought. Her studies were much more geared towards her special talent of animal-care, so she was not terribly surprised by her mindspace, although she would have been unsurprised for completely different reason if she had studied the mindspace.

Animals and creatures of all sorts from every era of Harmonia and Gaia’s timespan spanned a bright but sunless expanse, dotted with the occasional copse of trees. Shapeless blobs of water hovered in the air which contained sea life in all shapes and sizes, schooling this way and that among the avian beasts. Far above, in place of either Sun or Moon, were the looming impossibly large silhouettes of a Pegasus stallion and an Earth Pony mare, their eyes standing out stark against their unclear forms as they gazed down with no kindness or pity.

But at the moment, Fluttershy stared down another mare in her mindscape, who also stared her down.

A mare almost identical to her.

The other Fluttershy’s coat was darker and more intense in hue, as were her mane and tail. Contrasting to the lithe build that Fluttershy possessed, the other was thicker and burlier, with a stronger jawline. Her wings were broader, with wide thick primaries like shields, and a fan of tail feathers that flared out more strongly than Fluttershy’s own. Her mane was rough and shorter than Fluttershy’s, as was her tail, and both her dark eyes stared deeply into Fluttershy’s own from either side of a deep-yellow stripe down her nose.

And Fluttershy said to her alter in as strong a voice as she could muster, backed by all the love she felt for every pony and animal she loved back in the physical world, “We have a lot to talk about, young lady.”

Fluttershy’s alter sneered with bared teeth, “So the little baby birdie bares her talons. But you’re still too fragile to leave the nest without my help. And if you won’t let me protect you, then we can be here for a very long time.”

“I can be here as long as it takes. My friends are worth that.”

Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer dimmed as she stepped away from the mirror and the mare staring into it, the rectangle of light on the side of Fluttershy’s head fading with her horn’s glow.

“I was unable to figure out what was really going on in her mindscape,” explained the lavender Unicorn. “For some reason, even though I’ve dabbled in study on psychic spells, I can’t seem to get a read on what’s going on in Fluttershy’s mind.”

“Wait a minute, psychic spells?” Rainbow Dash interjected, cocking a prismatic eyebrow. “So you could read our minds and we wouldn’t even know?”

(For some reason, Applejack blushed deeply at the cerulean mare’s statement.)

“Well, for starters, Rainbow Dash, there are stipulations that warn against that at the start of every spellbook for psychics,” Twilight explained. “Telepathy spells have a written-in clause that prevents the caster from casting it on somepony who has not given their explicit consent to the spell.”

“But if the party in question has already given their consent,” Rarity asked, “why would they need to have telepathy cast upon them? Why would they not just speak what is on their mind?”

“Telepathy is not meant for such redundancy. Maybe the pony in question is mute either by birth or by jinx. Maybe they’re incapable of putting their thoughts into words. Granted, there is a different telepathy spell for the purposes of espionage that does not have this consent clause, but it’s obviously not in common circulation. Even I don’t know the particular matrices to align in my alicorn to cast that spell, and I would obviously not ask you girls to be my test subjects on that regard.”

“Ah much appreciate that, Twilight,” Applejack replied shortly, pulling her Stetson down over her red face.

“So, Miss Fluttershy has entered into a staring contest with herself?” asked Igneous Rock.

Pinkie stretched up to match her father’s eye level, “Fluttershy’s Staring down her alter, Pa, and her alter who we called ‘the other Fluttershy’ or ‘the New Fluttershy’ is a real meanie-mean-pants to everypony because she really really really wants to keep Fluttershy safe from anypony who she doesn’t like which is basically everypony, and Fluttershy didn’t like that so she’s Staring her alter down in a whole big landscape full of every animal in the world apart from herself and the planet-sized shapes of her mean old mommy and daddy! Oh and before you ask, an alter is another personality that can be inside a pony’s head with them and occasionally take control of their body, and I’m sure that the reason the other Fluttershy exists is because her parents were super-big-meanie-mean-pants meaner than any other parents in the whole big wide world! So Fluttershy’s in a battle on the landscape of her own mind to let the other Fluttershy know who’s the boss in her own body~!”

Rainbow Dash had clamped her wings over her ears, opening one clenched-shut eye to address the rosy mare, “I don’t think your explanation was long enough or loud enough, Pinkie.”

“Really? ‘Cause I think that I was really pretty thorough about Shysie’s psyche.” She giggled to herself. “Shysie’s psyche, Shysie’s psyche, Shysie’s psyche…!”

“Well, Ah don’ mean ta sound cruel,” Applejack cut in, “but we don’ know how long Fluttershy’s gunna be stuck in this state, do we?” She faced Twilight. “Any sorta ideas on that, sugar-cube?”

Twilight set her eyes on the self-Staring Fluttershy, “I really can’t say. Without Fluttershy’s consent to cast telepathy on her, I don’t have a concrete idea as to what the state of things are in her mindscape. So I’m afraid that we are going to need to seek out the remaining Elements of Harmony without her.”

“Wait right there!” Rainbow looked positively livid. “You’re saying we should just leave Fluttershy behind? We shouldn’t split up the party!”

“These are good ponies, Rainbow,” Twilight said sternly. “I really don’t think that the Pies will let anything happen to Fluttershy or Spike.”

“Oh right.” Rainbow Dash’s ears drooped. “I forgot you were leaving your kid here.”

“Wait a moment, Twilight,” Rarity interjected, raising a hoof. “You used a particular spell to bring me back to my senses. Why not use that same spell on Spike?”

“Dragons have a much higher magical immunity than ponies do. When I was raising Spike, I was never able to use any charms to hasten his recovery from sicknesses; I had to wait it out with him and give him the right nutrients to bolster his immune system.” She laughed bitterly to herself. “I was always his mother and I didn’t know till a few months ago.”

Igneous Rock & Cloudy Quartz approached the lavender Unicorn.

“We will care for them, Twilight Sparkle,” said Igneous Rock, holding his hat to his chest. “Thou hast our solemn oath as humble rock farmers.”

Cloudy Quartz, Limestone, Maud, and Marble all nodded, the latter murmuring Mhm as she did so.

Twilight felt a knot of tension that she hadn’t known was there unravel in her chest. The revelations of the Queens’ father had compounded upon the issues of her issue and her friends all being twisted by Discord, as had the compulsion to delve into the history of the Pies over the search for the Elements. But now, with Fluttershy out of commission and Spike out of his mind, there came up a kind-hearted family to share the burden.

Despite her odd train of thought, Pinkie Pie truly came from a family that raised her well.

“Ooooh, thank you thank you thank you, you guys, I just love you guys sooooo much~!

With her squealing declaration of love, Pinkie Pie scooped up her entire family in an impossibly large hug. Her forelegs wrapped around her parents and all three of her sisters, despite the five of them being so much larger than Pinkie herself.

A voice in Twilight’s mind was telling her not to think too hard about this. A voice that had been whispering exactly the same thing in its honey-sweet tone from the very moment she’d met Pinkie Pie and witnessed her often-impossible deeds. Where did it come from, and why did Pinkie have abilities that just didn’t make… sense…?

…it didn’t make sense.

A thought crossed Twilight Sparkle’s mind, as she gazed at the round and rosy Earth Pony embracing the ponies who had taken her in and raised her as one of their own…


Applejack’s voice snapped Twilight out of her woolgathering.

“Oh, sorry, Applejack, I was… just thinking. We… should probably step outside to talk about where to find the… Elements.”

A bolt passed through Twilight’s mind, as though somebody had jammed a steel rod through the top of her head in a botched trepanation and then attached a generator to the rod. Thoughts passed in a flash in what could be described as a ‘brain-blast’, an epiphany.

“Pinkie Pie!” she cried. “I’m going to need to cast the psycho-portal spell on you!”

“Are you sure you want to see my baby sister’s thoughts, Twilight Sparkle?” asked Limestone, her cheeks squished on one side by Marble, on the other side by Igneous Rock. “It’s a pretty crazy place in there; you could end up seeing things ponykind was never meant to behold.”

“I’m sure that I need to look within, Miss Limestone,” Twilight answered. “That’s what Discord said: ‘To find laughter, simply look within’.”

As she had finished her statement, the eyes of Twilight’s four other companions turned their eyes in disbelief upon Pinkie Pie, who let her family back to the floor as she felt around her belly with her forelegs.

“Laughter’s inside me?” she commented. “I don’t feel that different. I have been feeling pretty funny for a while now…!” She stuck out her tongue between white teeth.

Twilight rolled her eyes and aligned the particular neuronal matrices in her alicorn, her dwimmer shimmer glowing a brilliant pink as a rectangle shining the exact hue appeared at the base of Pinkie’s forelock. In the middle of the rectangle, she saw…

It was like a movie playing inside Pinkie’s head, accompanied by peppy party music. Indescribable candy creatures traipsed about beneath cotton-candy clouds as a whole line of identical Pinkie Pies danced and frolicked away.

And amidst all this madness, there was a singular turquoise glow.

Eager to close the psycho-portal as fast as possible, Twilight telekinetically grabbed the Element of Laughter and let the matrices of the psycho-portal fall out of alignment.

The sitting-room felt different somehow, the light in the room bluer. Fluttershy had not moved from her position at the mirror, not having blinked. But the room was emptier than it was before Twilight had put her focus on the psycho-portal; only Applejack seemed to still be standing there, her head turned towards the sitting-room doorway at the moment, though she turned towards Twilight upon sighting her in her peripherals.

“How long were Pinkie and I out?” Twilight asked, rubbing her head.

“‘bout an hour, Twilight,” Applejack answered, before settling her eyes on the golden necklace in Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer, a turquoise balloon-shaped gemstone set in the middle of it. The palomino beamed, “Ya got th’ Element a’ Laughter? Great job!”

“Whoo-hoo!” shouted Pinkie, pronking up to the Element of Laughter which seemed to automagically clamp itself around her neck, the gemstone gleaming warmly at its reunion with its Bearer. The rosy Earth Pony then darted out of the sitting-room, no doubt to inform the rest of their band about the good news.

“That makes it two down, four ta go, sugar-cube,” Applejack said. “How didja figger that one out?”

“Well, I was thinking about just how much joy and laughter is in Pinkie Pie, and… well, just how crazy and nonsensical she is as well. You see…”

Applejack furrowed her eyebrows at Twilight’s continued conversation, then she made her rebuttal. And for a long while, they just talked.

“Don’tcha think that was mighty risky a’ Discord, then, ta hide th’ Element a’ Laughter inside Pinkie?”

“Well, it’s Discord, his MO is not to behave in a sensical fashion.”

“Ah suppose.”

“What is this about ‘supposing’, Applejack, darling?”

The palomino Earth Pony and the lavender Unicorn both jumped. They had scarcely noticed Rarity enter the room.

Twilight hesitated, “H-How much did you hear, Rarity?”

“Only that Applejack was supposing something, Twilight, a lady dares not to eavesdrop.”

Both Twilight and Applejack gave silent sighs of relief.

“Although, I couldn’t help but to overhear that the Element of Laughter was indeed literally within Pinkie Pie,” the alabaster mare remarked. “If only that ruffian could have made it that easy for all of the Elements. I guess the worst of us have a degree of a survival instinct, but the sheer simplicity of such a hiding spot boggles the mind.”

Twilight answered, “Well, like I was just saying to Applejack, hiding the Element in plain sight would really be one of the best hiding spots. But yeah, it just doesn’t make sense if Discord wants the Elements to be rendered unable to destroy him.”

“Pinkie seems like she really hit the nail on th’ head, though, didn’ she?” Applejack said with a sideways glance. “Discord’s treatin’ this whole matter like a game.”

Twilight closed her eyes slowly, “Everything seems like a game to him. Life and death and love and birth… he’s begun and ended lives on a whim, just for his own amusement. I… can’t even imagine who was the mother of the Queens. And I don’t imagine she bore them willingly…”

The two Unicorns and the Earth Pony slowly shared foreboding expressions. History had not been privy to where the Queens came from, whether they had been born before or during the Age of Discord, or how their friendships with the other Creators of the Elements had come about. Knowing now who the father of the Queens was was something of a load off of their minds that they didn’t know that they carried, but it came at the price of the weight of knowing that their father was a destructive joker entity.

“Heyyyy, why’s everypony in here wearing so many long faces?” Pinkie Pie rang in, causing the three mares in the sitting-room to jump nearly a hoof’s height into the air. “It’s a nice and sunny day outside, except for the big mega-mountain floating like a balloon in the sky~!”

Twilight exhaled from the sharp intake she’d made at the sound of Pinkie’s interjection.

“Yeah, I guess we could all use a bit of fresh −− wait a second, mountains floating in the air?

“Well, I really just said a mountain, Twilight, but―”

But Twilight Sparkle was already at a full gallop out the sitting-room door, leonine tail behind her almost completely level with her spine. Equally concerned by Pinkie’s casual revelation, Applejack and Rarity followed suit.

Twilight’s jaw was agape, and to her friends it was plainly clear why. The sky and surrounding areas had been dark and foggy since they’d returned from the High Eyries, and now that weather had blown out the inclemency, the bright Sun of Queen Celestia showed all too clearly what had transpired as the mountain crumbled.

Almost the entirety of the North Equinus Mountains had seemingly vanished as far as they could see to the horizon, replaced by black but still assuredly hot semi-liquid rock… or so it only seemed. For hovering at least a mile over the not-so-distant Everfree, defying all laws of things that should be, was an impossibly large shape of stone and earth. Indescribable structures protruded from it at every angle, like worms protruding from a bad apple. Barely visible was a great dark tower at the very pinnacle of the shape, like a stem, and near the bottom of the floating mountain were a collection of glowing blood-red lines that seemed to spell out IHONDSCDQ, flickering every few moments to FELKAPZAN in a golden glow.

“‘Fell-cap-zan’…” Applejack read out loud slowly. “Any clue what that could mean, anypony?”

“Not a clue,” replied Rainbow Dash. “And how in the name of prancing pansies is − what is this even―?”

Pinkie Pie just giggled, “It’s funny because mountains don’t float~!”

Twilight sighed, “Pinkie, try to remember that this isn’t funny just because of a subversion of expectations. Anything that floats could still fall.” She turned to the cerulean Pegasus. “Rainbow Dash, can you fly up to see how far along the mountain range is affected?”

“Already on it!” Rainbow Dash gave with a quick salute, darting straight upwards and leaving a trail of rainbow light, residue from the magic she used to propel herself so rapidly. In a matter of moments she was a dark speck against the blue sky.

“What in the world do you suppose Discord’s done with those mountains?” Rarity asked with a hoof close to her mouth in shock.

“My best guess?” Twilight said. “A fortress of sorts. As for what that name means… Felkapzan… Felkapzan…”

“It looks like a big misshapen apple with a big ol’ stem,” remarked Applejack, squinting slightly at the distant shape.

Blinking, the lavender Unicorn gasped.

“Of course, it’s metathesis! It’s the Germane word Zankapfel with each syllable placed in reverse!”

“Ooooh, what’s that word mean, Twilight? Can I guess~?” Pinkie asked excitedly.

“We don’t have the time for guessing games, it means Apple of Discord, referring to the legendary fruit that had planted the seeds of disharmony in the hearts of the first three ponies. Granted, in the original legend it wasn’t necessarily an apple, but―”

“It’s all gone, Twilight.”

The sheer drop in Rainbow Dash’s voice gave Twilight greater pause than the statement itself. The cerulean Pegasus was ordinarily so unflappable, so hearing her sound so dour was a reason for hesitation from the lavender Unicorn.

“All of it?” she eventually asked Rainbow. “How far out?”

“As far out as I can see from about a dozen-gross feet up. Which should be about… a four-dozen miles out?”

“Actually, it would be…” Twilight hesitated as she did the math in her head, factoring in the curve of the planet’s sphere along with Rainbow’s alleged distance from the surface… and as she reached the solution, she slowly turned her eyes towards the cerulean mare in disbelief. “About four-dozen kilometers, how did you guess that, Rainbow?”

Rainbow rubbed a hoof against her chest, “When you live low and train high, Purple Smart, you learn how to count out how much ground you cover below you. So, about how long is the North Equinus mountain range, exactly?”

“Close to two-dozen-gross miles, so for all we know, those four-dozen miles could be all that is missing from the mountain range,” Twilight explained, albeit with a follow-up caveat. “Although, considering that this is doubtless Discord’s work, I don’t think we can discount that he ripped up all of the North Equinus mountains. Assuming that that Felkapzan is as dense as it looks, that could account for nearly all the range. If it really is hovering at the height I think it is…”

“So what does this all mean, Twilight?” Applejack asked with a concerned look.

“It means that we need to get back on the ball with finding the Elements. I’ve wasted too much of our time looking for answers that wouldn’t help with that. Get your things together, girls. We leave for the Element of Kindness by day’s end!”

“So, Mr. & Mrs. Pie,” Twilight explained, indicating the mulberry dragon cub sniffing about curiously inside his invisible cube set beside Fluttershy and the mirror, “the surface is permeable by food matter. Spike loves gemstones most of all for food, though he also likes nachos and also daisy sandwiches. I’m… terribly sorry for whatever you have to clean up in here.”

Cloudy Quartz took a long slow breath.

“We will bear with it, Twilight Sparkle. Thy kin are as kin to us Pies.”

(Limestone sniffed loudly besides her parents, but said nothing otherwise.)

Igneous Rock added, “And in all trueness, we are bound to our blessing of Pinkamena’s betrothèds.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes with ears flopped down, almost completely ignoring Pinkie throwing her forelegs around her.

Twilight placed a cloven hoof to the face of the barrier between herself and Spike.

“I’m sorry, Spike. I wish I could help you, but I don’t trust my magic to work against your dragon hide. Maybe once we’ve gotten more of the Elements, we can try to bring my boy back.”

Assuming that he hasn’t gone back to hating me, she thought morosely to herself.

“So where exactly is the Element of Kindness, Twilight?” asked Rainbow Dash with a degree of impatience.

It took longer than Twilight thought to pull her hoof away.

“B-Based on the riddle that Discord posed to us − With all of the troubles that set one at unease, being kind and loving is not such a breeze. − and based on Fluttershy’s consideration, my best guess is that it’s at the Brisarheim reserve in Germaney, my father’s homeland. There is a catch, though: the Breezies are incredibly delicate creatures, set upon by countless predators. The Breezie Queen of the Brisarheim reserve, Rosedust, is the last known living Queen of her species, and she is fiercely protective of her kind. And that’s before you’ve even reached Brisarheim. It lies within the Edelholz Forest.”

“The what-now?” Applejack asked. “They got their own Everfree over on th’ other end a’ th’ world?”

“Well, not precisely, because… the Edelholz has only one resident, a guardian, although not for Brisarheim.”

“A ‘guardian’?” questioned Rarity. “What sort of guardian? And what does it guard if not the Breezies?”

Twilight looked aimlessly out the window, at the curve of the distant Felkapzan.

“There are stories about the Edelholz. The sort of stories that nopony could believe. But after everything I’ve seen and heard since the Summer Sun Celebration, I’m willing to be more open to these tales.

“The Edelholz has an air that tends to mislead explorers. Either that or the trees within can move quickly and silently to completely change the lay of the land. And the guardian of the Edelholz… based off the stories I’ve heard from Vati, it guards nothing but its own life, feeding off those lost in the woods. So, if you are in the domain of Edelholz, stay strong, and do not follow any singing voices.”