Pressure

by PaulAsaran

First published

Pinkie has a voice in her head. He seems like a nice enough sort, and she could always use another friend! Nothing bad ever came from having a voice in your head, right?

Pinkie has a new friend. Oh, you can't see him, or hear him. He's in her head, roiling about like a little cloud. You're probably thinking, "She's just being Pinkie Pie."

Not this time.


Created for the Rage Reviews! group's 10th F*** THIS PROMPT! contest. Sorry guys, I'm drawn to contests like Pinkie is drawn to candy!

Written in a time crunch, so minimal editing has been done.

Artwork is by one Azalia, who appears to have disappeared from the interwebs entirely.

On A Dark Night

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A light rain peppered the night air with sound. To Pinkie’s sensitive ears, the drops were like drumbeats. The only sound louder was her own heart pounding in her ears.

A dim light shined down from the back of the red barn, casting its feeble halo upon the wet grass. The light seemed so far away, even though she stood just outside of its precious circle. Was the light lonely? She felt lonely. If she stepped into that circle, maybe she could make the light happy.

Or maybe the magic of it would burn her alive. Crispy Pinkie. Pinkabob. Pinkie steak, extra rare.

The chuckle that rose from her throat was coarse, hollow. With it came a thin wisp of bluish-grey smoke that tasted like ash. She licked her lips, taking in the bitter flavor. Perhaps a fire had been trapped in her belly. It certainly hurt enough.

Look at it, Pinkie.

A hard breath shook her body. She turned her gaze from the light. “Mm-mm.”

The rain continued to pound on her skull. The fog – her own, personal little ash cloud – swam in soothing circles. Something caressed the back of her neck. The touch only made her stomach roil a little more.

You did a good thing.

She shook her head, curls waving before her stinging eyes. Her voice came out as less than a whisper. “It’s not good.”

The deep, resonating voice in her head made a soft sigh. You’ve done it. The thing that nopony else can do. You’re a hero.

Pinkie’s lips trembled. She covered her eyes with a fetlock. “I don’t want to be a hero. Please, we have to tell the others.”

They won’t understand, My Dear. You know they won’t.

She bowed her head almost to the grass, eyes still covered. The cool rainwater flowed across her features to drip off her chin and elbow. It tickled. She wanted to shoo the water away, to explain that she was in no mood for its games, but it was only water, and it would ignore her.

What did I tell you about distracting yourself?

“I don’t want to think about it.”

But you must. There is nopony else.

Why? Why is there nopony else?”

The words slithered in her skull, constricting, strong, but also gentle. You have the blood, the family history. I could only speak to those with the blood. I’ve told you this.

Pinkie closed her eyes. The rain soaked her every limb. She started scrubbing her face, her cheeks, her chest. “I can’t be the only one.”

Perhaps there are others, but there is no time. The voice grew silent as Pinkie continued to rub the water over herself, scrubbing hard and wishing she had a brush or sponge or some soap.

Even if there was somepony else, that only means this would have been done by that pony. Would you wish for some other pony to suffer through this?

Another cloud of ash floated out of her mouth. She choked, then tilted her head back to let the rain in. She gargled and spat. The water landed next to a lifeless lump on the ground before her. Her heart froze at the sight of it. She stared at the brown tail resting just within the light's halo.

Tears welled up in eyes that burned. She buried her face in her hooves and sobbed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I thought it was a dream.”

Pinkie, you know this had to happen.

She swiped a hoof at the air as if to strike something unseen. “You tricked me! I thought… I th-thought…”

The voice grew hard. I had to make you take the first step. No more trial runs, no more dreams. Do you want Equestria to fall into darkness?

“You said you’d wait until I was ready!”

And you are. Tonight proves it.

“I am not!” She turned away from the shadowed form on the ground. Her energy dissipated, leaving her feeling frail and tired. “I-I’m not strong enough for this.”

The presence in her mind pressed inward, wrapping around her brain like a warm blanket. She relaxed as a sense of calm slowly took hold.

You will be, My Dear. I will help you. I promise.

The drums in her head faded to a light rhythm. The rain no longer felt so overwhelming. Pinkie sighed, letting out all her tension in a long, slow breath that rose as a thin, grey cloud. Even the ashen taste didn’t seem so bad anymore, like someone had fed the fire in her stomach something to dull the flavor.

Despite all this, she didn’t smile. “My friends are safe?”

The voice warmed her with words. Yes, Pinkie. For now, they are safe. Tartarus will remain closed, thanks to you. You are strong.

“Am not.”

Don’t argue with your elders. The voice chuckled with all the pleasantness of a doting grandsire. Pinkie never knew her grandsire, but Granny Pie said he was—

Come, let’s go home.

She winced at the pressure in her skull. “Right. Home.”

And so Pinkie left the barn, and that little halo of light, and the motionless lump on the ground. She hoped she could make up for her actions someday. Maybe she would.

Or maybe she’d never be forgiven.

Her haunted whispers echoed in the darkness.

“I’m strong. I’m strong. I’m strong…”

Realities

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Princess Twilight stood beside Applejack, her ears low and her heart heavy. She thought about giving her friend a hug, or offering her condolences, but somehow she knew that Applejack wasn’t interested in such things. So she just stood in the shadow of the barn, waiting to see what help she could offer. Opposite them, Apple Bloom had her head buried in Granny Smith’s shoulder, her sobs piercing every heart that remained in hearing distance. Big McIntosh stood close by the two of them, his solemn expression a perfect match to that of his eldest sister.

Between them, lying on her belly and seeming only asleep, lay Winona. Twilight had been confused when she’d first seen the canine, but up close she could see the wound in the back of the skull as clearly as the sun in the sky. Her first thought had been to go get Fluttershy, but Applejack stopped her; it was far too late for that.

Twilight looked to her friend’s face. Applejack’s hat had been lowered over her eyes, but from this angle they were clearly visible. They were moist, just barely controlling the dam that she kept inside, but there was far more to them than merely sadness. Her furrowed brow and tightly pursed, scowling lips only confirmed what her gaze already announced. It was the kind of expression that made Twilight worry for whoever was on Applejack’s mind at the moment.

At last, Applejack spoke, her tone as cold as ice. “Twilight?”

No response was necessary. Twilight turned fully to her, stoic and focused.

“Something did this, and I wanna know what. Or who.”

Twilight glanced at the body. She listened to Apple Bloom’s heart-wrenching sobs. She returned her attention to Applejack. “You want my help finding out who did it. Applejack… Are you planning revenge?”

Applejack’s lips trembled. Her eyes flicked to Twilight. Time flowed, accompanied by a filly’s cries and a grandmare’s whispered condolences. Twilight held her breath, preparing herself for the worst case scenario.

At last, her friend deflated. “No. No, I won’t do that. It won’t make things better, will it? I just… I’m so…” She stomped and snorted, blinking back the ever-threatening tears.

With a relieved sigh, Twilight released the tension she’d been holding. She set a hoof to Applejack’s shoulder. “I understand, AJ. Really, I do. I’ll see if I can find out what did this. If I can, then maybe some kind of justice can be served. At the very least we can find a way to keep this from happening to anypony else’s…” She cast a sad look at Winona. “…friend.”

Applejack’s lips worked soundlessly. She heaved a shuddering breath and tried again. “Thanks, Twi. The sooner the better. We’re gonna want to… deal with the… soon…” She swallowed and turned her face away, shoulders shaking.

“Okay. Okay, AJ.” Twilight backed away, knowing how she would want to be left alone under similar circumstances. “I’m going to get Fluttershy. Maybe one of the animals saw something. You do whatever you need to do.”

Applejack didn’t answer. Twilight cast one last look at the family. Her gaze went ignored by Apple Bloom and Granny Smith. Big Mac’s eyes met hers from beneath his furrowed brow, lost and uncertain. Even so, he gave her a small but firm nod, which she returned. The message was clear and, with no intention of disappointing him, she turned away.

She found Spike standing on the first bar of the pig pen, hanging against the fence and watching the creatures lay in the mud with a forlorn stare. “It’s time to go.”

He immediately hopped down and climbed onto her back. He hesitated before asking, “So… what’s going on? Why’s Apple Bloom crying?”

Twilight bit her lip, wondering just how much she should reveal to the young dragon. She considered offering up a white lie, but realized that it would be unfair to him. Spike was surely old enough to understand life and death, and he’d find out the truth on his own eventually. So, with a heavy heart, “It’s Winona, Spike. Something… Something got her last night.”

Spike mulled this over, then sagged. “You mean she’s dead.” When Twilight couldn’t find the words for a confirmation, he asked, “Do you know how?”

She shook her head. “But I’m going to find out. That starts with talking to Fluttershy.”

“Yeah,” he mumbled, voice so low she barely heard. “I guess that fits.”

They walked in silence, Twilight’s hoofsteps as heavy as her heart. As she left Sweet Apple Acres, she wondered about the size of the orchard. Would it feel even bigger without Winona around? Would Applejack wander the fields for a while, thinking about one of her oldest friends? Twilight had never lost a pet. Now she almost wished she had, if only so that she could understand her friend’s pain a little better.

“How’s AJ doing?” Spike asked quietly.

Twilight’s answer came with certainty, even if her volume was subdued. “She’s lost her best friend, Spike. It’s going to be a while before she’s recovered from this.”

He scooted up so he was on her shoulders. “But she’s strong, right? Applejack will get better, won’t she?”

The thought made Twilight smile. “Yeah. AJ’s strong. They’re all strong. Apples are a stubborn breed. They’ll come back from this.”

“Yeah…” Spike sighed and settled into a more comfortable position on her back, his claws resting gently just behind her shoulders. “So, we’re going to Fluttershy’s. I guess you examined the body?”

Once again, Twilight shook her head. “I didn’t need to. The cause was pretty obvious; something hit her. Hard. On the head.” She closed her eyes and pictured the crime scene, but only for a moment. The sight made her shudder. “Nothing was nearby, so we know something didn’t just fall out of the sky.”

Twilight took the road leading around Ponyville. It wouldn’t be as fast, but she wanted to give the Apple Family time to themselves. Besides, she needed to think.

She had been walking for several minutes when Spike abruptly sat up. “Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense. There’s no wild animals around here that would hurt something by hitting it over the head. They’ve all got claws, fangs, or a petrifying stare.”

It took Twilight a moment of consideration to fully appreciate this insight. She cast a thoughtful, worried look at her assistant. “But a pony wouldn’t do this. Certainly nopony in Ponyville, at least.”

He twiddled his claws anxiously. “Well, can you think of any animals around here that attack that way?”

“We don’t know it was an attack,” she corrected. “Maybe it was an accident.”

He fidgeted, eyes still meeting hers. “Can you?”

As quickly as she could, Twilight ran through every creature she knew about in these parts. Her ears folded back as she came up blank. Scrambling for a better answer, she replied, “We don’t know everything that lurks in the Everfree Forest. It could have been some creature we’ve never seen before.”

He thought on this, then gave a weak nod. “I guess so—”

She whipped her head forward. “Right, it’s just a creature from the forest. We’ll identify it, find a way to stop it, and then I’ll send my research notes to The Society of Natural Wonders for cataloguing and recognition as the discoverer. This kind of thing won’t happen again.”

This seemed to calm the little dragon, for he had nothing to add and the conversation died. Twilight forced herself into a trot, hoping the upbeat pace would enhance the illusion of her confidence. As long as he didn’t get a look at the worry on her face. His was a pretty bad idea, wasn’t it? No pony would kill Winona, why would they? It made no sense.

Reassured by this fact, she focused her mind on her next step, which was Fluttershy and her animal friends. Breaking the news to her would be difficult, and she would have to mentally ready herself for the arduous meeting.

They travelled in silence for some time, taking in the sounds of the birds and other local wildlife. The path they’d chosen was on the edge of the forest, and thus rich in flora. The sunlight sparkled through the canopy, which extended far enough to shade the whole road. On rare days when Twilight had the free time and no commitments to her friends, she would sometimes walk down this way, but today she felt no pleasure from the sights.

She was so preoccupied that she didn’t notice the wagon until she was almost past it. When she did, she paused to examine the thing. It stood tucked amongst the trees just off the road, its roof made of a thick cloth and the base of some sturdy-looking timber. A little hideaway, ready to be moved at a moment’s notice. Twilight stared at it for a moment, her already weighty heart sinking a few more inches.

Spike shifted on her back. “Did you go to see her yesterday?”

Twilight nodded. “Trixie’s still comatose. No change at all.”

He sighed and shook his head. “What was she doing here, anyway? I mean, seriously, how long was she lying there before Fluttershy’s animals found her?”

“Not long, according to the doctor.” Twilight turned away from the old wagon with a sigh. “It looks like she was finally getting back on her hooves, too. I mean, she could afford a new wagon.”

“Well, maybe not a ‘new’ wagon, but a wagon.” Spike twisted his body to observe the wagon as they moved on. “And it’s a covered wagon. Not very good for making road shows, y’know? Pinkie said she'd inspected it when she moved it here, and it seemed real cramped inside. I just wish I knew why Trixie came back to Ponyville.”

“Maybe she was just passing through,” Twilight suggested half-heartedly. “One problem at a time, Spike. Trixie’s at the hospital, and as far as we know she’s not waking up anytime soon. We’ll help her, but first we need to help AJ.”

“Yeah, I know,” he muttered. “It just seems fishy to me, her showing up and then Winona dying in less than a week.”

Twilight thought for a moment, turning her eyes to the shimmering light of the canopy. “They can’t be related, Spike. The cases aren’t even remotely similar.”

A few seconds passed in silence. At last, Spike sat back once more.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”


Pinkie’s grin spread from ear to ear as she awaited the approval of the pony standing opposite the counter.

But Rarity, it seemed, hadn’t heard her properly. The mare just stared at her with a blank face. “A party.”

“Uh, yeah! A party.”

“For… Trixie.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Who is comatose in the hospital.”

Pinkie’s head nodded with all the speed her ongoing sugar rush commanded. “It’s a ‘Hope You Wake Up Soon And Get Better’ Party.”

Rarity’s expression didn’t so much as crack, even when her eyes blinked once, twice, again. “Pinkie, I don’t know. How can she enjoy it if she’s in a coma?”

“Weeelll,” Pinkie’s ear flicked to the sound of a ding behind her. “Be right back, fresh muffins coming up!”

She whipped into the kitchen and grabbed a hot pad. Moving with practiced ease, she pulled a batch of fresh raisin-and-brown-sugar muffins from the oven. No sooner were they out of the pan than she quickly began setting them on a display tray.

Your friend has a point, you know.

She flinched, almost dropping the muffin she was holding. With a fretful glance at the door, she hissed, “Not now! You promised to keep quiet while I was working.”

I just wanted to point it out. Trixie won’t enjoy it.

“You should be eager to please her,” Pinkie whispered, hurrying with the muffins as the ding of another oven indicated the second batch was ready. “You said she was your friend.”

Of course I did, and of course she is. That doesn’t change the fact.

“Then you won’t mind if I throw a party for her.”

The voice became perplexed. But if she’s unconscious, what’s the point?

Pinkie shook her head with a sigh, tossing the pan across the room. It landed neatly in the waiting sink. Already, she had the second batch in one hoof and was carefully moving the fresh muffins. Their sweet, bready aroma brought a warm smile to her face. “You’ve got a lot to learn about being friends, Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy. Not all acts of friendship have to make sense.”

She thought she heard a scoff. I’ve been trapped in a box for thousands of years. I haven’t had much of an opportunity for friend-making.

The tray securely on her back, Pinkie grinned and pronked for the door. “Well then, I’ll just have to help you with that! I wanna hold a party for Trixie because she’s my friend, and she could use one to cheer her up. I mean, come on, lying in bed for days on end with nothing to do? Bo~ring!”

“Well, that’s certainly noble of you, Pinkie,” Rarity declared with a kind smile, “but don’t you think she’d enjoy it more if she were awake?”

“Probably.” Pinkie shoved the tray into the display shelf beneath the counter— “But even if she’s in a coma, that doesn’t mean she can’t hear us having fun.” —then pulled out three plates— “And maybe when she realizes we’re having fun around her, she’ll want to join in!” —and deposited a muffin on each. Nabbing a fourth, she turned to Rarity and set the plates on the countertop. “Who knows? Maybe the joy of Laughter will be enough! She might realize just how much she’s missing out on and say ‘You know what? Trixie doesn’t want to sleep anymore.’ Then wow, she’s awake!” She pushed a plate across the counter. “There you go.”

“I suppose that is a possibility,” Rarity confessed, though doubt laced her tone. She eyed the two extra plates and the muffin in Pinkie’s hoof. “What are the other ones for?”

The door of the shop opened; already, the extra muffin was sailing through the air. A grey-coated, blonde mare snatched it out of the air with one hoof. “Thanks, Miss Pie!”

“Welcome, see you tomorrow!” Pinkie called over Rarity just before the door closed. Catching the unicorn’s cocked head, she added, “Every day on lunch break. Mail routes make a mare hungry.”

Rarity blinked, then shook herself and brushed the curl of her mane distractedly. “Right. And the other two?”

“Whaf fwoo?” Pinkie asked, crumbs coating her cheeks.

“Ah.” Her friend took a step back to avoid coming under fire from wayward crumbs, then looked down at the lone remaining muffin. “And that one?”

“For Rainbow Dash.”

“Oh.” Rarity looked around at the empty café. “Did she reserve it, then?”

“Nope.” Pinkie pronked in place, crumbs gone from her face. “Come on, Rares, what do you think? Trixie’s a pony with very specific taste.”

Rarity sighed, then offered her best smile and lifted her muffin from its plate. “Well, far be it for me to say ‘no’ to a friend. If you really think it’ll be worth it—”

“It’ll be so worth it!”

“—then I would be delighted to help prepare some decorations for this party. I’m sure the rest of the girls will be happy to help out.” She took a dainty bite of the muffin, not a crumb falling out of place, and her eyes lit up. “Oh my, this is absolutely delightful!”

But Pinkie’s pronking had ceased. She stared at Rarity, then bowed her head. “Well, most of them.”

“Why, whatever do you—”

The door burst open, releasing into the shop a multi-hued gale. Rainbow Dash slid to a stop beside Rarity, breathing fast. “Pinkie! And Rarity, am I glad you’re here too!” Before she could say another word, she caught the muffin that Pinkie had thrown high into the air. “Thanks, Pinkie, how’d you know I was hungry?”

Rarity averted her gaze and held a hoof across her face as Rainbow annihilated her muffin, releasing a shower of crumbs. “I say, Rainbow, whatever – ick – is the matter?”

Rainbow finished off the muffin, gave a light belch, then grimaced as Rarity dabbed her face clean with a napkin. “We need to get to Sweet Apple Acres, pronto. AJ’s gonna need some help!”

“Is she, now?” Rarity tossed the napkin into a nearby bin, watching it fall with a grimace. “And why does Applejack need our help, if you would be so kind as to explain?”

Rainbow hesitated, her ears folding back and her eyes dropping to the floor. “Winona was murdered last night.”

A weight, not quite forgotten, made itself known to Pinkie’s body. She bowed her head as images of the previous night flashed through her eyes.

“Oh, dear…” Rarity set a hoof to her chest, eyes wide. “Murdered? Are you sure? Maybe it was an accident.”

Out the corner of her eye, Pinkie watched Rainbow.

“Nuh-uh.” Rainbow shook her head slowly. “Twilight says it was no accident. Eggheaded stuff, I didn’t get it. Fluttershy asked the animals, but none of them got a good look at the culprit. They were too scared to get close enough.”

Wait, animals?

Pinkie flinched and spoke just under her breath, “Not now.”

You didn’t tell me you had a friend who could talk to animals!

“Be quiet!”

“Pinkie Pie!” Rarity tapped the countertop with a scowl. “I know this is a shock, but there’s no need to be rude.”

“S-sorry, Rarity.” Pinkie sat, tail wrapped about her flank, and pouted. “I just… don’t believe it.”

“It’s alright, Pinks.” Rainbow offered a sympathetic look. “Anyway, I came to get you guys. Applejack’s not taking it well. I figure she’s going to need the support of all of us.”

“Good thinking,” Rarity replied with a forlorn nod. “She’s had Winona since she was just a filly. I can’t imagine what the poor dear must be going through right now. And dear Apple Bloom! Why, Winona’s been with them all her life! Yes, we absolutely must bring the others. I think I’ll get Sweetie Belle to come along.”

Rainbow paused to consider this, then nodded. “Yeah, Apple Bloom could use some friends right now, too. I guess I should get Scoots.”

“You do that.” Rarity trotted for the door, muffin floating nearby. “Oh, this is such terrible news! I hope they find whatever did this, and soon.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie whispered, her gut twisting, “I hope so, too.”

Rainbow noted her downcast manner. With a single flap of her wings, she crossed over the counter and nuzzled Pinkie’s cheek. “Hey, you gonna be okay?”

Pinkie offered a frail smile. “Yeah… I guess. I’m just so surprised, is all.”

“I noticed.” Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck, uncertainty plain in her expression. “So are you coming?”

For a moment, the merest of instants, she considered saying no.

Go.

She leaned back and rubbed her hooves together anxiously. “So… we don’t know anything about what killed Winona?”

Rainbow cocked her head, appearing as though a puzzle had just been thrust in her face. “Well, according to the birds living in the rafters of AJ’s barn, it was a pony in the shadows. But that can’t be right, y’know? What pony would do something like that to an innocent dog?”

Something nasty rose up in Pinkie’s throat. She thought she tasted the faintest hint of ash. “Yeah… I’ll come. I just need to close up the shop.” She offered a wan smile. “You go on ahead. I’ll meet you there, okay? Maybe bring some fresh cupcakes. Sweets will at least make everypony feel a little better.”

“I hope so, Pinkie.” Rainbow hesitated, then gave her a hug. Pinkie almost shoved her away, but it felt so good… so she leaned into it and tried not to cry.

The embrace ended far sooner than she hoped. Rainbow flew back over the counter and trotted for the door. “I’ll see you there. Don’t worry, we’ll catch the monster that did this!”

Pinkie stared at the empty doorway for some time, the taste of ash on her tongue. She felt so heavy, like her hooves were covered in cement blocks, which would be really uncomfortable, and she knew that because she felt uncomfortable now. But she could do nothing about it, so she just stood there, letting the fire in her belly burn up her insides.

You lie with surprising ease.

Her lip trembled. She gave the faintest of sniffs.

“Please. Be quiet.”

Another Night

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Twilight sat at her woefully cluttered desk, scribbling on a scroll with her tongue between her teeth. A trio of candles provided a gentle glow, doing the job of a moon that, tonight, lay hidden behind the sporadic cloud cover that made up the evening sky. On a perch in the window was Owlowiscious, who watched her work with a curious gaze.

At last, Twilight set her pencil down and studied the chart she’d drawn. Her eyes roamed over the names and numbers and facts, taking in every familiar detail until it all formed a picture in her mind.

Then she let her face smack the desk.

“Oh, I just don’t get it,” she mumbled against the paper.

“Am I interrupting something?”

With a cry, Twilight jumped and spun to the window. But the scroll remained stuck to her face, so she tripped over her stool and fell sideways to the floor in an inharmonious heap. Still blinded by the scroll, she chose to simply lay there and pretend she was dead. Yes, that would be far less embarrassing.

“Oh, dear. Are you quite alright, Twilight Sparkle?”

“Hoo.”

With a pained sigh, Twilight lifted the paper from her face to see Princess Luna hovering outside her window with a concerned expression. Owlowiscious at least had the courtesy to have his back turned, though he did have a wing slapped over his face.

“I’m fine,” Twilight said, sitting up and brushing the paper off. “Nothing wounded but my pride. How are you, Luna?”

“I am lovely this fine evening, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna offered a pleasant smile. “I have brought you the information you asked for.”

All embarrassment forgotten, Twilight’s ears shot up and her eyes brightened. “You got the spell for me?”

A bound scroll floated through the window, safe in Luna’s magical aura. “Indeed. This is the Mind Delve spell, which should let you see into the inner workings of a pony. Be warned, it is single-use only.”

“I shouldn’t need it more than once,” Twilight replied. She took the scroll in her magic and placed it gently on her desk.

Luna set her cannons on the windowsill and frowned. “I take it that Miss Lulamoon remains in a coma?”

Twilight nodded, her excitement dropping off once more. “Yes, and we still don’t have any idea why. But hopefully with this spell I can go in and ask her directly, assuming it’s something as simple as blunt trauma or whatever. If it’s something more psychological…” She cast her eyes downward. “In that case, she may need somepony else to help.”

A thoughtful hum rose from Luna as she took this information in. She pointed at the desk. “And is this the conundrum that has you assaulting your desk with your face so late in the night?”

Twilight made a weak sound combining frustration with worry. “No, this is something entirely new. Now I’ve got another mystery to solve.” At Luna questioning look, she explained, “Applejack’s pet dog was killed last night. I’m trying to figure out what is responsible.”

Luna frowned and her eyes narrowed. “So it was no accident?”

Twilight’s frown grew firm. “No, I’m confident it was no accident. Something murdered Winona, and I aim to figure out what. It’s not just because Applejack’s my friend; we can’t have creatures roaming around Ponyville killing innocent pets!”

Luna nodded, her manner serious. “I understand. I won’t keep you for too long, then. I simply have two things that I wished to say.”

“I was wondering why you decided to deliver the scroll personally,” Twilight admitted with a smile. She then tossed her mane and took on an exaggerated, high-browed pose. “And here I thought you were interested in keeping me company.”

With a wince, Luna hurried to speak, “I apologize, I didn’t want to intrude uninvited. I only thought that—”

“I was just kidding, Luna.”

“Oh…” Luna stared at her for a moment, then blushed and shook her head. “I guess we are tied for embarrassing displays tonight.”

With a giggle, Twilight asked, “So what’s the message?”

“Ah, right. First, the scroll.” Luna indicated the spell scroll on the desk. “Please be cautious with this magic. It works similarly to my dreamweaving, and can be unpredictable. I don’t think you will fall into any trouble, but at the same time, we cannot be certain of the state of Miss Lulamoon’s mind.”

Twilight gave a firm nod. “Got it. I’ll be careful.”

“See that you do.” Luna absent-mindedly reached up to scratch the tip of her hoof beneath Owlowiscious’s chin; the owl promptly went slack with an expression that Twilight thought suited a dog more than a bird. “Second, I wished for you to relay a message to the Bearer of Laughter.”

“Pinkie?” Twilight cocked her head with a lopsided expression. “That’s the last pony I expected. What kind of message would you have for her?”

Luna turned her attention back to Twilight, leaving Owlowiscious as a cooing puddle of contentment on his perch. “As you can imagine, I pay close attention to you and your friends’ dreams, doing my part to keep you all safe at night.”

At the thought of Luna looking into her dreams, Twilight’s cheeks warmed and her body tensed. “Oh, uh, I see. So you’ve seen… all my dreams?”

“No, not all.”

Twilight heaved a sigh and relaxed—

“And what I have seen is a secret between us.”

—and went rigid again. Her lips twitched into a toothy smile. “A-and, um, what have you seen, exactly?”

Luna purposefully crossed her cannons on the windowstill, wriggled as if to make herself comfortable… then flashed a knowing, sly smile.

With a giddy, faux laugh, Twilight waved a dismissive hoof. “Moving on! What did you want me to tell Pinkie?”

Luna’s smile faded and she regained her firm manner. “For the past five nights, Miss Pie’s dreams have been closed off. I can tell that she does dream, but I have been unable to see what it is she dreams of.” Her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed once more. “This is a rare, strange thing. I feel as though I am being intentionally kept out, and it leaves me uncomfortable.”

Twilight frowned, sensing the seriousness of Luna’s words. “I didn’t even know you could be shielded from a pony’s dreams.”

“As I said, it is a rare thing, but not unheard of.” Luna’s expression shifted to uncertainty. “I would not have thought Miss Pie capable of such a thing, but I am well aware by this time that she is known to do some some… interesting things. For now, I do not wish to push her, but would you please let her know my concerns? It would ease my thoughts to know of a reason behind this unusual restriction.”

“I’ll tell her,” Twilight replied quickly. “I can’t imagine she’s doing it on purpose, though. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Please do.” With one last scratch of Owlowiscious’s chin and a flap of her wings, Luna pulled away from the window. “I must attend to my nightly duties. Do come by to visit sometime, Twilight Sparkle; my sister and I would both appreciate it.”

Twilight offered her a warm smile and waved. “I’ll be sure to do that. Soon. Good night, Luna, and thanks for your help.”

“Anytime.” Luna began to turn away, but paused to cast one last smirk over her shoulder. “By the way, I think she looks best in the midnight blue socks, don’t you?”

A blink.

A pause.

Twilight practically melted, legs wrapped over her eyes as she whimpered. “If Pinkie has found a way to keep you out, I’m going to make sure you never see another one of my dreams ever again!”

"Hoo."


Dirt kicked up in the darkness as Pinkie made her trotting way out of Ponyville. For the second night in a row, the sky was dotted with clouds, but for the moment the waxing moon was peering down at her. Pinkie wondered if Princess Luna could see her. Rumor had it she could watch ponies that way, but that seemed rather rude to Pinkie. After all, weren’t ponies entitled to at least some privacy?

Nah, Luna was a good princess. She wasn’t the type to spy on ponies for no reason.

She spies on their dreams, doesn’t she?

“Well, yeah,” Pinkie replied with a shrug, “but that’s different. She only does it when they’re having a bad nightmare and need help.”

Are you sure about that?

“Yep!” Pinkie giggled and patted the side of her head. “You need to be more trusting, Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy.”

A disgruntled mumble rolled through her skull. I have a name.

“A name you won’t tell me,” she countered, sticking her tongue out at nothing in particular. She held it that way for a couple of seconds, then blew a raspberry and giggled. “You’re Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy until you tell me.”

Can’t you come up with something better than that?

“I dunno. Can’t you tell me what your real name is?”

No.

“Then no.” She shook her tail playfully, though she regretted the voice couldn’t actively see her do it.

Though the voice said nothing, she could sense his anger. It felt like a quietly roiling thundercloud was cooped up in her skull. Which was weird, because if it was there, where was her brain? Had it gone on vacation? Maybe it went to Bermooda! She hoped it kept the receipts, airship tickets weren’t cheap. Would she have to work a few extra days to cover the airfare?

You have one of the strangest minds I’ve ever had the experience of living in.

“Yeah? Well you’ve got a funny face!”

The roiling paused. The voice offered a confused, I don’t have a face.

Pinkie broke into a fit of giggles. “Yeah, and that’s funny!” She laughed out loud for several seconds, hardly noticing the complete silence in her head.

Just as the laughter ceased, her hooves touched upon solid wood. She forced her legs to stop, which required a curious amount of effort on her part. A short bridge was before her, and beyond that…

“Why are we going to Fluttershy’s cottage? She’s gonna be asleep.”

I just wanted to see where she lived, the voice replied pleasantly. Aside from the brief meeting at the orchard, I didn’t get much of a chance to come to know Fluttershy.

Pinkie cocked her head with a nonplussed frown. “You know, you could just say hello. Don’t you wanna make more friends than me?”

Not particularly, no.

Brow furrowing, Pinkie crossed her eyes, as if that might let her see the thing inside her head. “That’s not very nice!”

The voice scoffed. When you end up locked in a box for thousands of years by the ponies you thought were your friends, you let me know how open to friendship you are.

She sat and rubbed her chin in thought. “But you were friends with Trixie, right? I mean, I found you in her wagon and took you home because I thought you were meant to be a gift for somepony and I didn’t want that somepony to accidentally find you but there was no tag on the box so how was I supposed to know who it wasn’t supposed to go to and it wasn’t wrapped at all which was terrible and remind me I have to teach Trixie how to properly wrap gifts because that’s important information every pony needs to know! Especially a show mare. What if she’s asked to perform at a birthday party?”

Her legs started walking of their own accord. Can we please just move on?

“Right you are, Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy!” She ignored his sigh and hummed a familiar tune as she trotted across the bridge. “But what are we supposed to do here? I wouldn’t want to wake Fluttershy, or her animals for that matter.”

No answer came, but she could feel the clouds in her head shifting about. She could only guess that meant he was thinking. She paused a few feet from Fluttershy’s door and took in the dark cottage. It always reminded her of a tree, which struck her as silly, and maybe just a little dangerous. After all, The Golden Oaks Library was a tree, and far older than the cottage, and maybe it would think Fluttershy’s cottage was trying to shoulder its way into its territory! A turf war between trees made into buildings? Scary!

But now poor ol’ Oaks was nothing more than a bunch of scraggly roots in Twilight’s Castle. A shame, really. Did the cottage respect it for going like the good soldier it was?

Would you please think about things that make sense?

Pinkie gasped, then thrust her upturned muzzle aside with a huff. “Wow, rude!”

No, it’s practical. Come on, let’s walk the perimeter.

“But why?” Pinkie asked even as her legs started moving on their own again. She quickly reclaimed control, but didn’t stop moving. “What are we supposed to learn by walking circles? Not that walking in circles can’t be loads of fun, but it would be much more fun with friends. Why not just come to visit during the day?”

Why didn’t you tell me you had a friend who could talk to animals?

They turned around the corner of the cottage, heading for the back yard. Pinkie glanced through one of the darkened windows, but wasn’t sure if the motion was her own doing or not. A strange uncertainty passed through her at the thought. “Hey, don’t you think this looks creepy? And I don’t mean Nightmare Night creepy.”

The voice didn’t respond at first, but when it did it was quiet. We can’t have the animals telling Fluttershy what we’re up to, Pinkie.

Just as they reached the next corner, Pinkie forced her knees to lock. Her entire body rocked forward, but she recovered before she could fall. Her heart felt like ice. “No! What are you planning? You said Winona would work!”

The voice let out a long sigh, which resulting in smoke floating out of her nostrils. The effect tickled her nose and she sneezed.

The dog did work, but come now, My Dear. Did you really think the blood of one small dog would satisfy the Gates of Tartarus? It’s going to take a lot more than that to ensure they stay closed for a long time.

She lifted a leg, tried to step back… and found herself locked in place. Even so, she still managed to tremble. “No. Please, it’s too soon. I don’t want to hurt anypony.”

The clouds in her skull churned. The Gates won’t wait! They calmed just as quickly. We’re not going to hurt a pony, Pinkie.

“I don’t want to hurt any animals, either,” she responded, keeping her voice low. She managed to take a step back, but it was like trying to walk through molasses. “Please, let’s go back home.”

Once again, she felt that mild storm in her head, a sure sign of agitation. Didn’t you say you wanted to protect your friends? If you don’t do this, the Gates will open again. Or maybe you want Tirek to get loose again. Or one of the others! I promise, there are far worse things down there.

She shook her head, struggling against the urge to move forward. “But I don’t understand why! If this is the only way, why doesn’t Celestia do it?”

Another moment of silence… and then, like the snapping of a taught rope, the force on her legs disappeared. Pinkie yelped as she fell on her hindquarters, almost toppling head over hooves. She sat up and shook her head to clear it.

The voice spoke in a soothing tone. Pinkie, you must understand. Celestia is an idealist. She wouldn’t hurt a fly if she didn’t have to. There’s no way she could bring herself to sacrifice lives to keep the Gates closed. That’s why she ordered the practice ceased and elected to hold them closed with her own power. She’s been doing it for thousands of years, ever since I got sealed in that box.

“And she’s done a great job of it all by herself,” Pinkie declared with a firm nod.

With a lecturing tone, the voice asked, Has she? Cerberus got loose. Tirek escaped. All of Equestria almost fell.

Pinkie flinched, her ears folding back. “Everypony makes mistakes.”

It wasn’t just a mistake, Pinkie! For a moment, the storm in her head grew more intense, but it quickly calmed. Celestia keeps the Gates sealed with her magic day-in and day-out. It’s draining her, steadily. She’s robbing herself of her own lifeforce by doing it, sacrificing centuries off her life so that she won’t have to hurt others. She’s going to die because of this!

Pinkie rubbed her hooves together and chewed her lip. “She’s the princess. It’s her decision to make, isn’t it? I mean, I do feel bad for her, but she’s doing it for a good cause.”

The voice went silent. Pinkie waited, staring at her ever-rubbing hooves and wishing her stomach would stop churning.

And what about Twilight? Don’t you want to protect her?

An ear twitched. “Twilight? What does she have to do with this?”

Oh, come now, My Dear. Luna doesn’t have the power to hold the Gates for long, and Cadance is focused entirely on the Crystal Heart. Do you really think it’s a coincidence that your friend was chosen to ascend to alicornhood now, when Celestia’s power is clearly on the wane? She’s being groomed to take Celestia’s place!

Pinkie cocked her head with a lopsided frown. “Well, duh. How is this bad?”

It’s bad because every minute Celestia holds the Gates is a year off her life! And when she resigns and Twilight takes over? Tell me, is it right to let your dear friend suffer and purposefully strip centuries, maybe even millennia off her new lifespan just to spare a life or two? Can you let her do that when you know how to protect her? A life or two every thousand years is a small price to pay!

A whimper broke free of Pinkie’s tight throat. She folded her legs close to her chest and stared at the grass beneath her, shivering. “I don’t want Twilight hurt, but… but this can’t be the only way. Maybe it is better for Twilight. You know, needs of the few?”

The storm rolled about, making her feel woozy as the voice contemplated her response. Very well. You want to speak about the needs of the many versus the needs of the few? Tell me, is Celestia a great leader?

“Of course she is. The best leader there is."

And she trained Twilight from foalhood. So it stands to reason that Twilight will be just as good a leader, if not better. Unless you have doubts?

Pinkie shook her head forcefully. “Twilight’s going to be the best ruler ever! The best of the best, so best that even the best would call her the best, because that’s what she is, the best!” She paused as she repeated the line in her head. “But Twilight’s not full of herself like that, so I guess she wouldn’t say she’s the best, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”

There came a faint itching in her scalp, and somehow Pinkie got the impression of an eye roll out of it. Right. Anyway. If Twilight’s going to be the best ruler there ever was and lead Equestria into a new era of harmony—

“Which she will!”

—then doesn’t it make sense to keep her in power for as long as possible? Her place on the throne guarantees a happy world. Now, if she’s controlling the Gates personally, like Celestia is now, that time in power will be dramatically decreased. That’s thousands of years Twilight would have been Princess, maintaining peace and happiness across Equestria.

Pinkie’s ears folded back once more as she put the argument together in her head. “So… if we were to keep the Gates closed in the way they were designed to be, she could rule for all that time, and all the generations of ponies who live then can be happy.”

The smoke storm in her head seemed to swirl like a miniature hurricane, making her feel warm… but also tickling. Exactly! Put down one or two, spare millions. Maybe even billions! I ask you, is that such a large price to pay?

Her moment of hesitation was all it took for her legs to start moving again. She cringed, but didn’t fight them. “I still don’t like it. And why didn’t Trixie help you?”

She tried. She wasn't strong enough.

“But that’s silly. Trixie's a unicorn, and no slouch when it comes to magic. I mean, she's got a reputation, but I'm sure—” Pinkie turned the corner and found herself staring into a wide mouth lined with sharp-looking teeth. “Whoa, somebear needs to clean his teeth!”

The bear finished his yawn and sat up, rubbing at his fangs with a hurt expression.

She patted his leg with a smile and pointed to the cottage. “Don’t worry, Harry! I’m sure if you let Fluttershy know then she can get you all fixed up. Right, Mr. Voice-In-My-Head Guy?”

Are you speaking to that bear? Really?

“Uh, duh! I mean, I know he doesn’t know what I’m saying exactly, but he understands hoof gestures, and I understand paw gestures, so we can talk that way! Right, Harry?”

Harry cocked his head, then glanced around. When he saw nopony else, he scratched his head and gave her a quizzical look.

Pinkie pressed a hoof to her lips and made a shushing sound. “We’re just going on a little stroll. Nothing to worry about.”

On the contrary, I think there is.

“What?”

Abruptly, Pinkie felt something hot rising in her throat. She choked, coughed, and finally gagged as a thick grey cloud of smoke erupted from her mouth! Her eyes watered at the nasty, burnt taste and the pain in her esophagus.

Harry reached forward, concern in his eyes as she continued to hack. He hardly seemed to notice as the smoke engulfed his head, but then he breathed in. This lead to a cough, and he shook his head. Pinkie could only watch in alarm as the cloud, just like the one she’d first seen upon opening the box, escaped her mouth completely and invaded Harry’s. Within seconds, it had disappeared through the bear’s mouth, nose and ears.

The massive animal stumbled backwards, shaking his head and snorting. Pinkie, at last recovering from her hacking fit, took a step closer. “Harry? Are you okay?”

Harry kept shaking his head, as if trying to dislodge something. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, he became as still as stone. Not a muscle moved as he stood on three legs, one paw raised up as if about to rub his muzzle. If Pinkie hadn’t known he was real, she’d have thought him a statue.

But his eyes were still very mobile, darting about wildly before settling on Pinkie. In them was confusion… and fear.

There. That should make things easier.

Gasping, Pinkie rushed over to press her hooves to Harry’s muzzle and study his face. “What did you do to him? Harry didn’t do anything to you!”

Keep shouting like that and something will hear us!

Lowering her voice, she demanded again, “What did you do?”

I’ve prepared him. He’s all yours.

“All mine? What do you…” Her ears folded back as cold comprehension chilled her to the bone. “N-no. Not Harry. He’s a good bear. He’d never hurt anypony!”

The clouds in her head bucked to an unknowable wind. What did we just finish going over about sacrifice?

She shook her head and backed away, only for her hind legs to lock up. “Let me go. I’m not ready to do this again.”

If I let you make that decision, you’ll never be ready.

Pressure began to build in her mind. She’d felt that sensation several times in the past week, and by now had an idea as to what it was. Tears welled in her eyes anew as she shook her head frantically. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to!”

But even as she said the words, she felt her panic and fear diminishing. Her forelegs stopped fighting her hind legs and her expression calmed. Even so, her heart continued to slam against her ribs, and when she looked into Harry’s frightened eyes she felt like sobbing for the both of them.

You’re strong, My Dear. You can do this.

“I d-don’t want to be,” she whispered, mentally thrashing against the subtle manipulations.

Be reasonable. You know this is the best, most efficient course of action.

“The best. The most… efficient.” She stepped forward, breath coming in a slow, deep rhythm. “But it… It’s wrong.”

The pressure in her skull intensified. A tear fell down her cheek as she moved in a daze towards the motionless bear. “Don’t… make… me…”

The words were like the caress of silk. Seal Tartarus. Protect Equestria. Save your friends. Save Twilight.

“Twilight.” Her hooves grasped Harry’s head. “Protect my friends.” Her grip tightened with all the strength an earth pony could offer. “P-protect Equestria.”

Harry whined. His eyes pleaded. Her heart felt like it would burst.

You are strong.

Pinkie stared into Harry’s eyes. She felt like screaming, but all she managed was a frail, “I’m so sorry.”

Her hooves twisted.

The snap filled her ears like a thunderclap.

A Brief Visit

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The murmurs and whispers of gossip filled Sugarcube Corner as Twilight stepped inside. With so many patrons present, she could only hope she looked better than she felt. She trotted for the counter, where Mr. Cake was busy serving a customer, and took a moment to examine her reflection in the sample window. She brushed a hoof over her mane, which did nothing for the hairs that were out of place. She didn’t even bother to adjust her wings, though she made a note to preen them sometime tonight.

If she found the time.

She looked up just as the customer turned away from the counter – giving her a polite smile and bow of the head as he did.

Mr. Cake closed the register and turned to her with a grin that faded quickly. “Good afternoon, Princess. Are you alright?”

“I’ve been better, Mr. Cake,” she confessed with a sigh. “I’d like to talk to Pinkie, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Not at all.” He gestured to the stairs with a frown. “She’s not feeling so well. We let her take a sick day. Poor thing deserves it.”

Twilight cringed at the news; it was just one thing after another these days. “I’m sorry to hear that. I won’t bother her too much, I just needed to relay a message.”

“Sure thing. Oh, and Princess?”

She paused, half turned away, and gave him a curious look.

Mr. Cake rapped his hoof on the sample counter with a smile. “When you get back down, come over and pick a little something. On the house.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” she replied with a small blush, her eyes shifting to the patrons that surrounded her. More than a few were attempting to subtly listen in on the conversation.

His smile didn’t fade. “It’s alright. Nothing picks up a bad day like a sweet treat, don’t you think? I won’t take no for an answer, young lady.”

With a sigh of defeat and a wan smile, Twilight nodded. “Oh, alright, but only if you promise to stop calling me ‘princess.’ ”

“Deal.”

She left him and his smug smile. Although Twilight really didn’t like accepting favors, she trusted the Cakes to offer them without any ulterior motives. Besides, that Blackberry Road cupcake looked really good, and she could use a little something to ease the tension.

Things were quiet upstairs. Twilight approached the closed door to Pinkie’s room, pausing only to smile at the curious faces of Pound and Pumpkin from the door to their room. The twins giggled and waved from their crib, and she waved back before continuing past their room.

Her ears perked to the sound of Pinkie’s voice. She seemed to be having a one-sided conversation with herself, but the words were muffled by the door. For a moment, Twilight had the curious and borderline dreadful thought that Pinkie might be even more odd when feeling sick. The idea was promptly cast aside; she had no intention of trying to make sense of Pinkie, especially not with so much else going on.

She knocked on the door. “Pinkie? It’s Twilight. Are you okay?”

The door didn’t swing open right away, nor did streamers come flying in her face, or any of a hundred other things one comes to expect from a pony like Pinkie. As such, Twilight began to suspect her friend’s situation may be worse than she’d come to believe. When the door opened, it did so slowly, to the unpleasant sound of creaking.

Right away, Twilight knew the situation was serious. There was no energy in Pinkie’s appearance, and for once the frazzle of her mane didn’t seem to have anything to do with joy or laughter. Pinkie still smiled, but it was a frail thing, and her eyes were bloodshot.

“Hi, Twilight. Sorry I didn’t come to see you downstairs, but I’m not running on all cylinders today.” She gave a weak chuckle. “Which makes sense, ‘cause I’m not an engine.”

The unusually weak attempt at a joke only intensified Twilight’s worry. “Pinkie, did something happen? Are you okay?”

“I’m… fine.” Pinkie gestured for her to come in before turning away. She went to sit on the crumbled sheets of her bed. “Just feeling under the weather. I’ll be back on my hooves in no time.”

“Good to know.” Twilight closed the door behind her and sat in the center of the messy room. She looked around, taking in the familiar sights; boxes of balloons, drawing and designs all over the floor and desk, the metal box under the bed, even the party cannon peeking out of the closet. “But if you need something, anything at all, just let me know, okay?”

Pinkie nodded, her smile appearing more genuine this time. “Thanks, Twilight. So, Luna gave you a message for me?”

Twilight’s ears perked; she barely managed to stop herself from asking how Pinkie knew. She chalked it down to her just being Pinkie. “She told me you’ve been blocking your dreams. Have you?”

Pinkie cocked her head, eyes shifting so she looked at the corner of her bed. “Can you do that?”

Only a curious recognition that the question wasn’t intended for her kept Twilight from speaking.

“Huh.” Pinkie shrugged, her eyes going back to Twilight. Her shoulder slumped. “Well, I’m not doing it. It’s probably for the better, though. I’ve been having bad dreams lately.”

“Better?” Twilight gawked. “Pinkie, bad dreams are Luna’s business! It’s part of her job to protect ponies’ dreams, including yours. You shouldn’t be blocking her from that.”

“But I’m not blocking her from it,” Pinkie insisted. “I wouldn’t know how. Besides, I like when Princess Luna visits me in my dreams. She’s lots of fun, y’know?” Her expression grew firm, and she once again seemed to be looking at something beyond Twilight. “And I want her back. If some Meany McMeanypants is keeping her out, it’s got to stop.”

Rubbing her head with both hooves, Twilight groaned. “One more mystery to solve. Do you have any idea what may be causing it?”

Instead of answering, Pinkie peered at Twilight’s face. “Are you okay, Twilight?”

“Oh, I’m just tired.” Twilight waved a dismissive hoof, then brushed her mane back. “It’s been a busy week.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Or I would know what you meant if I were you, but I’m not, so I don’t know exactly what you mean, because that would require me to be…” The words petered out and Pinkie sighed, her sunken gaze on the floor. “I mean, I know what you mean.”

Twilight stared at Pinkie for a few seconds, a slight ache in her chest at the sight. She stepped forward and set a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “You focus on getting better, okay, Pinkie?”

Pinkie gave a weak nod. “I will. And… um… is Fluttershy okay?”

“She’s… Wait, how did you know?”

She cringed and turned her face away. It took a second for an answer to come. “Mrs. Cake told me about it. One of the customers told her, I think.”

Twilight covered her eyes with a groan. “Fluttershy’s… not doing so good. She took Harry’s murder far worse than AJ took Winona’s. Worse, I’m no closer to solving the case. All her animals were asleep when it happened.” She stared out the window with a scowl. “I have no idea what’s going on.”

Pinkie flopped onto her barrel, tears welling in her eyes. “I can’t even go over to cheer her up.”

“It’s alright, Pinkie Pie.” Twilight patted her head, unable to think of anything better to do. “I’m sure she appreciates that you’re thinking about her.”

Pinkie only mumbled into her hooves. Twilight gave her a light nuzzle and stepped back. “I’ve still got some work to do, not least of which includes trying something on Trixie. Get well soon, okay?”

Her friend nodded with an unfocused gaze. “Mm-kay. I’ll be all right soon.”

Twilight paused at the door and looked over her shoulder to smile. “Pinkie Promise?”

Though no smile reached her face, Pinkie still pressed a hoof to her eye. “See you, Twilight. Try to have some fun today, even if I can’t be around.”

“You know me,” she replied with a much more authentic smile. “Facing challenges is the highlight of my day.” Her smile held until the door closed, at which point her head drooped almost to the floor.

“Although I think I could have done without this one.”


Pinkie buried herself under the sheets, a tear-stained pillow held tightly to her chest.

“Meany.”

Are we resorting to name calling now?

She squeezed the pillow and her eyelids, sniffing and wishing she could fall asleep. “Big, fat… meany.”

I have no weight. I can’t be fat.

She snorted, scowl buried in the fluffy sheets. “You’re not funny, either. Why wouldn't you let me tell her?"

The clouds in her head were calm, almost still. Likewise, the voice’s words were patient. I am sorry. Really, I am. But the faster you learn to do this, the better things will be.

She shook her head forcefully. “I don’t want to do this. I keep telling you that! Why won’t you believe me?”

I do believe you, My Dear, but what we want is seldom what is needed. Pressure began to build in her head, as if the cloud had been turned to cotton. Relax. All will be well.

She cringed, pressing her forehead to her canons with a whimper. “What are you doing to me?”

Just applying a little pressure. To sooth your mind, that is all.

“Please… stop.”

The cotton rubbed against her brain. She squirmed.

“I said stop.”

Her heartbeat sped up. Her teeth chattered.

“Get out of my head. Please.”

Do not worry, My Dear.

Soon you’ll see things my way.

Pinkie tried screaming.

She found she couldn’t.

Pressure

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The sun had fallen by the time Twilight finished her work throughout Ponyville. She had taken a detour to check on Applejack, then went to ask Spike how Fluttershy was doing. She was so proud of him, volunteering to look after the poor, distraught mare. She’d decided that letting him stay the night with her would be good for both of them, albeit in very different ways.

But now she had something else to do. She moved quietly through the Ponyville Hospital, careful not to wake the residents. Before her floated the scroll which, with any luck, would let her solve one of the many mysteries of the past week. She’d originally planned to do this tomorrow, but after a thoroughly frustrating day she’d pushed her schedule forward. She wanted to end the day with at least one high note.

The door numbers were easily visible in the light of her glowing horn. She found the proper room and slipped in silently, careful to lock the door behind her. In the dim light of the room she could make out a lump in the bed, perfectly still save for the slow breathing. A heart monitor beeped in the corner of the room, but otherwise the space was silent.

Twilight sat beside the bed, eyes on the unconscious face of Trixie. Her curly, pale mane dangled over her eyes, rising and falling with her deep breaths.

The nearby table lamp clicked on. “Alright, Trixie. I’m going to take a look inside your head. I hope you’ll forgive me for it later, but it’s the only thing I can think of to help you.”

Determination filling her, Twilight pulled the ribbon off the scroll and opened it, peering at the spell. She’d already examined it several times, but once more wouldn’t hurt anything. As she inspected every part of the spell, she recited in her head all the rules and ethics Celestia and Luna had pressed her on. She wanted to be absolutely sure she didn’t cross any lines.

At last confident, in herself and the spell, Twilight opened her magic to the scroll. A midnight blue aura swept over her horn, which she gradually pressed against Trixie’s forehead. She held that position, letting the magic flow and prepping herself for—


The world was white. Not a soothing white, nor a bland white. No, this white was domineering, pressing down on Twilight from all directions as if it disapproved of her very existence. She gazed up at the nothingness and couldn’t help feeling a little threatened.

Already, worry bubbled within. This wasn’t at all like what she’d anticipated, and she grew more and more uncomfortable by the second. Her horn continued to shine blue, though if the spell was doing anything to this world she couldn’t tell. She turned a circle, eager to get about her business and be out of here.

It was easy to spot the anomaly; there was no other feature to see. Twilight began walking, her hoofsteps making not a sound, towards the grey object in the distance. As she did, she pondered the nature of the mind delve and what Luna had told her about dreams. If she was right, then she was inside Trixie’s mind. But why would Trixie’s mind be so oppressively blank? If this was all she had in her head, it was no wonder her body stopped functioning.

But this emptiness didn’t feel natural. She could sense that something was upset with her, like she would be cast out if at all possible. Trixie’s mind wasn’t blank so much as it was filled with something, and Twilight suspected that something wasn’t at all friendly.

What in Equestria had Trixie gotten herself into?

Twilight could distinguish the gray object's form by now; a cloud. Or, perhaps, smoke. Why would Trixie be thinking of smoke?

She paused at the edge of the cloud, studying it with a frown. The cloud was large enough for several ponies to fit inside. Perhaps Trixie's real mind stood within? Twilight hesitated at the thought of entering. After all, there could be some threat hidden inside. Maybe it only looked so big on the outside, but inside she’d find herself lost in endless smoke. Dreams were weird like that.

After pondering for what may have been several minutes – she couldn’t tell in this strange place – an idea came to Twilight. Hoping her magic worked the same here as it did in the real world, she pushed a little more out of her horn. Her natural purple blended with the dark blues as a small torrent of wind picked up. That done, she pushed the wind source forward, brushing back the smoke to create a path.

Within seconds, she found something; metal bars. Twilight held her breath and pushed the wind farther, gradually revealing more and more, until she’d uncovered a small cage barely big enough for a pony to fit inside. There Trixie lay, curled on the floor of the cage with hooves over her eyes.

And she was crying.

Making sure the path out of the smoke was clear, Twilight hurried to the cage. “Trixie. Trixie, it’s me, Twilight.”

Trixie rubbed her eyes and raised her hooves to peer through red eyes. She looked a mess, her mane tangled and her face soaked with tears. “T-Twilight Sparkle? But how?”

“I used a mind delve spell, courtesy of Princess Luna.” Twilight knocked a hoof on the bars a couple times. “What is this?”

Trixie cocked her head one way, then another. “But you can’t be here. Arabus made sure I couldn’t…” Her eyes went wide and she leapt to her hooves. “Wait, Princess Luna? You mean, you’re here? Really here?”

“That’s right.” Twilight offered a reassuring smile. “I’m here to help you, Trixie. You’re in a coma.”

After a few seconds of speechlessness, Trixie turned her face away with a deep frown. “I don’t deserve your help. You should just leave me like this.”

Twilight blinked, then leaned forward. “I couldn’t possibly do that. I know you’ve done a few bad things, but—”

“You have no idea the things I’ve done,” Trixie whispered. “The things I was forced to do. I finally stood up for myself, and this is where I ended up.”

The winds continued to push the smoke away, but Twilight thought she could feel the clouds pressing against her magic. Not that it mattered; her focus was entirely on the prisoner. “Explain it to me, Trixie. What did you do?”

Trixie turned her back to Twilight. “I don’t want to talk about it, Sparkle. You’re a princess now, right? You should make the call and leave me like this. Cut off life support, if I’m on any.”

“I couldn’t possibly do that!” Twilight pressed against the bars. “Talk to me, Trixie! What did this to you? Why were you coming back to Ponyville?”

At first, Trixie said nothing. When she did speak, her voice cracked. “Arabus wanted me to go there. He picked my brain and found out about the Elements of Harmony. He promised me so much…”

Twilight scowled. “Arabus? Who is that?”

“He promised. He said he would… Would…” Trixie’s ears perked. Then she spun around to meet Twilight’s gaze with wide eyes and small pupils. “The box. You found me, that means you found my wagon. What happened to the box?”

Another blink. Twilight tried to connect dots in her head, but it seemed she was still missing some. “What box?”

Trixie pressed against the cage, muzzle close to Twilight’s. “Arabus’s box! I found him in Tartarus. He has to be sent back!”

“Slow down!” Twilight reached through the cage to press both hooves to Trixie’s shoulders and force her into a sitting position. “I don’t know what’s going on. Please, Trixie, take it from the top.”

“Right. You’re right.” Trixie pressed her hooves to the sides of her forehead and took a few deep breaths. “I… I decided to go to Tartarus. I’d heard of a special alchemical ingredient I wanted to try.”

“Tartarus.” Twilight gave her an incredulous stare. “Trixie, do you have any idea how—”

“Yes, yes, I know!” Trixie growled and jerked her head away. “Trixie’s shows were dipping in popularity, okay? She thought if she could cook up some strong alchemy that she might be able to kick things up a notch. It’s not like I went their intending to free some ancient smoke demon!”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “A smoke demon? They have those?”

Trixie gestured at the ground as if there were something to look at. “It was just a bunch of ash on the floor. It was Tartarian Ash Trixie was looking for, she thought she’d found some. Trixie put it in a lockbox and left. It was only after she opened it again that she discovered that ash was really a fiend named Arabus who had been lying there for millennia.”

“I am not hearing this.” Twilight facehoofed with a low groan. She didn’t even notice that her tunnel of wind had shrunk ever so slightly. “Why didn’t you try to, I don’t know, put him back?”

“I did.” Trixie’s anger faded, her expression returning to shame. “I tried, but he… he got inside my head. Literally. He was here, Sparkle. I couldn’t get him out. He started… manipulating me.”

Twilight pressed against the cage once more, heart pounding as she came to recognize the true scope of what she was hearing. “Trixie?”

Trixie ran the tip of her hoof along the floor in random circles. She spoke so quietly Twilight had to strain to hear. “It was slow, at first. Subconscious. I didn’t even realize what he was doing. I started making decisions I normally wouldn’t, even as I told myself they were wrong. Sometimes he would actively control parts of my body, making me walk in certain directions. Small things. Then he…”

She shuddered and turned away from Twilight once more. “He made me hurt somepony.”

Swallowing a lump in her throat, Twilight asked, “Why would he do that, Trixie?”

“I didn’t know, not at first.” Trixie shook her head. “I realize it now, though. He grows stronger through blood. The more damage he does, the more control he has. If enough blood is spilled by his host, he can regain his old form.”

Twilight sat back, mind swimming in circles as she took this in. “So… what happened? Is he still here?”

“No. No, thank Celestia, no.” Trixie laughed, a fragile sound. “When I realized what his endgame was, I finally found the strength to put my hoof down. He couldn’t make me go any further. Trixie refused to be his pawn!” She stomped, head raised and ears perked. She turned to Twilight, expression firm and determination burning in her gaze. “It took everything Trixie had, but she managed to force him out and put him back in that stupid box!”

Then her ears folded and her shoulders sagged. “But Arabus got the last laugh. At the last minute, he left this—” She gestured to the smoke surrounding them, “—in my head, imprisoning me in my own mind. Honestly? I thought I’d died and gone to some sort of limbo.”

Twilight studied this mare, her off-and-on foe. She considered all she knew about Trixie and the situation at hoof, trying to weigh events. She realized that Trixie’s fate would need to be decided, and as a princess, she’d probably be the one making that decision. Perhaps this was something she would have to contact Celestia, Luna and Cadance about.

But first… “You’re not dead, Trixie, and you’re not going to stay locked up like this.”

Trixie looked up, her eyes wide. “B-but, I did terrible things! And even without that, I brought a demon out of Tartarus!”

“We’ll determine the consequences of that later,” Twilight assured her even as she began studying the cage a little more closely. “For now, I’m going to find a way to wake you up, and then we’re going to put Arabus back in Tartarus.”

She paused as a thought occurred to her, then she cursed. “I'll have to put the investigation on hold. I hope no other animals get killed while we’re gone.”

In a blur, Trixie was in her face. “What did you say?”

Twilight yelped and backed away. Upon recovering, she replied, “I said I didn’t want any animals to die while we’re on our way to Tartarus. What of it?”

Trixie swallowed audibly, then waved Twilight away. “Arabus is loose. Somepony else must have opened the box. Forget me, you’ve got to stop him!”

“Trixie, nopony opened the—”

A snarl from Trixie shut her up. “They were murders, weren’t they? Small animals, then big animals. It’ll be ponies next if you don’t get out there right now and stop him!”

“But that’s impossible,” Twilight cried. “Nopony’s been around your wagon since—”

Her blood ran cold, her eyes bulged.

Trixie leveled a knowing look at her, leaning heavily against the bars of her cage. “Leave me here, Twilight. I deserve it. Somepony else needs your help far more than I do.”

“Pinkie Pie.” Twilight looked away, recalling the day they’d found Trixie and her wagon. “She’s the one who moved the wagon to clear the path. She said she looked around the inside.”

She blinked, then looked up. To her alarm, the smoke that surrounded Trixie’s cage was roiling like a storm! Now that she finally paid attention, she realized her wind spell barely held the smoke at bay. Her wings flung open as she looked from Trixie to the exit.

Trixie noticed as well. “Go, Sparkle! Save your friend before she does something truly terrible! Trixie isn’t worth your life.”

“That’s not true!” But Twilight could already tell that she couldn’t stay. With another curse, she turned and galloped to the exit. “I’m going to get you out of this, Trixie! I promise!”

Whatever answer might have been forthcoming, it was lost as the wind failed and the smoke cascaded back into place. Twilight leapt and made it just as the hole closed over her tail. She flew a short distance away before turning back, but all she could see was the grey cloud, as calm and quiet as it had been before.

Twilight landed, huffing from the momentary exertion. She wanted to help Trixie. Nopony deserved a fate like this. And from the sound of it, Trixie hadn’t intended any harm, so she’d probably get off with only a slap on the fetlock once she awoke. But that was something she would have to discuss with her fellow princesses when the time came.

As much as she hated to do it, Twilight elected to end the spell. Trixie was right; if Arabus was inside Pinkie’s head, then she had to act before her friend ended up in the same situation.

Or worse.


Pinkie felt like she was swimming in cotton. It took her a while to realize that the sensation was in her head, and a little longer to understand that she’d woken up. When had she fallen asleep?

And why was she standing atop the stairs of Sugarcube Corner?

Ah, you’re awake.

She shook her head and rubbed her eyes. “What happened?” It seemed as if her thoughts were coming from far away.

I put you down for a couple hours, just to give you some time to relax. Don’t worry, I kept the ship going while you were out.

“Umm… thanks?” She tried to move, but couldn’t. “What’s going on?”

It was several seconds before the voice answered. The Cakes went to bed thirty minutes ago. I was waiting to make sure they really were out of it.

The hairs on her back bristled, her stomach churned. “W-what are you planning to do?”

In response, her hoof raised on its own. Her breath caught at the sight of a long, shiny kitchen knife.

“No. No, you’re not planning on killing Mr. and Mrs. Cake, are you?”

Of course not.

She sighed with relief even as her legs turned her around. She trotted a few steps… then paused at a barely opened door. She glanced through the crack and saw the twins Pound and Pumpkin sleeping soundly. The sight made her smile.

The smile vanished when she inadvertently pushed the door open.

Her heart pounded as she stepped quietly into the room. The hilt of the knife felt hot in her hoof.

“W-what are you doing?”

Taking the next step.

Pinkie thought her heart had stopped. Her attempt to shriek came out only as a stuttering whimper. Her legs refused to lock, taking her smoothly to the side of the crib. “P-please, no. Anything but this. Anything!”

There is nothing else. One of these foals must die. For the good of Equestria.

“You’re lying!” She thrashed against her body, grunting and sobbing, but the knife rose anyway. “This is evil! You can’t make me do this!”

The pressure in her head was like a vice, only spreading outwards. The storm boiled and swirled. I have to! We’ve already concluded that it’s for the better. You know it’s for the better! Relax, My Dear. It’s okay.

“No! It’s… Please, not them… Anything but…”

She stared at the knife, tilting it back and forth. She didn’t want to do it… so why did she suddenly feel so calm? “This is wrong.”

But you’re going to do it.

“I… I don’t want…” Tears poured down her face as she took in the blissful, slumbering faces of the foals. Foals she’d treated as her own siblings. Foals she adored more than anything. “Why are you making me do this?”

I’m not making you do anything.

The knife rose over the crib. It shook violently.

“You’re lying. I would never… I’m not okay with this. P-please. Please.”

The pressure built. You’re okay with this.

“I’m… I’m not…”

And more. You are okay with this.

She gritted her teeth. A long, high pitched whine escaped her throat. “I’m… okay with…”

For Equestria.

“For…” The knife began to lower, even as she silently screamed. “Equest… tri…”

Pinkie!”

She whipped around, knife hidden behind her back. Twilight stood panting in the doorway, her features hidden due to the light just behind her. “Twilight? What are you—”

Twilight thrust a hoof forward to present an open metal box. “It’s over, Arabus! Let my friend go.”

In one moment, elation filled Pinkie to her core.

In the next, she felt only horror; smoke poured out of her throat. The burning heat sent her into a fresh spasm of choking and gags, and she fell to the floor in a heap. She looked up in time to see the smoke entering the mouth, nostrils and ears of her startled friend. Within seconds, the cloud had disappeared and Twilight was as still as granite.

At last, the opportunity arises! And far sooner than I had expected.

Pinkie’s body rose roughly of its own accord, the knife already back in her hoof.

The ice returned to her stomach, heavier and harder than ever. “W-what do you mean, sooner than you expected?”

The clouds in her head seemed to pause. It lasted only an instant, and then the words came back with that familiar, silken smoothness. Come now, My Dear. You know we can’t let others know our secret.

“No. No!” Pinkie opened her mouth to scream. Once more, she could manage only a high pitch whine. “She’s my friend. My bestest best friend! I won’t do it!”

Look at it this way; the blood of an alicorn will keep the Gates of Tartarus—

Buck your Gates of Tartarus!” Had she been in full control of her voice, Pinkie was sure that would have woken the entire town. “You said I was protecting Twilight by doing this, but now you want me to kill her! You’re lying to me, you’ve been lying from the beginning!”

“Pink… kie…”

She gasped as Twilight’s upraised leg twitched. It was only the faintest movement, but it was there. Twilight’s eyes were soft, gentle… understanding.

Her lips moved. Barely. “You… can… do… it…”

“I’m trying,” Pinkie replied, her words punctuated by a sob. “I’m trying.”

The vice in her head pressed tighter against her skull. You can’t resist me, My Dear. Kill her. You want to do it.

“No!” Pinkie squirmed and snarled even as she moved closer. “Twilight, help me!”

Her mind began to calm. Alicorn blood. There’s so much power there. At last, I can resume my true form! But why do that when I could just take that power and control somepony those foul princesses trust implicitly? Laughter, painful in its pitch and like the sound of a hurricane’s winds, erupted in Pinkie’s mind. After all the millennia, I can take my revenge! Celestia and Luna won’t even notice as their precious element bearer slips the knife in the back of their necks!

Pinkie breathed slowly, steadily, her heart pounding but her mind calm. She stared into Twilight’s trusting, smiling face and felt sick. “Twilight…”

Twilight’s smile didn’t fade. She closed her eyes even as the blade came up to rest against her throat.

Do it, Pinkie.

There was no movement. Pinkie took in the calm that had been forced upon her, examined the expression of trust Twilight had offered. Deep down, she felt the urge of panic. On the surface, she felt as steady as a smooth stream.

Do it.

The knife moved. It trembled as Pinkie struggled, her breath coming in sharp hisses.

What are you doing?

The blade landed on Pinkie’s own throat. She sneered through gritted teeth.

“I won’t hurt another pony. Ever.”

That airy laugh filled her head. The pressure intensified. You can’t resist me. Between the blood produced by you and Trixie, I have more than enough power to control a mere earth pony.

The knife budged back towards Twilight, only to return to Pinkie’s neck.

“I won’t kill the twins. I won’t kill my friend.”

Yes, you will.

The temptation to obey, to cooperate, to agree filled her to her core. Pinkie squeezed her eyes closed and bit her lip so hard she tasted blood. The knife didn’t move.

I said, yes, you will.

“Pink… kie…”

She opened her eyes. Twilight was staring, eyes wide and pupils small. Her head shook ever so slightly.

Pinkie’s lips trembled into a smile. “I’m sorry, Twilight. It’s all I can do.”

“He… can’t… hold… me… for… ev… er…”

Kill her! Kill her now!

“You monster.” Pinkie’s other leg reached up to catch the knife just as it started to leave her throat. “You won’t hurt anypony ever again.”

The storm raged within her skull, which began to throb with the pressure. Kill yourself, and I will simply take over your friend.

“She’s f-far stronger than me,” Pinkie whispered, eyes still locked with Twilight’s. “She’d beat you.”

Her hooves trembled. The blade made a shallow cut in her throat, little more than a nick. Pinkie’s legs ached from the sheer effort of the battle that was being waged through them.

I will kill her myself. I have her brain in a stranglehold. Do this and your friend dies!

Despite everything, Pinkie laughed. “That’s your worst l-lie yet. If you could have killed without me, you would have already.”

And what about you?

Pinkie’s victorious smirk returned. “You didn’t kill Trixie. You won’t kill me.”

What? How did you know?

“Pinkie.” Twilight shifted forward so subtly she might as well not have moved at all. Tears cascaded down her cheeks, her eyes pleaded. “Don’t. Pinkie. Please.”

Pinkie only smiled. “I’m just being Pinkie Pie.”

The blade sliced, and her throat erupted in pain.

No. No! I was so close! No!

The pressure disappeared in an instant as smoke erupted from her mouth, her nose and ears, even from the fresh hole in her neck. Pinkie collapsed, gasping and choking, eyes hot and blurred. She could do nothing but convulse, hooves grasping at her throat as the air failed to enter her lungs. Her chest heaved, her heart throbbed.

But only one thought came to her mind: she’d won. She was free, her friends were safe.

That was all that mattered.

But then, just as her vision began to darken, she felt something… cool. It encased her entire body, and suddenly she couldn’t move. For a fleeting moment, the last remnants of her conscious mind panicked at the thought that she was still a slave to the monster.

Then, she heard the voice. She couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, but it didn’t matter. She knew the voice. Twilight had her.

She was glad.

Relief

View Online

It took a moment for Pinkie to realize she was awake. She blinked, taking in the warm light from the window and the quiet beeping of a heart monitor. When at last her vision cleared, she found that she was lying on a hospital bed. She tried to sit up, but her weak body rebelled. She reached up as carefully as she could and felt bandages on her neck.

Something shifted on the covers. She looked down to find two broad purple eyes gazing at her. A single blink was all the reaction she got, but that was enough to make her grin.

“Hello, Gummy. Did you keep me company?”

A purple head popped up from the corner of the room. “Pinkie!” Twilight cried with a grin. She climbed to her hooves and trotted over. “How are you feeling?”

She thought on the question, casually petting Gummy. “Really tired. Like, super duper ‘gosh-and-I-thought-dealing-with-a-hundred-Pinkie-clones-was-tiring!’ tired.” She looked around the room once again, then asked, “How am I still alive?”

Twilight sat by the bed and offered a sheepish smile. “The moment Arabus realized my mind was protected from him, he had no choice but to go back to his box. When he did, I was freed from his control and had just enough time to hit you with a stasis spell. It kept you alive long enough for me to get you here to be patched up.” She rubbed her hooves together bashfully. “I came up with the spell on the spot. I hope it doesn’t have any lasting side effects.”

Pinkie stared up at her, a smile creeping upon her face. “You… You saved me. I was going to kill you, and you saved me.”

“You saved me first.” Twilight rested her cannons on the bedside and beamed at Pinkie. “You were willing to take your own life to save mine. Part of me wishes you hadn’t tried, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”

“It’s just like what you did when Tirek had us.” Pinkie shifted into a more comfortable position, her eyes set on Gummy’s back. Her cheeks were burning. “I couldn’t let him win. I had to be strong.”

“And you were, Pinkie. You were amazing.” Twilight nuzzled her cheek, to which Pinkie could only grin. “Oh, and I thought you’d like to know: Celestia already took Arabus back to Tartarus. Turns out they had some history.”

“No!” Pinkie shook her head, moving it slowly since her neck was still sore. “I don’t want to know about him, don’t want to think about him! I want to forget that he even existed.”

Twilight frowned, her words laced with concern. “Don’t forget, Pinkie. Whatever you do, don’t forget. This is something best kept alive.”

Pinkie sighed and nodded. “I guess you’re right. But I still don’t want to know about him. Stupid jerkface.” An ear twitched and she peered up at Twilight. “Wait, how did you know I was in trouble?”

The smile returned to Twilight’s face, but it was subdued. “Trixie told me. I used a spell Luna let me borrow to get inside her head. Turns out she’s the one who let Arabus loose, although she didn’t realize what she was doing.” She raised a hoof to stop Pinkie’s question before it could leave her lips. “She’s fine. As soon as the box that held Arabus crossed into Tartarus, Trixie woke up. She’s still in town, if you’d like to talk to her.”

After a moment’s thought, Pinkie asked, “Did she end up… killing things?” At Twilight's unsteady nod, she shivered. “I want to talk to her. I still owe her a party, after all.”

Twilight's jaw dropped. "You just nearly killed yourself, and you're already thinking about hosting a party?"

Pinkie felt as if all the energy had left her, but she still smiled. "Not really... but I'm the resident Party Pony, and I'm sure Trixie could use some cheering up too. Although... I think for now we'll just settle on a friendly talk."

“I understand. You both went through something horrible. Maybe it’ll help.” Twilight pursed her lips and averted her gaze. She opened her mouth, closed it, tried again. “Pinkie. About… the incidents. Winona and Harry. Did you… I mean…”

Pinkie closed her eyes and her throat constricted. “Yes. I did it. I did it. I didn’t want to. Oh, Fluttershy and Applejack must be so angry with me.”

Twilight rested a hoof on Pinkie’s shoulder. “I can have them come by later, if you’d like.”

She shook her head, lips trembling. “No. It’s too soon. I can’t f-face them, not after I… I…”

“Shhh…” Twilight nuzzled her once again. “It’s alright, Pinkie. We’ll take it one step at a time, okay? You know Applejack and Fluttershy will understand. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Wasn’t it?” Pinkie turned her head away. “I resisted, Twilight. I protected you. Why couldn’t I protect them? Why didn’t I fight him when Harry’s life was on the line, or Winona’s?”

With a sigh, Twilight patted her shoulder. “I couldn’t say, but it doesn’t make you a bad pony. They’ll forgive you, Pinkie. The hardest part, I think, will be learning to forgive yourself.”

Pinkie remained silent, staring at the window and absentmindedly petting Gummy. She thought of Applejack and her anger, then Fluttershy and her sobs. Both were far too much to bear. She wanted to crawl into a box, then have somepony lock the box, then bury that box in a…

The train of thought faded. She noticed Twilight watching her intently. She took a deep breath and direct her focus to her friend. “I’ll try, Twilight. I just… need time.”

Twilight offered a reassuring smile. “That’s okay, Pinkie Pie.

“Take all the time you need.”


Pinkie stood in the doorway, staring at the two foals playing on the floor. The scent of fresh-baked cookies rose from somewhere below as the Cakes prepped for opening time. The early morning sun streamed through the window, making a neat pattern that Pumpkin Cake seemed to be thoroughly enjoying.

Pinkie watched as Pound Cake threw his toy high into the air. It landed with a soft plop atop his sister, who broke into a fit of giggles. Pinkie saw this, and she smiled, but she didn’t dare enter. She could still see herself standing over their crib, a knife in hoof and murder on her mind. But it wasn’t really her mind, was it?

Did that matter?

Pumpkin spotted her and gave an ecstatic “Pinkie!” Pound heard this and whipped around to chime in with “Pie!”

The sound of her name coming from their small lips slammed into her like a sledgehammer. Her hind legs failed her and tears welled in her eyes. She watched the foals crawl for her.

A knife in the dark…

She began to hyperventilate. “N-no. Don’t come over here you two. Please.”

They didn’t listen. They giggled and were soon embracing her forelegs. They rubbed their heads against her and grinned, Pound Cake already trying to pull her into the room to play.

She wanted to step away, but her legs betrayed her. She could only stare, heart pounding and body trembling. The twins shared uncertain expressions, then pressed even harder against her.

“Pinkie?”

“Pie?”

No knives appeared in her mind’s eye. No deadly thoughts, no soothing pressure, no roiling stormclouds.

Her breathing slowed, but the tears didn’t stop. She smiled and snatched the two foals up, hugging them close to her chest as they squealed with delight.

“I love you two little cupcakes!”

And then she played with them. She played with them all day long, and not once did she think about death or pain or knives or her guilt. She played through their eating time, and changed their diapers and kept going right up until they fell asleep that night in exhaustion. Then she stayed up, staring at the two of them and basking in the pleasure that was her life.

For the first time in over a week, Pinkie Pie remembered joy.

She swore that she would speak with Applejack, Fluttershy and Trixie tomorrow.