Equestria: Civil War

by LightningSword

First published

When Starlight is responsible for a massive accident, Equestria is faced with approving a system of checks and balances for former villains, fracturing the Mane Six, splitting Equestria down the middle, and testing the meaning of friendship.

Twilight Sparkle has always been known to forgive easily. Many of the worst threats to Equestria have gone unchecked after Twilight forgave them for their actions. But when Starlight Glimmer, a former enemy of Equestria, causes a major accident that endangers lives, Princess Celestia has no choice but to review and approve a plan to implement a checks and balances system against former antagonists—the Reformed Antagonist Regulation Act.

The introduction of RARA splits the Mane Six, and many Equestrians, into two factions. Supporting a former villain's right to choose their own destinies is Princess Twilight Sparkle. Supporting a system of accountability and a fail-safe for potential relapse is Twilight's former friend, Moon Dancer.

Friendships are tested, loyalties are questioned and switched, revenge burns in the air, and all the while, a new threat pulls strings in the background, ready to destabilize Twilight and her friends' bonds forever.

Based on "Captain America: Civil War".

Cover art by the amazing arcanelexicon!

Now with its own TVTROPES PAGE!

Chapter 1

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“’Secretly learned and developed a spell for the removal of ponies’ cutie marks . . . .’”

She compiled her notes as dutifully and carefully as she could manage. Even now, a few weeks after Twilight had visited and changed her life for the better, it didn’t pay to break certain habits.

“’Lured unhappy ponies away from their lives, stole their marks with said spell, and pretended to be their equal . . . .’”

The more she read on, the faster her heartbeat got.

“’Isolated and brainwashed any dissenting ponies, enforcing an ironclad will over the entire town . . . .’”

The more she read, the more her hoof shook, as well. She didn’t think she’d ever felt this scared.

“’Escaped capture after being exposed by Twilight and company . . . .’”

Or this furious.

“’Spied on the Princess of Friendship for almost a year . . . .’

“’Trespassed on and tampered with royal property . . . .’

“’Cast a dangerous, forbidden time spell that created several possible dystopian outcomes for Equestria . . . .’ I don’t believe this. This pony is a monster . . . .”

She set her notes down on her desk, a simple, dimly-glowing lamp illuminating them. She sat and stared at them for several minutes, picturing these terrible events in her mind. Picturing them only made her nerves rattle even more.

“And that could have been me . . . .”

After a few more minutes of stunned, darkened silence, she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her snout and read on. The final note struck something deep inside her, and fear, anger and shock ran together in a blend of unidentifiable madness:

“’Status: Twilight Sparkle’s pupil’”

Not “prisoner”. Not “parolee”. Not “servant”. Not even “employee”.


Her hoof shook again, and she felt one of those emotions begin to take over. “That . . . that miserable . . . manipulative . . . she-devil . . . and Twilight just . . . forgave her?! How . . . what was she thinking?!”

Using her magic, she slammed her notes back down on the desk and pushed herself away from it, blowing out her lantern as she went. Her hooves slammed down on the floor with each step as she approached the conservatory door. It flung open, and she raced down the stairs and out into the bright Canterlot sunshine. As she ran, she heard the friendly greetings of her friends—Twinkleshine, Lemon Hearts and Minuette—and she briefly yelled back that she couldn’t talk now. Within minutes, she was at the Canterlot Library.

I think it’s my turn to write a letter to the princess. There are some laws that need to be put in effect . . . .

Ponyville hadn’t seen a pack of Timberwolves this big before.

Windows were boarded up and the streets were completely empty, save for seven brave mares sneaking around, on the lookout. The enemy had taken the streets for themselves, skulking around, growling and searching for pony meat.

“I think I’ve counted them all,” came a voice in Twilight Sparkle’s head as she pressed her back against a building. “Twenty-five altogether. Is everything all right so far, darling?”

“No problems, Rarity,” the Princess muttered back, thankful that Rarity’s eagle-eye could serve them well from the top of town square. “Okay, we need to make sure everypony is safe. Fluttershy, have you spotted anypony?”

“Um, well, just one little colt. He was scared by the Timberwolves, so I had to sing him to sleep before taking him home.”

“Good,” Twilight said. “Girls. Locations?”

“Just above Town Square, close to Rarity’s position,” Rainbow Dash’s voice spoke up. “Are you sure you could hear that?”

“Yes. That’s how the spell works, so don’t worry. As long as you picture my face, I’ll hear everything you say—”

“I wonder if Twilight would like it? Well, she does hate quesadillas, but I’ll bet she’ll love the pudding toss—”

“Pinkie, focus!” Twilight broke her thoughts. “What’s your position?”

“Oh! Oops! Sorry, Twilight! Ummm . . . I’m at the intersection between Horseshoe Street and Witherfield Lane!”

“Good. Applejack, what about you?”

“Close to town square, right across from Starlight.”

Twilight nodded. “Good. Standby, wait for the signal.”

“Twilight, are you sure this will work?” came Starlight Glimmer’s voice. “If we miss just one step . . . .”

“Don’t be nervous, Starlight. Just remember, trust the ponies you’re working with. This is why I brought you with us. It’s a good opportunity for a friendship lesson.”

“Okay . . . well, I’m standing by.”

“Applejack here, standin’ by.”

“Rainbow Dash, standing by!”

“Fluttershy . . . um . . . standing by . . . .”

“Rarity, standing by.”

“Can ponies even float in pudding?”


“Oh, right, sorry! Pinkie Pie, standing by! Hee-hee! That rhymes! Hey, yours does too, Fluttershy!”

Twilight rolled her eyes and hoped the Timberwolves wouldn’t spot her. Gazing into Town Square, she stayed vigilant, the environment almost locking into place in her eyes. It was as if the town was a plastic model after a few minutes.


“There’s one. Maintain positions.”

The Timberwolf wandered into town square, sniffing at the ground and occasionally snorting or growling. It’s looking for us, Twilight thought. I know Fluttershy doesn’t want us to, but there’s no safer plan. Some of these creatures are going to have to go all to pieces.

Now the lone Timberwolf had made it to the center of town. Perfect.

Locking her eyes onto the Timberwolf, Twilight sprang from the alley and soared toward the wolf, sure to make as much noticeable noise as possible. The wolf turned, saw her coming, and emitted a long howl.


At Twilight’s word, Rainbow Dash dove toward a street, locking onto the position of another pair of Timberwolves. “Man, they heard that howl quick!” she muttered as the wind whipped her multicolored mane around. “They’re coming around fast!” In seconds, Dash reached the ground and stomped her hooves hard against the dirt road.

A series of splintered chunks of wood flew up in all directions.

“I count twenty-three,” Dash said triumphantly before taking off.


Applejack threw her lasso around the neck of another Timberwolf, making it snarl and howl to its comrades.

“That’s right. Bring ‘em in for me!”

Applejack yanked on the rope with her teeth, but the Timberwolf reared up on its hind legs and yanked back. “Get on up, li’l dogie!” Applejack cheered as she pulled back again in their game of tug-of-war. Applejack pulled herself deeper into town square, winning the contest at least for now.

“Come on, now . . . almost there . . . gettin’ there, and—aw, pony apples, here they come!”

Applejack gave the rope a malicious tug and let go, releasing the foul-tempered beast and allowing it to charge her. Applejack planted her hooves deep into the ground and snorted, bracing herself. The wolf jumped, about to land on her, and Applejack pushed off from the ground and fell backwards. The wolf landed on her at the same time she landed on her back.

Using momentum, Applejack rolled backwards, and pushed hard against the wolf with her back legs. The Timberwolf went flying up and over her head, whining the whole way up, until it cleared a large wall.

A wall made of sparkling light.

Applejack looked out at Starlight as the latter projected the large light-wall—one side of a large light-box—and winked. “Twenty-two,” she said with a grin. She then turned back toward the approaching foes she’d seen seconds earlier: three more wolves racing toward her with hungrily-lapping tongues of bark.

“All right then, you wanna taste of an Apple? Then come to Mama . . . .”

Two more Timberwolves came charging up the road towards the howling. Each saw a large gray obstruction in their way and bent their path slightly.

Or would have, if the large gray obstruction hadn’t exploded.

The party cannon went off, showering the pair in confetti and frosting and scaring the daylights out of them. Yelping and turning around, the two creatures bolted straight for the Everfree Forest.

“Twenty!!” Pinkie sang as she bounced in from an alleyway, collecting her party cannon.

The light-box was filling up quickly. The Timberwolves had responded to their friend’s distress call faster than Twilight had anticipated. She and Applejack groaned and strained themselves as they intercepted wolf after wolf, subduing them either by force or by magic and throwing them into Starlight’s giant box of light.

“Sixteen!” Twilight grunted as another wolf went sailing above them, landing in a pile of its brethren.

“Fourteen!” Applejack added as she bucked two more hard into the box.

“Thirteen!” Twilight replied, then turned to Starlight. “You okay over there?”

Starlight shook slightly under the strain of her spell, beads of sweat sliding down her face. “I’m . . . hanging on . . . just hurry!”

“Got it . . . eleven!” Twilight announced.

A rushing sound in the air went off above them, and a multicolored blur zoomed over the box, dropping two more wolves into it. “Nine!” Dash’s voice went off.

Another sound went off—an explosion followed by a honk—and three wolves came flying in from the edge of town, landing perfectly in the light-box.

“Six!” Pinkie sang as she hopped into town square, pushing her party cannon along.

Twilight nodded. “Okay, we should be able to handle the rest on our own, but we should keep the cage open just in case—”

“No, it’s okay!” Starlight yelled out. “I think I can move them back to the forest now!”

“Wait, Starlight, it’s too soon—”

“Don’t worry, I can handle it!”

“We can’t risk it just yet, sugarcube!”

“I can do this!”

The light-box and its writhing, snarling contents began to rise slowly off the ground. Starlight slowly turned herself toward the forest, and the box floated along with her, pointing toward city hall for a good few seconds.

“Starlight, I said not yet!” Twilight yelled out.

“You said . . . this lesson . . . was about trust!” Starlight heaved as she moved the box. “Then trust me! I can do this!”

Rainbow Dash landed in town square on top of another loose Timberwolf, and it broke into pieces a few feet from Starlight’s position. “What is she doing?!” Dash yelled.

Fluttershy came gliding down from the top of city hall, carrying Rarity down to the ground. “Gracious!” Fluttershy squealed.

“Starlight!” Rarity called. “Just trust Twilight! Don’t move just yet, darling!”

“No! I can do this! Please believe me! I want to try! I want to—AAH!”

The Timberwolf’s head had been two inches away from her as she moved, and she screamed as its jaws sank deep into her back left thigh. She collapsed and swerved her head to the left, and the light-box full of angry Timberwolves went with it.

“NO!!” Twilight bellowed.

It moved too fast for Twilight to seize it with her magic. The box vanished and the mass of Timberwolves flew into the city hall building a few feet away. They crashed through the outside wall, howling and whining, and the building began to collapse at an unbelievable speed.

Twilight, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie gathered around Starlight as she raised her head just in time to see where her bounty had landed. Fluttershy gasped and planted her face into Rarity’s shoulder. Pinkie’s lip trembled, and Dash threw a foreleg around Applejack to brace herself.

Starlight saw the building collapse into splinters, and immediately her eyes widened and misted over, and a hoof touched her mouth.

Who knows how many ponies had been in that building . . . ?

Chapter 2

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The conference hall in Canterlot Palace was spacious and nearly bare, but the conference table inside seated only nine. Twilight Sparkle sat on one side of the table, close to the vacant seat at the end (presumably for their host). Rarity sat across from Twilight and next to Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash sat across from Pinkie and next to Fluttershy. And Fluttershy sat across from Applejack. Next to Applejack, Starlight Glimmer sat at her chair; her face bore the exact same expression as it had three days ago—wide and hollow and struck with horror. The seat across from Starlight was vacant.

The silence had lasted a good long while. The gravity of what had happened in Ponyville hadn’t lessened in three days’ time. Finally, Applejack turned toward Starlight Glimmer and muttered, almost in a whisper, “You okay, sugarcube?”

“It’s my fault . . . it’s all my fault . . . .”

It had been the first time any of the six friends had heard Starlight speak in three days. Fluttershy jumped, and Rainbow Dash looked up and down to spot the owner of the voice. None of them could really blame her; Starlight’s voice was so low and strained, she barely sounded like herself.

“Don’t panic, Starlight,” Twilight said calmly. “Celestia just wants an update on your lessons, that’s all. I’m sure this has nothing at all to do with what happened—”

At this, Starlight’s eyes only widened more. They began to shimmer with moisture, and she gasped lightly in a staccato fashion.

“Oh, dear . . .” Fluttershy mumbled, glancing at Starlight. “She’s still really upset.”

“Come on, relax!” Dash insisted. “It wasn’t that bad, you know! I mean, if Town Hall had been empty, that would have looked so awesome!”

“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity yelled. “Have you no shame? Starlight feels bad enough without you bringing up the incident in such a tactless manner!”

“Well, geez, it’s not like I meant anything . . .” Dash grumbled. She then saw Starlight’s horrified face, almost frozen where it was, and began to frown herself. “Okay . . . you’re right . . . sorry Starlight . . . .”

“Aww, don’t be such a frowny-puss!” Pinkie chirped. “I don’t think it really was that bad!”

“Pinkie’s got a point,” Applejack added, nodding. “There’s really nothin’ to fear. I mean, there weren’t any casualties, thank heavens. And there couldn’ta been that many—”


The girls (sans Starlight) all turned in the direction of a new, deep and commanding voice. The owner was a sleek grey Unicorn stallion in full golden armor that had followed Princess Celestia into the conference hall. “Twenty-six injured ponies,” he continued, “crawled out of the splintered rubble that was once Ponyville’s City Hall.”

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight beamed, ignoring the stallion. “How are you this afternoon? It’s been quite a while, hasn’t . . . it . . . ?” The stern, somber look on the princess’ face made Twilight fall silent.

“This isn’t a social call, Princess” the stallion said sharply, aiming a sharp gaze at her. “You know exactly why you’re here.”

“Uhh . . . who are you?” Rainbow Dash blurted out from her seat.

“Excuse me, are you a Princess?” the stallion replied with a frown. “I don’t see a horn on that empty rainbow head. So I suggest you sit down and shut it.”

Before Dash could get up to protest, Twilight intervened. “Excuse me, sir, but I think that’s a valid question. I’ve certainly never met you, and I’d like to know why you’re here and why you think you have the right to treat my friends so scathingly.”

“Considering your track record, Princess,” the stallion bit back, “I see no reason to hold back. And for the record, my name is Thunderbolt, and I am the Captain of Celestia’s Royal Guard.”

“That’s bull!” Dash got up from her seat and hovered above the table. “Twilight’s brother is the Captain, not you! You’re totally full of—whoa!” She was cut off when she was enveloped in a deep blue aura and thrown back roughly into her seat.

“Sit your skinny plot down, young lady,” Thunderbolt growled as the same blue glow surged for a second on his horn. “Did it never occur to you that Shining Armor’s current living quarters prevent him from fulfilling his duties in Canterlot?" He then scoffed. "Of course not, most of you prefer to think after you do stupid things.” Almost everypony jumped at the sound of Celestia clearing her throat loudly. Thunderbolt glanced subtly up at the princess and continued, “Suffice it to say, I have replaced Shining Armor, as he is no longer available for this job. And because I work security detail in his absence, it is my duty to assess security problems in Canterlot, and recently, all of Equestria.”

Twilight glanced between the princess and the new Captain, feeling her heart throb in her chest. “Soooo . . .” she asked nervously, “I assume you didn’t call us all here to evaluate my progress in Starlight’s friendship lessons?” At this, Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “Ehehe . . . okay, I guess not.”

Celestia and Thunderbolt walked further into the room. The princess’ mane and tail billowed behind her like a flowing gown, and the captain glanced around the room with his head slightly bowed, as if he were aiming his horn instead of his eyes. Once the two reached the end of the table, Celestia stopped before taking a seat; Thunderbolt stood dutifully beside her. His horn glowed, and a gemstone materialized out of thin air in front of it. He placed it carefully on the table with his magic, then gave it a light tap with his hoof. In an instant, the stone itself glowed, and projected a large, square patch of light directly above it. The square patch of light, much like a film projector, showed a scene to everypony present.

A scene of a dainty-looking cottage in Ponyville, hanging twenty feet in the air and slowly rotating. At this, Fluttershy gasped.

The scene quickly flashed to Sweet Apple Acres, then ten feet deep in ice, when Thunderbolt quietly and succinctly recapped the scene: “Discord.”

Fluttershy fidgeted in her seat, and Twilight felt an empty feeling in the pit of her stomach.

The scene flashed again, and it showed a distanced shot of Ponyville, then covered by an enormous magical dome of energy. “The Alicorn Amulet,” Thunderbolt said. Twilight barely caught a glance of Pinkie gently rubbing the corner of her mouth with her hoof.

Another scene flash, and it showed the outside of some kind of school building in the dead of night. In a smoldering crater in front of the building, a strange, sunny-orange, primate-like creature emerged, covered in grime and eyes swimming in tears.

“Sunset Shimmer,” Thunderbolt said before the scene changed again, this time to the scene of the destruction of Ponyville’s City Hall building three days prior. “Starlight Glimmer,” he continued. Starlight released another faint gasp and sunk down in her chair.

“Okay,” Twilight pleaded, her hooves shaking. “That’s enough. I know why we’re here.”

“As well you should, my former student,” Celestia finally spoke as the projector stone blinked, then extinguished the screen.

“Beggin’ your pardon, Your Highness,” Applejack stepped in, “but how did you know about all this stuff?”

“These are all memories magically implanted into this stone by witnesses of each event,” Thunderbolt supplied the answer. “I was sent to find ponies who’d seen Discord’s joyride through Ponyville and Trixie’s takeover mere days earlier. The Canterlot High incident was only slightly harder to capture, but since you, Princess,” he seethed at Twilight, “made access to that world so effortless, it proved to be much easier than I’d thought. As for the incident three days ago . . . there were plenty of witnesses for that.”

“Look, I understand your intentions,” Twilight pressed, getting up from her chair, “but none of these things were in my control. I mean, I did my best with what I had—”

“Evidently not,” Thunderbolt said sternly. “These are only four events of known threats to Equestria that you were involved in. And if you haven’t wrapped your pretty little lavender head around it by now, then you should know that they all have one other thing in common . . . you enabled them all.

There was another weighty silence after this. Starlight only sank deeper in her seat—her face was half-covered by the table now.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Rainbow Dash snapped, taking to the air again. “Hold on, hard case! That’s not fair! It’s not like Twilight could fight the Alicorn Amulet! Trixie was too powerful with it!”

“And I took care of Discord’s behavior, like the princess asked me to,” Fluttershy spoke up. When most of the room turned to her, she hastily added, “Um, well . . . kind of . . . I-I did my best . . . .”

“And Sunset was in no danger of relapsing to her old ways!” Twilight argued. “In fact, she helped us save Canterlot High from the Dazzlings!”

“And what happened at Town Hall was not Starlight’s fault!” Rarity shrieked. “She tried to help us rid the town of those awful Timberwolves! She’s as much a hero as—”

Shut it!” Thunderbolt roared. Instant silence.

“What the captain is trying to say,” Celestia continued, aiming a harsh gaze at him as she placed emphasis on the last three words, “is, as commendable as you all are in defending your friends,” the princess continued, “I must insist to you all that you keep calm and understand the situation.”

The seven mares all looked back at Celestia with varying looks of distress, but in seconds the room was silent, and Dash lowered herself back into her seat. Starlight only sank deeper. Now, she could only barely see over the table.

“Twilight, I haven’t truly had any regrets in helping you realize your potential as a princess until recently,” Celestia continued. “But recounting all of these events, both before and after your ascension, I believe you are a bit too comfortable with your own friendship lessons to know the difference between friendship opportunities and actual threats to Equestria.”

“But Princess, I—”

“Please let me finish,” Celestia spoke over Twilight. “I asked you before to stay in Ponyville only to make friends. And you’ve made many friends. In fact, the fruits of your labors are sitting in this room with us right now.” She gestured over the table to Twilight’s six companions (Starlight slouched even more, now hidden behind the table completely). “Which was the only thing I had intended for you on that front,” she went on. “You were to make friends that you could trust and respect, which would in turn revive the Elements of Harmony. Technically, there should no longer have been a reason for you to continue making friends at that point.”

“I think it would be prudent to add,” Thunderbolt resumed, “that your exploits as the latest princess have not been as successful as I’m sure you’d be willing to believe. While many in Equestria see you as strong, competent, and fair, many, especially after today, would prefer the term . . . ‘lenient’.”

There was another dead silence as Twilight felt her heart plummet. All she could do was stare pleadingly at her former mentor. Celestia did not look back—in fact, she looked as though she hadn’t even noticed Twilight was looking.

Twilight had never felt more betrayed by a mere look.

“What does ‘lenient’ mean?” Pinkie piped up, breaking the silence.

“It means she shows mercy . . .” Starlight mumbled, pulling herself upright only enough to make herself heard. “It means she’s soft . . . .”

“You wanna speak up over there, missy?” Thunderbolt started on her as he approached her, as slowly as a night fog. “Or are you just used to hiding from justice after screwing up ponies’ lives?” If it was possible to sink even lower, Starlight did it right then.

“Thunderbolt, enough,” Celestia ordered, glancing at him for only a moment. Thunderbolt merely sniffed and stepped back a short step.

“’Lenient’? Yeah, I’ll bet if you’d seen that epic battle against Tirek, you’d think differently!” Rainbow Dash snapped, getting up from her seat again.

“And we sealed Discord in stone once before,” Applejack said, also getting up, “and if it could be done before, Elements or no, I’m willin’ to bet we could find another way to do it again!”

“I’m sorry, Princess, but none of this is particularly fair to Twilight,” Rarity also got up to say. “She’s been a noble and fearless leader, doing only what’s right!”

“JUSTICE FOR TWILYYYY!!” Pinkie squealed, jumping up and standing on the table.

Not even bothering to speak, Thunderbolt ignited his horn, and in seconds, all those who’d removed themselves from their seats (everyone except Starlight and Fluttershy) was encased in a magical aura. A split-second later, each pony’s aura flung them back to the table and planted each of them firmly back in their chairs before fading.

“I think you’ve had your say!” Thunderbolt commanded, his eyes as razor-sharp as his tone. “But excuses won’t help you fix the damage that’s been done.”

“You can say that again . . .” Dash grumbled under her breath. She, Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack and Twilight groaned as they rubbed their seats in pain.

“I told you to keep your mouth shut, girl,” the captain growled at Dash. “With me in the room knowing all the crap you and that pink one have pulled, you’re lucky that’s the only pain in the butt you’re getting from me!”

“Thunderbolt!” Celestia boomed. “I said enough!” Thunderbolt glanced back at the princess with narrowed eyes, but complied, sitting on the floor in a dignified pose. After another pause, Celestia released a heavy sigh.

“I’m sorry, my little ponies,” she lamented. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But I haven’t been very firm, and that’s largely why things have turned out the way they have. I allowed you to reform Discord instead of just keeping him in stone, and that’s what led to his betrayal. I should have taken measures against users of the Alicorn Amulet, instead of just having it locked away. I should have done what needed doing and sealed off the mirror portal permanently. And I should have placed Starlight Glimmer under arrest for her magical crimes.”

Starlight released another whine from her seat.

“But I was confident in you, Twilight,” Celestia went on morosely. “I thought your lessons would help you make decisions better than I could. But it ended up failing. Far worse than I could imagine. Even your friends have been too merciful on those who hadn’t deserved it. Because of them, a rogue ex-WonderBolt cadet, a pair of charlatans, and a crooked fashion designer are still in the wind, Discord’s shown no signs of remorse, and don’t even start me on the ‘Mare-Do-Well’ incident . . . few moments have made me more disappointed in my student then when I heard you’d done that . . . .” Another sigh, and Celestia pressed on. “But that’s not the point. Things have to change, Twilight. Ponies are afraid. Your decisions must be regulated, as must the ponies you claim to trust.”

“Princess, I don’t regret my actions,” Twilight spoke up. “You taught me that friendship is important. I’m using your lessons for the better of Equestria.”

“Your way doesn’t always work, Princess,” Thunderbolt said. “And there needs to be a plan in place when it doesn’t.”

Twilight finally felt true frustration begin to boil over in her. She fought to keep herself from shuddering in rage, and fought even harder to keep her voice level. “With all due respect, Captain, if you’re going to start regulating every move that my friends and I make, I deserve to know why. This couldn’t just be because of the accident in Ponyville. What brought this up all of a sudden?”

Thunderbolt opened his mouth to answer, but Celestia held up a hoof, and he stayed silent. There was another pause, this one seeming to imply Celestia mentally preparing an answer.

“Not really ‘what’,” she finally answered, “as much as ‘who’.”

Twilight sighed, her fight against the anger taxing her. “All right, then. ‘Who’ brought this up?!”

“That would be me.”

Another new voice hit the conference hall, and the presumed ninth seat entered, a cream-colored mare with horn-rimmed glasses, orange and purple mane done up in a bun, and a heavy, itchy black sweater.

Chapter 3

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“Moon Dancer!”

Twilight smiled as she rose from her seat and trotted briskly to her old schoolmate. “I can’t believe you’re here! I’m so glad to see—”

Igniting her horn, Moon Dancer conjured a thick blue shield around herself, repelling Twilight and sending her flying back several feet.

“I brought this up,” Moon Dancer spoke harshly, ignoring Twilight as if she wasn’t there, “after doing some research on your new little friend.” She took her seat at the conference table, right across from the very pony she spoke of. Moon Dancer stared daggers at her before mumbling, “I wish I could say it was a pleasure to finally meet you . . . Starlight.” She spat her name out bitterly.

Starlight’s look of misery only worsened, and she dipped her head back down beneath the table.

“Wait a minute!” Twilight returned to the table and stood beside Moon Dancer’s seat. “You mean . . . you did this? You talked to Celestia behind my back?”

“If I spoke to you directly, Twilight, you wouldn’t have done anything,” Moon Dancer answered without even looking at her old friend. “I needed to speak to Princess Celestia without anypony getting in the way. It would be easier for her to see reason that way.”

“What?!” Twilight shouted without entirely meaning to. “Moon Dancer, how could you?! I thought the past was behind us! I thought we were friends—”

“You are the last pony to play the friend card on me, Princess!!

Moon Dancer’s eyes seemed to boil in their sockets as she got up from her seat. Twilight recoiled from both the look she got and the words she heard.

“We were friends, Twilight,” Moon Dancer continued. “We’d buried the past. But then you decided to invite a known criminal to stay with you at your palace as if you’d known her as long as you’d known me! So, what use was I anymore, right? Why should you have anything to do with me knowing your conscience was finally clear? You ruined my life, then came back to apologize and throw me a party, and suddenly, everything was okay again, right? Business concluded, no need to bother with it anymore, out of sight, out of mind! Right?!

Even Moon Dancer hadn’t realized her voice had slowly risen—and her eyes slowly tearing up—well into her tirade. Fluttershy quietly sobbed in her seat as well, and Rarity held her hooves to her mouth in awe.

Twilight also stood in shock. There was a long, brutal pause in which all language seemed to have been forgotten. Finally, even Celestia blinked when the silence was broken:

“Is that what this is about?” Twilight finally replied. “You think I turned my back on you again, and you went over my head to get back at me? Are you really that petty that you’ll try to take away Starlight’s freedom just because you think I made her your replacement?”

There was another pause, this one more intense than the last, as Moon Dancer stared at Twilight with tear-stained eyes. Finally, she sniffed and made her reply.

“Starlight Glimmer is a criminal. She would have ended up in a dungeon, where she belongs, if it weren’t for you. She needs to pay the price for what she’s done.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” Thunderbolt murmured from Celestia’s side. The princess rolled her eyes.

Moon Dancer lit up her horn, and another small gem, similar to Celestia’s projector gem, floated out of the front pocket of her sweater. It landed on the table, Moon Dancer tapped it with her hoof, and like the first one, this one displayed a scene in a shining square of light like a projector.

A scene of a long, white room full of cots was on full display.

“Ponyville Hospital,” Moon Dancer recapped. “And the twenty-six victims of the destruction of Town Hall.” The scene changed to a white Unicorn with a wild, electric-blue mane lying in one of the beds, bandages covering her limbs and her neck. Next to her, a grayish Earth pony in a pink bow tie sobbed and held her hoof.

“They’re saying her neck was severely damaged in the crash,” Moon Dancer explained. “She may never talk again.” Pinkie gasped at this before the scene changed again.

Now, the scene displayed the ruins of Ponyville’s Town Hall building, now under busy construction. On the ground, dashing back and forth, was the mayor; her mane was frazzled and her eyes were wide and swiveling in her head. In her hoof appeared to be an abacus, on which she tallied the costs of the reconstruction. It didn’t look pretty. Applejack grimaced as they watched.

“And that’s not even the worst of it,” Moon Dancer continued as the scene changed once again. On display now was another hospital scene, but one that was a bit different from the Ponyville Hospital.

“This only recently cropped up,” Moon Dancer kept on. “We’ve only just now gotten wind of a group of ponies who were attacked by a mysterious assailant. One of them was a Unicorn named Star Song. Maybe the name strikes some of you as familiar . . . anypony? A hint, maybe? Hmmm?”

Twilight didn’t need to hear the name for her heart to plummet. Just the sight of the similar-looking mane and coat colors was enough. Off to one side, the group heard another throat-clearing sound, and turned to see Thunderbolt rubbing his eye briefly with his hoof.

“Your sister . . . .”

“My sister! Good answer, Princess,” Moon Dancer snapped. From beneath the table at Starlight’s seat, a small, terrified squeak could be heard.

“These ponies have been in a coma for the last three days,” said Moon Dancer, “and nopony has heard a thing about it. Can anypony hazard a guess as to why? Hmm? Anypony?”

“Moon Dancer, enough,” Celestia spoke at last, making several ponies jump as she did, “I think they get the point.”

“Well, yes,” Moon Dancer sighed and pressed on. “Their situation has been overshadowed by Little Miss Perfect here and her foul-up in Ponyville. They were attacked by a powerful magic, and the counter-spell for it is still being developed. And where did this attack take place, I wonder? Canterlot!!

The last word was so loud and so sudden, Pinkie and Rarity jumped again, Fluttershy yelped, and even Dash gasped where she sat.

“Yes,” Moon Dancer said, nodding while the screen of light blinked out. “While you and your prize pupil were out destroying Ponyville, these innocent ponies almost lost their lives. It’s obvious evidence of an increase in crime rates since Twilight’s ascension. Some mad Unicorn almost killed seven ponies, in our own capital city, and nopony cared. All because she had to drop a building!”

“That’s enough, Moon Dancer!” Twilight had finally had enough. “As your friend, I understand your frustration, but as a Princess of Equestria, I order you to cease and desist—”

“Sorry, Twilight,” Moon Dancer barked back, “but I reported to Princess Celestia, remember? She outranks you!”

At her seat, Princess Celestia heaved a deep sigh and dipped her head down.

“Princess, please!” Twilight said to Celestia, her eyes starting to quiver. “I understand why you had to set this all up. I really do. But Starlight Glimmer really is trying to be a better pony! Nothing that happened in Ponyville that day was her fault! She never meant to hurt anypony! I beg you, please reconsider! If I ever meant anything to you, as a student, and a colleague, or as a friend, then please think about this!”

Celestia’s eyes were squeezed shut as she sat, head bent, in her seat. Another deep sigh from her was the only sound during yet another weighty, strenuous silence.

“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Celestia said morosely, “but if I see a situation turning for the worse, I can’t ignore it. Even though the accident with the Town Hall building was just that, it still wouldn’t have happened if you had been stricter with Starlight. And it was her decisions that day that led to the building’s destruction. Ordinarily, I would agree with Moon Dancer’s proposal and have Starlight, and every villain you’ve ever granted amnesty to, imprisoned for their crimes against Equestria and its citizens.

“However,” Celestia continued, and Twilight felt her heart dance with a newfound hope, “I have seen Starlight’s attempts at bettering herself. And she did help fix the map inside your palace. So she does show initiative in earning forgiveness. It is with all this in mind that I must make a preliminary decision . . . all former villains must answer to a checks and balances system imposed by the Equestrian diarchy.”

“’Checks and balances’?” Rainbow Dash spoke up. “What the hay is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Thunderbolt answered irritably, “that the actions of former threats to Equestria now acting on its behalf—including that chaotic freak, the obnoxious showmare, and you too, Starlight—will have to be monitored by authorities in case of a relapse in evil behavior during a mission.”

“Not as much ‘evil’ as ‘potentially life-threatening’,” Celestia added. “And until we can implement such a plan, no such missions shall be carried out. I will discuss the proposal with my sister tomorrow, and we will send the word throughout Ponyville to vote on the matter once details have been set in stone. Expect an announcement of our final decision within at least one month.”

Another painful pause struck the conference room, only punctuated by the soft sound of Starlight fidgeting in her chair and sitting upright again. The other six mares (sans Twilight) glanced back and forth amongst each other as they wordlessly weighed Celestia’s final words.

Moon Dancer broke the silence by leaning toward Twilight and muttering, not without triumph, “Just so you know, I’ll be voting in favor of the proposal.”

“As will I,” Thunderbolt added gruffly. “When the heroes make mistakes, the ramifications make them no better than the villains. And if we can’t trust you, we’ll just have to muzzle you.”

With no other words, both Moon Dancer and Thunderbolt got up and started toward the entrance. Moon Dancer swept up her hologram gem in her magic and pocketed it before turning to walk out of the room.

“Moon Dancer!”

The impulse to call out to her was too strong for Twilight. Moon Dancer stopped, allowing Thunderbolt to leave, but she did not turn.

“Please . . . don’t do this . . .” Twilight choked, now shaking and holding back tears, “we can still talk about this . . . .”

“There’s nothing left to talk about, Twilight,” Moon Dancer retorted. “You need to be put in check. Whatever form that takes, I’m fine with it. You should start getting used to it, as well.” Moon Dancer started walking again, and Twilight sat down on the floor, her heart evaporating as she watched her former friend trot away. She almost made another attempt to stop her and fought it, even as Moon Dancer touched a hoof to the door of the conference room . . . .


Everypony froze as the scream echoed from one wall to the other. Moon Dancer stopped again, this time turning around with wide eyes at the sound of the desperate voice. It wasn’t Twilight’s. It wasn’t even Celestia’s.

It was Starlight’s.

“I’m sorry, Moon Dancer!” Starlight repeated, knocking over her chair as she bolted out of it. “Everything I’ve done, I’m sorry! I’d give anything to go back and do things differently! I’d do anything for forgiveness! Whatever it takes, I want to make up for this! Please, just tell me there’s a chance you can forgive me and we can start over! Please! I’m begging you, please forgive me!!”

Starlight stood on trembling legs, and tears ran in endless streams down her face. Fluttershy started softly crying again, as well, and even Rainbow Dash tried to cover up a tear sliding down her own cheek.

Moon Dancer stared at the begging Unicorn for a good few minutes without speaking, and the tension was wound tighter with each passing second. Soon, Twilight could hardly bear it.

“There’s no way for you to earn my forgiveness,” Moon Dancer said coldly, “but there is a way things can start over.”

“What? What is it?!” Starlight begged. “Just name it! I’ll do anything!!”

There was another pause as Moon Dancer aimed a heartless stare at Starlight.

“Just go back in time again and make it so you never met me.”

And with that, Moon Dancer pushed open the door and walked away.

Chapter 4

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“Moon Dancer, wait! Please!!”

Now outside Canterlot Palace, in the gaze of two guards stationed outside the entrance, Moon Dancer froze and groaned softly as she heard Twilight’s voice once again. “She just doesn’t learn,” she muttered bitterly.

“Moon Dancer, please!” Twilight yelled again, stopping in front of her old friend. “Please, think about this for a second! You don’t have to do this!”

“Actually, I do,” Moon Dancer snapped, “because you wouldn’t.”

“But this isn’t right! You’d be limiting ponies’ freedoms doing this!”

“Then they should have thought about that before breaking the law. The fact that they didn’t only makes it worse, because they knew you and the Princesses would always go easy on them.”

“But I’m trying to rehabilitate these ponies! It’s not fair for you to get in the way of that!”

Moon Dancer stood there, thunderstruck. “Fair?” she growled. “Fair?! Don’t you dare stand there and tell me what’s not fair, Twilight Sparkle! What’s not fair is being tossed aside in favor of an overpowered madpony who hasn’t gotten so much as a time-out for her crimes! I could just as easily have kept fighting to have her stripped of her magic and thrown in the Canterlot dungeons, but I didn’t! If anything, you should be thanking me!”

“Thanking you?!” Twilight screamed back, not even meaning to. “For what?! Starlight’s making more of an honest effort to change her ways than you know! She helped us rid Canterlot of a Timberwolf pack! She helped us save the Crystal Empire! She’s a hero, Moon Dancer, and this system you want to force on her will stop her from doing the right thing!”

The two mares stared at one another for a good few seconds, as the door guards stood awkwardly at their posts, looking in any direction possible that didn’t let them see Twilight and Moon Dancer arguing.

“If she was so keen on doing the right thing,” Moon Dancer finally said, much more calmly, “she could have done it years ago. Her friend wasn’t gone forever. She could have seen him any time she wanted.”

“Everypony makes mistakes, Moon Dancer,” Twilight replied, also far calmer now. “You forgave me for mine. Why shouldn’t I forgive Starlight for hers?”

Moon Dancer drilled into Twilight with her stare. It wasn’t entirely angry; there was a soft, tender edge to her eyes. As if, deep down under the rage and indignation, Moon Dancer was imploring Twilight to see reason.

“Because I was a fool to forgive,” Moon Dancer said, with almost no inflection. “And so were you.” And with that, Moon Dancer turned and walked away.

There was another brief pause in which Twilight struggled to hold back tears. In her mind, she wasn’t watching an old friend walking away. Now, she saw a stranger—an enemy—walking away without even a glance. It tore at her heart to know that somepony she trusted now seemed incapable of returning it.

“You’ll never get this law passed,” Twilight called out defiantly. “Not in a million years. Princess Celestia is far too merciful to do such a thing. And Princess Luna is a former villain. Her own sister would never pass a law that would be just as bad as imprisoning her in the moon again. They’ll never let this happen!”

Moon Dancer stopped, paused for a second, and turned her head back to Twilight. “The same Celestia that told you just minutes ago that she would put Starlight behind bars if she could?” she asked smugly. “And the same Luna that tortured herself every night for months because of what Nightmare Moon did?” She snorted before finishing, “Keep telling yourself that, Princess.” And she continued walking as if she’d only heard a noise in the distance.

Twilight stood there, feeling so numb that not even the cool afternoon breeze could reach her. Even her normally quick mind was running at a snail’s pace, only capable of processing two questions at present:

What happened to her? What’s going to happen to us?

“Hey, Twilight!”

The Alicorn turned at the sound of Rainbow Dash’s voice. She flew towards her as Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Starlight approached her on the ground. All had looks of intense fret on their faces.

“What happened, Twilight?” Applejack was the first to ask. “We could hear you two hollerin’ all the way inside!”

“You were able to talk to her, right?” Fluttershy asked tentatively. “You didn’t just fight, did you?”

Twilight sighed and bent her head low. “I tried, girls . . . I tried to get her to see reason . . . but . . . I don’t know why she’s acting like this. She thinks she’s the high horse, and she doesn’t understand that what she’s doing isn’t right . . . .” She trailed off when she caught a glimpse at Starlight’s tormented face, and struggled to continue. “. . . I . . . I’m sorry, Starlight,” she said morosely. “I tried. I really did . . . .”

“Don’t blame yourself, Twilight,” Starlight replied, her voice slightly broken. “I should have seen this coming. I have nopony to blame but myself . . . .”

“You can’t tell me you’re giving up!” said Rainbow Dash as she touched down beside Starlight. “Come on, you know this is a bunch of horse hockey as much as we do! We don’t have to take this! We can still fight this!”

“Well, not right now, Dashie,” Rarity said solemnly. “As of this moment, it’s up to the Princesses. Until we’re allowed our say, all we can do is wait and hope.”

“And once we’re allowed to vote on this, you can bet that I’ll be supporting you all the way, Starlight,” Twilight assured, putting a hoof on her shoulder. “We can prove you’re a good pony. And even if we lose the vote, we’ll make as many appeals as we’re allowed to fight it.”

“I wouldn’t plan your appeal speech so early, Princess.”

The seven mares all turned to see Thunderbolt emerging from the castle entrance, looking over them all with a cocked eyebrow and a superior smirk.

Dash groaned loudly and rolled her eyes, and Fluttershy rushed to hide behind Applejack, who stood staunchly and glared back at the old captain.

“And I wouldn’t lose faith in true Equestrian justice, Captain,” Twilight snapped back, now ready for the captain’s vitriolic attitude. “Celestia knows how hard I’ve worked, and how far we’ve all come. You can’t undo that just because you’re the new captain of the guard! I don’t care how good and virtuous you think you are! You make this ‘checks and balances’ nonsense a reality, and you sign over all of these genuinely good ponies to a lifetime of misery!”

The smirk disappeared, and the eyebrow lowered, and the difference between the two looks was palpable. Thunderbolt slowly crept up to Twilight, to the point where it seemed as though he were about to instigate a bare-hoofed brawl. Dash dropped to the ground and charged, but was held back by Applejack.

Finally, Thunderbolt stopped with just inches between him and the princess, and he spoke with a quiet fury that made his earlier tirade inside the palace pale by comparison:

“I’ll be ‘signing their lives’ over to real Equestrian justice. And don’t you dare tell me what misery is. Wait until you see what monsters like her,” he pointed to Starlight Glimmer, “are really capable of. What they can do to you . . . your family . . . your whole world . . . then, and only then, you can come back and talk to me about misery.”

Twilight was stricken breathless by the old stallion’s bitter words. They weren’t the words of an old army pony. They weren’t even the words of a grizzled old stallion. They were pained, tempered with rage, and dripping with the very misery he spoke of. His eyes matched perfectly—as sharp and stony as his glare was, it sparkled with what Twilight knew had to be genuine tears.

He stepped back and walked past Twilight, giving a snort and shaking out his short, salt-and-pepper mane as he trudged away. The seven mares stood in perfect silence long after Thunderbolt had left, not even asking what should happen next or where they should be. The occasional glance punctuated the pause, but no sound was made for quite a while.

Until at last, after what seemed like hours, Starlight uttered something that only sounded like abject failure:

“Monster . . . .”

“Don’t you listen to him, Starlight,” Twilight urged, piercing her with her eyes. “We’re a team, and we’re your friends. We won’t let this happen, no matter what.”

Starlight nodded, but did not speak. Rainbow Dash had already speculated it, but nopony else quite knew for sure. It was in her eyes, though. A deep, pensive look in her eyes was all it took to know.

Starlight Glimmer had indeed, given up.

“And this is the complete plan, sister?” Princess Luna said as the two royals sat in their throne room.

“Indeed,” Celestia replied, nodding. “And yet . . . I can’t help but feel terrible. I should have known Thunderbolt was too risky to replace Shining Armor . . . the way he acted . . . the way he shouted at Twilight and her friends, berated them, assaulted them . . . and I just stood by and let him . . . is this unlike me, Luna?”

“You have been known to be strict yourself in the past, you know,” Luna answered calmly. “You have to have been, in order to be the ruler you’ve become. I don’t believe you or Moon Dancer were fully in the wrong. As for Thunderbolt, his past experiences may have been agonizing, but it molded him into the soldier we needed here in Canterlot. And we’ve truly needed him.”

“But Luna . . . Twilight . . . the way she looked at me . . . it was as if I’d betrayed her . . . I can’t help but have second thoughts about this . . . it doesn’t seem right . . . .”

“What about it seems wrong?” Luna asked, studying her sister’s countenance. “You’ve heard both sides of the issue, weighed the decision, and made the best possible choice for all parties. Equestria has seen you do that for centuries.”

“Yes, but . . . Twilight was right. Starlight Glimmer is making an honest effort to change her ways.”

“And Moon Dancer was also correct, sister. Equestria is under constant threat, especially now with the Elements of Harmony gone. And forgiveness has hardly helped rehabilitate Discord, has it?”

“Well, I suppose not . . .” Celestia mumbled, “. . . the more I consider it, the more I realize that trying to redeem him was a terrible idea . . . .”

“And Starlight has proven to match Twilight in strength and cunning. Power like that should not be given free reign, not after what’s she’s done with it.”

Celestia heaved a deep sigh as she continued mulling over Luna’s points. After a lengthy silence, she shook her head and gave a weak chuckle.

“I expected you to be the last pony to agree to this, Luna,” she said, with a hint of an unsteady grin.

Luna unseated herself and stood in front of Celestia, showing a dour look in her eyes.

“If this had been done a millennium ago, I might not have done what I did as Nightmare Moon. This goes beyond us and what we might want, Celestia. This is for the good of Equestria.”

“And . . . and Thunderbolt?”

“We shall deal with his decisions as the time comes. For now, we act for our nation.”

Celestia sighed again and lowered her head, cradling her face in her hooves. Her thoughts kept regressing to that meeting with Twilight and her friends. As those memories pervaded her mind, she felt the same permeating grip from regret.

I haven’t truly had any regrets in helping you realize your potential as a princess until recently.

I believe you are a bit too comfortable with your own friendship lessons to know the difference between friendship opportunities and actual threats to Equestria.

I wish I didn’t have to be so firm. But I haven’t been, and that’s largely why things have turned out the way they have.

Ponies are afraid. Your decisions must be regulated, as must the ponies you claim to trust.

Celestia suddenly sat upright, ignited her horn, and a scroll of parchment and quill pen appeared out of thin air.

“You’re right, little sister,” Celestia said resolutely. “This is for the good of Equestria. It has to be. We can’t let things go as they have been. We can’t keep making decisions that lead to ruin. And we can’t risk endangering our subjects anymore. Enough is enough.”

Luna stared at her elder sister with a combination of reverence and doubt. “I applaud your resolution, Celestia,” she said, “but given the circumstances, I feel I must ask . . . do you really believe that?”

“What do you mean, Luna?”

“I mean, with everything that’s happened . . . everything you’ve accused Twilight of . . . everything that’s happened that could be traced back to her . . . it’s just as much our fault as hers.”

One last heavy sigh, and Celestia rose from her throne and began to walk back to the conference room. As Luna followed her, the herald of the sun gave one last solemn reply:


The fluffy-maned mare in the apron lay on the plush, carpeted floor, twitching and moaning but otherwise unresponsive. Perhaps the spell had been a bit too strong for her?

The violet-coated Unicorn stood over her and smoothed back her short blonde mane. Yes, I suppose I didn’t have to put so much effort into the memory spell, she thought, staring at her with a stone face, she’ll probably look like that for weeks.

But there was no time for empathy. She had what she needed.

Opening her saddle bag, she wrapped a small gemstone in her magic and pulled it out. Her horn glowed, and the gem began to glow at the same time, in the same color and intensity. After a few seconds, the spell was complete, and Sugar Belle became the latest in a series of memory thefts.

The Unicorn looked down on Sugar Belle’s gently convulsing body, and couldn’t help but think back to her other victims. Night Glider. Double Diamond. Party Favor. All sapped of their memories concerning the monster that destroyed their lives.

Maybe they knew Mama and Papa . . . .

No. No empathy. No remorse. Not now. This didn’t need to come up during her first attack on that orange Unicorn “wizard” (in the loosest sense of the word) in the Crystal Empire, and it didn’t need to come up now. She had what she needed, and the plan was already in motion. Now that her information was in Moon Dancer’s hooves, all there was left to do was wait. The princesses would debate, and all of Twilight Sparkle’s excuses and defenses wouldn’t be enough to prevent what would happen.

And now that she had what she needed, revenge would be sweet, indeed.

“All I need to do now is make one last stop . . . .”

Chapter 5

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Twilight sat by the radio in the lounge of her palace, slumped in a chair and looking as though she were about to waste away. Her seven friends all sat around her, sporting the same listless looks and posture as they sat reading or listening to the radio broadcast. Six weeks after their meeting with Princess Celestia had done little to ease the pain; being betrayed by two close ponies in her life in one day had nearly robbed her of all feeling. It was as if nothing made sense anymore.

Nopony had spoken since the meeting. Sure, Twilight would bump into Fluttershy or Applejack every now and then, but nothing truly substantial would come out of either pony’s mouth. Even Starlight Glimmer, who shared the same roof with Twilight and Spike, hadn’t said a word. She’d looked worse than she had after the Town Hall accident. She looked as though she’d given up.

But I won’t let you, Twilight had said over and over to herself. You’re a hero, Starlight. I won’t let them treat you like a villain.

No word yet from Their Royal Highnesses on this newest developing law,” said the news pony over the radio, “and no comment from Her Highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle. The debate over the actions of the Princess of Friendship’s dubious new pupil, Starlight Glimmer, continues to rage on, from the Canterlot Palace to the streets of Ponyville—

“Ugh!” Rainbow Dash groaned and threw down her copy of Daring Do and the Warlock’s Rock. “Somepony change this! The decision hasn’t even been made yet! Why bother sitting here listening to them drone on about it?”

“Oh, Rainbow Dash, do relax,” Rarity replied. “This is an important decision, and we must have all of the information!”

“I’m with Dashie!” Pinkie Pie squeaked, throwing down her comic book, which she’d been holding upside down and had read on the cover, “Bird versus Camel”. “This is soooooooo boooooring!! It’s like listening to paint dry!”

“Don’t get your bridle in a knot, sugarcube,” Applejack spoke up. “Somethin’s gotta come up soon. And we best be ready when it does.”

“Forget that!” Dash snapped. “We could be missing some other important news!” And with that, she hovered to the stand on which the radio sat, pressed a hoof to the dial, and turned it. Immediately, the station changed:

Misunderstood or monster? Desperate or dictator? Tune in tonight for ‘Equality: The True Story of Starlight Glimmer’—

“Hey, change it back!” Spike yelled, getting up to reach for the radio. His claws landed on the dial and twisted, and the station changed again:

Reports of an attack on Canterlot’s Royal Spell Library have been sketchy ever since the victims of the attack started regaining consciousness, save for one Unicorn, Star Song, who appears to still be unresponsive—

“Spike, quit it!” Dash yelled, clicking the dial back:

Miss Bon Bon, what is your take on the accident at Town Hall?

At first, I was okay with Starlight being here, but this whole thing made me realize that she could have injured a lot more ponies than she did. I’m only relieved my friend Lyra decided to stay home that day instead of going down to get the paperwork for our—

“There’s nothing else on, Dash!” Spike groaned as the station changed again:

Tirek, the Mad Centaur from Tartarus, versus Starlight Glimmer, the Mad Cutie Mark Thief! He’s Magician and IIIIIII’m Bangstick!”

“And it’s our job to analyze their weapons, armor and skills—

“Knock it off, Spike!” Dash yelled, louder this time.

“We need to listen for the reports on the new law!” Spike argued.

“There are no reports!”

“You just have to be patient!”

“Why bother?! They have no right to do this, anyway—”


Everypony froze, and silence struck the room like lightning. Everypony turned to where the scream came from.

It came from Fluttershy.

“We’re all friends . . . we’re supposed to help each other. Hasn’t there been enough fighting?” Fluttershy struggled to speak as her voice wavered and her knees buckled beneath her. Her eyes glistened, but she blinked quickly and kept her face stony. She finally collapsed with a gasp when a knock sounded off at the door.

“I got it,” Spike mumbled with a groan as he turned the dial back to the news report one last time. Just before he walked away, he turned back to Dash, who inched back over to the radio with an outstretched hoof, and glared at her. Dash withdrew her hoof and smiled innocently, but Spike merely grimaced. He pointed two claws at his own eyes, pointed them both at Dash, then turned and continued to the door. Dash sighed immaturely and collapsed back to the floor, picking up her book and grumbling.

As flustered as Twilight was with Dash’s impatience, she couldn’t help but commiserate. Just thinking about these potential laws made her stomach turn every time. And knowing Moon Dancer supported it so vehemently only made the nausea worse. Nothing Moon Dancer was doing made sense, even considering that she was still grieving over her sister’s injury in Canterlot.

But how did it happen? Twilight had often asked herself since that meeting in the palace. Who attacked her? What were they doing that got them attacked? Where’s the real culprit? And why isn’t Moon Dancer so dead-set on finding him, so that real justice can be served?

But the one question that pressed her the most:

How did she know about Starlight’s time-travel spell?

Nopony except Twilight and Spike knew what happened that day. Starlight hadn’t told a soul, save for Sunburst, because she was too embarrassed. And neither Twilight nor Spike had said anything, either.

So how did she know? It couldn’t have been just a coincidence that she knew to make that crack about going back in time. She meant that. I know she did . . . .


Twilight looked up to see Spike coming back with who was at the door, and was elated for the first time in weeks.

“Shining Armor! Cadance!”

Twilight got up and raced over to them, hugging them both as they entered. Twilight’s brother and sister-in-law returned her embrace as the rest of the group got up to greet them.

“We came as soon as we heard, Twilight,” Cadance spoke up as the embrace ended. “The word is out that Celestia will be coming to a decision today, any minute!”

“What?!” Twilight blurted. “Spike, turn up the radio!”

Spike was already halfway to it when she made the command. Spike reached the radio and turned another dial, and the broadcast got louder:

“. . . how ponies as powerful and unpredictable as Starlight Glimmer have any right to judge what should be done and what shouldn’t be, especially given her past criminal actions of brainwashing and wrongful imprisonment—”

“Oooooh . . .” Pinkie moaned, cringing under the copy of “BvC 2: Flying Eggplant” tented on top of her fluffy head. “Bad timing . . . .”

Starlight said nothing. She simply stayed where she sat, staring at the floor.

“Look, don’t get upset,” Twilight said, approaching her and putting a hoof on her shoulder. “No matter what happens, we’re together on this, right?”

“Exactly!” Rainbow Dash added, setting down her book again. “I don’t give up on my friends, and that means you, Starlight!”


Twilight glanced at Fluttershy, Rarity and Applejack, as they had all taken a very unfortunate time to be silent all of a sudden.

“Umm . . . girls?” Twilight asked.

“Now, darling, before you get too upset—”

“Seriously?!” Dash blurted out, her eyes blazing. “Come on, Rarity, you can’t tell me you support this stuff!!”

“Even if she can’t,” Applejack replied, “then I would. I mean, ya gotta admit, they have a point. We’ve all been talkin’ the last few days, and we think maybe it’s best this way.”

“What?!” Twilight shrieked. “You’ve been talking with each other and not me?! Girls, come on! I thought you were my friends! Moon Dancer going behind my back was bad enough!”

“Well, she was well within her rights to do so, Twilight,” Rarity answered with a frown. “I mean, this is a matter of national security, after all. And we’ve known ponies like Trixie and Discord long enough to know what they can do if they aren’t kept on a leash.”

“And you want Starlight on a leash, too?!” Twilight barked. “Is that what you want?! By that logic, you should put Pinkie Pie on one for the mirror pool incident, or Rainbow Dash for destroying the weather factory, or Fluttershy for stealing Philomena! Or even me for the ‘want-it-need-it’ spell! You want us all to sign away our freedom just for a few little mistakes—?!”

“Hold on, sugarcube!” Applejack spoke up over the Princess. “Don’t ya think you’re overreactin’ a little? I mean, Celestia’s not the kind to just throw ponies in the pokey willy-nilly. Whatever they got planned, it ain’t gonna come to that.”

“Exactly!” Rarity added. “This may be a tough decision, but Celestia is nothing if not fair! She forgave you for that spell, Twilight, and she forgave Fluttershy because her heart was in the right place. Just as Starlight’s was when Town Hall came down. She tried to help.”

“But she’d still have to face justice for it,” Twilight said bitterly.

“And is that such a bad thing?” Rarity asked.

“It is if the punishment doesn’t fit the crimes,” Twilight retorted. “Moon Dancer wants to see her rot in a dungeon forever. If she applies that same mindset to every pony who ever did wrong, half of Equestria would be in prison overnight!”

“But Moon Dancer ain’t the one in charge, here,” Applejack said. “Celestia is. She and whoever she thinks should help keep ponies in line.”

“Including that scumbag Thunderbolt!” Dash raged, having dropped her book again and taken to the air. “Bet me anything he’ll try and worm his way into this whole deal!” She hovered towards a still-silent Fluttershy. “Come on, you aren’t buying into this too, are you?!”

“Rainbow, back off!” Applejack snapped. “Fluttershy’s free to make her own decisions!”

“Exactly! And she’s free to choose the right side on her own!” Dash looked down at her fellow Pegasus. “Right, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy sat on the floor, seeming to pull herself inward as if trying to become invisible. Her eyes wavered and her mouth shook.

“Fluttershy?” Rarity asked. “Are you quite all right, darling?”

“Come on, Fluttershy!” Dash yelled. “You have to make some kind of decision! Think about what this means to Equestria! What they could do to Starlight! Or to us! Don’t you even care—”

I DON’T KNOW!!!” Fluttershy finally screamed. The sound sent a startle through everypony in the room like a massive tremor. Everyone turned to look at her now; tears streamed down her quivering face as she continued:

“I just don’t know, okay?! I don’t know what to think or which side to be on! I don’t know what they’re going to do to him! I just don’t know!!

Bursting into heaving, rattling sobs, Fluttershy stood up and bolted away, her tears making a trail all the way out into the next room.

“Fluttershy!” Twilight called after her. “Wait, please!” She made to follow, but Spike pressed a claw against her to stop her.

“I’ll go,” he said calmly. “Let me know what they say, okay?” Spike then turned and ran out of the room, following the tear stains on the ground out of the room.

“Now see what you’ve done?” Rarity snapped at Dash with a bitter frown. “All your screaming and guilt-trip tactics have upset Fluttershy! You don’t even know what this whole mess means for her, do you?!”

Dash didn’t seem to be paying attention. All she did was stare at the direction Fluttershy fled in with a wrinkled brow.

“Him?” she muttered.

“Of course, Rainbow!” Applejack spoke up. “Discord! Didja forget about that?!”

Realization seemed to strike Dash at last; she went blank-faced and set down, sitting quickly and looking at the floor. She was silent for a few seconds before looking back up at Rarity and Applejack with a smirk.

“Well, at least she knows which side to be on,” she said. “Unlike you two.”

Rarity merely scoffed indignantly, while Applejack gritted her teeth and snarled, “Consarn you, Rainbow Dash—”

“Shh! They’re announcing the decision!” Cadance spoke over them. Shining Armor reached out and turned up the radio’s volume even more, and the declaration could be heard.

—fter lengthy deliberation, Princess Celestia has announced that Moon Dancer’s proposal of a governing body over the Elements of Harmony and their reformed charges has been thoroughly studied, and with some amendments, it has been approved for immediate voting throughout Equestria. Appointees for this governing body are unclear—

Twilight gasped, Starlight whimpered, and Rainbow Dash became airborne once again.

“WHAT?!” she roared as she hovered. “What a big, steaming bunch of bull—”

“Shh!” Applejack hissed. “Listen!”

—ewly-appointed head of the accountability panel of Canterlot nobility will be none other than Captain Thunderbolt of the Equestrian Royal Guard. Whether his decisions will be made final depend on the vote—

“Oh, come on!!” Dash continued to revolt.

—first action as Chief of the Equestrian Security Council,” then came the now-familiar voice of Thunderbolt himself, “will be to establish a ranking system for every known reformed—” he gave skeptical stress to the word “reformed”, “—criminal and threat to Equestria. The lesser threats will be marked and registered, and the major threats will be found and processed immediately. Once the votes come in and the act is passed, my task force will disperse throughout Equestria and begin finding these beings and process them for registry. By force, if we have to—

Thank you, Captain, that will be all!

After Celestia’s voice came on, most of the room sighed in relief, and Dash grumbled, “’Bout time. Jerk . . . .”

And that was Captain Thunderbolt,” the announcer came back, “coming to you live from Canterlot Palace. The princess seems eager to get him started, she’s ushering him back inside now. Copies of the final revisions for this new act have been sent magically to every household in Equestria, and responses will be tallied for the next week. And if the majority vote accepts this new act, it will be ratified in Canterlot another two days after the tally is taken—

The radio was suddenly silenced, and everypony turned to see Starlight getting up, her horn alight as she magicked the radio off. Her face had now seemed to sink deep into itself, and the knowledge of defeat seemed to be etched onto her features more deeply than ever.

“I think that’s all we needed to hear,” she finally croaked, a sure sign that she hadn’t used her voice in weeks.

“Starlight, no,” Twilight said, stamping a hoof. “This isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning. This is only when the vote begins. All we need to do is vote against it. We’ll play our part, just like the rest of Equestria. And if it does end up getting passed, we can still fight this. We can contest it, we can appeal, we can do everything in our power to maintain your freedom—”

“Twilight, just stop!” Starlight blurted. Tears began to well up in her worn, baggy eyes. “They revised the act. They announced that they’re going through with it. This whole voting thing is just for show. The Princesses already made up their minds. And they’re Princesses. No one can oppose them or contest them.”

“That’s crazy talk!” Rainbow Dash retorted. “Celestia can listen to reason! It’s not like—”

“Come on, open your eyes!” Starlight yelled out, blinking once and letting her tears descend. “They wanted Discord sealed in stone, and it happened! Celestia wanted Luna banished to the moon, and it happened! She wanted Twilight to revive the Elements of Harmony, and it happened! There’s nothing Celestia can’t have if she tries hard enough! It’s over! I might as well turn myself in now!”

The whole room was bathed in silence. Applejack and Rarity wore the same wrinkled brow and unsteady lips. Pinkie sniffled as her puffy mane drooped and straightened autonomously. Cadance and Shining Armor glanced at each other. Even Dash seemed rendered speechless—her mouth was agape and her eyes were dinner-plate wide.

Twilight approached her pupil and placed a hoof on her shoulder, similarly to when they’d left the Canterlot Palace weeks earlier. “Starlight . . . I—”

“Face it, Twilight,” she cut off her mentor, “I’m a criminal. I always was. And after this act passes . . . I always will be.”

Another weighty silence overcame the room. Twilight looked from face to face, and saw nothing but melancholy. Even Applejack and Rarity looked on with sparkling eyes.

“Twily,” Shining Armor spoke softly and approached his sister. “Don’t give up. Whatever happens, you won’t lose me. Your BBBFF. We’re together on this. You can count on that.”

Twilight looked up into her brother’s hopeful eyes, but did not speak. She couldn’t even tell how she looked, but based on Armor’s slowly-weakening features, she must not have looked very hopeful herself.

Everypony glanced at the room Fluttershy and Spike had gone to when a loud belch sound went off and a green light flickered in that direction. A few seconds later, Spike came back out, his lips smoking and his claws weighed down with a stack of papers.

“I guess this is the proposal,” he said, holding it out to them. He read the top page out loud, which said in bold, ornate letters:




In the corner of the room, Pinkie Pie briefly giggled at the sound of the acronym.

“There’s an extra few sheets and one says we have a week to vote yes or no,” Spike continued as he set the proposal on a nearby table. “Well, I can’t vote, ‘cause of my age, but . . . I-I’ll leave you guys to it. I’ll let Fluttershy know.” And with that, he turned on his heel and padded back into the room Fluttershy was still occupying.

Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Cadance, Shining Armor and Starlight approached the table, and the proposal, and stared at it for a good few seconds, as if expecting it to get up on its own and start yelling out the terms written on it. One would not have been shocked to know if that was the case—they stood staring at that stack of papers for a very long time.

Chapter 6

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Moon Dancer put away all of her anonymous messages and waited. Looking back over them again did little to enlighten her; she’d already memorized each one and could recite them by heart. By now, she supposed it was habit. The rolled-up scrolls contained some very interesting information—some intriguing, some shocking, and all appalling—that required a lot of research and fact-checking. She never did learn whom they were from. She remembered a mail pony coming to deliver a letter over a year ago, and it was the first step in her crusade against Starlight Glimmer’s madness. She remembered getting a new anonymous tip every few days by the same delivery method, each one arriving almost promptly at the exact same time, just before sunset. She remembered painstakingly researching every detail of these anonymous tips, traveling much of Equestria to do it, and not finding much to confirm them—but enough. She also remembered writing a note back and asking the mail pony to deliver it to the sender the second, third and fourth times the messages showed up. But the mailpony never did find out who this sender was or where they really lived.

It was almost as if this pony was a ghost.

The messages had stopped weeks ago, but after all this time, Moon Dancer knew the messages were trustworthy. A few trips to the village she had run—the village where she’d stolen so many ponies’ lives—could confirm that. And a trip to the Canterlot library archives would prove that a missing time travel spell, one considered dangerous by Starswirl himself, was indeed missing. She’d compiled the notes and constructed a decent profile of Starlight, which would soon lead up to her message to the princess. All she needed from there was proof, and memories of other ponies weren’t strong enough.

Then Ponyville Town Hall came tumbling down, and Moon Dancer had all the evidence she needed.

Heaving a deep sigh, she glanced at a picture on her desk and smiled slightly. She saw herself, years ago, when she was happier and had fewer cares in life, if any, surrounded by the ponies she loved most in this world.

Lyra looked happy and chatty, as usual. Minuette licked cupcake frosting off her nose. Twinkleshine was eating like a pig, as she usually did; her mouth was a mess. Lemon Hearts seemed to find humor in the mess she was making. She found humor in almost everything.

Moon Dancer herself aimed a disappointed stare through her taped-up spectacles at Twilight. Then without wings (or consideration, it seemed), she looked as she normally looked in those days—uninterested in everything around her except the book she dangled six inches in front of her with her magic.

“Things were so much simpler back then,” Moon Dancer muttered aimlessly, resting her chin on her desk and folding her forelimbs in front of her. “You were so much simpler back then. You couldn’t even say you had any friends. Now it’s like you want the whole world to be your friend.” She reached out and pulled the picture toward her, getting a closer look at the frustrated look in Twilight’s eyes.

“Why couldn’t you just find a happy medium?” she asked the picture, half-hoping it would answer her the way Twilight would in real life. “You’re too smart for this. You were always too smart for blind trust. Why couldn’t . . . you could’ve . . . .” She sighed roughly and picked up the picture in her magic, laying it on the desk face-down. “Where the heck is that mail-pony?!”

Knock-knock-knock. “Miss Dancer? Package for you!”

As if on cue, there is was. Moon Dancer got up from her desk and made to answer the door. That’ll be my copy of the new act, she thought before she reached the door. Time to see if the system finally works.

“Princess Celestia has been ruler for thousands of years, Dash. Whereas you wouldn’t even look that good in that time, much less keep things in line the whole time.”

“Yeah, and she’s made mistakes before! I mean, it was her dumb idea to reform Discord! How reformed was he when he baked us all into a pie and served us to that whack-job Tirek?!”

“She’s still the authority in Equestria, newbie. You and I both know you’ve always had a problem with authority—”

“That’s not even the point, Captain! She’s already after Starlight, and Town Hall was an accident! How long before the rest of us are in chains being marched to the dungeons!”

The conference hall at WonderBolts Headquarters was filled with the silent complaints and groans of the WonderBolts themselves. What had started as a gathering initiated by Spitfire to discuss R.A.R.A. had quickly become a shouting match between her and Rainbow Dash, and had not changed in the last forty-five minutes.

“There are twelve officials on this panel!” Spitfire argued. “Twelve, Rainbow Dash! You think you know better than all of them?!”

“”My friends and I always know better! We’ve saved Equestria, like, a dozen times! You said so yourself!”

Fleetfoot rolled her eyes where she sat. “Actually, I thaid tho,” she muttered angrily, only enough for Soarin to hear.

“Look, you and your friends are the last line of defense. But the WonderBolts are always the first to answer the call to action. You ought to know that by now.”

“And how did that work out when Spike handed your plots to you all that time ago?!” Dash yelled, now shaking with the effort to stay in control. “Or did he hit you so hard, you forgot?!”

“You are out of line!” Spitfire snapped back. “As Equestria’s fighting force, we have a duty to support this act! You’d better get yours together, Crash, or you’ll be in even deeper—”


Dash had screamed it before she’d even realized what she’d said. Soarin turned to gape at her. Surprise held her forehooves up to her mouth, and even Misty Fly’s eyes widened.

Spitfire, however, shook off the initial shock the fastest. Her eyes narrowed and her voice became low and ominous. “So that’s what this is about? Going against the good of Equestria just because you still can’t shake off a name—”

“Captain, that’s not it, I swear, it just slipped out—”

“I won’t be interrupted, newbie!” Spitfire snapped, cutting Dash off. “You know, you trying to lose that name has gotten you in enough trouble in the past. But using that as an excuse to rebel against your team, your commanding officer, and all of Equestria? Absolutely unacceptable.”

“Captain, this isn’t about a name!” Dash argued. “This is wrong! We’re making a mistake by signing this thing! I can’t support something that takes away ponies’ freedom!”

“Stand down, Crash! We’re all signing this! It’s our duty as WonderBolts—”

“It’s our duty to do the right thing!” Dash yelled over her. “And this isn’t the right thing! And it never will be!”

Spitfire’s narrow-eyed look remained, and Rainbow Dash simply stared daggers right back. No sound permeated the air, save for a quick, nervous tapping from Soarin’s hoof.

“I think another two weeks’ probation will change your tune, rookie,” Spitfire spoke low. “Insubordination won’t be tolerated on my watch.”

“What?! Are you kidding me?! That’s a bunch of—”

“No discussions! Now, unless you want to make it two months, I suggest you watch your tone for a while.”

“Captain, don’t you think that’s a little harsh?” Soarin spoke up, the first word spoken by someone other than the two arguing mares. Every WonderBolt in the room looked toward him as if he, too, had just lashed out at his commanding officer. “I mean, Rainbow Dash has a point. It’s a little ridiculous to think regulating these ponies like they’re on parole will help anything. It’ll just make them think they’ll always be bad, instead of encouraging them to be good.”

Spitfire looked at Soarin with the same narrowed eyes, adding a raised eyebrow. Dash looked at Soarin with a combination of reverence and caution, and waited silently for an answer, as though her very breaths would be too loud for her to hear anything.

“We handle the world as it is,” Spitfire replied, “not as we want to be. We’re soldiers, not idealists, Clipper. We don’t make the rules, we follow them.”

Soarin sighed. “Maybe the rules ought to be changed.”

“They are being changed,” Spitfire bit back. “It doesn’t mean we question them. It means we follow them.”

“Even if they’re wrong.”

Dash had said it so low, Misty Fly and Surprise barely heard it on the other end of the table. Spitfire, however, rounded on her.

“One more snappy word, Crash, and you’ll be on probation so long, you’ll forget you were ever a WonderBolt.”

Dash simply glared at her. Slowly, her own features contorted with rage.

“Punishing somepony just for speaking up . . . for questioning the rules even if they’re not right . . . I’m surprised I ever wanted to be one . . . .”

The next two words from her mouth were words even Rainbow Dash herself didn’t expect would ever be said:

“I quit.”

Spitfire’s narrowed eyes finally widened. Fleetfoot gasped, and Soarin said, “Dash, no!”

“I’ll send my stuff to your office,” Dash growled at Spitfire. “I hope it’s worth it to you.” She then turned and stomped toward the door.

“Worth it?!” Spitfire yelled after her. “You spent your whole life training for this, and you’re just gonna throw it away now? Is that worth it?!”

Just before reaching the door, Dash stopped, and there was another heavy pause. She turned her head slightly back, but was otherwise still as stone.

“My friends are worth more to me than your stupid club. Have fun being obedient slaves.”

And Rainbow Dash bashed the door open and raced out.

“Look, I’m not saying I don’t trust Twilight. I love her like she was my own sister. But I am saying we should consider the risks.”

“Cadance, honey, Twilight protects us from those risks. We sign this thing, we make it so she can’t do that.”

“It’s not as though they’d be putting her in jail, Shiny. They’d just be making sure she doesn’t make any more mistakes.”

“But you just said you trusted her. Why would you think that way if you did?”

“Shiny, Twilight may be a Princess, but even she makes mistakes.”

“By that logic, Celestia makes mistakes, too. You don’t think she is right now?”

“Maybe, maybe not . . . I’m just trying to think about what’s best for our daughter.”

Princess Cadance cantered slowly to the crib in the corner of the room, a little pink bundle of feathers and fur lie snoozing inside, her ear occasionally twitching. Cadance lowered her head into the crib and gave Flurry Heart a gentle kiss on her forehead, right beside her horn. Her discussion with Shining Armor had been carried out all over the palace, and had not stopped even as Flurry Heart was being laid down to sleep. The fact that neither of them spoke loudly or angrily enough to wake her may have been an indication that continuing the talk in her room was a good idea for the two of them.

After Cadance tucked in her daughter, she tiptoed back to the door, closed it behind her gently, and released a sigh.

“Honey, we’re what’s best for her,” Shining Armor said, caressing his wife’s face with a hoof as they walked down the hall together. “And so are Twilight and her friends. They helped us with Flurry Heart when we didn’t know what else to do for her. Even Starlight was helpful to us.”

“But Starlight isn’t always helpful, honey,” Cadance replied, her face hardening. “Remember when Twilight told us about when she hypnotized Applejack and the others just to look like a better student? Twilight trusts Starlight, so to trust one is to trust the other. Is that the kind of judgment you would trust with your daughter’s life?”

Shining Armor stopped and heaved a long sigh, taking a long time to answer. Cadance had stopped walking a bit afterwards, and the two faced each other a short length away in the hall. Armor brushed his hoof over his forehead and looked his wife deeply in her eyes. Words very nearly failed him.

“Starlight’s still learning, though,” he finally said. “She’s scared and doesn’t know what to do, so she’s bound to make mistakes. She’s still struggling to understand friendship—”

“How can it be that much of a struggle, Shining Armor?” Cadance retorted, her tone rising slightly. “Friendship isn’t like love, it’s not that complicated.”

“Come on, Cadance, you know friendship and love have a lot in common—”

“Oh, so now you’re gonna start telling me about the concept I earned my cutie mark for?”

“Of course not, Cadance! I’m saying that you’re being a bit unreasonable!”

“As unreasonable as it is to trust a villain who never kicked the brainwashing habit?!”

“Cadance, honestly, Twilight knows what she’s doing!”

“Obviously not, or else none of this would be happening!!”

“So, you want them to throw my sister in a dungeon because of Starlight’s mistakes?!”

“No, Shiny, I want them to make Twilight see reason!”

“So you think she’s gone crazy?!”


Neither had realized that their voices had slowly been increasing in volume, to the point where they both breathed immense sighs of relief when they knew they were far enough away from Flurry Heart’s door. The bellowing had rattled the palace walls.

Sighing again, Cadance cantered towards her husband and placed a loving hoof against his cheek. Her stare matched his from earlier.

“Shiny . . . babe . . . I want to resolve all of this. I really do. I want all sides to win. But we’re taking too much of a risk here as it is. I want what’s best for our Flurry.”

“Flurry doesn’t even have anything to do with this, Cadance.”

“I want what’s best for Twilight, as well,” Cadance responded quietly.

“Then why don’t you support her?” Shining Armor’s words were etched with regret.

“Because I have to support whatever protects her.”

“From Starlight?” Armor asked. His brow furrowed and his mouth was twisted in a pained grimace.

Cadance’s words seemed to resonate with finality:

“From herself.”

The royal couple stared at each other for a good few seconds, neither side speaking, until a faint noise could be heard from down the hall. Both sighed again and tilted their heads down, and both walked silently down the hall back to Flurry Heart’s room, where the whining was getting louder. Evidently, they weren’t far enough away from her room after all.

“Wha— . . . what did you just say?”

Applejack, Apple Bloom, Granny Smith, and a visiting Pinkie Pie all stood in the living room of the Apple household, staring slack-jawed at Big McIntosh. Big Mac glanced from one mare to the next, feeling his normally sturdy legs wobble slightly beneath him. His red face only grew redder.

“Huh?” Pinkie suddenly chirped, looking at Applejack as if she’d asked what color the sky was. “Whaddaya mean ‘what did he just say?’ ‘Cause I heard him clear as day! Remember, Applejack? I bounced up to your door to ask you if you wanted to bake some apple pies, and you opened the door and asked me to come back later, ‘cause you and Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were having an argument over the whole R.A.R.A. thing! And I laughed, ‘cause it’s so fun to say! ‘R.A.R.A.’! ‘R.A.R.A.’! ‘R.A.R.A.’! Hee-hee! Well, anyway, you were all like ‘Well, shoot-fahre, Granny, I know we oughta start makin’ sure ponies answer for their crahmes, but ain’t that a mite harsh?’ And Granny Smith was like ‘Ahh thank that thar Starlaht girl woundta turnt out s’bad if’n she’d just bin givin a good wallopin’ when she de-served it!’ And Apple Bloom sat down really, really fast! And AJ, you were like, ‘I ain’t sayin’ we should be vaholent ‘r nothin’, but we oughta least try’n cooperate fer the sakes’f our friends!’ and Apple Bloom was all like, ‘Maybe it is for the best?’. And Big Mac said . . . .”

Pinkie stopped mid-sentence to turn and stare expectantly back at Bic McIntosh, as if waiting for him to finish for her. Applejack’s eyes were cold, yet still soft, and Granny Smith’s eyes narrowed. Apple Bloom simply stayed where she sat, biting her lip and glancing from one adult to another, as if waiting for one of them to spontaneously combust.

Taking a deep breath and releasing a long and morose sigh, Big Mac kept his head down and muttered it, so low, it was a wonder anypony heard it:

“Maybe Twilight’s right.”

The silence afterwards was almost as deafening as the first, before Applejack had broken it.

“B-Big Mac . . .” Applejack broke the silence again, “you . . . you don’t mean what I think you . . . I mean, we all agreed . . . it just makes sense to not let things go this way, but . . . you’re sayin’ that . . . you think—”

“Why, that’s just ridiculous!” Granny Smith stepped in, walking up to her grandson with the same narrowed eyes. “You’d say you’d choose a li’l ol’ hooligan like Starlight Glimmer over family?! Just what in tarnation’s goin’ on in that head o’ yer’s, boy?!”

Big Mac visibly cringed at the tongue-lashing he received from his grandmother, sighed again, and looked back at her with a hurt expression.

“It ain’t about choosin’, Granny. This . . . well, it ain’t right.”

“You dern tootin’, it ain’t!” Granny snapped. “Puttin’ the needs of a troublemaker over yer own kin! Of all the silly . . . I ain’t never seen . . . well, I don’t wanna hear no more talk like this until yer ready to talk with yer head on straight! Applejack, try talkin’ some sense inta your foolhardy brother!”

Applejack stepped up to Big Mac, her soft, snow-like gaze piercing him. “Is that what you really think, Big Mac?” she asked, her own voice just as low as Mac’s. “Do you really think Twilight needs support?”

“Eeyup,” Mac replied morosely.

“Ya really think Starlight shouldn’t answer for what she’s done?”

At this, Mac hesitated, “. . . Nope, but . . . .”

“You think she deserves another chance?”

“. . . Eeyup.”

“’Cause she wants to be a hero, right? Same as you?”

Mac’s eyes widened at this suggestion. He thought back to his heart-to-heart with Apple Bloom over the fiasco that was the Sisterhooves Social, and figured it was only logical for Apple Bloom to confide all this in Applejack. Heaving another deep sigh, Big Mac didn’t even speak. He slowly nodded.

“Hmph!” Granny Smith said, pointed eyes locked on Big Mac. “Well, yer both doin’ a bang-up job o’ that!” And she shuffled off to the stairs, grumbling under her breath. Apple Bloom got up and ran after her, trying to get her to come back. After both of their hoofsteps faded, Big Mac sat down, head drooped and eyes closed, as though he’d heard clearly what had not been spoken—that his own grandmother might as well have disowned him.

“Don’t be upset, Big Mac,” Applejack spoke up, putting a hoof on his shoulder. “Granny may be mad now, but things’ll clear up later. They have to. We’ve been through prickly times before and we’ve always come out all right.”

Mac turned toward her sister and eyed her through woeful eyes. “Eeyup . . .” he croaked.

“And listen, I may not agree with ya,” Applejack continued, “but you believe what you want. Doesn’t make ya any less of an Apple. I respect your opinion.” She brought a hoof to his face and turned his gaze back up to meet hers when he had turned away again. “’Cause you’re my brother.”

Mac smiled weakly. “An’ you’re my sister.”

That seemed to be the final word on the matter, as far as the two of them were concerned. Applejack embraced her brother and Big Mac slowly returned it, and the two sat there on the floor of the living room as if R.A.R.A. had never come along to splinter their familial bond.

Both Apples felt a pair of extra hooves squeezing them, and they glanced toward Pinkie Pie, who had joined in unbidden.

“Group hug!” she trilled. Applejack and Big Mac could only chuckle awkwardly.

It was lucky she knew that Silencing Spell. She was doing enough thrashing and gasping to alert the entire ward.

Star Song jerked and spasmed in her hospital bed while the violet Unicorn sapped her of the memory she needed. Forceful memory recording was always difficult, so extra effort was required to keep the subject detained, hence the thrashing. She’d remembered to hold back a bit this time though, unlike with Sugar Belle. Star Song was still been injured, so it made things easier, but there was also a chance to worsen her condition. But at least with Star Song, there was a chance she’d be conscious again. She doubted Sugar Belle was awake even now.

Unfortunately, holding back meant taking a long time with the memory spell, and Star Song seemed quite resistant to mind manipulation in spite of her condition. But with the curtain drawn around her bed and the spell in place to silence the noise, all there was to do was wait. The nurses wouldn’t be along to check on her for at least an hour—plenty of time to get what she needed.

Held aloft in a soft, greenish-blue glow was a gemstone, into which flooded every second of Star Song’s memories of the night of her attack in Canterlot. One other item floated in the magical mist—the picture. The picture that had been her only piece of property for years. The picture she’d kept with her since foalhood. The picture that proved they ever existed.

In it, a violet-coated filly looked happily up at a strong, handsome blue-coated stallion and a beautiful, gentle-looking pink mare. All three Unicorns looked contented, ecstatic even, as though there wasn’t a monster lurking around in Equestria waiting to break their bonds forever.

She stared at the picture as if it were an engaging and immersive movie at the theater, completely ignoring the thrashing mare in the bed as if she were a sheet on top of it. She’d stared at it so many times, often for hours in one sitting, that she could picture it flawlessly in her head. Every tiny little detail, from the small grape juice stain on her child self’s face to the two-inch crease in the upper-left corner. Had this not been the most important object she’d ever own, she’d never need it again.

It has to be done, she told herself, still keeping her eyes away from Star Song. A little pain for the innocent now won’t mean anything once it’s all done.

The gemstone flashed after about twenty minutes, and the Unicorn ceased the spells around the hospital bed, waiting an extra few seconds for Star Song to stop jerking around before withdrawing the Silence Spell. She pocketed the gem and the picture, pulled up her surgical mask, and slipped out from behind the curtains and out of the room just before a nurse came bustling in, aiming for a different patient in the room.

She was now aiming for a different pony, too.

Chapter 7

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Article I: A specially sanctioned panel of Equestrian nobility, selected by Princesses Celestia and Luna, will oversee and approve any and all actions made by Twilight Sparkle and any and all ponies Twilight Sparkle has approved to join her.

Article II: The same panel will be consulted before Twilight Sparkle allows any more ponies to work with her on missions on behalf of Equestria, and will have the final word on who is allowed to report to Twilight Sparkle on said missions.

Article III: All ponies reporting to or considered to report to Twilight Sparkle will undergo extensive psychological testing for the pre-approval process, as well as undergo specialized training for their morality and decision-making skills made during missions, if and when that pony is qualified to accompany Twilight Sparkle on said missions.

Article IV: All approved ponies reporting to Twilight Sparkle will first report to the nobility panel before any and all missions they wish that pony to be a part of, and will only be approved for said mission on their word.

Article V: All missions considered for Twilight Sparkle and her (approved) comrades will be reviewed by the nobility panel beforehand, and will only be approved for action on their word.

Article VI: A spokepony for the Canterlot nobility will accompany Twilight and her approved comrades on approved missions at all times, has the final say on any and all actions taken during the mission, and will report regularly back to the panel until mission completion.

Article VII: In the event of a state of emergency in Equestria or any location under clear and present danger, only Twilight Sparkle and any and all ponies who once wielded the Elements of Harmony will be allowed to carry out missions until the state of emergency is lifted.

Article VIII: Any and all actions placing any living being in immediate danger or resulting in property damage of any nature is punishable by immediate arrest and trial before the Canterlot nobility panel. Any contact between Twilight Sparkle or her approved comrades and anypony accused or found guilty of said actions is strictly prohibited.

Article IX: Any action carried out in direct violation of the preceding articles, or carried out without Canterlot panel approval, is punishable by immediate probation until such time as deemed appropriate by the Canterlot nobility. Any action carried out by a pony under probation, in accordance or defiance with the preceding articles, will be subject to immediate arrest to await trial in Canterlot.

Thunderbolt looked through the act once again, even though he already knew it by heart (having contributed some of it himself). It seemed watertight, but a nagging annoyance still ate at him after the finalization of the document. Most of his additions were either subdued or ignored entirely.

I suppose nowadays public flagellation is frowned upon, Thunderbolt thought bitterly, but despite what Celestia thinks, I’m sure a few dozen scars on that purple pony plot would have kept her in line, and kept Ponyville City Hall standing.

Looking at the memory footage from that day in Ponyville had brought it all back. The buzzing wings, the stomping hooves, the screams of terror. Canterlot had never seen an invasion like that, and the royal guard had been totally unprepared.

But that was no excuse to let ponies get hurt.

Thunderbolt groaned at a pang in his chest as he glanced at a picture frame on his desk. In the picture, a sleek grey stallion, ten years younger, held a neon-pink Pegasus mare close to him as she kissed his cheek. On top of the younger Thunderbolt’s head, nestled in his thick, speckled mane, was a butter-yellow Unicorn filly with a sky-blue mane and an energetic smile.

It won’t happen again, he promised the picture. Not now. Not ever.

The door to the captain’s quarters flew open, and Princess Celestia’s voice filled the room:


Thunderbolt closed his eyes and sighed, then pushed his chair out and left his desk, turning back towards the door. “Your Highness,” he muttered, giving a halfhearted bow.

“Don’t ‘Your Highness’ me, Captain,” Celestia snapped as she stood imperiously in the doorway. “You have a bit of explaining to do.”

“Mmm . . .” Thunderbolt mumbled, nodding, “I take it you found out?”

“Who exactly gave you authorization to experiment on the Alicorn Amulet?”

“Straight to the point, I see . . . your sister, actually. She knew as well as I did that it was the only force possible to fight him—”

“The Act hasn’t even been ratified yet, Thunderbolt!” Celestia yelled, an intense look in her eyes. “He hadn’t resisted! He hadn’t even done anything! I will not allow injustices against innocent subjects!!”

At this, Thunderbolt’s eyes widened in skeptical awe. “’Innocent’?” he scoffed. “All right, then, correct me if I’m wrong, but . . . Tirek.”

His last word was spoken with subdued rage, as though nopony would dare argue that point. Celestia glared back at Thunderbolt, sizing up the challenge.

“Twilight saved us all,” she said confidently. “You give her such little trust. Why not admit she did well?”

“Because, Your Highness, Twilight wouldn’t have had to act if he had. Just as you had ordered him to!”

Celestia sighed roughly. “Clearly, I made a mistake.”

“And it’s mistakes like those that we are making sure will never be made again,” Thunderbolt snapped.

“They won’t, Thunderbolt. He’s different now. He’s proved that.”

Thunderbolt didn’t speak, but merely stared back at Celestia with a raised eyebrow. Still silent, he turned back to his desk, swept a memory gem from a set of them on the top, and set it on the floor between himself and the princess. He tapped the top, and the projection illuminated the room, showing a formerly opulent scene in a Canterlot ballroom, now filled to the windows with green slime. Ponies in sullied suits and evening gowns were plastered to the walls, and one pink mare had cleverly used another pony as a boat to float through the grime.

“Uhh . . .” Celestia murmured, her cheeks starting to grow pink. “I . . . thought it would be fun . . . .”

Thunderbolt tapped the top of the gem, and the scene changed again, this time to an outdoor Ponyville, where Twilight’s friends were all gathered around a serpentine creature and laughing with him, while Twilight Sparkle herself stood off to one side, looking miserable. Thunderbolt simply maintained his silent, raised-eyebrow stare.

“W-well, I wasn’t aware of that until after the fact,” Celestia stumbled, now glancing away from the scene before it changed again.

This new scene was unrecognizable, set in a land far unlike Equestria, in which trees seemed to be made of paper and grass and streams appeared drawn with colored pencils. In it, a stocky red Earth stallion and a small dragon, both in silly costumes, ran from large paper cutouts of creatures glued on sticks. Celestia had no comment for this scene; she seemed too busy trying to make out what was going on.

“With all due respect, Your Highness,” Thunderbolt finally spoke as the projection faded away, “you’re just as bad as Twilight. He’s a loose cannon. Always was, always will be. And no amount of repeated forgiveness will disarm him.”

Celestia scowled at the captain as he placed the memory gem back on his desk with its kin. He turned and simply scowled back, waiting for her next words. The wait was a bit longer than he was expecting—he could feel his heart rate climbing with each passing second.

Thunderbolt finally had to restrain a jump when Celestia sighed. “You’re right,” she said morosely. “Discord hasn’t changed. And I was a fool to think he could.” She then gazed deeply, almost desperately, into Thunderbolt’s eyes. “But where do we draw the line, Captain?”

“My question exactly,” Thunderbolt replied readily. “We can’t risk another incident like at your niece’s wedding. Homes destroyed, ponies injured, families . . . broken . . . those with the power and potential to destroy us must be contained.”

Celestia bowed her head and sighed again, weakly. “Bad enough I learn of an attack in the Crystal Empire,” she muttered, “now I have to cover this up, as well . . . .” She turned towards the door and slowly walked, stopping just before touching the wooden surface.

“It won’t bring you together again,” Celestia spoke without turning. “What’s past is past, Captain. Don’t punish others to make up for your past mistakes.”

Thunderbolt didn’t speak. He simply turned back to his desk, and the picture that rested on it. He looked happier. They all looked so much happier . . . .

“I’m punishing those who make mistakes, so that they’re never made again,” he said at last.

With one last weary sigh, Celestia opened the door and walked out of the room. When Thunderbolt heard the door close behind her, he sat back at his desk and reread the act once again.

Twilight felt her spirits lift higher than they’d been in weeks. It was true what they said—“make new friends, but keep the old”. She felt glad to have kept the old.

“I can’t even imagine what you and Starlight are going through, Twilight!” said Minuette from the spacious couch in the palace lounge. Twinkleshine sat next to her, contentedly feasting on scones from the dish on the table, and Lemon Hearts sat next to Twinkleshine, sipping from her teacup. Opposite them, Twilight and Fluttershy took up another couch, and Rarity took up a chair, frowning.

“Honestly, darling, it’s not as bad as they make it out to be,” Rarity replied, taking a dainty sip from her own cup. “I mean, keeping threats contained is what the princesses do anyway, isn’t it?”

“Well, sure, but they were never this active about it before,” Twinkleshine said after swallowing her scone. “Isn’t it odd that they’d only start cracking down on former villains after Starlight comes along?”

Just the name was enough to send a jolt of pain into Twilight’s heart. Yesterday, when they’d received and read their copy of the Reformed Antagonist Regulation Act, Starlight had gone into an even deeper depression than before—if it were remotely possible. She’d locked herself in her room and refused to come out for any reason, not speaking to anypony. She stayed there even now, while the rest of Twilight’s friends (who weren’t already discussing the matter elsewhere) talked about the consequences of R.A.R.A.

“It’s a witch hunt, that’s what it is,” Twilight said with more venom than she’d intended.

“Oh, Twilight, really!” Rarity scoffed. “They’re trying to protect Equestria! It’s not as though they’re deliberately targeting Starlight—”

“She most certainly is, Rarity!” Twilight snapped. When Rarity (and Fluttershy) recoiled, Twilight’s next words were calmer. “Look, Moon Dancer doesn’t care about reformed villains. She’s only doing this because she’s bitter.”

“Bitter?” asked Lemon Hearts as she set her tea down. “What for? Didn’t you two make up?”

“I thought we did, but . . . .” Twilight cut herself off. Trying to understand Moon Dancer’s mindset this past week had been hard enough. Now amongst mutual friends, she drew a complete blank.

“Well, I cannot deny that her motivations are a bit shoddy,” Rarity said, shrugging, “but she’s doing the right thing regardless! I mean, wouldn’t it be a good thing if ponies who made mistakes were held accountable?”

“Well, that’s easy to say for a pony who’s never made life-threatening mistakes,” Minuette replied. “You can safely say ponies will suffer consequences if you have no consequences to suffer.”

“Excuse me, but I’m fairly certain I was possessed by an evil spellbook and almost ‘fabulized’ all of Ponyville!”

“And you’re proud of that?” Twinkleshine asked with a slight gasp.

“Well, of course not, but—”

“Rarity, you weren’t even in control of your own actions, and you know it,” Twilight snapped. “Don’t sit there and pretend you have any kind of stake in this.”

“Twilight!” Rarity shrieked. “You wound me! I do so have a stake in all this! Think about the mistakes my little sister has made whilst gallivanting around with her friends! A love spell? Aiding and abetting a wanted felon? Very nearly sabotaging my order for Sapphire Shores?! Sweetie Belle may be my family, but if this helps stop her from causing large amounts of trouble, why would it hurt? Especially since she’s so much better now that she’s gotten her cutie mark!”

“So, you’d be more than willing to let them process your little sister in some kind of camp—”

“Twilight, you are being unreasonable,” Rarity spoke up, holding up a hoof. “You make it sound as though the only option for these ponies is execution. All we’re saying is try to see it from our perspective. This is the princesses trying to keep the peace, after all.”

“But Rarity, you can’t keep the peace by making everypony afraid,” Twinkleshine countered. “This just makes ponies afraid of the bad guys instead of treating them like good guys. I think Twilight’s right. This is looking more and more like a witch hunt.”

“Well, let’s just think about this, now,” Lemon Hearts stepped in, “maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? I mean, I was there during the Changeling invasion. If we were harder on the real bad guys, it would make it harder for normal ponies to step out of line, right?”

“That’s why it makes more sense to work with them instead of branding them,” Twilight asserted. “Keeping evil, well . . . evil means keeping fear where it’s not necessary. Changing bad to good means no evil, which means no fear. We take that away, we’re just as bad as Chrysalis.”

“Twilight,” Rarity sighed, “darling . . . that is dangerously naïve. These are our Equestrian Princesses. They know what’s best for us. It’s not you, or Cadance, or even Chrysalis—”

“No, but they are making decisions based on agendas,” Twilight fought back. “Moon Dancer’s agendas.”

“But why is she in the wrong?” Rarity asked. “She had the same opportunity to make the same mistakes as Starlight had after you moved to Ponyville, and she didn’t make them. Clearly she knows what she’s doing.”

“Rarity,” Twilight replied with an annoyed sigh, “she chose not to do that! If we sign this act, we’re giving up our rights to choose! What if they make us do something to a reformed pony we have no right to do? What if the map sends us somewhere, and they don’t let us go? I’ll accept that we’re not perfect, but the safest hooves are still ours.”

“Twilight, Moon Dancer is pushing this act quite seriously,” Rarity replied, her tone softer now. “She will make absolutely sure this happens. Best to get it over with now and renegotiate later, I say.”

“Sounds okay to me,” Lemon Hearts added. “I mean, changes can be made, right?” She glanced to the other mares; Minuette shrugged and Twinkleshine nodded halfheartedly before turning to a still and weak-looking Fluttershy.

“Um, Fluttershy?” Twinkleshine asked, “you’re being awfully quiet. Do you know the decision you’re making?”

Twilight closed her eyes and shook her head. “You don’t know her that well. She’ll make a decision when she’s ready.” She then did a double-take at Fluttershy, blinked, and added, “You will make a decision, right?”

Fluttershy slowly looked up at Twilight, seemed to notice every eye in the room was on her, and sighed weakly. Even being the center of attention—one of her worst fears—seemed to take a back seat to this new feeling.

“As long . . .” she began, as if testing the waters, “. . . as long as they don’t hurt Discord.”

Twilight’s eyes widened and she let out a gasp of incredulity.

“If they treat us fairly . . . and they don’t come down too hard on Discord . . . then I’ll do whatever they say. As long as Discord is okay . . . .”

“Well, I think that’s perfectly fair!” Rarity beamed. “There, you see? Fluttershy has the right idea, Twilight!”

Twilight scowled. If you think fear is a way to deal with this, maybe . . . .

The words almost came out loud, when there was a massive knock at the castle doors. Fluttershy jumped slightly and everypony else turned towards the sound. Calming herself with a deep breath and a sweeping hoof, Twilight stood from her seat and said, “I’ll get it.” Even that sounded more bitter than she’d wanted.

What’s going on with me? Twilight thought on her short walk toward the door. Rarity’s just trying to be civil. They all are. But I just . . . I don’t even know what I’m doing? Am I just protecting Starlight, or am I really that angry at Moon Dancer? Is it her fault for doing all this, or should I really start thinking before I act? Maybe . . . maybe they all have a point . . . maybe this is for the best . . . .

Twilight pushed her thoughts aside as she opened the massive palace doors and took a step back to allow in . . . .


The blue, becaped showmare flashed her usual ostentatious smile. “Well, hello to you too, Princess. Surprised to see me?”

“Not entirely,” Twilight muttered truthfully. I suppose I should have seen this coming . . . .

“Thank you for the invitation,” Trixie snapped as she strutted into the castle unbidden. “I trust you’ve been well?”

Twilight didn’t answer, merely held back a groan. The groan finally came out when Rarity, Fluttershy, Twinkleshine, Lemon Hearts and Minuette trotted up to join them.

“Oh . . .” Rarity said in a lackluster tone, “hello, Trixie . . . lovely to see you.” Her tone conveyed the opposite sentiment.

“I’m afraid Starlight is indisposed right now,” Twilight spoke briskly, “so if you want to see her, you’ll have to come back another time—”

“Don’t presume to know my motives, Princess,” Trixie retorted. “I’m actually here to see you.”

“Really?” Twilight blurted out, brow furrowed and wits sharp for treachery. “Why?”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie assumes you know the news about the . . . ahem . . . Reformed Antagonist Regulation Act?”

Twilight felt her stomach turn at the mere mention of the act, and kept silent as she nodded.

“Naturally. Well, as strange as it sounds, the Great and Powerful Trixie has need to speak to you on that very matter.”

I suppose I should have seen this coming, too, Twilight thought with a deadpan look. “Go on,” she said out loud.

“I shall. Well, as I’m quite sure you remember, you’ve had several unfortunate run-ins with the Great and Powerf—”

“Do you have to refer to yourself like that every time you speak?” Rarity grumbled. “It’s garish, to say the least.”

“Do not interrupt the Great and Powerful Trixie!” she bit back quickly before continuing. “Well, I’d best get to the point. I never wanted it to come to this, Princess, but as circumstances have forced my hoof, I am left with no other choice.”

Twilight suddenly tensed up, ready to act if necessary.

“It is something quite beneath me, but I am prepared to take the consequences if it means doing what it takes to survive this act.”

She’s a former villain, Twilight reasoned in her head. She’s here for me because she knows I have influence in Canterlot. She probably thinks this is all my fault.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle . . .” Trixie began, “. . . I . . . .”

Twilight prepared to call upon a spell, and when Trixie darted forward, the princess’ horn began to glow. But the glow immediately faded when she heard her voice:

I need your heeeeeeeelp!!

Trixie had flung herself to the floor at Twilight’s feet, now wailing and grasping at Twilight’s front legs. Everypony else had taken a step back, and even Rarity had said “Well . . . no need to be so dramatic, darling . . . .”

“Please help me, Princess!” Trixie shrieked. “This Thunderbolt, who works for the Princesses, he’s mobilizing against us! All former villains! He’s already captured Discord and held him prisoner in Canterlot! His troops are combing the Crystal Empire for leftover Changelings! I know without your help, they’ll come after me, too! I’m sick with the idea of begging, but I can’t let them get me! Please, help meeeeeeeeeeee!!”

Twilight stared gaping at Trixie writhing and bawling on the floor, not just at the state of her, but at her words—Thunderbolt was already persecuting former villains. Twilight’s worst fears were already being realized. Suddenly, her earlier thoughts of relenting seemed alien to her, as though she’d been controlled by someone else to think them. She quickly discarded those thoughts and turned to survey her fellow mares, and quickly saw four faces mirroring her shocked eyes and widened mouth. The fifth, Twilight was hesitant to see, showed the distorted face and tear-drowned eyes of Fluttershy.

“They . . . they took him . . . ?”

Chapter 8

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The sense of urgency didn’t help Twilight as she tapped on the door to Starlight’s bedroom. She’d done this every day for weeks, trying to get her to open up, and Twilight fully expected a repeat performance. Still, I have to try, she thought as she stood next to the door. A dejected sigh escaped her muzzle.

“Come in.”

Twilight almost jumped at the sound of Starlight’s voice—it sounded as weak and underused as it had when the announcement was first made. Promptly, Twilight turned the handle with her magic and the door creaked open.

Starlight sat on her bed, which was neatly made and wrinkle-free beneath her. The rug in the middle of the room was just as clean and smooth, and her possessions were lined up on a small shelf on the far wall, ordered by size, shape and color. Evidently, habits picked up in her old Equality Village refused to die.

Twilight spoke as carefully and softly as possible, “It’s . . . it’s time. They’re . . . ratifying RARA today. The girls and I have to go to Canterlot to oversee it.”

Starlight nodded, sighing. Her head was pointed down and her eyes were closed. “Who else signed?” she asked hoarsely.

“Rarity,” Twilight recounted, “Applejack. Cadance.”

Starlight nodded, eyes still closed. “Spike?”

“He’s too young,” Twilight replied.


“Hasn’t decided yet.”

There was a pause as Starlight nodded again. Twilight kept her eyes fixed to her the whole time.

“I really messed up,” Starlight finally spoke. “I never meant to, but I did.”

“There’s still time,” Twilight spoke up, taking a tentative step forward. “You can come with us. Plead your case directly to Princess Celestia. They may be going through with this act, but it’s not ironclad.”

“No . . .” Starlight croaked. “I’d rather not watch them choose my fate for me.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way, Starlight. You can still fight this, if you really are ready to change.”

“Am I, though? I’m not very good at taking responsibility anyway . . . I mean, I should have been kicked out after brainwashing your friends—”

“Starlight, no, don’t do this. Don’t dwell on your mistakes. You’re better, now. You just need to prove yourself, but you won’t be able to if you don’t believe you can.”

Starlight finally turned her head up to face her mentor and opened her eyes—still full of color, but otherwise lifeless.

“After everything that’s happened,” she said, the shine completely gone from her eyes, “I think they might be right to do this.”

Twilight felt her heart drop, but kept her head. “I wish I could convince you,” she said, her own head lowering.

“I wish nopony would treat me like a criminal anymore. I just can’t . . .” Starlight paused, turning away and swallowing hard, “. . . I just can’t watch them do it, Twilight.”

The Alicorn started to speak, but stopped, then sighed. “I know,” she said quietly. “I guess I knew all along.”

“Then why are you here?”

Twilight softly shrugged at this question before looking up at Starlight. Her eyes wandered slightly as she tried to respond.

“I guess . . . I didn’t want you to feel alone.”

Starlight’s face twitched slightly, a vague yet pained grimace on display. Twilight saw the look and felt it stab her in the chest. Starlight closed her eyes tightly and resumed her inclined head pose—her body gave a slight tremble.

Twilight then finally abandoned pretense; she stepped forward, brought her forelegs around Starlight and hugged her. For a few minutes distended by the silence around them, Twilight held her pupil closely, and the latter did not even move the entire time.

* * *

The well-dressed crowds of Canterlot clashed bizarrely with reporters, diplomats and ponies from other parts of Equestria as Twilight and her five friends navigated their way through it. Locating Canterlot Palace hadn’t been difficult, but the throngs of ponies made the journey difficult nonetheless.

“I wish Starlight could have come with us,” Rainbow Dash spoke from above (various posh ponies scoffed at her for hovering). “This could have been the best place to fight for her rights!”

“Well, ‘fight’ may be taking things a bit too far, Dashie,” Rarity replied, “but I do agree that she could easily have appealed the decision.”

Twilight nodded, but did not speak. She’d been silent for much of the ride, only really replying when addressed. She glanced over to Fluttershy and saw much the same look in her features: the look of defeat.

“I’ll do my best for him,” Twilight told her, making her turn her teal eyes her way. “I’m a princess, remember? I’ll talk to Celestia and get her to see reason.”

“I very much doubt that.”

All six mares looked up, and subsequently frowned, at the voice as they saw its owner, Thunderbolt, standing at the base of the stairs to the palace with a high chin and half-lidded eyes. He was decked out in full armor, and the arrogance could have been wiped in gobs off his face.

“Aww, not you again!” Rainbow Dash snapped, setting down immediately and sitting on the stone ground of her own volition. “What, are you gonna gloat now? Or are you just here because you think you’re so cool?”

Thunderbolt’s eyes narrowed, now out of malice instead of arrogance. “Are you the pot of the kettle?” he snapped back. “Not that you can preach to me about ego after the cowardly move you pulled to avoid signing the act. I’d charge you with obstructing royal orders if I could.”

“Captain!” Twilight barked, seizing her courage. “If you’re here just to bully my friends, then you can turn around and walk away this instant!”

“Neither of which is happening, ‘Your Highness’,” Thunderbolt smirked. “Besides, don’t embarrass yourself trying to convince me that your word means anything all of the sudden.” He pointed at the group with one gold-plated hoof. “I need to borrow her.”

The girls turned to the direction indicated, and six pairs of eyes widened.

“M-m-me?” Fluttershy squeaked, shaking on the spot.

“Yes, you, young lady,” Thunderbolt replied. “Now that the draconequus is in custody, I need someone to keep watch over it.” Twilight noticed his choice of pronoun. “I’m told you’re the one responsible for its consistent amnesty, so I’m appointing you as its guard.”

“Are you serious?!” Dash squawked, airborne again. “If you think Fluttershy will just ‘come quietly’ after you just up and jailed her friend without a trial, you’ve got another thi—OUCH!” Dash shut up after Thunderbolt’s magic pulled her back down to earth, her rump making harsh contact with the ground.

“Exaggerated claims, to be sure,” he responded sternly. “Contrary to what you lot might think, and despite my desire to do so, I did not simply take military action against enemies of the state. I approached Discord and told him that this is the way things are now, and he surrendered willingly. We only took the measures we took to make sure he remained complicit. Although, I doubt he knew those measures ahead of time, otherwise, he wouldn’t have surrendered so easily. A potential practical joke avoided.”

“He . . . gave up all by himself?” Fluttershy half-whispered.

“Indeed. And our current security measures will only be barely enough to contain him. That’s where you come in. Come with me.”

“Absolutely not!” Twilight yelled, now drawing attention from passersby. “As Princess of Equestria, I will not allow you to coerce Fluttershy into such a blatant disregard for rights—”

“By the authority vested in me by Princess Celestia herself,” Thunderbolt shouted over her, “I am ordering you to shut your mouth and give her to me!!”

Twilight felt herself instinctively recoil. She glanced at her friends, and saw them do roughly the same. Applejack and Rainbow Dash both wore defiant grimaces, Rarity looked as though she’d just been slapped, and Pinkie Pie looked on the verge of tears.

Fluttershy too looked as though sobbing were imminent, but at the same time, traces of Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s defiance could be seen, as well. Something about the look in her eyes told Twilight that she, Twilight, wasn’t the only one trying to stay staunch in the face of Thunderbolt’s blustering.

“Take me to him,” Fluttershy said, quietly but resolutely. “I want to make sure you didn’t hurt him.”

“His behavior makes it hard not to want to,” Thunderbolt quipped. “But the bottom line is, young lady, you were asked to take responsibility for this thing. It’s time you delivered on that promise. This way.” He gestured with a hoof toward a side entrance to the castle. Fluttershy took a deep breath and stepped forward, walking behind Thunderbolt as he turned and cantered toward the palace.

“Your authority doesn’t keep me from speaking my mind, Captain!” Twilight shouted after them. “This will not stand! Taking away rights doesn’t save Equestria!”

Thunderbolt stopped, making Fluttershy stumble to avoid crashing into him. Without turning his head, he answered Twilight in an acidic tone:

“Giving rights doesn’t save it, either. The good taking rights is better than the evil taking lives.”

And with that, Thunderbolt proceeded, and Fluttershy scurried along behind him, careful not to trip.

Twilight felt white-hot rage thundering through her blood, and her hooves trembled beneath her. She could feel her teeth grinding in her mouth, and felt as helpless to stop as she felt in trying to stop Moon Dancer’s dangerous agenda from keeping this foothold. Thunderbolt was just a pawn—it was her actions that really mattered.

Why . . . why are you doing this?

“Twilight,” Rarity coaxed, “darling, it’s time. Don’t worry. Fluttershy will be fine.” She then glanced at Rainbow Dash as the latter growled and massaged a particularly nasty bruise on her backside, and bit her lip. “I . . . hope so.”

* * *

Moments later, Fluttershy stood next to Thunderbolt in a slow-moving lift (controlled by a Unicorn attendant) that led downwards, to the Canterlot dungeons. The Pegasus glanced up at the Unicorn captain, gulped, and returned her gaze downwards. Thunderbolt glanced down at her without turning, then continued to stare at the door of the elevator. The silence was almost oppressive.

“Umm . . . y-you know . . .” Fluttershy mumbled, the effects of the silence reaching her, “M-Mister . . . Thunderbolt, sir . . . I think . . . well, I think maybe, if you were a bit . . . nicer sometimes, then maybe Twilight would be more willing to listen—” She saw Thunderbolt turn his head and clammed up instantly with a soft “Eep!”

“You intend to appeal to me with kindness?” Thunderbolt snapped as he slowly faced front again. “The real world doesn’t work that way, young lady. Your friends need to realize that.”

“I . . . I know you believe that . . . Mister Thunderb—”

“Captain, to you.”

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry . . . um, Captain, sir . . . b-but Twilight does do good work. She’s saved Equestria so many times—”

“Many of those times would be unnecessary if she’d done her job right to begin with,” Thunderbolt snapped. “Starlight, Chrysalis, and your friend the lizard would all be Tirek’s cell mates in Tartarus if she’d done what she should have done.”

Fluttershy glanced back up at him, her eyes and mouth wide at the thought of Starlight and Discord locked up in the pits of Equestria’s Hell. The image conjured a sudden spark of anger.

“You mean done what you would have done?”

It came out with quiet, but no less potent sass. Fluttershy gasped and sucked her lips in, her eyes wide and her face flushed at what she’d just uttered. She did everything she could to avoid Thunderbolt’s subsequent gaze, but could still feel the white-hotness of his stare.

“Don’t you be smart with me, missy,” the Captain shot back. “I have enough intel on you and all your friends to put you in these dungeons for life. Or have you forgotten the Parasprite infestation a few years back?”

If it was possible for a pony heart to burst, Fluttershy’s came close after those words. She slowly looked up to Thunderbolt’s glowering look.

“It’s my job to know everything about you,” Thunderbolt growled. “What you’ve done, what you’re capable of, and what measures are necessary to take you down.”

Fluttershy’s heart dropped, feeling as though she’d just been sentenced to prison herself. Her gaze fell back to the floor of the lift.

“We’re not criminals,” she muttered, with all the strength of her last snappy remark.

“According to Celestia, you’re not,” Thunderbolt corrected, “unfortunately.” At this point, the lift finally stopped, Thunderbolt lifted a pair of bits from inside his armor with his magic and dropped them into the lift attendant’s breast pocket. The door opened, and Thunderbolt and Fluttershy stepped out.

“But Celestia can’t protect everypony,” Thunderbolt finished as Fluttershy gazed around the Canterlot dungeons.

The greyish stone halls were well lit by ornate torches placed every five feet against the dry walls. The large stones making up the floors bore huge gaps filled by cement that was cracked in many places. The far wall, directly opposite the lift, was a series of cells, all empty save for one in the center. Instead of bars, the cell’s front barrier was made entirely out of humming yellow light. Its occupant:


Fluttershy raced up to the bizarrely constructed cell, her heart flooded with relief at seeing him unharmed, only to be stopped by two full-armored Pegasus guards crossing their wings before her.

“That’s far enough, miss,” the guard on the left said.

“You must keep your distance from high-security prisoners,” the guard on the right added. “Captain’s orders.”

Fluttershy glanced between the guards and their prisoner, and it was at this point that she realized, if Discord had not been such a unique-looking creature, she would barely have recognized him. He sat on the floor of his cell, his head hanging in shame, leaning against the wall of his cell. He looked weak, tired, not even a husk of his former lively, mischievous self. He wore a heavy, metallic brace that covered his chest and shoulders and bound his arms to his back. He slowly turned his head towards Fluttershy and opened his eyes—and even through the yellow screen separating them, she could tell they were normal, colorless eyes now.

“Fluttershy . . . .”

The yellow mare rounded on Thunderbolt as he approached with a stony, superior glare. “How could you?!” she squealed.

“Simple, really,” Thunderbolt replied as though Fluttershy had spoken calmly, “the brace is powered by a certain magical object that grants the wearer near-omnipotence. We’ve learned to channel its full power into that brace. Not only can it withstand a magical blast from a full-grown Alicorn as well as a stampede of a hundred Earth ponies, but it retards the abilities of any magical creature it holds.”

Fluttershy gaped at him the whole time, then turned back to Discord’s melancholic stare. There, centered on the chest of the brace and generating a blood-red sheen all over the slick metallic surface, was the Alicorn Amulet.

“Of course, Discord is still just barely powerful enough to override the Amulet’s magic,” Thunderbolt continued, “but that’s what the walls are for. All four walls and ceiling are made of a similar magic that negates the powers of the prisoner inside. He’d get out of them easily without the brace, though, so that’s why we’ve used both—to make sure that thing doesn’t get out, no matter what tricks he pulls.”

Fluttershy could only stare inside the glowing, humming cell, while Discord stared back with the same blank gaze of defeat that had adorned Starlight Glimmer’s face for weeks.

“You didn’t tell him you’d do this when he gave himself up, did you?!” Fluttershy yelled as she turned back to Thunderbolt.

“Of course not!” the Captain snarled. “If I had, he wouldn’t have bothered surrendering in the first place! As I said, he would only have come with us if he knew he could escape!”

“But that’s not right!” Fluttershy snapped back. “It’s dishonest and wrong!”

“You expect me to play by the rules against a god?! You’re just as delusional as Twilight!”

“But this isn’t right! Look at him, he miserable!”


By now, their shouting match was echoing between the walls of the dungeons, creating a deafening effect that even the lift attendant had to cover his ears from. The two guards in front of Discord’s cage glanced awkwardly at each other.

“He should have thought about the consequences before he acted!” Thunderbolt kept bellowing. “He should have known betraying Equestria would carry severe punishment! He should have known endangering lives for laughs would have consequences! He has the power to wipe out all of Equestria, destroy families, murder children, and he plays with that power like a toy!”

Fluttershy shook where she stood and gritted her teeth, eying Thunderbolt with all the ire her body could muster. And even with that effect, tears were still streaming down her face.

“So now, he’s getting his,” Thunderbolt said with finality. “And you’re gonna guard him. Like it or not, you’re on the side of RARA, young lady. I suggest you get used to it.”

“And what if I don’t?” Fluttershy spoke low. “What if I decide to set him free?”

“I suggest you watch what you say around the Captain of the Guard,” Thunderbolt growled. “It’s not even possible for you to free him, anyway. Those magical barriers prevent exit and entry, and those braces only react to authorized Canterlot personnel. Namely, me. So I’m the only pony who can free him.” He stepped up close to her, looking her directly in her quivering, tear-stained eyes.

“And even if you did, I’d have the entire law of the land of Equestria come down so hard on your little behind, not even Tirek would be able to see where I lock you up!”

With Fluttershy fixed to the floor, almost as immovable as the stone beneath her, and Thunderbolt towering over her, his face as hard and stony as the walls, the guards and lift attendant seemed to be witnessing the staring match of the century. Thunderbolt’s gaze was almost lethal, and Fluttershy’s eyes cascaded with tears, but still they stared, as if one blink would spell certain doom.

“This is the final word on the matter, young lady,” Thunderbolt snarled. “You ponies will learn the difference between leniency and stupidity.”

“Just as soon as you learn the difference between evil intentions and honest mistakes,” Fluttershy bit back.

“Don’t give me that. Starting the next Equestrian apocalypse is no ‘mistake’. I’m making sure actions like his don’t split up any more families.”

“Is that what happened to you?”

Thunderbolt blinked in response to Fluttershy’s question.

“You can’t pretend you’re saving anypony from someone who won’t cause harm.” She gestured to Discord as she spoke. “This isn’t safety. This is revenge. Somepony did something to you, or your family, and I know it wasn’t Discord. He never hurt anypony and meant it. This is about something else, isn’t it?”

The silence was more piercing than the echoes from earlier. Glances from the guards showed that they may have just missed the screaming more.

Thunderbolt’s face was an unreadable slate. But the slightest of twitches gave him away, and he spoke a split-second after:

“My reasons are irrelevant. I’m doing what’s best for Equestria.”

And with that, he turned and made his way back to the elevator, head held high and bushy tail swinging slowly behind him.

“You’re doing what’s best for yourself!” Fluttershy called after him. Instead of rounding on her to get the last word, as expected, Thunderbolt’s gait merely slowed on his way to the lift, but he neither turned nor spoke. He walked on—slower, but still going.

After what seemed like hours, the captain was spirited away on the lift leading to the ground floor, and Fluttershy felt the dam collapse. The tears came down in torrents, and Fluttershy’s sobs echoed throughout the dungeons as though she herself were a prisoner. She sat down on the stone floor and sobbed in front of the guards—whether she remembered they were there or cared at all was unclear to those observing.

Fluttershy sniffed and wiped her eyes with a hoof. She turned back to the cell and saw its prisoner, staring at her—or perhaps, through her—with that same glaze over his eyes. It seemed as though he could transfer feelings through eye contact; all the melancholy and defeat on his face suddenly spread all over Fluttershy, overcoming her like a shadow on an already-dark night.

“Please, let me in,” Fluttershy spoke to the guards, her voice still shaky. “Just this once. Please.”

The guards glanced at each other, each reflecting the other’s wrinkled brow and quivering mouth. They looked back at Fluttershy, unmoving, with the same faces.

“Please,” she spoke again, regaining her lost volume, “he needs me . . . and I’m all he has.”

The guards glanced at each other again, back at Fluttershy, then back to each other. One gestured toward the elevator, and the other shrugged. The first leaned toward Fluttershy with widened, imploring eyes, while the second closed his eyes and sighed. At last, the two looked at Fluttershy once more, and each took a long sidestep away from each other. At this, Fluttershy beamed.

“Thank you so much,” she said as she took a step forward. She hesitated, then kept on when the two guards didn’t move. She stopped in front of the humming yellow force-field, reached out a hoof, and carefully touched the surface. She quickly withdrew her hoof, then touched it again; she felt no pain. The wall, cool to the touch, might as well have been made of glass; the texture was the same. Feeling the weight of that shadow of defeat on her again, Fluttershy lowered her head and rested her forehead against the yellow wall. She closed her eyes to release more tears.

Unseen by her, Discord mirrored her gesture from inside, only unable to touch a paw to the wall due to the brace. His forehead touched the inside, exactly parallel to Fluttershy.

“I’m sorry . . .” she whispered to the wall, “. . . I’m so sorry.”

And from the other side of the wall, in an equally pained whisper: “Me too . . . .”

* * *

“Oh, my gosh, I am so excited!”

“I know! Today’s finally the day!”

Lyra and Bon-Bon trotted briskly through the thick crowds of Canterlot. Emotions ran high all around them for the upcoming ratification of RARA. But this was on neither of these two mares’ minds.

“After all these years, I can’t believe we’ll finally be official!” Lyra squealed, hopping as she walked.

“Oh, it’ll feel so good!” Bon-Bon grinned. “I mean, living together is one thing, but having that official document in our hooves? For once, we won’t feel like we’re sneaking around, you know? Like . . . it’ll be—”

“Validating?” Lyra finished for her. They both giggled warmly.

“Exactly . . . I mean, Ponyville has always accepted us, but it’ll mean so much more with that official Canterlot seal of approval!” Bon-Bon’s voice began to drop as the two slowed to a stop in front of Canterlot Palace. “I just hope Princess Celestia isn’t too busy today to give us her blessing.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Lyra replied, reaching her hoof out to Bon-Bon’s cheek. “You do good work for Equestria. You help keep us safe from . . . well, Bugbear attacks! You’re a hero, Bon-Bon, and Princess Celestia has every reason to do this for you—for us—in return.”

Bon-Bon merely smiled back and caressed the mint-green hoof on her face with her own. She gazed into Lyra’s eyes, ignoring the ponies bustling and babbling around them. For that moment, the rest of the world was gone, and all that existed were the two of them.

“I love you,” Bon-Bon spoke gently.

Lyra’s face seemed to illuminate. “I love you, too.” The Unicorn leaned forward and kissed the Earth pony on the nose, and the two came together for a hug. Each pressed herself close to the other, eyes closed and floating on air, for a good few minutes. Ponies dressed in their finest had to walk around them, many of them complaining at having to do so, but they didn’t care. This was all that mattered.

The two parted at last and faced each other again. The world began to come back into focus, and the ponies all around them seemed to reappear from thin air. Including one that looked familiar to Bon-Bon.

“Hey, isn’t that Starlight?”

Lyra saw Bon-Bon’s line of sight aimed over her shoulder and turned around. There, in the distance, partially obscured by the crowds, was a familiar lavender Unicorn with a ponytail and colorful spark of magic as a cutie mark. She stared up at the palace

“Hey, yeah,” Lyra replied as she looked. “What’s she doing here? Is she really going to watch them ratify that regulation act thing?”

“I don’t know. You’d think she’d be too freaked out just to leave home. I know I would be.”

“Hmmm . . . .” Lyra only contemplated this for a few seconds before giving a short gasp. “Hello? Come on, we have some important life-changing documents to sign!” She then raced up the steps of the palace, glancing back once to see if Bon-Bon would follow.

Bon-Bon pulled her gaze away from Starlight and laughed again as she gave chase. “Oh, come on, our lives won’t change that much! We’ll just have a marriage license framed on the mantle from now on!”

Chapter 9

View Online

“You have a lot of nerve showing your face to me right here and now.”

Twilight felt her filter dissolve instantly as she stared face-to-face at Moon Dancer. The two stood across from one another, a few seats apart, in a large governmental rotunda in which reporters, politicians and royals were gathering to find their seats.

Moon Dancer nodded, her face blank. “I figured you’d want nothing to do with me—”

“And you’re right,” Twilight snapped. “The only reason you’re here is because I don’t have the right to throw you out.”

Moon Dancer sighed and took a step closer, and Twilight frowned and pulled away. “Look,” the former spoke low, “I didn’t know Thunderbolt would do this. But when you think about it, he didn’t really do anything wrong. Discord gave himself up, and royal guards are looking for Changelings in the Crystal Empire. That’s like cops looking for robbers, it’s the status quo.”

“Thorax?” Twilight muttered back. The pause that followed assured her that Moon Dancer knew exactly who that was.

“They haven’t reported any findings yet, so he must be in hiding,” Moon Dancer finally replied. “If he’s smart, he left the Crystal Empire altogether.”

Twilight didn’t speak. She simply turned toward the center of the rotunda, waiting for the princesses to arrive.

“Twilight, come on,” Moon Dancer spoke up, “if you weren’t so stubborn, we could compromise here.”

Twilight aimed her eyes at the Unicorn without turning. “You’re not interested in compromise. You or Thunderbolt. All either of you want is revenge.”

Twilight heard an annoyed sigh and hoof steps approach her. “Look, I get it. You hate the guy. I’m not fond of him either. But there’s a reason he’s the Captain of the Royal Guard.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Twilight bit back.

“Because he worked to get there,” Moon Dancer spat. “He was just a normal soldier up until a few years ago. Made it to lieutenant just before the Changeling Invasion, and that’s what really spurred him on.”

“One bad event with real villains, and he wants to ship us all to Tartarus?”

“One bad event that took everything from him.”

Twilight’s ears twitched and she glanced back at Moon Dancer. She did not speak, but the slight traces on her face were all the speaking she needed.

“Everypony’s past gives them reasons for their actions,” Moon Dancer spoke low. “Yours. Thunderbolt’s. Starlight’s. Even mine.” She lowered her head, her ears dropping with it. “Especially mine . . . .”

“Doesn’t give you the right to steal ponies’ freedom,” Twilight retorted. “Thunderbolt, either.”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, Twilight, you’re smarter than this!” Moon Dancer cried. “You were Celestia’s most gifted student, you worked as a librarian, and now you’re a princess! I would have thought research was second-nature to you by now! If it was, you’d know what happened to Thunderbolt’s family!”

Twilight’s face twitched this time, giving away the chink in her mental armor. Not a lot had been spoken of the invasion that had almost destroyed Canterlot and ruined Shining Armor and Cadance’s wedding. Only Spike’s new friendship with Thorax had brought it up again, but really only as some unspeakable thing no one wanted to remember.

Twilight realized the reason for this too late.

“Now you know, right?” Moon Dancer spoke up. “Ponies lost their lives during the Changeling invasion . . . Thunderbolt . . . his daughter, she—”

Moon Dancer stopped and both ponies looked up as the doors opened and the captain himself walked imperiously through. He glanced at Twilight with his usual caustic stare, but there was something in it this time that warranted a double-take. Something like movement in a frozen pond, just beneath the icy surface.


Thunderbolt turned away, looking disgruntled, before Twilight could see it more clearly. At this point, the room was just about full, so Twilight merely took her seat and focused on the podium in the center of the room. At that point, Moon Dancer may as well have no longer existed.

Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash found Twilight and took seats around her, and soon, the bustle in the room dimmed. A few minutes later, Princess Celestia emerged from a side door and walked straight to the podium, Princess Luna accompanying her and standing at her side. As she faced the seated crowd, the bustle died down completely, and Celestia spoke into the microphone.

“Oh, don’t be upset, Ly!” Bon-Bon spoke softly as the two faced the desk of the certifications office of the palace. “Just because the Princess is busy, doesn’t mean it won’t happen!”

Lyra, ears drooped, turned toward Bon-Bon with glistening eyes. “I thought she’d be here to do this personally before her big conference,” she mumbled. “I mean, I know the whole RARA thing is important, but . . . is she not attending to this kind of stuff anymore?”

“It’s okay!” Bon-Bon laughed. “It’s not like Celestia doesn’t have ponies all over Canterlot that are qualified to handle this. We’ll get our license, you’ll see!”

“I know, I know . . . .” Lyra trailed off as she looked out a window into the streets. “I was just looking forward to this so much, and if there’s even a slight chance that something could go wrong, I . . . well, I don’t know what I’d do . . . .”

“Listen,” Bon-Bon cooed as she stepped up to her. “Nothing bad will happen. It’s just a slight setback, that’s all. Once we have it, we’ll spend the rest of the day exploring Canterlot together. We’ll go to lunch, take in a show, and when we get home, we’ll find a beautiful frame to put it in and set it up somewhere in the living room. It’ll be a confirmation that our lives and our love matter. And heck, maybe RARA will make Equestria safer for us. I trust Twilight and her friends, but this is supposed to be a good thing, right?”

“Maybe . . .” Lyra replied, her voice gaining a bit of strength before slipping into a girlish, humming giggle. “Is there anything you want to do when we get home?”

“Well, I did have some plans for us for dinner, if you’re okay with it, but if you—”

Lyra pressed a hoof to Bon-Bon’s mouth, silencing her. “That’s not what I meant,” she said in a low, alluring whisper.

Bon-Bon’s eyes widened and her face flushed, eliciting another giggle from Lyra. Bon-Bon giggled in turn, and the two started laughing uproariously after a few seconds. After their laughter died down, they eyed each other and held each other in their forelegs, foreheads pressed together and inches away from a loving kiss.

Until a bright light went off across the street.

“What’s going on over there?” Bon-Bon asked as she and Lyra unfolded themselves from each other. They both stared out the window and saw the mid-sized building across the street. On the roof of the building, a small beam of light, shaping into a column, was slowly growing.

“The incident with Ponyville Town Hall has forced us to reexamine our reactions to threats to our nation,” Princess Celestia spoke to the crowd in the rotunda two floors up. “While the former villain known as Starlight Glimmer has shown clear intentions to redeem herself and take responsibility for her actions, it is clear her attempts thus far have not been sufficient. Despite her good intentions, her tendencies to use her extremely proficient magic without thinking has caused controversy in Equestria. We hope now that the Reformed Antagonist Regulation Act will provide a safe and effective alternative to how our cities, our citizens, and our allies cooperate in assessing these situations.”

Twilight heard words being spoken, but they were all a haze. Despite being surrounded by friends, she sat in her seat as though she were the only one there. Glances at Thunderbolt provided nothing; his face was turned away from her the whole time. Glances from Moon Dancer to Twilight were avoided almost as much. Birds of a feather, Twilight thought bitterly at seeing the two sitting so close.

Don’t be like that, another voice in Twilight’s head spoke to her. Moon Dancer really is trying to do the right thing, even if it comes from a wrong reason. And Thunderbolt . . . oh, that poor stallion, who knows what he’s gone through . . . ?

It’s no excuse, Twilight’s first voice broke through. Taking away rights won’t fix what happened.

But he’s not trying to hurt anypony. Maybe he seems like he is, but he really believes he’s doing good.

He’s delusional. And a control freak.

But he’s a good guy, too.

Twilight closed her eyes and shook her head to cast off her thoughts. She turned to focusing on Celestia to keep her thoughts from returning. The conflict going on in this room was difficult enough.

“We have spent too long,” Celestia continued, “laboring under the idealistic belief that everypony can be redeemed. Maybe they can, maybe not. But after the recent attacks all over Equestria, including on our own library here in this very palace, and after the incident in Ponyville, one thing is certain: we cannot risk allowing these powerful, formerly villainous entities to operate on their own devices. I wish to thank my fellow princess and former pupil, Twilight Sparkle, for her presence today, and to her friends, and to the Crystal Empire, for supporting this initiative . . . .”

Twilight found her focus waning again, and the haze returned. She sighed, staring at Celestia as if she were merely an extension of the inanimate podium she spoke from. A heavily filtered voice coming from an extremity of a hunk of wood in the middle of the room: Twilight had strength to picture little else.

Suddenly, her attention snapped back up. Through the window directly behind Celestia, Twilight could see a beam of light that was slowly growing, in size and shape. First the size of a beach ball, the bright beam reshaped itself into a tall, thin column. The spectacle began to cause murmurs and stirrings in the listening crowd, and the bigger the light became, the louder the murmurs became.

A quick glance his way showed that Thunderbolt saw the same light—and reacted the same way.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, please,” Celestia spoke up in a steady voice, “these may be troubling times, but as Equestrians and as ponies, we must stand together for a safer future—”


The call, from Thunderbolt, came a split-second after the distant light started swiftly approaching the palace. Thunderbolt made it to the podium, shoved both princesses out of the way, and conjured an enormous deep-blue shield that covered the length of the large window.

The light shattered the window with a deafening BANG!

The powerful beam shredded through Thunderbolt’s shield and raked into him, sending him flying across the room and plowing into the far wall. The screams started a second before the blast went off, and everypony stood and either ran or flew to the door.

It all seemed to happen in a split-second; the window was in shards by the time Twilight was finally shaken from her senses by Rarity, who’d been screaming in her ear. Twilight felt the urge to move fill her like lightning in the blood, and followed Celestia and Luna’s example, taking to the air above the rotunda and filing the panicked victims out of the room safely. With such a rush of ponies to the door, the room cleared within seconds, and Twilight stayed to glimpse the last pony in the room, being levitated carefully out by Luna.

Thunderbolt, bruised, filthy and bloody, sparks from the behemoth spell still radiating from his prone body as it floated, cocooned in Princess Luna’s magic as he slowly drifted out the rotunda door.

And for the first true time, Twilight hoped against hope that he would be all right.

Her silent, yet tender moment with an imprisoned Discord had been violently interrupted by a rumble in the ground. Fluttershy rushed back up to the ground floor without even saying goodbye to the guards, and upon emerging from the elevator, gasped at the first sight she saw.

Along the side of the palace, a large smoking trench had been carved. Bits of stone, plaster and wood littered the square, ponies ran away from the building, sobbing and shaking and trying to locate their loved ones, while paramedics carted away the injured into medical wagons on their way to the hospital. Injured ponies waiting for a ride were tended to by skilled Unicorn surgeons on the scene.

Now feeling her own body shudder, Fluttershy raced to the first group of ponies she saw. “Excuse me!” she called out. “What’s going on?! Who’s attacking us?!”

“We don’t know!” the first of them, a powdery-gray Unicorn stallion in glasses, spoke in a nasal, pretentious voice. “One moment, we were listening to Her Highness give her speech on RARA, next moment the whole room exploded!”

“Thank goodness Captain Thunderbolt was there!” said the pale-yellow Unicorn mare next to him in a similar voice. “He took most of the attack for Their Graces and softened the spell! He saved us all!”

“He . . . what?” Fluttershy’s eyes widened.

“Yes, and a good thing, too!” the mare continued. “Ponies have been saying they saw that Starlight girl running away from the spot the spell came from!”


“That’s what they say!” the stallion added. “That must mean she was behind it!”

“Oh, dear . . .” the mare said to her husband as they slowly trotted away from the group. “Twilight was wrong about her . . . all of Equestria was wrong about her . . . .”

Fluttershy felt her insides plummet. “Starlight? No, that can’t be . . . she’s back in Ponyville. Did she really leave? Could she . . . no.” Fluttershy shook her head as if to banish the thought right away. She’s different now, she thought. She wouldn’t do this. Not now. Not when she has every chance to show she’s better now—

But on the day the world is deciding her fate for her? It makes sense . . . .

She shook away her thoughts again and raced to another group, this one of injured ponies. The worst of them were being carried out on stretchers, and at one of them, Fluttershy did a double-take.


Filthy, broken and covered in slash marks, Lyra Heartstrings lay on a stretcher as the paramedics rushed it away to another wagon. As more stretchers were being carried away, Fluttershy scanned them for any more familiar faces, her heart punching the inside of her ribs as she hoped none of her friends were among them.

No faces stood out amongst the injured, but one face sat off to one side as a nurse finished treating small cuts on her face and forelegs. Bon-Bon had a blank look in her eyes as the nurse finished treating her.

“Bon-Bon!” Fluttershy called out to her and raced toward the bench she sat on. “Are you all right? What happened? Are Twilight and the others okay? What about Thunderbolt? Is it true what they say, about who they think did it?”

“She . . .” Bon-Bon whispered as she felt the wood beneath her with a hoof, her voice shattered beyond recognition, “she loved benches . . . .”

“Bon-Bon, what happened?” Fluttershy repeated, softer this time.

“We were so excited to get approved for our marriage license . . . then the light went off, and . . . she pushed me down and . . . she didn’t have time to cover us both . . . .”

“Oh . . . oh, Bon-Bon, I’m so sorry . . .” Fluttershy said, her own voice shaking. “Will she be all right?”

“They say she’s critical,” Bon-Bon replied, “but she’s a priority patient, so she’ll get the best treatment at the hospital. I . . . had to stay here . . . .”

“It’s okay, Bon-Bon,” Fluttershy cooed, sitting on the bench beside her. “It’s gonna be okay. They’ll help everypony, and they’ll find whoever did this—”

“I could have stopped her, Fluttershy.”

The Pegasus blinked, taking in what she just said. “W-what?”

“I saw her. We both did. As we walked into the palace, we saw her going over to that building where the spell came from. When they brought us out, I saw her leave. Lavender fur, cowlick and everything. And she smiled.

Another feeling of vertigo struck Fluttershy as she put the picture together. The Unicorns were right after all. It was her.

“Bon-Bon,” Fluttershy spoke low, almost warningly so, “Thunderbolt will decide what happens here. If it really was Starlight, then let the RARA panel handle it.”

Bon-Bon, her blank face beginning to harden into a look of cold fury, got up from the bench. She turned to Fluttershy and aimed that coldness at her.

“Don’t bother, Fluttershy . . . I’ll get her myself.”

Chapter 10

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The light was hazy when it first appeared, and brightened quickly in little time. He closed his eyes soon after they opened, then opened them again slowly. The bright lights refocused, and the world around him gained form. The bright light came from the crude bulb on the white painted ceiling above him, and a quick glance showed the same stark-white paint job all over the small room. A table stood to his left, and to his right, a heart monitor beeped with a slow, steady rhythm. On the other side of the room was a chair, and sitting in the chair was the last pony Captain Thunderbolt ever expected to see.

“I know you won’t believe this,” she said, her voice years older than he remembered and sounding withered and throaty by comparison, “but I was worried about you.”

“W- . . . Wind Chime?”

The pink Pegasus mare got up from her seat and limped slowly to his bedside, a light chuckle in her throat.“I was kinda hoping to go off on you for forgetting your ex-wife’s name. Bummer . . . .”She stopped next to him and ran a hoof over his face.“Are you all right?”

Thunderbolt tried to shift around in bed, not to move, but to assess that question.“Few spine fractures,” he muttered, “couple of broken ribs, a burn or two . . . pretty sure I have a concussion . . . other than that, I guess I’m fine.”

“I’m not surprised,” Wind Chime replied, her eyes sweeping his torn up, bandaged body.“I heard the spell carved through the entire palace. You weren’t even the only one to get hurt.”

“Well, shoot,” Thunderbolt grumbled, “there goes the notion of protecting everypony.”He paused as he turned his head, giving his next words more gravity: “Some royal guard I am, right?”

“Don’t do that,” Wind Chime said, frowning.“Not now.”

“You were thinking it, Windy. I know you were.”

“Well, you should have seen it coming,” she snapped back.“You and I both know you’re using what happened as an excuse to take away freedoms.”

“Oh, for cripes’ sake, you too?” Thunderbolt’s tone went up despite his hoarse voice.“I’m trying to make sure what happened to Sunbeam never happens again—”

“Don’t, Bolty! Don’t bring her name into this. I should think it would be enough to keep you from going after other ponies’ children. Princess Flurry Heart almost destroyed the Crystal Empire. Were you gonna register her, too?”

Thunderbolt made a noise that was a cross between a groan and a scoff.“I lost my daughter, so I’m gonna take away someone else’s? What kind of monster do you think I am?”

“Enough of one to force someone to do this!”

“Anypony who goes out of their way to attack Canterlot was always a criminal.”

“Bolty, open your eyes!” Wind Chime had almost reached the top of her voice, and was quieter from that point on.“The world isn’t split between good ponies and bad. Everypony makes mistakes.”

“Mistakes get ponies killed, Windy.”Thunderbolt’s voice also wound down, and his next words made it break slightly.

“Mine did . . . .”

He released a deep sigh and closed his eyes. He struggled to move his forelimbs, but both wore heavy casts. He leaned back on his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut tighter as a single tear trickled down his face. His subsequent breaths were quicker and harsher as he tried to hide them.

Wind Chime climbed into the bed and sat next to him, stroking his singed mane.“Don’t do this again, Bolty,” she soothed.“Don’t do this to yourself. This isn’t who you used to be. The pony who thought solving conflict with diplomacy and reason? What happened to him?”

“Him?” Thunderbolt scoffed again through his tears.“That altruistic fool died in the invasion . . . along with his daughter . . . .”

“Thunderbolt, no. Stop blaming yourself. I never did. I got out with a spine injury that gave me a limp for the rest of my life, and I still don’t blame you. And what happened to Sunbeam wasn’t your fault, either. You have to accept that—”

“I should have known Changelings don’t listen to reason. I tried reasoning with those monsters, and they killed her. I could have destroyed the lot of them if I wanted to, but I didn’t. And they were able to destroy Canterlot and take her away from me. Take everything away from me . . . .”More tears fell, and his unsteady breathing became harder to cover up.

“You know that’s not true,” Wind Chime spoke up over his sobs.“You didn’t lose me.”

“You left me, remember? Who wants to be with a stallion who couldn’t even save his own daughter?”

“I left you because we’d just lost our only daughter! We had nothing left between us. I told you then and I’m telling you now. It wasn’t because of you.”

Thunderbolt didn’t answer for a while; his sobs died down and his breaths slowed at last. Wind Chime’s hoof continued caressing his mane.

“Diplomacy doesn’t change ponies,” Thunderbolt’s voice was back to being steady and cold.“Reason doesn’t save lives. And villains never change, no matter how much they want to.”

Wind Chime’s hoof stopped moving, and after a pause, she slipped off the side of the bed. She looked at Thunderbolt with the same cold glare.“But you don’t have the right to make sure they can’t try,” she said with a similar coldness in her tone.

Thunderbolt glanced at her, his stone face returning to its usual resolute state.“If you’re not going to help me, then get me a nurse. I need to send a message.”

“A message?” Wind Chime asked.“To whom?”

“To a Unicorn girl named Moon Dancer,” Thunderbolt replied sternly. “She started this campaign. And she hates that little Starlight criminal as much as I do.”

Wind Chime sighed.“Why not just let one of the princesses handle this whole RARA thing?”

“Celestia’s not fit for the job,” said Thunderbolt without flinching, “and Luna’s been a criminal before. If I had a reason to think she’d relapse, I’d keep an eye on her too, but the whole Tantabus incident proves she’s as self-castigating as I . . . .”He cleared his throat and resumed, “Besides, Moon Dancer is the one pony I trust to handle this.”

Wind Chime’s eyes widened a bit.“A young mare is the only pony you trust?”She gave her own scoff.“Your interest sounds a bit . . . more than professional.”

Thunderbolt’s eyes narrowed.“Not at all what I meant.”

“Okay, so just to recap: nineteen ponies are in critical condition after the incident at the palace. Three Earth ponies, five Pegasi, and eleven Unicorns, including Captain Thunderbolt. Another fifty-seven were injured, but not as badly. The attacker was clearly a Unicorn, and used a highly advanced Light Destruction spell, so it was clearly a high-grade spellcaster, so we need to look at all possible education facilities that teach and allow usage of the spell. That will include the Royal Guard and Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns—ooh, I hope Princess Celestia understands. The royal guards had traces of the spell analyzed and concluded that the spell was of pony origin, so we can rule out magical creatures or Changelings—thank goodness, I don’t know how Spike would take it if Thorax were somehow involved. The attacker was a Unicorn, a high-level magic user, and was able to get into Canterlot easily without attracting attention. That narrows it down at least a little bit. I’ll have to make a list of all possible Unicorn citizens from every town that visited Canterlot today, and cross-reference them with all the places that instruct high-level magic . . . .”

Twilight had gone on like this from the moment they’d got on the train home to now, when they exited and set hoof in Ponyville again. The whole train was abuzz with talk of the attack, so her friends understood. It didn’t stop Rainbow Dash from groaning every time she started a new sentence or Rarity from putting on a royal blue lace sleep mask and pretending to nap for the whole trip. Pinkie Pie didn’t speak the whole time, and Applejack simply paced back and forth. Somehow, everyone was coping.

Except for Fluttershy.

Her heartbreak over Discord’s incarceration notwithstanding, she’d been waging war with herself for hours over whether Twilight should know what the two posh ponies in Canterlot told her, and what Bon-Bon had told her shortly after. The eyewitness accounts seemed impossible to misplace—they knew exactly who was behind this, and had a pretty good idea why. Fluttershy had tried to justify that it couldn’t have been her, but she fit Twilight’s own description perfectly: a powerful Unicorn who could get in and out of Canterlot without attracting attention.

She has to know, she’d thought as they boarded the train back home.

No, you don’t know it was her, she’d rebutted as the train started moving.

They know, though.

They made a mistake.

They couldn’t have. They saw her. They know who she is.

Starlight wouldn’t do this. Whoever did must just look like her, that’s all.

They described her perfectly. The only thing that could look that much like her is a Changeling, and they just said it couldn’t have been a Changeling.

Then they made a mistake.

Maybe they didn’t make a mistake? Maybe Twilight did . . . ?

This mental exchange was roughly the same every few minutes until the train stopped at Ponyville. She stole frequent glances at Twilight as she babbled on about the details of the attack, and thankfully, the latter seemed not to notice. Now, as the six ambled back to Twilight’s palace, Fluttershy arrived at a firm conclusion.

Bon-Bon clearly said she would take the law into her own hooves. Twilight needs to know that. Even if it means . . . .

“Umm, Twilight?”

“I’ll write to the royal guard every day to keep up with the inves—oh!” Twilight snapped herself out of her panicked analysis and looked at her.“What’s up, Fluttershy?”

“I . . . well, I’ve been thinking, and I think you ought to know that . . . well . . . see, I don’t know if I believe it, but . . . before we left . . . .”

“Oh, come on, Fluttershy! Spit it out!” Rainbow Dash snapped from above them.“Anypony’s voice is better than Twilight’s after this!!”

“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity cried.“What in heavens has gotten into you?!”

Dash stared back at Rarity, eyes wide in shock as though she’d been yelled at for daydreaming. She glanced at Fluttershy, then set down with a sigh.“Sorry about that,” she muttered, “I guess I’m still on edge after what happened at the palace.”

“I understand,” Fluttershy replied, patting her on the shoulder, “but this really is important. I just . . . don’t know how to say it . . . .”

“Fluttershy, after the crazy few weeks we’ve all had, nothin’ll surprise us right now,” Applejack spoke up as they finally approached the door and Twilight slowly pushed it open.“I mean, you told us how you feel about Discord bein’ in jail, so you got the right to be upset, too.”

“It’s not just about being upset. It’s about . . . well . . . Starlight.”

“What about Starlight?” Rarity asked. Twilight broke from the group and went upstairs as the rest of them took a seat at the cutie map, and Fluttershy instantly felt at ease; sitting down seemed to make things at least a bit easier.

“Well . . . back in Canterlot . . . with the Act getting so much attention . . . and they already took Discord, so anypony else could go after our friends if they really felt threatened by them . . . anypony at all, really—”

“Come on, Fluttershy!” Dash replied from above them as she set down into her seat.“Have you seen this place? This palace could repel the whole royal guard if it came down to it! They can’t just take Starlight whenever they want! She’s fine. She’s totally safe!”

“She’s not here.”

Twilight had returned with a furrowed brow and a distressed gleam in her eye. The others looked at her, mercifully taking away attention from Fluttershy.

“Whattaya mean, she ain’t here?” Applejack replied.“Wasn’t she holed up in her room for days?”

“Weeks,” Twilight corrected.“This doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t she be in her room? Why now?”

“Now, let’s not panic,” said Rarity, “I’m sure she’s still here. It is a big palace, after all.”

Applejack nodded.“Good point. Let’s split up, y’all. If she’s still in here, we’ll find her quicker that way.”

And with that, six ponies left the room, each for a different destination. Rainbow Dash sped out first, heading to the upper levels and bashing open every door she saw. Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack ran through hallway after hallway, not finding anypony but each other and losing their way just as often. Pinkie Pie, still in a muted, limp state, ambled out with no trace of the usual spring in her step.

Fluttershy searched as many rooms as she could find on the ground floor, but the longer the search went on, the more times somepony called out Starlight’s name, the more it occurred to her that they would not find her in the palace—or in Ponyville at all.

And you know why, don’t you?


You know the only reason she’d have to leave.

Stop it.

She’s guilty. She has to be.

No, she’s not!

The mental battle resumed in her head, taking up more effort than the search, so that by the time Rainbow Dash had gone through four floors and come up with nothing, Fluttershy was barely finished with half of the ground floor.

The six reunited in Starlight’s room, almost as if a collective subconscious thought urged them to catch Starlight there on their way back. Dash and Twilight arrived first, and Fluttershy was even slower than Pinkie Pie in returning to the group.

“Nothing in the upper floors,” Rainbow Dash said, shrugging.

“We checked the second floor,” Rarity spoke and nodded toward Applejack.“Utterly devoid.”

“Basement’s empty . . .” Pinkie mumbled.

“This just doesn’t make sense!” Twilight shrieked again, now pacing the room.“Why would Starlight leave now? Why today? She knew how bad this would look! It’s obvious she knew what would happen today! The vote! The Act! She knew if she left today, it would make her look guilty! So why leave now?!”

“Twilight,” Fluttershy spoke up, “maybe she left because she—”

“What is all that racket?!”

All six mares jumped at the sound of a new voice, and turned toward its source—a bunched-up sheet on Starlight’s bed had suddenly reared up and started yelling.

“Can’t a great and powerful sorceress get any sleep around here?!”

There was a brief pause, and Twilight groaned and rolled her eyes. She ignited her horn, and the sheet was swept off the bed, revealing a groggy, baggy-eyed blue Unicorn with a dire case of bed mane.

“Trixie, what are you doing in here?” Twilight snapped.“This is Starlight’s room.”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie sleeps wherever she desires!” Trixie snapped back with a glowering look. The look soon softened as reality set in inside her mind.“Hmm . . . come to think of it, the Great and Powerful Trixie doesn’t quite recall ever falling asleep . . . .”

“Well, that’s just dumb!” Dash spat, setting down.“How could you not remember falling asleep?”

“Silence, plebian!” Trixie barked.“Even Trixie has been known to display common absent-mindedness on the rarest of occasions!”She then put a pensive hoof to her mouth.“Hmm . . . I think the last thing I remember was listening to the radio with Starlight. We were staying up to date on the RARA situation in Canterlot. I don’t think they’d even started the vote yet. Then everything just went black . . . .”

Twilight glanced at her friends, and they returned it to her and to each other. Fluttershy felt her heart speed up when she saw the skeptical looks in their eyes—each if them had it, in varying degrees of duration.

Fluttershy had to consciously restrain a sigh when her thoughts were spoken for her, by Rarity:

“You . . . don’t suppose she—”

“Stop,” Twilight said, staring daggers at her.“I know what this looks like, but it can’t be true.”

“Well, ya gotta admit, sugarcube, it does look suspicious—”

“I don’t care how suspicious it looks, Applejack! Starlight is not that pony anymore! She would never even think about doing something like this! Not after she learned her lesson after the time travel incident!”

“Darling, there’s no need to be defensive. We know how it looks, but surely you don’t think we’d believe—”

“It was the first thing you thought, and you know it, Rarity! Starlight is on our side! She’s not evil anymore! She would never, ever attack the palace!”

“Twilight, she did!”

Twilight, Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and even Trixie turned toward Fluttershy with wide eyes. The resulting silence made Fluttershy squirm in place.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Twilight almost whispered it, as if in defeat.“My own friends . . . .”

“Twilight, I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” Fluttershy continued, pushing away the horror of the attention.“Some ponies in Canterlot saw who attacked the palace. They described Starlight perfectly, and Bon-Bon even said she’d go after her personally. If that’s true, Starlight will be in danger, whether she did it or not!”

There was another, even longer silence, and Fluttershy nearly collapsed in relief when more eyes swapped glances (and strayed away from her). Even Pinkie Pie seemed to be perking up beyond her seemingly impermeable depression, if only to be just as puzzled and worried as her friends.

“I think you all know what we have to do,” Twilight said, finally breaking the silence.

“Darling!” Rarity yelped.“You don’t mean . . . you’re not seriously suggesting that we—”

“I’m not suggesting it, Rarity,” Twilight bit back.“We’re going after her. We have to.”

“Well, I ain’t sure if ya recall,” Applejack said with a critical gaze, “but Canterlot passed that Act as soon as we left. They ain’t gonna let ya do this without an okay from the Princesses and their newfangled panel.”

“And that could take days!” Dash interjected, taking to the air.“We gotta find her, like, yesterday!”

“Which means going over their heads,” Rarity sighed.

“What did you think I was gonna do, ask permission?” Twilight growled.

“Twilight, no!” Fluttershy cried.“If you don’t talk to them first, you could be in a lot of trouble!”

“I have no time to play by Moon Dancer and Thunderbolt’s rules, Fluttershy! Starlight needs help, now! They won’t let her plead her case to clear her name, so it’s up to me!”

“We’re coming, too!” Rainbow Dash announced.“We’re friends, and friends stick together, right?”


Dash’s jaw hung open at Twilight’s response.

“Not this time,” she continued.“If those Canterlot nobles really intend to come down on me for going around their joke of an act, it’s best that only one of us get involved. The fewer of us breaking their rules, the better.”

“But we wanna help!” Pinkie squealed, her voice strongly above a whisper for the first time since leaving Canterlot. Even Trixie did a double-take.

“Now, now, Pinkie, I think Twilight may be right this time,” Rarity replied.“Besides, that Act was put in place for a reason. It was to stop us making foolish mistakes.”The last two words came out through slightly gritted teeth as Rarity’s eyes darted toward Twilight.

Applejack nodded.“I agree. Much as I like Starlight and wanna help her, it just ain’t our place right now.”She looked Twilight dead in the eye.“It shouldn’t be our place for any of us.”

“I don’t care,” Twilight snapped.“I was taught to learn friendship, and because of that, Equestria was saved more than once. I made a friend of Starlight instead of stopping her from ever being more than what she was, and I made the right decision. Just as I am now.”And with that, Twilight turned around and walked stoically out the door.

“Twilight! Let me come, too!”

Twilight turned to see Trixie walk up to her, her eyes narrow and her features stony.

Twilight shook her head.“I’m sorry, Trixie, but I can’t let you. This might be dangerous, even without the threat of the panel. I can’t let anypony else risk their freedom—”

“You assume this was a request rather than a command,” Trixie retorted.“The Great and Powerful Trixie regularly flirts with danger!”

“Like that Ursa Major you fought?” Applejack replied with a smirk. Trixie merely turned long enough to shoot her a dirty look before addressing Twilight again.

“In any case, I know Starlight. We’ve become close, remember? If anypony has a chance of helping her see reason, it’s me. You’d be crazy not to bring me with you.”

Twilight sighed, glanced at the floor, then to each of her friends before returning to the floor.“I just don’t know. We may not see eye-to-eye, but that doesn’t mean I want you to take unnecessary risks.”

“You said it yourself, Princess,” Trixie drawled, “this is entirely necessary. Besides,” her tone softened, as well as her face, “they expect criminal behavior from me. According to them, I have a record. You, not so much. I can take a risk because I have less to lose, and if we get caught, I can be your alibi. I can simply tell them I overpowered you and forced you to help me look for Starlight.”She leaned in close with an insinuating wideness in her eyes.“You know, my best friend that I’d do anything and everything to make sure is safe?”

Twilight stared into Trixie’s stony gaze, and seemed to realize as the rest of them did that she had a point. Another sigh escaped her lips, her eyes narrowed, and she spoke low and steadily:

“We’ll have to move quickly. If she left Ponyville, we’ll have to start at the train station.”She turned to each of her friends.“Stay in town, keep an eye on things. If something happens or if Starlight comes home, have Spike send me a letter. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“You got it, Twilight,” Applejack replied, tipping her hat. The rest of the group nodded, and Rainbow Dash grumbled to herself. Fluttershy felt a collapsing sense of relief tempered with a foreboding dread that threatened to knock her to the ground. Now, there was only to wait.

Even Fluttershy couldn’t stand feeling this helpless.

Twilight turned and left the bedroom, and Trixie followed, lightning her horn and sweeping her wizard’s hat and cape from a corner of the room first.“You know, Princess,” Trixie smirked on their way out, “False alibi notwithstanding, I figured you’d be too proud to admit you were a hostage of the Great and Powerful Trixie.”

“That’s because my ego isn’t as fragile as yours,” Twilight replied simply. Trixie merely harrumphed in reply.