The Conquering of Love

by Littlecolt

First published

Twilight finds she and her friends are trapped in their own minds and must escape.

Twilight Sparkle finds herself inside a cocoon in the throne room of Canterlot Palace along with her friends and many other ponies. She is thrust into a dream world by Chrysalis who is feeding on the feelings of love and friendship she and the others will experience in their alternate realities. In her dream, she finds Princess Celestia, who has been able to cross between dream worlds. Twilight and Celestia must now travel between dreams in order to awaken their friends and stop Chrysalis. However, some dreams are not as happy as they expected, and some secrets held in the subconscious may be better left unawoken.

Additional character tags: OC's, Princess Cadence, Shining Armor, Princess Luna, Nightmare Moon, Trixie, Zecora, Diamond Tiara, Snips, Flitter, Cloudchaser, Roseluck, Big Macintosh

Inspired by the fan video of an alternative ending of season 2. Click here to watch it!

Featured on Equestria Daily 9/14/2012.

Now a comic illustrated by Zoarvek!

"Sex" tag added on 10/12/2014 due to sexual themes here and there. It's not the focus of the story, but it's in there. For a more detailed explanation of why the tag was finally added, see the author's note on "Corruption Ch 10"

Old cover art here:
Full size:

Chapter 0 - The Dawn of Nightmares

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The Conquering of Love

By Littlecolt

Chapter Zero - The Dawn of Nightmares

This day has been just perfect,

The kind of day of which I dreamed since I was small.

All their love I’ll soon devour,

It is now the grandest hour!

Who says a girl can’t really have it all?


Darkness was all Princess Cadence could see around her. Darkness with a feeling of weightlessness.

As she blinked her eyes and looked around, trying to regain her bearings, she realized she had just awoken from a dream. In her dream, her beloved Shining Armor, after their perfect marriage, had taken her to their room in the castle in canterlot. She closed her eyes, remembering the sweet dream.

“Love you too, B.B.B.F.F.” Twilight said to her brother as she pulled him into an embrace.

Cadence glanced out of the carriage at her husband hugging his little sister and smiled. Those two were so close, even more now that Twilight had proven that she was there for him, even against impossible odds… There for her, too.

Changelings had usurped her wedding, tried to conquer the nation, and impersonated her in order to get close to Shining Armor, her love, whose shield spell protected Canterlot from the threat that had been made against it.

Cadence smiled. It’s true… I've married into an amazing family. More wonderful than being royalty, more magical than magic itself. So full of love and wisdom, she thought. I’d never want it any other way. I can cast magic that spreads love, helps ponies understand one another and come together, and yet I could never compete with the love between those two. Not to mention the love between Shining Armor and myself.

She grinned at her husband as he climbed into the wagon and they began to advance forward, the streamers and cans hanging off the back of the wagon clanking as they went.

He smiled back at her. “That was a truly amazing wedding day.”

She grinned back at him, winking seductively. “Just wait until the wedding night,” she said teasingly. Shining Armor blushed and smiled widely. He nodded his head with excitement as he smiled back.

The carriage made the rounds of the streets of Canterlot, ponies waving and smiling at them as they passed by. The two of them waved out the windows for some of the trip, but became entangled within the carriage eventually. The blinds of the windows pulled closed, shielding their passion from the prying eyes of the city.

After a short time, the carriage pulled back up to the castle, coming to a halt. The driver cleared his throat and shouted back to the two lovers, who had remained conspicuously silent for the last ten minutes. “It’s time to go, now. Your chambers at the castle await.”

It took only those words, and the two of them bolted from the carriage, practically racing up the stairs to their private skylight suite at the top of a tower in the castle.

After that, everything was a blur. The feeling of warmth, the touch of lips on lips, desire and amazing shocks up Cadence’s spine. She breathed out heavily as she thought about it. She dwelled on the moments she could remember, eventually noticing something that bothered her.

“Love…” she said aloud. “There's no love in these memories... why is that?” She turned her head to the side, opened her eyes, and saw a cold stone wall to her left.

Her mind suddenly noticed her forelegs. She could feel a cutting, cold sensation from above her hooves. She blinked her eyes and realized she was not just feeling weightless, but was suspended somehow in midair. She shook her head, trying once again to get her bearings.

As she tried, a sound and light caught her eye from the left side of her field of vision. A door opened and slammed against the wall as it swung. A dark figure approached her. She squinted her eyes, trying to gain focus on who was coming. Her vision was so blurry, she was having trouble.

“Shining...” she said, her mouth straining to push the words out. Her tongue felt dry and coarse against the roof of her mouth.

“Not quite…” a frighteningly familiar voice cooed out at her, sultry and sweet.

A hoof pressed up against Cadence’s chin, raising her field of vision upward, bringing into view the face of the Changeling Queen.

“But I can be,” Chrysalis finished, a sinister grin spread across her face. Her entire form began to warp into the shape of Shining Armor, his face perfectly replicated. The queen giggled with glee as Cadence, unable to accept what she was seeing, pulled her face away in horror.

"Something wrong, sweetie?" Chrysalis said, her voice perfectly imitating Shining Armor's. She pressed her nose against Cadence's and playfully flicked her tongue against her lips.

Cadence felt the memories she’d just experienced being ripped from her mind, her heart being crushed by the reality of her situation. She felt her stomach bottom out as she lost all will to go on.

Hanging in the air and chained to a wall, weak and powerless, she stared up into the face of her love, knowing that it was the one who stole him away from her and destroyed her dream of a perfect wedding- A perfect life, a happily ever after.

This… this can’t be… No!

But her wishes were not granted. The truth was too powerful, unable to be resisted by wishes alone.

Shining Armor, Cadence thought, clenching her eyes shut, trying to will her true love to her. Where are you? Where am I? What's going on? She tried as hard as she could manage to bring back her sweet dream.

It would not return.

The darkness washed over her once again, and she lost consciousness, drifting from the waking nightmare into the depths of dispair.

A happy day, a victory over evil... Now just a fleeting hope. A sweet dream.

Wake up, my friends.

Wake up or sleep forever.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 1 - Worst Case Scenario

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The Conquering of Love

By Littlecolt

My sincerest thanks to everyone who helped make this story possible.
adecoy95 - For his amazing video that inspired this all.
Atnezau - For the cocoon vector in the video.
ZuTheSkunk - For the Chrysalis face that also appeared in adecoy95’s video.
Zoarvek - For being more inspirational than he knows, and for being a big fan!

And to everyone who volunteered to help edit this.
FreeqAxel - who put forth an amazing amount of effort in helping to polish this story's first book.
NightmareMoon - for proofreading.
Lord Frigus - for proofreading.
Anubis3k - who stuck it out and put up with my slow updates.
Thardoc - Came out of the blue, and has been a big help!
TastelessAvocado - for proofreading.
Servant Phoenix - What would I do without you?
Dogman15 - For his honest critique and help with proofreading.

And special thanks to
Friend of Bronies - For always being so enthusiastic.
Thewookie1 - For analyzing my story and coming up with theories. You make me feel like I'm writing something worthwhile!

And to all my followers and commenters, you're the heart that keeps the blood pumping through this story. Celestia knows I might have given up a couple of times if not for you all.

Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter One - Worst Case Scenario


Darkness was all Twilight Sparkle could see. This green-tinted darkness accompanied a sense of being unable to breathe. She found herself hanging upside-down. She struggled to free herself from whatever was holding her in place, but found that she could barely move. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out dim lights in the distance. Then, a streak of lightning illuminated her surroundings for a split second, and she took in the horror of the situation she was in.

As clearly as day, she saw the throne room in Canterlot Palace. Her friends, and countless other ponies, all hung from the ceiling, trapped inside cocoons. All of them were emanating some sort of green stream of energy. And there, sitting upon the throne, was the detestable changeling who had impersonated her friend, Cadence, and fooled her brother and the entire kingdom – Chrysalis! The streams of green were pouring into her, and her eyes were glowing a bright green.

But wait, Twilight thought, this doesn’t make sense. Chrysalis was defeated by Cadence and Shining Armor’s love! She couldn’t possibly be here!

Twilight racked her brain, thinking back to the events of the previous day. She and the others had bolted from the castle's main ballroom to get the Elements of Harmony, and had to face an army of changeling drones on the way. When they arrived at the Chamber of the Elements, they found even more drones waiting for them, and then...

And then... we were captured and brought back to the ballroom, where Cadence and Shining Armor eventually sent Chrysalis flying–right? Twilight thought.

As she searched her memories, things started to unravel. The wedding party, the wedding, Shining Armor getting his powers back, the escort back from the Chamber to the ballroom, even arriving at the Chamber itself. Everything started to burn away. The memories developed a strange glow, and a transparency, as if they were just an illusion.

With this realization, Twilight's thoughts began to race. What are the real memories then? What really happened yesterday?

As she thought that, her horn began to glow, and the false memories were ripped from her mind, replaced by images of what led to this terrible predicament. With a flash, she remembered everything.

“Rarity!” Twilight and the others yelled as they raced from the ballroom. They had to go as fast as they could to get the Elements of Harmony and defeat Chrysalis. As they raced along the street, the hordes of drones outside the force field broke through, shattering the barrier that kept them at bay. Like a swarm of insects, they descended. A black cloud, endless numbers of their kind poured into Canterlot, causing the ponies to stop in their tracks.

“We’ll have ta fight ‘em!” yelled Applejack. Everyone nodded in agreement. But how could they possibly win against such a mass of enemies? Before any of them had a chance to even collect their thoughts, the swarm advanced, pinning the ponies to the ground, stabbing their black, crooked horns into them.

Twilight snapped back to reality, gasping for breath, but unable to breathe. The cocoon was filled with a viscous fluid that somehow kept her alive despite the lack of air.

We were beaten! And impaled! How am I still alive? she wondered, and glanced around in a panic.

She could make out some of her friends in the pods around her. Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Spike were to her immediate sides, packed in pretty tightly. Their eyes were wide open and glowing green, streams of energy being leeched out.

And then, there was another flash of lightning, and Twilight found a set of eyes staring directly into her own. Chrysalis smiled and waved at her.

“So, you’re awake, are you? I thought you might be a problem. A magical prodigy, indeed, to break free from my-- ehm-- conditioning,” she said with a grin spanning from ear to ear on her face. Twilight froze and stared back, her eyes trembling with fear.

“Wondering how you’re still alive? There’s no harm in telling you, believe me. My minions pack quite a punch when they sting,” said the changeling. “You were paralyzed within seconds of receiving their horns. After that, it was a simple task. Without anyone able to stand up to me, Canterlot fell.” She paced around the room, inspecting the other cocoons.

“With Canterlot in my control, I can disseminate information to the rest of Equestria as I please, posing as Princess Celestia. Even as we speak, my army of drones has infiltrated Cloudsdale, Fillydelphia, and yes, even your precious Ponyville. Posing as other ponies, of course. The time will soon be right to strike, and then all of Equestria will bow before me.”

Why is she doing this, though? Twilight wondered.

Chrysalis walked back over to Twilight and laughed, looking directly into her eyes.

“Revenge. I know you must be wondering what I get out of this. Really, it’s revenge, but all of this power... a girl could really get used to this,” she sneered. She struck Twilight’s cocoon, sending it swinging back and forth.

“If you think there’s any hope left for the ponies of Equestria, you can think again! Now I think it’s high time you went back to sleep, dear Twilight Sparkle! I need all the power I can get, and so you need to go back to your dream world!”

Dream world? thought Twilight. What’s she talking about?

“Without love, I can not survive. Tragic, don’t you think?” Chrysalis snarled with disgust. “No one could ever love me like this! It’s like the world is playing a big joke on me! To live and gain power, I must feed upon love, and yet in my true form, I could never have any!”

Twilight’s eyes closed as she thought about this. What a terrible fate. If only she had met Chrysalis sooner, maybe she could have become her friend. Maybe she could have taught her about friendship and love, just like she had been learning, herself. She looked back at Chrysalis, her eyes glowing with compassion, even for this contemptible creature that stood before her.

“Do you pity me, Twilight Sparkle?” spat Chrysalis. “Well you can save it! I don’t want your pity, and I don’t want your understanding! I only need you to understand one thing, and that is this: you will go back into your dream world, just like all of your pathetic little friends here. Within that world, you will experience the happiness you once knew. You’ll join your friends, who are creating an endless supply of love for me to feast upon!”

With that, Chrysalis fired a beam of energy into Twilight’s cocoon. Twilight tried to fight back, but didn’t have the strength to resist the spell. She felt her mind drifting off to sleep as the spell’s energy washed over her like a surging wave.

“You’re just food!” Chrysalis yelled as Twilight’s eyes closed, and she fell into a stream of unconsciousness.

Twilight awoke in her bed in Ponyville. She blinked groggily, rolled over, and glanced at Spike’s bed. He was fast asleep, but she had so much on her mind she couldn’t sleep any longer. She hopped up out of bed and walked downstairs.

She saw the sun rising as she glanced out the window, still way too early for most of the townsponies to be out and about.

“I can’t believe my big brother is married... Ugh, I need to clear my head. I guess now’s as good a time as any to hit the books,” she said, and walked over to one of her many bookshelves. She began to pull books off the shelf and stack them on the ground. As she slid a rather large tome from the shelf, a small yellow-colored gemstone fell to the ground. She levitated it with her magic and glanced at it curiously.

I don’t remember this. Maybe Rarity left it here. It seems like the kind of thing she’d use for one of her designs, she thought, spinning the gem in the air.

“It’s certainly not Spike’s,” she decided aloud. “He would have eaten it by now, knowing him. I’ll just take this to Rarity later on.”

“What about Rarity?” yelled Spike from upstairs.

“Never mind,” answered Twilight. “Go back to sleep, lover-boy, she’ll still be there when you wake up.”

Only a snore came in response. Twilight smiled. “He’s got such a one-track mind, but I guess that’s one of his endearing qualities,” she laughed.

With that laugh, she felt a twinge of pain in her chest. She cringed slightly, but it quickly passed.

“What was that?” she wondered, but shrugged and decided it was nothing to worry about.

Probably just the effects of not having gotten enough sleep, she thought. However, her tummy grumbled next, and she definitely knew what that meant.

“As Pinkie Sense would dictate, that means I’m hungry. I guess I should probably eat something. I’ll take this gemstone to Rarity afterward,” she said to herself as she slipped a set of saddlebags over her midsection and deposited the gem within. With that, she headed out the door and made her way towards downtown Ponyville. She hummed a tune as she walked along.

“Maybe I do have some sort of Pinkie Sense. I feel like something good is going to happen today!” she thought to herself.

Twilight trotted onward, unaware of the stream of green energy flowing from her body and into the sky.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 2 - Golden Gleam

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Two - Golden Gleam

Twilight trotted into town and, as she had expected, not too many ponies were up and about yet this early in the morning. As she walked down the street, she greeted the ponies she did pass with a wave. Everyone seemed glad to see her, and greeted her back cheerfully. Twilight smiled, and thought how glad she was to live in this town, despite her reservations when she had first arrived with Spike. That seemed like ages ago, now.

Looking around, Twilight was again filled with the strange feeling that something good was going to happen today. The sun was beaming through the trees, the flowers were in bloom, and the grass almost seemed a more cheerful shade of green. Everything about this day just seemed perfect.

As she passed by Sugarcube Corner, Twilight caught the scent of fresh pastries being baked, and her tummy rumbled again.

Well, I think that decides it, she thought. Smells like the Cakes are up and getting ready for the day ahead! I might as well be one of their first customers.

“Knock knock!” called Twilight, as she entered the bakery. She was greeted by Mrs. Cake, who was busy at a counter folding dough onto itself and then rolling it thin.

“Twilight! So good to see you! You’re up awfully early,” said Mrs. Cake with a smile.

“Well, to be honest, I couldn’t sleep any longer. I just needed to get out early and walk around, you know?” Twilight said, approaching the case of pastries at the front counter. Donuts, cream puffs, croissants, and many other wonderful baked goods were already neatly arranged on trays. Twilight could almost taste them as she peered in.

“You know, I think everyone around here had a little bit of insomnia, Twilight. Pinkie Pie was up all night in her room upstairs. I’m not sure what she was doing, but you might want to go check on her,” Mrs. Cake said as she walked over to the front counter and washed her hooves.

“Well, I think I will. You can never tell with Pinkie Pie,” said Twilight as she glanced towards the stairs that led up to Pinkie Pie’s room above the bakery.

“What will you be having? I’ll get it all ready for you while you’re up there,” said Mrs. Cake.

“Hmmm...” pondered Twilight. Her eyes finally stopped at a certain familiarly shaped pastry. “I’ll have one of these cream horns. Make that two, I’ll bring the other home for Spike.”

“All right, you go check on Pinkie, and I’ll have them ready for you,” said Mrs. Cake.

Twilight nodded in appreciation, and headed up the stairs and down the hall. She reached the doorway to the attic of Sugarcube Corner where Pinkie Pie lived. She knocked gently on the door.

“Pinkie Pie? Are you up there?” Twilight spoke into the door and leaned down to peek through the keyhole.

“Twilight! Just the pony I needed to see! Come in!” Pinkie called from inside. The sound of stumbling and a metallic object crashing to the floor accompanied the sound of Pinkie stumbling down the steps and bumping into the door. A moment later, the door opened. Pinkie Pie smiled at Twilight and smoothed back her mane, which was crazier looking than usual, with one hoof. It wasn’t helping.

Pinkie Pie tapped her hoof on her forehead nervously and waved Twilight into the room. Twilight walked into the room, and saw that the place was in shambles. Random pieces of metal and various gemstones littered the floor in one corner. A strange contraption with flashing lights and a panel of small windows stood at the epicenter of the mess.

“Pinkie... what’s going on in here?” asked Twilight. She glanced at Pinkie’s eyes, which had dark circles under them.

“That’s not important for now, Twilight! What’s important is the colors!” yelled Pinkie, her eye twitching a bit.

“The... colors?” questioned Twilight. “Pinkie, I think you’re seeing things, you really need to get some sleep.”

“No no, Twilight, I’m fine, and I think you are too, it’s everypony else that’s the problem!” Pinkie insisted and carried on as if Twilight had any idea what she was talking about.

“Pinkie, not that it’s out of the ordinary, but you’re not making any sense. Like, more so than usual!” Twilight said. She placed the edge of her front right leg against Pinkie’s forehead, asking “Do you have a fever or something?”

“Twilight, you have to listen to me! Ever since we got back from the wedding, the colors have been all wrong!” Pinkie said as she pulled away from Twilight. “And the ponies in town! They’re all being way too nice!”

Twilight sighed.

“Pinkie Pie, you need to get some sleep! I think the changeling attack in Canterlot has just really wore us all out. And yes, everypony in town is nice, that’s normal! This is a great town full of nice ponies!” she said, and started to push Pinkie towards her bed.

“Are you sure?” asked Pinkie. “Not that the ponies in town are nice, I mean. I know they’re nice! Well, maybe not all the time! Like this one time when I ate a piece of cake that Mrs. Cake had been working on, and I just wanted to make sure it tasted okay, but she freaked out and told me I wasn’t actually helping! Can you believe that? But with the way everypony is acting now, I bet she wouldn't say anything next time. Anyway, I mean the colors and stuff! You know?”

“Yes, and now she’s worried about you because you’ve been up all night making a racket! Now get some sleep, and don’t cause any more trouble for the Cakes, okay?” said Twilight as she tucked her friend into bed. “I’ll come back and check on you later, okay?” she whispered.

“Okay, Twilight. If you say so,” said Pinkie, closing her eyes.

Twilight walked towards the door, but was stopped by Pinkie’s voice.

“Twilight... please, just pay attention when you are out there today. Really look at everything. I know it’s not like me to be like this, but I’m really, really sure about this. I’ll sleep, like you said, and maybe that’ll make everything better, but please just be careful,” said Pinkie.

“Pinkie, I’ll pay attention. For you. To whatever it is. And you’ll see, you’re just worn out. Now get some sleep,” said Twilight, as she smiled down at Pinkie.

Pinkie smiled back. “Thanks, Twilight. You’re such a great friend...” she said, and then drifted off to sleep.

“Poor thing. The stress really has her worked up,” Twilight said with a smile. She walked out of the room and quietly closed the door.

Back downstairs, Mrs. Cake had a bag ready for Twilight.

“How much do I owe you?” Twilight asked.

“Oh no, it’s thanks for calming Pinkie down. I wonder what’s gotten into the girl,” said Mrs. Cake.

“Oh! Well thank you, Mrs. Cake. It was really nothing I wouldn’t have done anyway, though. Have a nice day, now!” said Twilight as she stepped out the door and back onto the streets. Mrs. Cake smiled and waved goodbye as Twilight walked away.

Twilight levitated her cream horn from the bag and took a bite. She placed the bag from Sugarcube Corner into her own saddle bags, and then remembered the strange yellow gem she’d found.

“Time to head over to Rarity’s, I guess,” she said to herself while trotting down the path towards Carousel Boutique.

As she walked along, she bumped into Sweetie Belle, who was headed away from the Boutique with a small wagon rolling along behind her.

“Good morning, Sweetie Belle. Running an errand for Rarity?” Twilight asked.

“Hi there, Twilight!” Sweetie Belle said with a smile. “Good to see you! And yeah, I am off to get some supplies for my sister.”

Twilight laughed. “She can be quite demanding, can’t she?”

“No kidding,” said Sweetie Belle with a sigh. “She says she’s super busy and can’t get away from her work to run to the market, so she sends me!”

“Well, what’s the problem with that?,” Twilight asked. “Don’t you want to help out your big sister?”

“I guess, but I’d rather be helping...” Sweetie Belle said, pausing for a moment and then raising her face as close as she could get it to Twilight’s, a giant grin on her lips, “You!”

Twilight blinked. “Me?” she asked, perplexed. “Why’s... that?”

“Because I love you so much,” Sweetie Belle said, her eyelids lowering over her eyes. “I’d do anything for you.”

Twilight raised her eyebrows and blinked at the filly once again. “Well, I was actually on the way to see your sister, so why don’t you come see us when you’re done with that errand.”

“Well, all right,” Sweetie Belle said with a disappointed frown. “But after that, I want to help you out instead of Rarity.”

Twilight nodded. “We’ll see,” she said.

“Thanks, Twilight!” Sweetie Belle said, turning towards town. “I’ll be back really fast!”

What a cute little filly. I thought she loved helping her sister, though, Twilight thought. Was that what Pinkie meant? Sweetie was acting so strange.

When Twilight arrived at the boutique, she found Rarity busily sewing and humming a song.

“Ah, Twilight, just who I was hoping to see!” Rarity beamed.

“Really?” asked Twilight. “You were hoping to see me? What about?”

“Well...” started Rarity, “we all wore fabulous dresses at the wedding, and the designs were top notch, but after coming home last night, I started to think that maybe they were lacking a certain amount of flair, and I was going through my gems and beads, and I thought maybe–”

“Actually, Rarity, sorry to interrupt, but that’s why I came here. I found this on a bookshelf in my room and thought you may have left it there,” Twilight said, and raised the yellow gem into the air.

Rarity’s eyes lit up like the starry night sky as she caught sight of the gemstone.

“Twilight! Where did you get that? It’s simply marvelous! The cut! The color! The way it shimmers! It’s gorgeous!” said Rarity as she inched closer and closer to the stone.

“Wait, so it’s not yours?” asked Twilight, an eyebrow raised.

“Well, no, it’s not. I would certainly remember a gem like that, believe me!” said Rarity as she gazed into the gem. “Why, it’s almost like you could get lost in its warmth. A warmth like the sun itself. It’s radiant!”

Twilight had not really taken the time to look at the stone too closely, but Rarity was right. It was translucent, and the color was like that of the sun. Twilight really could feel a warmth emanating from it.

“You’re right. It makes you feel really nice,” said Twilight, gazing into the gem. Her eyelids lowered lazily as she stared into the gemstone.

The sound of the bell ringing as the door opened snapped them out of their trances. Sweetie Belle was back, her wagon in haul behind her, full of rolls of cloth and spindles of thread.

“Ah!” said Twilight with a start. “Well, I guess I should find out who it really belongs to.”

Rarity sighed “Oh, must you? You know what they say, finders keepers...”

Twilight placed the gem back into her bag. “No, Rarity, something this nice must belong to somepony. They’ll surely miss it.”

“You’re right, of course. Sorry, I got carried away,” Rarity laughed.

Twilight laughed, too, and looked around the room. “Rarity, have you been redecorating in here? I like the new color scheme,” she said as she noticed that the usual pastel hues had been contrasted with some noticeably deeper colors along the edges of the walls.

“In here?” asked Rarity. “No. It’s the same as always. I haven’t had time to do any decorating around here lately, been focused on clothes!”

“Huh, really?” asked Twilight. “I guess I just never noticed! I’ve been pretty unobservant, lately, I must admit,” she laughed.

Rarity smiled. “Well, thanks for stopping by, but I must get back to work! Busy busy!”

Sweetie Belle scoffed. “Hey, what about me? I hauled all this stuff from town for you!”

“Oh, thank you, too, Sweetie Belle. I don’t know what I would do without you!” Rarity smiled down at her sister.

“Well, then, I had better get going, I need to find out who owns this gem,” said Twilight, reaching for the shop’s front door. Sweetie Belle bounced forward, staring at Twilight expectantly.

“I can help you with it!” Sweetie Belle said with excitement. Twilight cringed, remembering how odd Sweetie Belle had been acting earlier.

“That’s okay, Sweetie Belle, you should stay and see if your sister needs any other help,” Twilight responded.

Rarity walked over to Twilight and shook her head. “No, no, Twilight, you should let the both of us help you,” she said, grinning widely.

Twilight looked back and forth between the two of them. They were both grinning and staring at her, awaiting her response. That’s just a little bit creepy, Twilight thought. Maybe Pinkie was onto something.

“Didn’t you just say you were super busy, Rarity?” Twilight asked, her eyes training towards the door and her escape from this situation.

“Never too busy to help you, Twilight!” Rarity exclaimed. “We are such good friends, after all!”

Twilight pushed the door open gently, raised a hoof up to Rarity, and shook her head. “No, that’s okay, I think I hear, um, Spike calling for me! Gotta go!” she said nervously, then darted out the door, slamming it shut. She could hear Rarity and Sweetie Belle making disappointed groans from inside as she bolted from the boutique.

What was that all about? she thought to herself as she finally slowed to a walk. In any case, I’ll try and find this gem in a book. Maybe it has something to do with what Pinkie was describing. After seeing how Rarity and Sweetie Belle were acting, I am starting to get suspicious.

She looked around, remembering that Pinkie Pie had said something about colors as well as ponies acting strangely. She looked into the sky, a radiant blue with white clouds hanging in the air. The trees were an earthy brown, their leaves lush and green. The birds in the trees, a variety of colors, chirped to each other as they looked for food. They flew overhead, flashes of red, blue, yellow, green, white, and brown. Twilight paid close attention to the colors, and began thinking that everything seemed a bit too bright. Maybe even a little bit hazy.

Huh, I’ve never noticed that before, she thought. Then again, I am a bit tired. Maybe Sweetie and Rarity were just acting normally, and I’m just cranky.

“Oh, and you know, it would be just like Pinkie Pie to suggest I pay attention to how nice ponies are and how colorful the world is. It really is great!” Twilight said with a smile.

Wow, I bet that’s what it was. That Pinkie, she wants her friends smiling even when she’s not around. I still don’t know what she was up to all night, but really looking at and appreciating the world around me and all its colors... it definitely makes me happy, Twilight thought.

She arrived at home, placed the gem on a table, and grabbed a book of rare gems and gem cuts. She flipped through the pages, trying to find a match, as Spike woke up and plodded down the stairs.

“Morning Twilight... What’s on the agenda for today?” he asked with a yawn as he walked to another table where a quill and scroll were waiting for him to make today’s list. The gem then caught his eye, and he walked slowly over to where Twilight was frantically flipping through the pages of the book.

“What’s... that?” he asked and licked his lips. “It looks... delicious!”

“Sorry, Spike, it’s not for you. Somepony left it here on a shelf, I have to find out what it is, and then maybe I will be able to find the proper owner.”

Spike gazed into the gem, his eyes narrowing.

“Twilight...” he said in a monotone voice, “Give that gem to me... please... I need it...”

Twilight turned to him, looking at his face. “What’s gotten into you, Spike? Are you awake, yet? Here, I got you a cream horn from Sugarcube Corner. I know it’s not a gem, but it’s still delicious,” she said, and levitated the pastry over to him. His eyes fixated on the gem.

“Spike? Helloooo?” said Twilight as Spike pushed the pastry to the side and began to advance towards her.

“Give me the gem,” he said with a demanding tone.

“Spike, stop that!” Twilight insisted. “You’re acting weird!”

Spike suddenly vaulted towards the gem, his eyes flying open wide, glowing white. “Give it to me!” he yelled, his voice grainy and distorted.

The gem then erupted in a flash of yellow light, and a long, white horn shot out of the gem, a beam of energy erupting from it and freezing Spike in midair. A familiar voice from the gem bellowed, “Sleep, now!”

“Spike!” Yelled Twilight, and jumped towards him.

Spike fell to the ground, unconscious. Twilight looked down at him to make sure he was okay, and then looked back up at the gem, which was floating in the air and glowing brightly. From the gem, the long white horn protruded, and in a flash, a pony Twilight definitely wasn’t expecting to see again so soon stepped forth.

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight shouted, in shock.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 3 - Breaking Free

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Three - Breaking Free

Twilight stood over Spike’s unconscious body, staring at Princess Celestia in disbelief.

“Twilight Sparkle, I know you must have many questions, but they will need to wait,” the princess said hastily. She walked towards the two, her eyes trained on Spike.

“Stay back!” yelled Twilight. “Are you really the princess? If so, how did you get here? And how did you put Spike to sleep?”

“Yes, sleep magic is not usually in my repertoire, very sharp of you,” Celestia said. “But in this world, things are different. We’re only limited by your suspension of disbelief, so I pray you come to grips with this quickly, lest he awakens again.”

“My what, now?” Twilight asked, confused. “What do you mean ‘this world?’”

“Twilight, I believe you were warned earlier by somepony that something is very wrong, here. Pinkie Pie has been working with me on this problem. Unknowingly, of course,” Celestia said.

“Pinkie did say something about the colors being wrong, or ponies acting strangely. I think she said they were being ‘too nice’ or something,” Twilight recalled. “But the only strange thing here is you. How did you come from out of that gem? I’m so confused.”

“Twilight, I don’t have time to mince words, so I am going to try and do this as quickly as possible,” said Celestia with a grave look on her face. She stared deeply into Twilight’s eyes. “You will have to trust me. Please.”

Twilight sat down uneasily and nodded her head.

“Tell me, Twilight Sparkle, what is the last thing you remember about last night? Try to remember,” Celestia asked.

“The wedding had ended. We left in a carriage bound for Ponyville,” said Twilight.

“Is that what actually happened, or do you just assume that is what happened?” asked the princess. “Think hard, my student. Concentrate on it. Try to remember something about that carriage. Who were you sitting next to? What was the interior like? What sort of conversation were you having with the others?”

“Well, of course that’s what actually happened. I was sitting next to Flutter... or was it Rarity?” Twilight thought aloud. “Oh come on, Princess, you can’t expect me to remember every little detail!”

“I wouldn’t expect it? From Twilight Sparkle, my number one student, who has a memory like a painting? Who can normally recall even the slightest details, no matter how important? Of course I’d expect you to remember things like this from such an important night! I’d expect no less!” said Celestia.

“You’re right... why can’t I remember?” Twilight said.

“Twilight, I said I was not going to mince words, and I meant it,” said Celestia, a serious look in her eyes. “Your memories of last night are false. Please think slowly about the events of last night, and try to remember what happened. You may feel a sensation of magical energy welling up inside you, but you must resist it. If you can not contain it, we may lose our only chance to make right what has gone wrong.”

Twilight thought back to the night of the wedding. The attack by the changelings. The battle in the streets of Canterlot. And then, she remembered darkness. A flash of lightning. Her friends strung up from the ceiling in cocoons, feeding their energy to a single point... Chysalis, the changeling queen!

Twilight’s horn began to faintly glow. Her eyes went wide. Her pupils dilated. She breathed heavily as a surge of magic began to build inside of her.

“You must resist it, Twilight!” yelled Celestia. “You must hold it back and stay with me, for if you let it go, you will be torn away from me again, and we can not afford to let that happen!”

With this, the Princess placed her horn against Twilight’s, straining, their horns alight like fire as they fought together against the flow.

“This is your own doing, Twilight! It’s a defense mechanism! You must take hold of it! Only you can do it, you have to suppress it! If I have ever needed your magical talent to shine, now is the time!” Celestia yelled as her mane ignited in white flames.

Twilight heard the princess, but fell deeper and deeper into despair. She could feel herself being torn from the world. It felt like she was waking up from a dream. In her head, images of her friends flashed around her. They were in pain, crying out for her to fight.

“I can’t!” she yelled. “It’s too much!”

“What are you talkin’ about?” Applejack’s voice rang in her ears. “You’re the Element of Magic! Just grab this thing by the horns!”

“Yeah, give me a break, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash’s voice called out. “Magic is for you what speed is for me! If I can do a Sonic Rainboom, then you should be able to beat this thing, no problem!”

“You’re a shining diamond, Twilight!” yelled Rarity. “You must do this! You must!”

“I can’t! I just can’t!” cried Twilight, tears flowing from her eyes.

Then Twilight felt a pair of hooves wrap around her. It was Fluttershy. “It’ll be alright, Twilight,” she said calmly. “We all believe in you.”

Twilight embraced her friend and clenched her teeth. “I... will not... lose!” she growled. With those words, the energy that had been flowing outward came crashing back into her with a bright flash.

Celestia fell backwards. The white flames popped into the air as they vanished one by one.

The strength left Twilight’s legs, and she fell to the ground. She panted heavily for a moment before she was able to raise her head to make sure Celestia hadn’t been hurt.

“Princess...” Twilight huffed. “Are you... all right?”

Celestia smiled. “A little bit singed, but otherwise, okay. You?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” said Twilight, regaining her composure. “So how do we get out of here?”

“It’s easier said than done, but I think our first step is to get some rest, and then go see Pinkie Pie later on when she’s awake,” said Celestia. “I’ve been working through her, somewhat. That mare has quite a strange capacity for sensing things outside of reality. Even though you may not have realized it consciously, she’s the same Pinkie Pie, even in this dream world.”

Twilight laughed. “Pinkie Pie’s brain always was on a bit of a different wavelength, it’s true.”

Celestia smiled, and then her horn began to glow. Her body shrank down, and her mane pulled up into a shorter length. Her wings shrunk and vanished into her body, and her horn shortened to standard unicorn length. Even her cutie mark morphed inward until it was a simple, small circle, resembling an orange. She now stood at roughly the same height as Twilight Sparkle. To anyone who hadn’t seen this event, she would look like a typical unicorn.

Twilight blinked. “What was that? What happened?”

Celestia laughed. “A little illusion like this, I am at least capable of. Now I will not be recognized. This will make it a little bit easier to move around, and if you-know-who can somehow peer into the dream world, she will be no wiser as to my identity. This is why we had to move quickly.”

“Oh, I get it. A disguise! I like it!” said Twilight, mischievously. “We can tell everypony you’re my cousin... um... Twilight Orange?”

Celestia smirked. “Well, maybe we need to work on the name a little bit. But for now, we should rest and regain some strength.”

“Right. This way,” said Twilight, leading the princess up the stairs and into her bedroom.

“I have another bed, here,” said Twilight, pulling down a bed from a compartment where it had been stored in the wooden wall.

Twilight pulled a set of sheets and a blanket from the closet as well, and began to make the bed. “The last time it was used, though, was when Rarity and Applejack slept over. I hope there’s no pine needles...”

“Pine needles?” asked Celestia as she lent a hoof to Twilight. The two of them pulled the oversheet tight, tucking the corners in at each end.

“Yes, well, there was a bit of an accident involving a neighboring tree and a certain overzealous pony lassoing it through the window,” said Twilight as the two finished folding the top cover down and placing a pillow at the head of the bed.

“I remember that report. I don’t remember that part, though,” Celestia said with a smirk.

Twilight blushed and laughed. “Yeah, I sort of had Spike leave that part out when he wrote the letter... Oh no! Spike!” said Twilight as she remembered that he was asleep on the floor downstairs. She quickly went and fetched him, then placed him gently in his own small bed.

Celestia was already in the guest bed when Twilight slipped under her own covers and closed her eyes. Her mind was so preoccupied with thoughts swirling around, though, she had a feeling she wasn’t going to get much sleep yet again.

“Not that any of this is even real...” Twilight said quietly to herself.

“Don’t worry, Twilight,” said Celestia, “we’ll get through this together.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” said Twilight as she turned to her other side.

“It’s all right. That was quite the ordeal you just went through,” said Celestia. “Just relax.”

Twilight sighed. “Why do we even need to rest and sleep in a dream, anyway? This is ridiculous!” she said.

“Perhaps you should make it so we don’t need to rest,” said Celestia. “It is your dream, after all.”

The thought hadn’t even occurred to Twilight. “How would I even do that?” she asked.

Celestia laughed. She got up from her bed and walked over to Twilight’s bedside. She laid her head down near Twilight’s and rested her chin on her front hooves.

“I have no idea! But I know you can at least relax. Just remember, I’m here with you. You don’t have to carry the burden on your own,” said Celestia as she raised a hoof and brushed Twilight’s bangs from her eyes.

Twilight smiled. It had been years since they’d spent time together like this. Even though Celestia looked different right now, she was still the same wonderful mentor that Twilight had come to love so dearly during her time in Canterlot. Just the fact that she was there beside her made Twilight feel at ease.

“Thank you, Princess...” said Twilight as she closed her eyes and began to drift off to sleep.

Celestia smiled and closed her eyes as she fell asleep as well.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 4 - Twilight Glimmer

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Four - Twilight Glimmer

“Twilight, wake up,” a voice called.

Twilight groggily opened her eyes and blinked. The sun shone into her eyes through the window as she lifted her head, trying to see who had awoken her.

“Princess? Is that you?” she asked, looking around. The smell of smoke filled her nostrils, and she could feel waves of heat rising upwards.

The library was on fire.

Twilight rushed down the stairs, looking for Spike and Princess Celestia as she ran. They were nowhere to be found. She swung the front door open, and in the distance, she could see Ponyville in flames, black smoke billowing into the sky.

“What’s happening?” she yelled, but no one was around to hear her. She bolted towards town, no sign of anyone to be seen. As Twilight approached the town, a dark figure emerged from the flames.

Chrysalis! Twilight thought, racing forward. The changeling queen stood with a look of smug glee on her face and laughed at Twilight as she approached.

“You’ve failed, Twilight Sparkle!” the queen bellowed. “This is just a little repayment for even thinking of resisting my power!”

Twilight looked past the queen for any sign of life. Just behind Chrysalis, lying on the ground, unmoving, was Princess Celestia. Burn marks covered her body, and her mane was streaked with blood. Twilight ran to her. The changeling queen laughed and stepped to the side to let her pass.

“Princess! How did this happen? I thought we would be safe here!” she sobbed, and knelt before Celestia. She buried her face in the princess’ mane.

Celestia opened her eyes and gazed at Twilight. “I don’t know how, but she found us. We were careless.” The princess coughed. Her voice rasped as she weakly drew breath.

“We hadn’t even done anything yet! Was it all just hopeless from the beginning?”

“Twilight... My number one student. I wish... I could have spent more time with you. You must stand tall, now, child. You must not let my end be the end of your story,” said Celestia, her breathing becoming more shallow with each word she spoke. Tears began to form around the bottoms of her eyes.

“Princess!” Twilight yelled, tears freely flowing down her cheeks. “You can’t leave me!”

“Twilight... Everyone has their time to go. Remember that... and remember me,” said Celestia. Her eyes then closed, and a single tear fell from the corner of each. Twilight closed her eyes and wept silently as her mentor slipped away from her.

“What a waste of breath!” Chrysalis said with a laugh. “Pathetic to the very end!”

Twilight rose up, tears still falling from her eyes, and glared at Chrysalis.

“You’ll pay!” Twilight screamed, charging at Chrysalis.

The changeling smiled and lowered her horn.

“Wake up!” she yelled, a sinister smile on her face.

“Wake up, Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight awoke to find herself standing over Celestia in her room. Celestia was in her disguised form, looking up at Twilight, wide-eyed. Twilight had her pinned to the floor, her front right hoof raised and ready to strike.

“What?” Twilight finally snapped out of it. “What happened?”

“You were having a nightmare. I tried to wake you up, but you attacked me!”

“I had the most terrible dream,” said Twilight, walking away from Celestia and shaking her head.

“It’s proof that you’ve returned to reality. If you were still truly living in this dream world with your false memories, you would never have had a nightmare. The dream is crafted to avoid such things,” said Celestia as she rose back to her hooves.

“Crafted?” questioned Twilight. “How does that work?”

“I am not entirely sure, but I do know that the changeling queen has some amount of control over this world,” answered Celestia. “However, in the end, you are the one who is the real architect of this dream. Everything here is based on your own perceptions, with the exception of a few things where I believe Chrysalis is somehow pulling the strings. Whether directly or indirectly, I can not say. Nor am I sure of how she is doing it. That is one of the things we must find out.”

Twilight nodded. “I see. Well then, we should go, we need to hurry and stop her,” said Twilight. “Otherwise, that nightmare may just come true.”

“Right you are,” Celestia replied.

Twilight looked over to where Spike was sleeping. She walked to his side and looked down at him.

“Will he ever wake up? Is he even really Spike?” she asked, and placed her hoof on his forehead.

Celestia sighed and lowered her head.

“You have a good heart, Twilight. I know how much you care about him. It would be wrong to say that he isn’t really Spike, but he’s not completely Spike. This is your dream world. He’s as real as Spike is in your heart. However, I do not think that he will wake up, no.”

Twilight smiled sadly and stroked Spike’s head with her hoof.

“Don’t worry, he is not suffering,” said Celestia. “As long as you keep him in your heart, he will be happy here, and someday you will see the real Spike again.”

Twilight nodded and turned away from him. “So, what do we need to do?” she asked, burying her feelings of sadness.

“We need to go to Sugarcube Corner and see Pinkie Pie. She holds the key to our salvation, though she does not know it. Not really, anyway.”

“Then let’s go, we need to finish this as quickly as possible,” said Twilight. She looked back at Spike one more time before walking down the stairs and out the door. Celestia followed right behind her.

“So, what am I supposed to call you, now?” asked Twilight as they walked along the path.

“Ah yes, no offense, but I don’t think Twilight Orange suits me very well,” Celestia said with a laugh.

“Well, did you have anything in mind?”

“How about Twilight Glimmer?” Celestia asked. “The twilight glow happens when the sun is just starting to rise over the land, and since I am now a mere spark of my former self, I think Twilight Glimmer is fitting.”

Twilight just stared silently at Celestia.

“Is it no good?” asked Celestia, blushing.

“You’ve... really been thinking about this, haven’t you?” asked Twilight as a smirk formed on her face.

“Oh, don’t tease, Twilight!” Celestia said, bowing her head in embarrassment.

“I’m not! It’s very good! I like it! Really!” said Twilight. They both laughed. “Okay, then, Twilight Glimmer. What do we do once we get to Pinkie Pie’s?” Twilight asked.

“Shh! Someone is coming,” said Celestia. She nodded ahead of them. Two ponies could be seen approaching with some speed.

“There you are!” the first pony, Doctor Hooves, shouted as he ran towards Twilight. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

“Waiting... for me?” asked Twilight, one eyebrow cocked upwards in confusion.

“Of course!” came another voice from just behind him as Mayor Mare stepped forward. “We can’t start the celebration without you!”

“Celebration? What?” Twilight asked, still confused.

“To celebrate your victory over the changelings! It’s the talk of the town, and we’ve quickly thrown together a party to honor you girls! You saved Equestria!” said the Mayor. She glanced over to Celestia and raised an eyebrow.

“Oh my. Who’s this now? I’ve never seen you before,” she said.

“This is my cousin, Twilight Glimmer. She’s here to visit after the wedding,” said Twilight as they all began to walk towards the town square. “We were actually on our way to see Pinkie Pie, and...”

“Oh, well you’re in luck, Pinkie is already there at the town square with the others!” said Mayor Mare. Twilight grinned nervously at Celestia, who just calmly nodded her head.

When they arrived at the town square, they found a large gathering of ponies, possibly the entire population of Ponyville, encircled around a stage that had been erected. As Twilight entered the crowd, it parted to make way for her. Loud cheering erupted from the gathered ponies as she made her way toward the stage.

“We love you!” the crowd screamed. “You saved us all! You’re the heroes of Equestria!”

Twilight blushed, even though she knew this was a dream. She hadn’t really saved anyone. Twilight, Celestia, and the Mayor walked up the stairs and onto the stage. On the stage, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack waved to the crowd. Fluttershy was hiding behind the podium, peeking one eye out. Towards the back of the stage, eying everyone nervously, was Pinkie Pie. Her mane still looked more frazzled than usual as she scanned the crowd. She saw Twilight as she came up on the stage and ran over to her.

“Twilight, I’m so glad you’re here!” Pinkie said, practically bowling over Twilight.

“I’m glad you’re here, too, Pinkie. After this, we need to talk,” said Twilight.

Pinkie nodded in agreement, then glanced at Celestia.

“Who’s your friend?” said Pinkie with a suspicious tone in her voice.

“I’m her cousin, Twilight Glimmer,” answered Celestia. She smiled at Pinkie and extended her hoof.

Pinkie shook her hoof slowly, squinting her eyes.

“Okie dokie lokie...” she said nervously. “Twilight never mentioned you before, I wonder why not.” Her eyes narrowed.

“I never mentioned my brother, either, if you recall,” said Twilight with an awkward smile.

“Fair enough,” said Pinkie with a forced smile.

Mayor Mare had taken to the podium, forcing Fluttershy to relocate. She was now hiding behind Rainbow Dash, who sighed and rolled her eyes.

“Citizens of Ponyville!” the Mayor started, “We are gathered here today to honor these six brave ponies, who have once again saved all of Equestria from the clutches of evil!”

The crowd erupted with cheering, only to go silent again when the mayor raised her hoof.

“Not only have these six amazing citizens of this very town saved our Princess, Luna, from the darkness that had a grip on her, and stopped Discord from throwing all of Equestria into chaos, but now they have repelled an invasion by a changeling army!”

“We didn’t really do much!” said Applejack. “It was mostly thanks to Cadence and Shining Armor, it’s just a shame they couldn’t be here to see this here celebration!”

Mayor Mare smiled, and nodded in agreement.

“Yes, here’s to Shining Armor and Princess Cadenza, as well! But it is still true that these six ponies, presented with such overwhelming odds, faced the danger head-on! We could all do well to follow their example! Never back down! So here’s to Ponyville!”

The crowd cheered again, even louder.

“Now let the festivities begin!” yelled the mayor. Music started playing and the crowd began to disperse into groups, some dancing, others preparing tables for food, and some others just mingling and talking. Twilight slipped behind the curtains on stage, waving for Celestia and Pinkie Pie to follow her.

The three snuck out the back, down an alley, and began to head towards Sugarcube Corner.

“Whew...” said Twilight as she breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought we might not be able to get away from there.”

“We’ll have to move quickly,” said Celestia. “Our absence will surely be noticed.”

“You got that right,” said a voice from around a corner ahead of them. The three ponies jumped back as Applejack came walking into view.

“Would somepony tell me what’s going on, here?” asked Applejack, a serious expression on her face. “What are you three up to, and why’s it so important that you gotta keep it a secret from your friends?”

Oh horsefeathers, what now? Twilight thought to herself.

“Applejack, we don't have time to explain. I'm sorry,” said Twilight as she walked past Applejack. The others followed right behind her.

“Now just hold on!” said Applejack, jumping back and blocking Twilight's path. “There's somethin' fishy been goin' on around here. Who's this new pony you're with, anyway?”

“AJ, can you please just trust me?” Twilight asked impatiently.

“Not sure if I can, Twi'. I got this strange feeling in the back of my head that somethin' bad's gonna happen. I don't want you to get hurt. Why don't you come back and join the party?”

Twilight groaned in frustration. She looked to Celestia for an idea, but the princess simply shook her head.

Applejack snorted at the exchange and stomped towards Celestia, until their noses were practically touching.

“Who in the hay are you, miss?” demanded Applejack, her eyes narrowing.

“I am Twilight Sparkle's cousin, Twilight Glimmer.” said Celestia, her eyes locked onto Applejack's.

“Never heard of ya.” said Applejack as her eyes began to glow a faint green. Celestia pulled back from Applejack slowly, wide-eyed.

“Well, maybe Twilight's just been a bit too busy to mention me. I mean, we haven't seen each other in years, right Twilight?” said Celestia nervously.

Before Twilight could answer, Pinkie Pie jumped in and put a hoof over Applejack's shoulder. She shook her head and clicked her tongue in disappointment.

“Applejack, Applejack, Applejack...” said Pinkie. “You're gonna spoil all the fun!”

Applejack's eyes returned to normal, and she looked at Pinkie Pie with confusion.

“Fun?” she asked.

“Look, we're not supposed to tell anypony, it's supposed to be a surprise. I would have thought you'd understand the importance of surprises!” said Pinkie. “Remember when you threw me that surprise birthday party?”

Applejack laughed nervously. “Oh yeah. Right! Yeah, that was... somethin', wasn't it?”

“Oh yeah, definitely something! Look, just don't worry about it, you'll find out what's going on, but we just can't tell you right now, that would be a whole lot of no fun!” said Pinkie with a gleeful smile.

“Right... Gotcha,” said Applejack. “Sorry. I don't know what came over me, truth be told.” She nodded her head and tipped her hat to Celestia.

“Nice to meet ya, Glimmer. Any cousin of Twilight's is a cousin of mine,” she said. “Wait, that ain't right...”

Twilight smirked. “Okay, Applejack. Sorry about all of this. We'll see you later,” she said.

Applejack nodded and walked back towards the town square, whistling as she went. Once Applejack was out of sight, Twilight fell to the ground, worn by the stress.

“Did you see her eyes?” asked Celestia as sweat gathered on her brow. Twilight and Pinkie both nodded their heads nervously.

“I don't know what that was all about, but I'm telling you, something really weird is going on around here.” said Pinkie.

“Weirder than you know...” said Twilight as she regained her footing. “We'll explain everything once we're in your room.”

“Right,” said Pinkie. “I have to show you the Colorscope once we're there.”

“Colorscope?” asked Twilight.

“You'll see,” said Pinkie. “It all came to me in a flash when we got home from Canterlot. I don't know how or why, but I had some sort of power. Power like an Earth Pony shouldn't even have. It's been a very rough couple of days, let's say that.” Pinkie shook her head, her usual cheerful attitude very obviously affected by everything that had happened.

The three arrived at Sugarcube Corner without being noticed, and headed up to Pinkie's room. It was there that this story would truly begin.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 5 - Pink Anomaly

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Five - Pink Anomaly

The three ponies walked into Pinkie Pie's room in Sugarcube Corner. Pinkie closed the door behind them and walked over to the corner where the device Twilight had seen earlier was still humming.

“So what, exactly, is that thing, Pinkie?” asked Twilight as she stepped slowly towards it. The machine was tall and rectangular with several different colored glass panels which could be looked through. Behind each pane of glass was a crystal held in place by what looked like jeweler's settings. Sparks would occasionally fire along the settings, illuminating the colorful crystals.

Pinkie turned to Twilight and lowered her eyes.

“This is the Colorscope. Well, actually, it's making the Colorscope... I think,” said Pinkie.

“Right, okay, but what is that, exactly?” asked Twilight, still not understanding the situation. Celestia just stood back from the two, watching quietly.

“Well, I'm not sure, actually,” said Pinkie, “I just somehow knew how to make this thing. Getting the parts was so easy, too! Downright creepy, I tell you.”

“Creepy?” asked Twilight, “Why is that? Where'd you get all the parts?”

“Mostly from the Jeweler,” said Pinkie, “and it's creepy because everypony in town is so happy to give you whatever you need for free, you just have to ask. I originally asked the Jeweler if I could borrow some things, but he insisted that I take them, and as many as I need, even gemstones.”

“That is strange,” said Twilight.

“It's because of what I mentioned earlier, Twilight. About the way things here are crafted to make you happy,” said Celestia.

“Make you happy?” asked Pinkie, “More like suspicious.”

“Right, but anyway, you got the parts, and then what happened?” asked Twilight.

“Remember when I said I had powers earlier, Twilight?” asked Pinkie, turning back towards the machine.

“Yeah, that was just a minute ago. What kind of powers?” replied Twilight.

Pinkie breathed in deeply, closed her eyes, and concentrated. From her forehead, a glow appeared, outlining the unmistakable shape of a horn. Longer than a unicorn's, and glowing a radiant shade of pink. She lowered her head and pushed the phantom horn up against one of the panels. A spark of energy arched between the horn's tip and the crystal within. Twilight just stared, dumbfounded at the Earth pony's display.

“Pinkie, how are you...” Twilight started, but was cut off by Celestia, who stepped forward.

“This is my doing. I am sorry if it took you by surprise, Pinkie Pie. You were the only one I could count on for this,” she said, her eyes trained to the ground.

Pinkie turned and smiled at Celestia. A tear started to form in her eye.

“Oh, good,” said Pinkie, “I thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t recognize you before, but why are you disguised like that, Princess?”

Celestia smiled and laughed to herself.

“I suppose it's only natural that you can recognize me since I've given you some of my powers,” she said, “So now I will tell you both what this is all about.”

The three sat down in front of the machine, and Celestia began to explain.

“There's actually one little piece of information that you still don't know, Pinkie. I am not sure how I should even begin to tell you,” said Celestia, not looking at Pinkie. Twilight could tell what the Princess was getting at. It could only be the fact that the entire world they were in, including Pinkie Pie, was just a dream. That Pinkie wasn't really Pinkie.

“Pinkie Pie, this place...” started Celestia, but Twilight interrupted.

“Pinkie Pie...” Twilight started, nervously, “You know how dear all of you are to me. You're all my very best friends, and I have a place for you all deep in my heart.”

“Yeah.” said Pinkie, swallowing hard as she sensed the grave tone of Twilight's voice.

“You know that you will always have a place in my heart. That I love you, Pinkie Pie. You make me smile, and laugh, and make every day like a celebration,” said Twilight, her voice cracking as she held back her tears.

Pinkie smiled and nodded her head slowly.

“Pinkie, this place, the people here, even you... this is all from that place in my heart. This entire world is...” Twilight said, her voice finally giving way as she began to cry.

Pinkie reached out and embraced her friend, her own tears silently falling.

“What I'm trying to say is...” said Twilight, but Pinkie's hoof pressed against her lips to stop her from saying any more.

Pinkie looked into Twilight's eyes, blinking away her tears and smiling.

“I knew things seemed strange around here,” said Pinkie. “Please, Twilight, you don't have to say any more. The fact that I'm here right now with you just means you love me that much... right?”

Twilight smiled a bittersweet smile back at her friend, and nodded her head.

“And besides!” said Pinkie, leaning back against the machine, “Once this baby is done, we'll be able to save our friends!”

Twilight smiled and wiped away her tears.

“So, how exactly does this thing help us do that?” asked Twilight.

“Well, I will tell you,” started Pinkie, pausing for a moment. Twilight leaned her head towards Pinkie, paying close attention.

“I don't know!” said Pinkie, as she struck a pose. Twilight fell forward onto the floor.

“I can explain that,” said Celestia, wiping away her own tears. She rose, walked over to the machine, and started to explain.

“The machine is making a special lens out of crystals. Specifically, a multicolored lens with each color of the rainbow. With this lens mounted into something that you can wear over your eyes, Twilight, you will be able to see the true spectrum of colors within the dream world. It is very subtle, but the colors in this world are slightly incorrect. It's a natural occurrence. Dreams should be relaxing, and the mind's eye softens everything. However, this dream world is being manipulated from outside. If we can find a spot where there are colors that are out of place, that is likely the main point of entry for the interference. It is the key to getting out of here. The lens will allow us to find a small tear in the fabric of the dream, and from that tear, we should be able to see where we must go next.”

Twilight and Pinkie Pie blinked and nodded their heads as they took in everything the Princess said.

“What then, though?” asked Twilight, “What will happen?”

“You know that Chrysalis is feeding upon the energy of our happiness and love,” said Celestia. “You saw the streams of energy in the throne room, did you not?”

Twilight nodded her head.

“What!” shouted Pinkie Pie. “Chrysalis is feeding on our love?”

Twilight and Celestia looked at Pinkie.

“I thought you understood the situation!” they both said in unison.

“Oh, yeah, kind of, I guess,” said Pinkie sheepishly. “I thought we were just in a dream world, I didn't know we were trapped in here by that changeling! Oh, she's good!”

Twilight and Celestia sighed, and then all three of them laughed as Celestia continued her explanation.

“Those streams of energy all converge before being consumed. Just as emotion can be carried within that flow of energy, so too can consciousness. From the tear in the dream, we will be able to traverse the energy flow and enter a different dream. A dream of one of the others who are imprisoned. Within that dream, we will have to find out whose dream it is, locate them, and bring their minds back to reality. This is how we will simultaneously escape from her control and finally defeat her.”

“How can we defeat her, though?” asked Twilight as she realized she hadn't considered that problem. “She was already so powerful, and she's gaining power so fast, there's no way we'll be able to stand up to her or her army!”

“This is where we actually have an advantage, Twilight,” said Celestia, a smile crossing her face. “You see, dreams are very strange. Time doesn't work the same in here. The entire time we've been in here, everything that's happened so far, has been but a matter of minutes outside of the dream. Possibly even just a matter of seconds.”

Twilight's eyes lit up in understanding.

“So she hasn't had much time to gain power at all, has she?” Twilight asked.

Celestia shook her head, but then stopped and looked into Twilight's eyes.

“When we go into the dreams of others, you must be prepared for anything. Not everyone's dreams will be as stable as yours. Also, since you awoke once for several minutes before being placed back into a new dream, the others have had much more time in their dreams. It's impossible to tell how much time may have passed for them in their dreams. I fear for Rainbow Dash, especially. Her mind likely races as fast as her body. From what I could gleam from her essence within the flow, she is pouring out energy at an alarming rate.”

Twilight stared back into Celestia's eyes silently, her mind now full of worries for Rainbow Dash, and even more worries that Chrysalis may be getting far more power than she had thought just a moment ago.

“We have to go to her first, then! We have to put an end to that before it's too late!” said Twilight, determined to minimize her friends being used like that.

Celestia shook her head. “It is impossible to know whose dream we are entering, Twilight. The only reason I was able to get to you was because you woke up, and I could sense the break in your energy flow.”

Twilight sat and sighed in frustration.

“When will the lens be ready?” asked Twilight.

“It should be ready by tonight,” said Pinkie, “I just need to go get a few more things from the Jeweler.”

Twilight laughed. “Well, from what you told me earlier, that doesn't sound like it will be hard.”

Pinkie frowned. “It's not funny, it's creepy!” she said, preparing to head back downstairs.

“We should stay here, Twilight,” said Celestia. “It would be wise to avoid any further complications from the ponies in town.”

“Why is Pinkie Pie the exception, though?” asked Twilight, still not completely understanding that problem.

“Yeah, why is that, anyway?” asked Pinkie as she slid her saddle bags onto her back.

“It's a mystery I can only hope to some day understand, you two,” said Celestia as she shrugged her shoulders. “It could be some sort of extra-sensory perception, or some sort of latent unicorn powers. Do you have any distant unicorn relatives?”

Pinkie frowned. “I have no idea,” she said. “There's a lot of things I can't remember. If I'm a part of Twilight's dream, I guess I only really know what Twilight knows, right?”

Celestia and Twilight nodded, as if Pinkie had said something quite profound.

With that, Pinkie winked at the two and walked out the door to head to the jewel shop.

The day rolled on and turned into evening. Pinkie returned without incident, her bags full of metal plates and other jewelers' items and tools. Pinkie was able to use her phantom alicorn horn to manipulate the items, and began to create a visor that would fit on Twilight's head.

Celestia and Twilight took turns feeding magic into the machine as the crystals inside slowly molded and shaved down into finely curved rectangular lenses.

Finally, the machine stopped and the panels opened, allowing the completed lenses to be removed. Pinkie carefully set each lens into the completed visor. It was a lovely piece of headgear. The edges were lined with gold, and each lens fit perfectly into the neighboring lens, forming a long, curved screen of colors. Each lens had a gold stem coming up from the top of it, all of which converged to the upper part of the visor where a gold-lined opening for Twilight's horn sat as the center of the piece.

Pinkie levitated the item in the air in front of Twilight and demonstrated how it could be folded onto itself to easily fit inside a saddle bag. Pinkie then raised another item, this one a lot smaller, with a pink gem set on the end of it. The device sat neatly in Twilight's ear.

“I don't know if this one will work, Twilight, but with these magic powers I now have, I had some sort of intuition, like I knew I could make this work. It's a way to communicate,” Pinkie said nervously.

“Communicate?” questioned Twilight.

“If I'm just a figment of your imagination, just a part of your dream, then I'm actually inside of you,” said Pinkie, a grin plastered on her face. “Pretty creepy, huh?”

Twilight laughed. “So this thing might let me keep communicating with you even when I am in another dream world?”

“Exactly! Maybe! I hope!” said Pinkie, triumphantly. “I want to help you, but I know I won't be able to go with you. This way, I can keep helping somehow!”

“Pinkie, we don't even know if this world will exist anymore once we leave it,” said Twilight, shaking her head.

“I know, but, I just can't stand it when I think of you needing my help when I can't be there for you!” said Pinkie. Her lower lip stiffened as she kept herself from crying again.

Twilight smiled and placed the communicator in her pack.

“I hope it works, Pinkie. I truly do,” said Twilight.

“Well, then,” said Celestia, “are you two ready to go? We need to find that tear as soon as possible.”

Pinkie and Twilight nodded in unison.

“Okay,” said Twilight, “Here goes.”

She slipped the Colorscope onto her head. Her horn began to glow, and the lenses lit up. She looked around the room, and her jaw gaped open.

“It's beautiful,” she said, “but just a little unnerving...”

Twilight Sparkle Ch 6 - Rift

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Six - Rift

Twilight looked around the room. She had believed what Celestia had told her about this whole world being a dream, but this was really the final piece that made her truly believe everything. Through the lens of the Colorscope, the world appeared in pale color. Some objects could even been seen through, as if they were made of stained glass.

She looked at Pinkie Pie and Celestia, and gasped slightly. Celestia's disguised form appeared solid, but with a rainbow-tinted outline. A transparent image of her actual body protruded from her, and was faintly glowing.

Pinkie Pie, on the other hand, appeared similarly to everything else in the room. She was translucent and pale. Her eyes were the same bright blue as usual, though, and streamers of pink energy shot out from her at various angles. The beams curved and spun on themselves. The scene was very busy, and sort of hurt Twilight's eyes.

Twilight removed the visor and placed it carefully on the ground in front of her.

“Well? What was it like?” asked Pinkie Pie.

“It was very revealing,” said Twilight, unable to think of how to even begin to describe it.

“The next step is to find the tear,” said Celestia. “It should be easily spotted when you are wearing that. We need to be careful, though. We can't let any pony see you wearing it, at least not very often.”

Twilight nodded. The questions that might come up if she was seen wearing the flashy item would be hard to field.

“Twilight, can you remember anywhere you've seen since the dream started where things had changed?” asked Celestia. “The tear will be something out of place. Something that didn't come from your memories.”

Twilight thought about everything she had done so far. She had found the gem, which had come from Celestia. She had traveled to town and stopped by Sugarcube Corner. She had seen Sweetie Belle and Rarity, who didn't know anything about the gem. As she thought back to her visit with Rarity, she remembered that it seemed like Rarity had redecorated the boutique. When asked about it, though, Rarity said she hadn't done anything.

“That has to be it,” Twilight said. “At Carousel Boutique, the décor had changed, but Rarity said it was the same as always. I know it wasn't, though. There's something out of place there.”

Celestia sighed.

“I had hoped it might be somewhere out of the way. If it's inside the boutique, we'll have to go inside, and that could get messy,” she said as she tapped her hoof against the floor. “Dream or not, if we open a rift inside the boutique, we will be noticed by Rarity.”

Pinkie Pie jumped up.

“I'm not going with you, so how about I lure Rarity away?” she asked.

“All right, we'll keep that as plan B, but let's go scout it out for now,” said Celestia. “We aren't even sure it's the right place.”

The three agreed with a nod, and headed downstairs and out into the Ponyville night. The streets were empty, and the moon was full. The light from the moon was both welcome and not welcome. It increased visibility, but that worked against them as well. They stuck to alleys until they came to the open field with the path that led to the boutique.

Pinkie Pie trotted out into the field and towards the boutique, while Twilight and Celestia stayed hidden in a garden, just behind a short wall.

“Think she'll be okay?” asked Twilight in a whisper.

“She'll be fine,” said Celestia as she nodded ahead. Rarity was now at her door talking to Pinkie.

“I can't hear them,” said Twilight.

The two jumped up in surprise as they saw Rarity putting a hoof over Pinkie's shoulders and pulling her into the boutique with a smile on her face.

“No!” said Twilight in an annoyed whisper.

Celestia placed a hoof to her face and shook her head.

“What are you two doing out there?” came a voice from the house behind them. They looked over their shoulders and saw a sleepy Carrot Top wiping her eyes and looking at them through a window.

“Shh!” Twilight hissed, not a thought in her mind that they were trespassing in her carrot garden.

Carrot Top shrugged and rolled her eyes.

“Just don't mess up the carrots!” she said as she closed her window and turned out the light.

The two blinked, surprised nothing worse happened. Twilight blushed.

“Wow, I wasn't thinking there,” said Twilight. Celestia nodded.

“We'd better move up and see what we can see,” said Celestia as she waved Twilight forward.

They snuck across the field, keeping low to the ground until they were at the back of the boutique near a window. Twilight propped herself up and peeked into the window.

“What do you see?” whispered Celestia.

Twilight exhaled and shook her head.

“She's fitting Pinkie for a dress,” she said with a slight groan.

Pinkie spotted Twilight through the window and grinned nervously. She mouthed the words “Help me,” and leaned her head towards the door.

Twilight crouched back down.

“We better go get her,” she said, and started to sneak around to the front. Celestia stopped her.

“Wait,” she said, “Look around with the scope. You may be able to see something from out here.”

“Good idea,” said Twilight, and pulled the visor from her pouch. She placed it on her head, and the world became moonlit stained glass.

Twilight propped herself back up and looked into the window and around the boutique. On the far wall, almost as if it were bulging out, she saw a black seam. It looked as if the fabric of the world had been sewn closed. A stream of green energy seeped between the stitches.

She ducked back down and removed the visor.

“Either that's it, or Rarity has started a new, creepy sewing project,” she said.

“All right. We'll have to come back another time, though,” said Celestia. “For now, let us collect Pinkie Pie.”

Twilight nodded, and the two snuck around to the front door. Twilight knocked lightly.

“Just a moment!” came Rarity's voice from inside. A moment later, the door opened. Rarity smiled and greeted the two.

“Come in, come in!” she said, “I've been expecting you two!”

“You've been expecting us?” questioned Twilight.

“Of course!” said Rarity as she pulled the two inside.

Twilight looked to her right, where Pinkie Pie was standing with cloth hanging over her. She then looked to her left, towards the window they had been looking through, and noticed a table had been set up with drinks and small cookies in several bowls.

“What is– “ Twilight started, but was interrupted by Rainbow Dash coming out of the bathroom.

“Oh, you're here!” said Rainbow. “Are AJ and Fluttershy with you?”

Twilight glanced at Rainbow nervously and started to sweat.

“No. Should they be?” she asked.

“Well, they're supposed to be on their way. I thought AJ had gone to tell you about this earlier,” said Rainbow Dash as she scratched her head.

Twilight laughed nervously and glanced at Celestia with a questioning look on her face. Celestia just shrugged.

“Strange, Pinkie Pie didn't know about this either! Applejack was supposed to tell you earlier that we were planning a little get-together just for the six of us after the party in town,” said Rarity, switching her gaze towards Celestia. “Well, make that the seven of us, I suppose.”

“Okay. Gee, thanks! That's great!” said Twilight.

“Oh, it's no problem!” said Rainbow Dash. “It's our own way of making it up to you for not believing you at the wedding. You were right about that changeling all along!”

Twilight grinned nervously. “Oh, there's really no need for that,” she said, trying to play along.

“Now, Twilight, dear, you have a seat right here!” said Rarity. She pulled Twilight to the couch and almost shoved her onto it.

Twilight's hoof slipped, she fell backwards, and the contents of her saddle bag fell out onto the couch. The Colorscope flipped open as it landed with a soft thud. Rarity's eyes locked onto it immediately.

“Oh my, what is that?” she asked, and levitated the device into the air as Twilight grabbed for it, helplessly.

“That? Oh, that's nothing,” said Twilight.

“It's mine,” said Celestia as she took a seat on the couch next to Twilight.

“Well I must say, the design is exquisite. Mind if I try it on?” asked Rarity.

Celestia used her own magic to overpower Rarity's levitation spell, and took the device back from her.

“Oh, no, you really shouldn't,” she said, “you could hurt your eyes. It's for a certain eye condition I have, you see.”

With that, Celestia put the device on, and the lens started to glow. Rarity's eyes narrowed.

“Is it, now?” she asked as she loomed over the two of them. Rainbow Dash walked over to the couch as well and looked at the device.

“Hey, cool. It's my favorite color, rainbow,” she said as her eyes began to glow a greenish tint.

Twilight looked at Celestia nervously. Celestia nodded towards the far wall where the rift was.

Rainbow Dash and Rarity simultaneously let their hooves fly towards Twilight and Celestia, who ducked to either side and bolted towards the wall where Pinkie was standing. The couch's back shattered into splinters and cloth. Pinkie jumped back in surprise, tangling herself in the long bolts of cloth that were wrapped around her.

Rarity and Rainbow Dash turned around as they pulled their hooves from the what was left of the couch. Their eyes were wide open and glowing a bright green.

Celestia pulled the Colorscope from her head and slapped it onto Twilight's. “They're changelings!” she yelled.

Twilight looked through the lens and could see Rarity and Rainbow Dash as translucent outlines. Underneath their images, she saw changeling drones.

“Well, what now?” asked Twilight.

“Pierce the rift with your horn! We have to go, now!” Celestia yelled as she pulled Pinkie Pie off the table and pushed her towards the door.

The changelings charged and leaned their heads forward, prepared to impale their targets. Celestia and Twilight dodged out of the way again, but this time the changelings were ready. They both veered left and chased Celestia towards the back of the boutique.

Twilight stopped in her tracks and watched as the changelings pinned Celestia to the ground. They reared upwards and stomped on her chest. Celestia coughed and cringed from the impact.

“Princess!” yelled Twilight, prepared to charge in and help. Pinkie Pie had finally pulled all the cloth from herself and was poised to strike as well.

“No!” yelled Celestia. “Just go! Run! You too, Pinkie Pie! This will all end once Twilight leaves!”

Images flashed through Twilight's mind, and she remembered the nightmare she'd had. She remembered Celestia, her body burned and her mane covered in blood. She shook her head and gritted her teeth.

“I won't!” yelled Twilight. “Not without you! I will not let that nightmare come true!”

Twilight charged the changelings and rammed into one of them with all the force she could muster. Her horn punctured deeply into its side. It fell to the left and on top of the other one. Dark red blood streamed down Twilight's horn and onto the visor's lens after the impact. Celestia pulled herself up against the wall.

“Tear that rift open, right now!” yelled Celestia, angrily. “That's more important than saving me!”

Twilight frowned, turned to the bulging rift, and concentrated magical energy into her horn.

At that moment, the door to the boutique flew open. Applejack and Fluttershy charged in and pinned Pinkie Pie to the floor.

“Oh, Twilight,” said Fluttershy with a sinister look on her face. “You better stop that. The queen will be hopping mad!”

Twilight ignored her and continued to concentrate. A beam of white energy shot from her horn's tip towards the seam. Through the Colorscope, Twilight could see a circle of pulsating black and green energy. She lowered her head and charged the spot.

Applejack and Fluttershy dove at her. They howled like enraged beasts.

Twilight's horn pierced the circle of energy. Fluttershy and Applejack crashed into her. Pinkie Pie raised her hoof in the air towards Twilight. Celestia began to run towards the Rift.

Everything went completely silent.

And then, everything exploded outward.

Twilight Sparkle Ch 7 - Transference

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Book One: Twilight Sparkle

Chapter Seven - Transference

Twilight felt a blast of hot air and a wave of force pushing her back. It happened so fast, the next thing she knew she was flying backwards through the air. Her ears rang and all the sound around her was muted. A few seconds later, she solidly met the ground and rolled for several more feet.

She raised her head and tried to look around, but her vision was spinning. Bright lights flickered all around her and she could feel intense heat. The smell of smoke began to permeate the air.

Fire! Twilight thought, shaking her head as she tried to get a grip on her senses. Her vision slowly started to stabilize and she looked all around her. She was outside on the lawn of Rarity’s house. Flames licked up from the floor of the boutique ahead of her. The wall opposite where the rift was had been blown to rubble, which was now lying in flames all around her.

“Princess! Pinkie!” Twilight yelled as she regained her footing. A sharp pain shot through her head as she yelled. She placed a hoof to her forehead and felt a sharp edge and the warm wetness of blood. She pulled whatever had cut into her out of her forehead. It fell to the ground and landed with a thunking sound.

“At least nothing hit my eyes...” she said, and then realized what the object was that had just lodged itself into the dirt. It was a sharp shard of a green colored lens. Twilight looked around in a panic and saw more glistening shards of the Colorscope lying strewn around her.

No time to worry about it now! she thought. She ran towards the burning building as quickly as she could.

“Princess!” she yelled as she approached. “Pinkie! Are you alright?”

A figure emerged from the flaming hole in the wall. Rainbow Dash, her mane burning in places and her face blackened with soot, stopped just outside of the boutique. She turned and reached a hoof back through the opening. She kicked, and out rolled Celestia. Her Twilight Glimmer disguise was slowly deteriorating, revealing Celestia’s true form.

“Princess!” yelled Twilight, running faster towards the two. She lowered her head and prepared to attack the changeling that was posing as Rainbow Dash. Then a familiar laugh shot out from Rainbow Dash’s mouth.

“So it was Celestia, then! This is too rich!” said Rainbow Dash, her body distorting and growing.

Twilight stopped in her tracks and fell backwards. She watched in horror as Rainbow Dash turned fully black. Her hooves extended and formed holes, and a crooked horn sprouted from her forehead. Her wings exploded in an eruption of blue feathers, revealing a pair insect-like wings underneath. The unmistakably imposing gaze of Chrysalis burned into Twilight’s eyes.

Twilight once again regained her footing and looked at the princess, whose disguise was now fully gone as well. Her face was charred along her cheeks and chin. Her mane was smoldering in several places and streaked with blood.

“This can’t be happening!” yelled Twilight as she approached the princess. The changeling queen laughed and stepped to the side to let her pass, just like in Twilight’s nightmare. The princess raised her head and looked at Twilight.

“Twilight... My faithful student. I wish...” Celestia began, but was cut off by Twilight.

“No! Stop!” Twilight yelled as tears streamed down her face. “This can’t turn into that nightmare! Please don’t leave me!”

Chrysalis laughed. “It’s too late, Twilight Sparkle! You’ve failed!” she said.

Celestia sighed and shook her head. “I’m not leaving you yet, Twilight. I just wish I’d thought to tell you how to avoid a blowback from opening that rift!”

Twilight raised her head and cocked it to one side.

“You’ve still failed! This pathetic plan of yours ends now!” Chrysalis said as she stepped towards the two of them with a sneer on her face.

“You think so?” asked Celestia, nodding her head to the fiery room behind the changeling.

Chrysalis turned her head just in time to see Pinkie Pie, her mane completely in flames, flying through the air towards her. The pink pony crashed her front hooves into the side of the changeling queen’s head and knocked her forward onto the ground. Pinkie rolled as she hit the dirt hard.

Celestia pushed herself back up onto her legs and closed the slight distance between her and the now grounded changeling. She lower her head and pressed her horn’s tip directly to the side of Chrysalis’ head.

Pinkie Pie, her mane still flaming, pulled herself over to the two of them and pinned the back of the changeling’s neck to the ground.

Chrysalis stared into Celestia’s eyes with a smug smile on her lips. “You three really are hilarious!” she laughed.

“I don’t think it’s time for you to be laughing, monster,” said Celestia as a burst of white energy erupted from the tip of her horn. The energy shot through Chrysalis, and her expression quickly changed from gleeful to angry.

“And I don’t think it’s a time for you to be getting cocky, princess!” said Chrysalis.

Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “How are you manipulating the dreams? Speak!” she yelled.

Chrysalis laughed again and dug her hooves into the dirt. Celestia pressed the tip of her horn harder against the changeling’s head, drawing a few drops of blood.

“You know what the funniest part of this whole situation is?” asked Chrysalis, not waiting for a response. “It’s that somehow you think you can call me a monster! It’s just so... poetic!

“Princess, you can end this now! It doesn’t matter how she’s doing it if we stop her here!” yelled Twilight. Chrysalis laughed and Celestia frowned and shook her head. As the tip of Celestia’s horn moved to the side, Chrysalis leaped upwards, flinging Pinkie Pie away. She reared up on her hind legs above Celestia, who was still crouching. The changeling lowered her horn and lunged towards Celestia.

“Princess!” yelled Twilight.

Celestia pushed herself forward and lifted her head. Her horn pierced the changeling’s chest with a hollow sound. With a single fluid motion, she then rose to her hooves and tilted her head to the side. The changeling’s body dropped from her horn and hit the ground.

“Killing her here will do us no good, Twilight,” said Celestia as she walked towards Twilight. “This was merely a shadow of hers.”

The changeling’s body began to be absorbed in the dancing shadows being cast from the flaming building. Twilight stared in awe at her mentor as she approached. Her eyes were devoid of their usual kindness, and her horn was stained red.

“We have to go now, Twilight. We can only hope that Chrysalis was not able to see what just happened here.” said Celestia as she reached a hoof out to Twilight.

Twilight, a bit scared, but also determined to persevere, took the princess’ hoof and rose to her side.

“Yowch!” yelled Pinkie Pie, jumping away from the boutique and smacking her hooves against her head. “My mane’s on fire!”

“You only just noticed?” Twilight asked.

“Well, yeah! I don’t know what the Pinkie Sense for burning mane is!” said Pinkie Pie, exasperated.

Twilight managed to laugh and smile at Pinkie. Pinkie smiled back and then turned towards the burning building.

“What a mess.” said Pinkie Pie.

“We’d better hurry,” said Twilight, “I hear hoofsteps coming this way, and if the others were any indication, they’re not coming to check if we’re okay.”

Celestia nodded, and then turned to Pinkie Pie.

“You should be safe once we leave, Pinkie Pie. I hate to dash at this point, but we have to,” said Celestia.

Pinkie Pie nodded. “Don’t you worry about me!” she said with confidence.

Twilight gasped as she remembered her broken visor. “The colorscope! It was destroyed in the blast!” She flipped open her now charred saddle bags and found that the communicator that Pinkie had given her was still intact, though. She breathed a sigh of relief for having not lost everything.

“We know where the rift is, we should be able to go through it without the scope.” said Celestia as she leapt into the flames of the Carousel Boutique.

“Go on!” said Pinkie Pie, “You’ll figure out something, I know it!” She smiled and waved.

Twilight smiled back and nodded her head, then turned and jumped after the princess.

In the boutique, the heat was overwhelming. Twilight quickly bolted towards Celestia, who was already at the far wall. A perfect circle of flames sat upon the wall, evenly burning with a slight green tint. Just in front of the flaming circle stood Applejack, her face blackened from the explosion and her legs halfway revealed as changeling legs.

“You can’t stop this,” said the changeling, in Applejack’s voice. “Even the queen herself couldn’t stop it if she wanted to.”

Twilight closed her eyes tightly and her horn began to glow a violet hue as she prepared an energy blast. Celestia reached her hoof back and placed it on Twilight’s forehead.

“Just a moment, Twilight,” said Celestia as she eyed the changeling suspiciously. “Let’s not be hasty. What do you mean by that, changeling? What can’t the queen stop even if she wanted to? The dreams, or something else?”

The changeling sat down and laughed. Its disguise further dissolved, Applejack’s image flickering away like a fire going out. Soon, only Applejack’s face, hair, and hat remained. The creature shook its head and stared at the ground.

“The madness,” it said, still using Applejack’s voice. “This whole mission. She never even came up with this idea. Invade Equestria? It’s crazy...” The changeling heaved forward and coughed. Celestia placed a hoof gently on its back, her expression having returned to its normal compassionate state.

“Whose idea was it?” Celestia asked, speaking soothingly.

The changeling coughed uncontrollably. It gasped for enough breath to speak. “Don’t matter,” it managed to say between heavy breaths. “Cloudsdale team... won’t make it... we’re all dead... Even you...”

Celestia frowned at the mention of Cloudsdale. Twilight stepped forward. Even though it was a changeling, the face was still Applejack’s, and she hated seeing her friend like that.

“Why are you telling us all this?” asked Twilight. The changeling nodded its head across the room. Twilight turned and looked. Fluttershy and Rarity laid in a pile, burning. Twilight gasped at the sight.

“Maybe... seein’ that somehow brought out this pony’s honest personality...” said the changeling. “Please, leave now... so this sufferin’ ends. I don’t wanna see ‘em... burnin’ like that.”

Celestia nodded her head and walked towards the flaming circle on the wall. “Very well, changeling,” she said, “we shall do just that.”

Twilight looked back at the changeling in shock. Is this from my dream world’s Applejack? Or is this changeling really showing... compassion? thought Twilight.

The changeling laughed as it caught sight of Twilight’s expression. “Are you that surprised? We have loyalty, pony! We only lack... love...” it said as it fell forward onto the floor. “But maybe bein’ in this dream... bein’ this Applejack... seein’ this place burn, and her friends with it... made me feel... somethin’... somethin’ sad... and somethin’ inside a’ me burnin’, too...”

The changeling closed its eyes and breathed out one last time. The image of Applejack remained on its face, a smile frozen on its lips. Twilight sighed and turned back to the princess.

“Let’s go, Twilight. Follow me closely and don’t take your eyes off me. You need to keep your emotions in check, no matter what you see and feel on the other side of this rift.” said Celestia.

Twilight nodded. The princess leapt through the wall and vanished. Twilight pressed the pink-gemmed communicator firmly into her ear, and then jumped through as well. As she pressed through the wall, a bright flash of light blinded her briefly. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that she was floating in a green stream of water-like energy suspended in the air. She could see Princess Celestia just ahead of her motioning her to follow.

Twilight tried to push forward with her hooves, but gained no momentum. The energy looked like a river, but didn’t allow one to swim through it. She looked to the princess for guidance. Celestia simply tapped her horn.

Twilight shrugged. Makes sense... stream of magical energy, so move around with magic, she thought. She concentrated on the idea of her body flowing through this stream like a fish in water, and in no time at all, she was moving forward. She waved to the princess, and then turned to glance backwards. She was unprepared for what she saw.

She saw herself, but absolutely huge, and encased in a changeling cocoon. She placed her hooves over her mouth to keep herself from gasping. From behind her, she could hear the princess shushing her quietly. Twilight took a deep breath and turned back towards Celestia. She finally came alongside her.

“Concentrate on the energy all around us,” whispered Celestia. “Can you feel it?”

Twilight scrunched her face up for a moment, searching for the sensation. It came to her quickly. She was filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. The feeling nearly brought her to tears.

“Don’t let it break you down, now,” whispered Celestia. “This is the power that the changelings feed upon. This is the raw energy of love.”

“It feels wonderful,” said Twilight with a bit of sadness in her voice from the thought that Chrysalis was feeding on this energy.

“All right, the next part is going to take you a bit longer, but as we move towards the collection pool, try to visualize it,” said Celestia. “The green flow you see is just from the changeling. Once you can see the energy of love, it will be a lot easier to move around.”

Twilight tried to visualize the energy as the two floated towards a large green pool of energy in the distance, but she couldn’t quite make it out. Everything was hazy, despite the energy being so powerful.

As they entered the central collection pool, Twilight could feel herself being pulled downward. Celestia grabbed Twilight around her arm and pulled her up towards the top of the pool.

“If we ever get pulled down by that undertow, I really don’t know what would happen,” said Celestia, “but I can not imagine it would be good.”

As they reached the top, Twilight felt an enormous wave of energy crash over her. Emotions welled up inside of her. Tears began to uncontrollably fall from her eyes. Her mouth curled upward into a smile so big it hurt her cheeks. She looked at Celestia, who was also smiling, but visibly fighting to resist it.

Then a giant pulse of energy flew right through Twilight. It sent chills down her spine and filled her stomach with butterflies. She knew immediately, without any doubt in her mind, where the pulse had come from.

“Rainbow Dash,” said Twilight, “what are you doing?”

“Which way did you feel it come from?” asked Celestia. “We should aim for Rainbow Dash if at all possible. Once we enter another pony’s stream, though, we will be locked on course. It will get a little bumpy, but don’t worry, it’s fairly simple after that.”

Twilight closed her eyes and concentrated. She tried to remember everything she could about the pulse of energy, but it was just so amazingly powerful, she was having trouble pinning down a specific heading. As she thought this, another pulse hit her, and her eyes flew open.

“This way!” she said as her horn glowed and she flew upward. Celestia followed quickly.

“Here it comes,” said Celestia.

“Here what comes?” asked Twilight.

Her question was answered rather quickly as she felt herself get pulled upward, Celestia right behind her. They now accelerated at an amazing rate, flying through the air. The outline of a cocoon flew towards them so fast it was impossible to identify the pony inside of it. Twilight raised her hooves up in front of her face.

“We’re gonna hit it!” she yelled and closed her eyes tightly.

A moment later, she felt herself land softly in what felt like a stack of hay. Celestia landed gently on her hooves beside her. Twilight stood up and looked around, shaking the debris from her mane. They were surrounded by tall grass, some of it taller than Twilight. The two pushed their way through, trying to find a clearing. They eventually came out near a large tree. It was covered in thick vines. The sound of birds and other animals scattering echoed across the field as the two ponies exited the grass.

“Where are we?” asked Twilight, “It must be some place like the Everfree Forest.”

Celestia shook her head.

“No, Twilight,” said Celestia as she pulled some thick vines to the side, revealing a door in the tree’s trunk, “I’m afraid not.”

Twilight grabbed more vines and pulled them down, fully revealing the all too familiar door. This was her home, Golden Oaks Library.

“What in the world happened?” asked Twilight, as she dropped the vines onto the ground.



Overgrowth Ch 1 - A World Gone Mad

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter One - A World Gone Mad

Twilight Sparkle and Princess Celestia stood before the tree which housed both Golden Oaks Library and Twilight's home. Twilight pushed the door open, but then paused to look back at the princess.

“I hadn't considered this until now, but...” Twilight said, hesitating, “what if I'm inside there?”

Celestia shrugged. “I honestly don't know,” she said. “Given the state of the place, I think it's unlikely anyone is in there, though.”

Twilight sighed and pushed the door open. She stepped inside and looked around. The walls of the tree had started to grow branches inward, and the vines that were wrapped around the outside had pushed through the windows. Books and other items were scattered everywhere, but at the center of the room were neat stacks of books on and around a table, as well as a stack of paper with a rock set on top.

Twilight stepped quietly across the room towards the neatly organized work area. She recognized the organizational method instantly, since it was her own. She had done this, or rather, the Twilight of this dream world had. Twilight lifted the rock off the stack of paper, revealing written words on the top page. She read them aloud.

“‘Day forty since the Everfree Forest began to encroach on Ponyville,’” Twilight read. “Forty days? And this looks like it was written some time ago.”

“Go on,” said Celestia as she stood by Twilight's side, “continue reading. This will hopefully shed some light on what's going on, and maybe even whose dream this is.”

Twilight nodded and continued to read. “‘I fear it is safe to say that Canterlot is not going to be able to help us. We have not heard from the military since the battle in the second week, and I believe Celestia is either unable to receive the scrolls that Spike sends, or is no longer able to respond. I refuse to believe that she has abandoned us, but most of the ponies in town have given up hope or believe we have been left to die,’” she read, her voice trembling. “‘I am leaving tomorrow morning to try and reach Canterlot, as well as scout for my missing friends. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy have not been seen since they took off with a group of pegasi to try and reach Cloudsdale. I fear the worst.’”

Twilight swallowed hard as she read the last lines. “‘I will probably not make it to Canterlot, or ever be able to return home. I can't stand the thought of dying here alone without having tried, though. If you are reading this, and the forest is still advancing, then I am probably dead by now,’” she read aloud. “That's it...”

Celestia reached a hoof forward and rolled down the bottom of the page, which had become curled upward, revealing one more short paragraph.

“‘If you're reading this, and your name is Spike,’” Celestia read aloud, “‘I told you not to come here. Go back to Ponyville’s town square, Applejack will need you to be there in case the princess tries to contact them with a scroll.’”

Twilight shook her head in confusion. ‘I am probably dead by now’? she thought. I don’t understand.

“This doesn’t sound very promising,” said Celestia as she moved the top page aside to see if there was any more written on the pages underneath. “The rest of the pages are blank. We have nothing else to go on.”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Twilight, who had started to pace around the room. “Aren’t these dreams supposed to be happy? How could anypony be happy about this grim situation?”

“I don’t know,” replied Celestia. She closed her eyes and began to transform into Twilight Glimmer again. “Perhaps we should head towards the center of town where Applejack and the others are supposed to be.”

“That’s fine for you, Princess, but what about me?” asked Twilight. She returned to the central table and placed her hoof on the note. “We don’t even know how long ago this world’s Twilight left. For all we know, it could have been days... or weeks ago. If I show up without any information on what happened, they might all turn into changelings again, like in my dream.”

Celestia, now fully changed into her disguise, placed a hoof to her chin in thought. “That’s a good point. Arousing suspicions in these dreams can be dangerous, as we’ve found out.”

“Right, and come to think of it, that reminds me of something I’ve been wondering,” said Twilight, taking a seat in front of Celestia. “How were you able to move around in my dream? Did that gem you were hiding in have something to do with it? Could we do something like that, whatever it was?”

“Ah, yes,” said Celestia. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that was only possible because I entered your dream while it was forming. In fact, I am not sure I could have done it in anypony else’s dream at all. Your magical energy made it possible, along with your dream’s initial haziness. I was able to spot Pinkie Pie as an anomaly and give her some power, as well as hide myself in the gem, all within the first few seconds of your dream. After that, things started progressively behaving more like reality.”

Twilight slumped forward and rested her chin on her hoof. “That is disappointing. And since this dream has been going for a while, it’s too late, I suppose.” she said with a sigh.

“Right you are,” Celestia responded. “Getting out of that gem was quite a drain on me, actually. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it, but as soon as my horn crested, I felt a surge of energy from you, and was able to put Spike to sleep and emerge.”

“What else can we do, then?” said Twilight, flustered. She placed her hooves to the sides of her head. “Think, think!” She shook her head back and forth, and felt her right hoof tapping against something in her ear.

“What’s that?” Twilight said, and then gasped. “Pinkie Pie! Maybe Pinkie Pie from this dream can help us just like before, if we could just find her somehow!”

“Did somepony say my name?” came a voice from Twilight’s ear. Twilight jumped up and pressed her hoof against her ear.

“Pinkie?” she said with a smile.

“Yes indeedie!” said the voice. “I guess that communicator thingie really works!”

“Amazing!” said Celestia. She pressed her ear against Twilight’s to listen in.

“Pinkie, are you all right? Did everything calm down after we left?” asked Twilight.

“A little too much,” said Pinkie Pie. “The moment you went through that hole in the wall, everything just froze. Everypony is just standing around like statues now.”

“Wow, that’s kind of... creepy,” said Twilight, cocking one eyebrow upward.

“You’re telling me!” said Pinkie Pie. “I thought it was weird before, but this is a whole new level of weird! The weirdest thing is the sky, though. It’s gone completely black, no stars or moon or anything.”

“Sounds dreary,” said Twilight. “I wish there was a way to brighten it up a bit.”

“Whoa!” came Pinkie’s voice in Twilight’s ear, along with a distant crashing noise. “Twilight! Right after you said that, the sky changed back to normal! I can hear some ponies walking around and talking outside, too!”

Celestia smiled. “It makes sense that you can control the dream somewhat, Twilight,” she said. “You’re still technically dreaming in that cocoon. Only your consciousness left, so your subconscious is still at work.”

“I guess that’s the main reason Pinkie is still there,” said Twilight. “Dream control... that would have been handy while we were there.”

“Lucidity,” said Celestia. “The ability to control your dreams is a gift that everyone has to some degree, but can not always control. It usually manifests itself in small ways as you dream.”

“Well it mani... maniwhatstit-ed in a big way in here!” said Pinkie. “I just looked out the window, and everything seems to be back to normal. Well, as normal as it was before, probably.”

“Well that’s a relief, at least. Pinkie, we’re going to try to contact the Pinkie from this dream,” said Twilight. “We hope she can help us, too.”

Pinkie began to respond, but Twilight couldn’t hear what she was saying. A loud, screeching sound from outside the library came suddenly, and the ground began to shake. Books fell from shelves and a glass pane in one of the windows shattered.

“What’s going on?” yelled Twilight. She ran towards the window to look outside.

“Twilight, wait!” shouted Celestia, and ran after her. “Look at the window above!” She tackled Twilight and pointed her head upwards. The upper window near Twilight’s bedroom was completely broken to bits, and there was a mass of writhing tentacle-like vines advancing inward.

“Is this what this dream’s Twilight meant about the Everfree Forest encroaching?” shouted Twilight as she regained her footing and backed away from the window.

“I imagine so, but we need to get out of here now!” said Celestia, pushing Twilight towards the door. The two ran towards it as fast as they could, and Celestia shot a beam of magic at it. The door blew to pieces along with a large portion of the wall. The ponies leapt through the hole and were met quickly with the field of tall grass they had landed in before. It was growing right before their eyes, each blade becoming taller and thicker.

“We’ll have to blast through!” yelled Celestia, her horn glowing with white magic. Twilight nodded her head and concentrated her power into her horn as well. They let off simultaneous blasts of purple and white, the magic cutting through the grass like a knife through a wet piece of paper.

They ran into the newly made corridor, galloping as fast as they could. They could hear the sound of plants creaking and groaning all around them, and a sound like snakes slithering and hissing off to their left.

“This way! Towards the town center! We don’t have time to worry about it!” shouted Celestia as she fired off another round of magic from her horn. Twilight followed suit, widening their path. She glanced behind them and could see the path where they had run from was already regrowing at an alarming rate.

“I’d take fighting changelings over this any time!” yelled Twilight. Ahead of her, she could make out something big moving through the grass. “Look out, something’s up ahead!”

Celestia nodded and readied her horn for another shot, but a large brown vine resembling a tree root came from the left and knocked her sideways. She fell to the ground and rolled into the tall grass. The blades of grass wrapped around her and lifted her several inches off the ground.

“Princess!” yelled Twilight, stopping and turning to assist her. She couldn’t use magic for fear of harming Celestia, so she pulled grass and vines away with her teeth and hooves, but wasn’t making very fast progress. The grass was growing back in the corridor and began to wrap itself around Twilight’s back legs.

Celestia struggled to free herself as well, but couldn’t regain her footing. She screamed with frustration and began to glow, her body erupting with light. Her true form pushed outward and tore the grass and roots from her body. She quickly extended her wings, grabbed Twilight with her front legs, and shot into the air with powerful wing beats. Soon, they were free from the field and flying far above it.

From the sky, the two of them had a new vantage point to see what was happening below. To the south, they could see the Everfree Forest, which had grown in size and taken over most of the surrounding landscape. The movement of animals from the forest could be seen everywhere. New trees had sprouted up all over, and the movement of new growth was exploding from the forest’s center. The outskirts of Ponyville had been overrun by it all, and most of the buildings were just piles of rubble and plant life.

From the direction of the town center, Twilight and Celestia heard a voice yelling over a bull horn. They both recognized it immediately as Applejack’s.

“Git those barricades repaired faster!” Applejack’s yelled. “Ready the cutters! It’s gonna hit us this time, it’s a biggun!”

Celestia made a beeline towards the sound of Applejack’s voice. For better or worse, the town square seemed like their only option now. As they approached, the sight before them was unlike anything they had seen before.

Walls of charred black wood and stone had been erected all around the square, creating a perimeter. Towers were positioned throughout the wall with lookouts standing guard. The walls themselves were lined with what appeared to be sharp metal blades. Most of them were covered in green pulp and had small chips broken off of them.

“Unicorn squad, ready!” came Applejack’s voice. “Swing!”

Twilight looked in the direction Applejack’s voice had come from. A row of unicorns stood on top of the wall, their horns glowing brightly. On the other side of the wall, a twisted mass of vines and branches were pushing quickly into the wall, but were being met by the numerous large blades being swung by the unicorns.

Suddenly, another voice came from just ahead of the two of them. “AJ! Airborn, south side!” The voice belonged to the mayor, who was standing in a guard tower, staring directly at Celestia and Twilight.

“Unicorn squad, assist south!” shouted Applejack, turning to look. A pair of unicorns broke formation from the rest and ran along the wall towards the south side.

“Wait!” yelled Twilight.

Applejack dropped her bullhorn and shook her head in disbelief. “Twilight?” she said, her eyes wide, her teeth clenched.

The mayor stared and shook her head as well. “Twilight? And the princess?” she gasped.

Celestia shot downward and landed in the courtyard just inside the southern wall. Applejack ran down a set of stairs towards them, her face full of panic.

“Guards!” Applejack yelled as she ran. “Hold them!”

“What?” yelled Twilight, as a group of ponies dressed in armor and carrying spears came from seemingly nowhere and formed a tight circle around her and Celestia. The guards pointed their weapons inwards at the two of them. Applejack approached, and one guard pulled out of formation to let her in. Twilight gasped at the sight of Applejack. Her face was dirty and her hair was pulled down over her right eye, but not enough to completely hide the fact that it was closed. A pair of long scars ran down her cheek from her eye to her jaw.

“Applejack, what’s--” Twilight started, but was cut off by Applejack.

“You two got a lot of nerve showin’ up like this,” said Applejack angrily. “You think we’re buyin’ an extreme makeover like this one?”

“What are you talking about, AJ? It’s us!” said Twilight. “Twilight and Princess Celestia!”

Applejack sighed. “Look, save the lies,” she said. “I figured the forest would eventually make its way to wherever y’all have been hiding ever since the weddin’, but you changelings aren’t welcome here.”

“Changelings? What?” said Twilight as she raised a hoof in frustration. “We’re not--”

“Hey, queen bee!” snapped Applejack as she shot a glance towards Celestia. “You better tell your dog to pipe down!”

“AJ!” yelled Twilight, her jaw dropping. “When did you get so vulgar?”

“It’s okay, Twilight,” said Celestia calmly. “We don’t need to cause any more trouble than we already are.”

Twilight sighed. “Applejack, it’s really us. How can we convince you?” she pleaded.

Applejack raised her hoof and pressed her hat down against her head. “All right. I’ll play along for now,” she said. “We can talk all about it once we got you two locked in a cell. Take ‘em away.”

The guards motioned towards a building with barred windows on the other side of the courtyard and tapped Twilight and Celestia with their spears. “Get moving,” one of the guards said calmly.

Twilight shook her head, but obeyed, walking alongside Celestia and the guards towards the apparent jail house. As she walked, she heard Applejack’s voice from behind her. “I’ll be there as soon as this attack’s over. Y’all better come up with a good story!” she yelled.

Overgrowth Ch 2 - Loyalty and Kindness

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Two - Loyalty and Kindness

Twilight and Celestia were escorted into a dingy building. The interior was cramped and consisted only of a small lobby and a single short hall lined with several barred cells. The two of them were placed into the first cell on the left. The guards pushed the sliding cell door shut and shook it a bit to make sure it was secure. The two guards then left as quickly as they had entered, slamming the front door behind them.

“I guess they have more to worry about than us, with the forest attacking and all,” said Twilight as she sat down on the floor. She looked around the cell, and felt the presence of a simple containment spell. Off to the side, she could hear someone in the next cell over snoring through the wall.

I guess that spell is why they aren’t worried about having a guard in here, thought Twilight. Feels like my own magic, too. Still, I can break it if we need to escape quickly.

Celestia sat quietly, her head pointed downward slightly, and closed her eyes in concentration. Twilight blinked curiously as Pinkie’s voice came over her communicator.

“Hey, what’s going on in there?” Pinkie asked. Twilight slapped her hoof over her ear.

“We need to keep quiet for a bit,” Twilight whispered. “We’re locked up in a jail cell in this dream. Don’t worry, we can get out whenever we want, but we have to find out what’s happening first.”

A whisper came back over the communicator. “Okay, well just tap that earpiece if you need me. I’ll be cookin’ up something on this end that I think you’ll like,” Pinkie said, and then there was a small click.

After a moment, Celestia opened her eyes and shook her head. “I’ve been trying to sense the host, but I am not certain I’m able to,” she said in a hushed tone. “In your dream, I was able to sense a sort of unique energy around you, but that may just be because I am so familiar with you to begin with.”

“Well, we headed straight towards that giant pulse of energy,” whispered Twilight with a shrug. “We know it was Rainbow Dash’s energy, but according to Dream-Twilight’s message, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy set off for Cloudsdale.”

Twilight walked over to the barred window at the back of their cell. Through it, all she could see was the short distance between the jailhouse and a courtyard wall. “I wonder if Rainbow Dash is all right,” Twilight said with a shake of her head. “I mean, this world seems really dangerous. Hopefully she’s not... you know...”

“I don’t know if these dreams work the same as normal dreams,” said Celestia. “Normally, if a dream is bad enough, you’d wake up. However, since we were all forced to sleep, things could be different.”

Twilight nodded. “That makes sense, I guess,” she said. “Well I hope things aren’t going terribly for her. Still, it would be nice if she was actually here. I wonder if those two made it to Cloudsdale.”

The sun beat down hard on Unicorn Range, the mass of flat rangeland situated to the west of Canterlot. The flats were dry, the fields filled with crunchy, shriveled vegetation. A massive shadow swept across the plain as a dragon swooped overhead and towards the mountains that lined the range’s southern border. Below those mountains was a strip of forest and other foliage. The forest was dotted with patches of brown amongst the green canopy. Along the forest’s edge, a rainbow streak shot westward.

Rainbow Dash flew low to the ground along the foliage. She carried a bag in her mouth, loaded with various berries and other small fruits. She approached a tiny opening in the side of a tree and landed, crawling inside. It was a tight fit, barely large enough for her to squeeze through.

Inside the hollow, dead tree was Fluttershy, her left wing spread out and held stiff with a splint made from a stick and some vines. She was laying on a bed of cloud that Rainbow Dash had pulled into the tree. She’d been asleep, but stirred slightly as Rainbow entered. Rainbow Dash walked to the makeshift bed and set the bag down. Fluttershy opened her eyes and smiled.

“Here’s what I could manage to scrounge up,” said Rainbow as she took a seat beside the wounded pegasus. “Not too bad, don’t ya think?”

Fluttershy nodded and sat up, taking a small green apple in hoof and biting into it.

“Those dragons are still circling around out there,” said Rainbow Dash, glancing towards the opening in the tree. “They seem to be going back and forth between the mountains and Cloudsdale, still.”

“I wish they would just go away,” said Fluttershy quietly with a whimper. “Not that I could fly anywhere right now.”

Rainbow Dash frowned and looked at Fluttershy’s wing. It was missing some of its plumage and had been broken in two places during their first run-in with the dragons two weeks ago. It was taking a long time to heal without a unicorn doctor to help speed the healing process along. Furthermore, Rainbow Dash had no experience in helping injured ponies. She had to rely on Fluttershy’s knowledge from caring for injured animals to guide her.

“Do you think we could try to take the splint off today?” asked Rainbow, trying to be helpful in some way, and also anxious to return to their quest to reach Cloudsdale.

“Well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” said Fluttershy, nodding her head. “At least... I hope it won’t. Just be careful and try to bend it slowly at the joints, like I said before.”

Rainbow Dash nodded and climbed onto the bed, positioning herself behind Fluttershy. She gently untied the vines with her teeth and caught the stick as it fell loose. Placing one hoof on Fluttershy’s back and the other just slightly up her wing, she pushed the wing slowly upward. Fluttershy cringed a bit and Rainbow stopped moving the wing immediately.

“Does that hurt?” asked Rainbow, trying to hold perfectly still. This kind of work was definitely not suited to her. She was used to much more extreme, fast movements, so this sort of slow precision was really nerve-wracking for her.

“Yes,” replied Fluttershy, “but keep going. It’s not unbearable. Probably just muscle ache from not being used for so long.”

Rainbow nodded and continued to slowly move the wing upward, then outward until it was pointed back fully. Fluttershy bit down against a walnut and tightly closed her eyes as Rainbow proceeded to move the second joint around. There was no sharp pain, just the mild aching of atrophy.

“Let go for a moment, Rainbow,” said Fluttershy, her voice breaking a bit. “I’m... going to try and move it, but be ready to hold it steady if something happens.”

“Something? What’s that mean?” asked Rainbow, releasing her grip.

“Well... I don’t know,” said Fluttershy. “I’ve never treated a broken pegasus wing before. I’ve only helped birds. It should be similar enough, so here goes...”

Fluttershy began to move her wing around, bending each joint and flapping lightly. She closed her eyes and made a nervous squeak, then slowly folded the wing inward. As it folded completely, she let out a sigh of relief.

“So... that feel okay?” asked Rainbow nervously.

“Yes,” said Fluttershy. “I never thought I’d miss having my wing folded so much.” She laughed and picked up two berries, handing one back to Rainbow and popping the other one into her mouth.

Rainbow chewed on the sweet purple berry and leaned back against the wall. “So how long until you can fly again, do you think?” she asked.

“Hard to say,” said Fluttershy. “It’s still very achy, and my back muscles are really sore, too. It could be as long as another week.” She lowered her head and sighed with disappointment. She knew that Rainbow Dash was anxious to go, but wouldn’t leave her to fend for herself.

I could probably gather my own food now that my wing isn’t bound, Fluttershy thought, but it would be so lonely.

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait it out,” said Rainbow, leaning forward and grabbing another berry in her mouth. Fluttershy looked down at Rainbow as she leaned forward. Her normally bright, beautiful mane was dull with dirt from her daily excursions to find food while avoiding being seen by the dragons. Fluttershy felt a tear coming to her eye, but she fought it back and sighed.

I’ll suggest to her that she should go on without me tomorrow morning, thought Fluttershy. I just want to spend one more night with her.

The two sat quietly for a moment, chewing on their meager rations. Fluttershy finally broke the silence. “Rainbow Dash,” she said quietly.

“Yeah?” said Rainbow after swallowing a piece of walnut.

“I don’t suppose you’d mind...” she started, but then bit her lip, and didn’t finish.

“Mind what?” asked Rainbow Dash, leaning forward.

Fluttershy sighed. I’m so selfish... she thought to herself.

“It’s just... now that my wing is folded in, my back is completely cramped up. It hurts...” Fluttershy said. “Would you massage it for me?” She was telling the truth, her back was intensely stiff, and pulses of dull pain were shooting into her shoulder. All the same, she was embarrassed to ask for a massage.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Well, lie down and I’ll try,” she said, “but I’ve never done anything like this before.”

I’m so sorry, Fluttershy thought to herself as she laid down along the bed of cloud and felt Rainbow’s front hooves press against her back. I’m sorry that I’m so selfish.

As Fluttershy felt Rainbow pressing her hooves gently along the her stiff muscles, she nervously tried to make conversation. “So, do you think the sun will go down tonight?” she asked.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “It hasn’t gone down in over a week now, so I don’t see why it would,” she said, running the edge of her left hoof down Fluttershy’s spine. “Am I doing this right? You’ll tell me if I’m not, right?”

Fluttershy chuckled lightly. “Don’t worry, it feels good,” she said. “I can feel the tension leaving already.” Any contact at all felt good after so many hours of being cooped up in this small space, though. Fluttershy was sure she couldn’t feel more relaxed than this. The sun had stopped moving, the Everfree Forest had taken over most of her home, dragons had swarmed north towards Cloudsdale and Canterlot, and she had broken her wing. All things considered, it would be hard for the last month to be any worse for her. Yet, in this moment, lying on a cloud with her best friend’s hooves rubbing her back, she was happy, even if only for a moment.

After a few minutes, Rainbow Dash noticed Fluttershy’s breathing had changed to deeper and longer breaths. She smiled and laid down on her back next to the yellow pegasus. She lifted her front hooves into the air and looked at them.

“Guess I can do that kind of thing, too, if I try,” she said to herself quietly. She tilted her head to the side and looked at Fluttershy’s sleeping face. She whispered, “Don’t worry, Fluttershy. I won’t leave until we can leave together.” Then Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep as well.

Rainbow Dash slowly opened her eyes as she awoke. She immediately noticed that Fluttershy was missing. She jolted up out of bed and looked around in a clumsy, half-asleep panic.

Oh no! Where’d she go? Rainbow thought. She leapt from bed and ran towards the opening in the tree trunk, poking her head out. Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen.

She pushed through the small opening and ran out to where there was enough clearance in the canopy to see if any dragons were circling overhead. Once she was certain it was safe, she called out as loud as she could.“Fluttershy! Fluttershy!” Rainbow yelled, starting a gallop back towards the dead tree. “Fluttershy! Where are you?”

She bolted through brush and tree limbs all around their shelter and spotted a fresh set of hoofprints. She ran along beside them, toward the mountains and into the forest situated behind the tree. She eventually came upon a thick patch of hanging vines and pushed through them into a clearing where a sizeable lake sat at the base of a sharp drop from the mountains above. A waterfall poured into the body of water toward the back. Rainbow breathed a sigh of relief as she found Fluttershy bathing in the water with a veritable menagerie of squirrels, birds, and other creatures gathered on the bank nearest to her.

Fluttershy looked up and smiled at Rainbow Dash. She began to walk towards her and extended her wings fully, shaking droplets of water from them as she went.

“Rainbow Dash, I’m glad you found us!” said Fluttershy in a happy tone. “The animals told me about this wonderful clean lake. The water runs down from the snow melting up in the mountains and feels just wonderful.”

Rainbow Dash stared at Fluttershy, not sure how to respond. She wanted to yell at her for leaving without telling her, for making her worry so much, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it when Fluttershy looked so happy. She decided to try and act cool about the situation, instead.

“Oh yeah!” said Rainbow Dash. “Yeah, I totally found this place a couple days ago. Pretty nice, huh?” She nervously put a hoof behind her head and laughed.

Fluttershy, who had now reached the bank where Rainbow was standing, reached her hoof out and touched it to Rainbow’s mane, which was still very dirty and faded.

“Well why didn’t you clean yourself up, then?” she asked, grinning, and then motioned into the water. “Come on, you should get in and get all clean. After that, we can eat the food I gathered this morning.” She then pointed to a bag sitting on a far bank. It was full of many different kinds of fruit and nuts, which were spilling over onto the ground.

Rainbow’s mouth watered a bit and her stomach growled. Fluttershy laughed and pulled Rainbow into the water. She didn’t resist, and fell forward into the clear pool, letting its cool water completely soak her mane and body. Her scalp and skin had been so itchy the past week, she’d had to come up with mental techniques to ignore it. Almost as if it was magic, the itching and pain stopped as the water enveloped her.

This... is... amazing! Rainbow Dash thought to herself, grinning from ear to ear. Funny how something simple like this can feel so great after so long.

Rainbow Dash pushed up out of the water and hugged Fluttershy tightly, just trapped in the moment and how great she suddenly felt.

“Sorry, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow Dash, remembering how mad she had been just a minute earlier.

Fluttershy blinked with confusion, but hugged her friend back. “What for?”

Rainbow Dash shook her head and smiled. “Nevermind. Let’s eat, I’m starving!”

The two of them headed over to the bank where the bag of food was and sat leaning against a rocky edge of the lake, soaking and eating as they talked.

“I’m impressed, though, Fluttershy!” said Rainbow Dash. “I genuinely am! How did you find this place and gather so much food?”

Fluttershy laughed. “Did you forget what my special talent is, already?” she asked. “I didn’t do it all by myself. I had a lot of help from my friends here, didn’t I?” she said, glancing over at a squirrel who was curled up in the shade of a small bush.

“Oh yeah! That makes sense!” said Rainbow Dash, a bit embarrassed. “Duh! How could I have forgotten that?”

Guess I just got used to her being so helpless that I didn’t think about her strengths, Rainbow thought to herself, a bit ashamed. And this after I felt like such a great friend last night.

Fluttershy smiled and nodded her head. “See? I can help, too, now that I can move around freely,” she said, and then leaned her head downward, trying to psych herself up for what she had to say. “Rainbow Dash... I can take care of myself here, so you should really get going to--”

“No way!” said Rainbow Dash, cutting Fluttershy off mid-sentence. “I can’t leave you here alone, even if you can gather food for yourself. What if those dragons find you?”

“What if they find me when you’re here?” asked Fluttershy, raising her voice a bit and turning her head to look at Rainbow Dash. Her eyes were unwavering and had determination burning in their depths. “Can you really fight a dragon? Wouldn’t we just both be running for our lives or eaten?”

“But I...” said Rainbow Dash, unable to even come up with an argument against that. “You’re just... You’re so scared of dragons, so I just--”

“Don’t!” said Fluttershy, this time cutting Rainbow Dash off. “Don’t treat me like I’m helpless. Yes, I’m scared of dragons, but I’m more scared of losing all our friends! We have to find out what’s happened in Cloudsdale and Canterlot as fast as possible, and bring help back to Ponyville!”

Rainbow Dash sighed and lowered her head. She’s right, of course. Darn it... she thought to herself, gritting her teeth. I can’t wait. I have to get to Cloudsdale, and then we have to get back to Ponyville. We’ve wasted enough time in these stupid foothills!

Rainbow Dash looked up and into Fluttershy’s eyes. She nodded her head. “Okay. You’re right,” she said. “After we finish up here, we’ll go back to the tree and then I’ll take off for Cloudsdale.”

Fluttershy smiled and patted Rainbow Dash on the head. “That’s more like the brave and determined pony I know,” she said.

Rainbow Dash blushed and pushed Fluttershy’s hoof aside. “Oh come on, now, that’s enough,” she said with a laugh. They ate food until they were satisfied, then gathered the rest up and headed back towards the tree.

Once they arrived, they stood silently in front of the entrance for a few seconds, looking at each other. Finally, Fluttershy lifted the saddle bag up and strapped it onto Rainbow Dash’s waist.

“Take the rest of the food with you. My animal friends are already out there gathering more for me, so it won’t be a problem,” she said, smiling.

Rainbow Dash nodded. “I know you’ll be fine. I’ll be back to get you before you know it,” she said, and started to turn away. Fluttershy reached out and grabbed Rainbow by the shoulder. She pulled her close and hugged her tightly.

“Be careful,” Fluttershy said, her voice filled with hope and sadness.

Rainbow Dash hugged her back. “Don’t worry, those dragons won’t even be able to keep up with me!” she said with confidence. Rainbow Dash then took off into the sky and was out of sight before Fluttershy could blink twice.

“I know. That’s your special talent. Well, one of them, anyway,” said Fluttershy to herself with a bittersweet smile. She turned around and retreated back into the tree to take shelter from the heat of the sun.

Rainbow Dash glanced back towards the mountains. They shrank away as her distance from Fluttershy grew. “Don’t worry, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow. “I’ll be back real soon!”

As Rainbow Dash was about to pull her head forward again, she saw a fireball erupt from the forest below the mountains, and heard an explosion a few seconds later. She came to a screeching halt and stared blankly towards the now blazing forest where she had been only a moment earlier.

“Fluttershy...” she said to herself, her eyes wide and shaking with shock. “Fluttershy!”

Rainbow Dash blasted back towards the mountains, heading straight towards the heart of the inferno.

Overgrowth Ch 3 - Shining Loyalty

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Three - Shining Loyalty

Rainbow Dash sped back towards the forest where she’d left Fluttershy. The forest was now ablaze and the fire was swiftly spreading like a wave across the trees. So many days of non-stop sunlight had dried everything up, so there was nothing to stop the raging blaze. As Rainbow Dash got closer to the forest, she saw a group of four adolescent dragons in the center of the patchy fire, right near where their tree had once stood. In its place stood a blackened stump and a circle of flaming debris.

Oh no! thought Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy! Where is she?

Her question was answered as she flew even closer. The dragons were gathered around in a circle, and one of them was holding Fluttershy in its claws. Fluttershy’s body and mane were black with soot and burns, and the dragons seemed to be yelling at her.

The bright gold dragon holding Fluttershy shook her as it yelled, “Just tell us why and we’ll let you go!” She squirmed in its grip and whimpered, tears streaming out of her eyes.

“I don’t know either,” sobbed Fluttershy as timidly as she could. “Please let me go.” She cringed in pain as the dragon squeezed her harder in its claws.

“You ponies control the sun! Now it’s not going down!” angrily shouted a smaller dragon with shimmering red scales. “This is an attack! That’s all it could be! The water is drying up, the plants are all shriveling, the animals are dying! What else could it be?”

“That’s right!” said an emerald green dragon. “The ponies are finally moving! I bet this one’s a spy who was sent here to watch us and send intel back to Cloudsdale! She is one of them pegasus ponies!” The dragon spat on the ground as he finished the sentence.

“A spy? No, I’m not a--” said Fluttershy, but was cut off by the dragon dropping her onto the ground. She landed roughly with a solid plop and curled into a ball as she cringed from the pain of impact. She coughed and tried to catch her breath, but did not get much of a break.

“Yeah, whatever!” yelled the dragon. It reared back and then kicked Fluttershy towards a blazing section of the forest. She sailed through the flames just as a colorful streak shot past the dragons and into the fire after her. Rainbow Dash caught Fluttershy with her forelegs and swooped up, the rising heat pushing her skyward even faster than she could do on her own.

“Rainbow Dash!” exclaimed Fluttershy in surprise, still coughing and trying to catch her breath. “You came back!”

“I saw the explosion! I couldn’t just leave you in this mess!” said Rainbow Dash with a grin. “The plan’s changed! We’re going to Cloudsdale together! I’m just gonna have to carry you!”

“It’ll slow you down too much,” said Fluttershy, raising her head to look over Rainbow’s shoulder. She spotted four dragons in flight chasing them. “and those d-d-dragons are after us!”

Rainbow Dash swung towards the lake where she and Fluttershy had bathed earlier. She made a beeline towards the waterfall at the far end.

“Hold your breath!” yelled Rainbow, tightening her grip on Fluttershy. Fluttershy shut her eyes and inhaled before closing her mouth tightly. The two of them shot through the waterfall, creating a blast of water spray. Once clear of the waterfall, Rainbow turned northward and began to increase her speed as much as she could, flying towards Cloudsdale, which sat barely visible in the distance.

“Rainbow Dash, they’re still f-f-following us!” yelled Fluttershy, shivering from being splashed with water.

“Just let them try and catch me!” shouted Rainbow Dash, pushing herself harder than before to outrun the pack of dragons. A hissing sound came from behind them, followed by a blast of fire and intense heat. Their water-soaked bodies resisted the flames and didn’t ignite. Fluttershy gasped, finally realizing why Rainbow had flown through the waterfall earlier.

“The water! Sharp thinking, Rainbow Dash!” said Fluttershy, raising her head to look back at the dragons, who were still behind them, but slowly trailing off.

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Don’t get comfy just yet! We can probably only withstand one more shot like that, and we’re not even close to Cloudsdale yet!”

Another flash of heat and flames shot past them, and Fluttershy’s mane lit on fire at the ends. Fluttershy shrieked, flailing her hooves at the flapping, flaming hair. Much to her relief, the fire was quickly blown out by the whipping winds that surrounded the two pegasi. Fluttershy sighed with relief and glanced at Rainbow Dash, who was starting to look a bit panicked. She frowned and tried to think of something that might help Rainbow Dash get them away from their pursuers.

“Can you go any faster? Maybe... with a Sonic Rainboom?” asked Fluttershy hesitantly. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to hold on, or if Rainbow would be able to keep hold of her for that matter, at the speed of a Sonic Rainboom.

Rainbow Dash frowned. “I don’t know if I can do it while I am carrying you, but--” she said with doubt, but then her eyes shot open wide and a grin formed across her lips. “Fluttershy! Can you glide at all?”

Fluttershy blinked. “Maybe for a moment, but I can’t put any pressure on my left wing...”

“That’s fine! It’ll only be for a second!” yelled Rainbow, and she swooped upwards. “Do you trust me?” She looked straight into Fluttershy’s eyes as she asked, a serious look on her face.

“Yes, I do,” Fluttershy nodded, “with my life.”

“Then fly!” shouted Rainbow Dash, pushing her hooves upward and launching Fluttershy into the air. Rainbow Dash continued to climb straight up, while Fluttershy barrelled up and forward until her trajectory peaked. She opened her right wing as she felt herself hanging in air at the apex, spreading it out and falling slowly in a wide spiral.

The dragons stopped in mid-air, eyeing both ponies suspiciously and scratching their heads.

Rainbow Dash waited until she felt she’d gained enough vertical distance from the dragons and Fluttershy before going into an aerial backflip. She spun as she flipped and then began to speed downwards right toward the pack of dragons.

One of the dragons motioned towards Rainbow Dash, who was coming right at them, and laughed. “Check it out, guys! This little pony is gonna dive-bomb us!” he said, and the others erupted into fits of laughter as well.

Rainbow Dash extended her hooves forward, and a vortex of air began to spin all around her. The dragons turned to face her, opening their mouths.

“Welcome to the barbecue, my little pony!” yelled the red dragon. “You’re the main course!” With that, all four of them spewed forth their fire breath right at Rainbow Dash. The fire hit the vortex of air and spun all around, never even making contact. The dragons gasped in shock, but didn’t have much time to think about what had just happened. Rainbow Dash shot right into the dragon pack at blinding speed.

“Later, losers!” shouted Rainbow. There was a flash, a loud cracking sound, and then a circular wave of color erupted from the center of the pack of dragons. A split second later, a blast of air hit the dragons, shooting them out in different directions. Rainbow Dash fired like a cannonball from the epicenter of the colorful explosion, the force of the Sonic Rainboom accelerating her even further. She spotted Fluttershy ahead of her, and with as much care as she could manage at this speed, grabbed onto the yellow pegasus as she sped past.

Fluttershy wrapped herself around Rainbow Dash as tightly as she could, the sudden increase in speed knocking the wind out of her. She took a moment to catch her breath and then tilted her head forward. She could see the city of Cloudsdale ahead, and they were approaching at speeds she’d never experienced in her life.

“So, is this what it’s like to be you?” yelled Fluttershy as the wind whipped her hair around.

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Every day!” she yelled back.

I don’t think I could handle the excitement, Fluttershy thought to herself as she grinned and held tightly to the blue embodiment of speed that was carrying her.

As the two pegasi came closer to Cloudsdale, Rainbow Dash could see the city was not in its usual state. A solid wall of ice and frozen clouds surrounded the city with a protective glass-like icy dome towering over it. The bottom of the city, likewise, appeared to be multiple thick layers of protective ice and tundra-like frozen clouds. She’d heard of this before, but she had never actually seen it. The city was in a state of lockdown, and from the look of things, it was pretty serious.

“The city is frozen shut,” said Rainbow Dash, pointing ahead of them.

Fluttershy faced forward and shook her head. “Do you think they’ll let us in? Those dragons are sure to follow us once they regroup,” she said nervously.

A siren from the city started to sound loudly, interrupting their conversation. A voice boomed through the clouds at them. “Identify yourselves!” it called out to them. “Cloudsdale is in phase three lockdown, unauthorized parties will be treated as hostile!”

Rainbow Dash descended towards the landing platform that sat in front of two large solid gates of ice. “Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy reporting from Ponyville!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “We’re being chased by dragons, let us in!”

“Ponyville!” said the voice in surprise. “We haven’t heard from them in weeks! What news do you have from Ponyville?”

“We don’t have time to talk about it now, though! There’s gonna be dragons coming after us soon, I could only manage to shake them for a sec!” shouted Rainbow Dash, who had now landed on the icy surface. Fluttershy managed to detach herself, but it took a bit of prying. Her mane was a tangled mess from being whipped around at high speeds.

“All right, we can talk more inside. Let them in!” shouted the voice. The gates began to part and two guards wearing royal army uniforms stepped forward and gestured for Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy to enter quickly.

As the two pegasi entered the city, they found a path before them that was lined with guards wearing heavy armor and wielding spears. In the distance, various siege weapons, including ballistae and catapults, stood at the ready. It looked as if Cloudsdale was prepared for all out war at the drop of a hat.

A large gray stallion wearing golden armor and a large helmet with a white crest on top of it galloped towards the two newcomers. He removed the helmet and eyed Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy for a moment. His mane was as white as the crest on his helmet, and his face was sharply angular. On his flank, a cutie mark resembling a white lightning bolt stood out from his dark gray coat. His eyes were pale blue, but very bright. His glare could probably melt ice, and Fluttershy shrunk away from it, hiding behind Rainbow Dash.

“I’m Radiant Thunder, captain of the Cloudsdale guard,” the pegasus said with a gruff and grainy voice, then placing his helmet on the ground in front of him. “Good to see you made it in one piece. What news from Ponyville?”

“Ponyville is under attack from the Everfree Forest itself,” said Rainbow Dash. “We need help, but it looks like you have your hooves full as it is. Have you heard anything from Canterlot?”

Radiant Thunder shook his head and sighed. “All communication with Canterlot abruptly ceased two weeks ago when the sun stopped moving. Our scouts report that Canterlot is once again surrounded by a protective shell, and we can’t find any way to enter, nor do we see any sign of life within the city. There’s just no telling what’s happened, and we’ve had very little time to investigate thanks to the dragon attacks,” he said, and then raised his head, glancing behind Rainbow and Fluttershy. “Speaking of which, get those gates closed and locked faster!”

He ran forward and assisted in pushing the heavy gates shut. He and the two guards at the gates began to raise a large metal bar to drop into place, when suddenly there was a loud smashing sound as something hit the gates from the outside.

Red claws pushed through between the doors, forcing them open again. The guards pushed harder to close the gate, but were met with a jet of flame shooting right at them from between the crack. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash jumped back in surprise, and then Rainbow ran forward to assist.

“Come on, Fluttershy! They need our help!” yelled Rainbow Dash as she slammed into the gates. The rows of guards that had been standing further back from the gates were now advancing to assist as well. Another crash came from outside, and the force of the impact pushed the gates open more. Rainbow Dash and the three guards at the gate fell backwards as sets of red and green claws pressed further into the opening. The gates began to slide open faster. The rows of guards that were originally lined up had been advancing since the gates began to push inward.

A swoop of red and green shot past. Two of the dragons that had chased Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy now stood inside the city walls. “Check it out, it’s our little pony friend from earlier!” said the red dragon. “I owe you a little payback.”

The dragons shot their fiery breath at Rainbow Dash and into the city. Rainbow and the guards jumped back, barely avoiding the blast. Fluttershy’s eyes shot back and forth in a panic, stumbling back against the flow of the advancing guards. She stared at the gates, which now swung wide open, and the other dragons who had been chasing them earlier entered. Behind them, Fluttershy could see even more dragons approaching from the distance.

What’s going on? thought Fluttershy as guards behind her loaded large ice boulders and wooden bolts into their weapons of war. Why is this happening? Why?

Radiant Thunder jumped back to his feet and charged towards the red dragon, pushing his spear into its gut. The dragon winced, but grabbed ahold of the spear and pulled it out. Radiant Thunder leapt back, and the dragon swung the spear down at the stallion, barely missing. He landed heavily upon the clouds, and then ducked to his left, avoiding a blast of flame from the dragon’s maw.

The dragons who had been approaching from the distance, which were much larger, full-grown dragons, had now reached the gates and advanced beyond them. They twisted their long necks around, surveying the situation for a moment before unleashing powerful blasts of fire. The heat was overwhelming, melting and softening the solidified ground under hoof.

“Fire!” yelled Radiant, dashing towards the back of the plaza. Several catapults and ballistae let loose their payloads. A rain of jagged, icy boulders fell onto the battlefield, crashing into the dragons that had just pushed their way into the city. The large wooden bolts from the ballistae flew through the air, impaling the dragons in the front line of attack. They continued their fiery assault uninterrupted, unshaken by the protruding projectiles.

More dragons continued to enter the city, and the guards were being pushed back towards the city center along the large main road that ran straight through Cloudsdale. The dragons that had been knocked over by the large chunks of ice had now regained their footing, and began to throw the jagged boulders back towards the pegasi.

Fluttershy, who had now backed away even further and was crouched against a building, shook as she watched the battle unfolding in front of her. She tilted her head upward just in time to see a huge boulder of ice heading right towards her. She screamed and covered her head, but was then suddenly launched to the side as Rainbow Dash crashed into her, shoving her out of harm’s way. The boulder crashed into the building, causing the front walls to collapse inward.

“Fluttershy! Get it together!” Rainbow yelled, and then turned back towards the battle, flapping her wings as she ran.

We need a better plan than just standing and fighting! We’re no match for these dragons as it is! Rainbow Dash thought as she ran. She passed a smoldering pegasus who had been clutching a spear in his last moments. She stopped just long enough to grab the weapon. I guess this will have to do for now!

“Is this our fault?” said Fluttershy as she ran as fast as she could towards the city center. “Because we came here? Because they let us in?”

The front plaza of the city was now full of dragons who had lined up and begun raining fire down on anypony that approached them. Rainbow Dash looked around in panic at the scene. Flames shot in every direction, buildings crumbled, and guards were strewn about. She gritted her teeth and then took to the sky, preparing to dive-bomb one of the dragons. As she reached the peak of her ascent, she heard Fluttershy scream again, and jerked her head back.

Fluttershy had reached the central plaza’s south end, and was greeted by more dragons who had already flown through and gathered there.

“They’re flanking us!” yelled Rainbow Dash, dropping her spear and zipping through the air towards Fluttershy. “Just run! Try to get somewhere safe!”

Fluttershy pressed her hooves to her face and fell forward, her body shaking uncontrollably from fear. Then, suddenly, something happened that no one was expecting.

Everything went silent.

The dragonfire ceased, the guards held their ground and stayed their weapons, and even the multitude of injured hushed their cries as all eyes turned toward the suddenly dark and empty sky, visible through the glass-like dome of ice above the city.

The sun, which had been in the same position in the sky for nearly two weeks, had swung down past the horizon and out of sight.

Earlier, in Ponyville...

Twilight and Celestia were locked in a small cell inside a run-down building that served as Ponyville’s jail. As someone in the adjacent cell snored, they discussed what to do next. They also wondered what had become of Rainbow Dash, whose dream they believed they were in.

“I don’t know if these dreams work the same as normal dreams,” said Celestia. “Normally, if a dream is bad enough, you’d wake up. However, since we were all forced to sleep, things could be different.”

Twilight nodded. “That makes sense, I guess,” she said. “Well I hope things aren’t going terribly for her. Still, it would be nice if she was actually here. I wonder if those two made it to Cloudsdale.”

The sound of a metal door slamming caused the two ponies to jump and stare towards the front of their cell. A familiar pink face peeked around the corner and stared at the two of them. Her mane was styled differently than usual, combed straight with a bit of a wave. Her eyes were lined on their bottoms with dark creases, and she squinted them as she stared at the captives. So much of her was different, but it was undeniably Pinkie Pie.

“How’s a pony supposed to sleep with you two blabbin’ in here?” Pinkie asked, her voice flat and a bit scratchy. “Not that I’ve slept much in the last - I don’t know - month.”

Twilight blinked with confusion. “Pinkie, were you locked up in the next cell over? What happened? Furthermore, how did you get out?” she asked.

“What happened to me?” Pinkie asked, raising her voice a bit. “What happened to me? What happened to you, Twilight? Not to mention... her!” She flung her hooves towards Celestia.

“Pinkie, we’re--” Twilight started, but Pinkie slammed her hooves against the cell door and pushed her snout between two bars.

“You two were alive! Everypony thought...” Pinkie said, closing her eyes tightly, “Everypony thought you were gone forever! The sun stopped moving! All the water is drying up, the plants are withering... well, the ones that aren’t attacking us every day, anyway...” she sobbed, falling to her knees and shaking her head.

Celestia twisted her head towards the window in the back of the cell and stared into the sky. She hadn’t noticed it until just now, but it was definitely true. The sun was not moving. She turned back to look at Pinkie, who was now kneeling at their cell door, tears falling from her eyes. Celestia rose and walked to the door, reaching through the bars and placing her hoof on Pinkie’s shoulder. Pinkie jerked her head up, her wet eyes wide and full of anger. She slapped Celestia’s hoof away and pushed back from the bars of the cell.

“Don’t touch me!” Pinkie screamed. “Don’t act like you know what we’ve been through! You two barely have so much as a scratch on you! What have you been doing? Laughing to yourselves as the sun sits in the sky for days, and days, and days, AND DAYS, AND DAYS?” She breathed heavily, her piercing gaze burning into Celestia’s eyes.

Twilight slowly stepped forward and reached her hoof out from the cell as well. It should be okay to talk to her, right? she thought. It’s Pinkie, so maybe she’ll be able to help us once she calms down.

“Pinkie, look, it’s really complicated, but we’re here to help. Before we can help, though, we need your help,” Twilight said calmly, gazing into Pinkie’s eyes.

“If you’re here to help, then make the sun go down!” Pinkie shouted. The door at the front of the jail opened and Applejack strode in. She approached the cell slowly with a grin on her face.

“I think that sounds like a better idea than any story y’all might’ve come up with,” said Applejack, sitting down next to Pinkie and patting her on top of her head. “Calm down, now, Pinkie. Don’t waste yer rage on these two. Might just be changelings, anyway.”

Pinkie turned her head towards Applejack and made a disgusted look. “Changelings? Ewww, no wonder they look so... different.” she said.

“Different?” asked Twilight. “What’s that mean?”

Applejack shrugged. “Ya got me. I think you did a mighty fine job, myself. You really look like Twilight and the princess,” she said with a chuckle.

Celestia turned toward the window. She lifted her head and gazed into the small sliver of sky that was visible through it. “Twilight, I don’t know if this will even work,” she said, “but if it doesn’t...”

Twilight nodded. We break that spell and get the buck out of here, I guess, she thought. We’ll have to manage without Pinkie, she doesn’t seem like she’ll help us unless Princess Celestia can lower the sun.

“I’m ready,” replied Twilight, turning her head towards Pinkie. “Looks like you’ll get your wish, Pinkie. I hope...”

Please work, Celestia thought, and then closed her eyes, concentrating on the sun. Her horn began to glow with white magic. Her mind searched the unfamiliar dreamscape sky for any familiar energy. Finally, she came upon a familiar warmth, not as powerful as the actual sun, but similar enough that she was sure it was the sun of this world.

“This is pointless!” said Applejack with a frown. “What good is faking it at this point even gonna--”

Applejack had to stop mid-sentence. The sun shot down out of the sky faster than she’d ever seen before.

“Well I’ll be...” said Applejack, her voice full of awe. A moment later, Twilight’s horn began to glow as she cast a light spell. There were no candles or other light sources in the building, probably because they hadn’t been needed in so long. A purple glow illuminated the room, joined by gentle moonlight shining in through the window. Pinkie leaned back against the far cell door, her face plastered with a huge smile, laughing uncontrollably.

“All right,” said Applejack, then taking a key in mouth and pushing it into the cell’s lock. She twisted it with her hoof and pulled the door open. Smiling more gently now, she gestured for the captives to come out. “Now let’s talk about where ya’ll been.”

Meanwhile, back in Cloudsdale...

“The sun... it went down,” said one of the guards. The moon quickly rose to take the sun’s place, illuminating Cloudsdale in moonlight.

“...and there’s the moon!” said one of the dragons. “The glorious moon!”

Then, there was silence again. Everyone in the central square of Cloudsdale, packed with ponies and dragons, stared skyward, but only for a moment.

“You think this will stop us, ponies?” came a booming dragon’s voice from the south end of the plaza. “We finally strike back, and you think this will calm us? Not a chance! There will be more blood tonight!”

The rest of the dragons roared in approval, and continued to advance from north and south, corralling the pegasi into the square. Several dragons flew overhead, creating a zone where no pegasus could leave. Any who tried got shot out of the sky by dragonfire.

Rainbow Dash had reached Fluttershy by this time. She grabbed her by the foreleg and began to pull her towards a building on the outskirts of the plaza.

“Come on, Fluttershy,” whispered Rainbow Dash. “You need to get out of here! You’re gonna get hurt!”

Fluttershy continued to glance around in horror. The scene had become much scarier to her since the sun went down. It was dark, with blinding flashes of light coming when the dragons breathed fire. The bright gleam of burning ponies created spots of illuminated ground throughout the square. Fluttershy began to breathe rapidly, her eyes wide and shaking.

“Stop...” said Fluttershy, shaking loose from Rainbow’s grip. She raised her voice and yelled. “Just stop!”

The pegasus guards had set up catapults on the roof of an adjacent building and were launching large ice boulders at the dragons in the sky. One dragon was hit cleanly in the head, and began to plummet from the sky straight towards the two ponies. Rainbow Dash grabbed Fluttershy and pulled her towards a closed door. A moment later, she jumped into the door as well, breaking it down and falling into the front room of what appeared to be a store of some sort.

Seconds later, the dragon crashed down in front of the shop, its massive body crushing the front of the store. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were pushed further into the building by the force of the impact. Shattered glass and rubble fell all around them as they finally slid to a stop.

Rainbow Dash looked up and assessed the situation. The dragon’s body was the only thing holding the front of the store up at that point, having shattered several support pillars. To make matters worse, the dragon’s face was pointed right at them, it’s eyes wide and full of rage.

The dragon roared, filling the small space with a deafening sound. Rainbow Dash knew it was only a matter of time until it let loose with its breath weapon again. She looked around for Fluttershy, and located her across the room against a wall, her hooves pressed against her ears.

Then Rainbow saw something that could just get them out of this mess. Right above Fluttershy was a window. Rainbow glanced back at the dragon. It was pulling its head back, shaking the supports of the second floor above them. Rainbow knew the flames were coming, she had mere seconds to get them out of that room or they were toasted ponies.

She bolted towards Fluttershy as fast as she could, crashing into the yellow pegasus and wrapping both her forelegs around her. With all her strength, Rainbow Dash lifted Fluttershy.

“What’s going on?” asked Fluttershy in a disoriented panic. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry, no time to explain!” yelled Rainbow. “Close your eyes!” With that, Rainbow Dash threw Fluttershy right at the window. She crashed through the window, shattering it on impact, and landed on the clouds outside.

Fluttershy shook her head and looked up at the window she had just crashed through. “Rainbow Dash?” she said as she tried to stand up.

A blue hoof shot up from beneath the window, and then fire shot out from behind it, accompanied by a blast of heat and wind. The hoof, now blackened, fell back down inside the building, which was now completely ablaze.

“Rainbow Dash!” yelled Fluttershy, running towards the window. A loud crash came from her right, and the dragon that had been inside with them launched out from the front of the building and took back to the sky. The dragon's exit caused the building to shake, and it collapsed upon itself, a massive pile of burning debris left where it once stood.

Fluttershy ran towards the rubble and began to dig into it, pushing pieces of wood and stone away frantically.

“Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!” she cried over and over, shaking her head and digging as tears streamed down her face. She finally uncovered a charred blue hoof. She grabbed onto it as tightly as she could and pulled. After struggling for a moment, Rainbow Dash’s foreleg and head were pulled out from the burning rubble.

“No! No! No!” Fluttershy yelled, pulling harder to try and free her buried friend. Rainbow Dash’s eyes opened and looked up at Fluttershy. Her breathing was shallow, and bright red blood was trickling down her charred black face.

“You’re safe...” said Rainbow Dash, gasping for breath. “Now get out of here!” The blue pegasus closed her eyes, and her raspy breathing stopped.

“No...” said Fluttershy, reaching her hoof out and touching Rainbow Dash’s face. “Not you. Please, not you...” She fell to the ground, pushed her face against Rainbow Dash’s foreleg, and cried out in anguish.

The moon began to wane, as if being eclipsed. Dark clouds began to appear in the sky. The clouds spread out from Cloudsdale, moving like a wave in all directions. The land was blanketed in darkness, spreading southward over the Unicorn Range, and past the forested foothills, which were still engulfed in flame. The dark front shot over Ponyville, shortly followed by a torrential downpour. Rain fell over all of Equestria, lightning streaked across the sky, thunder cracked from all around, and the ground began to shake as if it was going to erupt like a volcano.

“What in tarnation’s goin’ on?” yelled Applejack, grabbing ahold of Pinkie Pie to steady herself and looking towards Celestia and Twilight. “Did you two do this?”

“No,” said Celestia, “This is something completely out of my control! I’m afraid of what this might mean.” She shook her head and turned to Twilight, who had a look of shock on her face.

Then, the sound of rainfall abruptly ceased. Twilight stared in disbelief at Pinkie Pie and Applejack. They stood as still as statues, Pinkie even frozen in mid-fall as she had just lost her hoofing. The color was slowly draining out of everything, leaving nothing but dull gray. Everything but Twilight and Celestia stood completely still.

The world had stopped.

Overgrowth Ch 4 - The Power of Kindness

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Four - The Power of Kindness

“You’re safe...” said Rainbow Dash, gasping for breath. “Now get out of here!” The blue pegasus closed her eyes, and her raspy breathing stopped.

“No...” said Fluttershy, reaching her hoof out and touching Rainbow Dash’s face. “Not you. Please, not you...” She fell to the ground, pushed her face against Rainbow Dash’s foreleg, and cried out in anguish.

Visions of the past month flashed in Fluttershy’s mind. She saw Twilight bringing Spike to Ponyville Square and leaving to go find out what happened in Canterlot. Are you really gone, Twilight? Forever? Fluttershy thought. It had taken almost an hour for the other Elements, including Fluttershy, to convince Rainbow Dash not to follow Twilight to the capitol. Every pegasus healthy enough to fly was needed to keep watch on the encroaching Everfree. Not even one could be spared. Is it our fault for not going? For not flying when you had to walk? My fault for not stopping you?

Fluttershy felt a chilling cold begin to spread throughout her body. She began to shiver as another vision entered her mind, this time of herself. She saw herself returning to her cottage, even though it was overrun by the Everfree Forest. She had come back to try and find Angel, who she hadn’t seen since the plants began their attack. She exited the cottage and the forest sprung to life, multitudes of sharp vines shooting straight towards her.

She was pushed out of the way by an orange streak. Applejack, who had followed her there without her knowledge, took her place as the vines hit straight on, stabbing into her body in many places.

She couldn’t move for days after that, and she lost her eye. It’s all my fault, Fluttershy thought. I’m such a burden to everyone, I can never do anything right. I cause nothing but suffering every time I try to do anything!

Fluttershy curled into a ball, still clutching Rainbow Dash’s foreleg, shaking and crying. She saw Rarity in her mind, who had secretly set off for Canterlot to try and find Twilight.

She never came back, either, Fluttershy thought, and clenched her eyes shut even tighter. I saw her go, I knew what she was doing. I could have stopped her! It’s my fault! If I could go back, I would do something!

Fluttershy forced her eyes open and looked at Rainbow Dash’s unmoving face, red blood trickling down it. Rainbow had a peaceful smile on her lips still, from the moment she knew Fluttershy was safe. She blinked and wiped away her tears. She could feel a small spark of something, she knew not what, ignite inside of her.

Now I might lose you, too? Fluttershy thought to herself. This can’t happen! I won’t let it!

She stood and looked down at her fallen friend. The cold that had taken over her began to fade away, replaced by a warm sensation. The heat came in pulses, spreading outward from her heart. A soft, yellow glow began to radiate from her, the energy filling her up until she felt it might overflow.

“What’s happening to me?” Fluttershy asked out loud. She turned her head and saw a dragon flying through the air towards her, its mouth opened, ready to breathe fire. She stared at the dragon calmly and uttered a single word.


She spoke calmly, almost as if she was in a trance. Her voice flew from her mouth, loudly and clearly.


The dragon froze in mid-air, an unmoving cone of flame erupting from its mouth.

Fluttershy took in her surroundings, combat still raging everywhere else. She couldn’t stand to see any more, and somehow knew that she could end it all.

Fluttershy stood tall, facing the ocean of movement and violence before her. Her eyes took on a pure white glow, and lightning began to fly in the cloud layers above, striking downwards with booming claps of thunder. She raised her hoof into the air and cried out, her voice reverberating across the entire city.

Stop! Everything stop!

Everything stopped. The pigment began to drain out of everything, leaving only Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash as a shining spot of in the middle of a sea of gray.

Fluttershy turned back to Rainbow Dash and ran her hoof gently across her friend’s cheek. “No, not you,” she said quietly as waving golden streams of magical energy flowed from her hoof, enveloping Rainbow Dash’s body. Dash’s eyes shot open, and she gasped for breath, but then became still like everything else. Her charred body returned to its normal blue color, and the trails of blood evaporated into thin air.

“You’ll be all right, now,” said Fluttershy, smiling down at Rainbow. She then lifted her hoof upward, and the rubble that had been piled on top of Rainbow Dash flew into the air. With another swift motion, the building re-formed as if nothing had ever happened to it.

From the single point of color in the city, streaks of golden magic flowed outward in sharp bursts. Everything they touched became whole again, though still frozen in time. Fluttershy didn’t understand how she could perform such feats, but she knew she could, and continued.

The dragon invaders were ejected from Cloudsdale with a single swing of Fluttershy’s hoof. They vanished into thin air.

Go back home, Fluttershy thought. You shouldn’t have to suffer either, you were just angry. It happens to everyone. She smiled, her eyes now glowing brightly, as she looked around at a perfectly restored Cloudsdale, no sign of a battle having taken place remaining.

“If I can do all this,” Fluttershy said to herself, “then I’ll find my friends, too. Twilight, where are you?” She closed her eyes and pictured Twilight. She began to see an image of Twilight and Celestia in a dark, colorless building in Ponyville. The two of them were looking around in confusion. Across from them stood Applejack and Pinkie Pie, both frozen in place.

Take me there, Fluttershy thought, and then she felt the force of gravity begin to vanish from all around her. She opened her eyes and had to blink to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

The clouds, ground beneath them, and everything as far as she could see, had begun to sink downward into a black crevice. She could feel reality itself folding downward and inward, curling in on itself. She could feel herself and her surroundings flying through the air at speeds even Rainbow Dash couldn’t have matched during their earlier flight. She soon caught sight of Ponyville itself approaching Cloudsdale.

Just seconds earlier, in Ponyville, Twilight and Celestia began to feel themselves move and accelerate. The walls of the jail house fell out from all around them, and they could see Cloudsdale looming on the horizon, approaching with great speed.

“What’s happening?” yelled Twilight, looking up at Celestia. The princess just smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank goodness,” said Celestia. “I was afraid we’d lost our dreamer. Instead, they have awakened their power. Their Lucidity.”

Twilight gazed at Cloudsdale as it came nearer. “Lucidity is capable of all this?” she asked with awe.

“And more,” said Celestia. “But for all of this, something profound must have occurred.”

With a flash, everything stood still once more. Twilight and Celestia found themselves face to face with Fluttershy, who was standing on a cloud. More correctly, the ground turned into clouds just a few feet in front of them. Cloudsdale had merged with the ground as naturally as if they had always been joined from the beginning.

Twilight blinked. “Fluttershy... you’re the dreamer?” she said, her voice raising with a bit of shock.

“Dreamer?” asked Fluttershy, not sure what to make of the question.

“But we flew right into that surge of energy!” said Twilight, turning her head towards Celestia.

“Now is not the time to worry about those details, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia as she trotted across the threshold onto the clouds. She looked down at Rainbow Dash, who was lying as still as a statue on the ground. She could sense Fluttershy’s energy flowing through Dash’s body.

“Fluttershy,” said the princess, “We need your help. We need everypony’s help. I know this is going to be difficult, but you have to believe what I am about to tell you. Surely what you have just done will lend credence to my words. This is all a dream.”

Fluttershy stared blankly at Celestia for a moment, and then smiled widely. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said with relief, her eyes relaxing. “You have no idea what I’ve been through. It was just awful.”

Now it was Celestia’s turn to blink. “Huh,” she pondered, “must be an effect of the Lucidity. I was expecting more of an outburst such as what happened with you, Twilight.”

“Outburst?” said Fluttershy. “Oh no, that doesn’t sound very nice. I think this way is much better.” She smiled again, and the colors began to return to everything around them.

“There’s more, though, Fluttershy,” said Twilight. “We’re all asleep. The princess and I found a way to travel between dreams. We’ve come here to tell you that the changeling queen, Chrysalis, was actually victorious the night of the wedding. We’re all trapped inside cocoons in Canterlot Palace, and she’s using magic to feed on the power of our love.”

Fluttershy began to shake again, the world lightly rumbling along with her. Her mouth gaped open, but she couldn’t produce any words.

“Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have broke it to you so bluntly,” said Twilight, reaching a hoof out and placing it on Fluttershy’s shoulder, “but we just don’t have time. We have to free everyone from their dreams so we can stop her. We need you, Fluttershy.”

The ground began to shake more violently, and Twilight pulled Fluttershy towards her and onto solid ground. She hugged her friend and closed her eyes.

While Twilight and Celestia were focused on calming down Fluttershy, they failed to notice that Pinkie Pie had begun to slowly slouch downward. A loud cracking sound came from deep underground, and with that noise, Pinkie’s ears twitched, her eyes blinked, and she fell back into reality. She was free from the stasis that had been placed on everything else in the world.

Pinkie looked up at Applejack, who was frozen in mid-stumble above her. Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head towards Twilight and the others. Her hoof clapped quickly over her mouth as she caught sight of Fluttershy being cradled in Twilight’s arms, Celestia standing behind them and looking down at the shaking yellow pegasus. Cloudsdale stretched out behind them, now just another part of the landscape.

Okay, maybe they aren’t changelings, but they’re definitely up to something! Pinkie thought to herself, trying to sit as still as possible.

“Fluttershy, if we’re going to save everypony, we need all of the Elements of Harmony,” said Celestia. “You have bravely stood by your friends many times in the past, and now we need you again.”

Fluttershy looked up at Princess Celestia and managed to speak, her voice shaking. “B-b-b-but I’ll just get in the w-w-way,” she stuttered. “Y-y-you should c-come back for me later.”

Twilight shook her head. “Maybe if you were having a good dream,” she said, “but we can’t just leave you in this nightmare!”

Dream? Nightmare? Pinkie thought. What’s that mean? This is... a dream?

Pinkie looked down at her hooves. Their pink color began to waver and shake, bleeding away and then back in. Past her hooves, she could see the ground beneath her doing the same thing. She looked up at the three ponies across from her, and immediately noticed a glow coming from Twilight and Celestia.

There’s definitely something weird about those two. Or maybe there’s something else behind this! Pinkie thought. Her gaze locked onto the pink gem sticking out of Twilight’s ear. The light around it almost seemed to pull inward towards it. Somehow, Pinkie knew she had to get it. Something deep inside her burned furiously. That gem! That’s gotta be the key to everything!

“I can’t, Twilight, I’m sorry, I just can’t face those monsters again!” Fluttershy cried, and looked over her shoulder towards Rainbow Dash. A tear fell from her eye, and her voice wavered quietly. “I couldn’t stand to lose any of you again.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head. She placed her hoof under Fluttershy’s chin and pulled her face upward. “Fluttershy, we all feel the same way. We’re all scared of what might happen,” she said, looking into Fluttershy’s eyes. “I don’t want to lose anypony either, but if we do nothing, then the changeling queen wins, and all of Equestria loses.”

Fluttershy felt that same energy rising from inside her once again as she thought of all her friends, all of Equestria, falling under the control of Chrysalis. She felt the same bravery rising up as before, and though she was unsure if she could hold on to the feeling, she knew she had to for now. There was really no other choice. She stood up and wiped away her tears, Twilight standing back up with her. The ground was finally still again, and Fluttershy stood firmly on all four hooves.

“Alright, Twilight. We have to save our friends,” Fluttershy decided. “What do we have to do?”

Celestia stepped back onto solid ground, taking position to Twilight’s side, and faced Fluttershy. Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie grasped her mouth shut even tighter than before, her eyes shaking with anger at the mention of the changeling queen.

She’s involved, too? Now I’m triple confused! thought Pinkie. She stared at the somehow familiar pink gem in Twilight’s ear, her eyes drawn to it seemingly beyond her control, her legs begging her to allow them to vault forward and take it. I need that gem! Somehow, I know everything is hinging on it! I can’t just let them know I’m onto them, though. They must think I’m a stiff like AJ, there.

“The power you have grasped is called Lucidity,” said Celestia. “It allows you to control this world as you see fit. We need you to use it to find a way out of this dream. We had a way to find the exit, but it was destroyed in Twilight’s dream.”

“I used the strange power to find you two, so maybe I can do it. I’ll give it a try!” Fluttershy replied. She closed her eyes and concentrated. “What am I supposed to look for, though?”

“This world is all in your mind. It should all feel the same as far as whether or not you can change it, just like you changed it to meet us here,” said Celestia. “Try to find something out of place. Something you can’t control.”

Fluttershy’s mind immediately locked onto the wildly growing Everfree Forest. Her vision zoomed quickly along expanses of surging vines and roots, zipping past trees and scattering animals, until finally she saw it - a pulsating, heart-like mass of vegetation, from which all of the forest’s growth originated.

“It’s there... at the center of the Everfree Forest. In the castle where we found the Elements of Harmony,” said Fluttershy, her voice shaking. “Something is making the forest grow. I can’t stop it, and I don’t know what it is. The colors are all messed up, or something... I don’t know. Everything looks too real, if that makes sense...”

“The Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters? So it’s there!” exclaimed Twilight. “Just like Rarity’s boutique in my dream! The colors looked out place. We have to go there!”

Fluttershy opened her eyes, her focus shifting as a pink flash shot up into the air from behind Twilight. “Pinkie Pie?” she yelled, startled by what she saw.

“What?” asked Twilight just before being tackled by Pinkie Pie and pinned with her back to the ground. Pinkie’s hoof slid past Twilight’s ear, knocking the communicator onto the ground.

“I couldn’t sit still any longer!” yelled Pinkie, her eyes full of madness as she lunged her hooves towards the pink item she so desperately desired.

“Stop her!” yelled Celestia, ducking to try and intercept the communicator before Pinkie could reach it.

The clouds began to spin and deform, spreading out towards the place where Fluttershy was standing. They wrapped around her and began to pull her back into Cloudsdale. The ground and clouds began to separate with a loud rumble.

“What? No!” yelled Fluttershy, unable to resist the clouds despite her flapping of wings and flailing of hooves.

Cloudsdale began to fly away from Ponyville, taking Fluttershy with it. Fluttershy called out as she was pulled away. “I can’t control it!”

Celestia and Twilight were too busy with Pinkie Pie to respond with anything more than Twilight crying out, “Fly back as fast as you can!”

Twilight pushed her hoof against Pinkie’s face. “Snap out of it!” she yelled. Pinkie stared angrily at Twilight, her frizzy hair straightening and falling as she raised her hoof. The hoof swung down, bashing Twilight across the jaw and slamming her head to the side. She was taken by surprise at not only the sudden attack, but also Pinkie’s strength.

Celestia lunged at Pinkie, grabbing her by the shoulders and pulling her off of Twilight. Pinkie slipped downward and out of Celestia’s grasp, though, then dove across the floor at the gem.

Celestia’s horn glowed as she swung it towards Pinkie, stopping her in her tracks, but not before Pinkie could grab the gem with both hooves. Celestia levitated Pinkie into the air and gave her a good shake. The gem flew from Pinkie’s grasp and slide across the floor as the walls to the jailhouse shot back up from the ground, reforming the cells and hallway around them.

The gem skidded to a stop right at Applejack’s hooves, just in time for her to unfreeze and look around. A look of confusion quickly formed on her face. “What in the name of all things gravy is goin’ on in here?” she asked.

Celestia was holding Pinkie Pie in mid-air, Twilight was laid out on the ground with blood seeping from the corner of her mouth, and Pinkie Pie was flailing her forelegs in Applejack’s direction. Applejack followed Pinkie’s stare downward to the pink gem lying at her hooves. She slid her right front hoof towards it, intending to pick it up.

“Don’t touch that!” yelled all three of the other ponies in the room.

“Why not?” asked Applejack, her one eye now glowing green.

“It’s mine!” yelled Pinkie, continuing to flail her hooves in the air. The gem began to glow brightly in reaction to Pinkie’s words, and shot from Applejack’s grasp towards Pinkie. The dangling pony clutched the gem tightly as soon as it was within reach.

Was that levitation? thought Twilight. How is that possible?

“Pinkie Pie!” yelled Celestia. “You have no idea what you are doing!”

“Save it, your highness!” yelled Pinkie. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but I know this whole mess is all Fluttershy’s fault!”

“Fluttershy?” asked Applejack, standing back up and dusting herself off. “You finally gone and flipped completely? Fluttershy’s been gone fer weeks!”

“Yeah sure,” said Pinkie, sneering at Applejack, whose eye continued to glow a bright green, “maybe so she doesn’t have to live in this mess of a town she’s made!”

“Pinkie, stop!” said Twilight, staring nervously at Applejack’s single glowing eye. “We’ll explain everything, but you have to stop this right now!”

Pinkie turned her head and glared at Twilight. “Not happening, Twilight! I can’t trust you two! That goes for you, too, AJ!” she yelled as she lifted the pink gem to her ear. “I don’t understand what’s going on, or why, or anything anymore! All I know... is this!”

Pinkie slapped the gemstone device into her ear. Pink sparks began to arc between her ears, and the surface of the gem glowed even brighter. A sudden snap of energy shot out from her, breaking Celestia’s levitation. Pinkie remained afloat in the air, her eyes glazed over and glowing white.

Applejack hissed, her eye flashing brightly, and dove at Pinkie. She was met by two beams of white energy firing from Pinkie’s eyes, and was knocked backwards against the far wall. She fell to the ground, unconscious.

“Pinkie! Stop!” Twilight yelled. She took a moment to wipe the blood from her mouth as she rose back to her hooves.

“Connected? No, it’s too soon!” Pinkie shouted in response. She clenched her eyes and pressed her hooves against the sides of her head.

“Pinkie, what are you...” asked Twilight, taking a few steps towards the pink pony, who was now clasping her head in pain.

“Stay away!” Pinkie screamed. Her eyes went wide, shaking with fear as the gem in her ear continued to pulse with pink light. “Who’s there? You can’t control me! I won’t let you!”

A white beam of energy shot from Pinkie’s forehead to Twilight’s horn. Twilight cried out, her eyes becoming wide and illuminated. They both fell to the ground, the energy still arcing between their heads.

Celestia stood over them and shook her head. She glanced over at Applejack, who was still passed out as well.

“We don’t need anyone coming in and seeing this,” the princess decided. She pointed her horn toward the door at the front of the jail house, snapping the deadbolt on it closed. Turning back to the two unconscious ponies on the ground, she pointed her horn towards them and placed it in the path of the beam. With a crackle, her horn was forced out of the stream of magic.

Celestia frowned. “I can’t help you, Twilight,” she said quietly, looking at the pained expression on her student’s face. “Whatever is going on, you will have to get through it quickly. We don’t have much time.”

Overgrowth Ch 5 - Blame

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Five - Blame

“Fluttershy! Wake up!”

Fluttershy opened her eyes groggily and was met by Rainbow Dash’s face staring down at her, her eyebrows lowered impatiently.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy exclaimed, throwing her forelegs up and around the blue pegasus’ neck. She’d never been so glad to see her looking so irritated before. “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Rainbow Dash blinked and chuckled nervously. “Okay? What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, pushing Fluttershy back down gently and looking into her eyes, hers now full of confusion. Fluttershy was on the verge of tears just from seeing her. “Were you having a bad dream or something?”

“Bad dream?” asked Fluttershy, suddenly remembering what Twilight and Celestia had told her. She felt a cold shiver run down her spine as visions of the changeling queen entered her mind. She quickly shot to her hooves, looking around nervously. She was back in Cloudsdale, and the city showed no sign of a battle having happened. Whatever she’d done with that strange power, it had nullified everything that happened.

Fluttershy turned her head back to Rainbow Dash and nodded. “Yes, a bad dream, and it’s not over yet,” she said, turning towards the front of the city and galloping along the clouds. Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow and ran after her.

“Fluttershy, hold on!” yelled Rainbow. “We came here to see if Cloudsdale’s guards could come help Ponyville, but something’s not right! The city’s in full lockdown, plus I can’t remember anything that happened after we left!”

Rainbow Dash caught up to Fluttershy and grabbed her shoulder, pulling her to a stop. Fluttershy averted her gaze downward.

“You know what happened, don’t you?” asked Rainbow Dash, softening her tone a bit. “Just tell me... What happened?”

“It was terrible,” said Fluttershy quietly. “The worst thing I can imagine, but somehow, I was able to...” She stopped herself. She knew she couldn’t tell Rainbow Dash the truth. She couldn’t tell her that this was all a bad dream, and that she’d even died while trying to save her.

“I can’t explain everything that’s happening, Dashie... I don’t even really understand it myself!” said Fluttershy, exasperated. “I just know we have to get back to Ponyville as fast as we can. I can’t tell you how, but I know something bad is going to happen to Twilight!”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Twilight? She’s been gone for weeks, Fluttershy! Did you hit your head or something?” she said sternly, now becoming more and more frustrated. She clasped her hooves against the sides of her head and clenched her eyes.

A guard approached the two pegasi in a rush and raised his hoof up to Rainbow Dash.

“You okay, miss?” he asked.

Dash glanced up at the guard, a regal looking stallion with a gray mane and pale blue eyes. She recognized him as Radiant Thunder, the guard captain of Cloudsdale’s defense force.

“No, I’m not okay!” yelled Rainbow Dash, raising a foreleg to point at the icy dome over the city. “What in the hoof is going on?”

Radiant glanced up at the sky and shook his head. “You know, I’m actually trying to figure that one out, myself,” he said with a shrug and a chuckle. “I didn’t order any test deployment of our defenses, though I suppose it’s been awhile since we last raised the walls.”

“A test?” asked Rainbow Dash, waving her hoof towards the siege weapons lined up around the square. “For what, all-out war?”

Radiant shrugged again, blushing slightly this time. “It’s a bit embarrassing that this could happen without anyone telling me, but rest assured that I’ll get to the bottom of it. For now, please carry on as if everything were normal. If there was a true emergency, the alarm would be sounding.”

Rainbow Dash sighed as the guard captain grinned goofily. “I give up,” she said. “I don’t care anymore. Look, we’re here from Ponyville, and--”

“Ponyville! We haven’t heard from them in weeks!” said the guard captain, a bit shocked. He placed a hoof to his chin and rolled his eyes skyward in thought. “Well, I think we haven’t, anyway... How are things in Ponyville?”

“You think you haven’t?” asked Rainbow Dash incredulously, placing a hoof against her face and closing her eyes. How can the captain of the guard be this incompetent? she thought.

“Actually,” Fluttershy interjected, “We, uh, were just headed back to Ponyville, so anyway, let’s go Rainbow Dash!” She grabbed Rainbow Dash by the foreleg and pulled, starting to scoot away from the guard, who was now eyeing them suspiciously.

“What do you mean by that, Fluttershy?” demanded Rainbow Dash, stomping her hoof down. “We aren’t going back to Ponyville! Not until somepony tells me what’s going on! You know what happened, don’t you! Why can’t you tell me?”

Fluttershy placed her hoof on Rainbow Dash’s mouth and looked straight into her eyes.

“Please, Rainbow Dash. You have to trust me!” Fluttershy pleaded. Rainbow Dash shook her head, pulling away from Fluttershy.

“You’re acting crazy!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “Just tell me what happened!”

“You died!” Fluttershy yelled back, then clasping her hooves over her mouth.

Rainbow Dash blinked and then stared blankly at Fluttershy. The yellow mare looked like she was about to cry again.

“Whatever,” said Rainbow Dash. “If you can’t tell me right now, I’ll trust you. We should still at least see if some guards can come back with us to Ponyville, or see if they know anything about Canterlot.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “There’s no time. Please,” said Fluttershy, but was interrupted by a group of guards running up to Radiant Thunder, who was still standing to their side.

“Captain!” shouted one of the guards as they all came to a screeching halt and saluted in sync. “The foothills south of the Unicorn Range are on fire and Canterlot is under a protective shield!”

Radiant Thunder placed a hoof to his chin in contemplation, his eyes narrowing as he took in the information. His calm demeanor from just a moment ago had vanished, replaced with a feeling of militaristic rigidity. He turned to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, his gaze burning.

“I’m sorry, you two,” he said. “I heard you saying you need assistance in Ponyville, but we can’t spare any guards now. As you just heard, something has come up. This lockdown may not have been a test after all. We’ll be organizing a battalion to fly to Canterlot immediately.”

“Let us go with you!” shouted Rainbow Dash. “Some pegasi from Ponyville that took off at the same time as us were supposed to be going to Canterlot, too! They might be in trouble!”

Fluttershy turned towards the front of the city and looked over her shoulder. “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash. I can’t go with you. I have to return to Ponyville as fast as I can!” she said, her voice cracking. She took off running towards the city gates, not looking back.

Rainbow Dash held a hoof out towards her as she galloped away, but couldn’t find the words to say. She felt a hoof firmly land on her shoulder and turned her head back to see Radiant Thunder looking down at her.

“Go with her,” he said, smiling. “She needs you more than we do. Besides, military maneuvers are no task for a civilian.”

Rainbow Dash nodded and took off after Fluttershy. She quickly caught up to her, and exchanged a glance. No words were needed, and Fluttershy smiled. They approached the main gates together, the wide doors now open with several confused guards looking out of them at the burning hills in the distance. Fluttershy leapt over the guards and took flight, Rainbow Dash jumping right behind her.

Fluttershy flapped her wings faster than she knew she could, soaring through the air with incredible speed, leaving a trail of pink in her wake. Rainbow Dash gasped and pulled up alongside, glancing over at Fluttershy’s face. Her eyes were locked forward, unblinking, as the two sped southward.

“When did you learn to fly this fast?” asked Rainbow Dash, partially pleased at her friend’s sudden adeptness.

“Since now,” Fluttershy replied, “and it’s not fast enough!” She pushed her hooves forward and accelerated even more, leaving a shocked Rainbow Dash having to do the same to keep up.

Rainbow Dash shrugged and kept flying. “You know what...” she said, “I give up. Again.”

The two Pegasi shot over the mountains and headed southward towards Ponyville at speeds the likes of which most pegasi could only dream of achieving.


“Wake up, Twilight!” a voice whispered into Twilight’s ear. She opened her eyes and was met with nothing but blackness all around her. She glanced to her left where the voice had come from, but no one was there. She stood up slowly and looked around, but there was nothing but darkness as far as she could see.

Holding a hoof up in front of her, she realized there was a light coming from somewhere, though. She could see just fine, and judging by the shadows, the light was behind her. She turned around and was met by Pinkie Pie’s grinning face. A horn sat upon Pinkie’s forehead, as naturally as if she’d always been a unicorn, casting a light spell to illuminate the surroundings. Her long pink hair fell straight down from either side of her head, and as Twilight’s eyes followed it, she noticed wings poking out from behind her as well.

“Pinkie, is that you? Am I dreaming?” Twilight asked upon the realization that the pony standing in front of her was an alicorn.

“Oh, it’s me, all right,” said Pinkie, gruffly, “and of course you’re dreaming!”

“Great, that’s just great,” said Twilight, “I don’t have time to be unconscious, the Pinkie from Fluttershy’s dream is --” She was then cut off by Pinkie Pie firing a blast of pink energy from the tip of her horn, knocking Twilight backwards by several feet. She landed roughly on the smooth, glass-like ground.

“I’m what, huh?” shouted Pinkie Pie as she stepped slowly towards Twilight. “I’m mad, maybe? I’m somehow using magic, now, perhaps?” She glared at Twilight as she approached.

“Please, Pinkie!” said Twilight, raising a hoof as she tried to stand back up. “You have to listen to me! We’re all trapped in --” she started, but was cut off by another magical blast, dropping her back onto the ground.

“You’re all trapped?” asked Pinkie, her eyes widening. “I heard all about it when you were talking earlier! Poor you, trapped in those changeling cocoons! Well I’m trapped in this stinking garbage pit of a nightmare fighting for my life!”

“Pinkie, stop!” yelled Twilight, staring at Pinkie as she scooted backwards to try and regain her footing again.

“Oh, I’ll stop! I’ll make sure of it!” shouted Pinkie, her horn glowing brightly with swirling pink magic. “I’m going to stop all of this! This dream, this village, this whole world!”

“Pinkie, please, stop doing this! I don’t want to fight you!” pleaded Twilight, but was met by Pinkie spitting towards her.

“Please, Twilight... you’re not the one who’s the problem,” said Pinkie, the grin returning to her face. “In a way, I should be thanking you. If it weren’t for you, I never would have found out who was behind everything that’s been happening, but now I know. I know who I can direct my anger at!”

“No, Pinkie!” yelled Twilight, jumping to her feet, her horn now aglow with purple energy. “She never meant for this to happen! It’s not her fault!”

“Fluttershy!” yelled Pinkie Pie, her eyes tearing up slightly as she laughed upon merely speaking her name. “She’s to blame for everything! I’ll... I’ll...”

“You’ll what?” yelled Twilight, pointing her horn at Pinkie.

“I’ll kill her!” Pinkie shouted and then let loose with a large, bright blast of pink magic. Twilight responded by firing her own magical beam. The two shots collided in mid-air, exploding in a white ball of light. Twilight jumped to her left and began to gallop as fast as she could, twisting her head all around to look for Pinkie. She was nowhere to be seen.

“Up here!” came a voice from above. Twilight jerked her head upward just in time to see Pinkie flying above her and firing another shot of energy straight down.

I can’t dodge it! Twilight thought. It’s gonna hit me! She clenched her eyes shut and ducked toward the ground. A crackling sound from all around her caused her to open her eyes again and look upward. A dome of pink energy surrounded her and had completely absorbed the blast.

“Just in time!” said a voice right behind her. She turned her head and saw another Pinkie Pie, also with horn and wings, standing right behind her. A pair of colorful goggles and a big grin adorned her face.

“Pinkie! Is it really you this time? From my dream?” Twilight gasped.

“Absotutely-lutely!” said Pinkie with a grin. “We’re gonna have to come up with names for all of us Pinkies, because I get this feeling there’s gonna be more of us.”

“We can deal with that later, Pinkie!” yelled Twilight, pointing upward at the other Pinkie who was circling above them in the air. She fired down another shot, and it was also met by the pink shield, completely nullifying it.

“Oh! Oh!” yelled Pinkie Pie. “If we use numbers, can I be Pinkie Number One?” She bounced up and down happily, completely ignoring the other Pinkie.

“Pinkie!” Twilight yelled, standing back up and readying another shot of energy at the tip of her horn.

“No, wait, I guess I’d be Pinkie Number Two!” decided Pinkie. “The real Pinkie should be Number One, that’s only fair! She was there first!”

“Pinkie!” Twilight yelled even louder, reaching out and grabbing the pink pony’s face and pointing it upward towards the other Pinkie.

“Oh, her?” asked Pinkie, placing her left hoof against the side of her head. “I guess she can be Pinkie Number Three. Or should she be number two since Fluttershy met Pinkie Number One before you did? Oh, it’s so confusing, I’m going to be thinking about this for ages!”

“PIIIIIINKIIIIE!” Twilight screamed, her eyes bulging slightly.

“Sheesh, Twilight, I hear you!” yelled Pinkie, shaking her head and looking up at the flying Pinkie, who was now hovering in one place and staring back down, glaring. She pulled the goggles up onto her forehead and squinted.

“So you’re Pinkie Twilight, I take it.” said the flying Pinkie Pie with a sneer.

Twilight’s Pinkie Pie nodded her head and then gasped, her eyes going wide. She suddenly leapt in the air once and exclaimed “Oh, I know!”

The Pinkie who had been flying landed several feet away from her and grinned. “Good, then you know that I’m --”

Twilight’s Pinkie suddenly shouted “Pinkie Shy!”

Fluttershy’s Pinkie blinked and cocked her head to the side. “Huh?”

“You’re Pinkie Shy!” Twilight’s Pinkie giggled. “And I’m Pinkie Twi! Yes, we don’t have to use numbers!” She nearly fell over backwards laughing.

Twilight’s mouth gaped open. “You... You’re still on that?” she yelled, falling back to the ground.

Pinkie Twi sighed and turned her glance to Twilight. “Really, Twilight,” she said with a shrug, “you worry too much.”

Twilight threw a hoof to the side, pointing towards Pinkie Shy. “Too much? She’s trying to kill us!” Her statement was punctuated by another energy blast from Pinkie Shy slamming into the force field.

“Hey! Stop ignoring me!” Pinkie Shy shouted, her face turning red with anger. Pinkie Twi twisted her head to the side and frowned at her other incarnation.

“Honestly, how can another Pinkie be so cranky?” she sighed with a pout. “It’s no fun at all.”

Pinkie Shy gritted her teeth. “Fun? What’s fun?” she bellowed, scraping her front left hoof across the ground. “I forgot all about it a long time ago!” She began to charge up magic in her horn, which progressively glowed brighter and brighter.

Twilight groaned with frustration and began to charge her horn as well. “I don’t have time for this! Pinkie, got any ideas on how to get out of this place?” she asked, tilting her horn downward towards Pinkie Shy.

Pinkie Twi shrugged. “I dunno, it’s your mind. You tell me!” she responded.

“Wait, what?” asked Twilight, jerking her head around to stare at Pinkie Twi. Pinkie Shy let loose a large beam of energy from her horn at the same time. The beam hit the force field and sparks began to fly through the air. The beam drilled into the forcefield, causing it’s color to begin to fade and flicker at the point of impact.

“Ohhh, I don’t think that’s going to hold up much longer, might want to do something fast, Twilight.” said Pinkie Twi calmly, charging magic into her own horn as well. “I actually don’t know that many spells yet!”

“Do something? Okay, something, something...” Twilight said nervously, looking around. There was nothing but darkness everywhere. “What can I even do? There’s nothing here!”

“Remember when I told you the world had turned bleak and dark, and you made it bright and lively again?” asked Pinkie. “Something like that! How did you do that?”

Pinkie Shy’s beam was drilling further and further into the forcefield, the entirety of the pink dome starting to flicker and fade away.

“I don’t know! I just wanted you to not be so lonely!” yelled Twilight, becoming flustered as she stared at the beam which was threatening to breach their shield at any second. “I don’t want to fight Pinkie Shy! I want to wake up and get back to the mission!”

As Twilight said those words, she felt a warm sensation growing inside her, pulsating outward. She looked at Pinkie Shy, who was bearing down on them, walking slowly as the beam from her horn continued to fire. The forcefield flickered one last time, then shattered like glass, pieces falling and sizzling out of existence as they flew through the air. The beam Pinkie Shy had been firing disappeared as well, and she began to charge towards them, her horn glowing brightly and her eyes wide with rage.

Twilight shouted towards Pinkie Shy, holding her hoof out in front of her. “Pinkie! Stop! I won’t fight you!” she yelled. Suddenly, the black ground exploded with green color, a field of grass spreading outward in a circle from the ground directly in front of Twilight. The sky lightened to a dim blue, stars flickering to life across it.

Pinkie Shy was met by a square section of ground she was standing on firing upward like a pillar shooting out of the ground, raising dozens of feet into the air.

Twilight lifted her gaze toward the sky, in awe at what she had just done. “Just by thinking it? By wanting it?” she said with quiet amazement. She was quickly interrupted by Pinkie Shy leaping from the top of the tall pillar of earth and diving towards her.

“Forgot I can fly!” Pinkie yelled as she shot downwards.

Twilight grinned. “No I didn’t!” she said with confidence. The ground in front of her cracked, and the piece of land she and Pinkie Twi were standing on began to separate and move away from Pinkie Shy. Pinkie Shy frowned and accelerated, flying towards Twilight and firing a shot from her horn directly at her.

Twilight didn’t move or try to dodge. She smiled up at Pinkie as the beam curved around to one side, completely missing. Pinkie stopped in mid-air and growled down at Twilight.

“Looks like this isn’t gonna get me anywhere,” Pinkie said with frustration. “Besides, like you said before, I don’t have time to waste here. I have to find Fluttershy!” She reached her hoof up to her left ear and rubbed against it with a downward motion.

A second later, she vanished.

“What happened?” yelled Twilight.

“Guess she woke up,” said Pinkie Twi. “You better do the same, who knows what she might try to do. Get that communicator back if you can. I’ll let you know when we need to do this again... when it’s time for her to use it.”

“I don’t get it,” said Twilight. “What even happened when she put it in her ear? I thought it would be bad, but I had no idea this would happen.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, I don’t have all the kinks worked out, but don’t you worry!” said Pinkie with a confident smile. “Next time, I’m sure it’ll work!”

“What’ll work?” asked Twilight, but then suddenly felt a hoof nudging her. Her eyes shot open, and she saw Princess Celestia looking down at her. She was awake again, at least within Fluttershy’s dream.

“Thank goodness you woke up,” said Celestia, glancing up towards the door to the jail building. A hoof could be heard loudly banging against it. “We’re out of time.”

Twilight groaned and stood back up, her eyes scanning the ground for the pink Communicator. She saw it lying on the ground a few feet in front of her and stepped towards it. She finally noticed Pinkie Pie was missing from the room, and glanced around nervously as she picked the pink gem up and put it in her ear.

“Where’s Pinkie Pie?” Twilight asked, turning back to Celestia. The princess pointed her hoof upward. Twilight tilted her gaze upward and saw a large hole in the roof where something had blasted through it.

“She woke up about a minute before you, sprouted wings and a horn, and then took off directly through the roof,” said Princess Celestia. “She didn’t say a word to me, but she yelled Fluttershy’s name as she took off. I’m afraid she intends to --”

“She’s gonna kill Fluttershy! She wants to end everything!” shouted Twilight, interrupting the princess. “We have to get out of here! We have to find Fluttershy before she does!”

A groan came from the other end of the room. Applejack woke up and shook her head, looking towards Celestia and Twilight with confusion.

“Pinkie Pie?” asked Applejack with bewilderment. “Took off? Wants to kill Fluttershy?” She stood up and stumbled groggily towards the two ponies in front of her.

“Well, maybe ‘took off’ isn’t exactly --” started Twilight, but was cut off by Applejack.

“She must’a been a changeling this whole time!” yelled Applejack. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. She HAS been acting weird ever since this whole forest business started.” She placed a hoof against her head, shaking it in disbelief.

The banging at the door continued, and Applejack finally took notice of it. She trotted slowly towards the door and opened it. A guard pushed into the room, glancing around and then up to the hole in the roof.

“Captain, Pinkie just took off flying! Through the roof!” he yelled. “What’s going on?”

Twilight decided it would be best to just keep quiet and let them think whatever they were thinking. She looked up at the princess, who nodded her head quietly.

“She’s been a changeling this whole time!” said Applejack. She turned towards Twilight and Princess Celestia and pointed a hoof at them. “And it looks like these two really are Twilight and the princess.”

The guard gasped and bowed to the ground before the princess. “A thousand pardons, Your Majesty! We were only trying to--”

“Protect Ponyville,” Celestia interjected, taking a commanding position finally. “You did exactly what you should have done, and did it valiantly. Worry not, my little pony. We must now work together to stop any further tragedies.”

The guard and Applejack both nodded their heads in agreement.

A second later, two pegasi flew through the hole in the roof and landed roughly on the ground. Everyone jumped back in surprise. Standing in the middle of the room were Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash.

“Where’s Twilight?” asked Fluttershy, spinning her head around until she spotted the purple unicorn. “Twilight! You’re safe!” she said in relief.

Rainbow Dash spotted her as well, and her jaw dropped in shock. “Twilight!” she yelled. “You’re safe?”

“I am,” Twilight responded to both of them. “and I’m glad to see you two are safe as well.” She and Celestia stepped towards the two Pegasi.

“So, now what do we do, y’all?” asked Applejack, joining the circle of friends in the middle of the room. “Got any plans, Twilight? Princess?”

Fluttershy spoke up first. “We have to go into the Everfree... F-f-f-forest,” she said as bravely as she could, swallowing roughly as the words left her mouth.

“She’s right,” said Princess Celestia. “We must find the source of the forest’s growth. Twilight and I will go with Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash and Applejack should stay here and guard the village.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “Sorry, Princess, but I’m not staying here. If we’re going to go all out, then I’m coming, too!” she said defiantly.

Applejack nodded. “Pardon, but if yer gonna bring someone inta that forest, best to be me or Rainbow Dash than Fluttershy,” she said, glancing at Fluttershy. “Though she does seem... different, somehow.”

Twilight sighed. “Fine. I knew this would happen.”

“Of course!” said Rainbow Dash with a grin. “AJ and I would never let our friends go into that place without us!”

Celestia sighed as well, but nodded her head. “Very well, then. Let’s go! To the Everfree Forest!”

Overgrowth Ch 6 - Twisted Emotion

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Six - Twisted Emotion

“You sure about this?” asked Applejack, squinting as she tilted her head in close to Twilight.

“Sure about what?” Twilight questioned, shaking her head as she pulled a set of saddlebags over her back.

“Bringin’ Fluttershy into the forest, and all,” responded Applejack. “Why, last time she wandered near the Everfree, she’d’a been a goner if I hadn’t tagged along.” She raised a hoof up to her missing eye, her hair still draped down over where it used to be.

“Well, that’s why we’re all going with her. Surely if we’re all together, we’ll make it through,” said Twilight, tilting her head and discreetly removing the pink earpiece from her ear and placing it into one of her bags.

Applejack shook her head. “That Pinkie Pie changeling’s out there, too, and aimin’ ta attack Fluttershy,” she said. “I still think she should hide out here.”

Twilight closed the flap on her bag and turned back towards Applejack. “All the more reason why we should stay with her. Did you see how powerful Pinkie Pie was?”

Applejack nodded. “Not really, but I sure felt it when she blasted me,” the orange pony responded, rubbing her hoof against her chest. “Guess yer right, there, Twilight. Not sure the guards here could handle her. Not sure we could either, though.”

Twilight tilted her gaze downward and frowned. “Here’s hoping it doesn’t come down to that,” she said, and then started making her way to the door of the storeroom they were standing in. “We should go check up on Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy at Sugarcube Corner.”

Outside the small, gray building, they met Princess Celestia, who was walking away from Mayor Mare at the far end of the pavillion. Twilight raised her hoof in greeting, and then pointed north towards Sugarcube Corner. Celestia nodded her head and joined the two as they headed to the bakery.

“The mayor isn’t pleased that you’re leaving, Applejack,” said Celestia, plainly gazing down at Applejack, who sighed in response.

“Honestly, she worries too much,” said Applejack. “The town will be fine, the unicorn squad is more than capable of holding the forest off while I’m away.”

“It will be dangerous. There’s a real chance you may never come back, Applejack,” Celestia said with a frown. “A leader has to take these things into consideration.”

Applejack shot the princess a nasty glare over her shoulder. “I never asked fer this!” she said, a bit of contempt in her voice. “And I really don’t wanna be hearin’ it from you. You two still ain’t explained where you been all this time!”

Twilight put a foreleg on Applejack’s shoulder, pulling her to a stop. “AJ, you have to understand, we got here as soon as we could,” she said, looking into Applejack’s eyes. Applejack turned her head away and bit her lip.

“I’m sorry, Twilight. Princess. It’s just, we’ve been through so much here,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “Y’all showin’ up was the last thing I expected. I guess I’m still in a bit of shock, seein’ as how I spent the last month cursin’ yer name, Princess.” She cleared her throat and continued walking towards Sugarcube Corner, which was just ahead of them now.

Celestia and Twilight both shook their heads and followed Applejack, silent for the rest of the trek. The three arrived at Sugarcube Corner and quietly entered through the front door. Fluttershy was behind the main counter, sorting various dried fruits and small loaves of bread into piles.

“Looks like we’re about ready,” said Applejack. “Where’s Rainbow Dash?”

Fluttershy looked toward the staircase in the back of the shop. “She said she had to get some things from the basement, but she’s been down there this whole time,” she responded as she started to place food into Twilight’s saddlebags.

“I better go check on her,” said Applejack, trotting towards the basement door.

Twilight leaned her head towards Fluttershy and whispered. “Looks like there’s no way to talk AJ out of coming, and I’m pretty sure Rainbow Dash won’t budge either.”

Fluttershy sighed. “What do we do, then?” she asked. “If they come along, they might find out the truth, and you said that’s bad, right?”

“Really bad,” Twilight said gravely.

Celestia frowned. “We may want to leave now while we can, then. They may try to follow, but we can lose them,” she said quietly, but was then interrupted by Applejack storming back up the stairs.

“Rainbow Dash ain’t in the basement!” she yelled. “That dang fool, I bet she’s flown off without us!”

Fluttershy gasped. “Why would she do that?” she asked with shock.

“I bet she thinks she’s gonna take care of this on her own,” said Applejack, gritting her teeth. “I should’a known!”

“That does sound like something she’d do, but let’s check the rest of Sugarcube Corner first before we jump to conclusions,” Twilight responded calmly, starting to make her way to the staircase that led to the Cakes’ house above the shop. “Check all the rooms up there.”

Everyone nodded and made their way up the stairs. Fluttershy flew down the hall and through the door that led to the upper level where Pinkie’s room was located. Clearing the stairwell that led up into the room, she noticed a bit of color sticking out from Pinkie’s closet, and could hear the sound of crying. She flew over to the closet door and quietly landed, sliding the door open slowly.

“Dashie?” she said softly as the opening door revealed the blue pegasus within.

Rainbow Dash buried her head in her hooves and sniffled, then turned to face Fluttershy. “Oh, hey Fluttershy. You about ready with those rations down there?” Wet streaks were visible around the bottom of her eyes, but she wore a confident smile.

Fluttershy blinked and nodded her head. “Yes, we’re all about ready to go. Are you... ready?” she asked, placing a hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder.

“Me? Of course!” said Rainbow Dash with a chuckle. “I was just looking for something up here, and--”

Fluttershy interrupted her friend with a sudden hug, pulling her close and squeezing tightly. The two sat quietly for a moment, until Rainbow Dash finally broke the silence.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” Rainbow Dash said, her voice wavering. “It feels like just yesterday she was here making food for us all.” She closed her eyes tightly and pushed her face into Fluttershy’s shoulder.

“I know,” said Fluttershy compassionately. “Everything that happened is hard to believe. We’ll make it right, though, Dash. I’m sure of it.” She patted Rainbow Dash on the back.

Rainbow Dash pulled away and stared into Fluttershy’s eyes. “Listen, Fluttershy. I have to tell you something, but you have to keep it a secret from the others,” she said gravely. “That whole talk about Pinkie being a changeling? I’m not buyin’ it! She was a little... crazy from what’s been going on before, but it was definitely the real Pinkie Pie. I’m sure of it!”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “You might be right, Dashie, but we have to get moving in order to find out,” she said calmly.

“Something fishy is going on. Something other than the forest coming to life. I can’t put my hoof on it, but I feel it so clearly... like a burning sensation in my mind. Like I’m forgetting something. Something important,” Rainbow said, her tone of voice as serious as could be. “You believe me, right? You feel it, too, right? Ever since we found ourselves in Cloudsdale. Is that why you couldn’t tell me what happened? Why you said something about me dying?”

Fluttershy shook her head nervously, knowing she couldn’t tell Rainbow anything about the events in Cloudsdale. “I just don’t know, Dashie. I don’t know where I got that idea,” she said.

“That’s just the thing, though,” Rainbow Dash said, flustered. “When you said that, I thought you were acting crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I started to almost remember something... something scary. Like a cold darkness. I can’t explain it, but I know something had to have happened!”

Fluttershy sighed. “I don’t know, I’m sorry,” she said. The two turned their heads suddenly as hoofsteps began to come up the stairs. Applejack’s head poked up over the railing and spotted the two of them.

“There you are!” Applejack said sternly. “We been lookin’ all over for ya! Come on, now, we gotta get a move on!” She gestured towards the stairs and trotted back down them.

Fluttershy turned back to Rainbow Dash. “We’ll figure it out. We have to go, now, though. Come on.” She stood up and reached a hoof towards Rainbow Dash.

“I never thought I’d see the day that you’d have to pull me out of a slump,” said Rainbow Dash, smiling up at the yellow pegasus. She took her hoof and stood back up. “Let’s get moving! We have some mysteries to solve!”

The two walked out of Pinkie’s room and down the stairs to join the others. They arrived to find their companions, saddlebags loaded, ready to head out.

Applejack walked over to Rainbow Dash and tossed a set of saddlebags over her back. She glanced at Dash’s eyes and shook her head. “You gonna be okay, there, tough girl?” she asked with a slight chuckle. Rainbow Dash nodded her head.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Rainbow Dash said. “We’d better get a move on.”

The five ponies stepped out from Sugarcube Corner’s front door and into the streets of Ponyville, or what was left of it. The air was hot and dry, still cooling down from the constant sunlight of the previous weeks.

As they approached the south gate, they were met by Mayor Mare and a group of guards, blocking their way out. The mayor wore a look of determination on her face and stared squarely at Applejack.

Applejack walked straight to the mayor, her lips dropping to a frown.

“Let us through, Mayor,” she ordered. “We got business in the Everfree.”

“You can’t go,” the mayor said harshly.

“Let us through,” repeated Applejack. “I ain’t gonna say it again.” She glared at the mayor with her one burning eye.

Mayor Mare closed her eyes and sighed, stepping to the side, the guards following suit. Applejack pushed past her without a word and passed through the gate. The others followed, nervously glancing at the mayor as they passed her.

Celestia brought up the rear of the group and stopped for a moment beside the mayor.

“Madam Mare, we will make sure we end the forest’s advance. I give you my royal oath,” she said firmly. “You need not worry. Watch after your people, I know better than anyone that you are capable of protecting this town.”

The mayor opened her eyes and looked at the princess. “Have you forgotten what happened when the forest first began attacking?” she asked, her voice lowering.

Celestia bit her lip. I have no idea, she thought to herself.

“Perhaps you’ve forgotten how the forest basically devoured an entire army,” said the mayor, heightening her volume. “We never forgot here, though. So yes, rest assured that we will be fine behind these walls, but you five are marching to your deaths!” She panted heavily through her clenched teeth.

Celestia leaned toward the mayor, speaking with as much royal confidence as she could manage. “Things have changed,” she said. “We will not fail. Trust in those four, for they have saved Equestria before.”

The mayor sighed. “I know, but it just seems so hopeless now. Rarity is gone, Pinkie was probably killed by that changeling, and Applejack is mentally exhausted,” she whispered nervously, bowing her head. “I just hope you’re right, Your Majesty. Please, take care of them, especially Applejack. Hers has been such a heavy burden.”

Celestia smiled, placing a hoof on the mayor’s shoulder. “You are a true leader, Madam Mare. Worry not, your town’s residents will be safe. We’ll be back before you know it.”

With that, Celestia galloped forth, meeting up with the others that had gone ahead of her. They passed silently through the ruins of the southern town, eventually coming to Fluttershy’s cottage at the edge of the forest proper. Although the growth from the forest had extended its reach, the thickness and darkness within the original forest grounds were far greater.

Fluttershy cowered low to the ground behind Rainbow Dash and Applejack, staring into the dark forest before her. “Can we maybe come back when it’s light out?” she asked timidly, the bravery she’d found before having left her upon encountering the dark woods. She’d been used to going into the forest before, even at night on a couple of extreme occasions, but it had never seemed so terrifying as it did to her right now.

Twilight and Celestia both lit up their horns with light spells, illuminating the path ahead of them, which had been grown over by brush and tall grass. Applejack grabbed Fluttershy by the foreleg and pulled her back to her hooves.

“Sorry, Sugarcube, but we can’t wait another night,” said Applejack calmly. “Crazy as it seems, we need ta press on through there. You know as well as I do that the forest is less active at night, even though we ain’t had one for a while. Maybe we’ll get lucky and nothin’ will happen.”

Fluttershy nodded forlornly and began walking behind the orange pony, her head twisting back and forth to watch for any movement.

They had all walked this path before, and knew the lay of the land well enough to navigate even though the forest had taken over any clear places. Twilight would occasionally clear away brush with magical blasts while Rainbow Dash hovered just overhead, keeping a lookout for anything that could threaten them.

“It feels like it hasn’t been that long since we were making this journey to find the Elements of Harmony,” said Twilight. “I thought the forest would be a lot more wild, though, considering what’s been happening.”

“Don’t jinx it, Twilight!” said Rainbow Dash, annoyed.

“Hate to say it, but she’s right, though,” said Applejack. “Ain’t had so much as a vine or branch or wild animal jump out at us this whole time. Even though it’s calmer at night, this is too calm. Makes me nervous.”

“Nervous?” asked Fluttershy. “Why would it being calm make you n-n-nervous?” She shook and glanced around more, still wound up from just being there.

Applejack glanced over her shoulder at Fluttershy and shrugged. “Guess I’m just so used to things takin’ me by surprise by now, that I--” her words were cut short as she tripped over something in front of her. Celestia and Twilight shone their horn lights down towards her to help her stand up. Everyone gasped when they realized what Applejack had tripped on.

Lying across the path was a sliced-off purple-scaled fanned ear. Applejack jumped to her hooves, backing away from the severed body part.

“What in tarnation!” Applejack exclaimed as she brushed herself off.

Celestia shone her light more brightly, revealing blood still dripping from where the ear had been severed. “This is fresh,” she said. “These woods are definitely not harmless right now.”

Celestia furrowed her brow. What is this magical energy emanating from it? she thought. She glanced up at Twilight, whose eyes were turned in the direction they were headed. Has she not sensed it?

“I think I recognize that ear,” said Twilight. “That poor sea serpent... we’re almost to the river, let’s hurry.”

I’d best not say anything for now, Celestia decided. I need to be certain.

Everyone nodded, even Fluttershy, who was staring sadly at the gory sight before her. They all galloped forward, the sound of the river drawing closer and closer.

As the flowing body of water came into view, so too did a horrible sight. The kind purple serpent who had helped them in their quest to find the Elements of Harmony was strung up from vines that were hanging down from the trees above. His body was raked with deep cuts along its length, and his face was in even worse shape. His eyelids were clenched shut, blood running down over them from the large wound that went across his forehead and over to his ear, which was missing on the left side.

As he heard the ponies approaching, he began to writhe wildly.

“Stay away!” he yelled, his voice loud but full of fear. “Please, just stay away!”

The ponies stopped in their tracks, all staring up at him in awe.

“Good heavens, what happened?” asked Twilight, taking another cautious step forward. “Did the forest do this?”

“I said stay away, ponies!” the serpent yelled, swinging his body back and forth, which was only causing the vines to constrict around him more tightly.

“Please, we want to help you!” Twilight said firmly as she tried to think of the best way to free him from his hanging prison.

“Hold still, now,” said Applejack, flipping open a saddle bag and pulling out a length of rope. “We wanna get’cha down from there.”

“Your voices... I knew I recognized them,” said the serpent as he slowly opened one eye and tried to catch a glimpse of his potential saviors. “I recognized her voice, too! Just leave me! I’m not long for this world!”

Still so dramatic, even though the situation is a bit more serious than a cut-off mustache this time, thought Twilight with a sigh. Then again, he’s just part of Fluttershy’s dream, so he would be as she remembers him.

“We better get him down from there,” said Twilight, turning to her friends. “Any ideas?”

“We can’t just cut him loose, he’s up too high. Falling from there in his condition would just make it worse.” Fluttershy assessed, despite barely being able to bring herself to look at him.

“Rainbow, can you get this rope looped around a branch and then wrapped around his chest?” asked Applejack as she tossed one end of the rope to Rainbow Dash. “Twilight, we’re gonna need you to levitate him up away from those vines a bit.”

“No problem, boss!” yelled Rainbow. She quickly darted up towards a thick branch in the tree above, looping the rope over it, then pulling it back down to the serpent’s midsection.

“If she comes back, we’re all dead!” yelled the serpent in a panic as Twilight began to raise his body upward with her magic.

“If who comes back?” asked Celestia as she leant a hoof to Twilight with her own levitation magic.

“I don’t know!” the serpent responded in a panic. “She’s the one who did this! She sounded so crazed! So angry!”

Rainbow Dash finished wrapping the rope around the serpent’s chest and then joined Applejack on the ground to pull on the other end.

“Alright, Twilight. Once we got some slack, you blast those vines!” yelled Applejack, and then gripped the rope tightly in her teeth. She and Rainbow Dash pulled as hard as they could, and Twilight released her levitation spell. She pointed her horn at the vines that had been under the serpent’s neck and body and let loose with a thin, precisely aimed shot, splitting the vines cleanly.

The sound of the energy blast sent the serpent into another panic attack. Applejack and Rainbow Dash struggled to keep their hoofing while holding him up. Fluttershy timidly grabbed ahold as well, but it was no good. The three of them slid forward, almost stumbling.

“No! Stop!” yelled the serpent. “Let me go!” As he struggled, several vines from the trees above flew down like whips, snapping around his neck and head and began to pull tightly. The serpent gasped for breath as he struggled.

“Consarn it!” yelled Applejack. “Twilight! Do somethin’!” yelled Applejack.

“Oh my goodness!” yelled Fluttershy, staring up at the serpent. Cold shivers ran down her spine, and she could feel the same sort of despair she’d felt earlier that day in Cloudsdale rising inside of her.

Rainbow Dash leapt back into the air and grabbed ahold of the vines with her teeth. She gnawed as hard as she could, but was met by more vines lowering from the treetops and trying to wrap her up as well. She darted away, avoiding any contact with the assailing plant life.

Twilight glanced at the river. “It might be our only hope! If we can swing him towards the river as we cut him loose, he could land in the water!” she yelled. “It’s better than the alternatives!”

Rainbow Dash nodded. “Right! I’ll try and get him swinging, but I’m gonna need help!” she called out. “Applejack, you try and get him moving with the rope, too. And Fluttershy, you need to--”

“Fluttershy, no!” yelled Celestia, interrupting Rainbow Dash.

“I just can’t take it anymore,” said Fluttershy, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Twilight jerked her head back and saw Fluttershy floating off the ground without flapping her wings. Her eyes were pouring out streams of yellow energy, and her breathing was heavy and fast.

“Fluttershy! Stop!” yelled Twilight, charging towards the yellow pegasus. “You can’t do that!”

“Sorry, Twilight,” said Fluttershy with a sad smile. “I just want this nightmare to end.”

“No!” yelled Twilight, leaping through the air at Fluttershy.

A rippling wave of yellow magic shot from Fluttershy. It flew right past twilight and exploded in a bright flash as it hit the serpent’s body.

Twilight landed on the ground with a thud just in front of the floating mare. She turned her head towards the serpent and saw him floating in the air, his wounds closing and the vines retracting back into the trees. Applejack stood and stared at him, as if in a trance. Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, landed on the ground and stared at Fluttershy, slack-jawed.

“Fluttershy, How are you...” said Rainbow Dash, reaching a hoof out to Fluttershy. “That’s impossible.”

Fluttershy landed on the ground softly and walked over to Rainbow Dash. She smiled at her and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but it’s what feels right to me.” she said, another tear escaping from her eye. “Even if none of this is real, it’s still so dear to me. That includes you, too, Dashie.”

“Real? What?” asked Rainbow Dash, solidly confused. She placed a hoof to her head and fell to the ground, groaning in pain. “My... head! What’s happening?”

Fluttershy dropped to her knees and wrapped her hooves around Rainbow Dash’s head.

“Fluttershy,” said Twilight nervously as she approached. “We have to get out of here. They could change at any moment!” She glanced nervously at Applejack, who was still staring in astonishment at the now healed sea serpent that was lying on the ground, unconscious. She looked up at Celestia, who was keeping a careful eye on Applejack as well.

Slowly moving ripples of magic began to flow around Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Loose magical particles split away and flowed outward randomly as well, some of them right at Twilight. On contact with the energy, Twilight felt instantly calm, warm, and happy.

This feeling, thought Twilight, It’s like how you feel when you’re being cared for. Being loved by somepony else. Is that the essence of Fluttershy’s magic? The essence of her heart?

Twilight closed her eyes, and images began to fill her head. She saw herself lying in bed at home, back in Canterlot. Her bedroom door pushed quietly open, and she saw her big brother walk over to her bedside, levitating a small cup of hot tea. He set it gently down on the nightstand beside her.

“How’s your throat feeling?” Shining Armor asked, kneeling beside her bed. She nodded her head, unable to speak. She remembered that she’d come down with a really bad sore throat, and her parents were away, so Shining Armor had to care for her.

She reached out for the cup of tea and tried to lift it, but her arms were shaking. Shining Armor took ahold of the cup with his magic, steadying it, and placed a hoof on Twilight’s chest, pushing her back onto the bed against her pillow.

“You just lie there, Twiley. I got this,” he said with a smile, gently pressing the rim of the cup against Twilight’s lips and tilting it towards her. The warm liquid entered her mouth, and she swallowed tiny sips. It was so soothing on her throat, but that wasn’t the only thing she felt.

As she looked up at her big brother, his face so serious in the execution of the simple task of caring for his sick little sister, she felt a different kind of warmth deep in her heart. Something she didn’t have much experience with at the time, but something she was all too familiar with now, looking back. It was love, friendship, affection; It was kindness.

As she saw her past self reach forward and embrace her older sibling, she came back to the present and opened her eyes. She was smiling from ear to ear, filled with the spirit of kindness. She looked down at Fluttershy, who was still hugging Rainbow Dash’s head tightly, and knew that there could be no other way for her. This was inevitable from the very beginning, and while it may lead to a harder road ahead, or their friends becoming changelings within the dream, it would be worth it so that Fluttershy’s dream could be happy again.

“Twilight, look out!” came Celestia’s voice. Twilight jumped and looked over her shoulder to see Applejack approaching.

“You three ‘bout done there?” asked Applejack, a dazed look on her face.

“Huh?” questioned Twilight, unsure how to take the current situation.

“We really need ta’ get a move on, ya know,” said Applejack with a sigh, looking down at Rainbow Dash. “We ain’t got time for Rainbow to be havin’ a breakdown, not ta’ sound heartless or anything.”

“Breakdown?” asked Twilight, turning to face Applejack, her muscles tense and ready to flee at the first sign of trouble. “She’s just... Didn’t you see the serpent just now?”

Applejack shrugged. “What about him?” she asked. “Not sure what happened, but he seems okay now. Havin’ himself a nice nap, and I’d say he’s earned it.”

Twilight turned her head slowly towards Celestia, her eyes wide with shock. Celestia’s jaw was dropped and she only responded with a confused shrug.

“What in the hay is wrong with y’all?” asked Applejack, shaking her head and turning back towards the river. “Get Rainbow back on her hooves and let’s git goin’!” She began to walk slowly towards the water’s edge.

Twilight knelt down next to Fluttershy and whispered. “Is she going to be okay?” she asked, placing a hoof on Fluttershy’s back.

Fluttershy looked at her with a smile and a nod. “Yeah, she’ll be fine.” she responded happily, releasing Rainbow’s head from her grip and standing back up. Rainbow Dash looked up at Fluttershy and blinked.

“You’re... not gonna tell me what’s going on, are you?” she asked.

Fluttershy giggled and shook her head. “Sorry,” she said with a grin.

Rainbow Dash smiled back and shrugged, rising to her hooves.

“Fine. I give up, yet again,” she said. “For now, anyway! But you have to explain everything later!” She gave Fluttershy a serious glare.

Fluttershy nodded her head. “I promise,” she said. The three of them dusted themselves off, and then ran towards Applejack and the river ahead of them, passing by the slumbering serpent. Princess Celestia trailed the group, her brow furrowed in thought.

Fluttershy’s lucidity didn’t trigger any changeling defense mechanisms, she thought to herself. And there’s still the question of that magical essence I felt coursing all over the sea serpent.

She glanced at the serpent as she passed by, concentrating on any magical essence she could sense. There was nothing but the overpowering energy of Fluttershy’s kindness now, not a trace of the dark magic she had felt earlier.

“Not far now!” came Applejack’s voice from the front of the pack. “Just through this patch of trees and across the gorge and we’ll be there. Be ready for anything.”

The bridge across the gorge still hung as Rainbow Dash had tied it for them on their previous journey, actually reinforced now with vines that had pushed their way through the cliff walls and wrapped around it. Shortly after crossing, the travelers finally found themselves at their destination, the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.

The entryway was completely covered in vines and plant growth. Twilight wasted no time in firing a shot right through the doorway, clearing a path straight to the large chamber inside, and its center where the Elements of Harmony had once set in stone. In their place, however, was a pulsating mass of green and brown plantlife coming up from the ground. It beat like a heart, making deep thumping sounds as it pulsed.

“This is it,” said Celestia. “This is the cause of the forest’s expansion. Let us be done with it.”

“Ya don’t hafta tell me twice,” said Applejack, brushing her hair away from where it had been covering her missing eye.

“Blast the thing, you two!” said Rainbow Dash with excitement, looking up at the princess.

Princess Celestia turned her gaze to Twilight, who was staring at the undulating mass of vines nervously. “You know what might happen,” she spoke with hushed tones. “You must be prepared. If this is where the rift is at, things may turn out like they did before.”

Twilight nodded her head, readying her horn with purple magic at its tip. She closed her eyes and fired a beam of energy right at the heart. An explosion of plant matter sprayed all around, joined by a loud boom and a ripping sound, like a piece of cloth being torn in half.

Twilight felt a blast of energy hit her, but it wasn’t at all the energy she was expecting. Before, when she had blown a rift open, it was an explosion of fire and heat. This time, she felt a sudden pulse of familiar magic.

Twilight’s eyes shot open, and as the cloud of green mist cleared from the air, a floating rip in the fabric of space lie open before her. Everypony walked slowly towards the portal, staring through it.

There, on the other side, was Princess Cadence, shackled in chains, her eyes wide and burning with red energy, and her horn encased in a black crystal. She screamed in agony as the crystal on her horn glowed with power, and a pulse of magic shot from it and towards the rift.

Everypony jumped back as a wave of love magic flew over them.

“Cadence... No...” said Twilight, quickly coming down from the burst of emotion she’d felt from just being clipped by the blast. She quickly turned her head to the left and saw Applejack and Rainbow Dash both still staring at the portal, their eyes glowing with bright green light.

“It’s worse than I could have ever imagined!” yelled Celestia. “Twilight! Fluttershy! We have to get out of here!”

“We can’t just leave Cadence like that!” protested Twilight.

Applejack turned towards Twilight, her one green glowing eye now accompanied by a wide and sinister grin.

“You can’t stop it!” she yelled. “You better just go back to sleep!” She leapt at Twilight, screaming like a banshee.

Twilight jumped back, readying her horn for a fight, when a flash of color shot out from the corner of her eye and crashed into Applejack, knocking her to the ground.

Rainbow Dash, glowing with a yellow aura, stood over the possessed Applejack and stared down at her.

“Sorry, AJ, but I won’t let you do that!” yelled Rainbow Dash, pressing her hoof against Applejack’s chest, holding her down to the ground.

Applejack grinned up at Rainbow Dash. “Oh please, sugarcube,” she said gruffly. “Like you could stop me!” She pushed up with her hind hooves and kicked Rainbow Dash into the air. Flipping back to her hooves, she leapt at Rainbow Dash. In mid-leap, a pair of translucent blue wings shot out from her orange back, and she took flight.

“Fluttershy!” yelled Rainbow Dash as she darted away from Applejack. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to save Cadence! I’ll keep Applejack busy!”

Fluttershy had fallen to her rump, still staring through the portal at Princess Cadence, whose tortured state continued uninterrupted. Twilight quickly turned to Fluttershy and grabbed her by the shoulders.

“Fluttershy! We can’t go out there and help her! Princess Celestia says it’s not an exit, only an entrance! We have to close it!” Twilight yelled. “We’ll work on that, you try and get ahold of that power of yours again, we might need it!”

“I can’t control it!” Fluttershy responded, her voice shaking. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Please! You have to try!” said Twilight, then turning back to the rift and aiming a beam of magic at it, joining Celestia who had started a second before. Twilight started from the bottom of the rift and was working her way up while Celestia worked from the top down.

Fluttershy managed to stand up and take a few steps back from Celestia and Twilight. She closed her eyes and began to concentrate, trying to bring the power back. The sound of Applejack and Rainbow Dash fighting off to her left rang clearly in her ears, followed by a crashing sound right above her and a loud voice.

“Fluttershy!” the voice yelled. Fluttershy opened her eyes and looked up in time to see Pinkie Pie barreling towards her, horn aglow. “Die!”

Overgrowth Ch 7 - Let Love In

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Seven - Let Love In

“Fluttershy!” yelled Rainbow Dash as she darted away from Applejack. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to save Cadence! I’ll keep Applejack busy!” She flung herself into the air even higher, a trail of yellow energy hanging in the air in her wake.

Twilight stared up at Rainbow Dash for a moment, then turned to Princess Celestia.

“She’s right! We have to save Cadence!” Twilight yelled over the gushing wind-like sound emanating from the portal.

Celestia shook her head, her horn glowing brightly. “We can’t leave the dream from here, Twilight. This is only an entry point for this... perversion of magic!” She narrowed her eyes in anger, then turned toward Twilight. “Even if we could leave, we would never be able to take on Chrysalis and her army as we are.”

“So what do we do?” asked Twilight. “It seems so hopeless!”

“We close it,” Celestia replied, some calm returning to her voice. “I can seal the rift, but I’ll need your help. We can at least stop Cadence’s magic from entering Fluttershy’s dream. One less food source for that despicable...” She stopped herself, and turned toward the portal, beginning to seal it away.

Twilight turned to Fluttershy, who had fallen to the ground from the shock.

“Fluttershy! We can’t go out there and help her! Princess Celestia says it’s not an exit, only an entrance! We have to close it!” Twilight yelled. “We’ll work on that, you try and get a hold of that power of yours again, we might need it!”

“I can’t control it!” Fluttershy responded, her voice shaking. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Please! You have to try!” said Twilight, then turning back to the rift and aiming a beam of magic at it, joining Celestia.

Meanwhile, in the air above the castle, Rainbow Dash and Applejack were darting to and fro. Applejack would charge towards Rainbow Dash, and Dash would easily evade, switching her heading, but always leading Applejack further and further away from the castle’s main hall.

“You think you can keep up with me?” Rainbow Dash taunted, smacking a front hoof against her flank. “I’m the fastest flier in Equestria!”

Applejack shot through the air again, this time curving her path as Rainbow Dash dodged. She smashed right into her, launching her across the courtyard and against the wall of the high tower.

“No, you ain’t!” Applejack shouted. “You ain’t really Rainbow Dash!” She charged at Rainbow Dash again, who quickly flapped her wings and dodged upward towards the top of the tower. Applejack crashed through the wall as she hit it with full force, landing on the stairs within.

“You’re the one that’s not really Applejack!” Rainbow Dash’s voice came from up above. “You’re just a changeling!”

Applejack shook her head, jumped back out the hole in the wall and propelled herself upward once more.

Meanwhile, back in the main chamber, Fluttershy had backed away from the portal and was deep in concentration, trying to summon up her power.

I can’t do it! It just comes and goes! she thought. Her concentration broke when she heard a crashing sound right above her. Fluttershy opened her eyes and looked up in time to see Pinkie Pie barreling towards her, horn aglow.

“Fluttershy! Die!” Pinkie bellowed, and crashed right into the yellow mare, pinning her to the ground. Fluttershy screamed, which was followed by a loud ripping sound from the direction of the portal. She jerked her head up and saw Twilight and Princess Celestia both staring at her, the rift behind them having torn open even wider than before.

Pinkie’s hoof slammed into the side of Fluttershy’s head, twisting it around. Fluttershy instinctively twisted the rest of her body with it, but Pinkie stayed firmly mounted on top of her, now staring straight down at her face.

Pinkie’s eyes twitched, wide with madness, and her mouth formed into a large toothy grin. She pressed both of her front hooves against Fluttershy’s neck and pressed down. Fluttershy tried to gasp for breath ineffectively and stared back at Pinkie.

“This nightmare ends now!” Pinkie yelled, turning her head upward towards Twilight and Celestia, who were now charging towards her. “No one can stop me!” She fired a beam of magic from her horn, striking Twilight square in the chest. The purple unicorn was blasted back several feet, but Celestia continued her advance, horn aglow.

Celestia returned fire with a beam of white light that crackled with power as it flew through the air. Pinkie returned the favor, the two beams zipping past each other and both striking their targets. Celestia was pressed back several feet, but dug her hooves into the ground, crouching low. Pinkie took Celestia’s shot to her forehead, and fell backwards, sliding towards the broken chamber’s entrance.

“Fluttershy, get up! Hurry!” Celestia ordered. Fluttershy coughed and clasped her throat with her front hooves, slowly turning her body over and trying to stand back up.

From behind Fluttershy came a pink glow, and Pinkie Pie levitated into the air, her head creaking upwards loosely and then bobbing forward. Her horn and forehead were blackened from where she had been shot by Celestia, but her bright white eyes continued to stare at Fluttershy with hatred.

Celestia reached out to Fluttershy and pulled her up onto her hooves. “Get behind me!” she said, never averting her gaze from Pinkie Pie.

“You don’t understand!” Pinkie yelled. “You can’t understand!” She landed back on the ground and began to advance slowly towards Celestia and Fluttershy, who were backing away towards the portal, just beyond where Twilight lay unconscious.

“Pinkie, I won’t allow you to harm her!” Celestia shouted. “She’s innocent!”

“Innocent?” said Pinkie, her whole body beginning to shake. “Innocent? She’s a murderer! A mass murderer! She’s the cause of Twilight and Rarity running off to their deaths! She’s the reason so many of my friends in town are gone! Mares, stallions, she doesn’t discriminate! Even the Cakes! Even their foals! She killed them all with this nightmare of hers!”

Fluttershy backed away, her eyes wide as she remembered all the terrible things that had happened. She remembered the day the forest had violently surged into town. There was so much blood, so much death, so much needless destruction.

“She never meant for any of that to happen!” shouted Celestia. “Her dream is corrupted by the changelings!”

“So maybe somepony should put her out of her misery!” Pinkie yelled back, still advancing, her horn blazing with bright pink light.

Fluttershy fell to the ground again, tears rolling from her eyes. She closed them and pressed her hooves to her face.

It’s all my fault! she thought. Pinkie is right! I cause nothing but sadness no matter what I do!

What are you afraid of, Fluttershy? said a voice that rang out loudly in Fluttershy’s mind. Her eyes shot open and she looked up to the sky.

“Who’s there?” she asked with confusion.

“Fluttershy, get back up!” Celestia implored, pulling the mare to her hooves again. They continued to back away, finally reaching Twilight. Celestia tapped a hoof against Twilight’s horn, which startled her awake quickly. She shot up to her hooves and shook her head, immediately noticing Pinkie Pie coming towards them, ready to strike.

Fluttershy! What are you afraid of? the voice echoed noisily in Fluttershy’s mind one again.

“I don’t know!” Fluttershy cried. “I’m afraid of everything! I’m a weak, helpless, failure!”

Everything? Surely not everything, or how could you have such good friends? Would you not fear them, too? asked the voice.

“No, I don’t fear them! I fear failing them! I always let them down!” Fluttershy sobbed, falling back to the ground. Twilight turned to Fluttershy while Celestia still continued to stare down Pinkie Pie, her horn now ablaze with fiery energy.

“Fluttershy, who are you talking to?” asked Twilight, placing her hooves on Fluttershy’s shoulders. “Snap out of it!”

Is failing your friends really what you fear? Or is it something much more... fundamental? asked the voice.

Fluttershy sobbed, staring blankly towards the dark star-filled sky. Twilight shook her gently, trying to get her attention.

“Please...” said Fluttershy meekly, tears flowing down her cheeks. “I’ll only fail you. I’ll only cause you pain and disappointment. So, please...” She turned her gaze towards Twilight, her moistened eyes staring at her friend.

“Please... don’t love me,” she said, her lips trembling. The sound of Cadence screaming in agony came from behind her, followed by a blast of energy that washed over the entire room, forming a heavy pink cloud in the air. It fell like fog, shrouding the ground and flowing out from the rift.

Twilight blinked and then stared at Fluttershy, surrounded by Cadence’s love magic. In her heart, she felt sadness, but also a deep feeling of devotion and love. She reached her hooves forward and gently pulled Fluttershy into an embrace.

“I can’t, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, tears falling from her wide, sparkling eyes. “I love you so much.” She squeezed the yellow pegasus tightly. Fluttershy hugged her back, closing her eyes tightly as joyous emotions surfaced within her.

“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Fluttershy whispered quietly. “I love you, too... So much that I can’t stand seeing you love such a--”

“Stop!” a voice yelled from the front of the room, interrupting the moment.

“Twilight! Fluttershy!” Celestia yelled from elsewhere in the mist as a dark pink glow flashed from within the cloud of magic. A bolt of energy flew through the air and cracked like thunder as it hit Twilight in the back. Twilight and Fluttershy, still hugging, flew through the air towards the rift. Fluttershy landed on her back, Twilight’s body lying limp on top of her, a smile still hanging on her face.

“Twilight?” Fluttershy asked, gently placing a hoof against the unicorn’s face. Her shaking eyes darted back and forth, looking for any sign of life from her friend. A shallow breath caught her ear, but it was of little relief. “Wake up, Twilight... Wake up!” Twilight’s ear twitched slightly, but her eyes remained tightly shut.

A second shot of energy blazed through the air, and then a third, fired back and forth within the cloud of magic accompanied by the sound of galloping hooves.

Celestia turned her head from side to side, watching for any sign of where Pinkie could be. She walked carefully, trying to keep her bearings on where Fluttershy and Twilight had flown to. Another blood-curdling scream from Cadence filled the air, and the fog of magic became even thicker.

Why is it all concentrating here? Celestia thought. I can’t resist it much longer, and its making it impossible to sense other magical auras.

Celestia felt the crash of a hoof against her jaw as Pinkie swung from the mist, knocking her sideways onto the ground. She twisted her body with the fall, trying to roll away from the direction of the punch, but was met with a magic blast as she rolled, knocking her along the ground further. Pinkie leapt back into the fog, using her wings to switch directions at random.

“Stop hiding!” Celestia shouted as she charged up her horn and rose back to her hooves. “If you want a fight, you’ll have one!”

“I thought we were having one right now!” Pinkie retorted. Celestia shot her magic in the direction of Pinkie’s voice, but the beam missed its mark. It whizzed through the air towards the courtyard tower where Rainbow Dash stood face to face with Applejack, staring her down. Celestia’s shot hit the corner wall below them, blasting a hole in it and shaking the entire structure.

“Looks like things are getting pretty serious down there,” said Rainbow Dash, narrowing her eyes. “Guess I can’t waste any more time with you.” She grinned and scraped her front right hoof along the stone floor.

“Come on, then!” shouted Applejack, and with a flutter of her changeling wings shot towards Rainbow Dash like a bolt of lightning.

Rainbow Dash sidestepped with assistance from her own wing beat, and turned to face the changeling just in time to see it pushing off the floor and into the air. Dash jumped up after it, her forelegs extended towards its face. Her hooves crashed into its face with the power of her upward thrust, knocking its head back.

Applejack flipped her body back with the force of Rainbow Dash’s strike, kicking her back hooves up and striking Rainbow in the stomach. The wind knocked out of her, Dash fell backwards and slid along the stone tower’s roof right toward the edge.

Applejack made a beeline in Dash’s direction, and with a simple twist of her body, came crashing down with her hind hooves right onto Dash’s still extended left wing. The bones in the wing cracked on impact, and Rainbow Dash screamed in pain.

“Rainbow Dash might be the fastest flier in Equestria, but these two back legs a‘ mine are some o’ the strongest in the land,” said Applejack with a grin as she reared up above Dash. She stomped down against Dash’s ribs, which also gave a crack. Rainbow Dash twisted her body, screaming again.

Dash stared up at the changeling’s face, still wearing the guise of one of her best friends. She pushed the pain she felt to the back of her mind and laughed up at her enemy. Applejack glared angrily.

“What’s so funny?” Applejack asked through tightly-clenched teeth.

“Just imagining the look on your face when I beat you,” chuckled Rainbow Dash, gripping her ribcage and turning onto her back.

“Playin’ tough won’t help ya,” said Applejack, leaning down towards Rainbow Dash’s face. “Yer done for.”

Dash gritted her teeth. “There’s no way I’m losing to a pathetic Applejack wannabe!” she shouted. “I’d only even consider having a draw with the real one!”

Applejack grinned, mere inches from Rainbow Dash’s face. “It’s just sad, really. Not sure how you’re resisting, but I’ll tell ya somethin’ before ya die. Yer just a figment of Fluttershy’s imagination. You ain’t the real Rainbow Dash at all.”

Dash stared angrily back into Applejack’s eye.

“Awww, ya know it’s true! I know ya know, deep down, that you ain’t even real,” laughed Applejack with a devious smile. “Yer just like I was. Just part of Fluttershy’s dream. Nothing more than fleeting memories.”

Memories, Rainbow Dash thought to herself. Dreams and memories. Her mind suddenly started racing as images of the past began to flash through her head. The sun hanging in the sky, dragons circling overhead, while she and Fluttershy were trapped inside a hollow tree. Mending Fluttershy’s wing, talking together, sleeping through the heat of the constant day. Bathing in the cool waters together after Fluttershy’s wing had healed.

“Memories...” Rainbow Dash said out loud, her eyes wide, tears forming in their corners. A faint yellow glow began to surround her. Applejack sneered at her, letting out a hiss.

Rainbow Dash saw Cloudsdale under attack, dragonfire burning in the streets, buildings crumbling. She saw Fluttershy scared out of her wits, the two of them hiding in a building, and then there was a flash of blazing heat. She felt crushing pain, saw the vague outline of Fluttershy’s face, and felt cold as darkness began to trace in from the edges of her field of vision.

“You’re safe...” Rainbow Dash said quietly to herself. She felt the sensation of breath leaving her, and then a warm, loving aura. She breathed in deeply, suddenly blinking, still staring up at Applejack, who was rearing up on her hind hooves again.

“Yer just a dream!” Applejack screamed.

“I don’t care!” Rainbow Dash yelled back. “I’m Fluttershy’s dream!”

Applejack’s front hooves came flying down towards Rainbow again, but this time Dash’s hooves met hers. They crashed together with a yellow flash. Rainbow Dash pushed her hooves outward, causing Applejack to fall down on top of her. Dash quickly reached her hooves around Applejack’s torso and snapped them forward, cracking both of the changeling’s wings.

Applejack screamed, bringing her own right hoof up and then stamping down on Rainbow Dash’s right wing. The impact was weaker than before, causing no damage, but Dash still grunted in pain. The changeling breathed heavily, digging her hoof into the blue mass of feathers, her own cerulean wings dangling loosely on either side of her.

Dash’s grip released and Applejack pulled away from her, turning as fast as she could and kicking with her rear legs against the blue pegasus’ hindquarters. Dash flipped over the edge of the tower, but was able to grab a hold with her front hooves. She dangled off the edge, struggling to pull herself back up, but there was nothing for her hind hooves to grip against. Celestia’s earlier magic attack had all but blown the entire corner of the tower off.

Applejack slowly walked to the ledge and stared down at her. She grinned and raised her front right hoof up, placing it gently on Dash’s forehead. “Betcha can’t fly on them wings no more, Rainbow,” she said tauntingly.

Rainbow Dash smiled up at the changeling. “Betcha can’t fly with no wings, wannabe,” she said, and then kicked her back hooves upward as hard as she could against the underside of the already crumbling old stone, a trail of yellow energy flashing and trailing behind the attack. Her hooves crashed right through the mason work with an explosion of golden light, bits of debris and magic particles flying in all directions from the impact. Applejack was hit with the full force of the kick, and flew up and over Dash’s head, a trail of yellow energy sizzling where she’d been kicked. A second later, the ledge that Dash was gripping crumbled as well.

They both fell swiftly to the ground below, leaving a trail of yellow magic hanging in the air. Their bodies slammed into the slight ledge of dirt at the base of the tower before flipping and falling down into the deep ravine that ran along the castle’s walls

Just moments earlier, within the main chamber of the castle, the atmosphere of pink mist had become thick and hugged the ground like the morning fog. Fluttershy lay on the ground, Twilight’s limp body draped over her. Fluttershy shook her friend, trying to awaken her.

“Twilight! Twilight, wake up!” Fluttershy shouted, her voice shaking and tears falling from her eyes. “Please wake up! Please!” She pressed her hooves against Twilight’s shoulders and lifted her up a bit. Twilight’s head hung loosely and her labored breathing came in pulses with slight groaning. Fluttershy shook her head, eyes wide, her lower lip curling inward between her teeth.

There was a flash of magic in the distance, followed by the sound of stone breaking away from a far wall. Blazing streaks of pink and white energy flew back and forth as the sound of heavy hoofbeats filled the room. Celestia and Pinkie were both firing back and forth in response to one another firing, but easily dodging each shot in turn.

“This is getting us nowhere!” yelled Celestia. “If you want to end this, then come towards the rift! We’ll have a magic duel!”

“You first!” Pinkie’s voice shouted back. “I could do this all day! This power I’ve gained is incredible!” She laughed, though the sound of sadness could plainly be heard as well.

Celestia coughed and focused a small aura spell on herself. This is all I can do to resist the power of Cadence’s magic. It’s condensing too much, she thought. I can’t afford an extended battle with Pinkie... she seems mostly unaffected somehow. I have to end this now!

Celestia walked towards the sound of the rift. It soon came into view through the mist, along with Fluttershy and Twilight, still lying in a pile. Fluttershy was shaking and in a panic, focused on Twilight.

“Come on, then!” Celestia shouted into the magic cloud, bracing herself for the oncoming attack.

“Way ahead of you!” Pinkie yelled, leaping through the air towards Celestia, her front hooves poised to smash into the Princess’ face. Celestia reacted quickly, twisting her head and firing a blast from her horn, knocking Pinkie back and slamming her against the ground.

Pinkie shot back up to her hooves and swung her head upward, her horn glowing a bright pink. Celestia was surrounded by a magical aura and lifted off the ground.

“Levitation? That’s easily nullified,” Celestia scoffed, thoroughly unimpressed at the choice. “You’ll have to do better than that, Pinkie Pie.” She raised her own horn, surrounding herself with a white glow. She gently returned to the ground, landing daintily on her hooves.

“I’m not done yet!” shouted Pinkie, clenching her teeth and growling. Her eyes widened even more, and her horn began to glow a deep red. The veins in her head began to bulge and she let loose with a wave of force.

Celestia had no time to react. She was immediately encased in a bubble of red magic and lifted off the ground. The magic swirled and whipped around her violently, its waves slicing across her body like sharpened knives.

What is this? I’ve felt this magic before! Celestia thought, in shock. She tried to nullify the spell, but her horn just shot sparks from the tip ineffectively. This isn’t just levitation! How is she--

“Now out of my way!” Pinkie yelled. With a flick of her hoof to the side, Celestia shot through the air like a rocket, crashing through the castle’s wall and tumbling across the courtyard. The air around where she’d gone flying sparked and glowed with red magical power, and the pink mist in the vicinity was scattered.

Fluttershy turned her head in time to see Celestia go flying. “Princess!” she cried, slumping back down under Twilight’s body weight. “Twilight... please, wake up!”

Fluttershy! the strange voice called out once more from inside Fluttershy’s mind. Take hold of your fear and conquer it! It is the key to everything!

“I can’t!” Fluttershy yelled out. “They just can’t love me! I’ll ruin everything!” She cried loudly, tears rolling down her cheeks, her voice becoming hoarse.

Pinkie turned back towards Fluttershy and began to slowly walk towards her. “You already did ruin everything!” she screamed, her horn still glowing red.

It can’t stay that way, Fluttershy! You can’t stop them from loving you! the voice boomed in Fluttershy’s ears. Try to remember! Remember being loved, and remember that feeling! Accept it!

Fluttershy stared at Pinkie, who was just feet away from her, as the voice almost seemed to force her to dig up memories of the previous day. She saw Rainbow Dash arriving back at their tree shelter at the mountainous foothills overlooking the Unicorn Plain. Rainbow Dash had cared for her, stayed with her, and even mended her broken wing. She had even gone along with her selfish request and given her a back massage.

Fluttershy closed her eyes, remembering that feeling so vividly. It was calm, relaxing, and filled her heart with joy.

Were you really being so selfish, Fluttershy? the voice asked calmly. Wouldn’t you do the same for her?

Of course I would, Fluttershy responded. I would do anything for Dashie. She’s my oldest and dearest friend. Besides, it was nothing special, just a massage.

Was it? the voice asked. Could you not feel the magic of love and friendship there in that tiny hollow tree? Did you not accept her love then, as you have in the past as well?

Fluttershy knew the truth, and she felt a bittersweet feeling rising up from her heart, which began to yearn for affection. Yes, she thought, I did feel it. I want to keep feeling it, too. I may feel selfish, and I may cause trouble for my friends sometimes... but I guess I really can’t stop them from loving me, and I can’t just hide from their love.

Then accept it, Fluttershy! the voice commanded. Accept their love and conquer your fear!

“Yes,” said Fluttershy, opening her eyes and seeing Pinkie Pie standing over her and Twilight. “I will accept it all.” Her body began to glow a faint yellow color, her pink mane swaying slightly as if caught in a breeze.

A bright flash in the direction of the tower caused Pinkie and Fluttershy to both turn their heads just in time to see Applejack and Rainbow Dash falling from the corner of the crumbling tower and tumbling down into the ravine.

“No!” Pinkie screamed, turning her head back towards Fluttershy and Twilight. With a swift swipe of her hoof, she pushed Twilight’s body off of Fluttershy, sending her rolling several feet from them. “How many of my friends have to die before you’re finished? You monster!”

Fluttershy furrowed her brow and closed her eyes, spreading her forelegs out and breathing in deeply. The glow around her body grew in intensity and began to attract all of the pink love magic in the room towards her.

“I’ll accept... everything,” said Fluttershy.

Pinkie screamed in rage and swung her hoof down against Fluttershy’s cheek, knocking her head back against the stone floor. Fluttershy grunted slightly, but did not resist.

“You made this world! You caused all of this! It’s all your fault!” Pinkie screamed, swinging her other hoof down and landing another punch.

“Do you know how many died on the first day? Twenty-seven!” Pinkie shouted, tears dropping from her eyes onto Fluttershy as her pink hooves, stained red with Fluttershy’s blood, continued to swing with punch after punch. “The forest surged in! Destroyed entire buildings! Entire families! I was there at Sugarcube Corner when it hit us! Mr. and Mrs. Cake hugged Pumpkin and Pound tight and hid behind baking pans in the corners!”

Pinkie’s barrage of punches continued. Fluttershy clenched her teeth and cried, her tears flowing down and mixing with her blood as she listened to Pinkie’s story.

“A lot of good it did them!” Pinkie cried. “Those branches shot through the pans like they were made of paper! I heard them scream! I heard the foals cry out! I saw it all!”

Fluttershy sobbed, coughing and opening her eyes to look at Pinkie. She was in tears, blood now having dotted her beautiful pink mane and coat. Behind her, Fluttershy could see the concentrated love magic approaching in one giant opaque mass. “I’m so sorry, Pinkie,” she said before having to brace herself for another swing of Pinkie’s hoof.

“You’re sorry?” yelled Pinkie. “You were hiding in your house! You didn’t even come out until the next day! Don’t say you’re sorry!” Pinkie fell back to her haunches, placing her hooves calmly on Fluttershy’s belly, hanging her head.

Fluttershy opened her eyes as best as she could, the left one having become puffed up and bruised. She looked down at Pinkie, who sat at her legs, staring downward and crying. The pink energy in the air had surrounded them and was swirling all around.

“Why didn’t you come help?” Pinkie asked quietly, sobbing. “It should have been me... Not them... Not those foals...” Her chest heaved as she wept, pushing her words out from behind clenched teeth and a cracking hardened heart.

Fluttershy sat up and leaned forward, hugging Pinkie tightly. “I’m so... so sorry, Pinkie,” she said, pressing her throbbing chin against Pinkie’s shoulder. She knew the pain she felt was nothing compared to what Pinkie was feeling.

Pinkie raised her hooves and hugged Fluttershy back, burying her face against the yellow mare’s neck. “No... I’m the one who should be sorry,” she said between sobs. “Everypony has nightmares. You can’t control them. I should know that better than anypony. I’ve had nothing but nightmares since this all started.” As she spoke, the pink magic suddenly condensed, absorbing into the two ponies, filling them with an intense feeling of love and joy layered atop their sadness.

“It’s okay, Pinkie,” said Fluttershy, smiling almost uncontrollably, though it hurt a bit. “I promise I’ll do something to fix this mess before we go to help the others.”

Pinkie thought for a moment and then pulled away from Fluttershy. She looked back towards the rift and saw Cadence, hanging from shackles against a stone wall, her face looking so drained of life.

“Those changelings... How could they do that to poor Cadence? I never even got to make friends with the real Cadence!” Pinkie shouted angrily towards the rift, shaking her hoof.

“They’re just the worst, aren’t they?” Fluttershy said.

“Oh, wait... I’m not even the real Pinkie Pie anyway,” Pinkie said, lowering her head for a moment, but then lifting it right back up. “But if I was the real Pinkie Pie, I’d be outraged!”

Fluttershy laughed. “I’d hate to be them in that situation,” she said, followed by a twitch as she felt a sharp pain from her cheek. She let out a soft whimper, which caught Pinkie’s attention.

Pinkie looked at Fluttershy’s face, bloodied and bruised, and sniffled loudly. She gently wiped away a streak of blood from below Fluttershy’s lip and frowned. “I’m so sorry, Fluttershy. I’m not the real Pinkie Pie, but I was just--”

“Shhh...” interrupted Fluttershy, shaking her head. “You’re more real than you know, Pinkie Pie.” She turned and stood up, wiping more of the blood from her brow and breathing in deeply. She reached a hoof out to help Pinkie stand up, and Pinkie hesitantly accepted and rose from the ground.

Pinkie Pie breathed in deeply and turned to look in the direction she had launched the princess. Celestia was slowly walking back in, her eyes still locked onto Pinkie Pie. As she drew nearer, Pinkie bowed her head and exhaled.

“Princess Celestia, Fluttershy,” Pinkie said solemnly, “What do we have to do to save your friends?” She felt a hoof land on her shoulder, and looked to her side to see Fluttershy beaming at her glum face with a bright smile.

“Our friends,” Fluttershy corrected her.

The left corner of Pinkie’s mouth curved upward ever so slightly, and she nodded her head, repeating the words. “Our friends.”

Princess Celestia smiled briefly, then turned her gaze to Twilight and the tear in the dream’s fabric just behind her. “We must first seal up this opening so it can’t be used by the changelings,” she said, walking towards Twilight and pouring a beam of white energy into her. Twilight’s eyes slowly opened, and she looked around groggily.

“What happened?” Twilight asked, dazed from having been knocked unconscious a second time in a row so quickly.

“No time to rest yet, my student,” Celestia said. “We must finish our task of sealing the rift. Stand and help me.” Twilight nodded and quickly rose to her hooves, with a slight stumble before turning to face the rift. The two ponies began to close the portal once again, this time uninterrupted.

“We should go check on those two,” Fluttershy gestured towards the far tower where Applejack and Rainbow Dash had been fighting. “I hope they’re both okay.”

The two began to walk slowly down the steps at the front of the castle and around to the courtyard where they had seen Applejack and Rainbow Dash fall from its far top corner.

“You hope they’re both okay?” asked Pinkie, a bit confused. “What about Applejack? She turned into a changeling.” She sneered her face a bit as she said the last part.

“Even if she became a changeling, she was still Applejack up until that point,” said Fluttershy as they came to the edge of the cliff that steeply dropped to the ravine below. “She always looked out for everypony in town, and even lost her eye to save my life. If we can get that Applejack back somehow, I’ll be so relieved.”

“I just don’t understand how you think we’ll manage that at this point,” said Pinkie as she and Fluttershy spread their wings and began to steadily descend into the chasm below.

“Princess Celestia says that since this is my dream, I can make it whatever I want, I just have to figure out how,” replied Fluttershy, slightly winded. She was still exhausted from taking all the punches from Pinkie Pie earlier, and despite her stellar performance when flying from Cloudsdale earlier, she felt none of that power now. “I just have to figure out how to use that strange power.”

“Well let’s hope you figure it out soon, look!” said Pinkie, pointing towards the ravine’s floor. Rainbow Dash and Applejack were lying in a pool of blood and mud, but both of them were still breathing. The two ponies landed gently on the soft earth and approached Rainbow Dash, who was lying on her side up against the cliff wall. She opened her eyes and glanced up at them.

Rainbow Dash breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the two of them not fighting. She gazed up at Fluttershy and smiled.

“You’re safe...” Rainbow said weakly.

Fluttershy closed her eyes and shook her head, fighting back tears.

“But you’re not!” Fluttershy yelled, kneeling in front her the blue pegasus. “How could you be so careless?” She couldn’t resist the sadness that was building up inside her any longer, and sobbed, lowering her head.

“I’ll be fine!” boasted Rainbow Dash, but then twitched as a sharp pain shot up her back. Her broken wings lay behind her, twisted and frazzled.

“I don’t believe you,” said Fluttershy, opening her eyes to look at Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash frowned, her act of confidence having proven futile in this situation.

“Me neither...” the rainbow-maned pegasus said. “I hate to admit it, but I think I’m probably done for. I know because I’ve felt this before... in Cloudsdale.” She lowered her gaze toward the ground.

“Dashie...” said Fluttershy, reaching a hoof out to her.

“It’s okay, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow. “I know... I know I’m not really Rainbow Dash. I’m not really... your friend. I just look and act like her.” her voice wavered as tears slowly started to escape from the corners of her eyes.

“Dashie, that’s just--” Fluttershy started, but was interrupted by Rainbow Dash again.

“It’s okay! Really!” she said, putting on a grin despite the sadness that was painted all over her face, streaking down it in bluish-gray hues. “You have to go on and save the real Rainbow Dash. Your real friend. I’m just--”

A yellow hoof pressed firmly against Dash’s lips, shutting her up completely. Fluttershy stared down at her, and Rainbow stared back. Fluttershy’s bright eyes were so wide and intense, Rainbow Dash doubted she could continue to speak even if she wanted to.

“That’s not true, Dashie! You may just be part of my dream, but that’s because you’re made up of my precious memories!” Fluttershy said with a scolding tone in her voice. She lowered her eyelids and spoke more calmly, pulling her hoof away from Dash’s mouth.

“You’re the Rainbow Dash of my memories. You’re the filly who befriended me at summer flight camp when nopony else would give me a chance. You’re the one who stood up for me in front of all those bullies. You’re the dear friend who pushed me to better myself, to believe in myself. You can be brash and noisy, and even insensitive at times, but nopony is perfect. Its all those things that make the real Rainbow Dash so special to me, and so even though you aren’t the real one, you’re made up of all those special, wonderful things - All those things that I love and care about.”

Rainbow Dash’s tears welled up in her eyes and began to flow freely. She sniffled and continued to stare back at Fluttershy’s, and remembered everything that was recalled, the sweet memories they shared together.

“You, Rainbow Dash... You were the first friend I ever had, and I’ve finally realized something else that is so very special about you,” Fluttershy continued, her own tears falling down her cheeks now as well. “You’re the only one I ever really accepted love from in return. I was so afraid of failing and causing trouble for my friends, I never truly wanted them to care for me. But somehow you were different. I think it’s because... I know deep down inside that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, Rainbow Dash will always be there to save the day. She’ll always come to our rescue... to my rescue. That’s the Rainbow Dash I love, that’s the Rainbow Dash who loves me back, and that is precisely who you are!”

Even Pinkie Pie had fallen back to her rump and started to cry at this point. Rainbow Dash smiled up at Fluttershy radiantly, her mane almost seeming to glow like a real rainbow. The yellow aura that she and Fluttershy had both been surrounded by before had returned, and was brighter than ever, lighting up the surroundings.

A gleam from the distance caught their attentions, and all three ponies turned to look in its direction. The light coming from Fluttershy had reflected from Applejack’s eye, which was locked onto the yellow pegasus.

Applejack laughed and tried to pick herself up, but her forelegs gave way and she fell back forward, unable to carry her own weight after such a fall.

“None of that matters,” Applejack hissed. “You think that if you somehow manage to escape from the cocoons that you’ll be able to stand against us? You know nothing.” She grinned and let her chin sink into the mud, still laughing as she spoke, interspersed with small coughs.

Rainbow Dash grinned at Applejack. “Your face,” she chuckled. “I wasn’t too far off!”

Applejack sighed. “Still so cocky, but I guess that’s just how Rainbow Dash is,” she said, ceasing her laughter. “It’s a shame you’re stuck in this dream. You’ll never even get to see your friends crushed at the hooves of The Order.”

The Order? thought Fluttershy. What’s that?

Overgrowth Ch 8 - A Dash of Hope

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Eight: A Dash of Hope

Twilight Sparkle stood silently, concentrating on the solemn task before her. In a matter of seconds, she would lose sight of her dear childhood friend and foalsitter, Cadence, until she could really come to her aid. The two ends of the portal, one being sealed by Princess Celestia, and the other by Twilight herself, inched closer and closer. Twilight lifted her gaze towards the opening one last time, holding her right hoof towards it.

“We’ll be there soon, Cadence,” she said bravely. Cadence lay limply on the other end, and Twilight knew she could not hear her words. She said them all the same, though, and as the portal finally closed, the last image to come through was a single, shining tear falling down Cadence’s cheek.

Twilight sighed and shook her head, turning it towards Celestia, who was standing similarly with one hoof extended, a tear having left a line on her own cheek. Twilight remained silent, allowing the princess a moment to her own thoughts.

“Twilight,” Celestia calmly said, finally breaking the silence.

“Yes?” Twilight responded quietly, her small voice echoing off the now silent walls around them.

“They can never be forgiven,” said Celestia, her voice smooth and filled with unwavering determination.

Twilight had known the princess for many years, studied under her as a mentor, and had countless conversations with her. She had seen her amazing magical ability, and knew how powerful she was. Despite all that, those five words which were spoken so calmly sent shivers up Twilight Sparkle’s spine. It was the first time in her life that Princess Celestia had truly frightened her, the thought of her vengeance leaving Twilight at a loss for words.

“We are in far greater danger than I had first thought, my student,” Celestia said as she turned and approached Twilight. She lifted her gaze skyward and closed her eyes, concentrating on the magical auras that were flowing through the vicinity. “Have you sensed a strange and powerful magic in this dream?”

“There’s been so much strange energy flowing all over, but I haven’t noticed anything that stood out, no,” Twilight replied, closing her eyes and concentrating as well.

“Pinkie Pie was not merely wielding magic that was borrowed from me,” Celestia said, her voice grave and tense. “A source of magic, likely from the outside, has given her a significant boost in raw power. This magic is dark, and its power rivals my own. I’ve felt it before, but I can not quite place where or how. It has been haunting me for a while now, and even after feeling its strength I am no closer to pinpointing its origin.”

Twilight furrowed her brow, surprised to hear her teacher at a loss when it came to magic. “Surely there can’t be many in the world who could hold such power,” Twilight pondered. “If it’s not you or Princess Luna, then who else could be at such a high level?”

Princess Celestia placed a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “There is much we must discuss, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, having taken on her teaching voice, which Twilight was all too familiar with. “Walk with me, and I shall tell you about The Order of Ismara.”

At the bottom of the Ravine, the changeling that was impersonating Applejack laughed as the others stared at it with confusion.

“The Order will destroy any hopes you may think you have of winning,” Applejack said with a sneer. “The changelings you’ve faced before have been nothing but grunts. The Order is an elite magic division, and you have no chance against us.”

“Us?” questioned Fluttershy. “Are you in this... order?”

Rainbow Dash laughed, gripping her ribs from the pain it caused. “Please, don’t make me laugh, it hurts!” she pleaded. “If you’re one of the elite, I think we’ve got this in the bag!” She continued to laugh, grimacing with pain. Fluttershy sat down beside her and tried to hold her steady, taking her head in her forelegs.

“You won’t have dream magic to help you in the real world!” snapped Applejack. “You’ll all fall before The Order of Ismara!”

“The Order of Ismara?” asked Twilight, turning and walking with the princess towards the castle’s entryway. “I don’t think I’ve ever read about them before.”

“You wouldn’t have,” Celestia responded. “There is no existing text that contains any information about them. They are only known by myself and my sister, and even she is not fully aware of everything about them. The Order became known to me just before the incident with Nightmare Moon one thousand years ago. At first, I was only aware of their leader, Ismara, a unicorn with great power and variety in her magical abilities. I had never seen a unicorn with her raw abilities before.”

“You said that to me on the day we met,” Twilight interrupted, looking up at Celestia’s jaggedly serious expression. Celestia glanced down at the smaller pony and nodded.

“And it was true that day, as well. Your potential is greater than Ismara’s was, though rest assured that she was quite the prodigy as well,” Celestia continued as the two ponies passed through the large, broken doorway and into the courtyard of the ancient castle. “Ismara truly became emboldened after Nightmare Moon’s banishment, though. She knew that I was trying to keep the incident as contained as possible, not wanting anypony to realize I had sealed my own sister in the moon. She requested an audience, and I accepted, having already taken an interest in her. She revealed to me that she had mastered a powerful form of illusion magic that would not only allow her to look and sound like Princess Luna, but would also give her the ability to at least appear to be able to raise and lower the moon at night.”

Twilight gasped slightly and tilted her head in confusion. “How is that even possible? That sort of magic is beyond unicorns of even the highest level,” she gawked in disbelief.

“Right you are, and at first I was also skeptical of her claim. Even if it were an illusion, such a large one should be impossible,” the princess replied. The two ponies were approaching the tower where Applejack and Rainbow Dash had fought. “But her aim was not to convince me of anything, it was merely to pique my curiosity, in which she succeeded. I had her perform her magic, and I couldn’t have been more amazed. She did indeed appear to pull the moon up into the star-dotted sky, though in reality I had merely lowered the sun.”

“There had to be a trick, though,” said Twilight, squinting her eyes in disbelief.

“There was indeed. My foolish desire to maintain some sort of order for the kingdom had blinded me. I had taken her word too easily and let her get too close to me.” Celestia sighed. “The next part of the tale is a bit confusing, unfortunately, and I still do not fully understand it all. As with any good trick, the audience is left wondering, and I am still wondering to this day.”

Twilight nodded and continued to listen as they approached the ledge that overlooked the ravine where their friends had fallen.

“I don’t know how, but all of my guards and advisors had been switched without me noticing. They were all changelings, and Ismara herself was one as well. She wasn’t a changeling like any I had seen before, though,” Celestia said, spreading her wings and lifting Twilight Sparkle up so they could descend into the deep trench. “She had large, beautiful wings like that of a butterfly, black as the darkest night with bright patches of white. Her subordinates, who had replaced all of my inner guards, were just the same. They wore armor unlike that of changelings I had seen in the past, and all had regal, black horns. At the base of their horns were large, single holes that had different colored gemstones inset. To this day, I think those gems must have had something to do with their magical potency.”

“Do you think they’re behind the strange power you felt?” asked Twilight. “It would make sense for them to be involved since they were changelings.”

“The Order is almost surely involved, but I don’t think it’s them,” Celestia answered. “Ismara is dead, along with her order. After revealing to me that they were changelings, Ismara made a display of her true power to me and rose the sun on her own. I don’t mean she created an illusion, I mean she actually... raised the sun.”

Twilight shook her head with confusion. “I thought you said that was impossible for her, though,” she said.

“It should have been. No, It definitely was, but she did it all the same. I still don’t understand how, but she did it through me somehow. She and her guards all began wielding immense magical power at that point. They aimed it all at me, surely meaning to end my life. They were not successful, of course, foolishly thinking that I had no defense magic in place. The powerful magic that was aimed at me was reflected right back at them, and they were obliterated on the spot. Ismara was the only one who was still alive after the explosion of magic, and she could barely speak for the mere minute that she hung on to life.”

“So wait, if The Order was destroyed, how can they be involved? Why even tell me this?” asked Twilight, now completely baffled.

“With her dying breath,” Celestia said, looking down grimly at the ground as it approached. “Ismara told me that The Order wasn’t finished, and that she would be back to haunt me some day. I fear that day has come.”

“Consider this a warning, my little ponies,” said Applejack with a grin. “Look at me, and remember my face well, for if you see another like me, you are in serious trouble.” Applejack’s features began to dissolve away, revealing the dark face of a changeling underneath. Though recognizable as a changeling, there were drastic differences.

Her face came to a much sharper point at the tip of the snout, and vein-like golden coloring lined her jaw. The golden veins went up and around her eyes and to her ears, which were sharply pointed as well. Her horn was long and straight, with a hole at its base. Her eyes, which were both still present despite this dream’s Applejack having lost one, were a bright green, unlike the typical changeling drones which all had pale blue eyes.

“I shouldn’t even be telling or showing you any of this,” the changeling said with a sigh. “It’s almost as if... I somehow felt that I had to. Somehow compelled by this pony I’ve taken the form of, especially after losing to Rainbow Dash.”

“Well, thanks... I guess,” said Pinkie Pie with a shrug. The sound of hooves landing heavily on the ground behind her made her twist her head around just in time to see Princess Celestia setting Twilight Sparkle on the ground. The princess’ eyes were locked squarely on the changeling, and she advanced towards it quickly.

“How many of The Order are in Canterlot? How are you controlling these dreams?” she asked loudly, staring down at the changeling.

“Oh, don’t expect me to tell you everything!” the changeling chuckled. “I only said as much as I did because I felt like it. I’ve got no obligation to say any more. In fact... I think I feel myself slipping away. Looks like this pony’s time is up in this dream world.” The changeling laughed as Applejack’s face quickly reappeared, along with the rest of her body, leaving no sign that she’d been a changeling.

“No!” shouted Celestia, shaking Applejack’s body with her front hoof. “Come back!” Applejack coughed out a weak laugh and grinned up at the princess one last time before falling completely limp.

“No...” came Fluttershy’s voice from behind the rest of the group, soft and sad, punctuated with a sniffle. Twilight, Celestia, and Pinkie turned their heads and found Fluttershy hugging Rainbow Dash’s head tightly in her forelegs, pressing her face into her rainbow-colored mane. Rainbow Dash lay motionless in her grasp, her eyes peacefully shut.

“Please, no... not again, I can’t take it,” Fluttershy cried, shaking her head softly back and forth against Rainbow Dash’s bright hair. “I lost you once today, already, and I don’t want to see you go again. It’s all my fault, you saved me both times, and I couldn’t stop it.”

“Fluttershy, what do you mean... twice?” asked Twilight with hesitation, reaching out to the crying mare. Celestia placed a hoof on Twilight’s foreleg and shook her head.

“I sensed it earlier, but did not say anything,” Celestia admitted. “Rainbow Dash was full of - rather, alive because of Fluttershy’s power. She was, in a way, an extension of Fluttershy in a very real sense.”

“In Cloudsdale,” Fluttershy started between sobs, “we were attacked by dragons. It was terrible. They burned and destroyed everything. In the end, Rainbow Dash saved me, but... she didn’t make it. She died... right there in front of me... and I couldn’t stop it. I felt so powerless! I felt so weak! There I was, relying on her, and she couldn’t count on me at all!”

Fluttershy hugged Rainbow Dash’s head closer, continuing. “That’s when that strange power filled me up. I couldn’t control it. I just knew... I knew I could fix everything. I knew I could save Rainbow Dash! I knew I could save everypony!” she began to yell, a bright yellow glow emanating from her body and puffing from her mouth as she spoke.

“Fluttershy, calm down,” Celestia said calmly, taking a step towards her. “Your power is rising too quickly. You could-”

“I could do it again!” Fluttershy yelled. “I will do it again! I’ll save her! I’ll save everypony, and make this dream happy!” She clenched her eyes shut, yellow energy now pouring out from every inch of her body. Her eyes shot open after a moment, her head twisted upward toward the sky, and beams of light fired from her eyes into the dark, starry night. The other ponies around her flinched and covered their eyes, blinded by the sudden outburst.

Fluttershy opened her eyes and found herself standing in the middle of a dark cloud of nothingness. Ahead of her, she could make out a small pool of water. She approached it, and looked down at her own reflection. Staring back up at her was something she hadn’t seen for many years - she was a filly. She blinked and turned her head, looking at her flank, which was plain and bare. Before she knew it, cloudy hallways had appeared all around her, and she realized she was standing outside the restroom at summer flight camp near Cloudsdale. She turned back to the water and found that it was a basin up against the wall, a mirror hanging right behind it. She gazed into the mirror and could tell she’d been crying.

Then from behind her came a familiar voice. “Those big bullies don’t know when to stop!” it said. “Sorry about that. I should have said something. I just... couldn’t.”

Fluttershy turned around and saw an equally young Rainbow Dash standing there, her gaze turned down toward the ground, her front right hoof drawing circles along it.

“Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy asked, still puzzled by how she ended up there.

“Yeah, that’s my name. I guess you remember, not that it’s hard considering my mane,” Rainbow Dash said with a chuckle. “You’re Fluttershy, right?”

Fluttershy nodded.

“Look, those jerks are so full of themselves, someone should knock them down a peg! Don’t you think so?” Rainbow Dash asked, finally raising her head to look at Fluttershy directly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Fluttershy meekly, surprised at how different her voice sounded in this young form of herself. Despite the sudden jarring change of scenery, Fluttershy remembered this moment well and played along. “I’m... used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to be used to it!” Rainbow Dash insisted, raising a hoof in the air and flapping her small wings. “The next time those windbags start getting on your case, just tell me, and I’ll set ‘em straight!”

Fluttershy blushed, the impact of this pony she’d only just met for the first time offering to help her still making her speechless, just like she was back then. She nodded her head and smiled softly.

“We’re friends now! Friends look out for each other! Okay?” stated Rainbow Dash confidently. “My dad told me to never leave a friend hanging, and I won’t!”

Fluttershy smiled up at Rainbow Dash and nodded her head again.

You were the first pony to ever call me a friend, even though I know you were one of the ones teasing me just earlier that day, Fluttershy thought to herself. You never did tell me what made you change your mind and want to protect me instead of laughing at me, but it felt so wonderful all the same. I had never felt that way before.

With the blink of an eye, Fluttershy found herself tumbling through the air towards a patch of clouds below. She landed with a thud, shook her head, and looked up to find herself face to face with two of the bullies who had been teasing her the entire week.

“Nice one, Klutzershy!” one of the colts laughed. “They oughtta ground you permanently!”

“Leave her alone!” came Rainbow Dash’s voice as she zipped into view, placing herself between the bullies and Fluttershy.

“Ooh, what are you gonna do, Rainbow Crash?” one of the bullies taunted.

“Keep makin’ fun of her and find out!” Rainbow Dash shouted back defiantly.

Fluttershy huddled closer to the ground, trying to hide from the argument that was unfolding in front of her.

You can get so confrontational sometimes, even with me. It’s kind of scary, but I love it, too, Fluttershy thought as she observed this moment from her past.

Fluttershy closed her eyes and recalled more of that day. We both got our cutie marks that day. All of us did, really, and it was all thanks to you, Fluttershy thought as scenes of the race and her subsequent fall to the ground filled her mind. But you never did truly see how great you were, even though I tried to show you.

When Fluttershy opened her eyes again, she found herself sitting in her dorm room on the campus of Cloudsdale’s high school.

I’d been forced to live in these dorms by my parents, she recalled. They wanted me to make friends and stop being so shy. She turned her head and saw Rainbow Dash sitting on her bed, a flustered look on her face.

But the only friend I ever had, was you, she remembered.

“I just got so tired of the teachers. They didn’t do anything but give me a hard time. How can you stand it, Fluttershy?” Rainbow Dash said, not taking her eyes off the ground, her voice full of frustration.

“I don’t know, I think they’re nice... You should come back to school, Dashie,’ Fluttershy said quietly. “I’m sure we could figure out something.”

Rainbow Dash sighed. “They don’t want me there, and I don’t want to be there,” she said, hopping down from the bed. “Sorry to disappoint you. I should go, though. Thanks for listening, at least.” Rainbow Dash lifted the window and leapt out, taking to the sky without giving Fluttershy another moment to even respond.

You were so sad, and I couldn’t help you. Fluttershy thought with a sigh. I graduated later that year, and left for Ponyville. I never did see you after graduation to say goodbye.

Fluttershy saw herself standing at a train station below Cloudsdale, boarding a passenger car. As the train pulled away, tears flowed down her face. I was running away, and I knew it, she thought. I knew deep down inside that I’d never see you, my only friend, ever again.

A second later, Fluttershy found herself standing in the doorway of her cottage in Ponyville, breathing heavily and staring at Rainbow Dash, who was right outside with Pinkie Pie by her side.

“It’s you,” said Fluttershy, not even blinking. Rainbow Dash looked just as regal and confident as she remembered.

“It’s me,” said Rainbow Dash, staring back with an odd expression on her face.

Fluttershy leapt forward and tackled Rainbow to the ground, hugging her. She began to cry.

“I thought I’d never see you again!” said Fluttershy, pressing her face to Rainbow Dash’s chest.

I really did think that, too, but you came back to me all the same, Fluttershy thought, smiling to herself. From that day, you showed me just how a loyal friend should be. You introduced me to so many ponies, even on that first night of our reunion. You’d already made more friends in a single day than I had in an entire year.

Fluttershy sighed. “And I thought I could live up to your expectations. I thought I could come out of my shell and try to be as good a friend to you as you were to me,” she said out loud, finding herself now standing in a dark void once again. “But I couldn’t. It was too much for me. The pressure of everypony trying to get close to me... I knew I’d only let them down. I knew it deep in my heart.”

Rainbow Dash appeared in a flash in front of Fluttershy. She smiled and raised a hoof up, patting Fluttershy firmly on the top of her head. “Don’t worry so much about stuff like that. Friends stand by each other and never leave another friend hanging! Remember?” She pushed a hoof out towards Fluttershy, holding it steadily.

Fluttershy nodded, her lips trembling. With another flash, she found herself surrounded by her friends, all standing in a half-circle in front of her.

“Rainbow Dash is right, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, walking towards her and putting her hoof out on top of Rainbow Dash’s. “We’ll always be there for each other.”

Rarity approached next, daintily placing her hoof onto the forming pile. “Just be yourself, darling,” she said with a smile and a wink. “After all, that’s the Fluttershy we love.”

Applejack pushed her hoof firmly onto Rarity’s and grinned at Fluttershy. “No matter what you may think,” she said with a chuckle, “We’re yer friends, and yer stuck with us!”

Pinkie Pie leapt forward and slammed her hoof down onto Applejack’s. “Now come on, Fluttershy! Let’s see that smile!” she yelled with a big toothy grin.

Fluttershy raised her head and smiled at her friends, placing her hoof on the top of the stack. “I’m so sorry how this dream turned out. It should never have been like this, so scary and sad. After all, I have such wonderful friends who all care so much about me!” she said, becoming choked up as she spoke. “Just you watch! I’m going to make this world a happier place!”

Her friends all nodded their heads happily, and began to fade into clouds of magical energy, flowing into Fluttershy’s chest, causing her to glow and shimmer many colors of magic. Only she and Rainbow Dash remained, their hooves still extended, smiling at one another.

Rainbow Dash flashed a huge, toothy smile, her eyebrows lowering. “Well, let’s do this!” she shouted, her mane erupting in rainbow-colored light, firing away in all directions, piercing the darkness around them and revealing a bright, sunny sky beyond.

Fluttershy pushed herself forward and wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow Dash, placing her head on her shoulder. “Yes! Let’s save this world!” she said with confidence as their magical energy began to swirl around and mix.

Fluttershy sat on the ground of the ravine, still hugging Rainbow Dash’s head closely, her eyes pouring out light towards the sky. Rainbow Dash began to glow as well, the colors of the rainbow swirling around the two of them.

The others were still flinching back, only a matter of a few seconds having passed for them since Fluttershy’s eyes shot skyward. The beams of light that were piercing the heavens began to be filled with color, and an explosion resembling a sonic rainboom erupted far above them. The colorful circle of light shot outward and expanded, washing over the land as far as could be seen.

Twilight Sparkle looked up towards the top of the ravine and saw vines and tree branches receding back into the forest. “Do you think... Do you think she really did it?” Twilight asked hopefully. The only response was the sound of coughing from behind her. She turned around and saw Applejack standing up and brushing mud from her coat. She flipped her hair to the side, revealing a complete pair of eyes from underneath.

Pinkie Pie leapt into the air and cheered, flapping her wings and waving her forelegs wildly. “They’re doing it! It’s Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash! They’re doing it!” she yelled with hyperactive jubilation that was more Pinkie-like than she had been in a long time.

“Well I’ll be,” said Applejack, placing a hoof to her face. “Thought I’d never see outta both eyes again.” She grinned, looking up at the sky. The beams of light from Fluttershy’s eyes were still hanging in the air like beacons, with swirls of rainbow-colored magic circling around them.

Twilight raised an eyebrow and looked at Applejack suspiciously. “And... you don’t find anything strange about this?” she asked, this having been the second time she’d expected Fluttershy’s power to cause a changeling transformation.

Applejack shook her head and shrugged. “Not really. Why?” she responded quite plainly.

Twilight sighed with frustration, almost wanting to point out exactly what was strange about the whole situation, but decided against it just in case.

Celestia leaned her head down to Twilight and whispered in her ear. “I have a theory about that, I’ll tell you later, when we’re alone.” Twilight nodded in response.

A moment later, the beams of light and colorful energy suddenly vanished from the sky. Fluttershy slouched forward over Rainbow Dash, breathing heavily, her mane draped down over them like a pink curtain.

“Fluttershy, are you alright?” Twilight asked, reaching a hoof out towards the yellow pegasus.

Fluttershy nodded, raising her head up, her mane parting and revealing Rainbow Dash’s face, which was still motionless, her eyes still closed, and a smile on her face.

Fluttershy smiled back down at Rainbow Dash’s peaceful expression, her eyelids hanging heavily over her sparkling, teary eyes.

“Thanks, Dashie,” she said softly. “We did it. We saved everypony.”

Silence hung in the air, and the moon glowed brightly above.

Overgrowth Ch 9 - Interface

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Nine: Interface

“What’s wrong with Rainbow Dash?” asked Pinkie Pie, leaning over Fluttershy and staring down at Dash’s peaceful face. “Is she... gonna be okay?”

Fluttershy shook her head sadly, still holding Rainbow Dash’s head in her forelegs. She didn’t need to say anything. Pinkie Pie fell back to her haunches, staring sadly at Rainbow Dash, a tear escaping from the corner of her eye. Applejack reached for her hat and, upon realizing it wasn’t on her head, simply lowered her gaze and placed a hoof over her chest. Twilight and Celestia bowed their heads as well, as silence surrounded the four ponies.

“Fluttershy, couldn’t you...” Twilight said, breaking the silence. She raised her eyes and saw Fluttershy shaking her head again.

“Not this time,” said Fluttershy quietly. “She gave everything she had, all of herself, to help save this world. I... tried to bring her back again, but I just couldn’t. There’s nothing left but... an empty shell.”

“Fluttershy, I’m so sorry. I know this has to be hard on you, seeing her like this twice in one day,” said Twilight, reaching out towards Fluttershy. To her surprise, Fluttershy looked up at her and smiled. Twilight smiled back and closed her eyes, memories of Rainbow Dash filling her head. Even though it wasn’t the real Rainbow Dash, she’d fought with all of the bravery and loyalty of the real one. The distinction began to become blurred in Twilight’s mind and a surge of sadness erupted from her heart.

Twilight fell forward, throwing her forelegs around Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, her cries echoing across the ravine, shortly accompanied by wails from Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. Applejack strided slowly towards her friends, fighting back her own emotions as she had become accustomed to recently, and stood silently over them as they wept, head bowed.

After a short time, the sudden wave of emotions having been spent, the air became still and quiet again. Twilight sat embracing Fluttershy, with Pinkie Pie’s forelegs and wings wrapped around her from behind. She could hear nothing but the comforting breathing of her friends and herself until suddenly, a small, muffled voice began to chirp from her side.

“Twilight! Twilight! What’s happening?” shouted the small voice, barely audible. Twilight’s head jerked up and her left ear twitched. Pinkie Pie pulled back, her gaze locking onto the source of the tiny voice: Twilight’s saddle bag. The small bag had been surprisingly undamaged despite everything that had happened, and now that Pinkie Pie had pulled her wings back, the sound coming from it was much less muffled. It was clearly Pinkie’s own voice.

“What was that?” asked Pinkie Pie, turning her eyes up to Twilight’s face nervously. Twilight, now realizing that it was Pinkie Twi’s voice coming through the communication gem, grinned sheepishly and shrugged.

“That? Oh, that was nothing...” she said nervously, donning the worst poker face imaginable. “I mean... what was what?” She glanced up at Applejack, who was now staring down at the two of them suspiciously.

“Whaddya mean ‘What was what?’” the tiny voice piped up again. “That loud noise and then everypony crying!” Twilight coughed and cleared her throat, partially covering up the second half of Pinkie Twi’s question.

“Awfully noisy for nothing,” said Pinkie, squinting her eyes. Applejack was bearing down on the small huddle of ponies now, her eyes taking on a slight green glow. Twilight looked up at her and saw Celestia standing right behind her, horn glowing, ready to strike if need be. Twilight gulped, trying to think of anything to say.

Fluttershy pulled her wings up above her in a stretch, her gaze also aimed right at Applejack. “Sorry, that was me,” she said timidly. “What’s happened... it still hasn’t sunk in. I just can’t believe... Rainbow Dash is...” She sniffled, placing a hoof over her mouth.

Twilight sighed in relief as Applejack’s eyes returned to normal. She was amazed at the bravery Fluttershy was showing even now. This is more sad to her than anypony here, and yet she could still think clearly enough to get through that little scare, Twilight thought. Of course, she’s probably not acting at all. I can’t imagine what she’s feeling, despite the outburst I just had.

“It’s okay, Fluttershy. It’s really hard to believe,” said Twilight, turning her head down towards her saddle bag. “I’m sure nopony here wanted to be the first to break the silence.” She tightened her lips, hoping that Pinkie Twi got the hint, and was pleased to not hear another peep from her bag. The pressing of lips against Twilight’s ear caused her to shiver and freeze up as Pinkie Pie’s voice whispered to her.

“Hiding it from Applejack? After what happened, I’m not surprised,” Pinkie breathed, sending wafts of warm air into Twilight’s ear. “I know it’s that gem, though. I still can’t get it out of my head, so you’d better tell me all about it later.”

Twilight simply nodded in response. Pinkie smiled and stood up, stretched out her wings, and reached a hoof down to Twilight. Twilight reluctantly reached up and pulled herself back to her hooves, taking a deep breath.

The six ponies slowly made their way out of the ravine. Those with wings carried those who could not fly.

“So, you gotta tell me ‘bout what happened up there,” said Applejack, looking up at Pinkie Pie as they flew up and out of the gorge. “How did I survive that fall, but Rainbow...” she stopped, having to swallow hard to keep from crying. Pinkie Pie sighed and looked down at her orange companion.

“It was the force of a great explosion that caused this all,” Pinkie said, only bending the truth slightly. “What we saw up there... the thing that caused us all so much pain... I guess it wasn’t done, even after Twilight blasted it.”

“But what was it, really?” asked Applejack. “What was it that was making the forest go crazy? That caused so much heartache and death and pain?”

“I guess...” said Pinkie, pursing her lips in thought for a moment, “It was pain. The pain of being loved.” She stared blankly ahead at the ledge as it was approaching.

Applejack shook her head. “Yer still not makin’ sense, but what else is new, I guess...” she said with a chuckle.

Pinkie Pie laughed and hugged Applejack tightly. “Don’t worry, AJ, I love you.” She grinned widely, her pink locks flowing freely around her face.

Applejack grunted and cocked an eyebrow. “The pain of bein’ loved, eh? Maybe it makes more sense than I thought,” she said, laughing.

The two of them landed alongside Celestia, who had been carrying Twilight, and Fluttershy, who gently laid Rainbow Dash’s body on a bed of grass. The ponies looked around in amazement. The Everfree Forest was restored to how it had been before, though that was not much comfort to them.

“Remember, girls,” Twilight said, straightening her saddlebag, “this is the Everfree Forest. Just because it’s back to how it was doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous. We need a plan of action to get through here.”

Applejack put a hoof to her chin in thought, her leadership instincts kicking in. “All right, seein’ as three’a you can fly, ya’ll should take wing and be lookouts. You can holler down if ya see anything, and dive down to us if we git inta any trouble.”

Celestia nodded. “A fine idea, Applejack. You and Twilight will stay on the ground then, and we shall do our best to support you from the air,” she said. “Luckily, it’s almost dawn. Let us rest here for now until it is time to raise the sun.”

Everyone agreed, and Applejack went off to the more wooded sections ahead of them to gather fuel for a fire. Twilight whispered something into Celestia’s ear, and the two of them walked away from the others once Applejack was out of sight. Fluttershy simply sat and looked at Rainbow Dash’s peaceful face, stroking her colorful hair with her hoof and smiling as she remembered everything they’d been through.

Pinkie Pie noticed Twilight and Celestia leaving, but became completely distracted by Fluttershy. She sat down next to her quietly for a moment, but felt an urge from deep inside of her to say something--anything--to cheer Fluttershy up.

“So...” Pinkie said after a moment, rubbing her hoof along the ground. “This has been pretty scary, but I bet it’ll get much better soon, right?” She looked down at Rainbow Dash as she spoke and immediately regretted saying anything. “Sorry... I’ll just shut up now...”

Guess I can’t go back to making everypony smile just like that, she thought. She bowed her head and sighed. It’s been too long with nothing to even smile about.

Fluttershy sniffled and unfolded her wings, wrapping one around Pinkie Pie. Pinkie looked up to see Fluttershy’s smiling face, though tears were still running down her cheeks. “It’s okay,” she said, genuine gratitude in her voice. “It’s the thought that counts.”

Pinkie couldn’t help but notice that Fluttershy’s face was still slightly bruised and cut from where she had been punched earlier. “Why couldn’t you do something about your face?” she asked.

Fluttershy nodded. “Oh yes, I could have, but I didn’t. Somehow, the little pain that’s left is a reminder,” she said, turning her gaze back down towards Rainbow Dash. “A reminder of what I’ve learned, and what the price of that lesson was.”

“But...” Pinkie Pie started, not sure what to say. “That was because of me. I was so... lost in my hatred and pain, I couldn’t...”

Fluttershy hugged Pinkie Pie closer with her wing, now wrapping a hoof around her as well, and squeezing tightly. “Don’t worry, Pinkie. We’ll all smile again, soon enough. I know it,” she said behind stifled sadness.

Pinkie Pie stared down at Rainbow Dash, who wore a peaceful expression on her face, her smile still spread widely and gently across its surface.

She looks happy, at least,” said Pinkie, lifting her gaze skyward. “She’s just missing a little something.”

Fluttershy looked up, too, and nodded her head. “You’re right.”

The two of them took off, flying straight up into the night.

On the other side of the clearing, Celestia nodded down at Twilight and took the pink communication gem from her. She lifted it up and inspected it briefly before nervously placing it in her ear.

“Okay, Pinkie,” said Twilight. “Explain to Princess Celestia what you’ve just told me about.”

Celestia nodded her head a few times, a small, inaudible voice going non-stop just inside her ear. The princess cycled through many facial expressions, all the while listening quietly and attentively. She smiled briefly, then frowned, her eyes narrowing in thought. She nodded a couple more times, and then simply uttered one word, “Magnificent.” She removed the gem from her ear and tucked it behind her necklace for safe keeping.

“So, you know what we have to do now,” said Twilight, looking up at the princess.

“Yes,” Celestia responded, patting Twilight on the head. “Honestly, though, Twilight...”

“What?” asked Twilight, giving her mentor a puzzled look.

“You honestly have that many books memoried?” the princess said with a snort. “I told you that you really must get out more instead of reading all those dusty old books.”

Twilight sighed, but laughed. “Yes, yes, but you know me,” she replied. “I just can’t put a good book down.”

The two of them began to walk back to where Pinkie and Fluttershy had been sitting together, and Celestia grinned. “Yes, you can’t put it down ever, apparently,” she retorted.

Twilight laughed again, then turned her gaze downward. “For now, though, we have to get through this journey home,” she said, glancing over at Rainbow Dash. “What happened to Rainbow Dash, and how Fluttershy couldn’t bring her back again... I don’t quite get it. She was able to restore the whole world, so why was saving Rainbow Dash so difficult?”

Celestia stood silently for a moment, then shook her head. “I wish I had an answer for that, I really do,” she responded quietly. “I am not exactly an expert on dreams. From what I do know, I can say that Fluttershy should be able to do anything she wants here. The fact that she couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, do that one thing certainly has a meaning.”

“What sort of meaning could Rainbow Dash’s death possibly have, though?” asked Twilight.

The sound of a tree being bucked in the forest snapped the ponies out of their relaxed states, and soon a rain of twigs were flying from the secluded woods towards them. Celestia and Twilight reacted by stopping the sticks mid-air with a levitation spell, lowering them neatly into a pile. A moment later, Applejack appeared from the shadows, carrying two large logs on her back.

“There’s yer kindlin’!” she said with a chuckle. “Now light us a fire, iff’n ya don’t mind.”

Celestia and Twilight laughed in unison, the tension having broken slightly, and used their magic to levitate all of the wood over to where Rainbow Dash was laying. Pinkie and Fluttershy landed beside her, carrying large tufts of cloud. They carefully placed the clouds onto the ground and lifted Rainbow Dash up onto the fluffy bedding.

The two ponies stood over their fallen friend’s body and breathed sighs of relief.

“She looks much more comfortable, now,” said Pinkie Pie, a somewhat pleased sound to her voice.

Fluttershy nodded, remembering the time just a day earlier where she’d been the one laying on a bed of cloud, and wiped a tear from her eye. “Yes. That’s much better,” she said, turning her head as she heard the sound of the fire being started. The two ponies sat down in front of Rainbow Dash and absorbed the warmth of the flames as they burned into the night.

After around an hour, Celestia leaned towards Fluttershy and whispered in her ear. “It’s almost dawn, Fluttershy. Please stay calm and go along with what I’m about to do. It will help greatly in understanding certain things.”

Fluttershy nodded her head nervously and looked up at the princess, who stood and gazed towards the horizon.

“It is almost time to raise the sun,” Celestia said, the conversation dying down instantly as she spoke. “Close enough, in any case, and its light will be of aid to us.” Everypony nodded in agreement.

“Sounds sensible,” Applejack said. “I guess this is one of the perks of travelin’ with ya, Yer Highness.”

Celestia shook her head and looked down at Fluttershy. “No, not this time,” she said seriously. “Fluttershy will be raising the sun this morning.”

Fluttershy fell over backwards, her head flopping against the bed of cloud behind her. “What?” she asked, then biting her lip, remembering what the princess had said about remaining calm. Pinkie and Twilight stared at Celestia in shock, and Twilight gestured her head towards Applejack, as if the princess had forgotten she was still there.

“Now how in the hay does that work?” asked Applejack. “No offense, but has Pinkie been rubbin’ off on ya?”

“Hey!” shouted Pinkie, an incredulous look on her face.

“No, it’s okay,” said Fluttershy, rising up to her hooves. “I’ll try, Princess.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling the flow of energy within. She immediately noticed that it was stronger than before, though drawing on it still felt like a strain. She took a breath and imagined the morning sky, filled with yellow beams of sunlight. A second later, she felt the sun’s warmth radiating onto her, and heard gasps from everyone around her. She opened her eyes, and it was morning.

Everyone stared at Applejack intently.

“Well...” Applejack started, searching for words. “Guess I was wrong. How ‘bout that?”

The tension died immediately, and everyone relaxed.

“Well, that was a surprise,” said Twilight, resting back down on her haunches.

“Why’s that?” Applejack asked, a bit confused.

“Yes, it’s certainly eye-opening,” Celestia added, nodding her head.

“Like I said, why’s that?” Applejack asked again, annoyed.

“I was really worried,” Fluttershy chimed in, glancing at Applejack.

Applejack threw her hooves into the air. “I knew she could do it! Don’t act like it’s some kinda big deal!” She began to kick dirt into the flames, shaking her head and grumbling the whole time.

“Nicely done, Fluttershy,” Celestia praised the pegasus. Fluttershy nodded her head, her eyes drooping a bit. Celestia looked around at the others, and it started to become clear that everypony was a bit tired, particularly Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie and Applejack were the only ones who seemed unaffected.

I suppose dreams don’t really get tired like we do, she thought. Twilight is right, though, it’s strange that you can become tired in a dream.

“Right, right, now we really should be gettin’ a move on,” said Applejack as she approached Rainbow Dash with slight hesitation. After a moment, she lowered her head and rolled Rainbow’s body onto her back, carefully steadying her. She glanced back once she was stabilized, her lower lip tightening around her teeth. “Carryin’ a fallen friend... A couple months ago, I never imagined I’d see the day. Been all too common, lately...” She sighed and began to walk towards the forest.

“We’ll be overhead if you need us,” Celestia said, patting Twilight on the shoulder. Twilight bobbed her head in response.

“Come on, Twilight!” Applejack was heard yelling, having already made her way into the brush of the Everfree Forest. Twilight turned and galloped to join her as the three winged ponies took to the sky, staying overhead Twilight and Applejack as best they could.

Once she was confident they were high enough in the air, Celestia pulled alongside Pinkie Pie. “I have something you want, Pinkie Pie. Twilight had me hold onto it until I could give it to you,” she said, pulling the pink gem out and holding it up where Pinkie could see it. Pinkie’s eyes immediately lit up, but then she cleared her throat and blinked.

“Oh yeah, that thing,” Pinkie said nonchalantly, glancing towards it occasionally. “So what, exactly, is it? I’m just really... so... drawn to it...” she said as her eyes uncontrollably locked back onto it and her hoof reached out for it anxiously.

“Perhaps you should try it on,” Celestia replied, tapping her other hoof to her ear. Pinkie’s eyes widened, and visions of what had happened last time surfaced. She shook her head and blinked heavily. “Maybe I shouldn’t. I mean, last time I did that, I caused a big mess.”

Fluttershy, who had pulled up to Celestia’s other side, looked across at Pinkie, her hooves shaking a little bit. “Yes, maybe we really shouldn’t-”

“Don’t worry,” Celestia interjected. “I’ve been assured by the other Pinkie that it’s safe, now.”

Pinkie’s eyes sparkled again, and she reached for the gem with both hooves. “‘Other Pinkie?’ You mean that Pinkie with the goggles from Twilight’s dream?” Her mouth stayed gaped open after speaking, the idea of the other Pinkie Pie now stuck in her mind.

Celestia nodded. “She’s anxious to meet you under friendlier terms,” she said with a smile.

Pinkie nodded her head. “Oh, I hope she forgives me for being such a meanie!” she said enthusiastically, her mouth suddenly falling to a frown. “Oh, what if she’s mad? What if she won’t forgive me? I don’t know if I can face her! What should I say?”

“Princess!” a tiny voice emanated from the gemstone. “When you go swimming, it’s best to just dive in!”

Celestia laughed and nodded her head.

“Wait, what’s that mean?” Pinkie protested, starting to lift her hooves to her ears. “Hang on, I’m not ready!” But it was too late.

Celestia thrust the gem into Pinkie’s left ear, and with a burst of pink color, Pinkie’s mane shot up into its usual tangled mess, as if she had suddenly been electrocuted.

Pinkie smiled wider than, perhaps, should be physically possible. Her eyes lit up with sparkles--even the sparkles had sparkles--as Pinkie Twi’s tiny voice filled her cranium.

“So what’s it like being inside Twilight’s head?” Pinkie Shy asked with excitement. Celestia chuckled, realizing that she was going to be hearing half of a conversation the rest of the way home, or at least until something happened below. She decided to fly ahead a bit to keep watch after spotting Twilight and Applejack through a gap in the canopy.

“Um, I guess it’s pretty normal?” said Pinkie Twi quizzically. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but there sure are an awful lot of books in here!”

“Books?” Pinkie Shy pondered.

“Yep, if there’s one word I’d use to describe it, it’s ‘books’! When you think about it, it’s really kind of amazing. I mean, Twilight has to have them memorized for them to be in here, right?”

“Makes sense to me!” Pinkie Shy giggled. “I knew Twilight was a smart cookie, but I didn’t know she was memorizing whole books!”

“Yep, and I’ve learned a lot, that’s how I found out about magic like the kind I used to make that communication gem. When I made it, I just had this feeling like I could do it, but I found out later that it’s a kind of magic called ‘enchanting’! I can do a lot more with it, now. I can even cast spells on that gem you’re using when it’s this far away. That’s how it was able to give you magic, too, though when you first used it, it wasn’t ready yet.”

“Oh, okay! So what other fun things can we do? Can we send each other letters? Or snacks? I could really go for a great big cupcake!”

“Well, no, and why would we need to send letters? We can just talk like this.”

“Oh yeah, I guess I just like letters. But, what else?”

“Not much else, yet. I’m still working through some of the more, let’s say, difficult parts in some of these books. Twilight maybe doesn’t have every single little word memorized, but I'm getting better at filling in the blanks.”

“Filling in the blanks? With spells? Is that... safe?” asked Pinkie Shy, a look of concern suddenly appearing on her face.

“Well, so far I haven’t blown up Sugarcube Corner or anything... Well, just the kitchen,” Pinkie Twi said with a snort. “Not like that doesn’t happen every time I get carried away with baking.”

Pinkie Shy laughed. “You’re telling me! The last time I tried to bake a pie, I wanted it to float like a balloon, so I put cherries full of helium in it!”

“That was hydrogen! Where did you--I mean I--I mean we--even get that from?”

“Ohhhh... is that what went wrong?”

Both Pinkies burst into laughter.

“See? This is how I know we’re gonna be good friends!” Pinkie Shy said between giggles.

“Well duh! We have to be! We’re like the same!” Pinkie Twi responded.

“But different!”

“But pretty much the same.”

Pinkie Shy sighed and fell silent for a moment.

“Something happening over there?” asked Pinkie Twi through the communicator.

“We really are pretty different, though, too,” started Pinkie Shy. “I really got carried away, and not in a fun oven-exploding sort of way, in here. Even when we met inside Twilight’s mind, I... I tried to...”

“Kill us?” asked Pinkie Twi. “Yeah, you sure did! Good try, too, but you didn’t stand a chance against my magic, especially in Twilight’s dream world!” She laughed arrogantly, but Pinkie Shy was not laughing.

After a moment of silence, Pinkie Twi sighed. “Look, I’ve kind of been able to piece together what’s happening over there from what I’ve heard, plus something else you’ll find out about in a second,” she finally said, her tone of voice leveling out. “What you’ve been through in there... nopony should have to go through. If you were a little upset, it’s probably-”

“A little upset?” Pinkie Shy shouted, startling Fluttershy, who was now a bit ahead of her. “I was furious! I couldn’t even stop myself! I turned into a monster, and I tried to kill you, and Twilight, and even Princess Celestia! But I was especially mad at Fluttershy...” Pinkie looked forward at Fluttershy, their eyes meeting. Both mares just stared at one another for a moment until Fluttershy turned her head forward again and continued to fly, glancing down at the ground occasionally for signs of Applejack and Twilight.

“Look, I know all that. I understand how that can be, trust me--I’m you, after all. You try to be happy, and you try to cheer up everypony, but deep inside is just doubt. You wonder if you’re making a difference, and you wonder if your friends even need you around, but... Our friends do need us! We have to help them, and I just finished the final piece of the puzzle that will let us! Brace yourself, because we’re about to be brilliant!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pinkie Shy asked. The sound of magic being shot from a horn was the only response from the other side. A moment later, Pinkie Shy’s mind began to spin. Words and images flashed through her field of vision. Knowledge, spells, and a vast many other things, began to pour into her, along with a voice speaking loud and clear in her mind.

I forgive you. We all do.

Pinkie Shy smiled, shaking away the sadness and doubt, her eyes wide and sparkling once more. “What’s happening? What is this amazing feeling inside me? It’s like seeing a friend after a long time. That happiness, and all the memories that fly through your mind when you see their smiling face, mixed with the joy of hugging them and telling them how much you missed them!” she said exuberantly. “But instead of a friend... it’s me! It’s like I forgot who I was, and I couldn’t put my hoof on it before, but now I know! I know who I am, and I know what I have to do!”

“Right!” came Pinkie Twi’s voice from the gem. “It’s the connection! It worked!”

“Connection?” asked Pinkie Shy, still searching through her feelings for an answer to what just happened. “What kind of connection?” She thought about that word for a moment--connection--and suddenly a chain of memories flashed before her eyes.

Oh my gosh! Pinkie Shy thought, suddenly understanding everything. It worked! I--I mean she--I mean we did it!

That’s right, Pinkie Twi’s voice replied, not through the gem, but in Pinkie Shy’s mind itself.

Welcome to the Pinkie Network!

Overgrowth Ch 10 - Interference

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Ten: Interference

“We’ll be overhead if you need us,” Celestia said, patting Twilight on the shoulder. Twilight bobbed her head in response.

“Come on, Twilight!” Applejack was heard yelling, having already made her way into the brush of the Everfree Forest. Twilight turned and galloped to join her as the three winged ponies took to the sky, soaring above the canopy and out of sight.

Twilight glanced up through the trees. I sure hope everything goes well with Pinkie up there, she thought.

Applejack stared ahead silently as she walked, the weight of Rainbow Dash’s body not slowing her down one bit. Twilight glanced around at the shadows that had surrounded them now, the sun’s light barely penetrating the thick leaves above.

“So much for the getting help from the sun,” Twilight said as she trotted shoulder-to-shoulder with Applejack.

“Never was of much use in here, anyhow,” Applejack responded plainly.

“I wonder what’s going to happen when we get back to Ponyville. Do you think everything will be back to normal?”

Applejack sighed. “Ain’t nothin’ gonna be normal again,” she said, her voice wavering slightly. “Not without RD.”

“AJ, I know the two of you were close. Honestly, she was an amazing friend to us all,” Twilight started, trying to think of what words to say to comfort Applejack. She felt a great deal of sadness as well, though she felt even worse about the situation the real Rainbow Dash was in.

If only Applejack could know the truth... That this isn’t really Rainbow Dash. Then again, she’s not really AJ, but... Twilight thought, and then remembered back to something Celestia had told her when they first met in her own dream world.

“You have a good heart, Twilight.” Celestia had said to her. “I know how much you care about him. It would be wrong to say that he isn’t really Spike, but he’s not completely Spike. This is your dream world. He’s as real as Spike is in your heart.”

True, this isn’t AJ’s dream, but maybe those words, changed a little, could bring her some amount of comfort, Twilight decided, and thought about what she would say.

“Applejack...” Twilight began, “I know how much you care about her. We all love her and miss her, but she will live on forever in our-” She was cut off by Applejack exhaling heavily in annoyance.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Applejack said, raising her voice.

“AJ, I’m sorry, I just-”

“I said I don’t wanna talk about it!” Applejack yelled, turning abruptly to her side and staring into Twilight’s eyes, tears running out of her own. The sudden turn caused Rainbow Dash to fall off her back and slump to the ground.

Twilight stared back, the sound of the nearby river the only noise. Applejack's intense green eyes were shaking with grief. Without even thinking, words started to escape Twilight’s lips.

“You think you have to face this alone? You think you have to be the leader and show everypony how strong you are? Is that it?” Twilight asked, her tone dropping. Applejack stared back blankly, saying nothing. “You don’t have to bear this alone, AJ! You don’t have to shoulder the weight of the world by yourself!”

Twilight’s horn glowed and she lifted Rainbow Dash into the air with her magic, hovering her over and placing her on her own back.

“Let me carry some of this weight, Applejack. Let all of us help you carry it! Do you hear me? You’re not alone, so don’t act like it! ” Twilight yelled, unseen birds screeching in the treetops and flying away. Twilight closed her mouth tightly, finally realizing what she’d just said.

Applejack stepped forward, allowing her head to fall, her face digging into Twilight’s shoulder. She screamed with all of her might, Twilight’s body suppressing the sound like a pillow. Twilight wrapped a foreleg around Applejack’s head and held it tightly as she fought back her own tears.

“So what’s it like being inside Twilight’s head?” Pinkie Shy asked with excitement. Celestia chuckled, realizing that she was going to be hearing half of a conversation the rest of the way home, or at least until something happened below. She decided to fly ahead a bit to keep watch after spotting Twilight and Applejack through a gap in the canopy.

Celestia flapped her wings and looked back, gesturing for Fluttershy to follow her. Fluttershy sped up and pulled alongside the princess.

“Are you sure it’s okay to leave her alone back there?” asked Fluttershy. “What if she... you know... again?” She shivered, remembering the sight of Pinkie jumping through the air at Twilight, her face filled with madness.

Celestia smiled. “I don’t think we have to worry about that. Pinkie will probably be a little distracted for the time being... those two have some talking to do, trust me. It’s best to let it play out without interfering,” she said. “Besides, we need to keep our eyes on Twilight and Applejack. ”

Fluttershy nodded. “Well, all the same, I think I’m going to keep my eye on her as well,” she replied, glancing back at Pinkie. “Just in case.”

Celestia shrugged. “Suit yourself,” she said as the sound of laughter came from behind them. “Something tells me it’ll be okay, though. If Pinkie Twi is right, they may just be the key to our victory.”

Fluttershy blinked with confusion. “Pinkie Twi?” she asked, but was interrupted as the sound of Twilight yelling came from below.

So don’t act like it!” Twilight’s voice yelled, echoing across the forest, causing birds to scatter from the trees. Fluttershy flapped her wings in reaction, flying backwards closer to Pinkie Pie. She looked back and her eyes met with Pinkie’s, hearing the last part of a sentence escape Pinkie’s mouth.

“I was especially mad at Fluttershy...” she said, staring back intensely. Fluttershy eventually averted her gaze and flew forward again, glancing down towards Twilight and Applejack. She caught sight of them by the river where they’d found the injured sea serpent earlier. Applejack was burying her face in Twilight’s shoulder, and Twilight was carrying Rainbow Dash on her back.

Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief and smiled, though sadly. She glanced back at Pinkie Pie again, whose eyes were seemingly lit up now, a humongous smile spread across her face. I guess everypony is finally shaking off the darkness of the past weeks, Fluttershy thought, looking back down at Twilight and Applejack, who were now trudging through the shallow river below. Rainbow Dash lay limply across Twilight’s back, held in firm balance by a levitation spell. If only I could have... Fluttershy swallowed hard, stopping her train of thought, and flitted ahead towards Princess Celestia to help scan the forest for any signs of danger, leaving Pinkie Shy behind a bit.

Fluttershy didn’t have to fly far to find trouble. She spotted a swirling shadow through the trees below, which seemed to absorb the light around it. She’d never seen anything like it, but could sense something dark lurking down there heading directly towards Twilight and Applejack. She looked ahead for a moment at Princess Celestia, who was further north, glancing down through the trees as well.

Does she not see it? Fluttershy thought as she raised a hoof and inhaled, ready to call out.

“Princess, I see something!” she shouted, and then descended into the forest. Princess Celestia didn’t even look her way, and instead glided further ahead. Fluttershy landed on the ground and looked around through the dark brush. “Who’s there?”

“I smell death,” a voice whispered from the shadows. “Delicious and alluring... the scent makes me drool.”

Fluttershy turned her head to the side and saw a black cat emerge from the bushes, staring at her with glowing, golden eyes. Fluttershy frowned, knowing exactly what creature she was looking at.

“Stay away from her,” Fluttershy threatened, narrowing her eyes. “She’s not food for the likes of you, cat.”

The cat sat down and licked at the white patch of fur on its chest for a moment, then looked up at the yellow pony. “I’m not talking about your bright-haired friend over there. No, I couldn’t possibly eat her soul--it’s not even there, anymore. Didn’t you notice it? How her soul flew northward with some speed? It’s so diluted, hardly worth the effort, not to mention too fast a meal for my taste.”

Fluttershy felt fear, as she did any time she met with a dangerous creature such as this for the first time, but she also felt confidence since she had better control of her lucidity now. “Well then, what is it that you smell? What drew you here, cat sidhe?”

The feline laughed and licked its lips. “You seem surprised to see me, yet you seem to be familiar with my kind.”

Fluttershy gulped and glanced upward to see if Princess Celestia was above. She didn’t see her and lowered her gaze back towards the cat, who was sitting calmly and flicking its tail.

“Oh, she didn’t hear you, I made sure of that. She didn’t even notice you coming down here, kind Fluttershy,” the spirit chuckled. “I have a warning for you, so listen carefully. Your nightmare isn’t over yet, so don’t get too comfortable.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “How do you know this was a nightmare?” Fluttershy asked, lowering her eyebrows. The cat stared at her and walked in her direction, placing one paw in front of the other daintily.

“You think a spirit such as I cares if it's just a part of some dream? In any case, I sense much chaos and potential for suffering and death all around you. Rest assured, others of my kind will be drawn to Canterlot,” the cat growled, baring its teeth. “The feast will be quite glorious. You’re all so helpless, tied up in those cocoons!” The cat leapt through the air, a trail of black left in its wake.

With a flash of light, Celestia shot through the canopy and landed beside Fluttershy, gasping for breath. She looked up just in time to see the cat sidhe flying towards them. She clenched her teeth and readied a spell, but Fluttershy raised a hoof and shot her eyes open wide, a yellow glow firing from them at the specter. The cat froze in mid-leap, clawing at Fluttershy, just out of reach.

“Dream or not, your kind skulks around looking for food like scavengers, and you think you can get away with attacking me here?” Fluttershy asked, a tone of disbelief in her voice, which was still calm all the same. “Why would you warn me about it, anyway?”

The cat sighed and went limp in the air, its eyes still locked with Fluttershy’s. “You would look a gift horse in the mouth? For shame, darling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to attack you, I was just testing your power.”

Fluttershy shook her head with disapproval. “A test? Well look at me, and remember this!” the mare shouted, her eyes glowing with power. “You and your kind had better stay away from Canterlot and my friends, or so help me, you’ll be sorry!”

Celestia stared at Fluttershy, a bit shocked at the tone she was taking.

“You may not be like the animals I’m used to dealing with, but it doesn’t matter once you threaten to hurt my friends! You do not, I repeat, do not want to see me angry!” Fluttershy yelled, her voice echoing through the trees.

The spirit let out a small whimper and began to purr like a frightened kitten. “Put me down, you monster!” it demanded. “Please put me down!” It wiggled its legs in the air helplessly.

“Are you going to cause any trouble?” Fluttershy asked, her brow lowering.

“No no no, definitely not!” the frightened feline replied.

“Good,” Fluttershy said. “Now leave this dream, and tell any other sidhe you see to stay away, or you’ll all get the stare, or worse.” She lowered her hoof and let the cat drop to the ground. It quickly slinked backwards, fading into the shadows.

The sound of the spirit laughing filled the air. “You think I can leave? I told you, I’m still just part of your dream! I’ll give you one more warning, though,” it said between laughs. “The mess in Canterlot is already attracting the attention of far greater powers than I! Be on the lookout, even in dreams. Something dark knows what’s happening, and I can not even begin to guess its motive.”

“What do you mean by that? Is that the dark magic?” Celestia asked, finally speaking. There was no response.

“He’s gone,” said Fluttershy with a sigh. The sound of Twilight’s voice came from the distance, calling out to them.

“Are you okay over there?” Twilight yelled.

“We’re fine!” Celestia shouted back, turning towards Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, that was truly impressive. Cat sidhe are not the sort of spirit you want to trifle with, and you made him flee like a scared kitten. You truly do have a full grasp on your power.”

Fluttershy nodded. “It was my stare, too. It’s part of my special talent, but I wasn’t sure if it would work on spirits, too. I’ve never seen a cat sidhe other than in books.”

“What it said makes me worry, though. Perhaps the changelings aren’t the only threat to Equestria that we need to be concerned with,” Celestia pondered aloud. “In any case, let us return to the sky and keep watch.”

Help me!

Who’s there?

Please, help me!

Pinkie Shy’s ears twitched as she glided slowly through the air, a small, distant voice in her head pleading for help. She listened closely, but the sound of the voice faded away, vanishing.

Pinkie, do you hear me? another voice resounded loudly. Pinkie Shy recognized it this time as her own voice, or rather, Pinkie from Twilight’s dream.

So we don’t even need that gem to talk anymore? Pinkie Shy thought. I wonder if she can even hear that?

Right! Pinkie Twi’s voice spoke with giddiness in Pinkie Shy’s mind. The gem is just a bridge. Well, less of a bridge, more of a bridge builder.

Oh, I get it! Wait, no, I don’t get it...

We’re connected, now, you and I. The problem is, though, I don’t think we’re the only ones. Did you notice something strange a second ago?

You mean apart from feeling a little less like a Pinkie and a little more like a Twilight?

Who like a what, now? No, I mean, like some sort of voice, or humming... something that’s not a Pinkie.

Pinkie Shy nodded her head, remembering the tiny voice she heard. I couldn’t hear it very well... it sounded scared and sad. It was asking for help. I guess I got distracted, though. I mean, who knew that you could use magic to make balloons that pop into more balloons?

Oh my gosh, that’s one of the best things ever! Pinkie Twi said with sudden excitement. And that’s definitely one of the biggest jobs we have on our hooves! Once all us pinkies are working together, we should be able to plan the party to end all parties!

End all parties? That sounds sad! Pinkie Shy questioned. I wouldn’t want to throw a party if it had to be the last one ever.

No no no, Pinkie. It’s just a saying! It’ll be the best party ever! A combination “We saved Equestria, Cadence and Shining Armor are married, let’s all party our brains out!” party!

Oh, okay! I can definitely get behind that!

Pinkie Twi caught herself and cleared her throat. Anyway, we have to get serious here!

Parties are totally serious business! Pinkie Shy protested. And did you just clear your throat in a thought? Does that even do anything?

You can do all sorts of stuff in here, I bet! Pinkie Twi thought, followed by a loud belch. Pinkie Shy giggled in response. Wait... we need to stop getting distracted! This is serious! Something strange is going on. I’ve been spending the last couple of days trying to perfect this magical transference spell so that it won’t get noticed. It does have to travel between dreamers, after all. If those changelings found out what was going on, it could really be bad news!

Pinkie Shy cocked her head to the side. That doesn’t sound all that strange... you know, beyond the fact that us Pinkies are using magic.

There’s some sort of interference. I’m working on figuring out where it’s coming from, but we’ll need to work together. I need you to set up some stuff back in your ponyville to help run some tests.

Speaking of Ponyville, I see it in the distance, now! It’s like nothing ever happened to it! Gee, this dream world stuff is hard to wrap your head around. Pinkie Shy thought.

Sure is... Anyway, I’ll be in touch. Just remember this, though... the ponies in the dream world shouldn’t see that gem, so hide it.

Roger wilco, over and out, ten-four, and aye-aye! Pinkie Shy thought, and saluted. She then zipped down towards the others, who had already gathered on the ground near Fluttershy’s cottage at the edge of the forest.

Twilight grinned at Pinkie as she landed. “Glad you could join us, Pinkie Pie,” she said.

“Oh yeah, I guess I was a little bit out of it, sorry,” Pinkie chuckled, quickly tucking the gem into her puffy mess of a mane. “Nothing bad happened, though, right?”

“Nothing at all,” said Celestia. “We have Fluttershy to thank for that, though.”

“Why’s that?” Applejack asked as she approached Twilight and gently transferred Rainbow Dash’s body to her back. “That another one of her new freaky abilities, like that sun raisin’?”

“Don’t be silly, AJ,” Pinkie said with a snort. “The sun’s not made of raisins!”

Applejack sighed and continued to walk towards the main town. The others followed behind her. As they trotted towards the town square, the citizens of the town began to come out of their houses and follow behind them, until eventually a large crowd were all gathered outside the mayor’s office.

Twilight glanced around nervously and leaned towards Princess Celestia. “You don’t think they’re all going to change at once, do you?” she whispered. The sound of a door opening pulled her attention back as Mayor Mare stepped out, walking right up to the group of travelers. She stared sadly at Rainbow Dash, shaking her head.

“We’ve returned, Mayor,” Princess Celestia spoke in a formal tone. “We’ve stopped the overgrowth. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise to protect us all, though.” She turned her gaze downward, closing her eyes.

Twilight frowned and bowed her head as well. In the end, poor Rainbow Dash...

“It’s mah fault, mayor,” said Applejack, breaking Twilight’s line of thought. “I don’t know how it happened, I just know... We fell, and... dang it... She just... It shoulda been me!”

“There’s no use blaming anyone, Applejack,” the mayor said, placing a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder. “The nightmare is over, and we have all of you, especially Rainbow Dash, to thank. None of us are sure how it happened, but somehow Ponyville was restored, along with all of the lives that were lost. It is... yes, a miracle.”

The crowd all bowed on one knee, lowering their heads, which were all pointed towards Applejack and Rainbow Dash. Celestia even bowed, along with Twilight and Pinkie.

“Yes, it’s true,” Celestia said quietly. “A miracle.”

Pinkie’s ear twitched at the sound of a child crying and turned her head to the side, spotting the Cakes and their foals on the edge of the crowd. She smiled, a tear escaping her eye. Oh, thank goodness. They’re back! she thought. She blinked and shook her head in a gentle circle, almost as if she was rattling around its contents, and then clapped a hoof over her mouth to suppress a cheer. Oh my gosh! Rainbow Dash! She’s gonna be okay!

The mayor turned her gaze towards Pinkie Pie at that same moment and squinted. “What of Pinkie Pie, Applejack? I recall you saying she had been replaced by a changeling, yet somehow I see an alicorn before me.”

The crowd had been giving Pinkie a wide berth, and some of them were now eyeing her suspiciously as they rose back up. Applejack shook her head, lifting a front hoof towards Pinkie. “Ah don’t know how or why, but she’s the real Pinkie Pie. Today’s been no slouch fer surprises. It was Fluttershy who was able to finally change the world back to how it was... among other things.”

The mayor gestured for the adventurers to join her. “Well, regardless of how it all came to pass, do come inside, Applejack. We have some things to discuss. It must have been hard to carry her all this way... but you can finally put her to rest, now,” she said as Applejack walked towards the door to the mayoral building.

“I didn’t carry her alone, mayor,” Applejack said, smiling back at Twilight. “I had a lot of help.”

Twilight smiled back and watched the two ponies enter the building. The mayor gestured towards Celestia, clearly wanting her to follow as well. Surely she had things to ask them, but Celestia felt it was better to leave the talking between two dream inhabitants for now.

“I shall join you shortly, mayor. Right now, I have a couple of things to attend to,” Celestia said calmly, tilting her head towards Twilight, Fluttershy, and Pinkie.

The mayor nodded in response. “Very well, Your Majesty.”

The four ponies found their way away from the crowd finally, which had broken into groups of ponies talking about all the things that had happened in recent weeks.

“We still have to find a way out of the dream. That rift in the Everfree Forest wasn’t it,” Celestia whispered to the others as they walked away from the town square.

“Pinkie Pie, can you build us a colorscope? Like the one Pinkie in my dream had?” Twilight asked, turning towards Pinkie.

“Colorscope? Piece of cake! In fact, it’s a mark 2, now! It’s even more colorey and scopey than ever before!” Pinkie giggled. “That’ll take a while, though. Maybe a couple days.”

Celestia sighed. “I know these dream worlds pass at different time scales, but I feel like we’ve spent too long in this one. We need to regain our focus, and seeing Princess Cadence has only made me feel more anxious... not to mention the poor Rainbow Dash of this dream. It pains me greatly to see events like this transpire. Fluttershy, I do not know how this is going to affect your dreams or thoughts in the long term. I didn’t have time to say all of this earlier, but the implications are...”

Celestia was cut off by Pinkie Pie clicking her tongue and jumping up and down. “Oh, yeah, that was what I was forgetting! Pinkie in Twilight’s dream has a theory about Rainbow Dash in this dream. She said she’s not sure why, but the reason Fluttershy couldn’t save her was because Fluttershy is still here!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Not sure I follow, and that’s technically coming out of my mind...”

“Pinkie Twi says Fluttershy is too awake to focus... that doesn’t make any sense now that I’m saying it,” Pinkie Shy tried to explain.

“Too awake? Aren’t I asleep?” Fluttershy asked, shaking her head.

Celestia’s expression slowly began to change from sad to thoughtful and then to happy. “No, it does make sense. I have to admit, I am not very well-versed in dreams or dream magic, and a lot of it I had never been able to perfect even after a thousand years of practice. If only my sister, Princess Luna, were here, she would be able to explain better, I would wager.”

Twilight nodded her head, but then shrugged. “Is Princess Luna an expert at dream magic, or something?” she asked.

“The best there is, or ever has been, I assure you,” Celestia replied seriously. “If she were here, we would not be having this much trouble. Luna is a master of Lucidity and dream magic, a Dreamwalker. There are not many Dreamwalkers in this world, and as far as I know, Luna is the only one capable of freely traversing the dreams of others. The fact that we are doing it is most certainly an unintended side-effect of the magic that the changelings are using on us.”

“But what about that cat sidhe?” Fluttershy asked.

“Cat sidhe?” asked Twilight, her eyes going wide. “What cat sidhe?”

“I’m not sure, honestly. I’ve never heard of a spirit entering a dream like that. For all we know, it was just another part of your nightmare that was somehow left over, Fluttershy,” Celestia responded. “Again, if Luna were here, she could explain things better than I.”

“So wait... theoretically, couldn’t we just wait around for Luna to find us?” Twilight pondered aloud. “If she’s so powerful, surely she’s out there doing something similar to what we’re doing, right?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all. She would probably have been able to do something she’s told me is called ‘establishing focus’ within a dream. It can calm a dreamer down and relax their mind” Celestia said. The others nodded.

Fluttershy thought back to what had happened to her in the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. She had heard that strange voice, and felt a moment of extreme focus.

“Back in the forest, I heard a voice. I couldn’t understand who it was, but they told me to face my fears. To fight back and accept that part of me. I was scared at first, but that’s what ultimately gave me the strength to use the power again,” Fluttershy said quietly. “Could that... have been Princess Luna?”

“You heard a voice? Why didn’t you tell us, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked, shaking her head once again.

“It doesn’t matter. I do not think that was Luna,” Celestia said, patting Twilight on the head. “If my sister were here, I am pretty sure I would have sensed her presence.”

“I heard a voice, too,” Pinkie Shy interjected. “Pinkie Twi says there’s some sort of interference in the magical flow outside the dreams. Some sort of weird magic that’s trying to push its way in, and it’s definitely able to connect to the gem thingy. Speaking of which...” Pinkie reached into her mane and pulled out the pink communication gem, tossing it towards Twilight who caught it in mid-air with a levitation spell and slid it back into her saddle bag.

“All very useful information. It seems there is even more going on that we do not yet know about,” Celestia said. “In any case, we must move forward, wherever forward is.”

Fluttershy pointed a hoof into the sky. “Well, what if we just follow that pink magic trail? That’s the love magic that came from Cadence.” Everyone turned their heads skyward and saw nothing but a blue, slightly overcast sky.

“Pink... magic trail?” Twilight questioned. “I don’t see it.”

“Well I do,” said Fluttershy, her eyes trailing northward, then widening. “I see it... heading right towards Canterlot, and that giant bubble that’s over it, and that giant wasteland that’s surrounding it.”

“Wasteland? What waste... land...?” asked Twilight as everyone turned their gaze to the north. Canterlot loomed in the distance, a forcefield still surrounding it, clearly visible. About halfway between Ponyville and Canterlot, the peaceful landscape ended abruptly, replaced by twisted vines and trees, fading from green to gray as they approached Canterlot. Though barely visible, the area immediately surrounding Canterlot was as gray as ash and completely devoid of any signs of life. Even the waterfall cascading down from the city seemed to stand completely still.

“Okay, maybe we’re not going to need that colorscope after all,” Twilight gulped.

“Wow, talk about draining all the life from the party.” Pinkie sighed. “Just when I thought we were done with the icky stuff, too!”

“We should leave immediately. There’s no time to wait. Whatever is happening in Canterlot surely has something to do with the exit rift, as well as the changelings. I hope we’ve not been discovered,” Celestia gravely intoned.

“Princess, I know we need to move on, but couldn’t we rest a bit?” asked Twilight. “I’m exhausted, honestly.”

Celestia remembered how tired Twilight and Fluttershy looked at the campsite. She, too, was beginning to feel a bit weary, despite her anxiousness. “That is probably for the best, then. I will go see the mayor and then head back to your house to get some rest, Twilight. I suggest you and Fluttershy do similarly.”

“Well, I’m not tired at all,” said Pinkie. “I’m heading to Sugarcube Corner... I’ve got some catching up to do with my other family,” She said, smiling widely as she looked to where they were standing. They almost seemed to glow as Pinkie stared in amazement, having thought they were gone forever not even a day prior.

The ponies split up. Twilight and Fluttershy headed back to Golden Oaks Library to get some sleep while Celestia joined Mayor Mare and Applejack in the mayor’s office. Pinkie Pie slammed into Mr. and Mrs. Cake, tears of joy streaming down her face as she pulled them into a hug.

I’m not the real Pinkie, and you aren’t the real Cakes... but that doesn’t matter. We’re together again, and that definitely makes me smile.

Overgrowth Ch 11 - Interfuse

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Book Two: Overgrowth

Chapter Eleven: Interfuse

“Well, what’s happening up there?” Celestia heard Applejack asking as she entered the Mayor's office. Applejack and Mayor Mare were standing at the far end of the room, looking out a window towards Canterlot.

“We’re not sure. The overgrowth from the forest has died down enough to where we can actually see the capitol in the distance, but it doesn’t offer much comfort,” the Mayor responded. “From what we can see of it, the entire landscape surrounding Canterlot has turned to stone. Trees, structures, even the water and wildlife are all petrified.”

Celestia approached the two, gazing out the window herself. “The capitol itself seems fine, protected by a forcefield, but I wonder who is generating it, and why was the area surrounding the city unaffected by the energy that reset the rest of the land?” she pondered aloud to them. “In any case, after a day’s rest, I will have to set out to Canterlot and discover the answers to these questions.”

“I’m comin’ with ya, Princess,” Applejack bravely stated, turning to face Celestia.

“No, Applejack. I’m sorry, but Ponyville needs you here,” Celestia said, shaking her head.

“Ponyville’s safe now, so I gotta help you and my friends!” Applejack protested. Celestia stared right back at her, locking eyes to hers.

“And what if whatever is happening to the north moves south and encroaches here once again? What then, Applejack? Who better to defend this village than you, who held it together in such terrible times?”

Applejack’s eyes narrowed and she bit her trembling lower lip. She knew the princess was right, but could sense something else as well. Something that had been bothering her ever since Celestia and Twilight returned the previous day.

“It’s cause I’m weak, ain’t it?” Applejack asked, turning her gaze to the side. “I ain’t got no powers. Not like Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie got now. Let me guess, yer takin’ them with ya, ain’t ya?” She closed her eyes tightly.

Celestia blinked and then sighed. “Applejack, you have to understand. I need someone to stay behind here that I can depend on, but I do need to take them with me. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie can fly and use magic now. It’s never easy to have to decide how to split your troops, but understand that I now must do just that. Canterlot’s unknown plight is of the utmost importance right now, so I need the most powerful among us to accompany me there. I can’t leave Ponyville undefended, though. Please, understand, I’m not leaving you behind. I’m leaving Ponyville in your capable hooves!”

Applejack walked to the door and bowed her head. “I know, I just... I need some time to think. To let all this soak in. I should go home and get some proper rest for a change, I guess,” she said, and then pushed the door open, stepping out onto the deck outside.

Lined up in front of the deck were all of the troops she’d commanded throughout the struggle against the Everfree Forest. They stood in a straight line, wearing their armor and bearing their weapons. Standing in the front of the lineup was Big Macintosh, his front right hoof propped up on a helmet that sat on the ground. He lifted that hoof to his forehead and saluted, the rest of the ponies following suit.

Applejack stared at her brother standing there before her, as tears began to fall from her eyes.

“The Ponyville Defense Force awaits yer orders, sis,” he said with a grin. To his left, a large group of unicorns stamped their hooves on the ground and lit their horns up with magic.

“Unicorn Squad, ready for action at your command, miss!” the unicorn in front barked out.

Applejack shook her head and laughed, wiping her face with her foreleg. “You all... Dang it...” she said, searching for words and trying to hold back from crying more. “Yer orders are to go home, see yer families, and get some rest! Move out!”

The formation all saluted and then began to disperse.

“Captain Macintosh, yer hereby ordered to walk home with me and have some lunch. I betcha Apple Bloom and Granny Smith are a-waitin’,” she said with a smile as she approached her brother. He nodded his head, and the two of them turned towards Sweet Apple Acres.

Celestia and Mayor Mare stood in the doorway, watching the ponies as they slid into the distance.

“He died before, defending the town, just like so many of those brave ponies did,” the mayor said. “You’re right, Princess. Applejack needs to be here, now more than ever.” Celestia nodded her head in agreement..

“In the end, what actually caused the forest to attack us, princess?” The mayor asked, looking up at Celestia.

Princess Celestia smiled and continued to gaze into the distance. “Just a nightmare, mayor, and it’s almost over,” she replied. “May your dreams be pleasant. I’m going to go get some rest myself.”

The mayor nodded as Celestia walked away, heading towards Golden Oaks Library. As she came nearer and nearer to the massive tree, she noticed something a bit different about it. Fluttershy’s cottage had been placed up against the library, as if someone had just smashed them together. The place where Fluttershy’s front door would normally be was pressed against the side wall of the library, fused together. Celestia grinned and shook her head. The main entrance the the library was just as always, but as she entered, Celestia noticed that the wall on the right side of the tree had been removed, replaced by a short hallway that connected Fluttershy’s cottage and Twilight’s home. Peering down the hallway, she could see Fluttershy asleep on her couch, her pet bunny snuggled up against her.

“I guess she was homesick, but didn’t want to leave Twilight, so this was her solution,” Celestia giggled, and then walked up the staircase towards Twilight’s room. When her head finally got high enough to see Twilight’s bed, she saw her curled up beneath her covers, already sound asleep as well. The guest bed had been pulled out, and was made nicely, a set of blankets neatly folded at the foot.

Celestia looked around for a moment, then towards Spike’s basket-- it was empty, even the blanket was missing. Celestia stepped quietly towards Twilight, and upon closer inspection, noticed that she was hugging Spike’s blanket tightly against her chest and had light streaks where tears had run down her cheeks.

No sign of Spike, huh Twilight? Celestia thought. I’m so sorry. Even seeing a dream version of him would have been such a comfort to you, I bet. I hope we find him somewhere out there... safe.

The princess laid down and shut her eyes, and immediately realized how tired she actually was. She felt herself drifting off to sleep rapidly, welcoming its sweet release even within a dream world.

A deep and echoing voice rang out.

You still don’t get it, do you, Celestia?

“Who’s there?” Celestia asked, and opened her eyes. She found herself in her bedchamber in Canterlot. She blinked, and immediately realized she was dreaming. She sat up calmly, rubbed her eyes with a foreleg, and glanced around the room.

That dark magic, the changelings manipulating dreams, the voices Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy heard... all that, and you still don’t get it at all.

“Then tell me. If it’s so obvious, just tell me!” Celestia shouted.


She placed a hoof to her forehead and sighed.

“The key to understanding all of that must be in canterlot,” she said to herself.

The voice she’d heard before boomed in her mind now, distorted and noisy.

Good guess! Now get moving!

Celestia opened her eyes and shot up out of bed. She found herself in Twilight’s bedroom. She shook her head drearily and glanced out the window. To her surprise, night had fallen, even without her lowering the sun. “I slept through a sunset?” she said aloud, and heard Twilight’s voice from across the room responding.

“Fluttershy lowered the sun. We didn’t want to wake you if we didn’t have to.”

Princess Celestia smiled and crawled out of bed, meandering over to Twilight’s. Stacks of books laid at her bedside, a couple of them open. They were all blank.

“I guess the books in this dream world are a bit less extensive than in your dream, huh?” the princess chuckled, and got a grin out of Twilight.

“Yeah. Nothin’ to ‘em, really!” Twilight said. “Let’s head down. Fluttershy’s in her cottage preparing some food for us, and I got a message from Pinkie Twi that Pinkie Shy’s on her way over. She didn’t sleep, but did make us a new toy, as she called it-- a makeshift colorscope.”

A moment later, a loud banging was heard coming from the front door, followed by it opening and someone running in.

“Fluttershy! Your cottage is smooshed onto Twilight's house! This is awesome! Can we move Sugarcube Corner next?” Pinkie was heard yelling with much elation. Celestia and Twilight both chuckled and then descended the staircase to meet the other two.

“It was a pretty clever idea, really,” said Twilight as she walked through the hallway into Fluttershy's living room, Celestia right behind her.

“I'll say! Hey, why don't we just smoosh the library into Canterlot? We'd be able to get there super fast!” Pinkie exclaimed, placing a hoof on either side of her head. Everyone blinked and thought for a moment. Twilight's mouth gaped a bit. Celestia finally broke the silence.

“Can you do that, Fluttershy? I would think it's possible,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Sure wish we'd thought of that sooner...” Twilight sighed.

“Gosh, I don't know. Let me try,” Fluttershy said, closing her eyes and concentrating for a moment. Her vision flew towards Canterlot at breakneck speeds, but stopped suddenly about halfway there. She felt a surge of magic shoot down her spine. Her eyes reopened and she shook her head.

“There's something stopping me... some sort of power. I feel like I know it from somewhere. It's... scary,” she said, shivering a bit. “It's not part of my dream. Something is there, something from the outside. I felt the same thing about that Cat Sidhe, but it ended up just being part of my dream, so I don't know.”

“I'm not so sure about that,” said Celestia. “That Cat Sidhe was different. Its power felt real, but hollow... almost as if it were being controlled from elsewhere. Canterlot is surely the key to all of this, as well as where we'll find the exit from the dream.”

Everypony nodded in agreement, and Pinkie Pie flipped open the saddle bag she was wearing. Buried among a mountain of pastries and cakes, she finally found a small circular lens. The lens seemed to shimmer and change color as it was turned in hoof. Pinkie held it in front of her, towards Twilight.

“And that's why I had to stay up all night and make us this. It's not perfect, but it should be able to locate the exit rift,” she said. A small chain with a clasp at the end hung from one side of the lens, which was edged in gold. “You wear it over one eye like a monocle, and clasp the chain to your horn to power it. As Rarity would say, 'pretty snazzy, is it not?'”

Twilight lifted the lens to her right eye with magic and clasped the chain to the top of her horn. Looking through the lens, everything looked the same as always.

“Nothing looks different,” Twilight shrugged. “Are you sure it's working, Pinkie?”

Pinkie rubbed a hoof behind her head. “I am 100% sureish that it will definitely probably let you see the exit rift,” she said with a bit of uncertainty in her voice.

Twilight sighed. “It's better than nothing, I suppose,” she said, and placed the lens on a table beside her. “I see you came prepared with plenty of food, even if it's all sweets. Fluttershy has been making us some rations as well. We should set out as soon as we can, now, even though it's dark out.”

Celestia nodded her approval. She was anxious to move on, perhaps more than anyone else. What am I to make of that dream I had? I must find out as soon as possible. I have a bad feeling that Equestria is in bigger trouble than I thought.

After packing food and supplies for the journey, the four ponies departed, heading into town and towards the train station at the north end.

“We'll take the train as far as we can. It will offer us some protection from any threats we may encounter in the still-overgrown parts of the north,” Celestia said. “Once the train can go no further, we'll have to proceed on hoof.”

They arrived at the train station, and were pleased to see that it was lit up and operational. A pony behind the counter, one of the train conductors, waved from the ticket booth with a frown.

“Your Highness! I hate to say it, but the tracks are in bad condition to the north, if that's where you're headed,” the conductor said. “I can't quite tell how badly they're damaged, but we'll be doing a survey tomorrow once we can be accompanied by guards.”

Celestia shook her head. “No, it is I who hate to say it, but we will be taking this train north, with or without you,” she stated. The conductor shrunk in his seat.

“Better do what she says,” a voice come from the side. “And don't worry about danger, you'll have the princess, Twilight, me, and Big Mac with ya. Once we get as far as we can, Big Mac n' I will stay with ya on the way back.”

“Eeyup!” Big Macintosh's voice echoed afterwards. Everyone turned their heads and saw Applejack and Big Macintosh walking towards them from the platform's far stairs, grins on their faces.

“Ya didn't think we'd let ya slip off that easy, now did ya?” Applejack asked with a laugh.

Twilight smiled. “Of course not, I know better,” she replied.

The conductor sighed. “All aboard, I guess.” He hopped off his seat and trodded towards the front of the train. The other ponies piled into the first car, and within a couple of minutes, the Friendship Express was departing Ponyville.

The conductor pushed the train as hard as he could, but there were occasional slowdowns and bumps due to vegetation having grown over the tracks. Still, it was nothing that the train couldn't push through, and the tracks themselves were so far in fine condition otherwise. Every once in a while, a vine or tree branch would lunge towards the train or latch onto the back of the car. Fluttershy was able to easily repel or detach them all, though, and was usually able to stop them before they even made contact.

Applejack wiped her brow. “Boy, you sure you don't wanna ride back with us, Fluttershy? I get a feelin' this is gonna be a lot harder without ya.”

“Eeyup,” said Big Mac nervously.

Fluttershy shrunk down. “I'm sorry, I just...” she started.

“You'll be fine!” Twilight interjected. “Compared to the forest to the south, this seems like a walk in the park, doesn't it?”

“Yeah, and it should still be dark out, so that'll help for sure,” Applejack said with a shrug. “I know we'll make it back, I was just kiddin'”

The train suddenly started breaking, the screech of the wheels echoing loudly throughout the car. Once the train had come to a stop, the conductor slid the door open and poked his head in.

“You all had better come take a look at this. Looks like last stop,” he said, his eyes shaking a bit.

Twilight walked to the front exit door from the passenger car and slid it open. She poked her head out and glanced forward, lighting up her horn to get a better view. The lush green color of the forest stopped abruptly just ahead of the train's engine, becoming a dull gray. One by one, the ponies exited the train and trotted forward towards the point of change.

Even the train tracks themselves became gray. Celestia tapped a hoof against them, feeling the familiar texture of stone. Fluttershy reached up and touched a tree branch, which snapped from the tree and fell to the ground, breaking into several pieces.

“It's all been turned to stone,” Twilight said, looking around. She closed her eyes and tried to sense any magical auras, but didn't feel anything.

“There's no residual magic, Twilight. It's just eerie...” Celestia said.

The conductor, who had already boarded the train again, poked his head out nervously and spoke. “Well, looks like it's time for us to head back. Applejack? Big Mac? Right?” his voice shook.

Applejack sighed and walked over to Twilight. “Just hold yer horses a minute,” she groaned. She turned her eyes to Twilight's and smiled. “I said it to ya before when ya left for Canterlot, and I'll say it again, now. Come back alive, Twilight. We'll be waitin'.”

Twilight smiled back, but knew she wouldn't be able to return. “I will. I promise,” she lied. Applejack reached her front right foreleg out and pulled Twilight into a hug.

“Thank you for everything, Twilight,” Applejack whispered. “None of us have to carry our burdens alone.”

Twilight hugged Applejack back. After one more set of goodbyes, Applejack and Big Mac entered the train. The conductor made his way to the train's rear where a second engine had been attached, making it easy to return without needing a switching station. The train pulled away into the distance, towards Ponyville. Applejack waved out of the window as they slipped away.

“All right, everypony. We have no idea what to expect from here on out, so let's be careful,” Twilight said. “We don't know if the caves that the train normally passes through are safe, so we'll need to take the round-about way. It'll be morning by the time we arrive in Canterlot. Luckily for us, it looks like everything is petrified, so there's probably not much in the way of danger from any creatures or plants up ahead.” Twilight pointed a hoof towards a squirrel at the base of a stone tree. The squirrel was also turned to stone, sitting as if it hadn't seen its fate coming at all.

Fluttershy frowned. “The poor little thing. I'm so sorry, my friend... I'll make sure to fix you once I know how.”

“Yeah, let's just hope whatever turned them to stone doesn't do it to us, too!” Pinkie said. “But just in case, we should practice cool poses, that way we'll be neat statues. I'm gonna make a funny face!” She pulled the corners of her mouth downward and stuck her tongue out as far as she could.

“I hope they make it back okay,” Twilight sighed as the train finally faded from view.

“Don’t worry, Twilight. I didn’t want to say anything, but I know they will. I was able to make the train untouchable. I figured out how to do it on the way here,” Fluttershy chimed in with a smile.

“Ohhh… you weren’t actually repelling the attacks each time?” Twilight asked. Fluttershy shook her head.

“No, it’s more like I just imagined us being safe, and the world made sure we were. I wish I could have figured that out sooner, honestly.”

“Very impressive, Fluttershy. Lucidity sure is handy!” Twilight said with a grin. “So it’ll definitely be smooth sailing from here on out, then.”

Fluttershy shrunk down a bit, staring towards the gray expanse ahead of them. Twilight looked down at her and sighed. “I guess that was a little bit too optimistic, huh?”

“Sorry. This place is different. I can’t feel it like I can the rest of the world. I can’t control it. It’s… scary,” Fluttershy quietly squeaked.

“Oh, come on, Fluttershy! It won’t be that bad, everything’s stone!” Pinkie Pie optimistically announced before starting to bounce forward. The others shrugged and began to follow her along the petrified path.

The air was still and the night sky was completely clear. The moon and stars shone brightly down upon the gray landscape, making the ground almost seem to glow. Celestia and Twilight had taken the lead, having traveled these roads many times. The group was fast approaching the beginning of the mountain climb that would eventually take them up to Canterlot.

Celestia looked back at the others as they all approached a curve in the road that would shortly lead to the first set of steep inclines. “Alright, everypony, climbing this mountain on hoof is no simple task, but we have no choice,” she said, then turning her head forward again as she went around the right-hoof turn. “Prepare yourselves for quite… a hike…”

The princess’ words trailed off as her eyes went wide, staring at the object in front of her.

“It shouldn't be all that bad,” Twilight responded, glancing up at the princess’ expression, noticing her mouth now curving down. “What’s wrong?”

“Twilight, don’t look. Turn back. We’ll find another way,” the princess said solemnly, backing up. Twilight raised an eyebrow and turned the sharp bend anyway. She quickly fell back onto her haunches at the sight before her. Pinkie and Fluttershy quickly joined her, all staring ahead.

On the side of the road, near a cliff wall, stood a large chiseled stone. The stone was shaped as a sharp spire, pointing upward, and was encrusted with countless shining gemstones.

Carved clearly onto the face of the large stone was a name: TWILIGHT SPARKLE.

Twilight breathed in deeply, calming her nerves. “Is this… my grave?” she asked, her eyes darting around, staring at the gems, all arranged so perfectly and artistically. “Rarity… I’m so sorry.” She bowed her head.

“Poor Rarity…” Celestia said quietly. “Having to bury a friend is a task that nopony ever wants to have to do. Yet, in this world, it has been all too common an occurrence.”

Twilight shook her head. “It’s very surreal, I’ll say that. Much more… shaking, I suppose, than you would think. I know it’s just a dream, but seeing this, even after all we’ve been through is—“ she said, her eyes trailing downward and eventually landing upon a smaller square stone at the base of her grave. The simple stone was adorned with a circle of gems surrounding a single, purple scale. Twilight reached her hoof out and placed it on the small scale. She swallowed hard, further words unable to form in her mouth. The others stood around her in silence.

After a moment, she stood back up and took a deep breath. “Looks like neither of us made it,” she whispered, her body shaking slightly. She turned her head to Celestia. “Let’s get out of here. We have more important things to worry about than the fate of Twilight and Spike in this world.”

Celestia nodded in response and began to walk forward along the mountain road to Canterlot. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie brought up the rear, also not saying a word.

“If what Pinkie Twi told me is right, things will change once you guys leave,” Pinkie finally spoke up. “Maybe they’ll come back like everyone else, then.”

“It’s hard to say,” Celestia responded. “There’s a strange magic in this area that caused all of this petrification and stopped Fluttershy from restoring it. I can feel it now, as we get closer to Canterlot. It’s very faint, but it feels familiar. I’m worried about what we may find there, but we can’t avoid it. We have to push forward.”

Fluttershy sighed. “It's keeping me from using my power, too, whatever it is. I thought I had control of it, but it feels different now. It’s almost like it’s being held in by force,” she said.

“Well at least everything is frozen in stone, so there should be no danger. At least not until we get to the capitol,” Twilight said, turning her head towards the city, which they were approaching at a good pace.

After a couple hours of uneventful hiking, the party had arrived at the gates of Canterlot. Celestia put her hoof up, stopping the other ponies in their tracks. She pointed forward, drawing attention to a group of ponies that were standing near the open city gates, peering in through the translucent purple forcefield. Fluttershy looked at them and gasped. She ran towards them, skidding to a stop when she got there. The others galloped after her.

“Fluttershy, what’s wrong?” asked Twilight, looking at the group of pegasi statues.

“It’s Radiant Thunder and the team of pegasi who left Cloudsdale when Rainbow Dash and I were there. They were coming to check on Canterlot, to find out why it was under a shield,” Fluttershy said, gently placing a hoof on Radiant Thunder’s chin, now cold stone. “I guess they never found out.”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “This either means the area was turned to stone recently, or someone inside doesn’t want visitors... It’s only been a day since then,” she stated. “Whatever turned them to stone did so as we were setting out into the Everfree Forest. I suspect it’s been going on for quite some time, though. The dream versions of myself and Luna are likely statues inside, which would explain why the sun and moon ceased cycling.” She touched her hoof to one of the pegasi and closed her eyes, trying to feel the magical energy that cast this mass petrifying spell. It was no good, though-- The aura was still too long faded.

“Fluttershy, can you still see the trail of love magic in the air?” Twilight asked, wanting to find the exit as soon as possible. Fluttershy nodded, pointing into the city and towards the castle at the far end.

Celestia nodded in response. “Very well. It’s time to raise the sun, so I’ll take care of that, then we should take a moment to rest here before entering the city. Whatever or whoever did this is in there... they may even know we’re coming,” she said, glancing back at the group of pegasus statues. “These poor souls either got caught up in the event, or were noticed as they tried to enter.”

Celestia approached the forcefield and squinted, staring through the translucent purple shield. She brought her horn closer to its surface and energy arched between the tip of her horn and the barrier. She grinned, pulling her horn back and turning toward Twilight.

“Can we get through?” Twilight asked, taking this moment to sit down and pull one of the small clusters of grain and fruit that Fluttershy had prepared from her saddle bag. The trek had been long, and it seemed as good a time as any to get some nourishment. Pinkie Pie took the cue and pulled a cupcake, now a bit smashed, from her bag and shoved it into her mouth.

Celestia closed her eyes and raised her horn to the sky, pushing the moon down and pulling the sun up over the horizon. She then sat down and nodded her head, grinning a bit. “It’s a fake,” she said, and used her magic to levitate a ration from Twilight’s bag to her lips. “Just an illusion to make it seem like there’s a shield. I think whoever is inside the city may have cast this just to attract attention.” She took a bite from the crunchy snack.

Fluttershy tapped a hoof against one of the petrified pegasi. “Well, whoever it is got what they wanted. This group was supposed to investigate and report back to Cloudsdale,” she said with a shrug. “Do they just want to turn everypony to stone?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. This group was supposed to come take a look and report back, and I think that’s the problem. I think this shield, the petrification spell, maybe even the sun not moving, was all set up to attract very specific attention.”

“Specific attention? Like what?” Twilight asked, tilting her head.

“Us. Even more specifically, Fluttershy—the dreamer,” Celestia theorized. “I think everything has been done to attract you here, Fluttershy. As an extra piece of evidence, notice that we’re not statues. We’re the ones that are wanted to be here.”

Fluttershy swallowed nervously and took a seat next to Twilight. “Who… do you think it is? Is it the changeling queen?” she asked, shakily taking one of her homemade snacks in hoof.

Celestia shrugged. “I suppose if she wanted to reset your dream, maybe,” she said.

“That doesn’t make sense, though,” Twilight interjected. “She could have just transformed from another pony just like happened with Applejack.”

Celestia nodded and Fluttershy exhaled with relief.

“Wow, then it must be somepony else!” Pinkie said, sounding excited. “Somepony you’d never expect!”

Fluttershy frowned. “That just makes me more nervous…”

“Well, we’d better get it over with,” said Twilight as she stood up and flipped her saddle bag closed.

“We should be able to pass right through this illusion harmlessly,” Celestia said, and also rose to her hooves. “Let’s go.”

Pinkie bounced up and towards the forcefield, springing through first and landing on the other side. The others followed, stepping through the city gates. The four ponies passed through the threshold into Canterlot, making their way down the main street towards the palace.

The streets were mostly empty aside from a petrified guard posted at each corner. Their facial expressions were straight and serious, not suggesting any sort of attack or warning that they were going to be turned to stone. Any other ponies on the walkways or inside buildings seemed to have been carrying on, oblivious to the oncoming disaster.

“They never even saw it coming,” Celestia said, her voice echoing against the buildings, the still air offering no resistance. "The attack certainly came from within."

“Right,” Pinkie Pie responded, “but we are prepared, so everypony get your funniest face ready. We could end up statues at a second’s notice, so you definitely want to make sure your statue isn’t boring like these guys.”

Everyone sighed, but laughed.

“Pinkie, I don’t think we’d even have time for that,” Twilight chuckled.

“Really? In that case, I better just start now!” Pinkie said, genuinely nervous. She dropped the corners of her mouth down and flipped her tongue forward. Twilight shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“You laufth now, Twaulfth, buth you’ll be a borinth thathue!” Pinkie said, her tongue still hanging out of her mouth.

The ponies had arrived at the gates to the castle courtyard when Fluttershy pointed a hoof to the side, down the street that led to the Chamber of The Elements. “The magic trails off this way. It’s going right to the Chamber of the Elements,” she said. The others nodded and began to turn when Twilight noticed something out of the corner of her eye.

“Wait,” Twilight said calmly, and trotted through the courtyard’s gate, straight to a familiar statue standing in the road. She stopped in front of it and frowned, placing a hoof on its cheek. “Everypony accounted for, now, I guess...” she said downtroddenly. The others approached as well.

Rarity had a sad expression hanging on her stone face, her mouth open as if she was calling out for somepony. The weight of the stone she was now made of had caused her to tilt back slightly, her hardened tail now supporting her. It looked messy and frayed, as did her mane. Fluttershy shook her head, but swallowed her sadness.

“After all we’ve been through... after everything that everypony had to endure... I swear this will be the last time we have to see a friend like this,” said Fluttershy, closing her eyes tightly. “Don’t worry, Rarity, you’ll be free soon.”

Fluttershy walked away, back to the path, and turned towards the Chamber of the Elements. The others followed her quietly, determined not just to save everypony in Canterlot in the real world, but to finally set this world right.

As they departed, a piece of Rarity’s statue cracked and fell away, unnoticed. Underneath, a bright purple mane was revealed, a slight multi-colored glow surrounding the opening.

“I can somehow fix all this once we leave the dream, right, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked, staring forward as they approached the chamber.

“That’s the theory, anyway,” said Twilight. “I was able to make big changes to my dream world once I left it, according to Pinkie Twi, so it would make sense.”

“It also makes sense to me, Fluttershy,” Celestia added. “My sister has told me about different kinds of dreams before. Leaving the dream like we’re going to do would usually cause you to wake up, but the dreams are persisting since only part of your mind is leaving. Your subconscious mind, acting more as an observer, will hold the dream in whatever state you wish. It’s the connection between the conscious and subconscious that makes lucidity work. That’s what I was told, in any case.”

“But we're thinking that this stone spell was cast by an outsider to my dream, aren't we?” Fluttershy asked the princess.

Celestia shook her head. “I don’t know, unfortunately. It’s a gamble, but we don’t have much choice. If we haven’t found the force that caused this before we leave--”

“Then I’ll stay,” Fluttershy said sternly. “I’ll stay here, and you two will go on ahead and free our other friends’ minds. That’s what I’ve decided.”

“Fluttershy, we can’t go on without you!” Twilight protested. “We need all of us together to beat the changeling queen!”

Fluttershy stopped at the large, regal doors to the Chamber of the Elements and turned in place, facing Twilight. She wore a face of unshakable determination and looked her friend right in the eyes.

“When we leave this place, I’ll just be me again. Plain, unmagic, timid me,” she said, raising a hoof and pointing it towards Pinkie. “Once you’re gone, Pinkie and I will stay and finish this, whatever it is. We have the strength in this world to fix everything without having to rely on a shaky theory.”

Twilight stared back, surprised at Fluttershy’s decision. She stamped her hoof on the ground. “Then we’ll stay, too!”

“You can’t! You have to go free the others!” Fluttershy shouted.

“What about you, then?” Twilight asked, waving a foreleg in front of her.

“Come back for me once you’ve got everypony else. Can’t you see, Twilight? I can at least make right this terrible world I’ve created. I can at least make sure the ponies here are safe. They all may just be in my mind, and they may not be real, but they still have feelings and lives, loved ones and worries. I can’t abandon them.”

Celestia placed her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “You can’t argue with that, Twilight,” she said calmly. “Fluttershy, I respect the stand you’re taking, and the sacrifice. Making a choice like this is not a simple matter.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and turned back towards the doors. “Thank you, Princess,” she said timidly. “I’ll... miss you once you’re gone, but it has to be this way.”

Celestia nodded her head and approached the large, regal doors and pulled them open with her magic. As they swung on their hinges, and the hallway came into view. Standing further down the chamber was a petrified Princess Celestia.

The Princess led the party into the chamber, slowly approaching the statue of herself. This statue, unlike the guards they’d seen on the street, had a look of shock on her face, and was staring out the window at the gardens below.

“She seems to have seen what was coming,” Celestia said, turning her head towards Twilight. “I don’t like the direction she’s looking.” She peered out the window, glaring down towards Discord’s statue.

Twilight joined the princess, looking down at the statue. “Discord? But why?” she asked, looking up at the statue’s face.

Celestia turned back towards Fluttershy. “Whatever she knew, there had to be a reason to be looking that direction in the moment before turning to stone. She looks at a loss, maybe even scared,” she said. “Fluttershy, I feel somewhat apprehensive about leaving now, but we should at least get started.”

Fluttershy nodded forward. “The magic trail stops here. It’s pushing its way through the door,” she said, pointing at the magically locked room where the Elements themselves were kept.

“Right, then let’s get started. Hopefully we can get out of here before whatever did this has a chance to do it to us,” said Twilight. “Princess, if you please?”

Celestia nodded and placed her horn into the hole at the door’s center. Charging the lock with magic, the door began to glow, and slid open. The small room beyond contained a pedestal with a chest sitting atop it.

“This has to be it,” Twilight exclaimed. “The chest is the wrong color. I don’t remember it being green.” She pulled the Colorscope monocle from her saddlebag and placed it over her eye. She slid the metal ring onto her horn and blinked. The chest that contained the Elements looked very different through the lens. Along the seam where it would normally open was a twisted rip in space, appearing to be loosely sewn together.

Twilight walked forward into the room, and Celestia followed her. “This is it, Twilight. Remember to control your power output. We want to be gentle,” she said calmly.

A second later, an echoing gallop was heard from the front of the chamber. Everyone turned suddenly, staring toward the door. A unicorn barged past the doorway and then skidded to a halt.

“Rarity!” Twilight whispered.

“She can’t see us! She thinks you’re dead, and I’m a statue right there!” Celestia whispered back. The two of them ducked behind the pedestal, which was barely large enough to obscure them. Fluttershy nervously stepped in front of the open doorway, grinning sheepishly towards Rarity, who was still halfway down the hall from them. Pinkie stepped towards the unicorn and waved.

“Is it really you?” Rarity asked, disbelief in her voice. She walked towards Pinkie Pie slowly. As she came closer, Pinkie was able to see streaks of dirt and cuts on her face. Her hooves were chipped, and she was shaking.

“I knew it was you,” said Rarity. “I heard voices… at first it sounded like Twilight, and I thought I was going crazy, but then I heard Fluttershy, and then you, too, Pinkie.” She reached a hoof out towards Pinkie as she slowly approached her, touching her cheek gently.

“Rarity, thank goodness... what happened to you?” Pinkie asked, the silly look now gone and replaced with one of concern. “You were... I mean... You look like you’ve been through the wringer.”

“What happened to me? No no, what happened to you, Pinkie? You’re… an alicorn,” Rarity said, staring at Pinkie’s horn.

Pinkie chuckled nervously. “Long story, trust me,” she said. “Seriously, though, what happened here? Why is everypony turned to stone?”

“I don’t know. When I got here, all the guards and citizens inside had turned to stone. The forcefield allowed me to enter, and I went to the castle to find the princess, but...” Rarity recounted, her eyes trailing to the side, finally noticing the statue of Princess Celestia. “Oh my stars… the princess!” She galloped past Pinkie, stopping at the petrified princess. Pinkie joined Rarity at the statue’s side, and Fluttershy approached as well.

Rarity stood silently for a moment before speaking. “I suppose this explains why the sun hasn’t gone down. To be honest, that seems like such a small thing, now. Sorry, I’m just very shaken up about everything… about Twilight and Spike… Oh goodness, you don’t know. Pinkie Pie… Fluttershy… It’s terrible. Twilight and Spike… they’re gone.” Tears began to stream down her cheeks and she fell to the ground. Pinkie Pie sat down beside her, and Fluttershy approached, sitting in front of her.

“We saw the grave. It was shocking, to say the least, but after everything we’ve all been through…” Pinkie said, placing a hoof on Rarity’s shoulder. Rarity nodded and sniffled, looking up at the statue of Celestia.

“And now this… when will we ever get back to normal?” Rarity asked, her voice shaking as she cried.

Twilight and Celestia huddled uncomfortably in the back of the closet-sized room they were in. “I feel sorry for her, but they need to get her out of here,” Twilight whispered.

Celestia nodded and whispered back, “My tail... you’re stepping on my tail...” She wriggled her butt, trying to pull her tail out from under Twilight, her usually flowing hair now being held down with a spell. Twilight twisted herself around as best she could while staying as quiet and hidden as possible, but ended up wedging herself against the back wall and the stone pedestal.

“Is Ponyville holding up?” Rarity asked, trying to regain her composure.

Fluttershy nodded and wiped away a tear from Rarity’s eye. “It’s over, Rarity. Ponyville is okay, now. We stopped the forest and saved the town.”

Rarity managed to smile, though shallowly. “Well, at least that’s one high note to the last month.”

Back in the Elements room, Twilight’s legs were beginning to ache from her current position. She shifted to the side, trying to turn her body, but roughly bumped into the pedestal, causing the whole thing to rock slightly. A cloud of dust flew right onto her face, and her eyes began to water.

Celestia noticed and pressed a hoof against Twilight’s nose. She clenched her teeth and nervously shook her head. It was too late, though. Twilight sneezed, the sound echoing across the chamber.

“What was that?” asked Rarity, her gaze quickly shooting towards the open doors. “The door to the Elements is open. How did that happen?”

Fluttershy stood up and backed away nervously. She let out a small, fake sounding sneeze in an attempt to cover for Twilight. “I don’t know, they were open when we got here. Maybe the princess opened them before she turned to stone?”

Rarity stood up and stared at the open door, her horn now glowing. “Why doesn’t she have them with her, then?” she asked, eyeing Fluttershy suspiciously. “She’s not even near the door, and would never have left it open like that!”

Pinkie Pie jumped up and stood in front of Rarity. “It was me! I did it with my horn, now that I’m an alicorn and all,” she said, grinning widely. “It’s an, um, alicorn lock!”

Rarity frowned, her horn glowing more brightly. “That’s suspicious, too, honestly! How did that happen, exactly, hmm? Were they giving out horns and wings in the ruins of Ponyville?” Rarity asked, pressing forward.

Fluttershy leapt in front of Rarity and pressed a hoof firmly against her chest. “Don’t go in there, Rarity. You have to trust me. You’re not yourself, right now.”

Rarity slapped Fluttershy’s foreleg away. “You’re not Fluttershy, are you? Get your hoof off me! I demand to know what’s going on, here! Why is the princess turned to stone? What is this feeling, deep in my mind? Who’s in that room?” she shouted, now barging forward and into the room. Her eyes locked with Twilight’s.

“Twilight…” she said quietly, her eyes going wide. “No, it can’t be, you’re dead… I buried you… and little Spikey-wikey…” Tears ran down her face once again, and she slowly backed away.

“Rarity…” Twilight managed to say, not knowing what else to add to it.

Rarity kept backing away. “And the princess… Two of them… What is going on here?” She placed a hoof to her head and closed her eyes tightly.

“She’s changing!“ Celestia shouted, exiting the small chamber.

“Rarity, get ahold of yourself,” Twilight said, reaching out towards her frightened friend.

“It’s too late for that, Twilight,” Celestia stated, and began charging her horn.

“Please, Rarity, you have to calm down,” Twilight said, almost begging for Rarity to not change.

Rarity’s eyes shot open, releasing a bright green glow. The color of her coat began to darken. She fell backward and pressed both her front hooves to her forehead, clenching her eyes shut.

Celestia frowned. “Twilight, we need that rift open, now!” she yelled, then turning back towards Rarity, her horn now glowing brightly.

“Twilight! Fluttershy! Pinkie!” Rarity yelled, opening her eyes and looking towards the ceiling. They had lost the green glow, and were shedding tears. She held her hooves up and stared at them as they turned black, began to extend and form holes. “What’s… happening to me? Help me!”

“Rarity! No!” Fluttershy shouted, rushing to her. She took Rarity’s head in her hooves and looked at her face. Rarity’s eyes shot back open, this time glowing green again. She grinned and pushed Fluttershy away.

“Sorry, no one by that name here anymore,” she said. Her body exploded outward, quickly transforming into the dark form of the changeling queen. Fluttershy stared up at her, any sign that she’d once been Rarity now gone.

“Little Fluttershy, kind and sweet. I’ve looked forward to meeting you. Your dream’s been an absolute disaster, and it’s about to get worse,” she said with evil laughter.

Celestia fired a beam of magic straight at Chrysalis, striking her in the chest and launching her backwards down the hallway.

“It’s about to get worse for you, changeling. You never should have showed your face here,” Celestia said, readying her horn for another attack. “Remember what happened the last time?”

“Last time?” Chrysalis questioned. She regained her footing and chuckled. “You’re losing your mind, Princess.” She fired a blast of green energy towards Celestia. The princess clenched her teeth and braced herself, taking the blast head-on.

I can’t let Twilight get involved in this fight. I need to change the angle of attack, Celestia thought as she leapt through the air away from the Elements room.

“In any case, your resistance ends here. You’ll all be sent back to your dreams once I finish you off,” Chrysalis said.

“Why not just deal with us outside the dream? Why bother coming in here and fighting with us?” Celestia asked, then fired another shot at the changeling, who dodged to the side. The blast shattered a stained glass window and stirred up a cloud of dust.

The queen scoffed. “Where’s the fun in that? This is much more entertaining!” She scraped a hoof against the ground and charged towards Celestia. However, before she could come close to her, her body became encased in a yellow aura. She stopped dead in her tracks and was lifted into the air. Celestia and Chrysalis both turned their heads suddenly towards Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy’s eyes were glowing and her teeth were bared and clenched. Pinkie’s horn was glowing bright pink, ready to attack as well.

“Get out!” Fluttershy shouted, stepping towards the changeling. “Give me back my friend!” her voice resonated with a deep sound that shook the rest of the windows in the room and rattled the chandeliers.

Chrysalis laughed hysterically. “Your lucidity will do you no good! This is a foregone conclusion!” Her horn flashed green and the aura around her vanished. She dropped gently to the ground and stood staring down at Fluttershy.

Fluttershy stared back, holding as still as she could to keep from shaking. I have to stop her! I have to save Rarity! What do I do? She thought.

A voice in her head answered. What do you do? You stare her down! You don’t let her win!

“Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy said out loud. Celestia and Pinkie Pie stared at Fluttershy as she began to glow not only yellow, but many different colors. “You’re here… you came to save me, again.”

Not this time, Fluttershy. You have to do it. You have to beat her and save Rarity! Always remember, Fluttershy. You aren’t alone, but you can stand on your own! Rainbow Dash’s voice shouted in Fluttershy’s mind. Now give her the stare!

Fluttershy smiled and nodded. Her eyes shot open wide and waves of energy emanated from them. She stared right into Chrysalis’ eyes, lifting her back off the ground once again. The changeling stared back, unable to avert her gaze.

“What… are you doing? Stop!” Chrysalis shouted.

“No!” Fluttershy responded loudly. “You let Rarity go and disappear!” She stared at the changeling, whose face had now changed, an expression of terror plastered across it.

“Fluttershy!” the changeling screamed. “Fluttershy! Help me!” her body began to slowly shrink and change color, the holes throughout it began to close, and her eyes stopped glowing green.

“Rarity!” Fluttershy shouted. Rarity’s body completely returned to normal.

“Oh, this is far too boring and predictable!” a voice echoed across the chamber. A flash of light appeared between Rarity and Fluttershy. The aura around the changeling vanished and Fluttershy blinked from the flash.

Rarity, now turned to stone, fell to the ground with a loud clunk.

Everyone gasped and looked around the room. Celestia’s eyes bulged with rage. The voice was all too familiar.

“Was it you?” Celestia screamed. “Were you the one interfering with this dream? Show yourself, Discord!”

With a swirl of light and wind, Discord appeared before the ponies. Even Twilight, who had been concentrating on opening the rift as best she could, turned her head and stared.

“At your service, your royal dullness,” Discord said with a yawn.

“Answer me!” Celestia commanded impatiently and stepped towards the draconequis, her horn glowing once more.

“Oh for the love of you, will you just calm down?” Discord said impatiently, reaching out and tapping Celsetia on the nose. “You can’t honestly be that shocked to see me. Did you think you were the only ones sleeping in Canterlot?”

“The changelings’ spell should only be affecting the cocoons. How did you get in here?” Celestia asked, still threatening with a powered-up horn.

Discord fell into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

“What’s so funny, now?” Celestia asked, her tone becoming more and more impatient by the second. “Was it you who turned everything to stone?”

“Sorry, sorry, oh boy…” Discord finally managed. “Sorry, I just wanted to see how it felt, you know, to turn things to stone. I’d never do it for real, though, unlike somepony here!”

“That’s quite enough!” Celestia said, completely flustered. “I need some answers from you. You’d better cooperate, or—“

Discord cut Celestia off. “Or what? You'll turn my statue into a statue?” he asked, rolling his eyes. “Oh wait, I know! Maybe you could turn me into a decorative fountain! Oh, oh, can I be one of those fountains where the water shoots out so it looks like I’m pee—“

“Stop! Just stop!” Celestia yelled, cutting him off this time. “You’ve made your point. Fine. I still want to know what you’re doing here.”

“Oh, I just popped in to say hi!” Discord replied, fluttering his eyes innocently.

Celestia groaned.

“Oh come on, you don’t believe me?” Discord asked, shocked Celestia would even question his motives. She shot him a nastier than usual look. “Fine… I’m helping you, okay?” He fidgeted slightly and averted his eyes.

Celestia laughed loudly and rolled her eyes. “Now I’m the one who’s laughing! Why in Equestria would you help us?”

Discord floated over to Celestia and cupped her chin in his paw, staring into her eyes, his devoid of any joking. “I’m no fool, Celestia. I know who my… keeper is,” he said, the last words spoken with disgust. “If you fall from power, if the Elements of Harmony fail, I’ll never be free again.”

Celestia stared back silently.

“Don’t believe me?” Discord asked, releasing her chin.

“I don’t trust you,” Celestia replied flatly.

“Do you think it would have been so easy for you to get here if the whole area surrounding Canterlot wasn't petrified? I would have gone further, but something stopped me.”

“You’re sick.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Hey, so, I think I’ll go ahead and get back to opening that rift, now,” said Twilight, trying to break the tension. Celestia and Discord looked toward the other ponies, who were all staring at them, visibly sweating.

Celestia turned away from Discord and walked with Twilight to the rift. She patted Twilight on the shoulder and leaned down to her ear. “Open the rift, but do it slowly. I need more time to get some information out of Discord. If my theory is correct, he’s trapped here without us helping him.”

Twilight nodded her head in response, and as she nodded, Celestia noticed a third ear coming out from underneath Twilight’s ear. She sighed and turned her head back to Discord, who was missing an ear and grinning. His mouth vanished from his face and materialized next to Celestia.

“I think you might be right, maybe you could use that to your advantage!” Discord whispered with a chuckle. Celestia stomped back over to Discord angrily.

“Fine, trickster, if you want to help, I have some more questions,” Celestia muttered. “How long have you been stuck here in this dream, and honestly, why were you petrifying everything?”

Discord shrugged. “At first, the you from this world found me and was none too pleased. She ran in here to check on the statue, and had the most frightful glowing green eyes. So I thought to myself, what would be the most ironic way to handle that? Oh yes, turn her to stone!”

“And that must be when the sun stopped moving!” Pinkie Pie shouted, glaring at Discord. “So it was your fault the whole time!” She took a couple heavy steps towards him, growling under her breath.

“Please, Pinkie Pie, let’s not get violent! I had no choice!” Discord said, putting his hands up in front of him. “Besides, you prefer to laugh, right? I mean, don’t you see the irony here? Me turning her to stone?”

Pinkie Pie frowned. “I’m not laughing. You made me go even crazier than normal!”

Discord sighed. “Fine, tough audience, I get it.”

Celestia spoke up again. “So, I suppose after that, you had to turn everypony in canterlot to stone to keep from being discovered. I know my sister would have noticed my absence.”

Discord grinned. “You’re partially right. I did petrify the city at that point, but your dear sister hasn’t been here since the beginning.”

Celestia blinked. “That’s odd...”

Discord snorted. “Sure is. In any case, I petrified anyone who came to Canterlot as soon as I knew they weren’t the dreamer. I really thought Rarity might have been the one, but of course, she wasn’t.”

“Then why unpetrify her when we got here?” Celestia inquired.

“Oh, that wasn’t me!” Discord said with a grin. He leaned towards Fluttershy and picked her up, raising her over his head. “That was this one! She could unpetrify this whole city, I’m sure. Not that I’d recommend it...”

Fluttershy, who had been staying quiet this whole time, finally glared at Discord and yelled. “You barge into my dream, petrify everypony, and make things worse than they already were, and then expect us to clean up your mess! Unpetrify everypony and then get out of here!”

Everyone stared at Fluttershy for a moment, eyes wide. Discord flinched and placed Fluttershy back on the ground.

A bright flash drew everyone’s attention towards Twilight, a rip in reality glowing brightly in front of her. She took a deep breath and turned towards the others. Discord teleported to Twilight in a flash, patting her on the back.

“Nicely done, Twilight!” he exclaimed. “Now, as it seems I’m not welcome here, I’ll take my leave, but first, I’ll go ahead and remove my stone sleep spell from everything.” He grinned and snapped his fingers. The sound of the chamber doors at the end of the hall locking echoed throughout the hallway, and a bright flash came in through the windows.

Celestia stepped towards Discord quickly. She glared at him and spoke gruffly. “You’d do well to not interfere in any more dream worlds, Discord. You caused enough trouble in this one.”

“Oh don’t worry about that, dear Celestia. I’ve left Rarity and the princess here as statues since we don’t need them seeing us. I’ll leave them to Fluttershy, here,” Discord said, then with another snap of his fingers he vanished and a beam of light shot through the air and into the portal.

I’ll be keeping an eye on you, Discord’s voice echoed through Celestia’s mind. She shook her head and sighed as everypony gathered around the portal.

“This is it, then...” Pinkie Pie said, her voice a bit sad. “I’m gonna miss you guys.”

“Don’t worry, Pinkie Pie, you’ll still have the ponies here in this dream. Once we leave, everything should get back to normal,” Twilight said, pulling Pinkie into a hug.

Fluttershy threw her hooves around Twilight and Pinkie. “We can always stay in touch with that communication gem, Pinkie. I’ll be sure to check in to make sure things are going well.” Pinkie nodded and sniffled, squeezing her friends back tightly.

After a moment, the three friends pulled apart, and Twilight and Fluttershy joined Celestia by the portal. Celestia turned and approached it. “Farewell, Pinkie. Hold down the fort here, we’re counting on you,” she said, and then passed through.

Twilight followed, simply waving her hoof as she vanished through the rift.

Fluttershy smiled and waved to Pinkie, then turned, approaching the rift.

Take care, Fluttershy, a familiar voice spoke softly in her mind.

Fluttershy nodded her head. We’ll always be together, Dashie, she responded, and then exited her dream world.

Outside of the cocoon now, the three ponies found themselves floating in the green flow of magic, hovering above the Canterlot throne room. Celestia and Twilight floated forward, back towards the magical flow. Fluttershy used her wings to propel herself easily enough. Twilight glanced back at Fluttershy and put a hoof over her mouth, then nodded her head down towards the throne.

Fluttershy looked down, and saw Chrysalis sitting on the throne with the massive flow of magic pouring into her. She slapped a hoof over her own mouth just to keep herself quiet. She took a deep breath and continued to follow the others.

Celestia looked down at Chrysalis and frowned. Don’t get too used to that throne, you monster, she thought.

The changeling queen’s eyes, which had been glowing a single shade of green, flashed white and her head turned, staring right back at Celestia. The three ponies froze, keeping as still as possible. Twilight felt her heart racing, and turned to look at Fluttershy, who was staring at Chrysalis and practically hyperventilating.

After a moment, a wave of magic washed over the changeling, and her eyes glazed over with green magical energy. Everyone exhaled and began to move forward again.

That was scary! She really gives you the creeps, don’t you think? Discord’s voice spoke in Celestia’s mind. She looked around at the others, who apparently hadn’t heard him.

I don’t have time to play with you, pest, Celestia thought.

Oh, Celestia, I’m hurt. Really, I am. I was even going to help you get to Rainbow Dash’s dream this time! I know you must be shooting for it, seeing as she’s the one providing that changeling with such a grand feast.

Don’t you dare interfere!

Fine, be that way! See if I try and help you again!

The three ponies arrived at the central collection pool, and Twilight and Celestia held onto Fluttershy’s forelegs to keep her from being pulled down by the magical flow.

A giant flash of love magic washed over the group. Twilight and Celestia, who had been prepared for it, held back their wave of emotions as best they could. Fluttershy fell into a fit of giggling, though. The other two put their hooves over her mouth.

Tears began to fall from Fluttershy’s eyes. “That was Rainbow Dash. It was so intense... we have to save her. We can’t let her be drained like this,” she said, staring upward at the dark sea of cocoons above them. The other two nodded.

“Concentrate, Fluttershy. You’re closer to Rainbow Dash then the princess and I. Try to concentrate on her and find us the path to her dream. Once we enter a dream’s path, we can’t turn back,” Twilight said, placing a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “You can do it. I believe in you.”

Fluttershy nodded and closed her eyes, concentrating on the energy she just felt. She thought about Rainbow Dash, her mind filling itself with images of her friend’s face. She smiled, and her eyes shot open, pointing up and to the left.

“I feel her! This way!” Fluttershy shouted and flapped her wings, launching upward. Celestia and Twilight pushed forward, following her. With a sudden jerk, the three of them began to accelerate, racing upward towards the cocoons.

However, their ascent didn’t last long. As if some force was pulling them apart, the three of them separated and began to fly off in different directions. Celestia turned as best she could, trying to resist the flow and reach her hooves back towards the others, but she was moving too fast.

“Discord!” Celestia screamed, her voice hot with fury.

Wasn’t me! Discord’s voice shouted back in Celestia’s mind.

Cleestia growled and continued to fly through the air, circling around. From what she could tell, the others were circling around as well, and were now heading straight towards the same point she was, on a collision course.

The three of them slammed together, knocking the air out of them all.

Before any of them had a chance to regain their bearings, they were flying right at a cocoon, and shot right into it with a bright flash.

Twilight opened her eyes, a sharp pain shooting through her head. She shook her head and looked around, and soon realized that she was hanging from a branch of a tree. She pushed herself out of the tree, seeing the ground wasn’t far below, and landed with a thud. She glanced up, seeing Celestia and Fluttershy in the tree above her. Celestia was looking around and assessing the situation.

“We’re in Ponyville,” Twilight said, glancing around at the buildings in the area. “Somewhere near the central square.”

Celestia nodded, and began to shrink down, casting her disguise spell before falling out from the branches. Fluttershy used her wings to hover downward and join Twilight as well, placing a hoof on her head.

“Okay, we need to be careful, but move quickly,” Celestia said, looking around nervously. “Remember, we could possibly run into Twilight or Fluttershy from this dream world, which would be bad. Unfortunately, I can’t sustain an illusion spell on all three of us.”

Twilight nodded. “Well, let’s move out and see what sort of information we can find.”

Fluttershy tapped Twilight on the shoulder, pointing to the far end of the plaza. Hanging on a wall at the far end was a poster. As the three of them approached it, they could see it was advertising a Wonderbolts show that was going to be happening soon.

Rainbow Dash, in full Wonderbolt gear, was front and center on the poster, striking a flashy pose.

“Okay, well, looks like we’ll be able to find Rainbow Dash pretty easily,” Twilight said, reading the text at the bottom of the poster.

“Yeah! I can’t wait to go see it!” a voice came from the left of the group. They all turned their heads and saw Scootaloo standing there, grinning up at the poster.

Twilight smiled back at Scootaloo. “Are you going to see the show? It says it’s going to be in Cloudsdale,” she said.

Scootaloo nodded. “Of course! Everypony wants to go see Rainbow Dash and the Wonderbolts! They’re saying this is going to be the most amazing aerial display in Equestrian history!” she said, hopping up and down with excitement.

Twilight smiled down at the filly. “You must be excited to be going on a trip to cloudsdale, huh?” she said.

Scootaloo tilted her head, a confused look on her face. “Why would going to Cloudsdale be all that exciting?” she asked, pointing a hoof up towards the sky behind Twilight.

Twilight turned and looked up, along with Celestia and Fluttershy. Their expressions changed with their surprise.

Cloudsdale sat in the sky above the north end of Ponyville.



Intermezzo 1

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The Conquering of Love

Chapter Nineteen - Intermezzo 1

“She’s passed out.”

“Well, wake her up. The queen will notice soon.”

Distant voices... who are they? where am I?

Cadence slowly lifted her heavy eyelids, glancing up and to the right. A doorway at the end of the hall was cracked, and a dark face with glints of gold lining it stared back at her. A faint purple glow cast a strand of light into the hallway towards her. She tried to push herself forward onto her hooves and felt resistance. She blinked and remembered where she was.

Training her eyes upward, she saw her horn. It was encased in a dark crystalline substance that glowed with dark power and coursed with streaks of deep blue magic all around it. Her forelegs were shackled and pulled back against a wall, restraining most movement except for swaying. Even if she wanted to break free, she didn’t have the strength to make the attempt.

She glanced back down the hallway towards the creature which she now recognized as a changeling and remembered others like it chaining her to this wall and forming the crystal onto her horn. They were different from the changelings that had initially attacked and captured her. Those changelings had been no match for her until the queen stepped in. These were more powerful, though-- closer to the kind of strength their queen possessed. Their faces were lined with veins of gold, and their horns all had brightly colored gems set into their base. Indeed, they were as powerful as any adept unicorn, and not to be taken lightly.

She could sense the changeling’s aura as it came closer to her, staring coldly into her eyes, its face empty of any emotion. She stared back, delving as deeply as she could into its icy blue eyes, trying to size it up as best she could. It wore a caped mantle with circular patches of deep blue atop black cloth, with lines of white interspersed throughout. The hood of the mantle rested in a bunch on its shoulders, which were broad and angular. This changeling not only had magic, but physical strength as well. It carried itself fluidly, each hoofstep placed carefully and quietly as it made its way into the chamber and towards Cadence.

“So you woke up. Good thing, too,” the changeling calmly said as it stopped in front of Cadence. It placed a hoof against her chin, tilting her head to the side. “I know you must be really angry right now. I would be, too. But then again, I wouldn’t be in your position. You were cursed the moment you developed your rather, well, useful style of magic.”

Cadence pulled her face away and glared down at the changeling, who managed to smirk back up at her in response. The sound of a door opening at the other end of the chamber drew both their attentions, and they turned their heads to look.

The door at the front of the chamber swung open slowly, and Chrysalis stepped in, moving a bit slowly and swaying as she stepped. She wore a look of slight inebriation, her eyes half-closed and a smile on her face. She steadied herself with a flap of her wings and strided less-than-gracefully to Cadence and the changeling, the latter of whom was now standing at attention.

“My queen, apologies, but she passed out from the stress,” the changeling stated seriously.

Chrysalis chuckled and patted the changeling on the head. “Oh, Mulci, you’re so serious. Of course she did,” the queen said, her voice full of near-euphoric bliss. She swung her face towards Cadence’s, practically pressing their noses together. “We’ve been working her like a mule!” Her vocal tone dropped at the end, and she stared into Cadence’s eyes, managing to open her own fully.

“You’ll pay,” Cadence growled into the changeling queen’s face.

“Won’t we all,” Chrysalis mused, swinging her head back to the other changeling. “Speaking of which, you need to go back and attend to the other beast of burden down here.” She tapped him on the snout and then pointed back towards the open door at the opposite end, which had swung open more widely, revealing more of the dark purple glow, which was pulsing from a barely visible cocoon in the back of the room. Several other changelings stood beneath it, their horns glowing with magic, projecting a green aura around the cocoon. One of the changelings had her head turned, looking back at the queen and the others.

“I’ll handle this. She looks like she’s got more in her, for sure-- not that it matters,” Chrysalis said with a smirk, glancing back at Cadence. “You just go and make sure that one doesn’t try anything. We already had a problem upstairs from a certain unicorn, so we don’t need any more little surprises, understood?”

The changeling gulped and nodded his head, turning back towards the far chamber door and galloping through it. The door slammed behind him, and Chrysalis turned her attention back to Cadence again.

“Oh, good, we’re alone again,” Chrysalis chuckled. She pushed her face in closer to Cadence’s and rubbed her snout against Cadence’s cheek. “Do you have any idea how absolutely intoxicating your love magic is?”

“Get away from me!” Cadence shouted, pulling her head back as best as she could.

Chrysalis smiled and pushed her face ever closer, bringing her lips up to Cadence’s left ear.

“That’s not what Shining Armor said last night,” she whispered breathily. “He wanted me so... very... close.”

Cadence’s eyes shot wide open and she pulled against the chains that held her up as hard as she could manage. The chains pulled tightly, making a loud clanging sound. “Where is he!?” she screamed. “You stay away from him!”

Chrysalis pulled away from Cadence and laughed, hovering in the air in front of her. “That’s it! That’s the passion we need! Pour it all out!” she shouted, and the crystal on Cadence’s horn began to sizzle with magic, blue bolts of energy shooting up and down it. Cadence’s horn began to glow brightly beneath the crystal casing, and a burst of love magic poured out into the air all around, filling the room with a pink aura. Cadence screamed and her entire body tensed up, shaking as the magic was forcefully drawn out of her.

A rift across the room began to pull the magic from the air as quickly as it had filled it, funneling it towards the barely visible field of cocoons on the other side.

Chrysalis took a deep breath and landed, the pink aura filling her nostrils. her eyes rolled back and her eyelids shut as she became weak in the knees and stumbled forward before regaining her hoofing.

Cadence fell forward, breathing heavily, sweat dripping from her brow. A moment later, she felt the changeling queen’s face pressing against hers once again, and felt her hot breath against her ear. Chrysalis whispered into Cadence’s ear once more.

“Help me...” Chrysalis whispered. “You have to stop her.”

Cadence opened her eyes and blinked once before glancing towards Chrysalis. Her face was pressed close, and her eyes were closed. “What?” Cadence asked. “I don’t understand... stop who?”

“She’s waking up again. I can’t stop her alone. Find a way. I don’t know any other way, so...” Chrysalis breathed into Cadence’s ear.

“So?” Cadence asked, then swallowed, still catching her breath.

Chrysalis’ eyes shot open and she pulled her face back. Her eyes were glazed over with a magical aura and tears were streaming down her cheeks.

“Kill me,” she said, and then fell to the ground.

Cadence stared at the changeling, contemplating what had just happened. A moment later, Chrysalis opened her eyes and stood back up. She shook her head briefly and then smiled widely up at Cadence, her fangs dripping with saliva.

“Yes, just like that,” she said. “Don’t think you’ll be able to take a break anytime soon. You’re just a magic battery, princess.” She flitted her wings and made her way back to the front of the chamber. As she passed through the door, she glanced back at Cadence one more time.

“I have to get back to the throne room,” she said. “Remember what I said, though. Let it burn inside you. Do well, and who knows? Maybe I’ll let you see him again.” She slammed the door and her laughter faded as she walked away.

Cadence stared at the floor, images of Shining Armor clouding her vision, and the queen’s words echoing in her mind.

“Kill me...” she whispered and shook her head in confusion just before she felt another involuntary surge of magic beginning to build inside of her. She clenched her teeth and prepared herself, knowing she would have to bear the pain for now.

Across the chamber and down the short hall, the changeling who had been called Mulci reentered the room and pushed his way into the circle of changelings surrounding a cocoon hanging from the ceiling. He looked up at the pony held within, narrowing his eyes as the gem at the base of his horn began to glow with energy.

“Resist all you want, you’re our tool now,” he muttered, then closed his eyes and joined in with the others around him, pushing against the magic that was leaking from the cocoon and converting it into a green magical aura that filled the air.

“The queen mentioned having a problem with a certain unicorn in the throne room,” Mulci said, tilting his head towards the changeling that stood next to him. “Do you suppose that’s connected to Vitra falling unconcious? She said she sensed a surge of magic and went into the stream, but came back only briefly before falling asleep.”

“I guess. Who cares?” the other changeling responded. “You worry too much, brother, much like Vitra. She’ll have a report when she wakes up in about an hour or so. She’s just affected by the time transition.”

“Mulcibar, Linnai, Concentrate,” a changeling with a long gray beard hanging from its chin grumbled from across the circle. The other two nodded and focused their magic again.

Mulcibar looked back up at the pony inside the cocoon once more. “What sort of rage must you feel inside your prison?” he said with a grin. “How much must it burn to be captive again, Princess?”

Almost as if in response, a surge of purple and dark red magic pulsed outward, straight at Mulci, but was quickly suppressed and converted into the green ambient energy.

Princess Luna hung silently, her eyes closed tightly within her pulsing green cell.

Horizons Ch 1 - Cracks

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter One: Cracks

Twilight, Fluttershy, Scootaloo, and a disguised Celestia stood in a line, looking up at the floating city that spread through the northern skies. It dominated the view, completely blocking their line of sight to Canterlot.

Scootaloo leapt into the air and flapped her tiny wings, hovering for a moment before landing again. “I can’t wait for tomorrow! Rainbow Dash told me that it was going to be a special performance with a special announcement at the start!” the filly shouted excitedly. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s gonna be awesome!”

The three others nodded their heads. “Awesome is right,” Twilight said quietly, still staring up at Cloudsdale. “I wonder why they moved Cloudsdale to here?”

Scootaloo tilted her head and gave Twilight a confused look. “Did you bump your head in that tree? You’re one of the ones who helped move it here, after all,” she said with a blink of her eyes.

Twilight cleared her throat and tapped the side of her head with a hoof. “Oh, of course!” she said nervously. “Sorry, I guess I had a bit of a ditzy moment there. Right, how could I forget that?”

“Well,” Celestia said, turning around, “I should look around this town and, you know, see the sights and gather some local information. I think that’s the best plan for right now.” She nodded her head sideways towards Twilight and Fluttershy, gesturing for them to follow.

“Oh yes, we should show you around!” Fluttershy joined in, also turning to join Celestia who was walking out towards the main areas of the village.

“You’re new around here, huh?” Scootaloo asked, sliding in front of Celestia, still wearing a big excited smile. “I could help! I know all the best places in town to have fun!”

Twilight laughed and patted the filly on the head. “Oh, that’s okay, Scootaloo. We should be fine. My cous--”

“Friend!” Celestia interrupted abruptly.

“I mean, my friend and I, here, will be fine on our own,” Twilight finished with a bit of confusion.

“Yes,” Celestia added with a nervous laugh. “More of an acquaintance, really. Twilight Sparkle was going to show me Sugarcube Corner, weren’t you?”

Scootaloo hung her head despondently. “Fine, grown-up time, I get it,” she said with a groan. “It’s just so boring around here with Rainbow Dash gone.”

All three of the travelers’ eyes lit up at the mention of Rainbow Dash, even her absence.

“Rainbow Dash is gone?” Fluttershy asked, approaching Scootaloo. “Where is she?”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes and sighed. “I think all three of you must have bashed your heads into the ground too hard when you fell out of the tree,” she said. “What were you even doing up there, anyway? And what was that flash a minute ago?”

Of course, Twilight thought, The us from this world must already know where Rainbow Dash is... and why Cloudsdale is in the sky... oh, and Twilight from this world wouldn’t recognize a cousin, or a friend for that matter!

“Silly us, I guess we really are out of it!” Twilight said, shaking her head back and forth. “Just... remind us?”

Scootaloo shrugged and pointed up at Cloudsdale. “She’s up there, of course, with the Wonderbolts! They’re getting ready for their show tomorrow! Do you remember the poster you were just gawking at, or do I need to show that you that again, too?” The orange pegasus pointed towards the wall where the poster they had been looking at was hanging.

Twilight raised her head and looked towards Cloudsdale again. “Maybe you should go up there and see how she’s doing, Fluttershy,” she said. “We’ll head to Sugarcube Corner and meet you there afterwards.”

Scootaloo looked back and forth between Twilight and Fluttershy suspiciously. “What’s going on at Sugarcube Corner, anyway?” she asked, tilting one eyebrow upward.

Twilight thought for a moment. There’s no harm in saying we’re going to see Pinkie Pie, I guess.

“We just need to have a little talk with Pinkie, that’s all,” Twilight said nonchalantly. Scootaloo took a step backwards and stared at Twilight silently, as if she’d just said something terrifying. “Is... something wrong, Scootaloo?”

After a moment, Scootaloo managed to open her mouth to speak. “Is... Is Pinkie Pie back? Did they find her?” she asked. Her eyes were were now beginning to tear up and she sniffled lightly before bringing a foreleg up to her eyes to wipe them.

Oh dear... what now? Twilight thought, And what’s happened to Pinkie Pie?

Celestia thought quickly and interjected. “Don’t worry, child, I’m certain Pinkie Pie is okay. I’ve come all the way from Canterlot just to find her.” While not entirely truthful, this line did seem to bring a smile to Scootaloo’s face.

“Good. It has been boring without Rainbow Dash, but Pinkie Pie being gone just made it worse,” Scootaloo said. “I know you wanted to be alone, but do you mind if I come with you? I promise to not get in the way. I want Pinkie Pie back as much as anypony.”

Twilight glanced at Celestia and clenched her teeth, shaking her head slightly. However, it was too late, Celestia had already patted the filly on the head.

“Of course you can come,” Celestia said with a gentle smile.

Scootaloo leapt into the air happily and then ran off towards an alley across the way. “I just need to get my scooter! It’s around the other side of this building!” she shouted as she disappeared from sight. The three remaining ponies took this opportunity to quickly huddle together.

“Okay, Fluttershy, we’re counting on you,” Celestia said quietly. “We need you to bring Rainbow Dash down to Ponyville somehow. We’ll still meet at Sugarcube Corner. Once she’s there, we’ll awaken her.”

Fluttershy nodded. “What if she won’t come, though? How do I convince her?”

Twilight smiled and tapped a hoof against Fluttershy’s chest. “You know Rainbow Dash better than anypony else. If anyone can think of the right thing to say to her, it’s you,” she said, glancing towards the alley Scootaloo had run into. “But just remember, you can’t say anything about the changelings or the dream worlds. Once she knows the truth, she might start to reject the dream and wake up. It happened to me, so be careful not to let anything slip.”

“Yes, it’s a defense mechanism,” Celestia added. “When a dreamer starts to become lucid, that is when they know they are dreaming, there is a tendency for the lucidity to express itself by ending the dream. Lucidity is not the normal state for a dreamer, and a sudden realization could cause the dream to just end.”

Fluttershy nodded her head. “My awakening wasn’t all that terrible, though. I was scared, but the dream didn’t end,” she responded.

Twilight shook her head. “Fluttershy, you caused a worldwide earthquake and rainstorm, not to mention draining the color out of everything. Anyway... it's best just to not take the chance."

Fluttershy glanced up and saw Scootaloo approaching on her scooter at high speed. “I’ll be on my way, then. Good luck!” she said, and then spread her wings, taking off towards Cloudsdale.

Twilight and Celestia joined Scootaloo and began to head towards the town center where Sugarcube Corner was located.

Fluttershy pushed her way up through the lower levels of Cloudsdale, passing between two large cloud islands and into the southern square. It didn’t take her long to find indications of where Rainbow Dash was staying. Posters were plastered on walls and ponies in the street were talking with childlike excitement about the upcoming Wonderbolts show. She knew that a lot of pegasi were Wonderbolts fans, but this was beyond the usual levels.

Everypony is so excited, she thought. I guess that makes sense. There’s no bigger fan than Rainbow Dash, so everypony in her dream must be big fans, too.

At the northwest end of the central cloud stood a giant complex atop a cloud mound. The emblem of The Wonderbolts shone brightly from the front, and several spires shot upward from it at various points. The central tower rose higher than the rest, and Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark was emblazoned upon it.

Fluttershy sighed and rolled her eyes. She’s definitely getting a little carried away, but it’s her dream, so I guess that’s fine. It’s not like my dream didn’t get out of hoof, too.

She glided towards the compound for what felt like ages, realizing as she went that it was much larger and further away than she’d initially thought. The compound itself was practically the size of the royal palace in Canterlot. As she got closer and was able to see more detail, she could see each tower had its own cutie mark, signifying the inhabitant. At the top of each tower was an entrance to the interior, which she assumed would be each Wonderbolt’s living quarters.

She finally approached the entrance to Rainbow Dash’s tower and landed on the balcony that hung outside the large, regal doors. They were made of thick, stained wood and had her cutie mark carved in the center. It was definitely the type of thing you’d expect to see in Canterlot, and not so much in Cloudsdale. Fluttershy grimaced.

Really, Rainbow Dash? she thought to herself. This seems a bit much, even for you...

Fluttershy knocked softly against the door and put her ear against it. “Rainbow Dash?” she said timidly after a moment. The grandiosity of the whole situation had made her a bit nervous to the point where she wasn’t even sure if she should be meeting her like this without the others. It was too late now, though. She could hear hoofsteps on the other side of the door, and then it swung inward a second later.

Fluttershy stumbled forward slightly, then regained her balance and looked up at the pony on the other side of the door. Rainbow Dash stood before her, a slightly confused look on her face. Her mane was a bit longer than Fluttershy remembered it being, and she had the back of it tied up in a ponytail. She was wearing a red velvet robe with a white collar. The robe was tied loosely at her waist and had long tails that dragged behind her. Regardless of the slight differences, it was definitely her, and this was the first time Fluttershy had seen Rainbow Dash since her dream version of her had died in her forelegs.

She swallowed, trying to hold back mixed feelings of happiness and sadness. The thought that this was the real Rainbow Dash only amplified her feelings, though, and she couldn’t keep herself from grabbing her friend and hugging her tightly.

Rainbow Dash raised a foreleg and put it around Fluttershy’s shoulders. Her brow furrowed and she blinked with confusion. “Nice to see you, too?” she said, unsure of what was going on.

Back on the ground, Twilight, Celestia, and Scootaloo had almost reached Sugarcube Corner. On the way there, Scootaloo had been explaining what had happened to Pinkie Pie.

“Nopony knows what happened, but just after getting back from the royal wedding, Pinkie Pie started acting really weird,” she recalled. “She would always look at walls, or even empty spaces, really strangely and say she could see cracks in the world.”

Twilight glanced at Celestia, who returned a knowing look. Pinkie had been aware that something was wrong with the world, just like Pinkie Twi had, she thought.

“And then what happened?” Celestia asked as they turned a bend in the road and Sugarcube Corner came into view.

Scootaloo shrugged. “She just up and vanished one night. Nopony has seen her since. Zecora came and tried to use her powers to figure out anything she could,” she said. “Hay, even you couldn't tell what happened, Twilight. You tried everything and couldn’t seem to make heads or tails of any of it, especially those weird notebooks she left.”

Twilight grinned nervously. “Ah yes, those notebooks. You know, I think I should take another look at them, are they still there?”

“As far as I know, they’re still up in Pinkie’s room,” The filly responded as they arrived at the front entrance. She looked up at Twilight hopefully, then turned to Celestia. “Please tell me you can find her, please.”

Celestia nodded confidently. “We’ll do our very best.”

Twilight pushed the door open and stepped inside, glancing around for signs of the Cakes. Sitting on a counter at the far end of the shop was a tray of steaming hot tarts. The smell of fresh baked dough and sweet apples filled Twilight’s nostrils. She felt her mouth watering and swallowed before opening her mouth to call out.

“Hello? Is anypony in here?” She asked. Celestia and Scootaloo entered behind her as the sound of hoofsteps came from the kitchen towards them. Carrot Cake, the father of the Cake family, pushed the kitchen door open and smiled as he saw Twilight and her companions.

“Hey there, Twilight! What brings you here? Planning on getting some of our famous apple tarts for the show tomorrow?” he asked, pointing a hoof towards the baked goods on the counter. “There’s more in the oven, and Applejack should be bringing another cartload or two of apples. We’re hardly able to keep up with the demand, but I can make an exception for you.”

Twilight smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Cake, but we’re actually here for a different reason. Do you mind if we go take a look upstairs in Pinkie’s room?” She glanced towards the stairs that led up to the Cake household, in which Pinkie resided in the attic.

Mr. Cake drooped his head and shook it slowly. “I suppose there’s no harm in it, but... do you really think there’s any point?” he said, and then stepped close to Twilight, pressing his mouth to her ear. “I mean, she went completely crazy, up and disappeared. It’s been most of a month now. It might be time to consider the possibility that she might be...” he whispered, trailing off at the end, not wanting to finish the thought.

Twilight shook her head. “I know she’s still out there. I’ve brought somepony with me from Canterlot who I think will be able to help us find out what happened,” she said. “Let’s go take a look up there, um... Inspector...”

Celestia nodded her head. “Orange,” she finished for Twilight. “Really, dear Twilight, try to concentrate. The game’s afoot.” She walked past Twilight and began to go up the stairs. Twilight chuckled and followed her with Scootaloo bringing up the rear.

When they arrived at the doorway to Pinkie’s loft, Twilight whispered to Celestia, “Do we really want to bring her up with us? We’ll have to be careful what we say.”

“Come along, you two. Let’s get to work,” Celestia said aloud in response, opening the door and ascending the final flight of stairs.

As the three of them gained a view into the room, they saw that the whole place was torn apart. Papers, quills, and ink wells were scattered everywhere. Writing and pictures had been scrawled onto every wall, and a stack of notebooks sat neatly on a table. The top notebook’s cover read “REALITY IS NOT REAL!” in large, scribbly letters.

Twilight and Celestia began to circle the room, while Scootaloo took a seat at the table and picked up a notebook from the top of the pile.

Twilight’s eyes darted around, taking in the drawings and writing. As she went along the wall, she read the words aloud.

“Cracks in reality. Flashing beams of color. Day 12, I can see some kind of magical aura. Nopony else can see it. It’s deep red and won’t let me touch it. I want it.”

Celestia’s head jerked back towards Twilight. “Deep red magic? I’ve seen that before,” she said. “Do you remember, Twilight?”

Twilight nodded. “Pinkie had used it before. Do you think the same power has possessed her again?”

“No way to know yet, but she said she couldn’t touch it. Why would she write Day 12 on the wall like that, and not the other days?” Celestia asked, placing a hoof on her chin.

“Looks like she wanted to make sure that got noticed,” Scootaloo spoke up, flipping the pages of the notebook she was holding. “It’s in this notebook, too, but it also says ‘Put on wall,’ afterwards.”

Twilight continued to look at the wall, her eyes eventually coming across a drawing of something that looked very similar to the colorscope she had in her dream. The words next to it read “Voices won’t shut up. Telling me to break the world. This thing would let me. Have to make sure I never get it. Might do what voices say. I want to.”

At the end of the wall right before the stairwell, Twilight finished reading Pinkie’s writing. “I’m leaving. I’m so scared. I need help. Voices tell me to do terrible things. Help me.” Twilight recited. “That’s it. I guess the rest of the information we need is in the notebooks.”

Celestia tapped a hoof against the wall she was standing in front of. “Twilight, look here,” she said. “The wall here has a big oval drawn on it, and says ‘Crack here!’ I wonder if this could be... you know...”

The exit! Twilight thought. We’d have to check with the Colorscope to be sure, but that would be really useful to know! We can’t with Scoots here, though. She nodded to Celestia.

Twilight walked over to the table where Scootaloo was sitting flipping through Pinkie's notebooks. She picked one up and began to read through it.

There must be some sort of clue as to where Pinkie has gone, she thought. I just need to find it. As she was thinking this, she turned a page and found a diagram of some sort of cloak with arrows pointing to several pockets and pouches along its edges.

There were words underneath the diagram, which Twilight read out loud. "Night's Cloak, voices told me how to make it, will need to get help from Rarity," she recited. "Prin, er, Inspector... come look at this."

"Looks like she wanted to wear a disguise to help her sneak away," Celestia said, glancing at the drawing. "The design seems familiar, but I can't place it."

"In any case, we should go see what Rarity knows," Twilight decided. "Pinkie might have said something to her before leaving."

Scootaloo waved a hoof back and forth in front of her. "Don't bother, Rarity's been really tight-lipped about anything involving Pinkie Pie. I hear she made a Pinkie Promise not to tell anyone anything," she said.

Twilight sighed with frustration. "Pinkie Pie..." she muttered. "Surely Rarity could be convinced, though. Pinkie Promise or no, our friend's safety could depend on what she knows."

Scootaloo rolled her eyes and hopped up onto her hooves. "Like nopony's thought of that before," she said sarcastically.

"Nopony has been here on an official investigation from Canterlot before, either," Celestia chimed in. "I shall go pay a visit to Lady Rarity. Perhaps I can convince her to talk."

"Worth a try, I guess," said Twilight. "I'll take these notebooks and study them more. Thank you so much for your help, Scootaloo." She slipped the notebooks into her saddlebag, and then she and Scootaloo followed Celestia towards the stairs.

Descending back to the ground floor of Sugarcube corner, they were greeted by the door at the front of the store opening and Applejack pushing her way in, pulling a cart full of apples behind her.

"Mr. Cake! Got the extra apples ya ordered, here!" she hollered towards the back. Her eye caught Twilight standing at the stairs, and she smiled and waved. "Howdy, Twilight! What're you doin' here? Thought you were off in Canterlot gettin' some last minute preparations done fer tomorrow!"

I'm in canterlot, eh? Good to know. That means the library's free, Twilight thought, then remembered something. Shoot! I bet all the books are blank, anyway!

Twilight smiled back at Applejack. "Oh, no, I got back early. I brought Inspector Orange here with me, she's investigating Pinkie Pie's disappearance."

"Oh, and we are mighty thankful for it, too!" Mrs. Cake's voice came from the kitchen as she emerged. "Carrot was just telling me all about it. We sure hope you find her. She's like family to us, and we really do miss her. Please find her! Bring us back our smiling face!"

“Well that’s sure somethin’, but I don’t know,” Applejack said with a look of concern. “She’s been gone for a good while, now, and nopony’s been able ta find any trace of her.”

Celestia smiled and nodded her head, placing a hoof above her forehead as if she were tipping an invisible hat. “Don’t worry, you two. I’m on the case!” she said confidently.

Twilight laughed. “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?” she asked, smirking.

“Do you think I need a hat? Oh, I bet Rarity has one that’s just perfect.”

“Oh, please…” Twilight said, sighing. “Anyway, I need to get to reading through these notebooks some more, and the inspector is heading to Carousel Boutique. You know the way, right Inspector?”

Celestia nodded her head and turned to head out the door. However, she was obstructed by a small filly pulling a cart full of apples into the shop. The cart’s wheels became stuck at the entrance, and she fell over backwards, tumbling into a roll and finally stopping at Celestia’s legs.

Applejack laughed. “Come on now, Apple Bloom, you gotta do better’n that if ya wanna be a full-fledged farm pony!”

The filly rolled back to her hooves and stood up. She looked up at Celestia and blushed. “Sorry, ma’am. Sorry sis!” she said embarrassedly, rubbing her hoof against the back of her head.

“Not at all, little one,” Celestia said, patting Apple Bloom on the head. “I was just heading out. Be more careful next time.” She stepped through the door and out into the streets of Ponyville towards her destination, carousel Boutique.

Apple Bloom watched the unfamiliar pony leave and then her eyes trailed to the back of the room where Scootaloo was standing. She suddenly smiled and leapt towards the small pegasus. “Scootaloo! Long time no see!”

Scootaloo smiled and trained her eyes away from Apple Bloom. “Yeah,” she said, pausing. “A while.”

“Oh, come on now, I’m sorry I ain’t had time ta hang out as much, but I just been so busy helpin’ the family, we’ve all barely had a moment’s rest!” Apple Bloom said, pressing a hoof gently against Scootaloo.

Twilight stepped towards Applejack and leaned in, speaking softly. “What’s up with them? I thought they were such good friends. I’ve never seen either of them so reserved when there’s another Cutie Mark Crusader around.”

Applejack shrugged. “So you noticed it too, huh? Those two just ain’t been the same lately. Really, it’s all three a’ them, if ya know what I mean,” she said with a sigh. “Poor Scootaloo, I feel so bad for her, but I just don’t know what ta’ say to her, and Apple Bloom’s just as lost as I am.”

Twilight shook her head with confusion yet again. “Say to her? About what?” she asked.

Applejack gave Twilight a cold glare. “Oh, come on, Twi. You know how bad those three wanted ta’ get their cutie marks together,” she said.

Twilight nodded her head. “Right, and...?”

“Can you really be that dull, Twi?” Applejack asked in disbelief. “Ever since Apple Bloom n’ Sweetie Belle got their cutie marks, poor Scootaloo’s the only one left without one. She’s a tough kid, but it’s broken her heart and made her feel like the third wheel, I reckon.”

Twilight jerked her head suddenly towards the two fillies again. How could I have missed that she had a cutie mark? she thought. After a second, she realized that she hadn’t missed anything. Apple Bloom’s flank was as blank as ever. That’s strange. Why would AJ think she has a cutie mark?

Twilight looked back towards Applejack. Visions of Applejack from the previous dream world entered her mind-- Her glowing green eyes and the way she turned into such a formidable changeling foe. Best not mention anything and just play along for now, Twilight decided.

Twilight looked back at the two fillies. Suddenly, a light bulb lit up inside Twilight’s mind. Her eyes widened and she bit her lower lip as she realized a distinct possibility.

This... might not be Rainbow Dash’s dream.

Horizons Ch 2 - Pressure

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Two - Pressure

Celestia trotted down the street, looking around at the town as she went, taking notice of little details. It's amazing that none of this is real, she thought. The mind is truly impressive to be able to keep all of this going, even if there is magic helping it a little.

Oh yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Just look at all this clutter, a voice responded in her mind. Her brow furrowed immediately as she knew her day had just gotten harder.

I told you not to interfere, Celestia thought, sighing with the realization that Discord was still following her around. Why did you bother to coming after us?

Oh come on, Celestia! This is the best thing that’s happened to me since those foolish fillies somehow broke your spell on my statue! Discord’s voice responded, a tone of sarcastic disappointment apparent. Besides, I told you, I have to make sure you win or I’m stuck in that statue forever!

You’ll still be in there forever if I have anything to say about it! Celestia snapped back. We hardly need any chaos happening around here! We have enough as it is, thank you.

I promise to be on my best behavior! Discord pledged sincerely.

Your best behavior still causes problems! The best thing you can do is just go away!

Bah! You’re being so closed-minded! Look at the situation you’re in! Pinkie Pie has disappeared after going coo-coo, but we both know she wasn’t totally nuts. She knew the world was a dream, she just couldn’t figure it out. That is of course not to say that Pinkie Pie isn’t crazy, she’s just also chaotic! Such a kindred spirit!

Celestia frowned. Don’t compare yourself to anypony else, especially one of those six, it’s disturbing.

Wait, is this what friendship is? Kinship? I think I feel it in my… wait, no, it’s gone, Discord said with an echoing laugh in Celestia’s mind. But really, if you want to get out of here, you need me.

Why would I need you? You bring about nothing but trouble.

Because I can feel it in this world… chaos is everywhere. Unguided, unharnessed, truly free chaos twisting everywhere and threatening to tear the world apart. A single thread holds the whole place together. It’s… glorious!

Celestia walked along silently for a moment, then stopped. What do you mean by that? A single thread holds the world together? she thought.

A thread of magic, of course. Magic that I don’t quite have a grip on… yet.

Celestia shook her head. That’s surprising, actually, she thought.

Oh, was that a masked compliment? Discord's voice rang with glee in Celestia’s mind. There’s the actual surprise!

Celestia sighed and continued walking. Don’t get used to it, or this… but okay. I will accept your help. Your knowledge of magic, particularly chaos, may come in handy. Just don’t think that gives you free reign to do as you please!

Celestia walked down the street, approaching the field that led to Carousel Boutique. There was no response from Discord. After a moment, she sighed again and muttered under her breath. “Discord…”

Sorry! Sorry! Yes! I wasn’t doing anything! I mean, I won’t do anything! Except help you, of course! his voice trailed into her ear as if he were approaching from somewhere.

Celestia rolled her eyes. Why do I not believe you? she thought. There was no response, and as her gaze returned forward, she realized that Carousel Boutique had come into view. She had seen it before, of course, both in person and in Twilight’s dream, but never like it appeared now.

The boutique had expanded in size. It normally had a simple bell-shaped design, with a top and bottom floor. The inside of the boutique was part household and part shop, with bedrooms and other private living spaces on the top floor. It now stood three stories tall, and the base of the building had expanded outward, becoming what was basically the same building, just in a grander scale. The front door of the shop and boutique section had become a massive set of double glass doors with a brightly painted sign above them with Rarity’s signature logo on it.

Celestia stood and looked at the transformed building for a couple of minutes, her mind going through a lot of different thoughts. What reason is there for this change to occur? In a dream, almost everything happens for a reason, so why this?

I told you, Celestia, this world is chaotic. Discord projected into Celestia’s mind. Oh, it may seem orderly and neat on the surface, but it’s not. I can feel chaotic energy flowing from that building. Something is happening in there.

“Well then,” Celestia said aloud, “I’d best go and investigate.” She trotted forward, approaching the entryway.

“Did you forget something?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking down at Fluttershy who had suddenly hugged her out of the blue.

Fluttershy pulled away from Rainbow Dash and looked at her again, noticing the baffled expression on her face. “Forget something?” she asked.

Rainbow Dash shrugged and turned, walking back into the front room of her living space. The walls were adorned with framed pictures and medals, and the carpet was soft and red. Toward the back of the room, a fire burned inside a large fireplace. Fluttershy strided in after Dash, looking around at everything. She smiled as she noticed the pictures sitting on the mantle—all pictures of Rainbow Dash and her Ponyville friends.

Rainbow Dash sat down on a cushion and looked up at Fluttershy. “Right. You were here, like, ten minutes ago. Did you forget something, or did you just come back to hug me?” she asked, still looking a bit confused about the sudden emotional moment they’d had.

I suppose it’s good that I’m still involved in her dream, even if it’s mostly about The Wonderbolts, Fluttershy thought as she looked around at the walls. Certifications from Wonderbolts training were framed on one wall, underneath which were pictures of Rainbow Dash posing with various members of the Wonderbolts. The pictures on and above the mantle were all pictures of her friends from Ponyville. Sitting in the center of the mantle were several pictures of Rainbow Dash with Scootaloo. Fluttershy raised an eyebrow and she took note of this fact. That’s strange, were those two ever that close? Maybe Rainbow’s subconscious has noticed her more than she lets on. In any case, I have to wake her up as soon as possible. I have to get her down to Ponyville, somehow. She sat down across from Rainbow Dash, near the fire, and shook her head.

“No, I just, um… thought I wanted to hang out some more,” Fluttershy said, coming up with an excuse. She could only hope that Fluttershy from this dream world didn’t have the same thought.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I guess it’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to be around my awesomeness more?” she said with a laugh and a wink. Fluttershy chuckled in response. “I know, I know, I even leave my friends speechless sometimes.”

“Yeah, totally awesome,” Fluttershy responded with a forced laugh, then thought to herself, This is definitely not my favorite side of her, but I have to remember, it’s just the way her dream has gone. Not her fault, right?

“So... How are things?” Fluttershy asked awkwardly, feigning a smile. Oh sure, what a great way to start the conversation, she thought.

“Awesome. Like you said, totally awesome,” Rainbow responded. “So… do you need something?” Rainbow Dash took a deep breath and then stood back up, walking into the next room quickly. “Do you want a drink? I have some amazing cider! Top quality cider from the latest Bloom batch from Ponyville, and it’s the hard stuff!”

“Bloom batch?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yeah yeah, you know,” Rainbow Dash responded non-descriptively. “I guess not, you never did like drinking much.” She returned to the room, holding a bottle in her mouth. She sat back down and stared at Fluttershy, waiting for her to answer the previous question.

Fluttershy stared back for a moment before she realized she’d been asked if she needed something. "Oh right! So, This might sound a bit strange, but would you tell me all about how things went after, oh, let’s say, the wedding in Canterlot?” Fluttershy asked, tapping her front hooves together nervously.

Rainbow Dash’s face lit up with excitement. “Oh yeah, that’s not weird at all! I love telling that story!” she said excitedly. “After the wedding, The Wonderbolts flew to Ponyville after me. Let’s just say that my performance at the wedding was so good that they couldn’t possibly ignore me any longer.”

Fluttershy nodded. “So they came to recruit you, right? How did it all happen?” Fluttershy asked, actually interested in what Rainbow Dash dreams it would be like to get accepted into The Wonderbolts.

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Well, I was working in town on my usual weather duties, keeping the sky clear and making sure all the foals in town had great weather to play in! You know weather is my big passion after racing. So anyway, the Wonderbolts found out that I’m a bit of a local celebrity what with having my own fan club and everything, and were very impressed,” she said, nodding towards the pictures on the mantle. “Ponies in town say that Scootaloo told them how awesome I was, and that combined with the wedding performance sealed the deal.”

“So they made you a Wonderbolt! That’s great. How long did you have to train?” Fluttershy responded with further interest.

Rainbow Dash blinked with confusion for a moment and then let out a hearty laugh. “Oh, come on, Fluttershy! Training? I didn’t have to train at all! It was only a month ago, after all.”

“A... a month ago?” Fluttershy asked, her voice taking a nervous tone. “It’s only been a month since the royal wedding?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and took a swig from the bottle of cider.

“Well yeah! Gee, you must be tired if you forget all that!” Rainbow Dash said as she jumped to her hooves, then onto a short table that was sitting nearby. She struck a heroic pose, waving her forelegs in the air, as she recounted the events. “They made me their captain and brought me back to Cloudsdale! Once I got here, I missed my friends in Ponyville, but I couldn’t live in Cloudsdale and Ponyville at the same time! So then I had an idea! We should move Cloudsdale to Ponyville! Pure genius!”

“But... doesn’t that seem a bit disruptive? I mean, what about all the ponies who live in Cloudsdale that liked it where it was?” Fluttershy asked.

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Lucky for me, that same week, I was voted ‘The Most Interesting Mare in Equestria” and was given the gift of one royal decree!”

“Oh, I see, and you used the royal decree to move Cloudsdale south, then?” Fluttershy asked, clapping one front hoof against the other.

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Fluttershy, please, you know that’s not what happened. Cloudsdale was moved because everypony is so inspired by me that my wish to have it moved simply came true. That’s the way it works when the Most Interesting Mare in Equestria wants something.”

“Gosh, that’s... um...” Fluttershy said, forcing a smile across her face. “Just great, yes, so anyway--” she continued, but was interrupted by Rainbow Dash.

“Yes, anyway! Anyway, my decree was for this awesome castle to be built for The Wonderbolts, of course! And well, that’s pretty much the whole story.”

Fluttershy simply nodded her head in response, thinking Wow, she’s so... arrogant! It’s like she’s a completely different pony! This dream needs to end before she... before she hurts herself from all this... um... No, this has to stop, because this is what’s feeding Chrysalis! We can’t let her keep going like this!

Rainbow Dash sat back down on the cushion and reached to her side for her bottle. She pulled it up to her lips and smiled. “Yeah, I don’t always tell stories, but when I do, they’re about me!” She took a swig from the bottle and grinned as it left her lips. She let out a satisfied sigh and leaned back against another cushion that was sitting behind her.

Fluttershy sighed too, realizing that she might be in for a long evening before managing to breach the subject of heading down to Ponyville.

Celestia pushed the boutique's doors open, poked her head in, and looked around for Rarity. The walls were lined with racks of clothing, tall hatstands with whimsical giant hats on their branches, and framed artwork, all of which had a very splotchy modern art look to it.

“Anypony there?” Celestia called out as she stepped into the boutique. She began to casually inspect some of the dresses on the rack to her right, immediateloy noticing the bright, clashing color schemes that were present on some of the designs.

Good heavens, I suppose this is the fashion equivalent to the blank books Twilight found in Fluttershy’s dream. Celestia thought to herself, chuckling.

Yeah, right, Discord’s voice responded in her head. You’re missing the big picture, here.

Celestia furrowed her brow, annoyed at Discord’s continual reading of her thoughts. What’s that supposed to mean? she thought, but then she heard hoofsteps coming down the stairs, followed by Rarity pushing her way through a door in the back. Celestia looked up and smiled at the pony as she entered.

“Lady Rarity, I presume?” Celestia asked, getting back into her Canterlot inspector character.

“Yes, that’s me!” Rarity said with a joyful tone. “We’re normally closed for business at this hour, but I suppose I forgot to lock up, so what can I do for you? Are you looking for a fabulous new dress? Because I think I have a couple that would suit you wonderfully!”

Celestia could already see the gears spinning in Rarity’s brain, already cooking up several outfit combinations for her, but that was not her reason for coming, and she would have to disappoint her, eventually.

The big picture, eh? Why do I get the feeling that listening to you will be the worst decision I’ve made to date? Celestia thought, assuming Discord was still listening in, much to her dismay. Best to get the introductions out of the way, warm up to her a bit before asking her anything, Celestia thought, and then walked over to Rarity, glancing up at one of the elaborate hatstands near her.

“Well, I’m not exactly here to shop, but I had been thinking I might want a hat of some sort,” she said, carefully inspecting a big wide-brimmed hat with multiple peacock feathers sticking out in various directions. “I am Inspector Orange, I came here from Canterlot to investigate a case, and I seem to have left my hat at home. I just don’t feel the same without it.”

Rarity’s eyes lit up at the mention of Canterlot, just as Celestia thought they might. “Canterlot, you say? And an inspector of some sort?” Rarity asked, her eyes already scanning the room, stopping at the different displays of hats ranging from large to giant. “What are you an inspector of? I may have something for you, but if not, I’m sure I can throw something together, no trouble at all!”

Celestia smiled. “A police inspector, though I do know a thing or two about fashion. A lot of the designs I’ve looked at since coming in strike me as a bit… loud?” she said, trying to work towards whatever this big picture was that Discord had mentioned. “I confess, I’ve seen your work before, which is why I came here. Is this a new sort of fashion line you’ve come up with recently?”

Rarity grinned. “Well, you must not be completely up to date, I suppose. This fashion line has been around for a little while now, and it’s been selling so fabulously that it’s hard to keep up with demand,” she said, waving her hoof in a sweeping motion in front of her. “Why, if I were still running this boutique like I had been before, I’d never be able to keep up!”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “What, exactly, has changed? I can see that the boutique itself has grown based on pictures I’ve seen, but that can’t be all. What’s the big secret to your recent success and expansion?”

Almost as if in response, a small voice hollered from up the stairs in the back. “This is fabulous!” the voice shrieked with childlike glee. Rarity smiled and tilted her head back to where the voice had come from.

“Well, you must really be out of the loop! All these designs aren’t just by me. My dear sister, Sweetie Belle, has found her calling in the fashion world, just like me!” Rarity said, almost as if she were announcing it to a crowd. “A sister team that is unstoppable in the world of high fashion and clothing art!”

Celestia blinked, thinking about what she knows of Sweetie Belle from Twilight’s letters. She’d met the filly before, and knew she was one of three fillies here in Ponyville that formed a club called the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She’d even met Sweetie Belle before, and remembered that she was a very polite girl that seemed to have a bit of a wild streak that she was no doubt hiding in the presence of royalty.

As Celestia thought this, she turned her head upward and caught sight of a large framed photograph hanging above the counter at the back of the store. Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and herself were standing in the palace gardens in Canterlot.

Rarity noticed her looking up at the picture and nodded her head. “Oh yes, that was a truly wonderful day. We went to Canterlot and launched the new fashion line. As you can see, Princess Celestia was there, and even let us stay at the palace that night,” she said, happily recalling the moment. “It was also the wonderful day that Sweetie Belle finally got her cutie mark.” Rarity pointed up to the picture, towards Sweetie Belle’s flank, beaming with pride.

Celestia blinked, staring at the picture. Sweetie Belle’s flank had no cutie mark in the image, but perhaps she had earned it afterwards. However, she didn’t have long to ponder that thought, because her attention was drawn by the door in the back opening again. Sweetie Belle emerged, holding a dress above her head with a levitation spell.

Celestia blinked again, multiple times. If I recall correctly, Sweetie Belle wasn’t able to use magic before, she thought, and then her eyes darted down to the filly’s flank. She doesn’t have a cutie mark. How could Rarity think that she had earned it?

Suddenly, a light bulb lit up inside Celestia’s mind. Her eyes widened and she bit her lower lip as she realized a distinct possibility.

This... might not be Rainbow Dash’s dream.

Horizons Ch 3 - Shatter

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Three - Shatter

Fluttershy sat across from Rainbow Dash, waiting for an opportunity to interject and invite her to come down to Ponyville. Rainbow Dash had continued telling stories of her awesome escapades with the Wonderbolts since joining. Her eye twitched uncontrollably. Normally Fluttershy would be enjoying such stories, if only they were real, and if only Dash wasn’t being so overly arrogant about her accomplishments.

“And that’s why the Saint Hoofis Arch is now rainbow colored!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “It’s really something to see, you should go some time! Hey, we should go together! I could reenact my moment of unbridled heroism! I bet the orphans in that orphanage are still talking about it!”

Yeah, and I’m sure they’re still talking about how the orphanage burned down and you didn’t lift a hoof to help, too… Fluttershy thought to herself, gritting her teeth.

“I wonder if they ever did get that orphanage rebuilt, though… oh well, I’m sure it’s okay!” Rainbow Dash said with a laugh. She poured a large portion of the contents of her bottled beverage into her mouth and leaned back again onto the soft pillow behind her.

“So, Rainbow Dash, you know, as far as journeys go, this wouldn’t be as exciting, but Twilight was saying she wanted to see you down in Ponyville,” Fluttershy said, regaining her composure after hearing such a dumbfoundingly impossible story. “She said she had someone she wanted to introduce you to, as well.”

Rainbow Dash grinned. “Oh yeah? My adoring fans... a mare’s work is never done, I suppose,” she said, taking another sip from the bottle. “I’ll be down there tomorrow, no rush. Twilight can introduce her friend to me, then.”

Fluttershy frowned. “She did say she wished it could be tonight, though. I don’t know how long her friend is going to be around, and all, so...” she said, trailing off.She caught herself becoming quiet and thought back to everything she’d sworn back in her dream world, and raised her head back up. “We should go see her tonight, Dashie. She’s your friend, so you should at least make some time for her.”

Rainbow Dash sighed and set the bottle down beside her. “Oh come on, Fluttershy. Don’t be like that.” She stood up and shook her head. “Sorry, but it’ll have to wait, you’re lucky I stayed up to talk to you. I definitely don’t have time to go see Twilight and her little friend. And since when do you call me Dashie, anyway?”

Fluttershy gritted her teeth, Rainbow’s attitude getting more and more on her nerves every second. She stood up and pushed her face up to Rainbow Dash’s, speaking through her teeth. “Why did you even move Cloudsdale here if you won’t even go to Ponyville to see your friends?”

Rainbow Dash pulled away, her eyes taking on a slightly worried look. “Fluttershy, I just... you know...”

“No, I don’t know! I don’t know what it’s like to be the center of the universe! You know what, though? Neither do you!” Fluttershy shouted.

“Fluttershy, what’s gotten into you?” Rainbow Dash asked, backing away more.

“Doesn’t it seem a little too good to be true?” Fluttershy asked, her expression unwavering.

“What... do you mean?” Rainbow Dash asked, staring back nervously.

I’m sorry, Twilight, Princess, but I’m going to do it! Somepony needs to knock her down a peg! Fluttershy thought to herself as she stomped a front hoof down and swallowed her remaining nervousness along with any sense of reason. She stared right into Rainbow Dash’s eyes. The sun’s final red glint flickered through the windows as it set, and the moon rose into the sky, its cold light shining brightly into the room.

“So, Applejack,” Twilight started, her mind searching around for ways to ask about Apple Bloom’s cutie mark without making it too obvious. “Things must be different now that Apple Bloom has discovered her special talent.”

Applejack continued to look at the fillies with sadness in her eyes. She nodded her head and turned back to Twilight. “Yeah, but at the same time, she don’t really wanna show it off in front of Scootaloo. It’s been rough on her, and she’s been pourin’ herself into work at the farm to keep her mind offa it. She might seem happy to see Scoot, but I can tell… she’s lookin’ fer somethin’ else to bring the three of them back together.”

Twilight nodded. “They’re such good friends, I don’t see why their friendship can’t just keep them together,” she said quietly.

“Ain’t no point in pushin’ it, Twi. Just like cutie marks, those three are sure ta figure it out with time,” Applejack responded. “Meantime, we gotta head back to the farm and prep the next batch of apples on the trees.”

“Prep the apples? How so? Don’t you just wait for them to grow?” Twilight asked, placing a hoof to her chin.

Applejack grinned. “Come ta think of it, you never have seen Apple Bloom’s talent at work, have ya? I’m sure ya know sort of how it works, but seein’ is believin’. You should come watch her at work sometime,” Applejack said, turning towards the door to head back out. She leaned back towards Twilight and whispered, “And maybe, if yer that worried for ‘em, you could talk to Apple Bloom about her and the other two. Maybe hearin’ some support from others will kick her flank inta gear.”

Twilight smiled. “That’s a great idea! Do you want to come back to the farm right now, Scoota… loo?” Twilight said, looking around for the little pegasus. Apple Bloom was sitting in the back of the shop alone.

Apple Bloom smiled up at Twilight, a forced expression if Twilight had ever seen one. “Oh, she had to go. She said she had really important stuff to do before the Wonderbolts show tomorrow,” she said with a sigh. “Besides, we gotta get back to the farm, right sis?”

Applejack grinned a toothy grin and patted the filly on the head as she came close. “Right you are, sis! Got time for that thing I mentioned to ya, Twi?” Applejack asked.

Twilight simply nodded her head in response and headed out the door, following the two Apple siblings down the road.

If this isn’t Rainbow Dash’s dream, could it be Applejack’s? Or even Apple Bloom’s? I need to see this special talent myself, Twilight thought, hanging back behind the other two ponies. Could her talent be some sort of lucidity? I wish I could pull out the Colorscope lens and get a look at them, but I can’t risk it. The sight of it sends dream inhabitants into instant changeling transformation.

The three of them pushed onward towards the edge of town and Sweet Apple Acres. The orchards of the farm began far earlier than Twilight remembered. She looked to the right, and noticed a fence that was basically pressed up to the back of a house in Ponyville. Apple trees stood tall on the other side.

“Wow, it certainly looks like the farm has expanded,” Twilight noted as they passed onto a path that led down a hill and towards the main farmhouse.

“Of course!” Apple Bloom responded matter-of-factly. “We had ta move the farm in closer to Ponyville to get more trees up. What with mah special talent, we can use all of the trees all year round.”

Twilight turned her head back to Ponyville and then forward again towards the farmhouse. Is the farmhouse closer now, too? she thought. It’s like everything’s been pulled in towards Ponyville… She turned her gaze skyward, looking at Cloudsdale hanging in the northern sky, partically above Ponyville.

The trees dwarfed everything else in her field of vision, though. They were a lot taller and wider than they had been, and the farmhouse and accompanying barns had grown in size along with their move towards Ponyville. Everything looked recently repaired and renovated. The paint practically shined in the sun as it approached the point of setting over the horizon.

Applejack put a hoof over her eyes and squinted towards the setting sun. “Looks like we ain’t got much time, here, but why don’tcha show Twilight what you can do while there’s still daylight, little sis?” Applejack said, gesturing towards the trees in front of them.

Apple Bloom nodded. “Might as well. Daylight’s a burnin’, so I’ll hop to it!” she shouted, and then charged into the orchard. Twilight and Applejack leaned up against a fence, watching the filly as she ran straight at a large apple tree.

Applejack grinned. “Watch this, now!” she said, pointing her hoof towards the tree that Apple Bloom was on a collision course towards. Twilight kept her eyes open, not wanting to miss anything. Her horn began to glow slightly as she concentrated on any ambient magic.

If this is lucidity, I should be able to sense it. That’ll be one step closer to being certain without using the Colorscope.

Apple Bloom leapt through the air, spinning around at the peak of her jump. She landed backwards and slid powerfully towards the tree. At the last second, she raised her hind hooves into the air and slammed into the tree, bucking it harder than Twilight thought someone that size could.

The tree’s leafy canopy immediately burst into full blossom, flowers sprouting and spreading as if they were exploding out from the branches. The sight was as amazingly beautiful as it was unnatural seeming. Twilight’s mind was struck with the same sort of uncanny feeling that she got any other time she’d seen lucidity being used in the last couple of days. She didn’t feel any magic, but she knew it had to be true.

So that’s it, is it? Twilight thought, grinning towards Apple Bloom, who was waving at the two of them. This is your dream, isn’t it Apple Bloom?

The sun set in the west as Apple Bloom trotted back towards the two ponies. “Yep, we sure are proud of her. Out of all the gifts, she was given one so fitting of her name, and so great for the farm,” Applejack said, pushing herself away from the fence and landing back down on four hooves. “So, Twi, you wanna join us for dinner? I know you must be hungry after yer trip back from Canterlot.”

Twilight nodded her head. If her reason for coming along has been to find out if one of them was the dreamer, then it had gone amazingly well. I still have to be certain by checking with the lens somehow, but after that, the course is clear, Twilight thought. I have to wake up Apple Bloom!

“We can talk to Apple Bloom about the Cutie Mark Crusaders, too. I really appreciate your help with this,” Applejack whispered into Twilight’s ear. “Surely the three of us will come up with somethin’. I know she seems happy, but Apple Bloom just feels so lost right now. All three of them do, and nopony seems ta want ta help much…”

Twilight smiled. “Don’t worry, AJ. I’m sure things will get better soon,” she replied, knowing that it was possible that Applejack here in this dream wouldn’t be able to see her sister anymore soon.

That’s okay, though… right? Twilight thought. She’s a lot like the real Applejack. I’m sure she’d miss Apple Bloom. I hadn’t even considered how that might affect a dream. It feels a little creepy… like kidnapping, almost.

The moon rose into the sky as the three ponies marched towards the farmhouse. However, before they could reach it, a bright green flash came from the sky. Twilight jerked her head northward towards Cloudsdale in time to see several streaks of green lightning flying through the night sky out from the dense cloud city.

Oh no! Twilight thought Fluttershy!

“What’s goin’ on!?” Applejack shouted, staring towards the sky and pressing her hat firmly against her head.

“Whatever it is, it’s bad!” Twilight responded. “Sorry, AJ, but I have to go! I can’t explain, but I have to get back to Sugarcube Corner!”

Twilight took of galloping back into town. Applejack looked over her shoulder at Apple Bloom and shouted. “Apple Bloom! You go make sure Granny Smith’s okay, then get Big Mac out here! I’m headin ta town with Twilight! She seems to know something about this, and I bet she could use my help!”

Apple Bloom dashed towards the house and Applejack snapped forward with a leap, trailing Twilight into Ponyville.

Apple Bloom arrived at the farmhouse and took one last look towards the sky as another bolt of green lightning shot out from Cloudsdale. Her eyes lit up green from the light flash. What’s happening up there? she wondered.

Celestia blinked her eyes with some confusion as she stood as still as possible, posing as Rarity draped brightly colored cloth over her. How did I end up like this? I think I missed it...

“Rarity! She absolutely needs some flashier trim, don’t you think?” Sweetie Belle announced, stepping back from the confused model. She sat down and held both hooves up, lifting her forelegs to either side of her field of vision and moving them in and out.

“Oh, yes, Sweetie. Her pure white coat will absolutely pop out from behind a deep but glittery frame!” Rarity exclaimed with much joy. She ran to the back of the shop, shouting “Be back in just a moment! Not just anything will do!”

Celestia turned and looked in the mirror that was on the wall across from her a ways. Her idea for a simple hat design had been shot down, and her head was now adorned in what could only be described as a cactus that had taken on a secret life as a hat by night. It’s bright green color was only topped by the spiky protrusions coming out at it in random directions and in every pastel color imaginable. The dress, if you could call it that, which was seeming to magically form around her as the two sisters worked, was equally an eyesore.

Unless Rarity secretly wishes to cause pain to those who look at her work, this can not possibly be her dream, she thought, then turning her gaze towards Sweetie Belle. The little filly stared back up at her with a giant grin on her face and various needles and thread floating above her, suspended by magic.

“This is gonna be great, trust us! We’re professionals!” she said happily.

Celestia leaned down towards the little one and spoke softly. “To be honest, I had not originally come here to shop. I’m here on an investigation, and have a few questions for your sister.”

Sweetie Belle grinned even more widely. “Like a crime investigation! I know a thing or two about that, you know! Back before I got my cutie mark, my friends and I tried out being Cutie Mark Crusaders Super Sleuths! We didn’t get our cutie marks, though, even though we did solve the mystery of Snips’ missing lunch!”

Celestia chuckled. “Oh, really, now? And where was the missing lunch?” she asked.

“Yeah, turns out he ate it and just forgot about it,” Sweetie Belle replied, waving a hoof in the air in front of her. “The evidence was overwhelming! He had cabbage stuck between his teeth!”

“Sounds like you went deep for clues,” Celestia said, widening her eyes. “Maybe a little deeper than I would have, even!”

Sweetie Belle let out a belly laugh, falling forward a bit. “Yeah, it was so gross!” she said. “But it was fun, even though we didn’t get our cutie marks that day.”

Celestia placed a hoof against her chin. “Well, you have yours now, so at least that’s a good thing,” she said. “Your Cutie Mark Crusading ended up proving worthwhile in the end.”

Sweetie Belle sighed and looked down at the floor. “If only Scootaloo could have gotten her mark, too,” she said quietly. “Sorry. You’re a total stranger, and here I am talking to you about this.”

“No no, that’s okay. It’s good to talk, sometimes to anypony about anything,” she said with understanding of such predicaments. She’d had plenty of moments in her life where she had nopony to talk to… especially in the years after her sister had been banished.

“So hey, tell me about this case you’re looking into,” Sweetie Belle said, straying away from the earlier subject. “Maybe I know something!”

As Sweetie Belle asked this, Rarity returned in a rush, dragging several bright stands of cloth with her. Celestia knew this was the perfect opportunity to broach the subject and save herself from further modeling. She turned her eye up to Rarity briefly, then back down to Sweetie Belle.

“I’m investigating a missing pony case, a pony by the name of Pinkie Pie.”

The happiness seemed to drain immediately from the room, as well as Rarity’s face. She sat down and turned her head downward. Sweetie Belle followed suit rather quickly. “I… see,” Rarity said slowly. “I don’t really know much about-”

“I’ve been told you were the last pony to see Pinkie Pie before she vanished,” Celestia said, cutting Rarity off and pushing the partially made dress down and off. “This is a matter of grave importance, so I need you to tell me everything you know. Every detail, no matter how small, could help blow this case open, so please, tell me what happened on the day that Pinkie Pie came to see you.”

Rarity sat silently for a moment as Celestia stepped towards her, each hoofstep seeming to drive Rarity’s gaze lower and lower. Through the window behind Celestia, the sun was dipping lower and lower onto the horizon, casting her shadow long and dark across the floor, covering Rarity in shadow.

“I can’t tell you, I’m sorry, but I’m bound to silence on the matter,” she said, almost sounding ashamed.

“Please, Rarity. Pinkie’s life may be in danger!” Celestia said loudly, pushing a hoof towards the seated pony. “What could be more important than your friend’s life?”

“I made a Pinkie Promise!” Rarity shouted as she lifted her head towards Celestia. The light of the full moon shone brightly on her face through a window on the other side of the boutique, illuminating the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

She’d been warned about this, but the princess had not honestly suspected that could have been the reason for her not telling anypony about Pinkie’s visit. Of all the silly reasons, this was the most ridiculous.

It’s shocking to actually hear it, and to see that it actually has a hold on her, Celestia thought. It’s the sort of thing a child would dream up…

As that thought went through her mind, her eyes suddenly shot over towards Sweetie Belle. It’s… something like a child would dream up... she thought. Oh my...

The princess didn’t have long to dwell on that thought, though. A moment later, a bright flash of green light shot down from Cloudsdale as bright as the sun. The princess bolted towards a window on the north side of the shop and stared up at Cloudsdale. Several more flashes of green shot out like lightning bolts. Celestia knew that this could only mean one thing.

“Fluttershy,” she said quietly. “What happened?”

“What’s going on out there?” Sweetie Belle asked, her voice laced with tension.

“Stay here with your sister,” Celestia said. “I’m heading out to investigate!”

Rarity stood back up and ran over to the window as well. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I can help!”

Celestia picked up a slightly simpler pink wide-brimmed hat from the hatrack near her. She placed it on her head and tipped it as she grinned towards Rarity. “No, ma’am, but thank you. Don’t worry. I’m a professional!”

With that, she burst out of the boutique through the front door and ran down the path towards Sugarcube Corner.

Rarity stared out the door blankly. She suddenly had a realization and waved her right hoof in the air, yelling out the door. “Hey, get back here! You have to pay for that hat!” She flew through the door as well, chasing Celestia into town.

Sweetie Belle chuckled. “You just wanted to go along, didn’t you sis?”

The small filly looked up into the sky. Another bolt of green lightning shot across its surface. Her eyes lit up with the green light shining down from above.

Fluttershy loomed over Rainbow Dash, the moonlight coming in from the window behind her masking her face in shadow.

“What if this is all just an illusion, Rainbow Dash? What if none of this is real, and we’re all just dreaming?” Fluttershy proposed. Rainbow Dash stared back, her eyes shaking as they darted around Fluttershy’s expression, searching for any sign of there being some sort of a punchline to this.

“That’s so ridiculous! Of course this is real!” Rainbow Dash said, now swallowing nervously herself. “Sheesh, what’s gotten into you?”

Fluttershy pressed a hoof against Rainbow Dash’s chest, knocking the loose knot of the robe untied. Rainbow Dash fell back onto her haunches, staring up at Fluttershy.

“This is a dream, Rainbow Dash. None of this is real. You, and me, and Twilight, and even the princess... everypony! Everypony is trapped in changeling cocoons, being forced to dream these crazy dreams! On the day of the royal wedding, the changelings beat us, Rainbow Dash! They beat us and now they’re feeding on us!”

Rainbow Dash placed a hoof to her head and clenched her eyes shut, cringing towards the ground. “What... are you... talking about, Fluttershy? That’s crazy!” Her head pounded as visions of the changelings flashed through her mind. A pair of bright green eyes materialized in her field of vision. A voice rang out in her ears, loud and distorted, unable to be understood and hissing.

“No, Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy responded calmly. “What’s crazy is all this. Where did all these medals and pictures even come from if they made you a Wonderbolt so quickly, and the captain no less? Let alone this castle being built in a month, Cloudsdale moving to Ponyville, and most of all, you not wanting to go see a friend? That’s what’s crazy, Rainbow Dash, and you know it!”

Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves against the floor and stared down at it, breathing heavily, her mouth gaped open, drool falling and collecting in a puddle underneath her. Fluttershy crouched down and placed a hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder.

Maybe I went a little too far... Twilight did say breaking everything too quickly could be dangerous, but I was okay when I found out. Surely Dashie is okay, too, right? she thought. Dashie’s way stronger than I am! I’m sure once she remembers, she’ll thank me for changing her from that monster she’d turned into!

“Get out,” Rainbow Dash said under her breath.

“What? Dashie, please, you have to believe me,” Fluttershy said, leaning her head down towards her friend. “Just concentrate on the memories. You’ll see! This isn’t you, Dashie! This is all a dream!”

Rainbow Dash pushed Fluttershy away and swung her head upward. Her eyes were glowing bright green, and her breathing continued to intensify. She put a hoof up against her brow and shook her head back and forth.

Those eyes! Fluttershy thought, and gasped as she took a quick step backwards.

“Get out of here!” Rainbow Dash screamed, bright green firing from her eyes, illuminating the room like a camera flash. Fluttershy bolted for the door, slamming it open and taking off into the night sky. Rainbow Dash gripped her head and fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably and screaming in agony.

Fluttershy flew south as fast as she could,back towards Ponyville. Green lighting blazed through the sky behind her, flashing its light across the landscape.

“What have I done? What have I done?” she chanted to herself over and over, tears streaming from her eyes and blowing back into the wind as she shot through the air.

This... she thought, her mouth widening as she recalled the green glow coming from Rainbow Dash’s eyes. This isn’t Rainbow Dash’s dream!

“What have I done?!” Fluttershy screamed at the top of her lungs.

Horizons Ch 4 - Burst

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Four - Burst

I definitely feel that! Discord shouted inside of Celestia’s mind. It just keeps getting more and more delicious by the second!

Celestia hauled plot through the streets of Ponyville, pushing towards Sugarcube Corner as fast as she could. How, exactly, are you helping again? Celestia projected back at Discord, once again annoyed by his presence.

You’re being followed, Discord responded. Celestia could almost hear his shrug following the statement. She turned her head and glanced back, spotting Rarity running behind her in the distance.

Rain suddenly began to pour down from the sky, accompanied by whipping winds. Celestia beared down toward the ground as she continued to gallop to the center of town. Rarity did not cease her pursuit either, though she was not making any ground on Celestia, despite the fact that the princess had to press a hoof against her head several times to keep her newly-acquired hat from blowing off of her head.

I could go up there and find out what’s happened, Discord said seriously. If it continues at this rate…

I can feel it, too! Celestia said, cutting her unwanted companion off. I intend to go up there as soon as I meet with Twilight and--

A loud boom, accompanied by a flash, cracked through the air from Cloudsdale. Celestia turned her head up to look, but couldn’t make out anything through the thick clouds of the floating city. She glanced back at Rarity quickly, and saw that she’d stopped in her tracks and was staring up at Cloudsdale as well. Celestia took the opportunity to lose her, ducking into a northern alleyway along the road.

No time to waste! Celestia thought, bursting from her disguise. Her wings shot outward like kites catching a strong wind, and she flung herself skyward with a single, mighty wing beat. Twilight will have to wait! Fluttershy may be in danger!

So you’re just going to charge in, not knowing what’s going on? Discord asked with a wicked sounding laugh. I love it when you get desperate.

You’d never understand, Celestia thought as she barreled towards Cloudsdale.

Of course I understand! Discord protested. We have to save Fluttershy! The poor dear is probably facing unspeakable horrors up there!

You’re just full of surprises today, Celestia retorted.

Discord laughed again. Of course, if anypony else could wield her Element…

Celestia shook her head. See? You don’t understand!

And I don’t want to!

Then shut up and let me fly!

Celestia didn’t hear anything from Discord for the rest of her flight.

On the ground, Rarity stood and stared towards Cloudsdale as the moon-shrouded outline of Celestia shot up towards it before her eyes.

“Princess… Celestia?” Rarity asked, placing a hoof to her chin and ignoring the now torrential downpour that was completely flattening her previously elegantly-styled mane.

A brief moment later, the hat that the inspector had taken from the shop floated down, landing in the mud in front of Rarity. She took three steps forward and looked down at the hat. Lifting off the ground with her magic, she shook it a couple of times and placed it gently on her head.

She raised her gaze skyward once more, pressing the hat down onto her head with a front hoof. “What does this mean?” she asked herself in confusion.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a flash coming from the intersecting road ahead of her, followed by Applejack running at top speed towards the center of town.

What’s going on? Rarity thought, and took off after Applejack. As she turned the corner, the hat blew off her head from another sudden wind gust. Before it could get far, Rarity instinctively twisted her head and bit down on the brim.

“Somepony is going to tell me what in the blazes is going on here!” she said through her clenched teeth, increasing speed as best as she could, Applejack dead ahead of her.

On the day of the royal wedding, the changelings beat us, Rainbow Dash! They beat us and now they’re feeding on us!

Rainbow Dash lay on the ground clutching her head. Fluttershy’s words ran through her mind over and over, never silencing.

That’s impossible! Rainbow Dash thought, opening her eyes and staring up at the wall beside her, which was covered in Wonderbolts medals, pictures, and certificates.

Doesn’t it seem a little too good to be true?

Rainbow Dash stared at the wall of her accomplishments with wide eyes. She reached a hoof out towards the wall, her foreleg shaking as she tried to recall details about each thing that was hanging up there.

It’s real! It has to be real! Rainbow Dash thought, her eyebrows lowering and her teeth clenching harder. She breathed heavily, each breath raspy and growling as it left her nostrils.

No, Rainbow Dash, what’s crazy is all this. Where did all these medals and pictures even come from if they made you a Wonderbolt so quickly, and the captain no less?

“Shut up…” Rainbow Dash snarled under her breath. She continued to stare at the wall, her extended hoof shaking, her eyes darting from one thing to another. As she thought about each one her eyes crossed, rage built inside of her. “It’s my dream! I’m living my dream!” she cried out.

This is a dream, Rainbow Dash. None of this is real.

A dream...

Rainbow Dash’s breath went still for a moment and a glowing aura began to form around her. She suddenly felt energy building up inside of her, trying to force its way out. She’d never felt anything like it before. She inhaled deeply as she felt her mind fill with swirling confusion.

Outside of her room, green lightning shot out from the clouds. The clouds themselves began to twist outward, away from her room in a wide radius. The stone that made up the tower cracked in several places, dropping debris downward, through the cloud ground and towards the surface.

Rainbow Dash pushed herself up to a sitting position. Her mouth gaped open as she stared down at her hooves in front of her. “What…is this feeling?” she said aloud as she noticed the pulsing and flowing magical aura that was beginning to seep away from her hooves. “Is this… magic? Is this really happening?”

What if this is all just an illusion, Rainbow Dash? What if none of this is real, and we’re all just dreaming?

Rainbow Dash raised her gaze towards the fireplace mantle. She stared up at the pictures of her friends. Fluttershy… What did you mean? What’s happening to me?

She raised her right hoof again, pointing it towards the mantle. She concentrated on the pictures of her friends. It’s real, it’s real, it’s real… her mind repeated internally over and over. Sweat began to bead upon her brow, her whole body shook as she flexed her muscles uncontrollably, and the pictures on the mantle began to shake.

They lifted into the air, levitating upward and towards her. She raised her other foreleg and began to move it in and out, moving the pictures along with it. With a quick motion towards her face, she pulled them inward. Her eyes stared blankly at them as Fluttershy’s words flowed through her mind.

You not wanting to go see a friend? That’s what’s crazy, Rainbow Dash, and you know it!

The lightning outside intensified, rain began to fly through the air, and strong winds began to blow in through her still-open front door. Rainbow Dash stared at the picture of her and her five best friends in a group hug. Her body still shook, and she felt the uncontrollable energy inside of her suddenly reach the breaking point.

None of this is real, Fluttershy’s voice shot once more through Rainbow’s mind.

“Shut up!!”

The picture fractured and broke into nothing but jagged shards floating in the air. A second later, a pulse of energy shot out from her, and the pictures, medals, glass panes on frames, and everything else hanging on the wall exploded with a bright flash. Her furniture blasted into bits. The fire in the fireplace burst upward. A cloud of magic and debris sprayed away from her, covering the room, impaling the walls, and scorching the ceiling..

What’s happening to me!? she thought, sweat dripping from her forehead. She stared towards the flame in front of her, still burning, and suddenly began to see a dark, twisting break in the very fabric of reality..

What’s… that? she thought, reaching out towards it, her body beginning to glow brightly once more. The green energy flowing out of her began to seep towards the fissure, and was met with a deep red-colored aura that was leaking out from the crack. The two magics intertwined and began to overlap, absorbing one another.

Cracks… she thought. Cracks in the world. Pinkie Pie said that. Everypony thought she’d lost her marbles, but… she was right! Unless… am I losing it, too?

Rainbow Dash wiped her forehead and then reached out towards the red magic. It began to come towards her. What are you? What am I?

The red energy touched her hoof, and her previously green glow began to change, becoming deep orange. Who’s there? I hear you… Rainbow thought. Pinkie?

What are you, you ask? a distorted voice echoed in Rainbow’s mind. You are exactly what I’ve been searching for. Now let me show you the way… the way to the truth!

A loud sound came from Rainbow Dash’s front door, a hoof knocking against it. The glow, the crack, and the dark magic vanished in a single, quick pulse. Rainbow jerked her head around and stared towards the doorway. The figure of an alicorn stood at the entrance and stepped towards her, into the living room.

“Princess Celestia?” Rainbow Dash asked, her eyes wide with fear from all she’d just gone through.

Princess Celestia narrowed her eyes and her horn began to glow. “Yes… Rainbow Dash?” she said in the form of a question. “What’s happened here?”

Twilight ran towards Ponyville as fast as she could, her eyes occasionally glancing upward towards Cloudsdale and the increasingly turbulent weather coming from it.

The princess will be heading back to Sugarcube corner, too. I have to get there fast, she thought. She pushed her way past a gate on a fence, which swung back as she blew through the opening. A moment later, she heard the gate slam behind her, accompanied by approaching hoofbeats. She turned her head back and saw Applejack approaching with great speed, gaining on her. Not now, AJ! Bad timing!

Twilight charged her horn with magic, concentrated, and vanished into thin air with a zap. She reappeared a good three blocks away, popping back into existence, still running forward with all her might.

Applejack grunted as she pushed forward, seeing Twilight’s quick teleportation after having been noticed. What’s she hidin’? Applejack thought as she tried to push herself even faster. She knows somethin’ about this storm. It ain’t natural, I can tell that much. What’re you thinkin’, Twi?

Applejack zipped past an intersection of two streets and a second later heard Rarity call out to her. She didn’t stop to listen to what she said, but a moment later heard the sound of the unicorn giving chase. Glancing back for a brief second, she saw the purple-maned mare running as fast as she could, holding a fancy short-brimmed hat in her teeth. Applejack chuckled briefly, then turned her eyes forward once again.

Twilight arrived at Sugarcube Corner and pushed the door open, rushing upstairs to Pinkie’s room. Mr. Cake barely had time to turn his head and speak before she’d already passed through the shop and up the stairs.

“Hey Twilight, find out… anything?” the baker asked with a confused look on his face.

“Not yet, but stay inside! There’s a bad storm going on!” Twilight shouted down to him as she turned down the hallway and shoved the door to Pinkie’s room open. She shut it after herself and clicked the lock. Leaning up against the wall at the bottom of Pinkie’s staircase, she took a moment to catch her breath.

“Okay… break time’s over,” Twilight said after a few seconds, pushing herself up the stairs. She glanced around habitually to make sure no one was there, and then flipped her bag open, levitating the small Colorscope lens out. She approached a window, pushing the curtains to the side. She slid the lens’s chain onto her horn and placed the lens itself up to her left eye. She looked out the windows up towards Cloudsdale.

She immediately noticed places along the clouds that stuck out like a sore hoof where there were small gaps in the fabric of the dream. Those must be the cracks the Pinkie was seeing, she thought. Raising her gaze even higher, she saw a massive green aura pushing its way out in pulses from Cloudsdale. She’d seen this sort of aura before, in her own dream. Changelings!

Then finally, the sight of Princess Celestia, undisguised and flying upward, caught her eye. She only saw her for a brief moment before she zipped past the upper cloud layer and out of sight.

Shoot… I wish I could get up there somehow, but I suppose I’m just grounded, Twilight thought. She levitated the pink communication gem from her bag and positioned it into her ear. Tapping it a couple of times with her hoof, she hunched down and hid.

“Come on, Pinkie. Please, be there!” she whispered.

“Why are we whispering?” came a voice through the communication gem.

Back in the streets of Ponyville, Applejack had reached the town center and stopped running, looking around for signs of where Twilight had gone. Rarity, breathing heavily, finally caught up and sat down next to Applejack. She pulled the hat out from her teeth and put it onto her head.

“That pony…” Rarity started, breathing heavily between every couple of words, “with Twilight… was… Princess Celestia.”

Applejack stared at Rarity. “You sure?” she asked. Rarity just nodded as she continued to breathe deeply. “Well I’ll be. Wonder why she looked like that.”

“She said… she was… investigating Pinkie Pie,” Rarity managed to exhale.

Applejack stared gravely down at Rarity. “You didn’t break yer Pinkie Promise, did ya?” she asked, swallowing roughly. Rarity shook her head. “Good. Can’t be havin’ that, now.” She turned her head towards Sugarcube Corner at the far end of the square. Movement from the top floor window caught her eye, but when she looked in that direction, nothing was there.

Pinkie Pie, eh? Applejack thought.

“Come on, Rarity. I just put 2 and 2 together,” Applejack said with a grin.

Rarity, who had regained her composure but was now soaked from the rain, stood up and began to walk towards Sugarcube Corner. “I never knew math was your strong suit,” she said jokingly.

“Hardy har,” Applejack replied. “Let’s go, I got a sneakin’ suspicion that Twilight’s in there and she knows way more’n she’s tellin’ us.”

The two ponies made the way to the door of Sugarcube Corner and pushed it open, entering the shop. Mr. Cake looked up at the two wet ponies and shook his head. “It’s not the kind of night you’d wanna be out there, ladies. You lookin’ for Twilight?” he said in greeting.

Applejack just nodded her head while Rarity advanced quickly towards the counter and picked up a towel from behind it with her magic, daintily mopping her mane dry. As if by magic, her mane regained its previous form as the water was gradually wicked away.

“Let’s go, Rare,” Applejack said, trotting towards the stairs in the back. “Twi’s got some explainin’ ta’ do.”

Rarity shrugged and followed Applejack up the stairs and down the Cakes’ hallway towards the door to Pinkie’s room at the end. Applejack reached a hoof out and grabbed the door handle, turning and pushing, but it resisted with a metallic clanking sound.

“Locked…” Applejack said suspiciously.

On the other side of the door and up the flight of stairs that led into Pinkie Pie’s room, Twilight Sparkle sat against the windows, clutching her hoof against her ear and whispering at the communication gem. “Pinkie, something is going on here, and I still don’t have a grasp on all this!” Twilight whispered back urgently. “Princess Celestia has flown up to Cloudsdale, which is hovering over Ponyville for some reason! Pinkie Pie apparently went crazy and has disappeared, and nopony knows anything about where she went, or at least won't say anything about it! She wrote a bunch of crazy notes all over the walls here about cracks in the world, and I can see them everywhere through the Colorscope!”

After a moment of silence, Pinkie’s voice crackled through the communicator. “So, I guess it’s pointless for me to ask you to connect me to Pinkie now, then?”

“Like I said! She disappeared! Nopony knows where she went!” Twilight whispered back, at almost a speaking level. “Pinkie, I don’t know what to do! The green magic coming down from cloudsdale is just like the changelings had used in the other dreams! Something awful is going to happen, I just know it! Fluttershy is up there, and I have no idea if she’s okay or not!”

“WHAT?” Pinkie shouted through the communication gem. “What did you do, split up?” she asked, almost scolding.

Twilight hung her head. “Yes, we did. We thought it was Rainbow Dash’s dream, and so Fluttershy went to Cloudsdale to try and get her to come down and see us all together…” Twilight said, hesitating at that point. “But I don’t think things went as well as planned. She could have been spotted by the dream's Fluttershy, or even tried to wake up Rainbow Dash on her own!”

“Well that last one could be bad, but shouldn’t end up being the worst, right?” Pinkie asked, looking for a positive note. “I mean, you’re still there. The dream isn’t ending.”

“That’s just it, though. I think this might be Apple Bloom’s dream!” Twilight exclaimed, not even whispering anymore. “I saw her use a strange power at the farm just before this all started happening! I don’t know for sure, but I think it was lucidity!”

A banging at the door interrupted Twilight. Applejack’s voice shot across the threshold. “What about Apple Bloom? Twilight, we know yer up there, let us in!” she yelled. “What’s goin’ on, and what was Celestia doin’ here disguised?”

Twilight fumbled to stuff the Colorscope lens into her saddle bag. “Applejack’s here! She heard me! I’ll tell you more later!” Twilight whispered, then levitated the earpiece down into her bag as well. She stumbled towards the staircase and used her magic to unlock and open the door. She was greeted by Applejack’s glaring eyes and Rarity’s still partially soaked visage.

“Hey girls,” Twilight said nervously. “I guess this must seem kind of strange.”

Applejack glared. “Look, Twilight, I’m sure you have a reasonable explanation fer this, and I’d love ta hear it.” She pushed her way past Twilight and walked up the stairs to Pinkie’s room, taking a seat by the window. Twilight followed her slowly, her eyes trained to the floor. Applejack pointed a hoof out the window. “This crazy storm and green lightnin’ pops up all the sudden, and you take off like a bat outta Tartarus. I don’t know much about magic, so I got no clue. I just know it can’t be good.”

Twilight sighed. “You’re right, AJ. It’s not good. I don’t know how bad, yet, but it could be…” she hesitated, searching for the right words. “It could be the worst imaginable event.”

“So tell us, my dear,” Rarity said calmly as she finally made her way up the stairs to join them. “We’re your friends. You know we’ll stick by you no matter what, so you have to tell us. It must be serious to have brought not only you, but the princess, back from canterlot a day early.”

Twilight breathed in deeply, knowing that her choice of words, and the story she tells, could have similar catastrophic consequences to whatever might have happened in Cloudsdale. She glanced around the bedroom, the walls covered in writing and pictures, and suddenly focused in on three big scribbled words.


“What if I told you that Pinkie Pie wasn’t so crazy after all?” Twilight proposed, moving her hoof in a circular motion against the wooden floor. “What if there really were cracks in the world, as it were? What if something awful was trying to break through and destroy Equestria?”

Rarity sat down and also stared toward the ground, her eyes shaking slightly. Applejack looked at Twilight with intensity.

“I’d say we need ta stop it,” Applejack said matter-of-factly. “But you gotta tell us everything. We heard ya in here talkin’, Twi. I know you talk to yerself sometimes, but that didn’t sound like yer usual anxious banter. I heard ya say somethin’ about Apple Bloom. Apple Bloom’s dream, you said. Does this hafta do with her… weird cutie mark?”

Twilight looked up at Applejack. “Weird? What’s weird about it?” she asked nervously, cursing herself for speaking too loudly to Pinkie Twi.

Applejack shook her head. “As happy as she mighta been ta’ discover her talent, there’s always been a naggin’ suspicion at the backa my mind. That talent don’t seem natural. It’s somethin’ a unicorn would have, not an earth pony like Apple Bloom,” she rattled off. “Does that hafta do with what drove Pinkie ta’ run away? She started seein’ those weird cracks, as she called ‘em, the very same day Apple Bloom n’ Sweetie Belle got their cutie marks.”

She explained it away all by herself… Twilight thought, dumbfounded. It’s almost like she can see… what’s not quite right here. All those events are parts of what’s wrong with this world.

Twilight looked up at Applejack and into her eyes. The intense stare that met hers made her remember the real Applejack and her determination.

“Rarity, the princess had gone to see you to ask about Pinkie Pie,” Twilight said. “You were the last pony to see Pinkie before she disappeared.

Rarity looked up at Twilight despondently. “She asked me, yes,” she replied nervously.

Twilight noticed Applejack lowering her head and rubbing a hoof against her other foreleg nervously. She looked back and forth between the two of them for a second before finally turning back to Rarity. “And?” she asked expectantly.

“And I couldn’t tell her anything,” Rarity admitted. “I… I couldn’t… I made a Pinkie Promise.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, her voice becoming angry. “You can’t be serious!” Twilight stood up, waving a hoof in the air and shouting now.

Applejack raised a foreleg towards Twilight. “Come on, Twi, you know you can’t break a--”

“Like buck you can’t!” Twilight said, glaring down at Applejack. “I’m shocked at you, AJ! For a second, I really thought that might be you, but you can’t even…” she stopped herself.

To break a promise would be dishonest, too, but… no, I’m going down the wrong path! Twilight thought. AJ would know better than to keep a secret that could save a friend, even the entire world! I have to make this seem even more urgent.

“I’m sorry, girls,” Twilight said, sitting back down. “I’ll be straight with you both. If we don’t find out what Pinkie knew and where she went, as well as what happened up there in Cloudsdale, there will be an event that will make what happened in Canterlot during the wedding seem like Trixie issuing a threat against Ponyville.”

Applejack shook her head. “What… does that mean?” she asked, swallowing.

“Changelings, girls. We don’t know how, but Pinkie may be the key to this. As soon as the princess gets back, we can explain in greater detail, but for now--”

Twilight was cut off by a flash of yellow crashing through the window behind her. Fluttershy spilled into the room and tackled Twilight, rolling them both across the floor.

“Twilight! Rainbow Dash! Changeling! I told her--!” Fluttershy started before Twilight forcefully twisted her head around so she’d see Applejack and Rarity. Fluttershy stared at them for a moment. She cleared her throat and breathed in deeply. “I told her about changelings! She said she remembered them! That was all! It was a nice visit! Hehe!” she said, still shouting.

Twilight slapped a hoof over her face. Great! She tried to wake up Rainbow Dash, and when Dash turned into a Changeling, she ran. Hopefully the princess can handle it quickly without any problems, Twilight thought, looking out the window. The rain had stopped at some point, and she hadn’t noticed. There was no more green lightning, either.

“Good, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, pointing out the window. “I don’t think there’s much to worry about, though, other than the Pinkie Pie issue. And the fact that she noticed the changelings were going to invade before anypony else did. Remember?” she asked, hoping Fluttershy would get the picture.

Fluttershy nodded, finally getting off of Twilight and joining Applejack and Rarity by the now broken window. Twilight followed her after pushing herself up from the ground as well. She took a seat next to Rarity and put a hoof on her shoulder.

“Rarity, I know you made a promise, but the fate of Equestria could be riding on what you know, what Pinkie Pie knows,” Twilight said.

Rarity shook her head. “Why couldn’t you tell us?” she asked, not looking at Twilight. “Why did the princess disguise herself? Why didn’t you come to us all directly?”

“Rarity, we were--” Twilight started, but was interrupted by Rarity turning to look at Twilight, tears now streaming down her cheeks.

“You were what, Twilight? Aren’t we all friends? Aren’t we all the bearers of the Elements of harmony for a reason? To protect Equestria, right?”

Applejack intervened. “Come on, Rarity, Twilight and the princess musta had their reasons,” she said with a nod. “Trust has ta go both ways, ya know. What matters is she told us now, and I think you can see as well as I can that it musta been important to keep it quiet.”

Rarity wiped her eyes and smiled. “Sorry, I just… very well,” she said. “Pinkie Promise or not, if we can save Equestria… save Pinkie… then I will tell you what Pinkie told me. I don’t actually expect you to believe it, though.”

“After what I’ve been through, I’d believe a lot of things, Rarity,” Twilight responded confidently.

“Just give me a moment, please,” Rarity said. “I need to think for a moment to make sure I am remembering everything. A glass of water would help, too, I’m rather parched after all that running.”

Twilight smiled. “Let’s go down to the shop, then,” Twilight replied, not at all nervous about the Cakes overhearing them.

In fact, this whole situation has reminded me of something that I may have forgotten briefly, Twilight thought as the four of them went back down the stairs and away from the strange atmosphere that enveloped Pinkie’s room. Dreams or not, these are all ponies that are based upon my friends. If anything, the Cakes will be relieved to finally hear about Pinkie and be given some reassurance that we’ll find her.

Celestia turned her head, looking around the mess of a room that she now found herself in. The entire place was in shambles, as if a tornado had torn its way through. Rainbow Dash sat as still as can be, staring up at the princess with nervously shaking eyes. The princess stared back down at her, seeing the fear in the blue mare’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, are you okay?” Celestia asked gently, not wanting to scare her any further. She stepped forward and reached a hoof out towards Rainbow Dash, who hesitantly took it and pulled herself up to a shaky standing position. Upon contact, Celestia closed her eyes briefly, trying to feel any resonant magic that was clinging to her.

A vision of two brightly shining white eyes, surrounded by pulsing dark magic appeared in her field of vision. She quickly opened her eyes again, gasping slightly. Rainbow Dash flinched back a bit in response.

“Sorry, yeah,” Rainbow Dash finally managed. “I’m just a bit shaken up, sorry.”

“Understandable,” the princess responded. “So, what happened here?” she asked again.

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “I don’t know. It was like… crazy. I couldn’t keep track of it all… There was this-” she started, and then was cut off by a piercing pain shooting through her head.

I can’t tell her, I can’t tell her! Rainbow Dash thought to herself, almost as if driven by an outside force. This world is a fraud! I have to get out of here! I can’t let her stop me! She shook her head again and placed a hoof against her brow.

“There was this lightning,” Rainbow Dash finally finished.

Celestia nodded her head. “Yes, I saw it. It almost seemed to be coming from here. I was worried about you, Rainbow Dash.”

“It shot through here!” Rainbow Dash said, swinging her hoof forward from her forehead. “That must be it. That’s why everything’s destroyed in here. Sorry, I’m just a little shocked,” she finished, adding a forced chuckle.

She’s lying to me, Celestia thought, lowering her eyebrows and staring at Rainbow’s face. I’ll try a different approach.

“Was Fluttershy here?” Celestia asked outright, watching to gauge Dash’s reaction.

How did she know that? Rainbow Dash thought, turning away from Celestia and stepping away from her.

“Yeah. It’s a good thing she left before this all happened, too,” Rainbow responded semi-honestly. “Why do you ask?”

“I was down at Sugarcube Corner with Twilight waiting for her to come back down with you,” Celestia said plainly.

“Why were you there?” Rainbow Dash asked, looking over her shoulder. Her eyes were immediately met by Celestia, which were staring back with intensity.

She knows! the distorted voice whispered in Rainbow Dash’s ear.

“Where did Fluttershy go?” Celestia asked, not giving a response.

“Was it something to do with Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow asked, her mind filling with the vision of the crack in reality she’d seen.

She’s stalling, Discord’s voice whispered to Celestia.

“Where’s Fluttershy?” Celestia asked again. The tension in the room was palpable.

“Did someone break a Pinkie Promise?” Rainbow Dash asked, wide-eyed as sweat rolled down her cheeks.

“What happens if they do?” Celestia replied, her curiosity over the obsession with Pinkie Promises getting the best of her.

Rainbow Dash averted her eyes and turned away from the princess. “Sorry… I don’t know where Fluttershy went. She left,” she said. “I’m sorry, Princess Celestia. I think I need to get some rest.”

Celestia sighed. “Very well, then. I’ll return to Ponyville,” she said, taking a few steps towards the door. “I’m looking forward to your show tomorrow, Rainbow Dash. I hope you’re ready for it after all this.”

I’ll stay and keep an eye on her, Discord said with a laugh in Celestia’s mind. The chaos is swirling all around her. Something happened, and she’s not telling us.

No, you should return to the ground with me. We need to make sure Fluttershy is okay and Twilight knows what happened, Celestia repsonded. Besides, I’d rather you not run off on your own.

Hmmph! Discord scoffed. You can’t stop me, Celestia! You’re not my keeper in this world!

Celestia walked out of Rainbow Dash’s door, narrowing her eyes. If you ever want a chance at real freedom, you’ll do as I say.

Discord growled at her ultimatum. You should know that won’t work. Do you want me to stay and watch her or not? he asked. I won’t play your mind games, princess.

Celestia sighed and shut Rainbow Dash’s door, taking one last look at the blue pegasus, who was still sitting and staring towards her silently. Do as you please. Just don’t cause any trouble. Whatever happened to Dash, us being here may only exacerbate the situation. I honestly think it’s best that she rest. The possibility of her being the dreamer has... risen dramatically.

If you say so… Discord said, his smirk able to be heard through his tone.

What’s that supposed to mean?

There was no response. Celestia sighed and began a more calm downward flight towards the ground. The weather had calmed down, the green energy was no longer flying through the air, and the rain was now just a memory.

As the princess flew out of view from Rainbow Dash’s room, the door to her quarters opened once more. On the other side, Rainbow Dash sat with her hoof outstretched, staring through the open doorway for a moment. With a flick of her hoof, the door closed and then a layer of clouds spiraled upward, shouding the windows and covering the doorway.

A barely noticeable flash of red, followed by a steady orange glow, emanated silently from behind the clouds.

Rainbow Dash… The Element of Loyalty… You shall be the bringer of this world’s end.

Horizons Ch 5 - Fall To Pieces

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Five - Fall To Pieces

Twilight, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity, now seated at a round table in the back corner of the sweet shop, silently sipped on glasses of water and cups of hot tea that had been served to them along with slices of buttered sweet bread that were left over from the day’s batch. Mr. Cake had put out the “closed” sign and was cleaning up behind the counters, also remaining silent. He’d had no problem letting them stay in the shop after hours, and was interested in any information about Pinkie Pie. Mrs. Cake had come back and was sitting silently on the other side of the kitchen door, unable to focus on her work in light of the possibility of word on Pinkie Pie.

Rarity daintily took another sip from her glass of water and nervously rubbed her front hooves together, never taking her eyes up from the table’s surface.

Twilight finally broke the silence after they’d all been sitting quietly for a good ten minutes. “So, are you ready? Do you remember?” she asked, not wanting to appear impatient, but beginning to feel so.

Rarity nodded her head slowly, still not raising her gaze from the table. “She came to me that night with an odd request. She had made a drawing of a certain garment she needed me to make for her. I had never seen anything like it, and it was definitely more utilitarian than fashionable. Still, I had the gems and other pieces on hand that were required, as well as the fabric. I couldn’t recall ever stocking such items, but there they were. It was almost as if the knowledge of them, as well as the items themselves, had just suddenly appeared. These weren’t standard materials, either. There were gems and reagents I’d never even heard of, definitely not something you’d expect one to have lying around. Looking back on it, the whole situation feels impossibly constructed, but at the time it made perfect sense to me. I just knew I had those things, somehow. Like magic,” she started to recall.

That’s definitely suspicious, Twilight thought. The dream must have brought them into being somehow, probably through Pinkie Pie. But that knowledge can’t have been in the dreamer’s mind, especially if this is Apple Bloom’s dream… so who was directing Pinkie?

“It was all so strange, but I moved onward, creating the masterfully designed garment for her. She’d told me that it was very important, that the world depended on it, but she wouldn’t tell me what she meant by that. Knowing what I know now, I suppose it may have been this changeling plot you’ve uncovered, but that doesn’t fit with the last thing she told me,” Rarity said, now pausing in hesitation. “This little tidbit… she made me Pinkie Promise to never tell anyone about it. Even now, I almost feel some sort of force in my mind, pushing against me, forcing me to keep it a secret.”

Applejack nodded her head. “I feel it too, Rare. It don’t make any sense ta’ me when I think about it, either,” she said. “Even Pinkie Pie would want you ta’ break that Pinkie Promise if it meant savin’ Equestria, though. Ya gotta push through it somehow! We’re all here for ya, and whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.” She placed a hoof on Rarity’s shoulder and closed her eyes, as if she was trying to channel her confidence and solidarity into Rarity.

Twilight blinked her eyes a couple of times and had to force herself to not say anything. A dark yellow aura had begun to appear at the point where Applejack was pressing her hoof onto Rarity’s shoulder. It was almost as if her willpower had begun to literally push out of her and into Rarity. Twilight glanced at Fluttershy, who clearly was seeing the same thing. She was staring wide-eyed, but also not saying a word.

Rarity closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. “You’re right, Applejack. We must stand up for our friends, even if it means breaking such a bond!” Rarity said, almost shouting. Her horn began to glow lightly, and her mouth began to move, the words passing out from her lips as if she was reciting from a piece of paper.

“On the night of her disappearance, Pinkie Pie told me that she had been hearing a strange voice in her mind, and at first it sounded distorted and fuzzy. She said it would give her vague commands to do terrible things, even destroy the world. However, as time went by, she said it became clearer and she began to recognize it,” Rarity spoke flatly but gravely. “Pinkie told me who she thought the voice belonged to upon making me promise to never tell a soul. I’m sorry, Pinkie, but I must break that oath. She told me she was almost certain… the voice belonged to Princess Luna.”

Twilight, Fluttershy, and Applejack all gasped lightly, the weight of the promise now apparent. Mr. Cake dropped the cup he had been holding, and Mrs. Cake peeked out through a now slightly ajar kitchen door. The glow at the tip of Rarity’s horn flashed, making a snapping sound. Her eyes shot open and immediately locked onto the shop’s front door.

“Princess Celestia…” Rarity said quietly, her voice shaking.

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Wait, was it Princess Luna or Princess Celestia?” she asked.

Applejack, who had now joined Rarity in staring towards the front of the shop, pointed her hoof towards the front door. “No, Twi, Princess Celestia’s right there,” she said.

Twilight turned her head and saw Celestia standing by the door, which was still open.

“So the voice in Pinkie’s head was Luna,” Celestia said, walking towards the four ponies and sitting at the table with them. Mr. Cake appeared with a cup of tea, almost as if he’d teleported, and set it gently in front of the princess.

“It would seem so, or at least she thought so,” Rarity said, nodding her head towards the princess.

“Yet I’ve not felt her presence. If she was part of the reason Pinkie Pie vanished, she is no longer working in any capacity that would draw attention to her,” Celestia stated.

There’s also the question of whether it was Luna from this dream or the real Luna, the princess thought to herself. What motivation would the dream’s Luna have to drive Pinkie Pie away? It may just be a case of mistaken identity. No need to think about it much for now.

Celestia turned her head towards Twilight. “I’ve returned from Cloudsdale. Rainbow Dash has gone through a traumatic situation, and I believe this may change a good many things for us, Twilight,” she said, now glancing at Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, am I correct in assuming that you told Rainbow Dash the truth?”

Fluttershy nodded her head, blushing slightly.

“The whole truth?” Celestia asked, making certain.

Fluttershy nodded once again. “Yes,” she replied. “I told her everything. I’m so sorry…”

Celestia smiled at Fluttershy. “Don’t worry, my dear. Rainbow Dash seems fine. I’ve just had a… rather revealing talk with her. Her situation is not unlike when you or Twilight found out. She is shaken, her mind is full of confusion, but she is fine. She wished to be left alone for the night, and I think it will do her well. Some rest will hopefully calm the turbulence in her mind and give her time to contemplate the situation.”

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up as the princess spoke. “Wait, that means Rainbow Dash is…!” she began, stopping herself from completing the sentence.

Celestia nodded her head. “Indeed, although it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what to make of this, either…” Twilight said, rubbing a hoof against her forehead in bafflement.

“The poor thing,” said Fluttershy. “I feel bad for her being all alone. I should go see her, it’s my fault…”

“No, she said she wanted to be alone,” Celestia repeated. “I say we give her some peace before we inevitably have to… bring her out.” Celestia glanced at Applejack and Rarity, hoping she’d been picking and choosing her words well enough.

Applejack tapped a hoof against the table. “Are ya’ll finished talkin’ in code, yet?” she asked impatiently.

Celestia smiled at Applejack. “I’m sorry, Applejack, Rarity. You’ve both been very patient and helpful. I’m sorry we were less than forthcoming with information at first, but we have our reasons,” she said reassuringly. “For now, I think we’re all a bit on edge. We should probably get some rest for the night. We will all be together tomorrow after the Wonderbolts performance, and we can then form our plan of attack. Until we’re all together in private, though, I advise that we not speak of anything that’s happened tonight.”

Everypony nodded in agreement. Celestia stood up, leaning towards Fluttershy and Twilight at the first opportunity when Applejack and Rarity weren’t looking. “Meet back where we arrived,” she whispered. The two nodded in agreement. The five all went in separate directions, but Twilight, Fluttershy, and Celestia looped around the block and made their way back to the alleyway where they had first fallen into the dream world.

“We have a few problems, and we need to be prepared for them,” said Celestia, who had shrunk back down into her disguised form. She took a seat on the ground in front of the Wonderbolts poster and the others gathered around her. “First of all, we are very fortunate that Applejack and Rarity didn’t press us any further about the storm or green lightning. I believe we have your story about changelings to thank for that, Twilight.”

Twilight shrugged. “In retrospect, it wasn’t the best story I could have come up with, but I had to come up with something that seemed really important,” she said.

“Don’t fret, we’ve handled it well and will continue to do so. Fluttershy, are you absolutely certain that Rainbow Dash heard you clearly and understood what you were saying?” Celestia asked, turning to the yellow Pegasus.

Fluttershy sighed. “Yes, and I am still sorry about that. I never would have normally told her on my own, but she was acting so strange. She was being really conceited and mean, and acting like she didn’t even care about any of her friends, let alone me…” she said sadly. “So I wanted to wake her up so that maybe then she’d go back to being the same old Rainbow Dash, but she just got mad. Her eyes were glowing green just like when ponies in my dream did before turning to changelings, so I thought I had turned her into one. I felt so scared and terrible. I thought I’d ruined everything.”

“It’s okay, my dear,” Celestia reassured her. “Rainbow Dash is no changeling. Furthermore, I think she is awoken now, and her lucidity has activated.”

“That doesn’t make sense to me, though,” Twilight chimed in, “Applejack was glowing with a magical aura just now, and Rarity’s horn was glowing as if she were breaking through some sort of magical block on her mind. It was almost as if the Pinkie Promise was actually a spell, and they both worked together to break it.”

Celestia sighed. “I admit, I can’t explain that, or several other things,” she said. “When I tried to probe for latent magic in Rainbow Dash’s room, I had a vision of a pair of glowing eyes. I could have just imagined it, but I doubt it. I couldn’t mention this before because of Applejack and Rarity.”

“The changeling queen?” Twilight fielded as a guess. Celestia shook her head in response.

“No, I’d know her eyes anywhere. These were different. They were bright white, not green, and shrouded in darkness other than a slight red aura. It was for but a second that I saw them. In any case, there may be more at work here, just like in Fluttershy’s dream.”

“Yes,” Twilight responded. “I saw Apple Bloom using some sort of magic. The whole world seems to be inundated with--”

“Chaos!” Discord’s voice said aloud for all three of the ponies to hear.

“I think we found who else is at work here!” Twilight blurted out angrily. However, Celestia quickly raised a hoof to stifle any further accusations or questions that Twilight or Fluttershy may have had.

“Please explain, Discord,” Celestia said with a shake of her head.

“Well, after you so rudely threatened me earlier, I went flying around, feeling for chaotic energy, and it’s literally everywhere, which makes it hard to find the source. Somewhere near the border between the apple farm and the town, which have curiously moved ever so near to one another, there is a mass of chaotic influx,” Discord said. “Finding the source shouldn’t be impossible for me, it’ll just take time. One interesting thing to note is that there’s a giant sporting arena that’s been built just off from the farm a bit, and it’s very near to wherever the chaotic energy is coming from.”

Celestia nodded. “That’s not good… That’s probably where the Wonderbolts will be performing tomorrow. We also still have no explanation as to why that chaotic energy is flowing so freely,” she pondered. “or why so many ponies seem to be displaying lucidity-like powers.”

Discord laughed. “Celestia, I’m shocked. I suppose you really didn’t take studies of dreams and dream magic too seriously, did you?” he said with an audible smile. “Well, I suppose you had better things to do, perhaps finding the perfect spot in the Canterlot gardens to place all your petrified foes.”

“Please, Discord, get to the point,” Celestia grumbled with annoyance.

“Oh do calm down,” he responded, accompanied by a snap of his fingers. Three dark hooded cloaks materialized in the air above the three ponies, falling onto them. “I’ve been extremely thoughtful of you, dear princess. I procured these from the ever-radiant Miss Rarity. She happened to have seven, I guess one for each day of the week. Can you imagine it? A whole closet rack of these things! It’s like she thought she was going into exile, but wanted to have a change of cloak each day! Bahaha!”

Twilight gave a slight, uncontrollable snort, holding back her laughter. That’s so Rarity, she thought.

“You three will need to remain hidden tomorrow when your other selves will surely be in the general vicinity, and poor Fluttershy and Twilight can’t use that illusion spell that you stole, I mean, learned so long ago,” Discord continued, still unseen.

Celestia lifted the cloak up with her magic, folding it in place, choosing not to respond to Discord’s taunting.

“To make a long story short, I have my theories about your other magic-using ponies, though I’ll come clean, I never much cared for the dream arts myself. It’s so much more fun to make reality into a dreamscape. However, I remember enough to recall something called ‘focus’ – the details evade me, but are right on the tip of my tongue. I just know it has something to do with it. You’ll have to forgive my rustiness; I’ve been unable to keep in practice for most of the last thousand years.”

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Anyway, thank you for the information,” she managed to say, much to Discord’s glee. “This ‘focus’ as you call it, then, needs to be looked into. If the dream is so chaotic, though, wouldn’t it suggest a lack of focus?”

“Or too many focuses,” Twilight said, trying to be useful. “What if there was no single focus, but many? Maybe even a completely random or ever-changing focus? The word focus suggests clarity, but this dream doesn’t seem to have much of that going around. At least through all the chaos in Fluttershy’s dream, there was a singular focus of fear, to put it bluntly.”

“It was more than that,” Fluttershy spoke up, closing her eyes and recalling how she felt in her dream. “It wasn’t just fear, or my fear of being loved… It was very clearly focused on the one whom I accepted such feelings from… Rainbow Dash… She was always with me throughout the whole dream. I think she was even with me after she died. Somehow, she was there with us all the way to the very end, never leaving our sides… my side…”

A tiny voice rose from Twilight’s saddlebag. “Hey, I can’t hear anything!”

Twilight lifted the communication gem from her saddlebag and levitated it into the air. “Have something to add, Pinkie?”

“Oh, that wasn’t me,” Pinkie’s voice crackled from the gem. “That was Rainbow Dash. Can you believe it? She just, like, ZAP! Just appeared here right in front of me! Just like we hoped she would!”

Fluttershy smiled from ear to ear. “That must be my Pinkie, Twilight! And Rainbow Dash! I wonder if it’s because I was thinking about her just now,” she said, her voice shaking with sudden happiness.

“It would make sense!” Pinkie Twi buzzed in through the pink gem this time. “When Twilight wanted me to not be stuck in a dreary world, it brightened right up! Probably the same sort of thing.”

Twilight smiled. “We definitely still have some influence over our dreams after we leave, I’m sure of it now. Of course, that doesn’t help with this problem we’re having. We’ve got ponies here using magic that just plain shouldn’t be, and we don’t know how or why,” she explained to Pinkie. “Only one of them can be the dreamer, and that’s certainly seeming to be Rainbow Dash.”

“You mean like I used magic in Fluttershy’s dream?” Rainbow Dash’s voice came through the communicator. “Surely you remember my amazing magical acrobatic battle with that imposter that took over Applejack’s body!”

Everyone nodded their heads simultaneously and let out a collective “Ohhhh…”

“Wait, wasn’t that because Fluttershy had used her magic to revive you in Cloudsdale, though?” Twilight asked.

“Yes, that may be true,” Celestia added. “I thought so, as well. The dark magic that possessed Pinkie Shy had similarly boosted her magical powers.”

“Maybe I just have magic in every dream!” Rainbow Dash shouted triumphantly from the gem.

“That seems even less likely, but I guess we have to treat it as remotely possible,” a Pinkie, presumably Twi, analyzed aloud.

“Who cares?” a second Pinkie’s voice drolled forth. “All it does is make it basically impossible to identify the dreamer based on their lucidity.”

“Yeah...” Pinkie Twi’s voice crackled through the communicator once again. “It’s probably pointless to speculate on it.”

“Right,” Twilight agreed. “We’re no closer to the truth than we were before this, unfortunately. In fact, finding out who the dreamer is may be impossible short of inspecting each of them with the Colorscope.”

“Which we have an upgrade ready to push out to you once you find Pinkie in that dream world!” both Pinkies shouted at the same time from the gem.

“Wait, so with me mentioning focus, the situation has become even more confusing?” Discord asked, an unusual flatness to his tone of voice. “Gee, and I’d normally be so pleased about that…” He sighed, which was followed by the sound of him zipping to and fro randomly in the air above the group.

“Calm down, Discord. At least you tried,” Celestia said, deciding to leave out the words “for once” at the end of her phrase. Even if it’s for selfish reasons, he’s trying to help. I shouldn’t be so antagonistic, she thought.

A chuckle from Discord reminded the princess that he was tuned into her thoughts somehow. Surprisingly, he had no comment other than that single, short outburst.

“So, what do we do now?” Fluttershy asked while slipping into the black cloak.

“We get some rest, and I know where,” Celestia said. “We’ll head back to the library and check to see if Spike went with Twilight to the capitol. If the library is vacant, we can set up a spell to alert us if anyone tries to enter. The large window in Twilight’s room will be suitable for a quick escape.”

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes, though I hate that it has to be that way,” she said. “We can’t afford to be seen by our dream selves.”

“Alright, then,” Celestia said as she began walking back out to the streets of Ponyville. “Let’s head that way and get some rest. Fluttershy, you’re already in your cloak, would you mind flying ahead and checking to see if Spike is in the library?”

“What do I do if I see him?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“Oh, he won’t know it’s not the dream you. Just tell him you’re looking for me,” Twilight said with a grin. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Here I go,” Fluttershy said and took off into the sky. The others walked to the tall tree that served as the town’s library. When they got there, they found Fluttershy crouched in front of a window, staring in.

“Is he there?” Twilight asked.

“I don’t think so. It should be safe,” Fluttershy responded.

The group all piled into Twilight’s bedroom. Twilight walked over to her bed, taking note that the covers were very neatly made, just as she would have done herself.

“We need to make sure we don’t make too big a mess in here, so—“ Twilight started, but was interrupted by an unseen force crashing down onto the bed with a flop. Pillows flew into the air and the blankets folded upward. Twilight leapt back away from the bed instinctively.

“What the… Discord!” Twilight said, nearly shouting.

The draconequis materialized with a flash for the first time since they had left Fluttershy’s dream. He stretched out his limbs and wings, his tail hanging off the end of the bed, despite how big it was for a pony.

“Plenty of room up here!” he said joyfully. “Who wants to snuggle?”

Celestia groaned. “I’ll pass, thanks,” she said, turning her nose up.

“So cold, Celestia,” Discord responded, a tear falling from his eye. The princess just rolled hers in response.

Fluttershy had already settled on a small rug that was up against the window. “I’m fine just with this,” she said with a smile. “It’s like having a campout, too, if I crack the window a little.”

Twilight smiled back at the pegasus. “Alright, then. Princess, should I put up the alarm spell?” she asked.

Celestia shook her head. “I already took care of it. You must be tired if you didn’t notice. Too bad somepony is hogging your bed,” she said, glaring at Discord.

Discord raised his hands in the air. “Fine, I suppose that’s fair, even though it’s only sort of her bed!” he complained, and then snapped his fingers. His body transformed into a much smaller version of himself and he leapt over to Spike’s sleeping basket, curling up around the edges of it with his head planted in the middle.

Twilight and Celestia settled onto the bed after straightening the sheets. With a flash from her horn, Twilight put out the lights.

“You all sure nopony wants to snuggle?” Discord asked in the darkness.

“Go to sleep!” all three ponies responded simultaneously.

The next morning came quickly. The four of them vacated the library just after the sun peeked over the horizon, not wanting to have a surprise meeting with their dream selves. They made their way to a discreet oaken grove at the outskirts of town. Sitting amongst the tall trees, they had a breakfast of whole-hay bread and greens that Twilight had helped herself to while they were in the library.

After eating, the three of them emerged and made their way towards the location that Discord had described to them. Once within a certain distance from the sports complex, though, it was impossible to miss.

The site for the Wonderbolts show was unlike anything that had been erected in Ponyville before. The stands were tall and formed a large loop around a grassy field. There were also many cloud seats up above for pegasi who wanted to get a skyward view of the action, all of which stemmed outward from a central cloud with the emblem of the princesses emblazoned on a flag hanging down from it.

Twilight, Celestia, and Fluttershy donned their dark cloaks, though Celestia kept her hood pulled down and wore the hat she’d gotten from Rarity, which she’d eventually paid for the previous night. Hooded or not, her size as an alicorn would be noticed immediately, so she used her disguise spell on top of wearing the dark garment.

“Don’t you think we’ll stand out even more wearing these things?” Twilight asked as they approached the entrance to the sports complex. “I mean, it’s not like ponies normally run around in hooded cloaks.”

Celestia nodded her head. “Yes, that may be, but you will at least not be recognized from a distance this way. It’s important that you two spot your dream doubles as soon as possible and keep track of them. If you ever see them approaching you or acting suspiciously, you need to get away. Twilight, you will be able to teleport and Fluttershy’s cloak will allow her to push her wings out of holes in the back and fly away.”

“Speaking of doubles, look over there,” Fluttershy said, pointing a hoof to the right side of the entryway. A royal procession was going around towards the rear of the building. Sitting on the top of an intricately designed cart were Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, waving to the public. Also sitting with them was Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight pulled her hood tightly down over her face. “Well, there’s two of them, certainly. I don’t think it would be good to bump into Princess Luna, either.”

Celestia nodded in agreement. “Even as a figure in a dream, Luna would likely be able to see through my disguise at short proximity,” she said. “When we get inside, let’s take seats in the back, near an exit. We need to be able to move quickly in case we’re spotted.”

The three ponies made their way into the stadium and took seats a few rows down from the port they had entered through. Fluttershy glanced around nervously, trying to spot herself.

“Remember,” Celestia said, leaning in towards the other two, “We’re here to make sure the nearby rift doesn’t burst. If that rift were to open in front of this crowd, the results would be… well, I’m sure you can imagine. Our quest could very well be ended.”

“The chaos energy is still increasing. We’re coming to a point where we may need to intervene at the slightest sign of a disturbance,” Discord’s voice echoed in the minds of all three of the ponies. “I’ll channel some of it away through some random acts of chaos, not that they can be anything but random. It’ll ultimately be up to you, though. I certainly can’t appear in front of this crowd, tempting though it may be.” He laughed, perhaps a little too enthusiastically for comfort.

Celestia sighed. “Yes, it may be the first time I can recall where I’m counting on your chaotic powers,” she dully groaned. “So we’re ready, then. You two keep an eye out for our doubles, Discord will be on guard for chaos surges, and I’ll keep a close eye on Rainbow Dash. I don’t expect her to create a disturbance here in front of a crowd, but I still can’t get that vision I had when I first met her in Cloudsdale out of my mind. Those glowing eyes… they seemed so familiar.”

Twilight nodded nervously, glancing across the arena to the spot where her dream self was seated along with the dream versions of Celestia and Luna. She turned her head down to the other side of the stands. She spotted Applejack, who was wandering through the growing crowd offering various apple treats and juices. Big Macintosh was doing the same on the other side of the stadium.

“Buy some apples!” a tiny voice suddenly came from behind her. Twilight jumped, recognizing the voice as Apple Bloom. She pulled her hood down and glanced over towards Fluttershy who was thankfully doing the same. The filly made her way down to their aisle and walked right up to them.

“Hey, lady!” the young one said happily, pointing a hoof to the small basket that was strapped to her back. “What’s with the cloak? Wanna buy some apples?”

Twilight put on her best deep scruffy voice. “No thanks, I uh, had a big breakfast,” she said, being certain to not look directly at Apple Bloom.

Fluttershy simply shook her head, but Celestia waved the filly over, who happily walked past the two hooded figures.

“Hey, yer that inspector lady from Canterlot,” the filly said, smiling up at her. “Wanna buy an apple?”

Celestia smiled and pulled a bit coin out from somewhere, dropping it into the basket and pulling out an apple. “Sounds lovely, thank you. Apple Bloom, was it?” she responded.

“That’s right!” Apple Bloom said with a grin.

“I’ve heard about your special talent, young lady,” Celestia said. “Is this one of your special apples? I can’t wait to try it.”

Apple Bloom nodded. “Yep! You’ll love it, I just know it,” she said, turning her head and looking back at her flank. Celestia looked at it as well and smiled.

“You must still be so happy that you got your cutie mark, and that your talent is so special,” Celestia said while looking at the filly’s blank flank. So far as any inhabitant of the dream was concerned, though, Apple Bloom had a cutie mark.

Apple Bloom reached a hoof back and rubbed her flank in a circular motion, as if she were shining it. Her flank suddenly glowed, releasing a stream of yellow magical energy. Celestia blinked her eyes in response.

“Yeah, it’s great, but…” Apple Bloom said, suddenly turning her head downward.

“But what?” Celestia inquired.

“I just wish mah two best friends were here with me,” she responded. “Shoot, I’m sorry. I don’t need ta be involvin’ a total stranger in mah problems.”

Celestia shook her head. “Not at all, my dear. If you need to get something off your chest, sometimes there’s no better ear than a new one,” she said.

Apple Bloom took a seat next to Celestia and began to tell her what had been happening lately. Twilight and Fluittershy sat quietly, listening in.

“We all used to be blank flanks, tryin’ ta get our cutie marks together. We even had a club dedicated to findin’ our special talents,” Apple Bloom said. “But it didn’t work out like we planned. It was such a crazy coincidence, but it was a day when we weren’t meetin’ up at our clubhouse when Sweetie Belle and I both got our cutie marks somehow. Not even together. By the end of the day, the whole town was talkin’ about it. We were so wrapped up in our accomplishment that we forgot about our third member. We finally saw Scootaloo later on. She’d heard what happened. She didn’t get her cutie mark.” Apple Bloom lowered her head, sniffling a bit and holding back tears.

Celestia patted the filly on the back. “I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening before. It’s not like you can’t still be friends, though,” she said.

“That’s just it, though,” Apple Bloom continued. “We were so happy, and Scootaloo was still determined. We showed up at the clubhouse the next day and swore ta do everything we could think of ta try and help Scoot find her talent. But after a couple days… Sweetie Belle stopped showin’ up because she had ta help her sister at the boutique. And I stopped showing up because I had to do farm work. I figured Scoot would stop going to the clubhouse, but one day I went there and looked, and she was there... Sittin’ on the balcony, waiting for us to come, all by herself.”

“What did you do?” Celestia asked.

“Nothing,” Apple Bloom replied. “I felt so terrible, like I’d abandoned her. I couldn’t face her. Yesterday at Sugarcube Corner was the first time I’d talked to her face to face in weeks… and in the end, she left, sayin’ she had stuff to do… but I think that was a lie. I think she just… she just hates us now.”

Twilight and Fluttershy bit their lower lips, holding back their swelling emotions from hearing such a story. Celestia smiled down at the filly and rubbed her hoof against the young one’s back.

“It sounds like you three were such good friends,” Celestia said. “I’m sure she doesn’t hate you. I bet she misses you just as much as you miss her, and just like you, she doesn’t know how to come back together.”

Apple Bloom looked up at Celestia. “So… how do we get back together?” she asked, her eyes shaking.

“That is something that nopony can tell you for certain,” Celestia replied. “The first step is just going to them, though. Are they both here at the show today?”

Apple Bloom nodded her head. “Probably.”

“Well then go to them. Watch the show together. Your heart is in the right place, little one. No matter what you may have done, or how she may have felt, I’m sure you can make amends and be friends once more, and maybe even learn a good lesson about friendship,” Celestia said.

Apple Bloom smiled and wiped her eyes. She turned her head to and fro, scanning the crowd until she spotted Sweetie Belle across the way. “Thank you,” she said. “I feel like I’ve already learned something important; something I shoulda known in the first place. Will you watch mah apples for me? I got a job ta’ do.”

Celestia chuckled. “It would be my pleasure.”

The young filly bolted off, pushing her way through the stands towards the first of her two friends.

“Did you see how her flank glowed where her cutie mark was supposed to be?” Ceslestia asked, turning towards her two companions.

“Yes, it was definitely something. She must be involved in whatever this ‘focus’ may be,” Twilight replied.

“I agree, and look,” Celestia continued, holding her apple up in front of her. “We have a whole basket full of those apples. I can already feel faint magical energy swishing around inside this fruit. Your instinct was definitely correct, Twilight. Those false cutie marks appeared for a reason. We may need to find out more about them before we can be done here.”

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” a booming voice suddenly filled the air. “Please give a warm Ponyville welcome to the greatest fliers in all of Equestria! The Wonderbolts!”

With a flash, a blur of blue-suited pegasi with all different streams of fire, smoke, and sparkles in their wake shot out from an opening at the back of the stands. Six Wonderbolts twirled in the air, flying back and forth, buzzing the crowd and coming within inches of one another in mid-air.

The crowd exploded in cheers and whistles as everypony began to wave their hooves in the air and shout out the names of their favorite Wonderbolts members.

“Get ready for a day full of thrills, racing, acrobatics, and death-defying feats never before seen by ponykind!” the announcer shouted with enthusiasm.

The wonderbolts shot upward towards the sky where a large mass of clouds had been pushed in by a team of pegasi. Each wonderbolts member tore off a piece of cloud and pushed it downward, precisely placing them in a circle hovering high above the ground. They each stood on a piece of cloud, facing outward toward the crowd, waving.

“And now, here’s the pony we’ve all been waiting for! The most interesting mare in Equestria! The captain of the Wonderbolts! Ponyville’s own, one and only, Rainbow Dash!” the announced shouted, his voice practically cracking from the volume.

The cloud that was left hanging higher in the air suddenly exploded with lightning bolts, and the center of it opened up. With another zap of lightning, Rainbow Dash descended through the opening, grabbing a piece of cloud and tossing it downward as she went. She landed on the cloud, which had taken position in the center of the circle below. A beam of sunlight shone down through the cloud opening, lighting up the spot she was standing on, making her seem to glow with radiant white light. She bowed before the crowd, and then suddenly zipped upward. Swinging in a tight, fast circle, she blew through the remaining cloud ring above, shooting bits of cloud out toward the audience, spreading a fine fog over the crowd for a brief moment before it evaporated.

The crowd went crazy as Rainbow Dash returned to her position and took another bow.

Twilight turned towards Princess Celestia. “She seems fine,” she said, her voice a bit raspy from cheering since she had gotten swept up into the spirit of things herself. “I’m actually kind of excited to see what she can do in her own dream world. It must be incredible.”

Celestia nodded her head calmly. “How is the flow of chaos, Discord?” she asked, staying focused on the task at hoof. Twilight made note of that fact and scanned the crowd, spotting her dream counterpart, who was still sitting with dream Celestia and Luna.

“It’s still growing, but I was able to have a little fun during that opening sequence,” he said with a giddy giggle. “Those wonderbolts sure are good! They dealt with random gusts of wind and forced spins quite well. That’s only minor chaos, of course, so it barely put a dent in it. We’ll see what I can muster once they really get going.”

“Don’t completely ruin the show, now,” Celestia reminded him.

“Perish the thought, princess,” Discord replied with another laugh.

Rainbow Dash’s voice shot across the crowd now, loudly and confidently. “Thank you for coming from all across the land to my home town!” she shouted. “Both of them, actually!” She pointed a hoof towards Cloudsdale, striking a strong pose. The crowd erupted in laughter.

“Before we get to the show, I have a big announcement to make! It is no doubt what has drawn so many of you here for this wild party!” Rainbow Dash continued. She flapped her wings, rising steadily into the air, lifting her front hooves skyward. After ascending for a good distance, even higher than the cloud from the opening performance had hung, she began to move forward, straight towards where Twilight, Fluttershy, and Celestia were sitting. She seemed to stare directly down towards them as she spoke.

“The original announcement has been cancelled, though!” Rainbow shouted. “Instead, I have something much bigger to share with you all!”

“What’s she doing?” Twilight asked, turning towards Celestia.

“Nothing yet, but be ready,” Celestia replied, locking her eyes onto Rainbow Dash’s and powering up her horn just slightly.

Rainbow Dash hung in the air and pushed her hooves forward, but never averting her stare from where the three ponies were seated. “I had a visit last night from my pal, Fluttershy! She had quite a story to tell me! It was really shocking, you might say!” she shouted out, and began to spread her hooves apart. Streaks of orange-colored lightning crackled between them, the sound echoing through the stands. The audience laughed at the joke, thinking the lightning was all part of the show.

“She’s not!” Twilight said in a panic, turning to face Princess Celestia. The princess continued to stare into Rainbow Dash’s eyes, narrowing her own. Her horn began to charge up and glow with magic.

“Get ready,” the princess said calmly, her expression devoid of emotion. “If she takes this any farther, we teleport her out of here by force.”

“At first, I couldn’t believe it! But then, I started to see the truth! The truth that only one other pony before had seen! But she disappeared without a trace, and everypony thought she was crazy!” Rainbow Dash yelled, her hooves having fully outstretched to her sides now, lightning arcing above her head and crackling with power. A magical aura began to form around her, and though she was floating in the air, her wings were no longer moving.

The crowd was roaring with cheers, but Twilight looked across the arena towards the spot where the dream Celestia and Luna were seated. They were both standing now, staring gravely towards Rainbow Dash, their horns powered up as well. The Wonderbolts remained standing on their clouds, looking up at Rainbow Dash, but showing signs of confusion. Some of them were shouting things back and forth, but Twilight couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“This is about to get bad! The princesses know something is up! We have to stop her!” Twilight shouted, her voice practically drowned out by the roaring crowd.

“Do it!” Celestia commanded. Twilight clenched her eyes and focused her teleportation spell on Rainbow Dash. There was a loud bang, and a circle of white light exploded outward in a large radius. Twilight opened her eyes, expecting to find herself in a field, away from the arena. Instead, she was met by Rainbow Dash’s face staring directly at her from the air. The spell hadn’t worked. Rainbow Dash wore a giant, toothy smile and shook her head slightly.

“It didn’t work!” Twilight shouted, looking to Celestia, whose horn was now glowing brightly.

Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves both downward, and they vanished nearly up to where they met her body, almost as if she was reaching into an invisible container of some sort. Twilight knew it was one of the cracks in the dream. As Rainbow Dash struggled for a moment, flashes of orange and streaks of bright pink energy began to fire out from where she had punctured reality.

“That’s enough, Rainbow Dash!” Celestia screamed, her voice booming out across the arena. She shot a wide, bright yellow beam of energy from her horn straight at Rainbow Dash. It struck with mighty force, causing an explosion of magic in mid-air.

My power is weakened in this form, but that should at least knock her away! Celsetia thought, sweat running down over her eyebrows.

The flash hung in the air for what felt like an eternity. However, just as quickly as Celestia had fired the shot, the explosion of light began to warp, opening up from the middle and then folding around onto itself. The energy of her attack had been trapped at the point of impact. Rainbow Dash, a strained look on her face, and her hooves still stuffed into the hole in reality, stared at the contained explosion. She leaned towards it, grunting slightly.

“Just what I needed!” she yelled, and then with a simple nod of her head, she launched the ball of energy past her hooves and into the rift.

Twilight heard a commotion across the arena. The dream versions of Celestia and Luna had taken flight and were speeding towards Rainbow Dash.

“We’ve got a problem!” Twilight shouted.

“We should run!” Celestia yelled back. “Fluttershy! We need you to try to physically grab Rainbow Dash and take off! I’ll create a diversion for the princesses!”

All of their plans were in vain, though..

A giant tearing sound, like a cloth being ripped in half, erupted from the center of the arena. Pinkie Pie popped into reality with a loud bang, adorned in a black hooded cloak that sported pouches and pockets all along its edges, as well as several brightly-colored gems. She flung up and over Rainbow Dash’s head, falling to the ground below. Dash dove down after her, catching her before she hit the ground.

“Wait, is that…?” Twilight asked, already knowing the answer. It was at that moment that Twilight realized the crowd had gone completely silent. There was no cheering, laughing, or any noise of any kind. Just the eerie sound of a thousand ponies breathing. Celestia and Luna had stopped in mid flight and stared down at Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Their eyes had begun to glow a bright green.

“We… really need to get out of here now,” Twilight said quietly to her companions, who both nodded in agreement.

“Are you actually crazy!?” Pinkie Pie shouted, turning her head up towards Rainbow Dash. She was hanging from one leg, which was held tightly between both of Dash’s front hooves. Pinkie flung her forelegs upward, revealing the compressed magical explosion that had been thrown into the rift a second earlier. “Not cool!” She shook the magic ball up and down a couple of times before pushing her hooves upward. The spell shot into the sky, exploding in the air far above the arena with a flash and loud cracking sound.

The six Wonderbolts, who were still perched on their cloud platforms had started glowing a bright green. Their heads had all turned simultaneously a second earlier, locking onto Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Pinkie was now struggling and screaming at Dash indiscriminately, but Dash refused to drop her.

There was a flash of green light from the center of the Wonderbolts, accompanied by a wave of hot green flame.

Twilight turned her head slowly from left to right, taking in the flashing landscape before her.

The crowd erupted into a sea of green flames.

“Can we run now?” Fluttershy asked, practically galloping in place in front of Twilight and Celestia.

“I’m not sure it matters anymore,” Twilight said, her voice shaking and sad. “My story about the changeling invasion just came true.”

Horizons Ch 6 - Reaction

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Six - Reaction

Within Canterlot Castle, hidden away, hung an alicorn in a glistening, green cocoon. Forming a circle around the cocoon were several changelings wearing black robes. These changelings were unlike others of their kind, though. Their horns, long and straight like a unicorn’s, had holes bored into their bases, and glowing magical gems inset. Their faces were lined with golden, metallic ridges. The changelings stood vigilant, concentrating on the magical energy that was seeping out from the cocoon. In a colorful back and forth display, they would change the energy from red and purple to green, and then send it through a rift at the edge of the room.

One of these changelings stood taller than the rest. He breathed in deeply and opened his eyes, staring across the chamber to the others who stood vigilant with him. He caught a glimpse of one cold, slitted eye staring back at him.

“Mulcibar,” He said, “I can no longer ignore it. I know you must have felt it, too.”

“It’s a massive response,” Mulcibar replied, opening his other eye. “This isn’t like the blip that Vitra looked into. What do you suggest we do, Magister Luzon?”

Luzon brought a hoof up to his long, white beard and ran it down its length. He turned his eyes towards the cocoon in the center of the room, Princess Luna suspended within it as if she were encased in emerald.

“It is not her this time, but if this is a real reaction of the scale I am sensing, I am not sure we have the power to react and keep her contained at the same time,” Luzon said.

“It could just be a dreamer stirring. The spell response would take care of that easily enough,” Mulcibar suggested with a shrug. “Once Vitra wakes up, she can tell us what she found. That should give us a hint.”

Luzon shook his head. “If it is not as you say, the whole operation is in jeopardy,” he said.

“So you would have one of us go in again, just like Vitra did?” Mulcibar asked.

“I don’t know. Curses, if only Vitra were awake,” the elder changeling said. “You and your sister may need to go in, but only as observers. It should be simple for you to assess the situation and get out again without much strain on your minds. If the reaction is an accidental one, you may need to reset the dream.”

“Give me a break, Lulu,” a voice came from Mulcibar’s right. “Vitra was wrong, and now you’re thinking of pulling two of us off here to chase a ghost? Luna is contained! Who else could oppose us?”

“Does the name Princess Celestia ring a bell? How about Twilight Sparkle?” Luzon asked with a groan. I should have expected at least this much resistance from Linnai, of course, he thought to himself.

“Oh, please,” Linnai said with a chuckle. “I’ll give you Princess Celestia, she might know some tricks, but that purple unicorn? The so-called prodigal student? You’re all worrying too much.”

“So you oppose it?” Luzon asked.

“Not necessarily. I wouldn’t mind going in if it meant having a little fun while I was at it,” she said with a sweet smile.

Luzon was not smiling.

“If we don’t have to wake up a dreamer, then we shouldn’t. The queen already had one of them wake up twice, we don’t need another,” Luzon explained.

“I say we just kill anypony who wakes up,” Linnai said, sliding a hoof across her neck.

“Not an option,” Luzon said. “If one of them dies, the whole network would be disrupted and we’d run the risk of having a bunch of brain-dead ponies. Need I remind you they’re no good to us if they’re vegetables?”

“Whatever,” Linnai snarled. “I could take down any pony at my current level, it’s not like we need them.”

“Don’t let your ego cloud your judgement. My decision is that you two will go in and investigate,” Luzon commanded. “Now get it done, quickly! And the rest of you, double up! We’re about to be down by three!”

A groan of protest came from several of the other changelings standing around the cocoon, but the magical aura from each intensified in brightness.

No chance to protest anymore. Thanks, sister… Mulcibar thought, socketing a green gem into the hole at the base of his horn. He closed his eyes and sighed, a frown forming on his lips. He glanced over at Linnai, who had done the same, but was grinning deviously, her fangs bared. Please let her contain her bloodlust…

After a second, their eyes opened, glazed over with green magic. A beam of green energy shot out from their horns and into the stream of magic that was bleeding out from Luna’s cocoon.

“Behave yourselves in there, please,” Luzon said to nopony in particular. “The youngest member of the order, but still a grip on magic to be reckoned with… I pray she’s right and it’s nothing.”

“Apple Bloom!” Sweetie Belle said with a smile. “Weren’t you selling apples over there a minute ago?”

Apple Bloom nodded her head. “Yeah, but I’m done with that fer now,” she said quietly, glancing over her shoulder to where her big brother was. He was involved in the upper bleachers now, passing out apples and beverages. She hoped he hadn't noticed her, and she ducked down a little to try and keep it that way. “Sweetie Belle, we gotta talk. You got a few minutes?”

Sweetie Belle looked up at her father, who was sitting in the stands with her, her mother, and her sister, Rarity. The whole family had come out to see the show. “Is it okay, dad? I’ll try to be back before the show starts,” she asked, knowing that her father was the best one to ask. As she expected, he nodded and patted her on the head.

“Thanks, dad!” she shouted, leaping over the back of her seat and joining Apple Bloom. The two fillies walked to the back of the stands and through the port that led to the interior hallways that looped around the whole stadium.

“So yeah, it’s about Scootaloo,” Apple Bloom started, nervously broaching the subject, “we can’t just keep ignoring the problem, hoping that things will just go back to the way they were by themselves.”

Sweetie Belle turned her gaze downward, listening to her friend as they walked.

“I dunno why it took so long fer me ta’ realize it, but nothin’ will ever change if we don’t do somethin’,” she continued. “Think about all the fun we used ta have before we got our cutie marks. We were always together. We were sorta like family, in a way. You two are like... well, sisters ta’ me.” She blushed slightly as she spoke.

Sweetie Belle nodded her head. “I know. I have been thinking the same thing, but it’s just been so hectic. It’s almost like we got pulled apart on purpose. I felt like we had no control over it,” she said.

“Well then we gotta get ahold of this thing again!” Apple Bloom said. “Starting right now. Let’s go find our lost sister and bring the Cutie Mark Crusaders back together!”

“Are you sure she’ll want to be our friend again?” Sweetie Belle asked. “We were kind of mean, when I think back to it. It’s like we gave up on her.”

“I don’t know… I've been wondering the same thing,” said Apple Bloom. “No matter what, though, we have to at least apologize to her.”

Sweetie Belle nodded her head, and the two fillies continued down the hallway. They didn’t have to look for long. Rounding the bend toward the back of the hallway, they heard a familiar voice.

“You have to let me in to talk to her!” Scootaloo’s voice shouted out, echoing down the hallway. “She was saying such weird stuff, and just wasn’t like her usual self! Please, just let me talk to her!”

“Sorry, but I can’t let you in,” a security guard who was standing in front of a door responded. “I know you’re a friend of Rainbow Dash’s, but she’s on in two minutes. It will have to wait until after the show.”

Scootaloo flipped a hoof in the air towards the guard’s face and turned around. She took two steps, then stopped when she saw Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle standing down the hall, looking at her. She hopped on her scooter and rode to where the others were standing.

“What’s going on with Rainbow Dash?” Apple Bloom asked, causing Scootaloo to stop between her and Sweetie Belle.

“Don’t you two have more important things to be doing besides worrying about my problems?” Scoot asked, a flair of sarcasm to her voice.

“Nope,” Replied Apple Bloom, throwing herself towards Scootaloo and wrapping her forelegs around her. Sweetie Belle had done the same thing, and as their hooves swung around, they each bopped the other on the muzzle. With a bonk and a second of confusion, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom both fell over, pulling their hooves up to their cheeks in reaction to the pain.

Scootaloo looked back and forth at each of them once and then fell over backwards, unable to keep from laughing. “You two! That was the worst attempt at a group hug ever!” she said between giggles.

The two other fillies rubbed their cheeks, but laughed as well.

“We’ll just have to try again!” Sweetie Belle said, wrapping her forelegs around Scootaloo more carefully this time. Apple Bloom did the same, and Scootaloo’s laughter eventually transformed into light sobbing as she slouched down, not resisting the hug at all.

“Why are you doing this now?” Scootaloo whimpered softly. “I had finally… gotten used to being on my own again.” Despite what she was saying, she pulled her two friends in closer with her own forelegs.

“You silly filly,” Apple Bloom said with a sniffle. “You don’t have to get used to being on yer own… not now, not ever.”

“We’re sorry we got so wrapped up in our talents, we didn’t even try to make time for anything else,” Sweetie Belle added. “We really missed you, we just didn’t know how to, well, say we were sorry.”

Scootaloo sighed. She pushed the two fillies away from herself and stood back up. Rainbow Dash’s voice echoed through the hallway as her speech before her performance began.

“Okay, well now that you’re both here, I’ll tell you what’s going on. I don’t know how, but I know something bad is going to happen,” Scootaloo said, gesturing for her friends to follow her. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle flashed smiles at one another and walked on either side of Scootaloo as she rolled along at a low speed. The three of them headed towards the entrance to the arena's stands. “I was with Rainbow Dash earlier. She was acting really weird, almost like she was scared about today's show. She told me she was going to do something that would… well, she said it would change the whole world somehow. She was really nervous about it, but she wouldn't tell me any details.”

“I wonder what that means,” Sweetie Belle pondered. They reached the entrance just in time to see Rainbow Dash hanging in the air, orange lightning arcing between her hooves. The three of them stopped at the entryway and stared up at her.

“This isn’t right. I can feel it. Something, somehow, is like…” Scootaloo started, and then fell forward, gripping her head in pain. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom dropped down with her.

“Scootaloo! What’s wrong?” Apple Bloom asked, looking down at Scootaloo’s pained expression. Waves of orange magic began to spread outward from the Pegasus’ head. She stared up at Rainbow Dash, her eyes twitching with pain.

She reached her shaking hoof outward, pointing it towards Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow Dash,” she said gruffly. “No!”

Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves down, tearing into the air itself through a rift, reaching into it deeply.

All three fillies fell forward, screaming in pain. Their agony went unnoticed, the roar from the crowd drowning out all other sound. Bright streams of colorful magic began to slowly flow out from the three of them, twisting in the air above before dissipating.

“What’s happening?” Sweetie Belle asked, pulling her forelegs tightly against her chest. Her heart was beating ever faster and felt like it was going to explode.

“I don’t know… but we have to get help!” Apple Bloom shouted, pushing her way out of the entryway and into the stands. She managed to ignore the pain enough to stand up and look around for her brother, finally spotting him in the next section over. He was staring up at Rainbow Dash, a serious look on his face. His mouth moved, and Apple Bloom recognized it as him saying “Nope,” as a circular flash of light erupted out from where Rainbow Dash was hanging in the air.

Scootaloo had pressed herself up against a wall and stood back up. She stared up at Rainbow Dash, her eyes shaking, her brain reeling with the worst headache she had ever experienced. Another flash and a loud bang filled the arena. The light somehow balled itself up a moment later, and Rainbow Dash seemed to be holding it in place.

“Rainbow… Dash…” Scootaloo managed to say. Rainbow Dash flung the ball of magic into the rift, and the three fillies once again cried out in pain. A second later, Pinkie Pie burst out of the rift and flew through the air. Scootaloo saw Rainbow Dash dive after and catch Pinkie, holding her a short distance from the ground. Pinkie Pie threw the ball of magic up into the sky, where it exploded brightly. “Was this the announcement? That you found Pinkie Pie? Why is my… head pounding?”

The crowd exploded in a sea of green fire. The three fillies stared out into the crowd, and their minds immediately began to race, filled with images of the royal wedding and subsequent changeling invasion. This green fire was the same as the flames that engulfed the changeling queen when she revealed herself.

“This… can’t be happening!” Apple Bloom shouted, stumbling back into the doorway towards Scootaloo. The green fire began to flash upward. As it dissipated, all that was left was a slight green glow. Some of the ponies began to sprout the translucent blue wings of changelings. “Everypony… is a changeling?”

“No, it’s worse,” Sweetie Belle said, rising to her hooves. “I can see it… like I’m slowly remembering it all… This isn’t real. None of this is real.” A bright pink flash of light shot out from her chest, just below her collar. The area it had come from continued to glow lightly in the shape of a heart.

Scootaloo pushed herself away from the wall and took hold of one of the handlebars on her scooter. She stared out across the crowd, the pain in her head slowly lessening, replaced by a pulse of energy in her chest. “I don’t understand anything that just happened, but I think you’re right,” she said, her voice shaking with adrenaline. “This can’t be real.” A flash of orange light shot out from her chest, leaving behind a glowing patch of magic in the shape of a flame.

“But what do we do, y’all? We can't reach my brother, now. We gotta run!” Apple Bloom said. “We gotta run and come up with a plan! We can't hang around here, even if this isn’t real,” A flash of golden magic shot out from her chest, leaving behind a glowing spot in the shape of a flower.

The three Crusaders stood staring at one another, their minds full of confusion and questions as they observed these strange, colorful shapes appearing on their chests, shining with magic. In the back of their minds, they could hear a voice calling out to them, distantly but urgently. They backed up from the crowd into the entryway to the corridors, their breath becoming heavy as if they had been running.

“You two,” Scootaloo started, pointing a hoof at the others, “You’ve got… some sort of flashing light…”

With a loud hissing sound, the audience sprung to life. Hundreds of changeling-winged ponies launched into the air and towards Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie wriggled and shouted again, this time slipping free from Rainbow’s grasp. Rainbow Dash lifted her hooves back up and shot into the sky, the cloud of attacking ponies flying after her.

“We don’t have time to talk about it, ya’ll!” Apple Bloom shouted. “Run!”

The three fillies took off running into the corridors, not knowing where they were running, only knowing they wanted to be anywhere but out in the stands.

As Rainbow Dash shot up into the sky, the dream versions of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna hung in the air, still engulfed in green flame. With a flash, the flame burned out. The princesses emerged from the flame unscathed, but their eyes were glowing brightly. Celestia’s eyes let off a bright red color, and Luna’s glowed an icy blue. They looked at one another and then up at Rainbow Dash.

Celestia snarled. “What a waste of time, brother,” she complained. “Of course a reaction at this large of a gathering would create a massive blip.”

“Calm down, Linnai. Let’s investigate the cause and then get out of here. We’re not to get involved,” he said, scanning the arena. His eyes were immediately drawn to the ponies that were unaffected. He caught sight of Big Macintosh, Celestia in her disguised form, Twilight and Fluttershy, who were still in their hoods, Applejack, Rarity, and Rarity’s parents. “There’s an awful lot of ponies here that aren’t reacting. We can’t salvage this, we’ll have to reset the dream.”

“I’ll find the dreamer,” Linnai responded. “I want to get out of here as fast as I can. I hate being inside a pony’s body.”

Mulcibar sighed. “You think I enjoy being inside a mare?” he asked, annoyed.

Linnai laughed. “I know for a fact that you do.”

Mulcibar blushed and coughed. “Alright, then! How about you just find that dreamer?”

Linnai, still chuckling, shot magic up into her horn, and looked up at Rainbow Dash, who was flying circles around the changelings that were chasing her. Her eyes flashed white for a second, like the flash of a camera taking a photo.

Rainbow Dash bolted up, then pushed into a tight right-angle turn. The swarm of changelings followed her as if they were tied on with a rope. She glanced back and let out a grunt. This wasn’t part of the deal! she thought, beginning a wide circle pattern above the arena.

You’re right! a voice shot into Rainbow Dash’s ears. But it’s exactly what I needed to happen!

As she circled around, bringing herself in tighter and tighter, the changelings began to crash into one another, eventually starting to form into a ball of writhing ponies. Rainbow Dash snapped to a stop and pushed her hooves out. Clasping them inward, the cloud of changeling ponies smashed into a single, solid sphere of writhing limbs and screaming faces.

Rainbow Dash laughed. You can’t stop me now! Not when I’m so powerful! I’ll find you, next! she thought. A white flash caught her eye, and she glanced down in its direction, spotting Celestia and Luna.

What are they doing just floating there? Dash thought.

“It’s not the rainbowy one, she’s just part of the dream,” Linnai said, then training her eyes over to Rarity and her parents, who were now standing their ground against a crowd of changeling ponies who had encircled them.

“Mother, Father, I need you to turn a blind eye to the rather unladylike behavior I’m about to demonstrate,” Rarity said, eyeing the approaching mob of ponies. “These are the same changelings that we encountered at the royal wedding, so…”

Rarity’s dad laughed. “Gee, Rarity, look at you bein’ brave,” he grinned, leaping past her, landing on the ground with a slide, and turning his body as he slid. With a single, powerful motion, his hind legs kicked out, striking two ponies in their chests. The ponies blasted backwards through the air, bowling over several more behind them.

Rarity’s mom grinned and giggled. “Oh, dear, I love it when you get all rough and tumble!” she said, lighting her horn up.

Rarity tilted her head and shrugged. “Well, I suppose if you must,” she said, charging up her horn with magic as well. She and her mother let loose a short blast of magic, zapping another pony and causing its disguise to dissolve. The changeling underneath bared its teeth and hissed, but ultimately fell backwards with the others.

“There’s just so many of ‘em, though, ya know?” Rarity’s mother said.

Rarity’s father just grinned and leaned forward, scraping his front right hoof against the ground. “Lemme show ya why I was the best linebacker on the team in college,” he said, and charged forward just as a flash came from overhead.

Rarity turned her head up towards the flash. “The princesses?” she asked aloud.

“It’s not any of them, either,” Linnai said with a groan. “What is with all these dream fragments resisting the reaction spell?”

“Not our concern, sister. Keep looking. If they aren’t here, we’ll have to expand our search after quarantining the area,” Mulcibar replied.

“The geezer should let me cast the spell next time, he clearly botched the whole thing. I say we purge the place,” Linnai said with a grin.

“What part of ‘We’re not to get involved,’ did you not understand?” he asked, his tone very serious. “Besides, there won’t be a next time. After tomorrow, we’ll own all of Equestria.”

“You’re the worst sort of party pooper!” Linnai protested, but flashed her eyes towards Big Macintosh.

Big Mac applied the full force of his back left hoof to a changeling’s face. He turned his head back and forth, scanning the crowd for two particular ponies.

AJ, Apple Bloom, y’all better be safe! he thought, pulling his head to the side and evading a changeling’s incoming punch.

“Nope,” he said as flatly as ever, swinging his own hoof around and knocking the changeling back three rows of seats. A flash came from overhead, and he glanced up to see the princesses above.

Wonder what they’re up to. They better have a plan for all this! he thought, but then noticed their eyes glowing. Ah, shoot… there goes that idea.

He turned his head back to the task at hand, and spotted Applejack across the arena. Knocking two changelings over in the process, he bolted forward and began to make his way towards his sister.

“Not him, either,” Linnai said with a shrug.

“Check the orange one, on the other side,” Mulcibar pointed towards Applejack.

Linnai flashed her eyes at Applejack and shook her head.

Where’d that dang filly go? Applejack though as she bucked a pair of changelings over the edge of the stands and down into the field. She turned her head and spotted Apple Bloom’s apple basket about a quarter of the way around the stands. Movement caught her eye, and she glanced down at the field. Three ponies in hooded cloaks were running across it and towards Pinkie Pie. She looked just in time to see the pony she recognized as Inspector Orange pull the hood over her head.

Wait a second, though, Applejack thought. If that’s Princess Celestia, then who’s…

She glanced up at Princess Celestia and Princess Luna just in time to have Celestia’s eyes flash down at her.

“Not her. Next!” Linna shouted, becoming impatient.

Mulcibar looked around, his eyes eventually catching motion on the field. He spotted three ponies in hooded robes running towards another pony in an intricately gemmed cloak. “Those four. Scan them. Why would they be hooded like that? And where did that pink one get that cloak?” Mulcibar pondered, pointing them out.

Twilight, Celestia, and Fluttershy hit the ground of the arena and began running as fast as they could towards Pinkie Pie. Celestia pulled her hood over her head and shouted, “Twilight! Get that communication gem ready! We don’t have the luxury of being careful anymore!”

Twilight pulled the pink gem up with her magic and pushed it into her ear. Pinkie Twi’s voice immediately shot through it.

”I take it from the commotion I’m hearing and the magic energy I’m feeling here, something’s gone really wrong, huh?” Pinkie Twi asked.

“You could say that! We found Pinkie! Get ready for a connection!” Twilight yelled, noticing that Pinkie Pie had seen them running at her and was scrambling to her feet.

“Great!” Pinkie Twi yelled back. “We’re ready on this end!”

“Good to hear! Brace yourselves!” Twilight shouted, and then forcefully crashed into Pinkie Pie, pushing her back to the ground. Celestia and Fluttershy arrived a second later, pulling both ponies up to their hooves. Celestia prepared a spell to restrain Pinkie Pie just in case.

Pinkie turned her face to Twilight, finally recognizing her now, and shouted, “Twilight! Rainbow Dash! Stop her!”

“Calm down, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight said firmly. “We need your help to do that.”

“No, look! Look up there! I’m not crazy! I wasn’t crazy!” Pinkie shouted, her voice shaking with adrenaline.

Twilight raised the pink gem up with her magic. “We know, Pinkie! Calm down!” she yelled. “I need you to put this in your ear! You’ll understand once you’re wearing it!”

Pinkie Pie looked at the gem and her eyes immediately widened, almost glowing. Her voice became calm and quiet. “It… it’s like I can see to forever,” Pinkie said. She reached her hooves out and plucked the gem from the air. "So, just put it in my ear?"

Linnai turned her head down and flashed her eyes at the four ponies, who were now huddled up together and frantically talking. Her grin widened.

“Looks like we have a serious problem, brother,” she said. “I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. It’s them.”

“Which one?”

“All four of them.”

Horizons Ch 7 - Power Surge

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Seven - Power Surge

Who are you?

The Cutie Mark Crusaders suddenly skidded to a stop. They had been charging down the corridors that circled around the outside of the stadium, trying to make their way around to where Rarity and her parents were. Scootaloo dropped one hoof down from her scooter onto the floor and lifted her gaze upward.

“Who’s there?” she asked nervously.

“Yeah, show yerself! We ain’t scared!” Apple Bloom added on.

Who are you? Answer quickly, we implore thee!

“We are the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Sweetie Belle replied loudly.

“Yeah!” Scootaloo shouted. “We’re, um, really powerful defenders of Ponyville! So you better watch who you’re messing with!”

The voice giggled in response. You need not fear, children. I know not how I’ve come into contact with thee, but it is most fortunate.

“Yeah, but who are you?” Scootaloo asked again.

It is I, your princess of the night, Luna, the voice responded. The fillies’ eyes widened, and they smiled, recognizing the voice as Luna’s. Their hearts seemed to fill with a kind, gentle warmth.

Listen carefully, fillies, for I must relay information to you of vital importance, Luna spoke gravely. If the power I sense inside of you has awoken, then you must surely have started to guess that something isn’t right.

“Guess?” Sweetie Belle exclaimed. “We just saw a big crowd of ponies all turn into changelings, Rainbow Dash use magic, and some weird light came out from our bodies. You were out there, you must have seen it, too.”

I did not, for I am not there. The one you see there as Luna is but a dream, as is the entire world around you, Luna responded in the Crusaders’ minds. The three of you, through an unnatural form of magic, are sharing a dream together. The world you are in is all part of the dreams you are having.

“A dream?” Scootaloo asked, an orange glow now shining out from her more brightly than before. “If this were all just a dream, that would almost be a good thing.” She looked back at her flank, then shut her eyes.

“A dream...” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom said in unison, both glancing back at their flanks. With a blink of their eyes, they saw the truth. There were no cutie marks there, but their bodies shone with radiant magic instead.

“I guess that makes sense,” Apple Bloom said sadly, though she breathed a sigh of relief. “My talent was cool, but didn’t feel right. It felt like I shouldn’t be doing it, somehow.”

“Me, too, even though I was kind of proud to be helping my sister,” Sweetie Belle said, blushing slightly.

That is not all, I am afraid. Reality is not so kind, Luna’s voice spoke. Please try to remain calm, for the next part may be difficult to accept. The changeling queen is behind this dream of yours. Stay still and concentrate, and I shall fill your minds with the truth.

Visions of the throne room in Canterlot, cocoons hanging from the ceiling, flooded into the fillies’ minds. Looks of shock, distress, and sadness flashed upon their faces as they finally comprehended the weight of their predicaments.

“All our friends… our families…” Sweetie Belle said, at a loss. Tears streaked down her cheeks, falling to the ground.

“Everypony that was in Canterlot for the wedding...” Apple Bloom said.

And if we do not act, Luna said, everypony in Equestria.

Scootaloo shut her eyes tightly and smashed her front right hoof against the handlebars on her scooter. “But what can we do?” she asked with frustration.

The way I have come to be in communication with you is a mystery, but I can feel a kindred magical energy emanating from you three. A nearly identical wavelength to my own, a warm and gentle wave, full of love and compassion, Luna spoke softly. You three Crusaders, as you call yourselves, bear a power greater than you know.

“Power? What power?” Scootaloo asked, looking down at her chest nervously. The glowing flame-shaped symbol that had appeared before was shining brightly, a fiery orange color. The other Crusaders’ glowing emblems were also pulsing outward with magic.

Concentrate hard, Crusaders, for your power is two-fold within your dreams. The strange magical energy that has connected us is only the beginning, Luna’s voice echoed powerfully in the Crusaders’ minds. This is your dream, and you are the masters of it! Do not let the dream control you, for you can control the dream. Every pony in the world, big and small, can grasp this form of magic, the inner power of their imaginations – lucidity.

“Luci.. Lucidy…?” Apple Bloom started, trying to pronounce the word.

“Lucidity?” Sweetie Belle finished for her friend. Apple Bloom pouted momentarily.

Focus, young ones. Yours is the power to change the world as you wish.

“Change the world as we wish…” Apple Bloom pondered, concentrating on those words. “A wish.”

With a flash, Applejack and Big Macintosh appeared in the corridor in front of the three fillies. Applejack ducked down as if she was bracing herself for an attack, and Big Macintosh calmly looked around his surroundings before turning to face the three fillies.

“What in tarnation…?” Applejack finally asked, reaching a hoof out towards Apple Bloom. She tapped her sister lightly on the chest where the bright shape of a golden flower glowed. “How did we end up here?”

Apple Bloom smiled widely. “I wished you were here, and it worked!”

“Ya know, weirder stuff’s been happening, so whatever,” Applejack replied.

“I wished you were here and you just… appeared,” Apple Bloom reiterated. “That’s more than weird.”

“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh echoed the sentiment, looking towards Applejack. “Didja see that big pink blast?”

“Eeyup,” Applejack replied, staring at the three crusaders whose chests were still aglow with magic. “Ain’t nothin’ makin’ any sense ever since Twilight and the princess came back from Canterlot. As far as I can reckon, them two princesses and the Twilight they had with ‘em are changeling imposters.”

I’m afraid time is short for me, Crusaders, Luna’s voice spoke again in the fillies’ minds. I am captive and bound in more ways than one. I do not know how long I will be able to stay connected to you. Indeed, it is miraculous that I was able to reach out at all. If I remain, you will all be in greater danger.

“Danger?” Sweetie Belle asked aloud. Applejack and Big Macintosh looked at her curiously, but did not speak.

Yes, child. A nightmare beyond your imagining, Luna replied. Before I go, I have a task for you three. A task that I am loathe to place upon the shoulders of children, but I have run out of choices. You must fight, brave Crusaders, defenders of Ponyville. Grasp onto your powers within that dream and fight. The changelings who hold us prisoner will come after you. The more of them that get distracted by turmoil inside this dream, the less will be present to keep me locked away. It will not be an easy task, but I implore you. Equestria’s fate may very well rest in your hooves alone.

“What do we do, ya’ll?” Apple Bloom asked nervously, looking at her two best friends.

Scootaloo laughed. “Save Equestria? No problem!” she scoffed.

“Yeah! And we’re not alone!” Sweetie Belle said bravely. “We have our families, and Twilight, and Fluttershy, and that inspector lady on our side!”

“Who in tarnation are you youngin’s talkin’ to?” Applejack finally asked, becoming frustrated. “And what’s that about savin’ Equestria?”

Apple Bloom grinned sheepishly up at Applejack. I can’t tell her the truth, can I? she thought. No… if she’s gonna fight with us, she has to know!

“Sis, you might not believe this, but we’re talking with Princess Luna somehow. It seems like we can hear her, but nopony else can,” Apple Bloom said. “It’s the real Princess Luna, though. You were right, the one out there in the arena is just another changeling.” She covered her mouth after speaking, realizing that she’d said that all pretty bluntly, though she knew her sister did prefer straight honest talk.

Applejack took her hat off and shook her head. “This is gettin’ ridiculous,” she said. “That inspector lady as you called her is the real Princess Celestia.”

Sweetie Belle gasped. “The inspector is the real Celestia?” she asked, amazed. “The princess stole a hat from the boutique?”

Any thoughts the Crusaders were having at this moment were interrupted by Luna’s voice, shouting out with the force of the Royal Canterlot Voice in their heads.

My sister is present in your dream? Is this true, children? Luna asked loudly.

The fillies cupped their ears with their front hooves to no avail, but all nodded in response.

“Looks that way,” Scootaloo managed to say, her ears ringing.

This changes everything! Luna shouted with excitement. You must tell my sister that I need her help; That the darkness falling is darker than she knows! If she’s traversing dreams, then she will surely be able to help you as well! You must move quickly, Crusaders! I am now certain, the fate Equestria rests firmly in your hooves, and as your princess, I command thee! Find my sister!

“Okay, okay!” Scootaloo said, “But can you stop yelling?”

The sound of Luna clearing her throat echoed in the fillies’ minds. My apologies, I became a bit overexcited, Luna said quietly. Crusaders, if you all accept the command of your princess, then I shall do one last thing to help thee. I shall grant thee a spark, a mere twinkle of my magic. I fear any further magical transference would be too dangerous, or perhaps not even possible. However, with this spark, you three shall be well on your way to controlling your new powers.

“A twinkle?” Sweetie Belle asked.

A second later, the Cutie Mark Crusaders were bowled over backwards, the symbols on their chests exploding with magic. The corridor lit up as streaks of energy shot out from the three young ponies rapidly. Their eyes glowed bright white, and they cried out loudly as the magic burst forth. Applejack and Big Macintosh ducked down to the ground, staring in confusion at the display.

After a moment, the magical surge subsided. The Crusaders returned to normal and the emblems on their chests had vanished. The three of them stood up, dusting themselves off.

“Princess Luna?” Apple Bloom called out. There was no response.

“That was a twinkle?” Sweetie Belle squeaked, rubbing a hoof against the back of her head.

“Some twinkle!” Scootaloo exclaimed.

“Look, ya’ll! Those glowing things are gone!” Apple Bloom shouted. “Did we mess it up somehow?”

Scootaloo squinted her eyes and reached her hoof out towards the far wall of the arena. She slid her hoof downward gently, and the wall unzipped as if it were made of cloth. The sunlit fields of Sweet Apple Acres could be seen on the other side.

“No, I think it worked. Can you two feel it?” Scootaloo asked with a grin.

The other two fillies clopped their hooves together at Scootaloo’s “trick”. Applejack and Big Macintosh just stared at Scootaloo in awe.

“Ya know, I…” Applejack started. “I… nevermind. Weirder stuff’s been happenin’, so whatever.”

Pinkie Pie carefully took the gem from Twilight and stared into its depths, her eyes sparkling and unfocused. Twilight clopped her hooves in front of Pinkie’s face.

“Pinkie, we have to hurry!” Twilight said impatiently, looking back up at Rainbow Dash and her ball of changelings.

“Right, sorry!” Pinkie shouted, seemingly startled, and then pushed the gem into her left ear. She flopped down to a sitting position and sat completely still, blinking her eyes.

“Do you… think she’s okay?” Fluttershy asked. Celestia shook her head and shrugged, and Twilight let out a frustrated sigh.

After a couple more seconds, Twilight sat down in front of Pinkie and waved her hoof in front of her face. “Hello? Anything?”

“Shh!” Pinkie responded, putting the tip of her hoof up to Twilight’s lips. “Wait, what?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pinkie, we don’t have time for this!” she shouted. A second later, a bright flash shot in the group’s direction. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Celestia turned their heads up toward the flash. The dream princesses, their eyes glowing unnaturally, stared back down at them.

Pinkie slowly cocked her head upward, bringing the princesses into her field of view. “You’re right, that was pretty weird,” she said aloud.

“Yeah, but nopony said that,” Twilight said flatly. In response, Pinkie grinned and stuck her tongue out. A long, pink horn erupted from her forehead and a pair of pink wings popped out from two slits on the back of her cloak. A blinding wave of pink magic exploded outward, engulfing the arena in light. The two princesses, along with Rainbow Dash and the ball of changelings were blown up and outward.

Pinkie levitated the communication gem out of her ear and slapped it forcefully into Twilight’s. Twilight flinched slightly, and then even more from the yelling coming from the other end of the communicator.

“Twilight, those two! The princesses!” Pinkie yelled over the comm gem. “Get away from them!”

In the sky above, Rainbow Dash was being chased by a group of changelings once again. Many of the changelings had been scattered, flying so far up and away that they were landing outside the arena in the fields and orchards of Sweet Apple Acres. Dash was easily able to stay ahead of the ones who were still flying after her and trained her eyes down towards Pinkie Pie.

What in Equestria was that, Pinkie Pie? she thought.

The changelings Mulcibar and Linnai, disguised as Luna and Celestia, recovered from the sudden surge of magic and stared down at the group of ponies below.

“That earth pony just sprouted a horn,” Mulcibar said plainly. “Is she the dreamer, using lucidity?”

Linnai grinned. “One of them must be the dreamer. The other three are outsiders like us.”

Mulcibar stared at Linnai for a moment. “They’re traversing dreams?” he asked, placing a hoof to his chin. “So there are others besides Luna who can do so. Who are they?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Linnai said, licking her lips. “Now we get to fight! We have to crush them!”

“No!” Mulcibar cautioned, placing a hoof against Linnai’s chest. “We report back!”

“No need! They’re all there! One blast and they’re all just ash!” Linnai said, her eyes going wide, gleaming a brighter red color. Her horn, the horn of Princess Celestia, lit up with a fiery aura.

Back on the ground, Twilight stared up towards the princesses, who were hanging very high in the sky after having been blasted upward by Pinkie’s magical burst. Even from this distance, though, Twilight could see their menacingly glowing eyes.

“Not sure we can just get away from them, but let’s run,” Twilight said, turning back to Celestia and Fluttershy, who were trying to get Pinkie Pie to stand up again. “We can figure out what to do next after we get away.”

“But, what about Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy asked. “We still need to get her out of here, too.”

Pinkie Pie stood back up and brushed herself off. She spread her newly acquired wings and grinned. “Don’t worry about Rainbow Dash,” she said. “I’ll go talk some sense into her. The two of us heard the same voice, I’m sure of it, and it was a big fat fibber! Dash just needs to hear the truth from a friend, I bet!”

“Alright, we need to move,” Twilight said. “We’ll leave Rainbow Dash up to you, Pinkie!” She waved her hoof towards the side bleachers and started to gallop away. Celestia and Fluttershy ran with her, but their charge was cut short. A surge of magical power shot out from their left.

“That power surge!” Celestia shouted. “Did you feel that, Twilight? That was Princess Luna’s energy, I’m certain!” She turned and charged faster than ever before towards the stands to the left. She burst outward with a flash of light, shedding her disguise and assuming her true form, leaping skyward and flying towards the corridor entryway.

The princesses from the dream hung in the sky above, changelings occupying their bodies. Linnai had not begun her attack yet, interrupted by the surge of power coming from the arena’s corridors. They both watched as the ponies on the field changed direction towards the surge and one of them transformed into Princess Celestia.

“Oh, this just keeps getting better!” Linnai shouted. “It’s just like I said! Princess Celestia would be the only possible threat!”

“We can’t allow her to run free, especially after that power surge just now,” Mulcibar admitted. “I don’t see any other option, unfortunately.” He grimaced, glancing at his sister, whose crazed look had only intensified.

Linnai laughed. “You just want to fight, admit it,” she said tauntingly, then burst with green flame.

“If we must, best to be at full power,” he said with a sigh. “No attacking first, though! We move quickly and do not strike unless we have to!” He burned with green fire as well. The both of them quickly transformed, revealing their true selves. Their golden-ridged faces glinted in the sunlight. They spread their wings outward in a flashy display, each of them having a pair of intricately-patterned butterfly wings. Mulcibar’s wings were black with bright blue spots, while Linnai’s wings were a lighter shade of gray with white and orange webbing running through them.

“Sure, anything you say big brother,” Linnai said, her horn still burning with fire. She tilted her wings back and took off downward towards the entryway that Celestia was approaching. Mulcibar put his hoof out for a moment, but then groaned and sped after her. Neither of them noticed Pinkie Pie heading in the opposite direction and flying up towards Rainbow Dash, who was hanging in the air far above the arena. She had managed to compress all of the changelings who had been chasing her into a tight orb once again, and was holding them there.

Pinkie Pie pulled up alongside Dash and crossed her forelegs. “Nice job, Dashie,” she said, nodding her head with approval. “They can’t get you now, but what happens if you stop holding them?”

Dash jerked her head to the side and shouted in surprise, seeing Pinkie with wings and a horn. “Pinkie! What the hay did you do?”

“Ah yes, this is pretty strange, I guess,” Pinkie said, nodding her head again. “No time to get into it, though. You gotta admit, it’s only a little stranger than you using magic like this.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “I guess. This never would have happened if you hadn’t stopped me, though! The sooner this world gets ripped apart, the sooner we can stop the real enemy!” she shouted, annoyed. She pushed her hooves closer together, and the sphere of changelings crunched in even tighter, releasing a cacophony of screams.

“No, no, no, Rainbow Dash,” Pinkie said calmly. “You’ve got the wrong idea, and I think I know how. It’s that voice I heard. You heard it, too…. Didn’t you?”

Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth, not saying anything or looking towards Pinkie.

“I heard the truth, too, though,” Pinkie continued. “The real truth. It’s a lot scarier than you think, but believe me, breaking this world won’t solve anything.”

Don’t listen to her, a voice came from Rainbow Dash’s mind. She lies.

Almost as much as you, Rainbow Dash thought in response.

I will give you true power, Rainbow Dash, the voice said. Enough power to crush anypony in your path, the power to tear this world asunder. Now that the changelings have arrived, there is no turning back!

She’s my friend, Rainbow Dash thought. I can talk to her, make her see…

She’s a puppet, just like you were! The voice snapped. She was the first one I tried to show the truth to, and she turned against it, coerced by the changelings! She may be your friend, but you must not trust her!

Rainbow Dash stared at Pinkie Pie, still saying nothing. Pinkie looked back into Rainbow Dash’s eyes, a worried look on her face.

“You still hear it, don’t you?” Pinkie asked, reaching out towards Rainbow Dash. The Pegasus flinched away.

“Don’t touch me,” Rainbow said.

Accept my power, Rainbow Dash, the voice said. As a sign of good faith, I will give you all of my power. You and I will become as one. We will defeat these changelings together, crush the hollow shells of your friends that they use to try and trick you. We will break free of this prison and have vengeance!

Rainbow Dash’s eyes began to glow red, dark energy spreading outward from their edges. Pinkie Pie’s eyes went wide with fear, staring at her friend.

“Dashie, no!” Pinkie pleaded. “Don’t do this!”

Rainbow Dash turned her gaze towards the sphere of writhing changelings. “It’s too late,” she said flatly. “I’ll end this all!” She pushed her hooves together, and the bodies of the floating, half-transformed ponies smashed together. The terrible sounds of bones cracking and flesh tearing echoed loudly through the arena. Horrifying screams shot out briefly, and then were silenced. Rainbow Dash swung her hooves outward, and the mass of now unidentifiable corpses dissolved into the air like steam vanishing. Rainbow Dash glowed dark red with a border of nearly black purple. She turned back to face Pinkie Pie, staring into her eyes. Pinkie stared back, her irises shaking in disbelief, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said, raising a hoof and pointing it towards Pinkie’s forehead.

“I am, too,” Pinkie replied, closing her eyes.

A flash of pink energy gleamed from Pinkie’s horn, and all the gems lining her cloak began to glow. A burst of magic exploded at Rainbow Dash’s abdomen, and she was flung backwards, crashing into the arena’s stands below.

Just seconds earlier, Twilight looked up at where Princess Celestia was now making a beeline to. A flash caught her eye, and she saw Rarity in the stands fighting a group of changelings with her parents. They seemed to be holding them off, but were losing ground as the number of changelings coming after them increased.

Good timing! Twilight thought. She turned her head towards Fluttershy, who was running alongside her, and shouted “Fluttershy! Grab me and take us up there! We have to stay with the princess, and Rarity needs our help!”

Fluttershy nodded and leapt into the air. Twilight took a running jump, and Fluttershy grabbed ahold of her as best she could manage. She strained for a moment, and almost scraped the ground, but was able to flap her wings hard enough to gain lift. The two rose up into the stands. After a few seconds, they were above Rarity’s party. Twilight dropped down, landing roughly besides Rarity. Fluttershy touched down a second later.

“Nice to see you here, finally!” Rarity shouted. “Your invasion came a little early!”

Twilight began to respond, but was interrupted by a blast of golden energy from above. Princess Celestia shot a powerful beam of energy right into the heart of the changeling mob, blasting them outward with great force. She landed next to Twilight and pointed her horn straight towards the corridor entrance, a sea of hissing changelings between them and it.

“Twilight! Just like in Fluttershy’s dream with the tall grass!” Celestia shouted. “Cut them down!”

Starting from the center, aimed right at the entryway, Twilight and Celestia shot out sustained beams of magic, swinging them outward, bowling changelings over in the process.

“What’s the point of these things?” Twilight yelled. “They’re even weaker than the changelings were before!”

Maniacal laughter filled the air, and Discord appeared above the writhing mass of downed changelings.

“I told you I was helping,” he said with an innocent smile. “I’m pushing so much of this chaotic energy into their little bug-brains, they can barely see straight! In fact, most of them are only seeing crooked. Or cupcakes. Or that one, he’s seeing kittens.” Discord pointed to a particular changeling off by himself up near the top of the stands, shaking his hoof back and forth as if he were petting something.

Rarity looked at Twilight and Celestia and lowered her eyebrows. “Care to explain this?” she asked. Fluttershy shrunk down as low as she could to the floor.

“No time,” Celestia started, but suddenly jerked her head upwards. Mulcibar and Linnai were shooting towards them.

“Linnai, the corridor!” Mulcibar was heard shouting. Linnai continued her beeline towards the group of ponies.

“What was that?” Linnai asked. “Fire more? I haven’t even started, though!” She let loose a giant blast of fire. Celestia and Twilight reacted as fast as they could, raising a forcefield, but the spell shattered through it. The whole area exploded in flame. The stands crumbled, floorboards and seats breaking, debris flying in all directions and a cloud of smoke and dust rising. The platform fell out from beneath the ponies who were standing on it, crushing them under a twisted pile of rubble.

Discord vanished from sight once again and shot his body upward. He hung above the arena, looking down at the situation that had unfolded. For now, I’ll quietly take care of the rest of these brainless drones, he thought. The rift was still spewing out chaotic energy, and all the interfering waves are only agitating it. Those two are clearly different from the rest. Once I know what they’re capable of, I’ll make them wish they’d never peeked into this nightmare.

Mulcibar stopped in mid-air and placed a hoof over his face. “You’re absolutely intolerable!” he screamed. “Do you even realize what you’ve done?”

The smoke cloud dissipated, revealing a pile of twisted rubble. Linnai pointed down at the mess. “Buried them alive. Now we’ll get to that power surge first, for sure,” she said. “Come now, brother, you know I have the mission at heart.”

“If you had one,” Mulcibar responded. “Or a brain, for that matter. You’ve shaken a beehive, you idiot!”

A large section of the rubble levitated upward and was launched forcefully at the two of them. They broke apart, dodging the attack. Twilight and Celestia stepped up out of the twisted heap and stared up at the changelings.

“Princess, I’ll take care of them and dig out the others. You get to Luna as fast as you can, then bring her back here,” Twilight said, pushing the burnt remains of her cloak off. Celestia did the same and nodded. She shot off towards the corridor entrance, and Linnai did the same, moving to intercept her.

Twilight teleported ahead of Celestia and shot a beam of magic up at Linnai. The magic hit its mark, pushing the changeling back in the air. Linnai stared down at Twilight contemptuously.

“So, Twilight Sparkle, I take it,” she said, her voice laced with disgust. “The old timer was worried about you.”

The two of them locked stares for a couple of seconds, then both let loose with blasts of magic simultaneously. The beams hit each other in mid-air and exploded brightly. Twilight closed her eyes from the flash for a second. When she reopened them, she found herself awash in a sea of blue color.

“What’s going on?” Twilight asked, looking around. “Where am I? This has to be some sort of trick!” She stood ready, waiting for an attack to come.

“Twilight?” a familiar voice called out. “Where are you, Twilight?”

“Rarity?” Twilight asked, looking around. The blue color had faded to a dimmer hue, and she now found herself standing in a vast sea of nothingness, very similar to when she had faced Pinkie Shy in her mind.

“Twilight, thank goodness!” Rarity said, suddenly appearing. She approached Twilight, looking around in confusion. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know, but it might be some sort of changeling attack. Be careful,” Twilight replied. “We have to find a way out of here. Come on!” Twilight turned and began to run.

Rarity smiled and her eyes flashed a faint red. “Yes, Twilight, we have to get out of here!” she said. “This place is creepy.” Rarity followed, keeping just behind her and began to power her horn up with magic.

Moments earlier…

Celestia slid into the corridor and hooked a left, galloping as fast as she could.

Where are you, sister? She thought, feeling for signs of Luna’s energy. I’m certain that was you! Where have you gone?

“Now!” Celestia heard a voice shout. A fraction of a second later, she felt a massive body crash into her, tackling her to the ground and sliding for several feet with her. She twisted her head around, practically bumping noses with Big Macintosh, who pressed his hoof against her, holding her to the ground. The red stallion blinked a couple of times then glanced to his left.

“Uh, AJ?” he said calmly. “It’s the princess.”

Celestia turned to look in the same direction, and saw Applejack popping up out of a wooden crate. She trotted to where the two ponies were and glanced down at the princess suspiciously.

“How can we be sure?” Aplejack asked, inspecting the princess’ face. “Could be a trick.”

Celestia levitated Big Mac and Applejack into the air and stood up. She held them there and dusted herself off. Applejack flailed her hooves helplessly.

“My sister, Luna,” Celestia said. “I’ve felt her presence. Have you two seen her?”

The sound of small hooves came from behind the princess. She turned her head and saw the three Cutie Mark Crusaders emerge from a doorway and step up to her.

“Princess Luna wasn’t here,” Sweetie Belle said. “She was somehow communicating with us, she said she didn’t even know how.”

“Yer the real Princess Celestia, ain’t ya?” Apple Bloom asked, tilting her head. “And that was the real Twilight with ya, wasn’t it?”

Celestia blinked and then stared down at the fillies. “Children, I’m not sure how to say it, but…” she started, but was interrupted by Scootaloo stepping forward and raising her hoof in the air. Big Macintosh and Applejack levitated through the air and landed gently behind the three fillies.

She broke my levitation! Celestia thought. Lucidity, again!

“Oh stop yer showin’ off, Scootaloo!” Applejack said, brushing her hair back and putting her hat firmly onto her head. “It’s just spooky!”

“We know about the dream, and we know about the changelings in Canterlot,” Scootaloo said.

“Then, it’s you,” Celestia said, falling to a seated position. “You’re the dreamer.”

Scootaloo grinned. “All three of us are,” she said smugly. “And we have a message for you from your sister.”

Celestia swallowed hard and sat at attention. “I’m listening,” she said.

Rainbow Dash pushed herself up from the pile of splintered wood and broken seats that she was lying in. Two changelings leapt from behind her and latched on, attempting to take her down. She turned her gaze over her shoulder and stared at them. Dark energy shot out from her forehead, blasting the changelings back. They shattered into pieces as if they were made of glass. With dark energy still streaming from her eyes, she turned her head back upward and stared at Pinkie Pie, who was hovering in the air above the middle of the arena. With a single push of her hind legs, she blasted into the air towards the pink alicorn, crashing into her with the force of a cannonball, dark magic cascading outward from the impact.

Pinkie reacted quickly, twisting her hooves in a circular motion in front of her, magic streaking from her horn and forming a flat, circular shield. She flipped the shield upward from the bottom, flinging Rainbow Dash further up into the sky.

“I don’t want to fight you, Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie shouted up at the pegasus, who had stopped and was hovering above her. “Just listen! This is just a bad dream! Whatever that voice told you, don’t believe it! If you tear this world apart, it’ll all be over!”

“Exactly!” Rainbow Dash shouted back. “We’ll be able to get out of here and finish off the real threat! Why can’t you see that?”

Pinkie growled in frustration. “We’re not real, Dashie! We can’t possibly deal with the real threat! We can only help our friends who can!” she screamed. Rainbow Dash stared down at her, eyes wide, dark energy pouring out of them more intensely than ever and accompanied by a purple glow. “That voice, whatever it is, is just using you! It doesn’t want to save us, it wants to enslave us!”

Not real? She’s completely lost, Rainbow Dash! The voice yelled within her mind. She’s just like everything else in this falsehood you’ve been living, now! She says you must help your friends, but she’s just trying to trick you! The fame, fortune, and favor you had were all lies, too, designed to keep you placated! How dare she use friendship in the same way?

But she is my friend! They all are! Rainbow Dash thought, still staring down at Pinkie Pie. I have to save them! Make them understand!

They are too far gone, Rainbow Dash. They are lost in the lies. The only truth left is this: you are mighty! You alone stand against the darkness! The voice shouted. The greatest mercy you can give to your friends is to end this quickly, even if it means crushing them! The greater good must be put first! Harden your heart and stand up for all of Equestria!

Tears fell from Rainbow Dash’s glowing eyes, and the aura around her darkened. Orange sparks crackled at her hooftips.

“Dashie! Don’t do this!” Pinkie screamed. She began to channel energy from her horn into the gems of her cloak, which shone with many sparkling colors. She glowed radiantly, the cloth of the cloak flowing in the wind. Each gem shot out an orb of magic, six in all, that surrounded Pinkie and orbited around her.

“There’s no choice anymore,” Rainbow Dash said. “If you want to stand in my way, then I’ll have to go through you!” She charged at Pinkie Pie, swinging her magically charged hooves straight at the pink pony’s face. The orbs of magic that had been surrounding Pinkie shot up to her face and formed a forcefield, deflecting Rainbow’s attack.

Rainbow Dash glared at Pinkie and shot upward, accelerating as she flew.

“Dashie! I don’t wanna fight! This isn’t fun!” Pinkie shouted up at Rainbow Dash. The blue pegasus responded by diving down at Pinkie with another double-hoofed punch, which was deflected by the shields once again.

Moving so fast she seemed to be popping in and out of reality, Rainbow Dash spun around Pinkie in all directions, her hooves flying in with lightning fast attacks. Pinkie Pie began to swing her hooves around and charge more magic into the gems of her cloak. The many small forcefields around her spun around, precisely taking every attack Rainbow Dash threw, bright sparks of every color flying through the air away from the two of them.

“Dashie, quit it!” Pinkie shouted as she swung a hoof up and shot a beam of energy past her shields. The beam curved around and struck true, blasting Rainbow Dash away from her.

Rainbow Dash wiped away a trickle of blood that was coming from the corner of her mouth. She then lifted that hoof slowly through the air, causing a sharp, black javelin to appear in front of her. The spear glowed with the same dark purple energy that was now surrounding Rainbow Dash. She pushed her hooves towards it, charging it with her dark orange magical energy, the aura around the weapon growing and shining brighter.

“Pinkie Pie!” Rainbow Dash shouted, pointing the javelin towards her friend. “If you’re not with me, then you’re against me! This fight is over!”

Pinkie flashed with magic and the many small forcefields all quickly flew to the front of her, right in the spear’s path. They combined and shot outward, creating a massive shield that pulsed with many colors.

Rainbow Dash launched the javelin at Pinkie Pie, the speed of it cracking with a sonic boom as it shot through the air. It pierced through the forcefield like a needle passing through cloth. With a loud, hollow sound, it stabbed through Pinkie Pie’s chest, and the pink pony fell downward. The forcefield shattered like glass, its shards falling all around her as she plummeted towards the ground.

A dirtied, gray hoof pushed up through the top of the pile of twisted, smoking debris that used to be a section of the arena stands. Pieces of metal and burning wood levitated upward. Rarity pushed her head up and gasped for breath, then glanced around at the situation.

Her parents, along with Fluttershy and Discord, were nowhere to be seen, presumably still buried underneath in the smoldering, shattered mess. The first thing she noticed was the glowing blue sphere off to her left. Hovering above it was one of the changelings that had charged at them from the air. He was hovering gracefully, his blue-spotted butterfly wings holding him aloft and also emanating a blue aura downward towards the large orb of magic.

Those wings really are quite lovely, it’s a shame that the rest of him is so… well, Rarity though. She tapped a hoof against her forehead. Stay focused, Rarity.

She glanced up past him and saw Pinkie Pie hovering high in the air, glowing with magic. She followed Pinkie’s gaze downward and saw Rainbow Dash staring up at her from another smashed section of the arena, dark magic pouring out from her.

Heavens, this place will be torn to pieces before the day’s over. Now, where has Twilight gone? Perhaps still buried as well, though I thought I heard her a moment ago, she thought and glanced around, but saw no sign of Twilight. Her eyes were drawn back towards the blue sphere. She squinted and could barely make out two figures standing within it. Is that her? No time to think too hard about it. That changeling must be stopped, regardless.

Rarity began to wriggle her way up and out of the ruined stands as quietly as she could so as to not draw any attention. “Mother? Father?” she whispered into the scrap heap, carefully levitating away pieces of it and placing them below, onto the grass.

A bright flash of light filled her vision. She flinched, turning her head up to look at the changeling. Has he noticed me? She thought. Instead, she found herself looking up at the familiar face of Big Macintosh, her nose bumping right into his. She blushed slightly, and he pulled his face back calmly. She was the second mare he’d had this type of encounter with in the last few minutes, and he felt like he could get used to it.

“I… beg your pardon,” she said with confusion. “What happened?”

“Mom! Dad!” Sweetie Belle’s voice came from behind her. She turned her head and saw Sweetie Belle jump towards her, tears coming from her eyes. Rarity turned her gaze down and saw her parents lying on the ground beside her. Their breathing looked shallow, and they had burns all over their bodies. Rarity glanced down at her own body, only then seeing that she also had black patches of fur and exposed red skin in places. She flinched as she felt the pain for the first time as the adrenaline slowly worked it way out of her system.

Sweetie Belle shook her father gently. “Wake up, dad, please,” she said. He didn’t respond. The filly buried her face in his coat, sobbing. Rarity reached a hoof over to her sister and placed it on her back, her own tears slowly seeping now as well. Princess Celestia, Applejack, and Big Macintosh all bowed their heads, saying nothing. The two other Cutie Mark Crusaders walked up behind their friend and sat down quietly.

“Why did this have to happen?” Sweetie Belle asked, her voice muffled. “What good are these powers if we couldn’t stop this?”

“Sweetie,” Rarity started, not knowing what to say. She noticed her sister’s horn beginning to glow brightly, flashing with more and more light as the child sobbed.

Sweetie Belle lifted her face up and looked down at her father. “She said we’re the masters of this world. If that’s true,” she said, sniffling. “If that’s true, then I won’t let this happen. I won’t allow my family to be hurt.”

A warm, light pink energy glowed around Sweetie Belle, surrounding her parents and her sister. Rarity looked down at her blacked, burned body and saw it returning to normal. She felt no more pain, only an incredibly strong emotion – love.

Her parents, likewise, lost their injuries. Their breathing became stronger, and they eventually opened their eyes, immediately looking at one another and smiling.

“Sweetie Belle, that’s incredible,” Rarity said, awestruck. “How did you do that?”

Princess Celestia stepped forward and sat down next to Rarity. “We don’t have much time, Rarity, so I must keep this as brief as possible,” she said, having gained Rarity’s full attention. “Your sister and her two friends have been given a great responsibility, and also a burden. With it, I too have been forced to make a most difficult decision, one that I’d hope I’d never have to make.”

“I don’t understand,” Rarirty said. “What responsibility? What burden? Nothing is making any sense.” Her voice became choked up once again, tears threatening to fall.

“All you need to know right now is that your sister and her two friends have within them a great power. One that can save us and deliver us from the nightmare we now find ourselves in,” Celestia continued. “We must return to the arena and save the rest of our friends. The three fillies were able to bring you, your parents, Applejack, and Big Macintosh here. I believe it has to do with the fact that you are family.”

“We can’t seem to bring the others here, though,” Scootaloo added. “We wanted to bring Twilight, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash, too, but something’s stopping us.”

“It’s those changelings, I bet!” Apple Bloom said loudly. “We gotta fight ‘em, just like Luna said!” Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement.

“Now, now, Apple Bloom, you might want to leave that to—“ Rarity started, but was stopped by Celestia, who shook her head as she spoke.

“I’m afraid not, Rarity. You saw the healing power Sweetie Belle just demonstrated. These three, even the non-unicorns, have awakened to a mighty power known as lucidity," Celestia explained. "The two changelings who are waiting for us are not like the ones you are thinking of. They are from a powerful group of changeling mages known as The Order of Ismara. Their magic and fighting prowess could possibly best any of us in single combat. We have to work together, and we will need the power these fillies possess. We should hurry, I fear for Twilight and Pinkie Pie’s lives.”

Rarity nodded her head, looking back at Sweetie Belle. Her sister stared back, determination burning in the depths of her eyes. Rarity could feel it, like a fire in her mind. She lowered her eyebrows and smiled.

“Alright. Let’s do it!” she said, returning to her hooves.

Big Macintosh and Applejack helped pull Rarity’s parents up to their hooves as well. Rarity’s mother, a worried look in her eyes, sighed and shook her head. “You sure this is going to be okay?” she asked, looking to Rarity.

“Oh, it’ll be fine!” Rarity’s father said with a laugh. “Our little girls are real bruisers, just like their old dad!”

“Eeyup!” Big Macintosh said, smiling down at Apple Bloom.

“Yeah, no worries fer now,” Applejack added. “The stuff I’ve seen these fillies do in the last five minutes or so… you wouldn’t believe it. We’re gonna get through this and give them changelings a wollopin’!”

“Let’s go, then!” Celestia said, waving the group down the hall in the direction from where she’d come. “The stands are smashed where I came in at, and they may be expecting an attack from there, so let’s head out from the next entryway.” Everypony nodded and began to gallop, Celestia leading the way down the hall.

A yellow nose tip pushed out from the bottom of the pile of debris that had spilled over onto the field. Fluttershy pulled herself out from underneath the rubble and then leaned up against it. She breathed heavily, looking down at her body. She had gotten away with surprisingly few injuries at a glance, but she stretched her wings out slowly, remembering the pain she’d felt in her dream when her wing had broken.

“I hope the others are okay,” she said to herself, looking around finally. She spotted Mulcibar immediately, as well as the blue magic sphere beneath him. She nervously glanced around for any sign of anypony else, but only spotted Pinkie Pie floating in the air high above the arena, facing down Rainbow Dash.

“I wish I could use lucidity like in my dream,” she said quietly, focusing on her inner self like she had done to command the power. There was no response, and she let out a sigh. “I just have to be brave. I knew this would be hard. I have to find the others.” She looked up at Mulcibar again to make sure he wasn’t looking, and then leapt up to the broken edge of the stands above her, beating her wings as lightly and as little as possible. She ducked down behind a seat back and looked ahead of her, towards the glowing blue sphere. She could make out the shape of two ponies standing within it.

That might be them. I have to get closer and see, she thought. This is how I have to fight. I can be like a sneaky scout! She smiled to herself, but knew that even though her quietness and lack of magic was an advantage to not being noticed, her bright yellow coat would surely been spotted, even when it was smeared with soot as it was.

Fluttershy looked to her left and spotted a seat back that had been broken off. That could work, she thought. A second later, there was a bright flash from above. She looked up and saw Rainbow Dash flying circles around Pinkie Pie with amazing speed, her hooves flying at Pinkie from all directions. I have to hurry! Hang in there, Pinkie Pie!

She carefully hoisted the seat and placed it over herself as cover. She began her advance, moving in stages. She would first check to see if Mulcibar was looking, and then sneak forward a few feet before stopping again. After doing this four times, she was finally at the edge of the seats that were near the open area where the blue orb sat. She was able to move quickly since Mulcibar seemed to be focusing heavily on the spell he was casting.

Fluttershy gazed into the blue orb, squinting to try and make out the ponies inside. A purple glow from a horn shone through ever so slightly, illuminating Twilight’s face. Fluttershy frowned. I was afraid of that, she thought. She looked up at Mulcibar, judging his distance. If she tried hard, she could make it up to him with a single beat of her wings. If I can interrupt his spell, Twilight will be free! Then we can have a fighting chance! Be brave, Fluttershy! You can do this!

She slid the seat back she’d been using for cover down and gripped it firmly with her hooves. She steadied her shaking knees, crouching down low behind the last seat in the row she was in. She knew that if Mulcibar looked her way, she’d surely be seen now. There was no turning back.

Here goes!

Moments earlier, within the illusion field, Twilight turned back to face Rarity, who quickly dispelled the magic in her horn.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere. There must be a way to keep our bearings in here,” Twilight said, aiming her horn at the ground. She blasted a scorch mark into the floorboards. “There. I just know we're inside some sort of magical trap. Just need to figure out what kind.”

Rarity shrugged. “Perhaps you go that way, I go this way,” she said. “If we find anything, we scream.”

“Okay, though I’m not sure if we should get separated,” Twilight said nervously. “Then again, if this is what I think it is, we won’t be able to get too far apart anyway.” She turned away and again and trotted carefully, scorching another mark in the ground as she went.

Rarity grinned and turned away, her eyes lighting up red. So naive, Twilight Sparkle, she thought. Joke’s on you, I can move around here just fine. She trotted around the edge of the sphere the two of them were trapped in and reacher her hoof out, tapping Twilight on the flank.

Twilight twisted around and lit her horn up, ready for an attack.

“Nothing there…” Twilight said, looking upward briefly into the blue abyss above her.. “I know I felt something. They’re toying with us…” She felt someone breathe into her ear from the right. She turned around, seeing nothing once again.

Outside the shell, Mulcibar hovered in the air, projecting the illusion field down onto the two. He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Stop toying with your prey, Linnai. We don’t have time for this, and we can’t afford to do this to all of them,” he said to himself. “Just Twilight and Celestia.”

Inside the sphere, Twilight felt like she’d been walking for ages and still hadn’t come across any of her scorch marks. Was I wrong? she thought. Is it not an infinite loop? Just ahead, Twilight saw hazy movement, and lit her horn up to get a better look.

Linnai snuck up on Twilight and lit her horn back up with fire, approaching as silently as she could. The light from their horns shone through the walls of the sphere, slightly illuminating what was beyond.

“I think I found something!” Twilight shouted. She squinted her eyes, barely able to make out the faint outline of a yellow pony. “Is that… Fluttershy? Fluttershy, can you hear me?”

Linnai glanced over Twilight’s shoulder and also spotted Fluttershy, hiding under something. What’s she up to out there? You better see her, Brother, or you’ve completely lost my respect! She’s yellow, for crying out loud!

The yellow blur shot upward, there was a loud sound, and the blue field vanished with a magical zap.

The group of ponies that had been running through the corridors stopped at the edge of the entryway, and Celestia glanced around the corner. She could see Mulcibar floating in the air, beaming magic down towards a glowing blue sphere. A flash of color caught her eye higher up and she saw Rainbow Dash crash into Pinkie Pie, who quickly formed a shield and deflected her even further up.

Celestia stepped out from the doorway, the rest of the others following in her hoofsteps. “There’s no sign of Twilight, and only one of the changelings,” Celestia said quietly. “It appears that Pinkie Pie has been unable to convince Rainbow Dash, we may need to intervene there. As for Twilight and the other changeling, I fear they are inside that blue orb, which is likely some form of illusion magic.”

Applejack tilted her head to the side, her neck popping. “So first thing we gotta do is take out that one up there, eh?” she said, pointing up towards Mulcibar.

“Yes. If we can stop his spell, Twilight will be free and we’ll have her on our side as well. That will announce our presence, though, as well as bring the second changeling into the fight,” Celsetia responded. “We need to move quickly and simultaneously. I’m the only one here with wings, so I will have to be the one to fly out to Pinkie Pie. The rest of you will have to deal with the changelings down here.”

“No problem,” said Sweetie Belle. “Mom and I can both blast that guy up there with magic. That should be enough of a distraction to break the spell, then we all jump in!”

Scootaloo waved a hoof in the air, which seemed to bend around it. “I’m really getting the hang of this stuff,” she said, causing a large metal plate to materialize from nowhere in front of her. “We’ll beat them easy!”

Celestia smiled, the fact that one of them was already so advanced in skill giving her some extra confidence in the otherwise sloppy plan. A flash and a loud cracking sound from above drew her attention, though. Everypony looked up at Pinkie Pie, who was now plummeting to the ground, a sharp black spear stabbed completely through her, shards of colorful magic tumbling with her.

“Pinkie Pie!” Celestia said, her voice filled with determination. “We have to move, now!” As she spoke, ready to leap into battle, a flash of yellow caught her eye near Mulcibar.

Fluttershy leapt into the air, beating her wings one time as she had planned, and then flung the seat back right at Mulcibar’s head. It struck true, knocking his face backwards. With another beating of her wings, Fluttershy flung herself at him. She smashed into his body, wrapping her forelegs around him. The two of them fell to the stands. With a flash, the blue orb vanished, revealing Twilight and Linnai. Twilight turned around to face Linnai.

“We made it out, somehow, Rarity!” Twilight shouted as Linnai’s grinning face entered her field of vision. Her smile immediately melted away. A bright flash of fire shot before her eyes and she felt a burning sensation in her chest.

“You sure did,” Linnai said with a grin.

Twilight was completely run through, a blade of magically compressed fire stabbing into her chest, exiting out of her back. Her eyes uncontrollably rolled up into the back of her head, and she fell to the floor. The flames flashed brightly and then were gone, leaving a gaping hole. Twilight coughed, and her breathing started to slow as she bled out onto the floorboards.

“Twilight!” Celestia screamed, the others behind her doing the same. With her mind filled with rage and her vision blood red, Celestia leapt towards the two changelings, screaming at the top of her lungs. “You monsters will pay!”

Horizons Ch 8 - The Sky Darkens

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Eight - The Sky Darkens

Celestia crashed straight into Linnai, their foreheads cracking together, their eyes locking onto one another. Linnai grunted, but continued to wear a big, fanged grin. Celestia pushed out from the changeling in mid-air, launching her away. With a horn aflame with white-hot fire, Celestia let loose a giant beam of magic that completely engulfed the changeling. Firing straight past her, the beam struck the stands on the opposite side, blowing them to bits that scattered and rained down into the apple orchards in the distance. Celestia landed on the edge of the stands and looked out to where her attack had flown.

Linnai hung in the air, a hoof pressed outward, her mane and wingtips singed, but her body still intact. “Princess, I hope that’s not the best you’ve got, or you’ll end up just like that useless purple thing behind you!” she shouted, giggling afterwards.

Celestia screamed, her voice loud and rough. “Don’t you dare speak of her!”

Linnai laughed again. “Stop me!” she taunted. “Pour your rage into me and shut me up! I can’t wait to feel your burning anger!” She licked her lips and launched herself back towards the princess, her horn ablaze and leaving a trail of fire in her wake. The two of them clashed again, a bright flash firing out from the point of impact.

“This is bad! This is bad!” Apple Bloom shouted in a panic, not knowing what to do now that the time had come.

“Calm down!” Scootaloo shouted. “Help the princess and Twilight! I’ll go to Pinkie Pie!”

“You can’t fly, dodo!” Sweetie Belle yelled, the pressure having gotten to her.

“You wanna bet?” Scootaloo snapped back. She spread her wings, which increased in size as she flung them out from her body. She leapt into the air and took off towards Pinkie.

Sweetie Belle stared in awe for a moment before shaking her head and looking over at Twilight. “That’s right!” she shouted. “We can do anything we want! Get ahold of yourself, AB! We have to help Twilight!”

Apple Bloom took a deep breath. “You’re right! Can’t let our friends down!” she resounded.

Rarity stepped a hoof forward, her eyes filled with determination. “Let’s go, girls!” The three of them began to radiate with a brilliant light, and then dashed forward together towards their fallen friend and her assailant. “We won’t let them get away with this!”

Scootaloo dove towards the arena field where Pinkie Pie was falling to. Her wings spread out wide, each one the full size of her body in length, carrying her through the air with ease. As Pinkie was about to hit the ground, her body stopped, a cushion of light orange magic softening her landing and placing her gently onto the ground. Scootaloo landed by her side. She stared down at Pinkie’s chest, the black javelin protruding like a nail half-driven into a board.

The spear quickly dissolved into small black particles and evaporated into the air. Scootaloo turned her head upward and stared at Rainbow Dash, who was descending at a gradual speed towards her.

Rainbow Dash landed with a plop in front of Scootaloo and Pinkie, and stepped forward, staring down at the gaping wound in Pinkie’s chest.

“Scootaloo…” Pinkie coughed out weakly. “Get away… from her.” Blood trickled from the corner of Pinkie’s mouth as she spoke, and her eyelids hung heavily over her eyes.

“No,” Scootaloo responded firmly, swinging her hoof down over Pinkie. The wound in Pinkie’s chest began to close, a bright orange glow flowing out from it. Her eyes never left their target, locked on to Rainbow Dash’s face.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes narrowed, still shining with the dark magic that had gripped her mind. She looked at Scootaloo, her stare burning back. “What are you doing, squirt?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Don’t tell me you’re going to try and stop me, too.”

Scootaloo shook her head. “Rainbow Dash… I never wanted any of this to happen,” she said, the wound on Pinkie Pie having now completely closed up. Scootaloo began to glow a brighter orange color than before as tears fell from her eyes. “I just wanted everypony to be happy. I just wanted us to be happy.”

“How are you doing that?” Rainbow Dash asked, her eyes widening and an orange glow beginning to take over the darkness that surrounded her.

She’s the one! The voice in Rainbow Dash’s head said. She’s the one who wanted you blinded to the truth!

Rainbow Dash shook her head. Scoot? No way! She thought. She’s, like… one of my best friends!

Is she? The voice asked. Think hard. When did you first meet her? When did you first take note of this little one?

Rainbow Dash stared down at Scootaloo, her eyes shaking, the dark aura fighting against the orange. She just… I don’t know! She was a fan of mine! She had this cute little fan club in Ponyville before I was even a Wonderbolt! she thought. Why would she be working for the changelings? It doesn’t make sense!

Look at the power she possesses! What else could be going on here? The voice asked. Rainbow Dash stared down at Pinkie, who had fully recovered and was rising back up to her hooves.

“I don’t know…” Rainbow Dash said aloud.

“Don’t know what?” Scootaloo asked. “Rainbow Dash, please, snap out of it!”

You see? the voice said inside Rainbow Dash’s mind, laughing. She’s nothing to you! She invented your relationship for her own purposes!

“It’s too late, Scootaloo…” Pinkie said weakly, having stood back up. She began to charge her horn up again. “She’s too far gone. Whatever that voice I heard was, she hears it, too. It’s not just a voice, though… She knows it’s not, just like I did.” Pinkie stared up at Rainbow Dash, locking eyes with her as she spoke.

If you don’t believe me, just ask them, the voice said. They’ll tell you the truth. They arrogantly think you’ll fall into line! That you’ll crumble like a weakling!

“Whoever that voice is coming from has dark, evil magic… full of hate, distrust, and a lust for power,” Pinkie said, staring into Dash’s glowing eyes. “I resisted it somehow, but Dash can’t do it. It’s not her fault—“

“So, tell me, then!” Dash yelled at Pinkie and Scootaloo. “Tell me the truth!” The dark aura around her erupted, what was left of the orange glow fading to almost nothing.

“It’s all a dream, Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo said, closing her eyes. “We’re inside my dream, and you were a part of it… such an important part of it. I just wanted you to notice me. I just wanted to be your friend... But I wanted you to be happy, too, so--.”

“So, everything I did…” Rainbow Dash began to say, her jaw shaking as she spoke. “All of my time with the Wonderbolts… All the time I spent with you… Cloudsdale moving south, my fame, my dreams… you did this to me?”

“Please, Rainbow Dash, it was supposed to be fun!” Scootaloo said. She started to cry, her tears dropping onto the bright green grass. “I was all alone! Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom got their cutie marks and stopped hanging out with me. I’d always wanted you to just see me! I just wanted to have somepony who cared, again!”

“Well, forget it!” Rainbow Dash shouted, her eyes erupting with glaring purple energy, red streaks of magic erupting out of her body as the dark aura around her expanded. “Everything I ever wanted is gone forever! I don’t even know if I’m real anymore! It’s all your fault, and you want me to just forgive you?” Rainbow Dash lifted a hoof upward, a ball of black energy growing at its tip.

“We have to get out of here, Scoot!” Pinkie Pie shouted, firing magic down into her cloak’s gems. A ball of pulsing colors surrounded them, and Pinkie pulled back on Scootaloo’s shoulder. “No matter what, you have to stop thinking of her as Rainbow Dash! She’s not the pony we knew anymore! She’s turned into something else! It’s completely taken over her!”

Rainbow Dash rose into the air, the energy ball she held aloft growing in size. Her eyes had turned completely black, only her irises remained, letting off a bright purple glow. The dark energy pouring out from her began to whip up heavy winds in the arena.

“No!” Scootaloo shouted. “This is my fault, she’s right!” Scootaloo stood her ground, looking up at Rainbow Dash.

The ball of energy that Rainbow held up pulsed several times, and then split into a thousand smaller balls, each stretching into a black javelin just like the one that she had launched at Pinkie Pie. They blocked out the sky, and then turned, all aimed at Scootaloo.

“Fire your dark magic at me, Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo shouted. “Until there’s none left! And then, we can start over! We can be friends for real!”

Rainbow Dash frowned, her eyes flashing white for a brief second. “F-Fine!” she screamed. “You can have it!”

The black spears sailed toward the ground like a torrential downpour. The sound of them whistling through the air, accompanied by Rainbow Dash’s screaming, echoed across the arena and out into the fields of Sweet Apple Acres. Massive amounts of dirt flew up from the ground as they pounded into it with the force of a bomb exploding.

Mulcibar landed roughly on his back, a weight pressing down over the top of him. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but a blurry field of pink. The side of his head was sore from an impact of some sort, which had knocked the sense out of him for a brief second. As soon as he’d regained his thoughts, though, the same sore spot on the side of his head received a surprisingly powerful blow, knocking his head sideways. The pink color in his field of vision dissipated, and he realized it was hair hanging over his face. The weight pressing down on his body was a little pony who had so foolishly leapt on top of him.

Fluttershy sat on top of the laid-out changeling, her left hoof pressing down against his chest. She wasn’t sure what to do now, but she was so hyper-focused on her attack that she swung her right hoof around without even thinking, smashing it into the side of the changeling’s skull.

Mulcibar flailed his hooves upward and wrapped them around Fluttershy. It was like a hug, but much more painful. He squeezed her down against him with sudden force, knocking the air out of her lungs. Fluttershy’s eyes bulged, and she coughed. She pressed against the changeling as hard as she could, pushing away from him. She finally lifted her front hooves into the air and smashed them both down against his face, which was mostly obscured by her long, pink mane.

“Gah! Get off me!” Mulcibar shouted, finally punching upward against Fluttershy’s chest and launching her off of him and to the right.

Fluttershy landed with a squeak. She felt something wet on the ground where she had landed, and opened her eyes. Right in front of her was Twilight Sparkle’s face, her mouth gaped, her breathing shallow and sporadic, and her eyes barely staying open. The ground was soaked in a puddle of her blood, which was still pouring out of a blackened hole in her chest. Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. She stared at Twilight, reaching a hoof out and touching it to her cheek.

“Twilight…” Fluttershy said, her voice shaking, her mind racing. Visions of memories with her friend flashed before her, and she began to curl up into a ball. The pain she felt in her ribcage was unable to even compare to the pain she now felt in her heart. “It’s all over…”

Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom slid in towards Twilight and Fluttershy, all shouting at once.

“Twilight! Hold on!” Rarity shouted. “Sweetie Belle, can you help her? Like with mom and dad?”

Apple Bloom shook Fluttershy and spoke, her voice shaking and nervous, her gaze cast to the edge of the stands. “Fluttershy, get up! We hafta get outta here!” she said. “Sweetie Belle’s gonna help Twilight, it’s gonna be okay, but that changeling don’t look too happy!”

Sweetie Belle kneeled beside Twilight, her hooves pressed against her and her horn glowing with a blinding light at its tip. “I won’t let you die! I won’t let you die! You can’t die!” she repeated over and over. The air around her and Twilight seemed to warp and twist, but Twilight still bled, her condition worsening by the second. “It’s not working!”

Apple Bloom pulled Fluttershy’s hoof. The yellow Pegasus, one side of her body stained red, pushed herself up and regained her hoofing. She looked over her shoulder. Mulcibar stood just yards away, his wings outstretched and his eyes glowing blue, staring at them. Blood was trickling out of his nose and dripping off of his chin.

“You miserable lot,” he said, rubbing a hoof against the spot where Fluttershy had clocked him on the side of his head. “It must be horrifying, knowing what you know. It’s no wonder you resist so violently.” He stepped towards them and bared his fangs. A flash of blue light shot out from his wings, wrapping him and the ponies in a glowing orb.

Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, Fluttershy, and Rarity found themselves standing in the throne room of Canterlot Castle. They looked up immediately, and saw the ceiling of changeling cocoons hanging over them. Streams of green magic flowed through the chamber, passing through cocoons and illuminating them. Mulcibar appeared at the far end of the room, sitting upon the throne.

“Look at how helpless you all are,” he said, lifting a glass of red wine to his lips and taking a sip. “Not a movement, not a cry, not a peep of a sound comes from a single one of these pods. And yet here, within your minds, you resist. You rage so loudly. You burn with agony and hatred for us, your captors.”

“Don’t listen to him, girls,” Fluttershy said, putting on a strong face. “This is some kind of trap!”

Mulcibar stood up from the throne and looked down directly at Fluttershy. “A trap? I have no need for such a thing,” he said, stepping along the ramp that led down to the ponies. He waved his hoof up towards the ceiling and grinned. “You’re all already trapped, as you can see.”

“What are you getting at, you beast?” Rarity demanded, her horn lighting up.

Mulcibar strode past Rarity and tapped a hoof against her horn, the light in it vanishing. “Let’s not get violent, I brought you here to settle things in a civilized fashion,” he stated plainly. “One of you has already had to pay the ultimate price, and it’s a shame that it came to that, but she and Celestia must be punished for what they’ve done. When an animal lashes out, you put it down, it’s as simple as that.”

“You’re sick,” Rarity spat with disgust. “We’re ponies, not animals!”

“Ah, but you are just that, even to your so-called friends, Princess Celestia and Twilight Sparkle,” Mulcibar said as he approached Fluttershy. “You four were just wrapped up in their plot, and deserve a second chance.” He walked towards Fluttershy, staring into her face and grinning.

“Stay away from me,” Fluttershy said angrily.

“Especially one so timid and lovely as you,” he said, running a hoof against Fluttershy’s cheek, pushing her bangs to the side. She pulled away from him in disgust. “Oh yes, I’d definitely show you a good time, my dear. Maybe even let you out of that cramped cocoon you’re in and let you stay in the castle.”

“Leave her alone!” Sweetie Belle yelled, a wave of energy flying out from her and lifting Mulcibar off the ground. He looked down at the filly and smiled, waving a hoof down at her.

“Oh, well now,” he said. “Linnai is going to be furious when she finds out she was wrong with her guess. You must be the dreamer, little one. I can feel it. You have quite a grip on your Lucidity, too. This makes it quite simple.” He began to charge up his horn, the gem socketed into its base glowing with magic.

“That jewel,” Rarity said, looking at the perfectly-cut gem. “That must be the source of your power.”

“Nothing so mundane,” Mulcibar responded. “The gem is a focal point, that is all.” As he said this, the gem popped out from his horn and flew through the air, coming to a stop over Apple Bloom’s head.

“Yer not completely right about Sweetie there bein’ the dreamer,” Apple Bloom said with a grin. She stomped her hoof against the ground, and the gem broke into shards above her.

Mulcibar stared at the filly, then laughed again.

“Two of you! No, there was a third filly with you!” he exclaimed. “Three! This is too much!” He laughed heartily, still floating in the air, his wings and hooves flailing as if he were rolling on the ground.

“I broke your stupid gem! Now let us go! You can’t beat us all without magic!” Apple Bloom demanded. Mulcibar just smiled back.

“Without magic? Child, do you see this illusion disappearing?” he said, then with a green flash, he transformed and took the form of Fluttershy, speaking in her voice. “Do you see my changeling powers going away? The gem is merely to focus my unicorn magic, it has nothing to do with my raw power.” His eyes flashed and a wave of force blasted outward, knocking the ponies away. He dropped to the ground, the levitation that had held him up interrupted.

“Do you fools know what happens to light when it shines through a lens?” he asked. “It focuses. Without a focus, well, it’s still just as bright, just not concentrated!” he blasted outward with another wave of force, destroying everything around him, knocking cocoons off the ceiling, shattering the throne behind him, and launching the ponies across the room and against the far walls.

Mulcibar floated across the room, flapping his yellow wings, still in the form of Fluttershy. He landed in front of the real Fluttershy and looked down at her. “Don’t worry, my dear,” he said. With a flash, he assumed the guise of Twilight Sparkle. “I can be your new Twilight, how about that? We’ll be the best of friends.”

“Oh come on!” a voice echoed across the throne room. “Talk about cliché evil! Not to mention a little bit creepy, even for me!”

“Who’s there?” Mulcibar shouted.

“Discord?” Fluttershy asked. A laugh echoed through the halls in response.

“Your illusions are great, but they lack flair, changeling!” Discord’s voice taunted. “First of all, it’s far too drab! Boring!” The throne room exploded with a blast of colors, everything becoming plastered with random dots and paint splotches. The cocoons hanging from the ceiling all turned into disco balls, and the floor tiles began to flash different colors.

Mulcibar turned his head towards the back of the throne room. Where the throne had once stood, there was now a stage. Atop the stage was a massive set of speakers, in the middle of which was a set of turntables. Discord stood behind them, huge rhinestone sunglasses on his face and a backwards baseball cap on his head. A chain hung down from his neck, a gold plate with the word “CHAOS” emblazoned across it, at least until whoever saw it read the word, at which point to them the letters rearranged randomly into some other word, or even a picture.

“Who are you?” Mulcibar asked, stepping towards the draconequus. “How did you get in here? How are you changing my illusion?” He fired pulses of blue energy out from his wings, but nothing happened.

“Good idea! Strobe lights!” Discord said, and snapped his fingers. Several flashing lights appeared and began to flicker at random. “I’d say this little party is ready to really get moving!”

“Enough!” Mulcibar shouted. He fired another blast of unfocused magic out from his horn. Instead of the intended effect, though, the magic blew two records off a stack of them to Discord’s side, both falling perfectly onto the two turntables. Discord dropped the needles onto the records. He winked towards the others and covered his ears. Fluttershy, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle clamped their forelegs over the ears.

The speakers exploded with terrible, random noises, louder than anypony had probably ever heard. Mulcibar clasped the sides of his head for a moment, then charged at the speakers on the left. He crashed into them and pierced their surface with his horn. They exploded out in a mixture of confetti, colorful birds, and bits.

“You picked the right set of speakers!” Discord shouted with glee. “You won the two-thousand bit prize!” In a flash, Mulcibar found himself seated in the middle of a circular blue room with three doors. Discord appeared in front of him, wearing a loud suit.

“What is the meaning of this?” Mulcibar shouted over the noise coming from Discord’s suit.

“You can keep the money you’ve already won, or you can go for a prize behind one of these three doors!” Discord said cheerfully. A gasp came from the audience. Mulcibar turned his head to the side and realized that there was an audience expanding out as far as he could see, all staring at him.

Several ponies in the front row started waving their hooves. “Keep the money!” one of them shouted. “No, take door number two! No, three!” others would call out. Mulcibar gritted his teeth, his anger boiling. He froze in place as he felt the sensation of a cold blade against his throat and heard a whisper in his ear. The back of his head pressed firmly against the back of the chair in which he was seated.

“Here’s the deal, you sniveling insect. My name is Discord, and you are as close to death as you’ve ever been,” Discord’s voice whispered to him, the roar of the crowd fading into the background. Discord himself still stood in front of him, waving to the crowd and smiling. The voice echoing in Mulcibar’s ear did not sound like it was smiling. “I’m not an unreasonable being… well, okay, I am, but I love games. Don’t think that what you feel pressing into the soft, juicy flesh of your neck is anything like a joke, not even for a second.”

Mulcibar swallowed, but as softly as he could, sweat beading on his forehead. He had heard legends of the tyrant, Discord, who had ruled over Equestria in antiquity. He was powerful beyond reckoning, incredibly cruel, and rumored to be immortal. What is an old god doing here? Mulcibar thought, his mind racing.

“You get one choice, so choose carefully,” Discord explained. “You pick a door. You pick the right one, you walk out of here alive and can continue whatever sort of evil plans you have. You can even take the yellow one with you, since you seem to fancy her.”

“If I pick the wrong one?” Mulcibar whispered, his nerves getting worse by the second, the blade becoming seemingly sharper and colder as time passed.

“You pick the wrong one, the floor gets a new paint job, and we’ll have to change the color scheme in here to red,” Discord answered, chuckling. “And again, do not think for one moment that I am joking. This is the side of me not many get to see, and even less have a chance to walk away from, so consider yourself… privileged.” Discord’s eyes glowed a bright red, and he grinned, running his tongue along the ridges of his teeth.

Mulcibar raised a hoof nervously to the third door in front of him.

“Door three? Are you sure?” Discord asked. “You only get one choice!”

Mulcibar felt the blade press against his throat. “No, no, door two!” he said raspily.

“Okay! Door two! What’s behind door two?” Discord asked. A second Discord, wearing lipstick, a wig, and a miniskirt, stepped over to door number two and opened it. Mulcibar’s seat ejected him forward and through the door, the cheering of the crowd fading as he flew through it. He felt himself hit a wall, heard explosions and a blazing fire coming from his left, and the ground shaking beneath his feet. He stood up, shook his head, and a flash of blue light reflected off the wall in front of him. He turned around quickly, having realized where he was. He was outside of his illusion sphere. Somehow, Discord had ejected him from his own spell.

Mulcibar stomped a hoof against the ground, and the blue sphere vanished with a crack. Fluttershy, Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom appeared, all crouched low to the ground. “Where is he?!” Mulcibar shouted nervously. turning his head back and forth, his horn pulsing with energy. “Where’s Discord?!”

A second later, there was a loud sound like fabric being torn apart, and everything around him went as black as ink.

Celestia blazed through the air, circling around opposite of Linnai, who kept pace with the princess, never letting her slip out of her field of vision. Beams of magic fire blasted from both of their horns at one another, each missing every time as the other dodged deftly in mid-flight.

Down in the stands, Rarity’s parents stood with Applejack and Big Macintosh, feeling helpless.

“Everypony’s flyin’ or magic! We gotta do somethin’!” Applejack shouted. She looked up at the princess, who seemed to be in an aerial stalemate with Linnai, neither one of them having landed a single blow past the initial collision.

“Well, I can’t do anything to this blue ball!” Rarity’s mother said. “I never was as good with magic as my daughter, but this isn’t even a matter of that. The magic feels all different, ya know?”

Applejack sighed and pushed her hat firmly against her head. “Big Macintosh, I want ya to launch me up there,” she said.

“Y’done lost yer mind,” Big Mac said plainly. “Don’t reckon I can hit a moving target with a pony from this distance, even if I could buck ya’ far enough.”

Rarity’s dad stepped forward and pushed up against Big Mac. “Now that’s where you n’ I differ, big fella,” he said. “Shoot, I’ve completed passes longer’n that back in Varsity… though I’m not as young as I used ta’ be. Betcha you and I could do it together, though. And the wife, there, can hold AJ steady.”

“Great idea!” Applejack said with a grin. “Come on, Big Mac!”

Big Macintosh sighed. “Eeyup…” he said. “But I still think y’all lost yer minds.”

Rarity’s mother concentrated as hard as she could, lifting Applejack into the air and holding her steadily in place with levitation. Applejack pulled her back hooves inward as if she were ready to launch into a jump.

“Arright, Mac, now ya gotta keep a real steady eye,” Rarity’s dad began to explain as he and Big Mac got into position. They each raised a single rear hoof off the ground and placed them against one of Applejack’s. “When it’s time ta’ throw, I’ll signal by raising my other hoof up and pressing it to AJ’s. You’ll have fractions of a second to react and get yours up there slightly quicker than I go. Then we all three buck outward, and she’ll be shot up there like a cannonball.”

“You sure we can make the distance?” Big Mac asked nervously.

“You kiddin’?” Applejack scolded. “You got me n’ you who buck trees fer a livin’, plus a former pro athlete. What do ya think? Wouldn’t be surprised if I cause a Sonic Rainboom!”

“Okay. Hold her steady, dear,” Rarity’s dad said, his eyes locked onto Linnai in the distance. “Get ready, Mac. Almost… Almost… Now!” As he was saying “Now”, he lifted his left hoof up. Big Mac pushed his right hoof up as well, and with a single motion, Applejack shot like a blur into the distance, her hat blowing off her head in the process.

This is getting nowhere! Celestia thought, her rage having subsided slightly with her massive outflux of magic. I can’t seem to predict her movements. It’s those blasted wings! They don’t move her like a pegasus. If I could just get a bead on her… She fired another blast. Linnai reacted by firing her own, and the two beams collided in the air, exploding outward.

A flash of orange shot past Celestia so quickly, she couldn’t tell what it was, only that it came from below. She instinctively launched herself backwards.

Linnai saw the orange object coming towards her at high speed. She turned her head, tried to evade, but couldn’t make it. Almost as if time had slowed, Linnai saw two orange hooves approaching her face, a pair of green eyes and flowing blond hair behind them.

Applejack smashed into Linnai, pushing her front hooves forward at the point of impact, cracking the changeling’s head backwards. The two of them continued to fly through the air, eventually falling and crashing into the upper stands across the arena and smashing through two rows of seats as they landed.

“Applejack!” Celestia shouted, finally realizing what had happened. She dove towards the two of them as thundering sounds began to erupt from the field behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Scootaloo zooming across the field, dodging giant white stone pillars that were falling from the sky towards her. Each one hit the earth with a massive thud, shaking the arena and further destroying the parts that were already in ruin.

Applejack pulled herself up despite the steady shaking of the floor under her feet. She stood over the changeling, glaring down at her angrily. “I should crack yer’ skull open like a watermelon!” she screamed down at Linnai’s unconscious body.

Celestia dove down towards the two of them as fast as she could. “Do it!” Celestia screamed at Applejack. “Do not hesitate! Kill her!”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice,” Applejack said, and raised her back hooves. She kicked the changeling’s body back and up against an entryway wall. Linnai hit the wall, her limp body leaning against it, her head hanging to the side loosely. “Not the most honorable way ta’ go, but you had it comin’! This is fer Twilight!”

Applejack pulled her hind legs up and shot them back, right at the changeling’s head, aiming to smash it against the wall. At the second before impact, Linnai’s eyes shot open, glowing bright red. Fire blasted out from her forehead and shot Applejack across the stands in a fiery blaze.

Linnai shook her head and launched herself to her feet, charging at Applejack with her horn blazing. Celestia turned in the air, diving towards Applejack.

Linnai let loose with a massive fireball, shooting straight towards Applejack. Celestia crashed into the earth pony, pushing her away. The ball of fire hit Celestia, and the stands around her ignited.

With a single beat of her wings, Linnai launched herself skyward and began to launch ball after ball of blazing fire at Celestia, the inferno surrounding her growing in size. The fire spread through the stands and the wooden floorboards gave way, crashing down. The top of the blaze shot upward higher and higher as Linnai relentlessly poured energy and heat into it, laughing the entire time.

“Princess!” Applejack shouted, and glared at Linnai. She jumped to her hooves and galloped towards the changeling, leaping into the air towards her. “Stop that right now!”

Linnai paid no attention to Applejack, except for the amount of effort it took to launch a single, small fireball at her. Applejack was blown to the side, falling down onto the grassy field. She stared back up to where the princess had been, light flickering off her eyes. She slammed her front right hoof into the earth and shook her head. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“No… What have I done? This is all my fault!” she yelled. She fell forward and buried her face into the grass, wrapped her forelegs around her head, and cried.

Linnai ceased her firing, satisfied that the blaze before her was sufficient. She laughed loudly and pointed her hoof down at the blaze. “Burn! Burn!” She screamed. A flash of light from straight ahead ceased her laughter, though, and she stared in disbelief.

Celestia, her mane and coat completely in flames, rose up from the blaze, stepping calmly out from it. She stared up at Linnai, her gaze itself burning as well.

“Do you know what the sun is?” Celestia asked. “It’s a star. It’s a raging inferno the likes of which you can not even comprehend.”

Linnai gritted her teeth and shouted down angrily at Celestia. “Shut up! Why can’t you just die?”

Celestia shook her head. “I’ve been there, you know. I was there for a whole night, once,” she said, her horn glowing. “It was hot-- Hotter than this bonfire you’ve made. Do you think that any flame you wield could possibly harm me?”

Linnai shot a fireball down at Celestia, who took the blast head-on. She was pushed back slightly, but continued to calmly walk towards Linnai.

“You’ve done something that is most unfortunate,” Celestia said. “You’ve incurred my wrath.” Celestia’s horn flashed and a single, bright beam of magic shot out from it. It pierced through Linnai’s shoulder and she flew backwards, hitting the floor.

A second later, a flash and a ripping sound came from Celestia’s left. She did not have time to look at what had happened. Everything went black around her.

Moments earlier...

The heavy cloud of dust cleared, revealing an orange glow. Scootaloo stood, Pinkie Pie next to her, unharmed. The multitudes of black, jagged spikes lay thrusted into the ground. A perfectly circular area around the two ponies was completely untouched by the projectiles.

Rainbow Dash, her breath heavy, glared down at the two of them. I missed? She thought. No… she made them miss! Scootaloo stared back up, her gaze unwielding. Pinkie Pie stood behind Scootaloo and suddenly put a hoof against her head.

Pinkie Twi’s voice cried out in Pinkie Pie’s mind. It’s getting dark! What’s going on out there? Everything is vanishing and fading to black! I can feel my mind… slipping away!

Pinkie turned her head back towards the stands. Having been distracted by her fight with Rainbow Dash, she had not noticed what had been going on. Celestia was flying through the air, blasts of magic fire zipping back and forth between her and Linnai. A massive blue sphere hung over the stands, and there was no sign of Twilight, but Rarity’s parents stood beside the blue orb with Applejack and Big Macintosh, shouting into it.

“Did something happen to Twilight?” Pinkie asked Scootaloo. Her entire body began to twitch out of control.

Scoot nodded her head sadly. “She was in bad shape. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom are going to try and heal her like I healed you,” she said. “Only the three of us can stop this mess.”

A flash and a ripping sound came from above. The two ponies turned their heads up and saw Rainbow Dash hanging in the air above them, her dark aura still flashing outward. Beside her was a massive rip in the fabric of the dream. Beyond the rip, three beams of light were seen within a field of darkness. Rainbow Dash swung her hoof and materialized a long, black blade. She pushed her hoof into one end of it and stared into the bright opening.

That’s right, Rainbow Dash! the voice in her head said, urging her forward. The child, the dream, your friends… they were all distractions! Those lights are the point that binds this world together! Cut them apart! Don’t let them use you anymore!

Rainbow Dash frowned. Don’t get me wrong, she thought. I won’t let you use me either! I can feel it, though. I know it somewhere deep inside, I have to do this! Not for you, but for me! With that thought, the dark energy pulsed outward, gaining rainbow-like flashes of color within it.

As you wish! the voice said, sounding as confident as ever.

Pinkie Pie’s eyes went wide and she pointed a hoof as best as she could up towards the rift in the sky. “We can’t let her cut those strands of light! That’s the center of this world! That’s what I was protecting! If it gets destroyed, it’s all over!” she yelled.

“Pinkie! Help the others!” Scootaloo shouted, and then shot into the air at lightning speed. Rainbow Dash pulled her hoof back. She grinned and swung the blade forward, right at the point where the three light beams converged. Pinkie saluted shakily, turning back towards the stands.

Scootaloo stretched her hoof forward, a pink blade firing out from its tip. It intercepted Rainbow Dash’s sword just as it was about to make contact with the light. The magical blades smashed together with a crashing sound. There was a sparking flash, and Rainbow Dash’s blade was pushed back. Scootaloo hovered in the air between the open rift and the blue pegasus.

“You have no choice, Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo said calmly. “I don’t know what that thing is, but I can feel its energy. It’s kind, loving, and warm. If you want to attack it, you have to get past me first.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “You’re a pretty cool kid, Scoot,” she said. “I bet the real me would’ve liked you.”

Scootaloo grinned back at Rainbow Dash and laughed. “You don’t even know the real Rainbow Dash, because I don’t really know her either. I don’t care if the real Rainbow Dash likes me anymore! I just want you back! By the time this is over, we’ll be fighting together,” she said with all seriousness. “I’ll change you back! Back to the Rainbow Dash I love! The one I look up to!”

“Well, then you had better fight like you’re trying to kill me,” she said, equally serious. “I’m doing the same for you."

Scootaloo swung her sword upward at Rainbow Dash’s face. Dash dodged back, flying in reverse with great speed.

“Good!” Rainbow Dash shouted. She pulled her hooves up to either side of her, and two giant boulders formed in the air next to her. She swung her hooves forward, and the rocks launched at Scootaloo.

Scootaloo pushed her sword forward at one of the massive boulders. It shattered into pieces, which then turned into clouds. She dodged to the side and brought her blade down upon the other one as it passed by, slicing it in half. The boulder dissolved into the air harmlessly, magic particles flying into the air where it had been. Scootaloo flapped her wings and dove at Rainbow Dash, swinging her blade at her again. Reality bent around Rainbow Dash, and the blade of the sword vanished just before it made contact with her. The blade’s tip harmlessly appeared on the other side of her.

Rainbow Dash pushed her hoof against Scootaloo’s chest. A giant spark flew out from it and sent Scootaloo flying back to the ground. She hit the grass with a thud and looked up. Rainbow Dash had materialized a row of giant stone pillars, the likes of which you would see in Cloudsdale. Dash began to launch the pillars toward the ground. Scootaloo scrambled across the field as the pillars struck it, shaking the earth and creating clouds of dirt.

Scootaloo stared at one of the pillars and lifted it into the air, launching it back at Rainbow Dash. “I can do that, too!” she shouted, firing more pillars skyward. Rainbow Dash was quickly surrounded by a circle of rotating stone columns. Scootaloo took off into the air again and slammed her hooves together. The pillars all smashed inward simultaneously, Rainbow Dash at their center. A loud rumbling sound and a flash shot through the air.

A second later, the pillars crumbled, each broken piece turning into a dark spear. Rainbow Dash pulled her hooves inward, bringing them all together until they were joined as one long, crackling harpoon.

“You know that won’t work!” Scootaloo shouted as Rainbow Dash launched the spear at her. Scootaloo dodged the projectile easily and shook her head. “This fight is so pointless! We can’t do anything to each other, and you know it!”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Wasn’t aiming for you, kid,” she said with a grin, her eyes looking past Scootaloo.

Scootaloo turned around and saw the massive blade strike the three beams of light right where they were connected. The beams snapped apart, like a tightly pulled rope being cut. She felt her mind go blank, her eyes close, and her senses all dull. She felt herself falling from the sky, down, down, down for what felt like an eternity. Eventually, Scootaloo only felt one thing, deep in the darkness: A feeling so familiar to her, since she’d known it for most of her life. Like a parasite that had attached to her years ago and refused to let go, no matter how she had refused to let it stop her...

She felt alone.

Horizons Ch 9 - The Stars Shine

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Nine - The Stars Shine

Darkness surrounded Apple Bloom briefly, then beams of light flew upward past her eyes. She blinked, and a blurry blob of colors began to come into focus. It spread outward, surrounding her until she was standing in a grassy field outside of her house.

How did I get here? What happened to the others? She thought, and walked towards the structure. What’s this feeling? It’s cold and sad… I feel so lonely. The filly stepped into the house. From upstairs, she heard the sound of someone crying. She walked up to the second floor, towards the sound, until she found herself at the door to Applejack’s room. She looked inside and saw a young version of her sister lying on her bed. Beside her was a tiny filly with red hair and a pink bow on her head. She knew that filly was her.

Is this a memory? I can’t remember it very well.

“The day after dad died,” said a voice from behind Apple Bloom. She looked over her shoulder and saw Applejack standing behind her. A single tear rolled down her cheek. “In all my days, I’ve never felt so sad as that day. It hadn’t even been two years since mom had passed, and now dad was gone, too. Everything was fallin’ apart.” Applejack took her hat off her head and pressed it against her chest.

“What are we gonna do, lil’ sis?” the younger Applejack asked her sister. “We’re all alone, now.” She placed a hoof against Apple Bloom’s head and gently stroked her mane. She burst into another fit of crying, burying her face into her pillow. Little Apple Bloom began crying, too.

A crushing feeling of loneliness shot through Apple Bloom’s heart. She felt colder, and the scene dimmed. She reached a hoof out toward the vision of her sister and tried to hold back the sadness. “But, we weren’t alone, big sis,” she said. “We had Big Mac and Granny Smith.”

Applejack nodded her head in response. “I know, but it just seemed so hopeless. Folks in town were sayin’ all sorta bad things,” she said.

“They say he grieved himself to death,” a voice said, as if it were just within earshot of Apple Bloom. “The poor kids, they’re on their own now. Who knows how long Granny Smith will hang on?”

“You, Big Mac, and Granny Smith were left all alone. I never even knew that sorta feeling. I never thought of how hard it musta been, havin’ ta take care of me and the farm,” Apple Bloom said quietly.

“We hung in there, though,” Applejack replied. “We made sure ya didn't have ta think about it. Despite what anypony thought, the Apple family pushed through.”

“The farm at Ponyville could go under. Big Mac isn’t ready for that sort of responsibility,” another voice said. “He’s barely a stallion, and Applejack’s got years yet to go before she’s old enough to help.”

“What do they know?” the smaller Applejack said between sobs. “Big Mac is twice the stallion any’a them are. And I can too help. I’ll show ‘em! We’ll all show ‘em you can’t stop this family! Can’t nothin’ stop us!” She wiped away her tears, a look of determination now taking over her.

“And you’ll help too, won’t’cha Apple Bloom?” Applejack asked, smiling over at her sis.

Apple Bloom closed her eyes. As much as I can, sis, she thought to herself. But what if…

Apple Bloom blinked, and the scene before her changed to her sister and brother working in the fields. She sat by a window, looking out at them, with Granny Smith sitting beside her on a rocking chair. She stared out the window, watching her family do what the Apples had done for generations. Her head sank, and she looked down at her bare flank.

“What if mah special talent doesn’t hafta do with the farm at all? What if I… can’t help?” she asked.

“Do you really think that matters to us, Snickerdoodle?" Granny Smith said with a giggle. “What’s important is family, and bein’ together, not what you can or can’t do for us.”

“Yeah, but what if mah cutie mark is--“ she started to ask, but was stopped by her grandmother.

“Hush now, child, and listen. Do you really think that your special talent, no matter what it may be, will keep you away from us or the farm?” Granny Smith asked. “Does it define who ya are that much?”

Apple Bloom looked back at the window. “No. You’re right,” she said. The scene vanished, and Apple Bloom saw her family standing in front of her in the dark void.

“That’s right, AB. It’s you who decide what yer made of, not a cutie mark,” Applejack said. “All we want from ya is for you to be you.”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac chimed in.

“And that’s not just the family you were given,” Granny Smith said with a smile. “It’s the family you choose, too.”

The family I choose… That’s right. I’ll always be there for my family, no matter what, she thought in response. No matter who gets their cutie mark first, or who is left without one… no matter what my talent is, and no matter what happens on the farm… I’ll be there. I’ll never abandon them.

Images of the past month flashed in her mind. She saw herself bucking trees with her sister and brother, the trees filling with flowers blossoms as she kicked their trunks. She saw the farm expand, but inward, getting closer and closer to Ponyville, until it was right up against the town’s edges, their orchards touching the yards of the townsponies.

“The whole time, I’d been dreaming of the farm spreading inward toward town-- Toward my friends. I thought I had to choose, but that’s not right,” Apple Bloom said and smiled.

Applejack and Big Macintosh nodded their heads and stepped to the side, making a path between them. On the other side of the path, Apple Bloom saw the shadowy outlines of her best friends.

“You gotta push through, now, Apple Bloom. You gotta move ahead just like we did,” Applejack said, gesturing her past. “Yer other family is waitin’ for ya. Everypony is countin’ on the three of you.”

“My other family, as dear to me as my own kin,” she said. “Nothing can break us apart!” Her chest erupted with a golden glow, the outline of a symbol appearing on it again, just the same as before. However, this time there was more to it. The flower-shaped symbol seemed to pop out from her chest, forming a bright red gemstone surrounded by a dark metal, hanging from an intricately etched band that hung around her neck. She felt a magical power rising up from inside her. She reached her hoof out towards her friends, through the sea of blackness.

“Come on, you two! We won’t give up that easy, right?”

The gem hanging from her neck burst forth with bright magic, firing towards the shadowy profiles of her friends.

Lonely? I haven’t felt lonely—not really—in a long time.

Sweetie Belle saw herself as a younger filly sitting at a table in a restaurant. Next to her was her sister, also a filly, and across from them sat their parents. Why am I here? What happened? I remember this time in my life, but only a little. It’s all sort of blurry...

A waitress came up to the table. She was immediately enamored with Sweetie Belle and Rarity, smiling at them. “I can take you orders if you’re ready,” she said. She looked down at Sweetie Belle and smiled. “What do you want, little one?” Sweetie Belle sank into her seat and turned her gaze down, blushing slightly. She raised her hoof up and pointed to a picture of a fruit bowl on the menu.

The waitress grinned and looked at the adults at the table. “Oh my gosh, she is just adorable. Is she always this shy?” the waitress asked.

“She can’t talk,” Rarity blurted out. Sweetie Belle tried to slouch even lower in her seat. Rarity’s mom tapped her hoof on the table and shot a look at Rarity, who slouched down in her chair as well.

Sweetie Belle smirked as she remembered. Despite the stuff she used to say, I still loved my sister, even back then. All the other foals my age could talk, but I couldn’t. All I could do was make tiny squeaking noises any time I tried. I guess that’s why none of the other kids ever wanted to be my friends. I felt lonely… but I always felt better spending time with my sister. It’s like I decided I was going to be her best friend, and I just never let go of that thought.

“She may never be able to speak,” a voice said. Sweetie Belle blinked her eyes and looked down at a unicorn wearing a white coat. He was standing with her parents, talking to them. She saw her past self on a bed in a plain room, and the unicorn must have been a doctor of some sort.

She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a small, raspy squeaking sound. Her parents and the doctor looked down at her and smiled.

“The poor thing,” her mother said, shaking her head.

A young looking Rarity hopped up onto the bed and smiled down at her. “I think she’s adorable!” Rarity said gleefully. “She makes the cutest little noises!”

Her parents laughed and her father patted Rarity on the head. “That’s right, your little sis is the cutest little thing,” he said. Rarity nodded in agreement and rubbed her nose against Sweetie Belle’s.

Sweetie Belle giggled and wriggled her face. Stop it, sis, it tickles! she thought, but only a little giggly squeak escaped her lips.

Back then, I didn’t understand what they meant by ‘never be able to speak.’Sweetie Belle closed her eyes and another memory drifted into her mind. She found herself sitting in her sister’s room, watching her busily sewing and humming a tune along with the record that was playing in the background. The singer in the song had such a beautiful voice. Every once in a while, Rarity would sigh to herself and look at the record player. She then turned her head towards Sweetie Belle.

“Oh Sweetie Belle, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to sing like that?” she asked whimsically. “To burn with such passion that it can be felt just from your voice?” Her eyelids drooped down heavily and she sighed again.

Sweetie Belle nodded her head excitedly. I could understand what she was saying, even though I couldn’t talk, she thought. I loved the music, too. It made me feel calm and happy inside, but also kind of sad. It was like… something inside of me wanted to be let out. Like I had to finally let my voice be free. We spent a lot of time together, day after day and month after month, and each day I felt it more and more strongly.

She squeaked ineffectually at Rarity, and her sister smiled and patted her on the head. Rarity turned back to her sewing, humming along with the music again. After a moment, she started to hear something behind her, something besides the melody coming from the record.

Sweetie Belle, her eyes clenched tightly and her whole body tensed up, hummed along with the song in perfect harmony. I remember concentrating as hard as I could. My whole life I hadn’t been able to utter so much as a word correctly, and couldn’t control the sound or pitch of my voice, but something inside of me told me that day was the day.

I could feel tears welling up behind my closed eyes as I just kept humming, never missing a note. It hurt… not just in my throat, but in my heart.

Rarity turned her head, her jaw dropped, and she stared at her little sister.

Listen to me sing, Rarity! Sweetie Belle thought to herself. Can you feel it? Can you hear my feelings? My passion?

“Mother! Father!” Rarity shouted. She bolted from the room, shouting as she ran down the hallway to find her parents. Sweetie Belle just smiled and kept on humming.

After that day, I learned how to control my voice through singing. I remember the day when I said my first words, or rather sang my first words. It was like a firecracker flashing from my mouth. Mom, dad, and Rarity all fell to the ground in tears, which made me start crying.

Yet, Sweetie Belle continued to sing, words weeping out of her mouth with the soft warbling of her throat.

I'd found my voice. It felt so wonderful, I never wanted to stop, she thought, and blushed slightly.

“I never sung for anypony else, though,” Sweetie Belle said as the memories filled her mind. “I guess I’m just kind of shy.”

Rarity appeared next to her and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Don’t you worry, Sweetie,” Rarity said. “Everypony knows that feeling.”

Sweetie Belle smiled. Visions of her friends, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, appeared in her mind. “But I sang for you two,” she said, a bit choked up from remembering that time in her life. “I felt like I could do anything when I was with the two of you.”

She reached a hoof forward and opened her eyes, two shadowy outlines of her friends appearing in front of her, just past her sister and her parents. She recalled the school talent show and chuckled. “Let’s sing together, again,” she said.

“That’s right, Sweeite. You have to be brave, now. You have to take that bravery and shine like never before!” Rarity said, stepping aside to let her sister through.

“Together, we can share it with everypony! This song of passion and perseverance!” Sweetie Belle shouted. Her chest shot out a bright pink light, and streams of magic swirled around her. The sound of a choir singing filled her ears. The shining emblem appeared on her chest once more, the shape of a bright pink heart, crystallized in stone and surrounded by cloudy, dark edging. It hung from a band around her neck, etched with soft curves and starbursts. She felt a power rising up inside of her. She’d felt it before, at the same time as she had found her lucidity, and again when Princess Luna had connected with them. She didn’t know where it had come from, but she knew it was her own.

“Come on, you two,” she said, smiling towards her friends. “Let’s come together! We haven’t lost yet! Yes, together we can do anything!”

The gem on her chest fired its magic towards her friends.

Scootaloo found herself looking down on herself, along with her mother and father, walking down a street on the outskirts of Ponyville. How did I get here? What happened to everypony? she thought.

“I think you’ll like it here in Ponyville,” a deep voice said. Scootaloo looked up at her father, who was walking along next to her. The sun shone down from above, casting his face in shadow. “You and your mother. Plus, you’ll be a lot more safe and happy.”

Scootaloo smiled at her dad, but inside she was not happy.

I knew this was the end. You knew I wouldn’t be happy… not that I was before. You said “you and your mother” because you knew you weren’t going to be here with us. You had to stay in Cloudsdale.

“How often will we get to see you?” Scootaloo asked, turning her eyes to the ground.

I knew what the answer would be. It was okay. Just another one of those facts of life I’d come to terms with, even back then. I knew you’d never be around, and mom would just go along with whatever you wanted. I never could do all the stuff the other kids up there could, but moving to an earth pony town and going to an earth pony school just felt like… giving up.

“Whenever I can,” her father responded. He lowered his head and looked at Scootaloo, who tried her hardest to not look back at him, but failed. Her dad’s big, goofy grin, just peeking out from the shadows cast upon his face, got the best of her and she smiled back uncontrollably. He scooped her up with a foreleg and plopped her down onto his shoulders. “And when I come visit, I’ll tell you all about the adventures the Cloudsdale Guards have been on, and then we’ll go on our own great adventures!”

Scootaloo hugged her dad’s neck.

What was so lovable about that smile of yours? How could it melt away my resolve to not like you just like that? You didn’t come back for months. Mom’s allergies had gotten worse, and she’d gotten really sick. It took that sort of emergency to drag you down from Cloudsdale. You went straight to her side as soon as you got to the hospital. I remember she woke up and saw you, and it was almost like she was going to get better just from you being there. Just like I’d imagined.

She gazed down on a scene of her mother, her father, and herself in a hospital room. Her mom looked up at her dad and smiled sweetly. She didn’t make it through that night, though. I guess even if you’d been around, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The doctors said it was the worst pneumonia they’d ever seen, along with her allergies… that it was incredible that she could even keep breathing on her own those last couple of days.

“Why can’t some unicorn just use magic to bring her back?” Scootaloo saw herself asking her father as they stood before her mom’s casket at her funeral.

Scootaloo’s dad shook his head, his face once again shrouded in shadows cast from above. “Magic doesn’t work like that, Scoot,” he said. “Everypony has to go away someday, it’s fate.”

Scootaloo sniffled, holding back her tears. “Well that’s stupid. They should make a magic that can change fate! It’s not fair!” she said. She looked up at her father, who had started to cry freely, despite his daughter not shedding a single tear.

He lifted his head upward and wiped his eyes. “Starry Skies… she’s up there, now, flying through those starry skies.”

Scootaloo dug her elbow into his foreleg. “Oh, come on, dad. You think mom wants to see you crying like that?”

He turned his head and looked down at his daughter. “I think she wouldn’t want to see you trying to act so tough,” he said, and then scooped Scootaloo up into a tight hug, falling back onto his haunches. Scootaloo dug her face into his chest and cried her eyes out.

I had to be tough, though. It’s all you two ever let me be. Mom was weak and you were gone more than half the time.

“And yet, you persevered,” he said aloud, turning his gaze up to her, his big grin once again just barely poking out from the shadows that seemed to completely cover him in all of these memories. “You never gave up on anything that came your way.”

I felt like I might, though, Scootaloo thought, the scene changing before her eyes. You stayed with me for that week until I could convince you I was okay. It’s funny… when you were gone, I’d always wished you’d come back, and then when you were there, I just wanted you to go away. Maybe I’ll never understand that.

“You’ll have to figure that one out on your own,” her father said. Scootaloo watched as he took off into the starry sky, flying northward.

I’m used to it. Even when you went back to Cloudsdale I wished you’d stayed. Sure, Nurse Redheart comes by every day to make sure I’m doing okay, or to make sure the money you sent made it. She even hangs around and talks to me sometimes. I always hope it’s you knocking on the door, though. Stupid to think it would be. She’s more of a parent than you ever were.

Scootaloo saw herself walking slowly through the streets of Ponyville, her gaze plastered to the ground. I was tired of everything… Ponyville, you, being sad, even my own life. But that night, something happened. Something I’ll never forget for as long as I live. I was just walking through the streets when all of the sudden Pinkie Pie shot around a corner, practically shedding her fur off she was in such a panic. I knew Pinkie Pie, heck everypony knew Pinkie Pie. She didn’t give you much of a choice. Scootaloo laughed, looking down at her past self being assaulted by a pink whirlwind of shouting.

“There’s a new pegasus in town and her name is Rainbow Dash and she’s friends with Fluttershy, you probably don’t know her, and there’s gonna be a party tonight in town square, right outside Sugarcube corner, and there will be cake and cookies and punch and music and dancing and a bonfire and marshmallow roasting and it’s gonna be the best thing ever and oh my gosh I can’t forget, it’s called the ‘Welcome to Ponyville Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy Party’!” Pinkie Pie shouted at the filly, then panting heavily to catch her breath.

“I’ll… be there?” Scootaloo said nervously.

Pinkie Pie grinned and gave the filly a noogie. “Okay, gotta run!” she shouted and took off towards her next unsuspecting victim.

It had gotten dark. I hadn’t even noticed, but I had arrived at the party, and just in time to see that amazing act that I’ll always remember. For the first time, I saw her.

Rainbow Dash hovered over a giant bonfire. Her rainbow-colored mane streamed through the air, being pushed around by the wind and the heat rising from the flames beneath her. The flickering light from the fire made her colors glow even more brightly.

I couldn’t look away. It took me a second to realize, but she was holding a door, like the kind that would normally be on the front of a house, in her hooves.

“Fluttershy! I want to show you with more than just words that I’m here for you! And it’s not just me! It’s every pony here! Today, while we were at your house, Pinkie Pie was spreading the word here. She was telling everypony about this party, about you, and about me,” said Rainbow Dash as she dropped the door onto the top of the pile.

When the door dropped onto the fire, sparks flew out. It was soon burning, just part of the blaze. I looked over at the yellow pegasus, Fluttershy, and saw her smiling, talking, and making friends. I didn’t even really know what was going on with the door being burned. I didn’t know what those two had been through, but that rainbow-maned pony inspired me, right then and there. I could see her burning determination shining brighter than that bonfire.

“I want to be just like her,” Scootaloo said quietly. “I never want to give up on anything or anypony.”

But I didn’t have any friends, yet.

Scootaloo saw herself pulling a scooter out of a junk pile behind a shop. The handlebars were cracked and it was missing a wheel.

I’d seen those things before. I figured if I couldn’t fly, it had to be the next best thing, Scootaloo thought, looking down at an ever-changing scene of her repairing the scooter bit by bit. It was eventually usable, but I was terrible at it. That’s how I met Sweetie Belle, outside of school anyway. She saw me trying to do jumps and tricks. She looked down at her past self talking with Sweetie Belle, who had her own ideas on how to improve.

You just latched right on and immediately started trying to help, Scootaloo thought and laughed. None of your hair-brained ideas ever worked, but you had passion to go along with my new-found determination. It felt like we were kindred spirits somehow… just like with Apple Bloom.

The image of her two friends persisted as the rest of her memory faded to black. She reached a hoof out towards them. “I’ll never give up, and I’ll never let you give up. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, the three of us are unstoppable. Let me share my determination with you, again!” Scootaloo shouted as her chest burst forth with orange magic, a pendant in the shape of a flame shooting up from a circle appearing there. It hung down from her neck on a band of dark metal with intricate engravings upon it.

“Wake up, Twilight!”

Twilight opened her eyes and felt them adjusting, but couldn’t see anything. She was surrounded by darkness and felt frozen to the bone. “What happened?” she asked. She weakly turned her head to her right and saw the dark outline of Pinkie Pie’s face looking at her. She could tell immediately that it was Pinkie Twi from the goggles she had strapped over her forehead. “Where are we?”

Pinkie Twi breathed in deeply and closed her eyes. “This is all that’s left. Just you and me,” she said. “Everything started fading away not long ago, and before I could figure out what was going on, it was just all blackness. Then you appeared, and when I saw your chest, I figured it out.”

“Figured what out?” Twilight asked, confused. She rose from the ground slowly, having to grip her chest with one of her forelegs as she pulled herself up. “My chest and back hurt, and I feel so cold.”

“You must have been hurt pretty bad, Twilight,” Pinkie replied. “In the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ dream, something must have gotten you pretty good. You’re… completely run through.” She pointed to Twilight’s chest.

Twilight looked down at her chest and moved her hoof down to the ground. She saw the wound and gasped, but didn’t feel she had the strength to react any more strongly than that. “So we’re inside my mind? This is terrible! What will happen to us now? What happened to the others?”

Pinkie Twi shook her head. “I don’t know. Your body is still alive in the cocoon, so I guess that’s why you’re back here in your own dream. Maybe this darkness is your dream ending as you… fade away.”

“Will I wake up in the cocoon again?” Twilight questioned. “Is that what happens? Or will I really die? This is really scary, Pinkie…” She felt like she could start panicking, or shaking, but didn’t even have the strength for that.

“Sorry, I just don’t know,” Pinkie said, and hugged Twilight as gently as she could.

Twilight shook her head. “No, no… I think I do know, though,” Twilight said, squinting her eyes. “I woke up before, I saw Chrysalis. She even talked to me and put me back to sleep. I never thought about it, but why did that happen? Did something happen before that?”

“You’re right, Twilight,” Pinkie said, sitting down and thinking, a hoof against her chin. “If you woke up before, something must have woken you up. Gosh, it makes you wonder how many times we might have tried to escape from these pods and failed before we finally got this far. For all we know, we may have gotten even further than this before.”

Twilight furrowed her brow, the cold and pain starting to make her dizzy. “No, I don’t think so. Those changelings didn’t seem like they’d met us before,” she said, half talking to just keep her mind from fading away. She concentrated as hard as she could, remembering the moment when Princess Celestia had freed her mind and made her remember the real events of the night of the wedding. “What happened back then? Was there even more after that?” her horn began to glow dimly. She shut her eyes and grimaced. With a sudden snap, she felt her memories burst outward. The feeling was similar to a magical seal being broken, and her body suddenly felt a surge of warmth.

With lightning-fast speed, her mind was filled with the events of her previous dream. She saw herself arriving at home and heading straight to her bedroom. She saw herself gazing out the window and looking up at the clear night sky.

“I can’t believe my brother is married…” she said to herself. “What a crazy day. We did good, Spike.” She looked down at the baby dragon, who had already curled up under his blanket.

“Yep,” he said drowsily.

Twilight smiled and returned her gaze to the night sky. “The stars sure are shining brightly tonight,” she noted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful night sky. Princess Luna must be really happy.” A sound like a distant voice said something, barely audible. Twilight’s ear twitched and she turned her head back towards the stairs down to the library.

“Is somepony there?” she asked, getting up from her bed and trotting slowly down the stairs. The voice spoke again, still very quiet, but Twilight could swear she heard it say her name. She went out her bedroom door and down the stairs to the main floor of the library.

“Okay, who’s there?” she asked nervously, looking around the room. The whole place was lit up from the bright moonlight shining in through the windows. Twilight felt the tickling of magic within her mind. “What is this strange feeling? If this is a joke, you can come out now...”

“Wake up, Twilight Sparkle!” the voice came, booming and loud now. A bright flash of purple magic ruptured through one of the library walls, and Princess Luna came crashing through, her body sizzling with energy.

“Princess Luna!” Twilight said, taking a step back in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“There’s no time to explain, Twilight Sparkle. We do not have the luxury of a long explanation,” the princess said, moving towards Twilight with haste. “Allow me to magically link our minds, and all shall be revealed.”

“Stay back!” Twilight said, her horn lighting up with magic. “How do I know you’re really Princess Luna? How do I know you’re not some changeling come seeking revenge?”

A flash of red magic crackled and shot out from where Luna had entered. The princess twisted her head around, her eyes going wide. “She followed me!” she shouted. “There is absolutely no time, Twilight Sparkle! We must act now!” The princess shot a beam of magic straight at Twilight’s horn. The memories of the real events of the wedding flashed in Twilight’s mind. Her eyes glowed, and fire began to erupt all around her, engulfing her in white hot flame.

“Fight it, Twilight Sparkle! You must not let it consume you! I will help you resist, but in the end it must be you who takes control of it!” Luna shouted, the magic from her horn intensifying.

“Take control of what?!” Twilight yelled back.

The magical rift, now sizzling with red and purple magic, shot forth a shadowy figure bearing the shape of an alicorn. It stood up, its body engulfed in swirling shadows and magic. Its horn glowed red, yet its wings seemed to spread darkness across the room.

Spike burst through the doorway from Twilight’s bedroom and stared down at what was happening. “What’s going on?!” he asked, his eyes suddenly glowing bright green.

“Be gone!” the shadowy alicorn shouted, its voice deep and distorted. A beam of dark red magic fired from its horn right at Spike. The baby dragon screamed on impact for a brief second, but then exploded into particles of red magic and crystalline shards.

“Spike! No!” Twilight screamed. Her body felt as if it were about to explode and her mind felt as if it were on fire.

Princess Luna growled back at the shadow. “Stay away, demon!” she yelled with a snarl.

“You’ve failed, princess!” the shadow’s voice blared, echoing off the walls of the library. “The Elements of Harmony shall never rise again!” The shadow leapt into the air and dove straight at Luna, tackling her. The two of them rolled across the ground, and the beam of magic between Luna and Twilight’s horns vanished. Twilight fell backwards. Her eyes closed and the ground began to rumble.

Luna glared up at the shadowy figure, streams of darkness falling toward her and wrapping around her. “Even without the Elements of Harmony, you shall never get past me!”

The shadow laughed. “A thousand years hasn’t done anything to cure your naïveté!” it said. “Those pathetic changelings have no idea what they’ve awoken! Admit it, you need me now more than ever!”

“Never!” Luna shouted defiantly as the shadows continued to wrap around her.

The shadow laughed again. “You don’t have a choice!” it shouted.

A stream of green magic suddenly burst through the window, winding itself around Twilight and the two shadow-wrapped ponies.

“What?” the shadowy alicorn screamed, its eyes flashing white. “No! They can’t have!”

Luna sneered up at the shadowy figure, a grin on her face. “I’ve let them,” she said, winded. “I told you… you’d have to get past me first!”

“You fool!” the shadow screamed deafeningly. “Now we’re both imprisoned!”

“If that is what it takes, then it must be so!” Luna said, the green magic now having completely bound the both of them up. “Sister, Twilight, I pray you both awaken soon! You are our last hopes!”

The green magic, along with Luna and the shadowy alicorn, vanished. The dream world shattered into darkness.


Darkness was all Twilight Sparkle could see-- A green-tinted darkness.

Twilight opened her eyes and looked at Pinkie Twi. “Princess Luna…” Twilight said weakly. “That shadowy alicorn, and that dark red magic. I’ve seen it and felt it before.”

Pinkie Twi nodded her head. “I saw it all, too. I’m part of you, after all,” she said. “That dark magic-- I know it all too well. It’s what took ahold of Pinkie Shy, and it’s what Pinkie… Pinkie… Pinkie Pie in the Crusaders’ dream saw through the holes in the world.”

“It’s been there with us the whole time, trying to stop us any way it can,” Twilight said. “It’s evil, and now I know it’s not the changelings. It’s something else. Princess Luna knew what it was.”

Pinkie Twi nodded her head. “She called it a demon,” she said, thinking back. “It said that Luna needed it. What did it mean by that?”

Twilight’s eyes went wide as she began to put the pieces together. “Who would benefit from both the changelings failing and the Elements of Harmony not being able to rise again?” she asked.

“Discord?” Pinkie Twi pondered.

“No,” Twilight replied. “Discord needs the Elements if he ever wants to be free again. That’s why he’s helping us. Look, it sounds crazy, and I can’t explain how… maybe it has something to do with the way we’re all trapped inside our minds, but I think it was—“

“Twilight!” a voice called out, interrupting.

Twilight lifted her gaze upward, and was blinded by a bright light shining into her eyes.

The three beams of light shot out by the Crusaders collided and flashed, illuminating each others’ faces. The threads of magic held steady, melding together.

“Those three beams of light,” Sweetie Belle said, looking back and forth between Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. “They were from us.”

“Our dreams, linked together,” Apple Bloom said.

“That’s awesome!” Scootaloo cheered. “Nothing can stop us!”

Sweetie Belle shook her head. “We’re not done yet, though,” she said, turning her gaze downward. “We have to fix everything that happened. Our other friends need us more than ever.”

“But What do we do?” Apple Bloom asked. “Our dream kinda fell apart.”

“Whatever we want!” Scootaloo said loudly. “We’re still in our dream! It’s not over yet!”

Apple Bloom put a hoof against her chin. “Well, when I wished Applejack and Big Mac were there earlier, they just appeared. Can we do that again?”

“It’s worth a try,” Sweetie Belle replied. “We need to save Twilight and do something about those changelings.” A flash of light shot down in the middle of the three fillies as Sweetie Belle spoke, and Twilight’s body appeared, still and unmoving, the wound in her chest still open and bloody.

Scootaloo cringed. “Oh no… I didn’t know it was that bad,” she said.

“Sweetie Belle wasn’t able to heal her like she did before,” Apple Bloom said, looking to her unicorn friend. “Do you think you can do it now? Maybe if we all try?”

Sweetie Belle closed her eyes. “I think… I think I can do it now. Something feels different,” she said. The gem hanging from her neck glowed brightly, and her horn lit up. Waves of energy from the pendant flashed down towards Twilight “I can feel it. It’s working. This new power… it’s different than the lucidity we used before. Just focus and think about Twilight.”

The other two closed their eyes and concentrated on their pendants, filling their minds with thoughts of Twilight.

“Please work,” Sweetie Belle whispered.

“Come on, Twilight!” Scootaloo said, her eyes tightly shut.

The other ponies from their dream appeared and gathered in a circle around Twilight as well. Applejack, Big Macintosh, Rarity, and Sweetie Belle’s parents all all closed their eyes and didn’t speak; only the sound of magical humming filled the air.

After a minute, all three of the gems were radiating magic down at Twilight, and her wounds began to close. Her breathing returned, and then sped up, increasing as she gasped for breath. Suddenly, there was a bright flash that shot outward from Twilight’s horn.

Twilight’s eyes quickly opened, her head flung upward, and she shouted.

“Nightmare Moon!” Twilight shouted.

Everypony opened their eyes as well. Twilight blinked and looked around, the flash of light having dissipated. Standing a couple of feet away from them was a pink alicorn with a pair of goggles strapped over her head. Twilight groggily looked back and forth between the Crusaders and Pinkie Twi.

“Am I still dreaming?” she asked. She looked down at her chest and pressed a front hoof against it, finding that her seemingly fatal wound had vanished.

Pinkie Twi laughed. “You must still be dreaming somewhere, because I’m still here,” she said, looking around although there wasn’t much to see but darkness. “It’s definitely not the dream world I’m used to. How do ya figure I ended up here?”

“You’re the Pinkie from Twilight’s dream?” Scootaloo asked.

“She sure is,” Twilight said, pushing herself to her hooves. “You girls must have healed me somehow. Did you bring her here as well?”

Apple Bloom tapped her hoof against the gem over her chest. “It must have been these new powers we got. Dunno where they came from, but I guess they’re pretty strong!” She grinned confidently and looked at the other two Crusaders, who nodded in agreement.

“Strong, indeed,” Princess Celestia’s voice came from the side. She and Pinkie Pie had appeared, and walked towards the group of ponies. Discord and Fluttershy were flying through the air above her. Celestia and Discord looked intensely towards the pendants around the Crusaders' necks. “They aren’t from your dream. They’re external… but from where?”

Discord cringed. “They certainly have a familiar feeling to them. Reminds me of the Elements of Harmony,” he said, sticking his tongue out and pointing a finger towards the back of his throat.

“I heard you shout, Twilight. You said ‘Nightmare Moon’ when you woke up. What happened in your dream?” Celestia asked, looking at Twilight now.

Twilight shook her head. “I know it sounds crazy, but I remembered my original dream,” Twilight said. “Princess Luna was there, and she was attacked… by Nightmare Moon.”

Celestia frowned. “The dark magic we’ve been seeing and feeling, and the warning that Princess Luna gave me via these three fillies… it has all come together now,” she said. “I can’t explain it yet, but I have had suspicions for a while now. Delving deep back into memories from my past, I know I’ve certainly felt that dark magic before. It’s faint this time, but there is no doubt. Nightmare Moon has somehow returned.”

“But Princess Luna changed,” Twilight said. “We used the Elements on Nightmare Moon! We brought Luna back! She accepted our friendship! How could she have become Nightmare Moon again?”

Scootaloo’s ear twitched and she turned the other direction. Dark energy began to swirl in front of her. She lowered her eyebrows. “We’re not done yet, everypony,” she said seriously. “Princess, Twilight, I think I know who might have some answers for you.”

Rainbow Dash faded in where the dark energy was floating, like a photo developing. She spotted the group of ponies before her and frowned. Scootaloo walked towards her, the gem around her neck aglow. The dark shadow erupted out from Rainbow Dash, filling the air with a deafening screech.

Horizons Ch 10 - To Distant Horizons

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Book Three: Horizons

Chapter Ten - To Distant Horizons

The pulsating shadow hung in the air above Rainbow Dash, its deafening screeches reverberating across the void. Rainbow’s eyes were glowing bright red, and she put one hoof forward, leaning towards Scootaloo, who was approaching her steadily.

“I know you’re still in there, Rainbow Dash. I know you’re confused and scared,” Scootaloo said as she walked. “It’s my fault, and now I know why.”

“That darkness belongs to Nightmare Moon,” Celestia said, eyeing the shadow. “It can thrive anywhere there’s doubt, fear, anger… any sort of negative emotion is where it can take hold.”

“Your journeys all end here!” the shadow shouted, and a wave of black magic erupted out from it, firing towards the group of ponies. The pendants around the Crusaders’ necks glowed brightly in reaction, and the dark magic crashed against an invisible shield, spraying away and dissipating like a wave hitting a stone wall.

Scootaloo nodded her head. “Those feelings were inside of me. They got to you easily, and it’s all my fault. I know you’re in there somewhere, too, dad,” she said. A burst of magic pulsed out from her pendant, washing over Rainbow Dash and causing the dark energy to fade a little bit.

Rainbow Dash blinked her eyes, and they became wide and round. She stared down at the filly. “What… do you mean?” she managed to ask.

Scootaloo frowned. “When my friends got their cutie marks, I thought I was going to be alone again,” she said, holding back tears, but her voice wavering. “So I guess I dreamed that you and I were friends, but I wanted you to be happy. I know you want to be a Wonderbolt, so I must have just made it happen… but you went back to Cloudsdale. You left, and even when Cloudsdale came here and brought you back, you were never around still. Just like with my dad… it made me think of him a lot… and somehow, the two of you combined in my head.”

Twilight reached a hoof forward. She could feel so much sadness, but also hope, all pouring out from those magical pendants. “Scootaloo…” she said quietly.

Scootaloo was now standing right in front of Rainbow Dash, the dark magic firing up out of her in flame-like waves. She looked up at Rainbow Dash’s face and was greeted by a big, goofy grin that she knew all too well.

“Kiddo… that’s just…” her father’s voice said, coming out from Rainbow Dash’s lips. “You’re a weird kid.”

Scootaloo swiped her hoof against Rainbow Dash’s knee. “Shut up!” she said, but she was smiling.

Rainbow Dash laughed. “Sorry!” Scootaloo’s father’s voice said.

“I miss you,” Scootaloo said quietly, her smile disappearing.

“Sentimental nonsense!” the shadow screeched down at Rainbow Dash, its form returning to the shape of Nightmare Moon. “She’s made you a monster! A freak with some other pony trapped in your mind!” Rainbow Dash’s eyes began to glow once again. She fell back to her haunches and gripped the sides of her head.

“Don’t listen to her, Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo shouted.

Rainbow Dash shook her head back and forth and screamed, and the dark magic surged outward, completely enveloping Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted.

“We have to help!” Sweetie Belle yelled, and took off running towards the large, pulsating cloud of darkness. Apple Bloom joined her, ignoring Applejack’s attempt to stop her.

“Sweetie!” Rarity shouted, then turnined to look at Princess Celestia, who had placed a hoof on her shoulder.

The princess shook her head. “This is something those three have to do. We are powerless to help.”

Rarity bit her lower lip and stared ahead as her sister pushed into the darkness and out of sight. “Please, come back safely, Sweetie,” she said quietly. Applejack put a foreleg over Rarity’s shoulder as well and nodded her head, not saying anything.

“They have to come back safely,” Twilight said.

“Yes,” Celestia responded. “Or else our journey may really be at an end.”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle burst through the wall of dark magic and immediately found themselves in the main hall of a castle. They looked around nervously. The walls of the castle were in poor shape, some having large holes. The ceiling was broken, pieces of it lying as rubble on the ground. Ahead of them, a large staircase led up to a huge wooden set of doors.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom called out, her voice echoing off the empty walls. There was no response. “Where are we?” she asked, turning her head to Sweetie Belle.

“I don’t know, but it feels different,” Sweetie replied. “We have to find Scootaloo and get out of here. I don’t like this place, it’s spooky.”

Apple Bloom nodded in agreement. She closed her eyes and concentrated, thinking of Scootaloo. “I wish Scootaloo was here,” she said calmly. Nothing happened. “Great. That lucy-whatever power we had before isn’t working now.”

“You are no longer in your dream! You have no power here!” A loud voice boomed across the hall. “This is the end! You three shall be the catalysts of Celestia’s failure!”

“If we’re not in our dream, then where are we?” Apple Bloom asked.

Sweetie Belle shook her head. “Don’t listen to her,” she said. “Come on, we have to find Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash.”

The two fillies galloped forward, heading up the stairs. They came upon the large wooden double-doors and pushed as hard as they could against one of them. It slowly creaked open until there was enough room for them to pass through. On the other side, they found themselves in a long hallway, lined with statues and doors. Sweetie Belle walked up to the first statue and looked up at it. It was a statue of Rarity, her face frozen in a look of terror.

“Rarity,” Sweetie Belle said, and touched her hoof to the statue. It crumbled into a pile of loose stone and dust. Sweetie Belle jumped back in surprise, and a laugh filled the hallway.

“Everypony you love will fall into ruin! You will be all alone!” the voice, clearly belonging to Nightmare Moon, shouted.

“Shut up, you big bully!” Apple Bloom shouted back. “We’re gonna save our friends, and there’s nothin’ you can do about it!”

“Yeah!” Sweetie Belle chimed in loudly. “You don’t scare us!”

Nightmare Moon’s laughter once again filled the hallway. “You think so?” she asked. The corridor ahead of them began to twist and spin upon itself. Statues of Applejack, Big Macintosh, Twilight, and Fluttershy came to life ahead of them and began to stomp down the hall in their direction.

“Okay, maybe I’m a little bit scared,” Sweetie Belle whispered quietly to Apple Bloom. The statues continued their advance, and the two fillies huddled up together, slowly backing away.

Apple Bloom looked over her shoulder and saw that the door they’d come in from had vanished, and had been replaced by a metal walkway that extended over what appeared to be a pit of molten liquid. The heat from it washed over the two of them, and the statues began to advance even faster.

“This isn’t real,” Apple Bloom said nervously as they backed onto the walkway, their hooves clanging on the metallic structure.

“It seems real enough!” Sweetie Belle shouted nervously. “What do we do?”

The statue of Applejack stepped forward onto the walkway and stared down at the two fillies. “You wake up, little sis,” the statue said, its voice rather gravelly. “Whether ya want to or not.”

Apple Bloom stared up at the statue of her sister and frowned. “No!” she shouted, and the pendant on her chest flashed brightly, pushing the stone pony backwards.

Sweetie Belle’s jaw dropped. “How’d you do that?” she asked, then looked down at her own pendant, which had also begun to glow brightly.

“The power from our dream is cut off, but Princess Celestia said it!” Apple Bloom shouted and rose to her hooves. “These pendants, whatever this other power is, wasn’t from our dream. The pendants are something else! They work here!”

Sweetie Belle leapt to her hooves. “Of course!” she said excitedly, and grinned. “Let’s go, Apple Bloom! Let’s go save Scoot!”

The pendants pulsed outward with magic, and the statues froze in place, small amounts of dark magic being pushed out of them and dissolving in the air. The two fillies charged forward, their pendants shining brightly. With each pulse of magic, the colors of the hallway brightened and the hall itself straightened back out.

“You’ll still never find her!” Nightmare Moon’s voice shot through the air. “This hallway is endless! There’s a million different rooms! You’ll spend an eternity in here searching for her!”

Apple Bloom laughed. “Wrong!” she yelled. “The three of us are connected! Even outside of our dream, the bond between us is unbreakable!” A beam of light fired out from her chest. Sweetie Belle’s chest erupted in light as well, and the two beams converged until they finally met at a point ahead of them.

Laughter filled the hall. “Useless!” Nightmare Moon’s voice shouted. “Your precious link of friendship has led you to nothing!”

Sweetie Belle’s horn glowed. “I don’t think so,” she said, straining as she tried to focus her magic. Apple Bloom stared at Sweetie Belle and smiled widely.

“Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom shouted. “Yer usin’ magic! Like, normal magic!”

Sweetie Belle sweated and continued to strain until eventually her horn was aglow with a simple light spell. It sparked and sputtered, but accomplished what she’d hoped. The light reflected off the outline of a small pegasus in front of them.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted. She reached her hoof out and swiped it against the outline of Scootaloo’s foreleg and pulled. Scootaloo appeared in front of them, practically falling forward and bumping her head against Apple Bloom.

“What happened? Where am I?” the orange pegasus asked, catching her breath. “Where’s Rainbow Dash?”

Sweetie Belle shook her head, the glow from her horn fading out. “We don’t know, really. Nightmare Moon trapped us in this strange castle, and there were creepy statues of our friends, and then we finally found you… but now I don’t know what we have to do next,” she explained.

Scootaloo looked around the hallway, with its endless doors and rows of statues. “We have to find Rainbow Dash and then get out of here,” she said.

Apple Bloom tapped the pendant on her chest. “We used these to find you, but I don’t know how we’re gonna find Rainbow Dash. She could be anywhere, and the power we had in our dream doesn’t work in here,’ she said.

Scootaloo shrugged and slid her hoof downward like she’d done in their dream world. The fabric of reality unzipped in front of her just like it had before. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom stared at her, their mouths gaped open.

“How did you…?” Sweetie Belle started to ask.

“What? Can’t you?” Scootaloo asked, puzzled. The two others shook their heads.

“Well, let’s not waste time wonderin’ how, let’s just find Rainbow Dash and get outta here,” Apple Bloom said, patting Scootaloo on the back.

A flash of dark energy shot through the tear that Scootaloo had just opened and hit her, pushing her to the ground. Rainbow Dash stood over her, her eyes glowing red, her body surrounded by an aura of dark magic, and a long, black horn protruding from her forehead. She bared her teeth, now jagged like spikes, down at Scootaloo and hissed.

“Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom shouted together.

“You foals think you can challenge me? You think you can actually win inside this nightmare?” Rainbow Dash screeched down at Scootaloo. “Nightmares are my domain! Now I’m going to put an end to you!”

Scootaloo glared up at Rainbow Dash and a flash of energy shot out from her forehead. The possessed pegasus’ body flew up and off of her, slamming into the far wall. Scootaloo jumped to her hooves and charged forward. “You let Rainbow Dash go right now!” she shouted, the pendant on her chest bursting into flame as she spoke.

“Lucidity! We must be in your part of the dream world. However, it won’t make a difference!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “I am Nightmare Moon, a master dreamwalker! Whatever you may have learned in the past few hours can not compete with my power!” She flipped her hoof into the air and raised all three of the fillies into the air and began to levitate them down the hallway towards the pit of lava.

Scootaloo struggled, flailing her hooves in the air. “I can’t shake free!” she screamed. Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom looked back towards the pit of bubbling red liquid, their bodies shaking with fear.

“I must admit, it was quite unexpected!” Nightmare Moon said as she marched along behind the floating ponies. “The amount of power in your dream was more than I’ve ever encountered. Is it because there’s three of you? Or because you have those accursed pendants? Not important! What matters is that here, I was able to gain more power than anywhere but my own dream! A fantastic catalyst! I couldn’t have even planned it so perfectly!”

The three fillies came to a stop in the air above the boiling pit. Nightmare Moon stared up at them and laughed. “I couldn’t bring much power with me, you see. I needed to feed upon the energy of others to gain strength. At this level, given just a bit more time, that fraud of a queen won’t be able to stand against me! I’ll burn her mind from the inside out!” Nightmare Moon shouted. “It’s a pity that some of my subjects have to die in order to save the kingdom I so rightfully deserve! Alas, your fates are sealed!” Nightmare Moon said. “Any last words?”

“You want to save Equestria, too?” Sweetie Belle asked, one eyebrow cocked. Her pendant began to glow, its magic pulsing outward faintly.

Nightmare Moon blinked up at the filly. “Of course! Is that not obvious?” She said, puzzled. “It is mine by right!”

“Shouldn’t there be another way, though?” Apple Bloom asked. “Why would you have to defeat anyone but the changelings?” her pendant shone faintly, it’s magic joining with Sweetie Belle’s.

Nightmare Moon chuckled. “You three don’t understand anything,” she said. “Once free, the bearers of the Elements of Harmony will come after me! I can not allow anyone to stand against me!”

Scootaloo’s pendant began to glow as well. She looked down at it, and then up at at Nightmare Moon. The dark energy around her had begun to fade, and Rainbow Dash’s colors were returning to their former brightness.

“We’ll never let you win!” Scootaloo shouted. The three fillies began to float forward, back towards safe ground. They landed safely, and Nightmare Moon began to back away, magic pulsing up through her horn as she tried to regain control over their levitation. “If our dream is what gave you that power, then we’ll take it back!”

Nightmare Moon sneered at Scootaloo. “I knew you’d be trouble,” she said. “The other two were cut off, but we’re inside your part of the dream,” she said. The dark energy flared up from all around her and concentrated at the top of her horn. “Be gone!” A beam of magic, more focused and powerful than any of her previous wider attacks, fired from her horn and blasted Scootaloo backward towards the lava pit. She flew over the edge and plummeted down out of sight.

Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom turned and screamed as their friend was blasted back.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted and leapt towards the ledge.

“No!” Sweetie Belle screamed.

The two fillies slid to a stop and peered down into the pit just in time to see a burst of fire shoot upward along with a splash of the molten liquid.

“No…” Sweetie Belle said, tears running down her face.

“She can’t…” Apple Bloom said, and then stamped her hoof against the ground and turned to face Nightmare Moon. “You!” She gritted her teeth, her face turning red with anger.

“You killed her!” Sweetie Belle shouted, turning towards Nightmare Moon, her horn blazing with magic.

The ground began to shake violently and the walls began to crack and crumble. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle stared at Nightmare Moon, their minds hot with rage. Tears streamed down their cheeks and an aura of dark energy began to swirl around them. The brightly colored pendants around their necks began to dim to dull hues.

On the outside, the others stood and watched the ball of swirling dark magic, waiting for any sign of the Crusaders. Suddenly, the shadowy orb began to pulse outward violently. Everypony began to back away, never taking their eyes off it.

“It’s getting bigger!” Fluttershy said frantically. “What do you think happened in there?”

Celestia grimaced and shook her head. “I don’t know, but it can not be good,” she said.

Pinkie Twi flipped her goggles down over her eyes and squinted. “There’s some sort of stream of energy coming out of the field,” she said, tilting her head to the side as she followed the magical trail. Her head stopped turning as her gaze stopped at Applejack and Rarity, who were standing near one another. Her mouth opened slightly as she let out a slight gasp.

Applejack pointed a hoof at Pinkie Twi. “What was that all about? Whaddya mean some sort of stream of energy?” she asked.

Pinkie Twi shook her head. “It’s nothing,” she responded nervously, turning her eyes back to the ball of dark magic. “Look out, it’s gonna expand again!”

The orb pulsed outward again, having now more than tripled in size.

“Can’t we do something?” Rarity asked, looking at Princess Celestia.

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes, there must be something we can do!”

The princess sighed. “I just don’t know,” she said, a sound of shame in her voice. “This is far beyond my level of knowledge in dream magic.”

Discord chuckled. “What a surprise!” he said. He snapped his fingers and a cone-shaped hat appeared on Celestia’s head.

The princess quickly knocked the cap off of her head and glared up at Discord. “As far as Nightmare Moon’s dark energy goes, I can at least try and contain it,” she said, looking back down at Twilight, “but you all must help me.”

Twilight smiled up at the princess and her horn began to glow. “If that magic is from darkness, let’s try and give it a little light!” she said. Celestia nodded and began to cast a light spell from her horn as well. Pinkie Twi, Rarity, and Rarity’s parents stepped forward as well.

“We shall give it our all!” said Rarity. “Sweetie Belle, please be safe!” Her horn began to glow, and she closed her eyes.

Rarity’s father threw his hat off his head, revealing his horn. “Our little Sweetie and her friends are in there. Never was the best at magic, but I won’t just stand idly if there’s a chance!” Rarity’s mother smiled up at him and nodded, her horn beginning to glow as well.

The void that they had all been standing in began to light up, turning from a dim gray to lighter shades. The combined light from their horns hit the shadowy ball, and its advance ceased.

“I think it’s startin’ to work, y’all! Keep it up!” Applejack yelled, pulling her hat off her head and waving it in the air.

Come on, girls! Twilight thought, staring into the spinning shadows. I don’t know… how long we can keep this up!

Back inside the shadows, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom stood, staring at Rainbow Dash, who was possessed by Nightmare Moon. The ground shook and the walls continued to crumble all around them. Pieces of the ceiling fell and hit the floor, shattering to small pieces. Nightmare Moon stared ahead blankly, her eyes wide, and the dark magic around her flickering like flames.

“You…!” Apple Bloom shouted again from behind her clenched teeth.

The two Crusaders charged towards Nightmare Moon as fast as their hooves could take them. Sweetie Belle’s horn fired sparks out with each hoofstomp. She clenched her eyes shut and let loose with a magic beam from her horn. The blast never made contact with its target.

“No!” Nightmare Moon screamed, her voice cracking from its volume. A blast of magic shot outward from her body, knocking the charging crusaders back and sliding along the ground, almost back to the ledge up against the lava pit again.

“You monster!” Nightmare Moon bellowed, her voice now distorting. She fell to the ground, throwing her hooves against the sides of her head. “I won’t let you!” She rolled onto her side, still clutching her head and screaming.

“What’s happening?” Sweetie Belle asked, taken aback by the sudden change in behavior from Nightmare Moon. She and Apple Bloom began to push themselves back up to their hooves.

Nightmare Moon stretched a foreleg out towards the two fillies and righted herself upon the ground. A spark flashed in her eyes and she slammed her hoof down against the ground. A massive crack shot along the floor towards the ledge above the pit of lava. The entire castle split along the crack, including the lava, spreading apart. What was left of the walls and ceiling shot outward explosively.

Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom stepped away from the crack and stared down towards the lava. There, floating between the two suspended fields of molten liquid, was Scootaloo’s body, encased in light. She floated along the crack and upward, stopping in the air right in front of Nightmare Moon.

The pegasus filly opened her eyes and looked down at the shadowy pony. The face that looked back at her belonged to Rainbow Dash, but the eyes had a certain slant to them, and a big, familiar grin was plastered on her face.

Dad… Scootaloo thought, and sighed, but smiled back.

“Scootaloo!” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom shouted, and ran towards her.

“Now’s our chance,” Scootaloo’s dad’s voice said. Rainbow Dash’s hoof pointed upward, through the shattered ceiling and into the dark sky. “Your friends are calling out for you.”

Scootaloo looked up. A glowing circle appeared in the sky and shone a beam of white light down onto them. Scootaloo blinked and then turned her head back down. She nodded, and the pendant around her neck began to glow.

“Can you hear them?” Scootaloo asked as she landed gently on the ground. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle had arrived, and stood by her side. They both nodded their heads.

“I hear my sister, and my parents,” Sweetie Belle said, the color returning to her pendant.

“I hear Applejack and Big Mac! And Twilight!” Apple Bloom said with a smile, her pendant also brightening back up.

“Yes,” Scootaloo said. “Plus Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and even Discord. They’re all calling to us. Calling to you, too, Rainbow Dash… Dad…”

The three pendants pulsed out colorful magic, filling the air with sparkling glitter and streams of energy. The shadows around Rainbow Dash began to swirl violently. With each pulse from the pendants, the dark magic was pushed further and further out from the pony. The horn on her head vanished, and Nightmare Moon’s body was ripped out from her. The dark alicorn’s form flew back, landing on the ground and rolling, coming to a stop as it slammed into a pile of rubble.

Rainbow Dash slowly pushed herself up to her hooves and shook her head back and forth. “What happened?” she asked with confusion. She opened her eyes and saw the Cutie Mark Crusaders standing in front of her. She jumped back with a beat of her wings and glared at Scootaloo. “What did you do? Where are we?”

Scootaloo grinned and walked towards Rainbow Dash, who stood her ground. The filly wrapped her forelegs around one of Rainbow Dash’s and squeezed. “A nightmare, and I hope it’s just about over,” she said. Orange light shot out from the two of them, and the castle vanished, leaving them standing in the middle of the dark void once again.

A bright light was shining from behind, and Scootaloo turned her head. She saw everypony else standing and staring at them, all unicorns with their horns glowing brightly. Discord clapped his hands together slowly.

“Bravo! Excellent job, everypony!” he said. With a flash, confetti rained down from above, along with a whizzing whistling sound.

Pinkie Twi grinned up at Discord. “Have I ever told you that I just love your style?” she said, winking from behind her goggles. Discord simply smirked.

Everyone approached the Crusaders and Rainbow Dash.

“We were so worried!” Rarity said, wrapping her little sister up in a hug while her parents looked on, smiling. Applejack and Big Macintosh had done the same with Apple Bloom.

Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow Dash. “I’m sorry, again… about everything,” she said. “I just let my emotions get the best of me. But now that dark magic is gone, we pushed it right out of you.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Don’t think that I’ve forgiven you or anything,” she said. “But there’s some voice deep down inside of me telling me… telling me that I should give you another chance. So we’ll see. Maybe.”

Scootaloo smiled. “That’s all I can ask for. I really want to give him another chance, too,” she said quietly. “Even though I’ve given him so many, already.”

The outlined form of a pegasus stallion stepped sideways out of Rainbow Dash’s body. The outline quickly solidified into a tall, gray-colored pegasus. Cloudsdale armor formed around his body, and a helmet slapped down over his head.

“You sure? You might get hurt again,” he said from behind the helmet’s faceplate.

Scootaloo shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be going back to Cloudsdale? They might need you.”

A chuckle came from under the helmet, and a big, armored foreleg pulled Scootaloo into a hug. “You need me, too, so make sure you really tell the real me when you see him again,” he whispered.

Scootaloo nodded her head. The armored pegasus spread out his massive gray wings and flapped them once, launching himself into the air with ease despite the heavy armor he was wearing. He soared up into the sky, vanishing from sight.

“Oh my, who was that?” Rarity asked, watching the armored stallion disappear. “I do love a stallion in uniform.” She batted her eyes.

Applejack sighed. “It’s armor, not a uniform,” she said. “You couldn’t even see his face.”

“Same difference!” Rarity protested. “Did you see his physique? One hardly needs to see the face!”

Applejack groaned.

“Don’t get too comfortable, ladies,” Discord said, pointing behind Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. Streams of shadow were pulsing up into the air, and in the distance, Nightmare Moon’s body lie unconscious.

“You’re right, we can’t let our guard down!” Pinkie Twi said seriously. “There’s still one big problem we have to figure out!”

“Right you are,” Celestia said, advancing towards the passed out alicorn carefully. “We have to figure out what to do about her, as well as those changelings.”

“Yes, that’s true, but there’s an even bigger problem. One that’s been bothering me for a long time now,” Pinkie Twi said, turning towards Pinkie Pie. “One that will affect us into the distant future.”

Celestia turned her head and stared at the pink pony, who was now placing a hoof to her ear and nodding her head, deep in thought. “Is there something happening? What are you hearing through your Pinkie Network?” she asked.

“Don’t panic, I think we might just have it figured out,” she said. “The crisis can be solved, surely.”

Everyone stared at Pinkie intensely. Pinkie Twi finally took the hoof away from her ear and slid the goggles up from her eyes and onto her forehead. She pointed at Pinkie Pie and narrowed her eyes.

“You’re from the dream of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, so your name has to be Cutie Pie!” she shouted, her voice seeming to echo through the empty space. “Crisis averted!”

Silence washed over everypony.

A vein bulged out from Twilight’s forehead. “You’re still on that!?” she shouted, and then fell over sideways.

Celestia laughed and continued to walk forward, stopping several feet from Nightmare Moon’s unconscious body. “Dear sister, what’s done this to you again?” she asked.

Nightmare Moon opened one slitted eye and stared up at Princess Celestia. “Again?” she asked. “Is being foolishly blind a prerequisite to being a princess in Equestria? The both of you are so clueless.” The dark alicorn rose to her hooves, and Celestia stepped back another couple of feet. Their horns both glowed with magic, ready to strike at any moment.

“I didn’t want to fight you back then, and I don’t want to now,” Celestia said. “Luna, tell me what is wrong, we can work together to make it right!”

Nightmare Moon smirked and shook her head. “You still don’t get it,” she said. “There is no Luna! It’s just me, so if you think you’re going to talk your way out of this, you’re mistaken!” A flash of magic fired from her horn, but quickly splashed against an invisible forcefield. The blast revealed a sparkling, magical sphere wrapped around her. She gasped, turned her head, and saw where the field was coming from.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders stood to her side, their pendants all glowing brightly. They all stared back at her, looks of determination on their faces.

“We won’t let there be any more fightin’ here. It’s over!” Apple Bloom said, and the other two chimed in their approval with a firm “Mmm-hmm!”

Nightmare Moon growled down at the fillies. “If you hadn’t had those, this would be a very different situation,” she said, sneering. “What in Equestria are they?”

“That’s none of your concern, though I have an idea,” Celestia responded. “In any case, if there can be no compromise, then I must defer to these three brave foals. Tell me, Cutie Mark Crusaders, what shall we do with her? This is your dream, you ultimately make the rules.”

Scootaloo grinned. “I think I know a pretty fitting way to send her off,” she said.

“Don’t you dare!” Nightmare Moon screeched as the pendants around the Crusaders’ necks began to glow brighter and emit a high-pitched sound.

“You came into our dream and ruined it!” Sweetie Belle shouted. “You scared Pinkie Pie, took advantage of Rainbow Dash, and tried to kill Scootaloo!”

“Yep!” Apple Bloom added in. “So now ya gotta go!”

“Then remember this, little ones!” Nightmare Moon spat at the Crusaders. “I’ll be sure to carry this memory with me! When we next meet, you all shall perish!”

“Not today, though!” Scootaloo yelled. The black void split open above them, revealing a star-filled night sky. The darkness zipped downward and away, and the arena at Sweet Apple Acres once again appeared. Everypony found themselves standing at the center of the field. The Crusaders’ pendants all blasted forth with beams of colorful magic, smashing through the forcefield around Nightmare Moon and blasting her skyward. She shot like a comet straight towards the moon.

Twilight blinked. “Wait, you…” She started, then shook her head, trying to keep from chuckling. “You banished her to the moon? Again?”

Celestia sighed and tapped Twilight on the back. “It’s no laughing matter, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, gazing towards the moon as the shape of a unicorn’s head filled the glowing sphere. A single tear escaped her eye, and she quickly wiped it away. “We will surely have to deal with this situation in a more permanent manner later on.” Twilight nodded her head.

“And how about our delightful guests, here?” Discord asked, snapping his fingers. A cage appeared in front of him. The changelings Mulcibar and Linnai glared through the bars out at him.

Fluttershy caught sight of Mulcibar and immediately ducked behind Pinkie Twi. Pinkie Twi flipped her goggles down over her eyes and looked at the changelings, recalling what she’d heard through the Pinkie Network about them. “You were right, Cutie Pie, they do seem strong! I love the butterfly wings, though!” she said, smiling.

Cutie Pie hunched close to the ground. “Do we have to call me that?” she asked, sticking out her tongue.

Pinkie Twi flipped the goggles back up to her forehead and turned to face Cutie Pie. She threw her hooves into the air. “Of course we do! We can’t go back on such a crucial decision! I made it myself!” she shouted, flailing her hooves slightly as she spoke.

Cutie Pie rolled her eyes. “Fine…” she said unenthusiastically.

“In any case, we have to figure out what to do with them,” said Twilight. “Anypony have any ideas?” She looked to Discord and Princess Celestia for guidance.

“Yes, what are you going to do with us?” Linnai said with a sneer. “You can’t just leave us in this dream! I assume you’ll be moving on to the next dream world!”

“Yes, and you two will just follow us, thus the tough decision,” Celestia said, staring back at Linnai, her eyes practically on fire. “Not that your fire magic even tickled. A nuisance at worst.”

Linnai scoffed, and Mulcibar put a hoof on her back. “Don’t let them get to you, sister,” he said.

“Well, I say we run ‘em through! Just like they did ta’ Twilight!” Applejack shouted angrily.

Twilight shook her head. “That’s no good,” Twilight said, turning towards Applejack and the other dream inhabitants. “I know from experience that if you die in a dream, you just wake up. A little woozy, memories fuzzy, but you are otherwise fine.”

“Memories fuzzy, you say?” Rarity asked. “How fuzzy do you mean? Would they even remember anything that happened here? That may honestly be the best way to handle it, darling.”

“No, Rarity. They might remember something. It’s not a chance we should take,” Celestia said.

Mulcibar scoffed. “We would remember everything. We’d be right back in here chasing you down, and the queen and the Order would know exactly what you’re up to in here!” he boasted.

A laugh came from above. Everypony looked up at Discord, who was hovering in the air above the cage, holding his sides and laughing uncontrollably.

“What’s so funny, monster?” Mulcibar asked, shrinking down slightly in the cage.

“Yes, please share, Discord,” Celestia said politely, batting her eyes. Discord froze in the air and stared at her as she asked, then fell back into fits of laughter.

“It’s just… Oh gosh! Oh, I can’t breathe!” he tried to speak. “The tough act! Oh wow, do you really think that’ll work? AHAHAHA! Of all the… BAAA-HAHA!” He wiggled in the air and spun all around the cage while laughing, but then finally stopped in front of Celestia, his face just inches from hers. He suddenly took on a very serious expression.

“It’s ridiculous, Celestia. They think you’re all fools, but I know better,” he said. “I mean, surely you’ve noticed by now that their skill in dream magic is just sad. I almost pity them!” Celestia nodded nervously. Discord pulled the cone-shaped dunce cap from behind himself and placed it gently on Celestia’s head again.

“Don’t worry, Celestia, I do pity you,” Discord said, snickering, then pulled away from Celestia, falling back into more laughing fits. “Here’s the predictions, if you want them! They won’t remember squat, except maybe within the first few seconds of waking up! Then they’ll fall asleep, or pass out as the case may be, from the adjustment of time around them. Going from dream time to real time can be awfully trying on the mind!”

Linnai sneered. “We’ll remember everything! We won’t pass out!” she shouted angrily. Mulcibar jabbed her with his elbow and shook his head.

“Who are you going to believe, Celestia? Them, or me?” Discord asked, batting his eyes back at Celestia.

The princess groaned. “Well, I knew your magical knowledge would come in handy, but I just don’t know. I think you are too confident, Discord,” Celestia said. “Even if there’s only a remote chance, even if all they can do is shout out a few words between when they wake up and when they pass out from the time adjustment, I can’t risk that. Plus, what if they don’t forget? What if they wake up with complete memories after an hour or two? We might not be ready by then!”

“So what are we going to do?” Twilight asked, her voice annoyed. “Take them with us?”

“I vote no on that,” Fluttershy’s voice quietly came from behind Pinkie Twi.

“We have to find the exit first, anyway,” Twilight said. Fluttershy poked her head out and enthusiastically shook it. Twilight levitated the small monocle to her eye. Pinkie Twi leapt towards Twilight and stopped her, pulling the lens away with her own magic.

“Pinkie! What’s the problem?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Problem? Haha! Why would there be a problem? I just, um… we’re all having so much fun here, why end it so quickly?” Pinkie Twi responded with faked laughter. She looked over her shoulder and spotted Sweetie Belle hugging Rarity and their parents. Her heart sank.

“What? You know we don’t have time to hang around!” Twilight said with annoyance. “We have to get to the next dream quickly! Every second we’re not saving Rainbow Dash is a second that Chrysalis is getting super powered up!”

Pinkie Twi hung her head, but levitated the goggles from her head onto Twilight’s. Twilight looked down at Pinkie with concern now, the pink pony practically starting to cry. Twilight nervously slipped the colorscope over her eyes, and Pinkie Pie pointed towards the happily hugging family.

Twilight saw Sweetie Belle wrapping her forelegs around Rarity’s neck, but there was a strange, pulsing dark energy. Right over Rarity’s chest, straight down the middle like someone had stitched up a sloppy surgery job, was the exit from the dream.

Twilight shot her head back down to Pinkie, who just pointed in another direction. Twilight turned and stared at Applejack, who was happily smiling at Apple Bloom, a similar rip in reality going straight down her chest.

“Let me guess…” Twilight said sadly. She turned and looked towards Rainbow Dash. She had a similar rip in her own body. “Three dreamers, three exits, and they all just happen to be part of their focus, as we’d called them.” Twilight flipped the goggles up off her head and returned them to Pinkie Twi, who was slowly nodding her head.

Linnai laughed from the cage, staring at Twilight with wide eyes. “This is too hilarious! Just like that, you’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory!” she shouted. “I can tell from the look on your faces! Such compassion for these dream ponies, and they aren’t even real!”

Fluttershy suddenly stood up and marched over to the cage, practically pressing her face against the bars. Linnai pulled her head back instinctively.

“Now look here, you!” Fluttershy shouted. “These ponies may be dreams, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real! They’re all based on our dear friends, and the places they hold in our hearts! I guess it’s nothing you two could ever understand!” She glared at Mulcibar as she said that last part. Linnai flapped her own lips mockingly as Fluttershy spoke. Mulcibar just sat quietly, flinching at bit at the end of her speech.

“Who cares!” Linnai shouted. “Tell them, Twilight Sparkle! Tell them what has to be done in order for you to continue your quest!” She grinned deviously.

Everypony had gathered around the cage by now, and they were all staring at Twilight.

“What’s she talkin’ ‘bout, Twi?” Applejack asked.

“Well, you see…” Twilight said nervously.

“Yes, darling?” Rarity asked, her eyes blinking.

“The exit from this dream world, you see…” Twilight continued slowly, her eyes darting back and forth.

“Did you find it already? Is it nearby?” Scootaloo asked excitedly.

“You might say that,” Twilight said, chuckling nervously. “There are three dreamers, so there are actually three exits.”

“What’s gotten into you, Twilight? What are you so afraid of? What was that changeling talking about?” Celestia asked commandingly. Twilight locked eyes with the princess and lost her nerve entirely.

“Tell them!” Linnai barked out.

“It’s terrible. I hadn’t thought this could happen. I wish there was some way to change it, but the exits…” Twilight said, trailing off.

“Yes?” Everypony said in unison.

Twilight swallowed roughly and breathed in. “The exits are Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash,” she said. “To open them means to tear them open as well. They would…”

“You have to kill one of them if you want to leave! And surely the foal that’s connected to that pony will feel the excruciating pain as they are torn in half by reality itself being ripped!” Linnai yelled. She put on a giant, sharp-toothed grin. “So choose, Twilight Sparkle! Choose who has to die!”

Everypony stared at Twilight in silence. Twilight shrunk down to the ground. “Stop looking at me like that,” she said. “I don’t like it either.”

Rarity stepped towards Twilight and put a hoof on her shoulder. “If somepony has to go, then it should be me! Make it quick, Twilight!” she said, her voice shaking.

“Rarity, no,” Twilight said firmly, pushing her hoof off of her shoulder and standing back up. “I’m not going to kill anypony! Besides, think of poor Sweetie Belle!” She pointed a hoof towards the Cutie Mark Crusaders, who had huddled up together and seemed to be talking amongst themselves.

“Yeah, but it’s true, isn’t it?” Applejack asked. “I can tell just by lookin’ at ya, sugarcube. One of us has ta go.”

“Then it should be me! I’ve caused nothing but trouble for you guys,” Rainbow Dash shouted and then shot a look at Scootaloo. “And if that one has to deal with a little pain, I’d call it even.”

“First of all, no!” Twilight yelled back at Rainbow Dash. “Second of all, listen to yourself! Rainbow Dash would never say such a thing!”

“Fine, I was kidding! Besides, I’m not Rainbow Dash!” Dash retorted. “I’m just some fantasy pony for a filly with daddy issues!”

“That’s enough!” a small voice shouted out. Everypony turned and stared at Apple Bloom, who was staring up at the arguing adults with tears in her eyes. “Twilight’s right! Nopony has to die!”

Twilight took a deep breath and smiled down at the little earth pony.

“We think we know exactly how to do it, too,” Sweetie Belle said, a sly grin on her face.

“Really?” Twilight asked, surprised.

“Really?” Linnai asked from the cage with a sigh.

“When we heard Princess Luna’s voice earlier, it was coming from somewhere else. Nightmare Moon’s energy entered this dream the same way,” Scootaloo said. “We can just go out the same way Luna and Nightmare Moon leaked in.”

Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, Scootaloo, but that’s just not going to work,” she said. “We saw a dream entrance where magic was coming in before, in Fluttershy’s dream. We could see out of it, but we couldn’t leave through it.”

“No no, Twilight,” Sweetie Belle said as politely as she could. “This thing we’re talking about, this feeling we had… it’s not like those creepy cuts on our sisters and Rainbow Dash. We can see those, this isn’t like that.”

Twilight blinked. “Wait…” she started.

“You can see those?” Celestia asked.

Cutie Pie tilted her head. “Now that you mention it, I see them, too,” she said. “What’s with that?”

“You saw the cracks in the world,” Scootaloo said. “Now that the three of us are concentrating with the power we got from these pendants, we’re starting to see more than just those. It’s hard to explain, but we want to try. We want to try and open up another crack in the world, but this time it would be a portal to another dream world.”

“Children, if you can do what you say you can, instant transference… well, that sort of spell is only possible with a high-level dreamwalker such as my sister, Luna,” Celestia said. “I do not wish to cast doubt upon you, but it seems a hopeless task. You have to connect to two dreams at the same time, plus aim the spell correctly. It is quite a feat.”

“Well!” Apple Bloom said with a grin, looking at her two friends. “There’s three of us! One to connect here, one to connect there, and the third to aim it! We’ll do the connectin’ Sweetie Belle. You do the firin’!”

Sweetie Belle nodded.

“Oh my gosh, this is so exciting!” Pinkie Twi shouted. Everyone else shushed her, including the caged changelings. The three fillies stood in a triangle, facing inward and concentrating as hard as they could. Their pendants glowed brightly, and each one of them fired a pillar of light off into the sky above. The arena lit up as if it were daytime, with prismatic colors sparkling everywhere.

You got this, little sis! Applejack’s voice sounded off inside Apple Bloom’s mind.

Who’s there? Show yourself! A voice shouted in Scootaloo’s mind.

“I’m connected!” Scootaloo shouted.

“Fire away, SB!” Apple Bloom called out.

Sweetie Belle nodded and her horn sparked brightly. The spark of magic served as a catalyst, causing the pendants around all three Crusaders’ necks to fire off at the same time, their beams colliding in the middle of them. A giant tear in reality burst open, streaks of magic firing out randomly.

Celestia’s jaw dropped. “I don’t believe it!” she shouted with genuine excitement. “They’ve done it, Twilight! They’ve done it!” Everypony joined in and cheered.

The world on the other side of the portal was clearly visible, and looked nothing like Ponyville at all. Thick foliage, a dark sky, and jagged rocks were waiting for them on the other side.

Twilight gazed through the portal and cringed. “Maybe it’s too early to be celebrating. It looks dangerous over there,” she said. Celestia nodded her head in agreement.

“Well,” Sweetie Belle said, turning to Rarity and her parents. “Looks like this is goodbye.”

Twilight interrupted. “Sweetie, look, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she said, looking at Rarity. “You don’t have to come with us. You could stay here with your sister, where it will be safer.” Rarity nodded her head and smiled.

“What?!” All three Crusaders said at once.

“No way!” Scootaloo shouted. “Princess Luna said that the fate of Equestria rested firmly in our hooves! We can’t just give up now!”

“Yeah! We even opened that portal for ya!” Apple Bloom said angrily.

“Apple Bloom, look, I’m sure we’ve all been thinkin’ it, and we just don’t want ya to get hurt,” Applejack said, putting a hoof on her sister’s head and kneeling down towards her.

“Eeyup,” Big Macintosh agreed.

“I’m sorry, everypony, but I have to side with the Crusaders,” Princess Celestia said, stepping into the middle of the crowd. “These three fillies have proven themselves to be brave and capable. They have within them a power that we do not yet fully understand. My sister and I first began our own long and arduous crusade against Discord when we were young, so I know what the determination of foals can produce.”

“You were just so adorable back then!” Discord said with a squee. “Never a boring day on the throne with you two running around! Must be why I spared you so many times.” His voice dropped a bit at the end. Celestia rolled her eyes.

“In any event, whatever my sister saw in these three when she reached out to them, I think I am starting to see it as well. Their power and determination will serve us well, and perhaps they will grow up a little bit on our journey,” Celestia finished.

The three crusaders looked at one another and grinned widely at the same time.

“Maybe we’ll get our cutie marks in adventuring!” Scootaloo said.

“Or dreamwalking!” Sweetie Belle squeaked.

“Or plot-buckin’!” Apple Bloom said with a giggle.

Fluttershy gasped and Twilight snorted. “Apple Bloom! That doesn’t mean what you think it does…” Twilight said, her cheeks turning red. Pinkie Twi fell over laughing.

“Ahem!” Celestia loudly cleared her throat, then gestured towards the caged changelings. “What shall we do with them, then? They have to come with us. We’ll need a cart or something.”

“Don’t worry about them, I’ll handle everything,” Discord said, his voice dripping with deviousness. He snapped his fingers, and in a flash, the two changelings shrunk down, even smaller than the Crusaders. “Check it out! Pocket villains!” he said, and pushed them into a pocket that had materialized on his side. Their tiny voices, which had started shouting the moment they had shrunk, were drowned out to nothing.

Celestia shuddered. “I hate to imagine what’s in there,” she said.

“I could show you sometime, if you want,” Discord replied with a wink. Celestia ignored him and turned to Twilight and the others.

“This is it, then,” Twilight said, looking down at the Crusaders. “Say your goodbyes, and remember, you will always be together in your hearts.” The three fillies smiled and nodded their heads.

“Everything should go back to normal once we leave,” Apple Bloom said, looking up at Applejack and Big Macintosh. “You two take care of Granny Smith. Pinkie Pie will be around to keep ya up to date.”

Applejack nodded. “Take care, little sis. When ya finally see her, give the real Applejack a big hug,” she said, a tear escaping her eye.

Apple Bloom leapt up and wrapped her forelegs around Applejack’s neck. “Will do, but not before I give you a big hug, too!” she said, and squeezed. Big Mac put his foreleg over the both of them and joined in.

Sweetie Belle walked over to Rarity. “Did you really mean it before?” she asked. “Were you really gonna… die just so we could go on?”

Rarity nodded her head. “Of course, my dear!” she said without pause. “I’d do anything to help my little sister. After all, you always do anything to help me.” Sweetie Belle smiled.

“But I won’t do long, sappy goodbyes! So, take care, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, turning her head to the side and rubbing her eye.

“Aw, come on you all!” Rarity and Sweetie Belle’s father said, and pulled the whole family together into a group hug. “Our little Sweetie’s goin’ off ta save the world!”

Scootaloo cautiously approached Rainbow Dash. “Look, I know you haven’t forgiven me,” she said, not looking up. “I know I messed up, but I swear, I’ll make it up to you somehow… someday.”

Rainbow Dash coughed. “Look, kid, don’t waste your breath,” she said. “I can’t be the coolest pony in the world if I hold a grudge against a kid forever. We’ll see how I feel if we meet again. Maybe next time you go to sleep.”

Scootaloo nodded and smiled up at Rainbow Dash. “It’s a deal,” she said.

Everypony eventually gathered in front of the rift. “Is everypony ready?” Celestia asked. They all nodded their heads.

Pinkie Twi nervously raised her hoof. “Sooooo… I shouldn’t even be here. What’s gonna happen if I go through there?” she asked.

Twilight shrugged in response. “Who knows? Let’s find out.”

Pinkie Twi sighed. “Okay, well then… here we go!” she shouted, and grabbed onto Twilight’s foreleg. She turned her head back towards her double. “Seeya later, Cutie Pie!”

“I’m still not okay with that name!” Cutie Pie yelled back.

Pinkie laughed and leapt into the portal, pulling Twilight with her. Twilight landed on the other side by herself. She looked around for any sign of anypony else. A second later, Celestia and Discord appeared by her side.

“Pinkie?” Twilight called out.

Aw, bummer! Pinkie’s voice rang out in Twilight’s mind. I’m back home! But hey, check your saddlebag!

Fluttershy leapt through the portal, with the Cutie Mark Crusaders trailing behind her in a row. “Whew! We made it!” Fluttershy exclaimed.

“Yay!” The Crusaders cheered, and then looked at their flanks.

“Dang it! No Dreamwalking cutie mark!” Apple Bloom said.

Twilight flipped open her saddlebag and levitated a pair of goggles out of it. “Oooh! Thank you, Pinkie!” she exclaimed and slid the goggles onto her head and over her eyes. This was her first time taking in the environment around them. They were up a massive hill on a rocky path. Twilight gazed across the way and saw another hill of equal size on the other side, curving gently.

“I think we’re in a crater, everypony. Watch your step, who knows how far down it is,” Twilight warned the others. She looked up into the sky. The moon shone down brightly, practically as bright as day. It was easy to see, even though it was night time.

Run! A voice called out in Twilight’s mind.

“Did you hear that?” Celestia asked, looking at Twilight and the others. Everypony nodded their heads. “It was my sister!”

Run! To the bottom of the crater! As fast as you can! She is coming! The voice shouted.

The sound of galloping came from above. Everypony turned their heads upward. Up the crater wall, at the rim, was a barely visible but recognizable figure.

“Nightmare Moon!” Fluttershy screamed. She scooped up the Crusaders in her wings and began to run as best as she could down the path. Everyone else followed suit. Twilight came up alongside Fluttershy and took Scootaloo from her, placing her on her back. Celestia did the same for Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom pulled herself onto Fluttershy’s back.

“Hold on tight!” Twilight shouted.

“You can not escape!” Nightmare Moon’s voice bellowed down at them.

Through the brush, Twilight could see a massive stone building at the bottom of the crater. “That must be where we have to go! Everypony, keep running!”



Intermezzo 2

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The Conquering of Love

Chapter Thirty - Intermezzo 2


Applejack looked over the charred barricades that stood at the entrance of the southern wall around Ponyville’s town square. “Where’s that silly filly run off to?” she muttered, spotting fresh hoofprints along the dirt road that led southward towards the Everfree Forest. “I bet she’s tried to go home, prolly lookin’ fer one’a her little animal friends.”

Applejack leapt over the barrier and galloped down the dirt road, her eyes darting back and forth quickly, watching for any sign of movement.

Ya just can’t tell what sort’a danger you’ll run into nowadays. Dang it, Fluttershy! This ain’t no game!

Fluttershy’s cottage came into view, and Applejack spotted the yellow pegasus stepping out the door of her house, which was completely overrun with vines.

“Angel!” Fluttershy called out, peering into the depths of the Everfree Forest. “Angel bunny?”

Applejack saw a big clump of vines twisting in front of Fluttershy. She picked up speed and ran towards her. The vines shot from the forest, right at Fluttershy’s head. Applejack rammed into Fluttershy, pushing her out of the way. She turned her head towards the forest just in time to see the sharp, spear-like vines sailing right at her.

“Fluttershy!” Vitra screamed, shooting up out of bed. She slammed a hoof against her right eye and cringed forward, her abdominal muscles tensing up. She breathed heavily, her heart raced, and her wide eyes stared blankly downward at the cover that had been laid over her.

“Fluttershy,” she said again, more calmly, “look out.” She blinked her eyes and shook her head. She looked around the room she was in. A single candle lit the windowless chamber, cold gray walls all around and a door on one wall. She got up out of bed and walked towards the door. As she reached it, she fell to the ground and clutched her head as a spark of pain shot through it.

“Rainbow!” she shouted, shutting her eyes. She saw herself fighting Rainbow Dash high atop a castle. “I don’t… want to fight you!” she managed to open her eyes again and stand back up, steadying herself against the door and slowly turning the handle.

Another painful shock sizzled through her mind, dropping her to the ground once more. She felt weightless as she fell down into a ravine, hitting the ground. She saw Rainbow Dash, Twilight, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Princess Celestia. Rainbow Dash was lying limply in front of the others. “We fell together,” she said quietly. “We both died.”

Vitra pushed the door open and walked down the hallway she found herself in. The hall eventually connected to a larger chamber. Stairs led up to a large set of doors. The sound of screaming and a flash of magic caught her attention. She twisted her head around. A pink-colored alicorn with a black crystal-encased horn stood against the wall, chained to it, screeching like a caged beast as gallons of pink magic poured out from her and was sucked into a rift.

Her eyes wide with shock, still groggy and confused after waking up, she turned and ran up the stairs, shoving the doors at the top open and bursting through, only to find herself in the throne room itself. She stared up at the ceiling, which was completely covered in hanging green cocoons, ponies filling each and every one.

Back behind Vitra, Cadence slowly opened her eyes and lifted her head, the outpouring of magic having left her head reeling in pain. She looked to her left just in time to see Vitra galloping up the stairs and through the far chamber door, heading into the throne room. The changeling seemed panicked somehow. A moment later, she heard voices echoing through the door and down the hall. She strained her ears, trying to listen in to the conversation, but couldn’t make out what was being said.

She recognized the voice of Queen Crysalis, and her mind wandered back to the encounter she’d had with the queen earlier. She furrowed her brow, remembering how different the queen had seemed, how she had asked for her own death so desperately.

“Why would she have said that?” Cadence pondered quietly to herself. “She must have some ulterior motive… but what? She already has what she wants, right?”

In the throne room, Vitra shakily turned her head to where the stream of green magic flowing out of the cocoons was concentrating, the throne to her right. Sitting upon it was Chrysalis, her eyes glazed over with white magic.

“Come closer, child,” Chrysalis suddenly said, her eyes remaining white and glowing. “Step up to the throne and sit with me for a moment, basking in this glorious feast.”

Vitra nervously stepped up the two tiers to the throne and took a seat to the queen’s left, staring up at the field of cocoons before her.

“Were you connected to the dreams a little while ago?” Chrysalis asked, her voice calm and conversational. “I could feel your energy flowing down.”

Vitra nodded her head. “Yes, your highness,” she said, slowly remembering who she was, as well as her station within the changeling ranks. “I had taken over the body of a pony named Applejack.”

Chrysalis smiled and nodded her head. “Oh, Applejack,” she said. “She’s one of my favorites. She is always so up-front and honest. I respect that.”

“I think I do, too,” Vitra said, looking up among the pods, trying to spot Applejack’s cocoon.

“Good, so you’ll be honest with me, then,” the queen said, leaning her head down towards the smaller changeling. “Tell me, Vitra, how was it that I could feel your energy? How could you possibly have produced love energy?”

Vitra blinked. “I didn’t. I couldn’t have,” she said, staring down at the floor. “It’s not even possible.”

“And yet, I felt you. I fed on you, child,” Chrysalis said with a grin. “Yours was so delicious, like a morsel hidden among a sea of blandness. Like a lone cherry sitting atop a pile of boring, plain oats.”

“I can’t… possibly explain it, your majesty,” Vitra said, her voice shaking.

“Ah, but I expect you to, eventually,” Chrysalis said, her burning white eyes locked onto Vitra. “But you must tell no one of what happened in that dream, nor of this conversation. Continue with the plan, and whenever you can, try to remember how you may have accomplished this freak feat. I expect great things, and I expect you to tell no one, particularly not Luzon or any others in The Order.”

Vitra swallowed hard, nodding her head. I still think it must be a mistake, but… that feeling when I woke up, remembering that moment when Apple… jack thought Flutter was done for… I only saw it as a memory, but it was so vivid. It felt so… sad.

“Now go, the other members of The Order need you in their chamber,” Chrysalis said, smiling at Vitra. Vitra nodded her head and walked down the steps and turned to go back through the door she came in from.

“Oh, and Vitra,” Chrysalis said. “One more thing. When I say you are not to mention this to anyone, I mean you are to speak of it to no one. Do not even speak with me about it unless first asked, lest we be overheard. This is our little secret, okay?”

Vitra nodded and Chrysalis grinned, her fangs peeking out from behind her lips. She turned her head and stared back up into the stream of magic that was flowing into her. Vitra went through the door, closing it behind her, and walked down the steps.

Cadence’s left ear twitched as she heard the queen’s voice yelling towards the open door to the throne room, followed by the sound of the door closing and hoofsteps coming closer.

Vitra quietly stepped through the large room at the bottom of the stairs. The pink alicorn was hanging limply from the wall, breathing shallowly. Vitra could see a glow coming from underneath a door on the far side of the room. She made her way towards it, and almost had reached it when a voice called out to her.

“Changeling, wait,” the voice said weakly. Vitra turned and saw Cadence hanging from the wall, looking up at her. Her eyes were barely open, and her voice had little strength. “I heard the queen talking to you. What did she tell you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, pony!” Vitra sneered. “Save your strength, I’m sure it’s not long until we use you again!”

“Did she seem strange? Did she ask you to do anything weird?” Cadence asked, remembering back to what had happened to her just a few hours ago. “Did she ask you to do anything to her?”

To her? What on earth are you fantasizing about, sicko!” Vitra said, shocked. “The queen favors stallions. Particularly yours!” She laughed, her memory of who Cadence was having returned completely.

Cadence sighed. “You’re all the same, aren’t you?” she said cynically. “You revel in despair, yet need love to survive. What a backwards life you live.”

Vitra clenched her teeth and leapt at Cadence, pushing her front hooves against Cadence’s chest, her body slamming against the wall she hung from. “What do you know about us?” she hissed. “What pain have you known before now in your life?”

Cadence stared into Vitra’s eyes. “I am one who tries to spread love to those who need it wherever I go. I know sadness and pain more closely than you think, and I recognize lonely souls when I see them,” she said. Vitra stared back at her silently.

Vitra raised one of her hooves up and placed it on Cadence’s cheek. Her eyes remained locked onto Cadence’s. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words, still forming, had trouble making their way out.

“The nightmare,” Vitra started speaking, her jaw shaking. “Everyone dying, a lurking danger in the forest, a constant and terrible heat… The memories are fading. The names of my... friends... falling out of my mind.” A tear streamed down her cheek.

Cadence’s eyes went wide with shock, despite how tired and weak she was. It was there, if only for a second, she thought. This changeling, I don’t know how… she had the smallest spark of love in her heart, and then it was extinguished like a candle under a snuffer.

Vitra pushed away and eyed Cadence suspiciously. “It was all just a dream, anyway. I have no need for friends, I have my associates. Yes, I should go help them. I’ve wasted enough time talking to you, slave,” she said with contempt.

Cadence sighed. Was I wrong? she thought. She watched the changeling as it turned and walked towards the door on the other side of the dark chamber. Of course I was. What a foolish fantasy to think one of them could be so different. Cold, heartless beasts… I guess that’s all they really are.

As she finished that thought, Cadence felt another surge of magic build within her horn, and she let out an agonized scream as more magic was drained out of her. Vitra opened the door and turned to look at Cadence as she was being drained of her power again.

Vitra laughed, walked through the door, and shut it behind her.

She entered the chamber where the other members of The Order of Ismara were gathered, all focusing their energies at Luna’s cocoon. She immediately noticed the streams of magic flowing out from Mulcibar and Linnai and into the rift that hung in the air above. She felt a spike of pain in her head for a second and placed a forehoof to it. Luzon opened one eye and looked at her.

“You’ve returned, Vitra,” he said calmly. “Join us.”

Vitra walked around the table and took a seat next to Luzon. She looked at Mulcibar and Linnai again and cleared her throat. “They’ve both entered the stream?” she asked, a hint of confusion in her voice. “Why both of them?”

“There was another reaction,” Luzon explained. “A larger one than what you’d gone after before. I still haven’t forgiven you for going in without permission, by the way. There will be a formal punishment once things have calmed down.”

Vitra sneered for a moment before regaining her composure. “Well, if they find anything, it will only strengthen my defense,” she said, her voice laced with confidence.

“You sound pretty sure of yourself,” Luzon said. “Did you find anything? Do you even remember what happened in there?”

Vitra’s head sank and she shook it back and forth. Any memories of what had happened in the dream had faded. All that was left was a swirl of emotions. There was fear, sadness, regret, and even a sort of exhilaration. However, none of these were concrete enough to jog her subconscious memory into gear.

Luzon sighed. “Which is exactly why I didn’t want you going, and why I’ve sent both Mulcibar and Linnai this time. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I can rely on them to stop whatever is going on regardless of information making its way back to us,” he said. “You’re an excellent scout, Vitra, but you knew scouting wasn’t going to cut it. In the brief moment of consciousness you had after coming back, you only spoke a few words, none of which were of any use.”

Vitra clenched her teeth and frowned, but then thought back to what the queen had just said to her, some of it not even making sense anymore, almost dreamlike itself. She opened her mouth to begin to speak, but stopped herself. No, she thought, I am sworn to secrecy. She thought of what Chrysalis might do to her if she broke her oath, and shook slightly.

“What was it I said?”

Luzon sighed. “Your voice was weak. You simply said ‘We’ll meet again,’ and that was it. You passed out after that.”

Who will I meet again? What does it mean? Vitra pondered.

“Best not to think about it. Chasing subconscious memories is largely futile. If they come back, it will be on their own,” Luzon said. “Now concentrate on the stream. We need you.”

Vitra nodded. She closed her eyes and began the spell. A flash of a face appeared in her mind’s eye for just a second. It was a dark face, glowing red. A deep, distorted voice shouted in her ear.

Your nightmare is coming!

Vitra opened her eyes and gasped, a feeling of drowning having overtaken her. She looked around at the others. None of them had heard the voice or had the vision, apparently. She closed her eyes again and joined the others in containing Luna and pushing green magical energy through the rift.

Back in the throne room, Chrysalis sat upon the throne, her eyes glazed over with magic, her mouth locked in a giant smile. She chuckled under her breath.

“Your nightmare will be over soon,” she whispered. “A thousand years of torment will finally come to an end. The sins of the past will finally be known. The root of all evil will be there for all to see, and finally… the conquering of love will be upon us.”

Corruption Ch 1 - Visions and Nightmares

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Book Four: Corruption

Chapter One - Visions and Nightmares

“It’s dark in here.”

Linnai sighed and shook her head. “Yes, it’s quite dark, and I can’t seem to use any magic,” she said with frustration. “Wherever that freak, Discord, put us seems to be fairly secure.”

Linnai tried to stand up, but instead felt herself pressing closer to the ground upon which she was laying. The sensation was odd, almost as if she were pressing downward on purpose. A moment later, she felt the ground begin to shake beneath her.

Mulcibar attempted to leap up to his hooves, but instead, his head slammed against the metallic floor. “What is this place, anyway?” he pondered out loud. “I’ve lost control of my body somehow.”

Two shining circles appeared before him and blinked like a pair of eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous,” a high-pitched voice said. “Your bodies are fine, just remember that up is down and down is up.” The light from the pair of circles lit up the area around the two changelings. They could see that they were still inside the cage they’d been trapped in earlier, and it seemed to be hanging, swaying as the shaking intensified.

Linnai turned her head to the left to look at the source of light. Rather, she would have turned her head to the left, but it turned right instead. She grunted slightly and felt disoriented.

“Whoops, forgot to mention!” the voice said gleefully. “Right is left and left is right! Be careful, you can get really mixed up if you struggle too hard!” As it said this, a bright light crested from below.

“Oh hey, the sun’s coming up! Whee!” the voice cheered, and the two circles slid shut. The sun’s light began to illuminate everything. A bright blue sky spread out beneath where Linnai and Mulcibar were hanging.

“Down is up?” Mulcibar said. He tried to press himself against the floor, and his body responded by standing up. Turning his head to the right made him look left, and vice-versa. He leaned back, which caused his body to awkwardly lurch forward, shaking the cage even more. “This is going to give me a headache…”

Linnai managed to join him in standing up. The cage they were hanging in was large and cube-shaped. They both strained for a moment and looked upward. The cage was hanging down – or was it up? – from a long chain that appeared to be attached to a stone block which was surrounded by sand. The expansive ceiling above them seemed to go on forever, a vast desert landscape with huge sand dunes. The sun lowered slowly down into the sky, its heat beating upward. The floor of the cage shielded the two from direct sunlight, which was fortunate for them. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky below.

“Well, I don’t see anything but sand… and falling seems like it would be a bad idea,” Linnai said. “We have to get out of here somehow.”

Mulcibar nodded in agreement. He slowly turned his whole body around to survey the landscape on the other side. His eyes went wide as he turned and spotted a massive structure coming up from the ground above them. A huge stone castle with towers, gates, even a moat all around it, hung surreally from what he perceived as the ceiling. “But that’s actually the ground,” he said and cocked an eyebrow. “This place is completely backwards. If we can get out of this cage, flying there would be no problem… maybe.”

“Well, we can’t exactly use our magic thanks to the nullification field,” said Linnai, tapping her hoof against her horn.

“Well, we can at least get out of this cage. Do you think you’ll be able to fly?” Mulcibar asked. “It’s going to be strange in here.”

“It might almost be better to plummet to our deaths, at least then we might wake up.”

Mulcibar lowered his eyebrows. “We can’t be sure of that. This place is controlled by Discord. Nothing ever happens like you think it will with him,” he said, remembering back to what Discord had done to him earlier.

Linnai laughed. “You’re scared? What’d he do to make that happen?”

Mulcibar cleared his throat. “Nevermind. Let’s get this cage rocking. If we use our wings, we should be able to get it swinging high enough to bang it against the ground above.”

Linnai shrugged and began to swing in time with her brother, the cage swinging higher and higher. As they swung, they both got a feel for the way their wings worked in this reversed world. Eventually, the cage slammed into the rocky ground, causing the bottom of the cage to explode off of it. Linnai and Mulcibar both gasped and pushed their forehooves through the cage’s bars, holding on for their lives as they swung back the other way.

“I did not expect the bottom to break off that easy!” Linnai shouted.

“I told you! Nothing works like it should!” Mulcibar shouted back. He turned his head to look at the metallic plate that had shot off the cage, and was baffled as he saw it fly outward for a moment, then shoot upward, clanging to a landing on the ground that was above them.

Is it really…? It’s better than staying in here, Mulcibar thought.

“I’m going,” Mulcibar said and then unhooked one foreleg from the cage. He swung his hind legs back to give himself momentum.

“Going? Wait!” Linnai shouted. She watched as Mulcibar swung forward and let go of the cage, launching himself into the air, towards the tower.

Mulcibar instinctively flapped his wings once, causing himself to fall further downward, but only for a second. After hanging in the air for several seconds, he fell upward, smashing head-first into the ground.

“You idiot!” Linnai screamed from the cage’s remains. “You’re the one who said we can’t tell what would happen!”

Mulcibar lifted a hoof up in front of his face and laughed. “Can’t tell what’ll happen if you stay in the cage, either.”

Linnai sighed and swung her hind legs back and then launched herself forward in the same direction Mulcibar had gone. She flapped her wings once, pushing herself forward and gracefully twisted in the air, preparing for the gravity reversal. Much to her surprise, though, she suddenly stopped in mid-leap and hung in the air, suspended between the sky-like abyss and the ceiling-like ground. She flailed her legs and flapped her wings ineffectually for a moment before going limp and groaning.

“I’m stuck,” she whimpered, the situation starting to get to her. Mulcibar clasped a hoof over his mouth, holding back his laughter. Linnai began to flail her legs again and whine. “It’s not funny, brother! Get me down from heeeeere!” Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes.

Mulcibar smirked and laughed out loud, but began to flap his wings, lifting himself down to where she was hanging. “Calm down,” he said, still smirking. “Give me your hoof?”

She reached her foreleg out towards him, and he grabbed ahold of it and pulled. The two of them immediately shot upward. Mulcibar smashed against the ground and Linnai dropped firmly onto his back, knocking the wind out of him. He gasped for breath and rolled over, pushing her off of him. Linnai took her turn to laugh now, and Mulcibar shook his head.

After catching his breath, Mulcibar stood up and turned towards the tall structure before them. He scanned the base of it for an entrance. “I don’t see any way in except the windows higher up the tower,” he said.

“Then by all means, fly on up there!” the same high pitched voice they’d heard before called out from nowhere. “You two are so precious! If I didn’t know better, I’d say I detected some siblingly love back there.”

Linnai swung a hoof clumsily above her head. “Show yourself, and I’ll give you some real love, Discord!” she shouted. Echoing laughter was the only response.

Mulcibar shook his head. “Ignore him,” he said. “He’s just testing us. He wants to see all our flaws, our weaknesses. Don’t give him anything to work with. We’ll just press forward through this little game of his and be on our way.”

Linnai nodded. What makes you so sure we can get through, though? she thought. Still, she followed Mulcibar’s lead for once, flying up and into the high window in the tower. The room through the window was large, with a high ceiling. It seemed to stretch the entire length of the tower.

“What now?” Linnai asked, looking around at the massive room. The walls were covered in mirrors of many shapes and sizes, some with decorative frames, and some plain and wooden-framed. The ceiling was one big mirror, as well. Linnai looked around, an annoyed look crossing her face. “I suppose it’s too much to ask for it to not be some sort of trap.”

Mulcibar nodded his head. “Knowing Discord, looking at them will show something besides what you’re expecting. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the magic book - a magic mirror.”

“Oh come on! I thought you’d like this, you two brainiacs! Something simple enough to where you won’t feel that it’s a trick, and yet… well, why not have a look for yourselves?” the high-pitched voice shouted gleefully.

Mulcibar frowned. “We can’t very well get to the other side without glimpsing at least one mirror,” he said in a deadpan tone. “Let’s get this over with.”

Mulcibar stepped nervously out towards the center of the room and turned his head to the left, gazing into the first mirror. Staring back at him was a familiar looking, but total stranger of a unicorn. He tilted his head, and the unicorn tilted its head as well. Its coat was dark gray, much like his own, and it possessed the same icy blue eyes. However, emanating from its eyes was a dark, purple magic energy, and its horn glowed with bubbling black magic. Mulcibar squinted as his lips curved downward.

“Is this suppose to be me, then?” he asked, scoffing. As he asked, a golden crown appeared on the unicorn’s head. The scene in the mirror panned outward, revealing that the unicorn stood upon a tall stand, a crowd of ponies surrounding it, all bowing in reverence. “I have no need of power over ponies. Is this what you think drives me, Discord? Do you think I desire such standing? Do you not think that if I had such aspirations, I would have achieved them already?”

“Ah, but my dear Mulci, power does have its benefits,” the voice responded, having lowered in pitch, and now very clearly Discord’s voice. The scene on the mirror changed, and several mares appeared beside Mulcibar, reaching their hooves out and grasping at his legs and body. One of them, a yellow pegasus with pink hair, pressed her muzzle up against the unicorn’s ear and gently bit at it.

Mulcibar coughed and turned his head to the side. “Whatever you’re trying to do, it’s not going to work! Come, let’s move on, sister!” he said, and turned to look for Linnai, but she was not where he’d last seen her. He turned around quickly and spotted her staring into a mirror, her eyes glowing red and her teeth grinding.

“Is this supposed to scare me?” Linnai asked, her voice rough and full of anger. She stared into the mirror. In her vision, she saw herself, standing upon a mountain of corpses, her whole body pulsing with deep, red magic. The bodies of countless ponies and changelings were scattered across a broken landscape that spread out before her. Her butterfly wings had become jagged and tattered, and the holes in her body had grown, giving her limbs and body a sharp, hollow look. The tips of her legs had become pointed, claw-like appendages, and her fangs had grown double in size. Linnai stared on intently at the image of herself. “Just the opposite… I hope I can achieve such power! All shall fear me and bow before me, or suffer the consequences! That includes you, Discord!”

“Oh, I’m terribly frightened! Too bad for you two that this story doesn’t have such a wonderful ending!” Discord’s voice giggled.

Mulcibar grabbed Linnai’s foreleg and pulled her away from the mirror. As her gaze broke from it, her eyes returned to normal. She blinked and stared into Mulcibar’s eyes. “What happened? I felt such exhilaration! I didn’t want it to end!”

“That must be his plan. We got out of the cage, so he wants to trap us in our deepest fantasies. Don’t look at any more of the mirrors, and pull me away if I look at one!” Mulcibar shouted. He pulled his sister’s foreleg and began to gallop across the room towards the door at the far end.

“Let me show you exactly how that little tale concludes!” Discord’s voice fired through the room, shaking the walls and shattering the mirrors all around them. Shards of glass and metal pierced into the wall and door ahead of the two changelings, who somehow weren’t hit by any of the debris. The pieces of mirror began to pull together, changing into one giant room-length mirror, covering the entire wall that they were running towards.

On the far right side of the mirror, Linnai could be seen, glowing with crimson magic and flying through a dark red sky. Blasts of energy fired from her hooves and horn, assaulting waves of pegasi and changelings that swarmed towards her. Her magic split pony and changeling alike in half, mercilessly blasting them out of the sky. A rain of blood seemed to fall endlessly upon the ground beneath her, which was decimated and covered in bodies and broken weapons.

There on the ground, on the far left of the mirror, was Mulcibar in the same dark unicorn form he had seen in his own vision. His eyes were bursting with purple magic, and his horn was aflame with darkness. He stared up at Linnai, who came to a stop in the air and met his gaze.

“What is this?” Mulcibar asked, his eyes wide.

“It’s the future,” Discord responded. “One of many possible futures for you two. One that I think is ever-so-likely, actually.”

Linnai and Mulcibar stared at the landscape before them, a scene of conflict between their mirrored selves playing out upon its surface.

“You’ve lost all control of who you are, sister!” the unicorn shouted up at the twisted changeling, his voice wavering and fading in and out. “Stop this madness! It’s gone too far!”

The dark vision of Linnai blasted outward with red magic. “Wrong! It’s you who have lost yourself, brother! Just look at you! Hiding in that form, hiding from what you are! What are you so afraid of?” she shouted.

The two of them glinted with magic and charged towards one another. They collided in an explosion, shattering the mirror. The real Mulcibar and Linnai shielded their faces with their forelegs.

“Enough of this!” Mulcibar shouted. “Release us! You’ve had your fun!”

“Do you hate the truth so much?” Discord asked. “You know, these mirrors can only show you what’s inside of you, just bending it ever-so-slightly and then laying down the ultimate outcome.”

Linnai stomped a hoof against the stone floor, pieces of glass cracking underneath it. “That future could never be!”

“Couldn’t it?” Discord asked with a deep, long laugh.

Linnai just sneered in response.

“Let us out of here, curse you!” Mulcibar demanded. “Are we just here for your amusement?”

“Of course you are! I’m just trying to repay you for such a good time!” Discord protested, his voice then taking a serious turn. “Remember what you’ve seen here, my little changelings. Believe it or don’t, but never forget it.”

With those words, the ground of the tower began to shake. The tiles in the ceiling began to crack and fall to the ground. Mulcibar and Linnai charged toward the door, and Linnai grabbed the handle and swung it open, revealing a brick wall on the other side.

“Discord!” she shouted as the ground continued to shake more and more violently. The walls of the tower crumbled all around them, the ground split open, and the two of them fell downward into a dark abyss, unable to resist or move.

A second later, the two changelings found themselves flung in opposite directions, slamming into the stone walls of a dim hallway. Linnai lifted her head up and blinked. Before her stood Twilight and the others. Her mind froze for a moment, and she clenched her teeth. Her eyes darted back and forth, quickly assessing the situation. She quickly locked onto the three foals and pointed her horn at them.

Moments earlier…

The sound of hooves pounding against loose rock and dirt echoed across the chasm. Twilight, Fluttershy, and Princess Celestia, each with a Cutie Mark Crusader in tow, galloped as fast as they could towards the bottom of the crater where a tall, round stone structure stood. Discord flew through the air overhead, glancing back over his shoulder at their pursuer, who was gaining ground much more quickly than he was comfortable with. Nightmare Moon bolted down the incline behind them, taking large aerial leaps and dives, drawing nearer with each.

Another imposter, or the real thing? Discord thought to himself.

She seems real enough! Celestia’s voice buzzed in his ear, reminding him that he was still mentally connected to her. My sister warned that she had returned. You can surely feel that darkness encroaching over us. It’s so heavy, I feel my knees creaking as I run!

“We’re not gonna make it!” Sweetie Belle shouted. “She’s too fast!”

“We are gonna make it! Come on, everypony! Run faster!” Twilight shouted back.

Scootaloo hunched forward on Twilight’s back, wrapping her forelegs around her chest and groaning. With a bright flash, her chest began to pour a stream of magic out, which flowed back towards Nightmare Moon.

“Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted from Fluttershy’s back, and then fell forward in pain, the same thing happening to her.

Princess Celestia turned her head and looked back at Sweetie Belle, who was affected similarly. What is she doing to them? she thought. I can’t let this continue! She looked up at Nightmare Moon, who was gaining on them with each bounding leap.

“Twilight, take Sweetie Belle!” Celestia shouted and then levitated the filly from her back over to Twilight.

“What’s happening?” Twilight asked with confusion.

Celestia locked her legs and slid along the ground, turning her body. With a powerful thrust of her hind legs, she shot towards Nightmare Moon. “Very well, monster! Face me!” she shouted at the dark creature.

Nightmare Moon laughed and lowered her head, blasting a beam of dark magic towards Celestia, who released her own magic. The two beams clashed in the air and exploded outward, but the particles of dark magic did not dissipate. They swirled through the air and came flying towards Celestia. The magic collided with the princess, and she was encased in a floating ball of dark magic.

“Princess!” Twilight shouted.

“Oh for crying out loud!” Discord said with a groan. He shot back towards Celestia.

Don’t stop! A familiar voice in Twilight’s head implored. Just get to the boulder up ahead!

Nightmare Moon blew right past Celestia, glancing at her as she went by. “I’ll be back for you later, fool!” she screeched and then continued her pursuit of the others. A second later, a snapping sound shot through the air and a solid wall appeared in front of her. She smashed through it, but it slowed her down briefly. She turned her head just in time to see Discord fly past her.

Discord reached Celestia and snapped his fingers at her. The dark magic encasing her shot out sparks and began to vanish. At the first chance to do so, Discord reached out, grabbed Celestia’s front right hoof, and began to pull her forward through the air.

“Discord, wait!” the princess protested, but it was too late. Discord flung her through the air, and she went sailing towards the others, flying right over Nightmare Moon. She spread her wings and gave them a flap to keep her height, but then bent them backwards to try and maintain speed.

“Thank me later!” she could hear Discord shouting from behind. A second later, she felt a small weight upon her back. She glanced back and saw a small version of Discord sitting on her, holding a tiny set of reins and wearing a cowboy hat. “It’s later! Feel free, any time!”

She couldn’t help but crack a grin.

On the ground, Twilight and Fluttershy continued to barrel forward, the steady decline of the crater helping them to accelerate the whole time. The foals on their backs were still reeling in pain, magic streaming out of them. Twilight spotted a large rock sticking up out of the ground ahead. “That must be it!” she shouted. “Head for that boulder!”

Fluttershy nodded her head. “Okay, but don’t expect me to be able to stop!” she yelled back, her voice shaking nervously.

Celestia was nearly overhead, and she began to dive down towards the others. As she began her descent, a bright sliver of pink light from the horizon above caught her eye. “What’s that? Is that the sun?” she asked out loud.

Discord pulled out a pair of sunglasses and looked up at the pink light, which was growing rapidly at the far ridge of the crater. “No!” he said. “That doesn’t feel like the sun!” Celestia nodded in agreement.

A massive beam of pink light shot right down in front of the running ponies below, shining on the boulder. The circle of light, like a beam of pink sunlight, increased in size. The boulder split open at the top and slid outward on either side, as if it were some sort of hatch, revealing a massive opening in the ground.

“What’s that! What’s going on?” Fluttershy shouted nervously, not sure whether she should keep going or try to skid to a stop.

“Hey, everypony!” a familiar voice shouted out from the gaping hole in the ground. “Duck and cover!”

A massive, flowing pink mane shot up from the ground, sparkling and waving as Princess Celestia’s or Luna’s does. With an equally bright explosion of magic from below, a fully alicorn Pinkie Pie rose up from the ground, standing atop a giant version of her party cannon. Roughly the size of a small house, it shot out of the ground with great speed. Pinkie laughed, and with a slamming of her hoof against the top of the weapon, it lurched forward and locked its aim directly on Nightmare Moon.

“What!?” Twilight shouted, staring up at Pinkie Pie, who was now towering above them. She began to slide along the ground, trying to stop so she could hug the ground. Fluttershy had tried to do the same, but ended up rolling once before coming to a stop. Apple Bloom flew off her back and hit the ground as well.

Celestia was diving towards the ground at high speed. Upon seeing the cannon, she began to frantically flap her wings to stop descending.

“Ooooooh! I love this part!” Pinkie said with a giggle.

“No!” Nightmare Moon screeched, her eyes going wide and glowing bright red.

The cannon let loose with a massive beam of pink magic. The beam shot through the very fabric of the dream world, twisting it around and tossing it outward indiscriminately. Nightmare Moon glared and clenched her jagged teeth as the beam shot straight at her.

Discord flashed back to full size and wrapped his arms around Celestia’s neck. “No time to hang around here!” he shouted and then pushed upward as forcefully as he could, helping her to finally rise through the air. The two of them managed to dodge the beam, but a massive shockwave from the cannon rippled out, blasting them further upward. Their bodies flew through the air towards the bottom of the crater where the large stone building sat.

Despite the massive destruction let loose by the magical blast, Nightmare Moon was only pushed back halfway up the crater. The shattered and torn dream fabric quickly reattached itself, and Pinkie Pie slammed her hoof against the cannon again. With a pop, it vanished into thin air, and the pink alicorn floated gracefully down to where Twilight, Fluttershy, and the Crusaders were lying on the ground.

“Okie dokie, back to running!” she said, bouncing a couple of times with excitement after she landed. Twilight and Fluttershy slowly picked themselves up and shook their heads. Pinkie Pie levitated all three of the Crusaders to her own back and began to bolt down the hill towards the stone building. Twilight and Fluttershy took a moment to look at one another and shrug, and then slowly began to gallop down the crater once more.

Discord and Celestia flew through the air, the roof of the stone building below coming ever closer. Discord looked at Celestia, saw that her eyes were closed, and slapped his hands firmly against her cheeks. She shook her head and opened her eyes in response, glaring in disapproval. A second later, the two of them slammed into the ceiling of the stone building.

The ponies who had been running along the ground slid to a stop as best they could, bumping into the wall of the massive stone building. Twilight looked back and forth, trying to spot an entrance.

“How do we get in?” Twilight shouted, knocking her front right hoof anxiously against the wall.

“Push through!” a voice commanded. “Just imagine yourself passing through it, and you will!” Twilight looked at Pinkie, who nodded and jumped right through the wall. She gulped and closed her eyes. She pressed against the wall, but felt no resistance. A second later, she opened her eyes and found herself, along with Fluttershy and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, in a very dark hallway that lead to a large chamber ahead. Pinkie Pie was nowhere to be seen.

The chamber was dimly lit and cold. Twilight stood up and turned her head, looking for any sign of life. Fluttershy stood up as well and turned back towards the wall behind them. She tapped her hoof against it nervously, and found that it was solid.

“Hello?” Twilight called out, her voice echoing in the distance. Her ear twitched at the sound of her voice’s reverberations. “Pinkie Pie? Are you there?” After a moment, she turned to look at Fluttershy, who was kneeling down and making sure the Cutie Mark Crusaders were okay.

“This place is spooky, but not as spooky as outside,” said Fluttershy. Twilight nodded in response.

Apple Bloom stood up and brushed herself off. She reached a hoof down to Sweetie Belle and helped her get to her hooves. “Was that Pinkie Pie out there? That cannon thing was crazy,” she said.

“That cannon thing was awesome!” Scootaloo said loudly, leaping to her hooves, her voice echoing loudly across the dim chamber.

Twilight strained for a moment and then let out a sigh. “Strange, I can’t use my magic in here, even a simple light spell,” she said. She squinted, trying to force her eyes to adjust. Pinkie Pie’s face suddenly appeared right in front of her. She jumped back in surprise, and Pinkie grinned.

“I know! I love that thing!” Pinkie said excitedly, winking at Scootaloo. “Oh hey, we better get the others in here!” The pink alicorn’s horn lit up, revealing the ceiling far above them, upon which a pink, ovular portal opened. Celestia and Discord fell through the opening and landed roughly on the ground. The portal vanished shortly afterwards.

“Oopsie! Sorry!” Pinkie said, cringing. “Shoulda put something there to soften the landing. My bad.”

Celestia shook her head back and forth and pushed herself up to her hooves. “That’s okay. We are in your debt all the same, Pinkie Pie,” she said, smiling.

Discord floated up into the air. “Wow, drab décor. I would’ve expected better from you, Pinkie Pie. Honestly, I’m shocked and appalled,” he said, eyeing the place. “If it weren’t for this magic nullification field in here, I’d roll my eyes along the ground.”

Celestia sighed. “Little blessings...” she said. Discord smirked, and his lower body started to bulge and gyrate. Celestia ignored him and continued to speak. “He is right, though. What’s going on here, Pinkie? Has Nightmare Moon trapped you here, somehow?”

“Not exactly, but…” Pinkie Pie started, but was interrupted by an explosion from Discord’s hips. Mulcibar and Linnai appeared on either side of him and flung outward, smashing into the opposite walls of the small hallway.

Mulcibar rolled over and shot to his hooves, his eyes darting around and assessing the situation. Across from him, his sister did the same. He saw her lower her horn and point it towards the Cutie Mark Crusaders, who were standing beside Twilight and Celestia.

Not the best idea you’ve ever had… he thought.

“One move and the runts get it! Where are we?” Linnai commanded, quickly trying to take control of the situation, though her eyes told a different story. They were shaking and locked onto Princess Celestia, who was staring down at her, a frown across her lips.

Pinkie Pie bounced towards Linnai and landed next to her. She put a hoof over the changeling’s shoulder before she could even react and clicked her tongue. “Hey now, miss violent-pants! Why don’t you go ahead and try? Hate to tell you, but your magic won’t work in here.”

Linnai growled, but was quickly shushed by Mulcibar from across the hallway. “It’s true,” he said. “It’s just like what we were dealing with a moment ago. Perhaps even more powerful of a nullification field than that, actually.”

“Well we can’t just stand here! We have a mission!” Linnai shouted. She pulled away from Pinkie Pie with a snap and then pushed her horn forward, stabbing it right into Pinkie’s chest.

Chaos erupted. Twilight and Celestia leapt onto Linnai, pinning her to the ground. Pinkie fell sideways, hitting the stone floor roughly. Mulcibar dug his hooves in and gritted his teeth, preparing himself for the inevitable battle before him. The Cutie Mark Crusaders screamed in fear as Fluttershy ducked down beside them.

“That’s enough!” A booming voice came from within the chamber. A field of purple magic surrounded everypony and pulled them apart, holding them in the air. The entire group floated towards the center of the room, which became illuminated by a glowing horn. A circular altar stood at the room’s center, and sitting upon the altar was Princess Luna, her face locked in an expression of anger.

“Sister!” Celestia gasped. “Is it really you this time?”

“Pinkie!” Twilight shouted, reaching her hooves toward her friend. “You have to let us down, Princess! We have to save Pinkie!”

A flash of pink shot out from the purple magic, and Pinkie Pie jumped out, landing on the ground and dusting herself off. She grinned widely and tapped a hoof against the spot on her chest where Linnai had stabbed her. There was no sign of a wound.

Twilight exhaled with relief. The group was lowered to the ground, and the purple magic vanished from around all of them except the two changelings.

“You all must stay calm and listen to me, even you two changelings. The information I am about to share, though I am loathe to share it with the likes of you two, may be vital in stopping a terrible fate that would affect us all.”

“I don’t understand,” Celestia said. “What’s happened here, sister? Has Nightmare Moon trapped you here somehow?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Luna said. “Then again, she has been trapped as well, for a long time now.”

“Does this mean we are in your dream?” Celestia asked. Twilight, Fluttershy, Discord, and the Crusaders all walked closer to the platform, listening intently. Pinkie Pie turned her head towards the trapped changelings and stuck her tongue out. Linnai turned her head away from Pinkie and frowned.

“It is indeed our dream,” Luna said, her expression calming and her eyes closing. “However, it is more accurate to say that it is our never-ending nightmare.”

Corruption Ch 2 - The Threat

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Book Four: Corruption

Chapter Two - The Threat

“Never-ending nightmare?” Celestia asked. “Is that because of Nightmare Moon?”

Luna nodded her head. “In part, yes, but that is not the whole story,” she said. She tilted her head towards Mulcibar and Linnai and looked at them, blinking a few times, her eyes moving across their features. The two changelings instinctively leaned away from her. “Well, I’m sure you have many questions, but first, the vital information I spoke of.”

Luna’s horn began to glow and a magic circle appeared next to her, as if a thin layer of water had been suspended in the air. Upon the rippling surface, an image of the throne room in Canterlot appeared, changeling cocoons hanging from the ceiling, and streams of green magic flowing through the chamber.

“Surely you have seen the vast network of green magical energy,” she said. Celestia, Twilight, and Fluttershy nodded their heads. “This is the main spell that is being cast by the changelings. You may have thought that this was love energy being pulled from the dreams of our fellow ponies, but that is not accurate. This spell, webbed from mind to mind, is what holds us in our permanent state of slumber, and maintains the dream worlds we’ve been trapped in.”

Celestia put a hoof against her chin. “I knew it didn’t seem like just a vector for the love energy. So this spell is creating these dream worlds?”

Luna smirked slightly at the question and shot a glance at the two changelings. “Perhaps if our captors were more skilled, they would have been able to create more ideal dream worlds for us. However, they are amateurs in this realm of magic. It is painfully obvious,” she said. Linnai glared at her, but remained silent. “No, the dreams are of our own creation, the spell just keeps the entire world in motion. You may have noticed in your dreams before that events seem to center only on what is directly around you. These dream worlds are running full-time, so to speak, which is part of the problem I’ll eventually be coming to..”

“That must be why time passes at a seemingly normal rate, and we can get tired and hungry in the dreams,” Twilight added, and Luna nodded her head in response.

“It is forbidden magic. Even worse, the spell itself has been changed. The ones who have cast this spell mixed in other aspects, including psychic magic and defensive magic. Have you encountered any changelings in your dreams that seemed a bit single-minded?”

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes. In my dream, there were some changelings. They had taken over the bodies of my friends. One of them was what Princess Celestia called a shadow of Chrysalis, but the others were normal changelings. One of them acted so strange at the end, too…”

Luna frowned. “That is highly unusual, then. The defensive spell, from what I can tell, is designed to create changeling drones inside the dream world, eventually assaulting the dreamer and causing the dream to be ended so it can be started again. I hadn’t detected any magic that would cause any intelligent entities to appear, let alone a shadow of Chrysalis.”

“She seemed very real,” Celestia interjected. “At the time, I had assumed that she had projected her mind into the dream. It wasn’t really her, she vanished once we defeated her, and we haven’t been found out.”

Twilight tapped a hoof against the floor. “But what about the changeling from my dream that was impersonating Applejack? She was different, at least at the end.”

Luna waved her hoof back and forth in front of her. “Best not to speculate, who knows what sort of other magic they’ve accidentally encoded into the dream preservation spell. I can only tell you what I’ve detected,” she said. “However, we do have two of the changelings here with us, perhaps they could shed some light on that subject?”

A look of incredulity washed over Linnai and Mulcibar’s faces. Linnai stamped her hoof on the stone floor. “You expect us to help you? Are you out of your minds?” she shouted.

Discord floated over to the two changelings and stared at Mulcibar. “There could be ways of getting the information we need,” he said, and then laughed. A shiver ran down Mulcibar’s spine.

“Perhaps that won’t be necessary,” Luna said. She tapped the watery surface, and an image of her cocoon appeared. It pulsed outward with dark red magic. “The changelings, no matter how powerful their magi may be, lack the capacity of the dream magic we are being held by. I am afraid to say, but the magic that binds us in our minds is my own. When I was first captured, the changeling queen somehow overpowered me and put me to sleep. They’ve been converting my energy for their purposes ever since.”

“She did that to me, too,” said Twilight. “I woke up once. Of course, you would know that, wouldn’t you? You were there, and so was Nightmare Moon.”

Luna nodded to Twilight. “Yes, that was later, though, and it may have been a different spell entirely. I think now would be as good a time as any to share the events that led up to my capture.

“I had just lowered the moon on the day of the wedding and was heading towards my chambers. My original intention was to get some early sleep so I could be awake for the wedding ceremony later that day. However, that was not to be. Twilight’s distress had me puzzled, and I knew I would not be able to get any rest until I investigated the matter myself,” Luna explained. She waved her hoof in front of the shining screen and the image expanded in size. Everypony watched as a scene unfolded upon its surface.

Luna walked slowly down the hallway to her bedroom, her eyes distant in thought. She arrived at the large double doors that led to her room. Armed members of her personal guard stood on either side and they both saluted her as she approached. One guard pulled the door open, allowing Luna to pass.

“Good evening, your majesty,” one of the bat-winged guards said in a respectful tone. “May you sleep well.”

“Thank you,” Luna replied and then turned to face the guard who had spoken. “Keep a close eye out for anything suspicious, no matter how small. I wish to be notified of anything unusual, even if you must awaken me, understood?”

The guard nodded his head, and Luna smiled. She backed into the room and shut the door. Now in the privacy of her own quarters, she hurried across to a desk at the far end. Using her magic, she pulled a piece of parchment and a quill from the drawer and began to write. The scene’s view lowered to the paper so that her written words were visible.

As I am sure you are aware, a threat was issued against Canterlot. I was perplexed by this fact at first, but now I believe that it was possibly a diversionary tactic. What if the enemy is already inside Canterlot, hiding? Twilight Sparkle, who is one of the most perceptive ponies I know, has suspicions about Princess Cadence. I overheard her trying to convince her friends of this. I worry that your familiarity with Cadence may be blinding you to any suspicious acts, but I have no such problem. I had not met Princess Cadence until a couple of days ago. I intend to go ask her some questions. If you are reading this, it means that Twilight’s suspicions were correct, and for whatever reason, I was unable to return to my sleeping quarters. Please act accordingly.

Luna rolled the message up and sealed it. She walked back to her doorway and opened it, turning to the guard who had greeted her. The guard stood at attention and saluted. “Highness?”

“Take this scroll,” she said, handing the rolled paper to the guard. “Keep it with you at all times, do not hand it over to anyone but me. If anyone comes here for me, tell them that I am asleep and not to be disturbed. If I am not back within the hour, deliver the scroll to my sister. Consider this mission to be of the utmost priority, taking precedence above all other duties. Understood?”

The armored bat-pony nodded his head and tucked the scroll away under his chestplate. “My princess, it shall be done.” Luna smiled at him and galloped away, down the hall and then leapt out of an open window, landing on the ledge on the castle exterior.

“It took me some searching to find Princess Cadence. The first place I checked was her bedroom, but I only found a guard there,” Luna explained as the scene changed.

“I am here to see Princess Cadence,” Luna told the guard, issuing a command. “You shall allow me entrance.”

The guard, taken aback, stepped aside. “Of course, your highness, but Princess Mi Amore Cadenza is not inside.”

Luna pushed the door of the bedroom open and stepped inside. The room was empty other than some mannequins and clothing strewn about. She turned to the guard. “Do you know where she went?”

The guard nodded his head. “Aye, she’s gone to her secret changing room to prepare for the wedding,” he said nervously. “I don’t think she wanted to be disturbed, though.”

“What is this secret changing room? Where is it?” Luna asked, this having been the first time she’d heard of it.

“The guard explained to me that Cadence had specifically requested a room to herself in the castle’s lower level, in one of the aft buildings,” Luna said as the scene changed. “I arrived there as quickly as I could, being careful to not be seen. It didn’t even dawn on me at the time that the guard could have been setting me up.”

Luna entered the aft building, a large secondary structure that was used for the groundskeepers. It was full of gardening supplies and tools. Luna walked through the room, looking back and forth at all of the gear. “Caring for the castle gardens takes a lot. I wonder why Princess Cadence would have chosen this location, though,” she said. At the back of the room was a door, and behind it was a staircase that led down to a long hallway. Lanterns on either side of the hall were lit up, and the door at the end of the hall had light coming through from underneath. Luna’s eyes narrowed and she made her way to the door as quietly as she could.

She pressed her ear against the door. On the other side, the sound of stone rubbing against stone could be heard. Luna pressed the door open a crack and peered into the room. There was no sign of anypony. The room itself was bare, a dull, square room with stone floors and stone walls.

I know I heard that, though. Somepony is in there, she thought, audibly to the vision’s viewers. She slowly pushed the door open the rest of the way and quietly walked to the other side of the room. She scanned the walls and floor, looking for any stone that seemed out of place until she spotted it – a stone that was sticking up from the floor. She walked over to the stone and pushed her front hoof against it. It sunk into the floor, and the wall in front of her swung open, revealing a crystalline cave beyond. The light from the room’s lanterns hit the crystals, creating a colorful, sparkling display.

“What is this place? A secret cave underneath Canterlot?” Luna said aloud. She pressed against the stone on the ground again and the doorway swung shut. “I must report this finding. We shall order an investigation of this cave, and then perhaps we shall get to the bottom of this.”

“I can deliver that message for you,” a voice came from behind Luna. She turned around quickly and was greeted by the sight of a bat-pony in armor. Two other guards came in through the door behind him. She recognized them as all of the door guards she had spoken with that morning.

Luna lowered her stance toward the ground. “Where did you come from? We did not order you to follow us,” she said angrily.

“We couldn’t let you come here all alone, princess. What sort of guards would we be, then?” the guard in front asked. “I think you’ll find that this place is quite dangerous.”

The three guards bounded towards the princess, who dodged to the side with great speed. The unicorn guard lit up his horn and blasted a beam of magic, which hit Luna in the side and slammed her against a wall. She maintained her posture and charged her own magic into her horn.


The three guards stared at her, their eyes glowing green. “Sorry, Princess, but your orders mean nothing anymore,” one of the bat-ponies said, pulling a rolled up scroll from his armor, the seal on it clearly broken. He lifted the scroll up in front of the unicorn guard, who shot the paper with magic, reducing it to ash.

“You’re too close to the truth, just like Twilight Sparkle,” a voice from the hallway said. “And just like Twilight Sparkle, you’ll have to be removed… at least until the time is right.”

Princess Cadence stepped into the room and slowly approached Luna.

“Princess Mi Amore Cadenza!” Luna shouted, becoming enraged. “What is the meaning of this?”

Cadence’s eyes glowed green and she smiled at Luna. “Sorry,” she said. “Wrong pony.” A flash of green magical fire erupted from floor to ceiling where Cadence stood. After it subsided, Chrysalis stood before Luna, laughing.

“A changeling!” Luna gasped, backing away a few steps. “What do you want from us? Why are you impersonating Princess Cadence?”

“Oh, dearest Luna,” Chrysalis said calmly. “I thought we were closer than that. I thought we were kindred spirits, and that you would at least understand us.”

“Perhaps in the past I tried to stand up for your kind, but I can not stand for such possibly treasonous acts! Speak quickly if you do not act in malice, and we may yet forgive your transgressions,” Luna responded.

Chrysalis laughed and walked closer to Luna. “Treason? Forgive me, Princess, but I do not seek your forgiveness, nor could this be considered treason. You’re no ruler of mine,” she said. “Furthermore, you really don’t remember, do you? You don’t know who I am, but I know you ever so well.” Chrysalis’ horn lit up with green magic, and at the same moment, a flash of green magic erupted from Luna’s chest. The princess turned her head down towards it, staring in horror. She glared up at Chrysalis.

“What have you done to me?” Luna asked, her voice full of pain as she strained to speak.

“What haven’t I done to you?” Chrysalis said, laughing. “You’re still so naïve, even after a thousand years… and just like a thousand years ago, you’ll be the key to Equestria’s downfall.”

Luna fell to the ground, her strength draining from her rapidly. Her eyes became heavy, and she felt herself drifting out of consciousness. The last thing she saw was the changeling queen’s smiling face staring down at her.

“Nighty-night, Princess,” Chrysalis said.

The scene went black, and Luna bowed her head in shame. “I couldn’t stop her. I was careless,” she said. She raised her gaze towards Celestia, holding back tears from her eyes. “Forgive me, sister. I should not have acted alone. It was arrogant and irresponsible.”

Celestia shook her head. “Little sister, we all made mistakes. This outcome was probably unavoidable.”

“I’m confused,” Twilight spoke up. “What did you mean when you said you’d stood up for the changelings in the past? I’d never read about--”

“That is a story best kept for another time, Twilight,” Celestia quickly interrupted. Her eyes locked with Twilight’s, which were glowing with curiosity. She narrowed her own and shook her head briefly before turning back to her sister. “More importantly, do you know what she meant by you not remembering, Luna?”

Luna lifted her head back up and sighed. “I still do not understand that, or the magic she used to subdue me. Regardless,” she continued, “I was captured and thrown into this dream world, and was forced to face something I never thought could threaten me again.”

“Nightmare Moon,” Twilight said, her eyes narrowing.

The watery circle next to Luna rippled, the image upon it becoming distorted for a moment, and then calming again. Nightmare Moon appeared upon the surface now, laughing and pulsating with dark magic.

“We all have our inner demons, some of us more so than others. In your journey, you may have seen first-hoof just how horrible the mind can be,” she said. Fluttershy nodded her head and frowned as she remembered her nightmarish dream world. “My inner demon is this creature, this alternate version of myself, Nightmare Moon. Born of jealousy, hatred, and a lust for power, Nightmare Moon is the embodiment of all my worst thoughts and feelings.

“I suppose I should explain, although it pains me to say it, especially to some of the very ponies who freed me from my dark side,” Luna said, then closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. “Nightmare Moon was never truly defeated. From the very first night of my return to Equestria, though not every night, I’ve had vivid nightmares in which she haunts me, chasing me down, swearing that she will return. Sometimes I could defeat her in the dream. Sometimes…” The watery screen flashed with scenes of Nightmare Moon chasing Luna, and even fighting her. The scene changed over and over, and eventually stayed on the image of Luna as a foal, cowering in a corner as the shadow of Nightmare Moon overtook her.

Celestia placed a hoof over her mouth, and the others all gasped as the scene faded out. Luna opened her eyes again, their whites faintly shining. “We were evenly matched, and she has never been able to gain control again. In the past two months, I had even been able to eliminate her from my dreams entirely. However, it seems to have been all for nothing.”

“But, princess,” Fluttershy said quietly, visibly shaken from the news and the imagery. “Isn’t Nightmare Moon just a part of you? Can you not just make her go away again?”

“It would seem not. Even worse, this is a dream that I cannot wake up from, and it is also a dream that is connected to hundreds of other dreams. Here, within the web of dreams that the changelings have created, Nightmare Moon has returned and is more powerful than ever.”

“Ridiculous!” Linnai said loudly. “Even if what you say is true, everything in this dream world is contained!”

Mulcibar nodded his head. “It’s true, we were among the ones who were, and are still, holding you captive inside your cocoon, Luna,” he said. “She can’t possibly go out into other dreams, even if these others have been able to!”


Mulcibar and Linnai instinctively lurched backwards, their ears pressing down against their heads. Luna’s eyes returned to normal and she took another deep breath.

“She has been here within this prison of the mind the whole time, indeed,” Luna explained, “but every pulse of magic that you take and convert, she has laced with her dark magic. You’ve been aiding her this whole time, and you had no idea! Do you not see the truth? I say this not in arrogance since it was my other half who conceived this plan, but as a warning! You and your kind are nothing but pawns in her game! You’ve practically handed Equestria to her!”

Mulcibar’s eyes narrowed in thought, but Linnai fell to the floor with laughter. “Pawns? To ponies?” she managed to get out between fits. “We would quickly put her in her place if she so much as tried to stand against us! Our queen is powerful and gaining more power every minute! That power will be spread to all of us, and we will be unstoppable!”

Luna shook her head. “If you face her and have thoughts such as those, they shall be the last thoughts you ever have,” she said. “It is taking all the power I can muster to merely keep her out of this small section of my dream, and that’s after she’s been sending magic out to the other dreams.”

Linnai scoffed. “Her lucidity is just--” she started, but was snapped to a stop by her brother’s hoof pressing to her lips. She glared at him.

“Let her continue,” Mulcibar said, and then leaned in, pressing his lips to Linnai’s ear, whispering “We are clearly at their mercy right now, so let us see what we can gleam from her story. Our moment to act comes with time.”

Luna eyed Mulcibar suspiciously, but nodded her head. “From the moment I entered my dream world, I knew something was wrong. I tried to wake myself, but it was not possible. I knew I had to come up with an escape plan as quickly as possible. I could feel my magic being leeched out of me. Using my lucidity, I scanned my dream, and immediately noticed the immensity of it,” she said. The shining image beside her showed her teleporting all over Equestria, from Canterlot, to Ponyville, to the Everfree Forest, to the badlands in the south, to the frozen north. “I determined that magic was holding me in a state of sleep. I could detect no exit from the dream world. Briefly, I considered drastic action, wondering if suicide may be the only way to jolt myself to waking.” The scene showed Luna standing at the top of the tall mountain that Canterlot was built into the side of, staring down at the distant ground below.

“Fortunately, at that moment, a gleam of pink light from the south caught my eye. I felt the presence of something strange coming from Ponyville, and travelled there as fast as I could,” she continued, and the scene beside her flashed as she shot through the sky like a shooting star.

“Pinkie Pie!” Luna said with surprise as she landed on the balcony of Sugarcube Corner. She stared at the pink earth pony, squinting slightly as barely visible particles of pink magic glistened around her.

“Princess! Thank goodness you finally came!” Pinkie responded as she walked to the edge of the balcony and pointed a hoof down at a pair of ponies walking through the street. “There’s something wrong with everypony. I don’t know what the deal is! It’s hard to explain, but they all seem… empty, somehow.”

Luna looked down at the ponies below and nodded her head. “Pinkie, if you can tell the difference between them and you, or I, then you must be some sort of anomaly,” she said calmly, and Pinkie tilted her head with confusion. Luna turned to Pinkie and raised her hoof in front of her. “You may be my key to finding the way. Pinkie Pie, I need your help. Close your eyes and concentrate. This may feel strange, but you have to believe me. All of Equestria is in danger.”

Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it sounds serious. We should go get Twilight and the others!” she suggested.

“No!” Luna replied quickly. “It must be you, Pinkie Pie! You have a strange energy swirling all around you. I must delve into that energy and and see if it leads me to a way out. There is no further time to explain!” Luna’s horn glowed, and a bright pink aura lit up around Pinkie Pie, revealing a trail of magic particles flying up to the sky and into a larger, barely visible stream of energy. Luna stared up at it, and Pinkie Pie pointed her hoof upward.

“What is that? What’s going on?” she asked, smiling brightly at the colorful display. Luna did not answer, but instead latched onto Pinkie’s front right foreleg and took to the sky, pulling the pink pony along with her. She sped through the air along the magic trail, weaving her way down towards the Everfree Forest, landing at the statue of Nightmare Moon. A jewel upon the statue’s chest glowed with dark power. Pinkie looked around, seemingly unaffected by the whole situation, and smiled brightly. “That was fun! Can we do it again?”

Luna shook her head and shot a small blast of energy into the jewel on the statue. A rip in the fabric of reality spread open before her, and on the other side, she saw the room in which her cocoon hung, a circle of changelings around her concentrating and chanting dark incantations. Her ears twitched as the words of their spells entered them, and her eyes shot open wide.

“This can not continue!” Luna gasped. She turned to Pinkie Pie and pointed towards the rift. “Pinkie Pie, I know this is probably rather confusing for you, but what I am about to tell you is the frightening truth. Equestria has been invaded by beings known as changelings. They have a sordid past with Equestria, and had vanished before the time when I was banished to the moon. To see them now, and like this, is truly a dark matter. They have trapped me within a dream world, here inside my mind. You are part of my dream, but one that seems to be ever so important. I must find and awaken my sister and Twilight, as well as the other bearers of the Elements of Harmony. Because of this, I must leave here, but you must serve a vital role and protect this statue. Nopony may come near it. Do you understand?”

Pinkie Pie nodded her head slowly and put a hoof to her chin. “So, if this is a dream, then it should be no problem for me to create, say… a giant banana split!” she said, and then waved her hooves in front of her. When nothing appeared, she frowned and sighed.

Luna shook her head. “You don’t believe us, do you?” she asked despondently. “Well, let’s make this just a bit easier, then.” Luna’s horn began to glow and her eyes lit up. A flash shot through the air in a circle all around the two ponies. Luna lowered her horn and touched it to Pinkie’s forehead.

What happened? Pinkie’s voice projected outward, audible to the viewers of the scene, though her lips were not moving.

I’ve connected us, Luna’s voice responded. You are part of my dream, so giving us this sort of link is a simple task. We’ve no time to waste. Can I trust you to guard this statue and alert me of anything that approaches?

I guess so, Pinkie thought, lifting a hoof up to her head and lightly knocking on the side of it. This is so strange, but I guess this being a dream would explain why everypony seemed so different in town.

Very well. As a precautionary measure, I’ve placed a barrier around this place that will cause any creature that comes near it to actively choose to change their heading to avoid it, as well, Luna thought, and then turned toward the statue. She looked over her shoulder at Pinkie, who had taken a seat on the ground and had a ponderous look in her eyes. I shall return as soon as I am able.

“Hey, Princess Luna,” Pinkie said out loud, looking up at the alicorn as she was about to pass through the rift. “If this is a dream, and everypony is different… why am I not like them, too?”

Luna paused, her lips parting, but words unable to form behind them. Indeed, I do not know the reason behind this anomaly, she thought, forgetting that Pinkie could hear her.

It’s okay, Pinkie thought in response. You have to go help our friends! I hope I get to meet them. I mean, when I think about it, I realize that I don’t even know them! I just know we’re friends, and that thought fills me with such warmth. Please, Princess, you have to help them!

Luna smiled. You may be even braver than I, to face that fact. Stay strong, Pinkie Pie. And remember, if anything happens, shout as loudly as you can in your mind. I shall hear you. With that, she began to step through the rift and out into the stream of consciousness. A flash of purple sparked from the sky, and Luna looked back over her shoulder, pausing once more.

What was that? It was faint, but… she pondered. After a moment she turned her head forward once more, and fully exited her dream world, leaving Pinkie Pie to stand guard. These dreams are seeded with such a mixture of magic, there’s no telling what I just sensed. I should hurry!

Luna looked down at Twilight. “As you know, after I left my dream world, I made an unsuccessful attempt at waking you, Twilight. The trace of strange magic I had felt upon leaving my dream world had been Nightmare Moon appearing and then following me out,” she said. “We were caught by the changeling defense spell and pulled back into my mind. What I found there, upon returning, was a land ravaged by dark magic.” She waved her hoof in front of the floating magic beside her, and the image changed to show the landscape around the statue where Luna had left Pinkie Pie. The trees had been blasted away, nothing but stumps of shattered wood left. The grass was withered and gray, mostly reduced to ash. Pinkie Pie was laying on the ground, her body blackened and burned, and her breathing stopped.

“Pinkie!” Luna shouted and charged towards the still pony, sliding to a stop beside her. She knelt down and put her ear against Pinkie’s muzzle. “Why didn’t you call for me? I can’t believe that Nightmare Moon… that I… would do this.” She shut her eyes tightly, tears pushing their way out from the corners.

“I swear, whatever it is you are planning, it will not succeed!” Luna shouted loudly, clutching Pinkie Pie in an embrace and pulling her close. “Do you hear me? You will fail! Just like you always have!”

Not always, a voice whispered into Luna’s ear. Luna twisted her head around, but nothing was there. She quickly turned her attention back to Pinkie Pie and began to channel magic into the faded pink body.

Come on, Pinkie! she thought, lightly shaking her. We have to get moving! I can feel a dark presence closing in on us!

Closing in on you? the voice whispered in Luna’s ear. I’ve been with you for over a century. We are the closest of partners, you and I.

Luna wrapped her front right foreleg around Pinkie Pie tightly and stood up, continuing to channel magic into her. Dark clouds formed overhead, and lightning streaked between them. Luna’s heart raced. “Pinkie Pie!” she shouted. “Wake up this instant!”

Pinkie Pie gasped for breath, and her eyes shot open. She stared blankly into the dark sky above, her pupils dilated widely. “Just... five more... minutes,” she said as she caught her breath.

“Sorry, but I don’t think we have that much time!” Luna responded.

A dark shadow shot down from the sky and covered the place they stood in blackness.

Corruption Ch 3 - Fracture

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Book Four: Corruption

Chapter Three - Fracture

The scene faded to black, and remained that way for a moment.

“We know that’s not how it ended,” Sweetie Belle finally spoke up. “You’re here with us now, so you must have escaped.”

“Yeah, tell us what happened next,” Scootaloo added and jumped up to her hooves. “Did you have an epic battle?”

Luna managed to smile down at the fillies. “I’m glad you’re all paying attention, because the next part of this tale is important,” she said, and pointed her hoof towards the floating screen. “Honestly, I was even surprised by it.”

The scene flashed with bright pink magic. The darkness that had enveloped everything was blasted away, and Pinkie Pie stood beside Luna, now as a pink alicorn. The two of them stared across the barren wasteland at Nightmare Moon, whose piercing stare was aimed directly at the former earth pony.

“What are you?” Nightmare Moon growled, her voice full of anger.

Pinkie Pie smiled and set her horn aglow. “I’m Pinkie Pie!” she responded cheerfully, and then suddenly took on a serious expression. “Other than that, I have no idea. I just knew I had to repay Princess Luna since she helped me, and the only way to do it was to use magic. So I did!” She turned her head towards Luna as she spoke.

Luna glanced at Pinkie, but kept her attention firmly locked on Nightmare Moon. “You must have somehow used all the magic I just poured into you to transform,” she said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing happening. Because of it, we stand a fighting chance.”

Luna tapped her hoof against the screen and the scene froze. “I should explain, now. It seems that my intuition about Pinkie Pie had been correct. She was indeed an anomaly, as you can see. Dreams often have aspects that are strange, that don’t fit with the rest of the dream. I’ve never seen an anomaly like Pinkie Pie, though,” she said.

“Actually, Princess,” Twilight interrupted. “So far, Pinkie has been like that in every dream we’ve visited.” Luna blinked and furrowed her brow in thought.

“It’s true,” said Celestia. “I detected Pinkie as an anomaly within Twilight’s dream as soon as I entered it, and found that she was a marvelous conduit for magical power. She has been instrumental in our success, and is a key part to our strategy if this ‘rule of Pinkie’ holds true.”

“We’ve got this little pink gem, we can use it to communicate with all the other Pinkies we’ve met, among other things,” Twilight said, rooting around in her saddle bag. “Or… we did have it. Oh no, did I drop it?” She rummaged around desperately.

“There’s no reception in here, though!” said Pinkie. Everyone turned and looked at her. She had the pink gem in her ear, and she was tapping against it, a look of concentration across her face. “Helloooooo! Moonbase Pinkie to other Pinkies! Do you read me, other Pinkies?”

Twilight looked at her saddle bag, then back at Pinkie. “When did you…?” she asked. Pinkie just giggled in response and winked. “Nevermind. Princess, the point is that if Pinkie ends up being like this in all the dreams…” she started, but then trailed off, spotting the changelings sitting off to the side.

Luna blinked with confusion. “Yes? What of it?” she asked. Twilight nodded her head towards Linnai and Mulcibar, and Luna turned her gaze toward them. Linnai rolled her eyes and sighed while Mulcibar stared back calmly. “Yes, I see. I shall continue my story, in any case.” She swiped her hoof in front of the magic screen and the image upon it zapped into motion again.

“Although there’s not much more to tell,” Luna narrated as the screen showed a barrage of magical blasts between Nightmare Moon, Pinkie, and herself. “Even though it was two of us against one of her, we were evenly matched, unable to gain any ground. However, something strange happened that ended the battle.”

The scene showed a sudden jolt of magic sweeping across the sky. Like a storm had abruptly formed, lightning blazed down and struck Nightmare Moon. Her eyes erupted in a red glow and she vanished from sight.

“I didn’t see her again for several days within this dream world, but I knew that she was not truly gone. I could sense her, and I knew that I had to stay here as her jailer, keeping her from going out to other dreams. It wasn’t until she reappeared that I sensed what she had been up to,” Luna explained. “As you know, she and I are like two sides of the same coin. We are connected, and if I wished it, I could have communicated with her, just like she could communicate with me… and that she did. I am not sure why she told me as much as she did, but listen to her own voice as she reveals her plan. This, my little ponies and changelings, is the important information that this has all been leading up to.”

Nightmare Moon’s voice echoed across the chamber, a twisted and evil version of Luna’s own.

“You and I will be one again. There is no way for you to stop this now. No way for anypony to stop it. These changelings should never have meddled with Equestria, not while you and I still lived. After tonight, a new era will begin, led by us! Nopony can not stop us! The only things in this world that can rival our power are the Elements of Harmony, and after tonight, there will be nopony to wield them!”

“What have you done!?” Luna’s voice shouted. Nightmare Moon laughed loudly in response.

“Let’s just say after tonight, they’ll be having a nice, quiet nap! Permanently!”

“She spoke no more words, but she didn’t need to. Our minds were one, and I knew what she had planned -- I saw it all. If her release of magic into the dream worlds goes unchecked, the bearers of the Elements of Harmony will be trapped in eternal sleep.”

“Eternal sleep?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“So her plan is to put us into comas?” Twilight questioned, her expression having hardened with fear. “Would we keep dreaming? How would we know if we’d been put into a coma?”

Luna shook her head. “Have any of you received a fatal wound and lived through it?” she asked.

Twilight’s heart sank. “I have,” she said quietly. “Not that long ago, either. But, it was from one of the changelings. Does that matter?”

Luna sighed. “It may. I can only hope that it does. For all of our sakes, the Elements of Harmony must be available to be used.”

Discord threw his arms into the air in frustration. “You’re telling me!” he said loudly, his eyes twitching. “Imagine if I’d helped you all out and had to mind-meld with Celestia for nothing!”

“Calm down, Discord!” Celestia shouted. “There’s no point in getting up in arms about it now!”

Discord sighed and flopped to the ground. I’d turn into a puddle of goo at this point if I could, he thought. At least the mind-meld is broken in here so she can’t hear me wallowing. I can just hear what she’d say...

Has it really been all that bad? Celestia's voice rang out in Discord’s mind. Do you hate helping us that much?

Oh, leave me alone, he thought and sighed.

“Even if she were to succeed, she’d have to deal with Cloudsdale’s considerable military might,” Celestia said. “Surely she’s considered that.”

“I would assume so, though I am not certain,” Luna responded. “This chamber blocks all magic other than my own, and that includes her magic and my link to her. However, I would think she has a plan for that if it happens.”

“So there’s truly no way but to fight her?” Celestia asked.

“Yes, but it will be dangerous. I felt some of her magic when we opened this place to let you in. She’s used her lucidity to change the rules outside, so to speak. I am not certain of all the conditions she’s set, but one hit me very fast: the essence of mortality.”

Fluttershy hid her face beneath her wings and Twilight looked toward the ground. “What does that mean?” Twilight asked. “The essence of mortality?”

“It means we can die out there, you idiot,” Linnai said with frustration. “The stakes are higher than ever. We set hoof out there, and it’s our real lives on the line.”

“Is that true?” Twilight asked, two of the three Cutie Mark Crusaders now huddling beneath her, along with Fluttershy. Luna nodded her head.

“You can count us out,” Linnai said with certainty. “We didn’t come here to die!”

“You were plenty bloodthirsty before,” Twilight snapped. “Besides, nopony is asking for your help!”

“Calm thyself, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said. “Save your strength.” Twilight hung her head back down again and took a deep breath.

A quiet voice broke the silence. Sweetie Belle, the only one of the Crusaders who was still standing normally, looking up at Luna, spoke up. “This probably isn’t important, but if this place blocks all magic, how did we talk to you in our dream, Princess?” she asked. Celestia and Twilight blinked and tilted their heads, staring down at the filly. “Sorry, I’ll be quiet now. It’s not important.”

Luna stepped forward and down from the platform she had been standing upon, gazing down at the filly. “No, child, you’re right. That is one mystery I have not pondered since it happened. Tell me, what happened when you were able to speak to me?” she asked, looking down at Sweetie Belle seriously.

“Well, we had these strange glowing emblems on our chests, and…” Sweetie Belle started nervously as Princess Luna reached a shaking hoof out towards her chest. “Later on, they turned into these pendants. They let us use magic, even Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. It was different from the lucidity.”

“They almost looked like the Elements of Harmony,” Twilight added. “The pendants were made of glowing gemstones with dark metal necklaces… not golden like the Elements, and the power they made felt different.”

Luna pushed her hoof gently against Sweetie Belle’s chest. An explosion of magic streamed out of the filly with vibrant intensity, flooding the chamber with bright, colorful light. The other two crusaders reacted similarly, their power pouring out, filling the air with their auras. Everypony looked around in awe. Twilight , Celestia, and Luna stared down at Sweetie Belle, whose eyes were now tightly shut and her horn glowing brightly.

Luna took a step back nervously and shook her head. “This is impossible. No magic should be usable in here but my own,” she said, then bringing a hoof up and placing it against her forehead. “What… is this? My head! My head is pounding!”

Celestia leapt towards Sweetie Belle and ducked down in front of her. “Sweetie Belle, please, try to grasp the power like you did before,” she said calmly, though her eyes were anything but calm.

“I can’t!” Sweetie Belle howled loudly.

“It’s too much! It won’t stop!” Scootaloo cried, tears pouring from her eyes as the magic burst outward uncontrollably.

“What sort of marvelous power is this?” a voice screeched, filling the room. “Your little sanctuary is breached!”

“Nightmare Moon!” Twilight shouted, looking up at Luna who was now fighting against the flow with her own magic, but it only seemed to be adding to the effect.

“No!” Luna screamed, staring wide-eyed down at the foals before her. “How can this be? How can you three be wielding my magic? How have you come to possess this power?”

Nightmare Moon’s laughter echoed across the chamber. “How, indeed! And yet, there they are! My little fillies, you shall be the bringers of my ultimate triumph!”

“Stop them!” Linnai screeched, jumping towards the center of the group and right at Sweetie Belle. Mulcibar reached a hoof out to try and stop her, but it was too late.

“Don’t you touch her!” Twilight yelled, jumping towards Linnai with her front right hoof pulled back, ready to strike.

“ENOUGH FROM ALL OF YOU!” Luna shouted at the top of her lungs, then firing a massive blast of energy out in all directions. The magic pushed outward, forcing everypony to the ground.

Celestia pulled herself up to her hooves and took a step towards her sister. “Luna, you have to let us help! You have to disable the magic cancellation spell!”

“She’ll get in here within seconds of that happening! And those changelings will regain their power, too!”

Celestia placed a hoof against her sister’s shoulder and leaned her head towards her. “Then we’ll have to deal with it all in a matter of seconds,” she said, her eyes burning as she stared at Luna.

Luna nodded her still-pounding head, and with a flash and a sound like howling wind, the magic cancellation field vanished. Celestia and Twilight’s horns lit up immediately, and they concentrated their power on the Crusaders. Luna did the same, but glanced over at the two changelings. Linnai had stood up and was looking back at her brother, who was channeling bright blue magic into the glowing gem at the base of his horn.

“Come on, Crusaders,” Twilight said. “Try again! Try to get ahold of it now that the magic field is down!” The three crusaders were straining as hard as they could, concentrating on the power that was still flying freely from their chests.

Pinkie smiled and lit her horn up as well. A staticy voice began to shout at her from somewhere, and she remembered the communication gem was in her ear now. Her eyes rolled upward as the tiny voice spoke to her.

Linnai grinned and turned her gaze back towards the other ponies. She walked calmly towards her brother. “You were right, Mulci. Our time to act has come, now,” she said. The gem at the base of her horn shone a bright red color. "Let's get out of here! Let them deal with the Nightmare!"

Mulcibar shook his head and stepped forward, pushing a hoof into Linnai’s side. He glanced at her as he passed. “You never did know how to play the long game,” he spoke calmly. He walked right up to the group of ponies who were concentrating on containing the magical outburst and joined them in their effort.

Linnai’s jaw gaped open and her eyes burned with anger. She screamed and let loose a blast of magic straight towards the ceiling, but with a flash, Discord appeared in it’s path. With a snap of his fingers, the blast vanished.

“Temper, temper!” he said. “No need to bring down the house.”

Linnai glared up at Discord, then looked back at Mulcibar. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she muttered under her breath. Discord appeared beside her and sighed.

“You’re telling me,” he replied.

The magic pouring out of the Crusaders died down to a small trickle. Nearly 30 seconds had passed, and Luna was beginning to look worried. Her eyes darted around the room, her ears twitched, and the glow of her horn grew brighter than before.

With a squelching sound, the magic finally shot back into the Crusaders, and their pendants from the previous dream formed around their necks. The jewels on each chain still glowed brightly with power.

“I think that does it,” Twilight said, breathing heavily.

“Indeed!” Luna shouted, and her horn burst outward, putting the magic dampening field in place once more.

However, just a second later, it happened.

Like a surge of water, a massive blast of red and purple energy crashed outward from the Crusaders. The fillies screamed in pain. Everypony was blasted away by the force. The walls of the chamber cracked and the ceiling began to give way.

Nightmare Moon’s voice once again filled the sanctuary.

“You fools can no longer stop me! I’ve not the slightest clue how it happened, but those three fillies are absolutely full of your magic! Our magic! Like a bridge through your forcefield, I can push my way in no matter what you do!”

The building exploded outward, boulders and shards of stone flying out across the dark landscape at the bottom of the crater. A ball of dark magic formed around the area and compressed, pulling everypony in and eventually forming into a sphere in which they were all trapped. The sphere rose slowly into the air, and Nightmare Moon descended from the sky to meet it.

“This is the end! The end of the elements! The end of Celestia’s reign! The end of the changeling invasion!” she howled, her face filled with demented joy and her fangs dripping with saliva. The sphere began to compress. “I’ll crush you all into a pulp! Only you will be spared, precious Luna. You and I will have so much fun after this, trust me!”

“Fight it!” Luna shouted, her horn glowing with power. “We have to stand together against her!”

“I… I can’t!” Twilight said, struggling to channel any magic into her own horn at all.

“Oh my gosh oh my gosh!” Fluttershy cried.

Discord’s face drooped as he frowned, snapping his fingers to no effect but a flash of light. “this can’t be how it ends!” he said angrily.

“You will never win! Outside of this dream world, you will be crushed!” Linnai screamed at Nightmare Moon, who responded with more laughter.

Mulcibar frowned and turned his head down towards the three fillies who were huddled together in the center of the ever compressing magical sphere. He raised an eyebrow as he noticed their pendants glowing brighter and brighter.

Pinkie Pie noticed the glowing pendants as well and slid down the inner sphere towards the girls. She put her forelegs around Scootaloo and nodded her head. “Yeah, they’re still glowing real bright!” she said as if she were responding to someone. “Well okay, that’s worth a try. Makes sense to me!”

Pinkie Pie pushed her head in the middle of the three fillies and began to speak to them. The ever-growing glow from their pendants had now attracted everypony’s attention, and they all stared down at them, observing Pinkie’s seemingly calm demeanor as she spoke unheard words.

“Princess, you were right!” Apple Bloom finally shouted as the sphere had shrunk to the size where everypony was beginning to touch one another.

“We’re gonna fight for Equestria!” Scootaloo shouted.

“That’s right! Get ready, girls!” Sweetie belle said. “Go!”

The three Crusaders began to glow with magic, their whole bodies radiating colorful light. The shrinking sphere ceased its advance and began to change color from red to a lighter purple.

“What are you doing!?” Nightmare Moon yelled at the fillies.

In the distance, seemingly miles away, a pillar of pink light shot up from the ground and into the sky. Shortly after, an orange pillar appeared, and then a yellow one shot up as well. The sky lit up brightly with the magical energy and the sphere changed completely to light purple, and then began to lose all color, turning a brilliant white.

“Girls, what’s going on?” Twilight asked, her horn now glowing much more brightly.

“It was the only way,” Pinkie said, her eyes closing. “If these girls have the same magic as Luna and Nightmare Moon, then they should be able to nullify their magic by pumping out as much of their own as possible.”

Celestia gasped. “But that comes with a price, Pinkie Pie!” she shouted.

Pinkie nodded her head. “It was the only way,” she replied.

Princess Luna, a look of pure fear on her face, stopped channeling magic into her horn and wrapped her forelegs around Celestia and Discord. “Brace yourselves!” she called out. “This is not going to be pleasant!”

“What’s going to happen?” Fluttershy asked nervously as Twilight grabbed ahold of her.

With a deafening bang, the sphere exploded, and everypony shot out in all different directions with a cacophony of screams. They flew into the sky, blazing through the air at high speed. Bright streaks of magic trailed behind them, giving them the appearance of comets sailing through the night.

Nightmare Moon scowled and shot straight up into the air. The pillars of light that had appeared earlier had faded, and the others had been shot miles away by now. She growled deeply at the bottom of her throat.

“If any of you somehow survive, make no mistake, I will find you all. Mark my words, you will not make it out of this world alive!”

Princess Celestia awoke with a start. She shot up to her hooves, visions of her flying through the air uncontrollably flashing through her head, as well as the orange pegasus she had been cradling in her forelegs as she flew. She now found herself standing on a large cloud. She looked around in a panic.

“Scootaloo!” she called out, and then spotted the foal a short distance from her, sleeping peacefully enough on the cloud. She walked to her to make sure she was okay, and then proceeded out to the edge of the cloud. Looking down, she saw the city of clouds stretching out before her.

“Cloudsdale,” she said to herself. “I suppose it could have gone much worse."

She turned her gaze toward the moon. “Be safe, sister. I hope everypony is okay. We have no time to waste,” she said to herself, turning her head to look back at Scootaloo. “We must find one another again and take a stand against Nightmare Moon. There truly is no other way.”

Luna quickly realized she couldn’t breathe. Her ears were ringing, her body was cold, and she felt pain the likes of which she was not used to experiencing within a dream -- unless Nightmare Moon was involved.

Nightmare Moon! she thought. Her eyes shot open, and she finally realized she was underwater, and sinking. Before she could even start to cast a spell, she felt the grip of a taloned hand around her left foreleg. The claw pulled her upward with great speed, and she crested the water’s surface. Luna gasped for breath and blinked her eyes. She saw Discord floating above the water in front of her and felt the claw release her leg. It floated through the air back to Discord’s arm and reattached itself.

After coughing up water for a moment, the princess regained her composure and considered Discord, looking directly at his face. “Thank you for thy assistance, Discord,” she said, formally.

Discord sighed. “Don’t get used to it,” he said, then snapped his fingers. A raft appeared on the surface of the water, and he and the princess teleported onto its surface.

“Do you have any idea where we are?” Luna asked, repositioning herself on the raft.

Discord nodded his head. “From what I can tell, we’re in the ocean to the west. I spotted land due east from up high, doesn’t look like very forgiving territory. I’d say it’s the San Palomino Desert, if I’m not mistaken.”

Luna gasped. “We’ve been shot that far off?”

“Couldn’t you tell? It’s your dream world, after all. By all means, whenever you’re ready, use your lucidity to get us someplace more civilized.”

Luna closed her eyes. She tried to concentrate, tried to sense her dream around her, but something was stopping her. “I can not,” she said sadly. “There’s something wrong. I don’t think it’s from Nightmare Moon this time, either. It’s almost as if… there’s something missing. Something from inside of me.”

“Well, that’s rather inconvenient,” Discord said with a sigh.

“Until I discover what’s wrong, we shall have to press on without.”

“Well, we’re gonna need a bigger boat, then!” Discord said with sudden glee. The raft contorted and transformed into a ship. A pirate flag with Discord’s smiling face on it flew above the main mast. Discord carefully placed a patch over one of his eyes and took hold of the wheel in front of him.

Luna smirked. “Well done, though I question your taste in accessories,” she said. Discord snapped his fingers and a patch eye appeared over Luna’s left eye.

“I don’t know, I think it’s rather stylish!” he said.

This is going to be a long trip, Luna thought. At least his magic is powerful, and similar enough to lucidity. We should be able to face any danger that we encounter.

Discord turned the wheel and whistled. “You know, I was upset at first, but this is just fantastic!” he said cheerfully. “I never thought I’d end up being shipped with you, Princess Luna!” He turned his head and winked his non-patched eye at her.

Luna smirked and shook her head.

When Twilight came to, she found herself suspended in the branches of a tree. Thick vines hung down from the tree’s limbs, acting as a net. She struggled for a moment before finally freeing herself and dropping down to the ground below. The earth under her feet was soggy and wet, and the smell of peat filled her nostrils.

A swamp, eh? she thought. Where am I? That explosion could have launched me halfway across the continent… it’s amazing I’m in one piece. She looked up to the stars in the sky and used them to orient herself. She began to move northward, going on the assumption that she had been shot to the swamps of the southeast. She heard a snapping twig to her right and stopped suddenly.

“Is somepony there?” she asked quietly, staring into the shadows where the sound had come from. There was no response. She nervously continued walking, casting a light spell on her horn.

From the cover of a thorny bush, a pair of eyes stared out towards Twilight Sparkle. Breathing slowly and quietly through her open mouth, Linnai followed Twilight from a short distance, taking deliberate, careful steps. She seems to know where she’s going, Linnai thought as she stalked. I’d better keep my distance, though. I can’t afford to have her discover me.

As she was thinking, she took another careful breath in through her mouth, and a fly buzzed right in. She choked and wheezed, falling forward into the sludge. Twilight came running, pushing the thorn bush aside with magic. She stared down at the convulsing changeling, a frown forming across her lips.

Linnai continued to hack and pound her hoof against her chest, not even noticing Twilight was standing in front of her. “Blech! No!” she said in a panic, and then finally noticed a purple hoof pressed into the mud in front of her. She slowly tilted her head upward, her eyes tracing the foreleg and body up to Twilight’s scowling face. She scooted back slightly as Twilight unhappily stared back down at her.

“I think I ate a bug,” Linnai managed to say, her voice rasping. Twilight shook her head, turned around, and began to walk away. Linnai stumbled back up to her hooves. “Wait, don’t leave me!” Twilight stopped in her tracks. Linnai cringed.

Spinning around to face the changeling again, Twilight stamped her hoof into the mud. “Why in Equestria would I want to help you?” she asked. “It’s not so nice when the tables are turned, is it? What did you say, again? That we’d be out of our minds if we expected help from the two of you? Well, that’s fine! I don’t want your help, and I don’t want to help you!” She breathed heavily, her mind full of memories of the fight against the changelings in the Crusaders’ dream.

“Look, I know we’ve had some rough patches, but…” Linnai started, but was cut off.

“Rough patches? You nearly killed me! You tried to kill the princess! Who’s out of their mind, now?” Twilight shouted, staring at Linnai and noticing that the gemstone that was normally socketed into her horn was now gone. “So, what now? Now that you don’t have your little magic focusing jewel, all of the sudden you need help?”

Linnai fumed and snapped back. “Yeah, so what? I could still kick your flank, even without it! You should feel honored that I’m choosing to not kill you again!”

Twilight clenched her teeth, her eyes widening in anger. She caught herself, took a deep breath, and sighed. “Just stay away from me,” she said. “And don’t follow me!” She started to walk northward again. After a short distance, she heard a sloshing sound from behind her. She turned and saw Linnai following her.

“What!” Linnai yelled. “I’m not following you! I just happen to be going the same way!”

“Whatever,” Twilight groaned, and continued to trot northward through the swamp. After about a mile, she turned her head back again and saw that Linnai was still following her. “You have wings! Why don’t you just fly away?”

“None of your business!” the changeling snapped.

“And honestly, if you wanted me to help you, why didn’t you disguise yourself as one of my friends? That’s what you changelings do, isn’t it?”

“That’s also none of your business,” Linnai said with a frown. “Besides, you don’t seem like the type to be so easily fooled. You saw through the Queen’s disguise. Why waste the energy?”

Twilight shrugged and started to march on once again, thinking to herself. I don’t like this. She has to be planning something. I can’t let my guard down.

Linnai trailed behind, her eyes locked on Twilight, also thinking to herself. Why did this have to happen to me? Of all the ponies I had to run across, why did it have to be her? I could have manipulated the foals or the yellow one so much more easily. Guess that’s just my luck

“Wake up, Pinkie!” a tiny voice shouted into Pinkie Pie’s ear. She groggily opened her eyes. As they came into focus, she found herself lying in a room on a bed. Broken debris lie all around her, and a hole in the roof above her revealed the starry night sky.

“Where am I?” she said, placing a hoof on her head. Her body ached as she moved.

“I don’t know, but you’re lucky!” the familiar voice said to her. “You went flying and crashed into this house! We tried as best we could to cushion your impact. The fact that you managed to break through a thin-roofed building and land on a bed certainly helped, too!”

“I don’t feel so good,” Pinkie said, rolling onto her side.

“No time to rest, Pinkie. I know just the thing to pep you up, too!”

“Wait!” Another nearly identical voice protested. “We don’t know what will happen. She already has Princess Luna’s magic. Can we really give her Celestia’s magic, too?”

“Is that the other Pinkies?” Pinkie Pie asked, trying to force herself to sit up. “What do you mean give me Celestia’s magic?”

“I don’t know,” one of the other Pinkies responded. “There’s nothing in any of Twilight’s books regarding magical transference from two alicorns.”

“The fact is, we need her in the network. We can’t connect her unless we give her magic that’s on the same wavelength.”

“She’s Luna’s Pinkie, I’m sure it’ll be fine!”

“Do I get a say in this?” Pinkie asked, shaking her head groggily. A second later, she felt a jolt of magic zap across her brain.

I guess not, she thought.

Keep your hooves crossed! A voice shouted inside Pinkie’s mind.

A second later, there was a massive explosion. The building that Pinkie had been in was completely demolished. Debris flew everywhere.

Out at sea, Luna and Discord were sailing toward land in their ship. An explosion of pink magic from the northeast caught their attention. Luna shot to her hooves and stared towards the barely visible city. “We should change course,” she said. “That felt like my sister’s magic.”

Discord nodded. “We’re shipping off to Las Pegasus! Set sail!” he cheered.

Fluttershy awoke in a dim place, lying upon a pile of hay. Searing pain shot through one of her hind legs, and she cringed in response. Looking around, she spotted light coming through an opening just to her side. She crawled with her forelegs toward the light. As she pulled herself away from the hay pile, she felt a ground made of cold, damp rock underneath her.

This is some sort of cave. I have to figure out where I am. Have to find the others, she thought.

She pushed her head through the opening and into a large cavern. The light was coming from a flickering fire to her right. The heat coming from the flames was soothing, despite the incredible pain in her right hind leg. She turned her head to look at the fire, thinking to herself, one of my friends must be here with me.

She barely kept herself from gasping as she turned her gaze.

“You…” she said, and then fainted from the pain.

Corruption Ch 4 - Shadows of the Past

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Book Four: Corruption

Chapter Four - Shadows of the Past

Nightmare Moon stood upon a balcony at the top of a high spire in Canterlot, gazing through a telescope, scanning the landscape of Equestria. She pulled her face away from the lens and closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on the fiber of her dream world.

Why can I no longer sense the world around me? What did those fillies do to me? she thought, images of the magic explosion that sent the intruders in her world flying in all directions flashing in her mind. That power they had, it was the same as ours. Whatever they did, they have stolen our lucidity, dear Luna.

She pressed her eye against the telescope’s lens again, slowing panning her view across the western mountains. Swinging the telescope southward, she locked her gaze onto Ponyville. The town was abandoned, no sign of movement. Stopping to look into an open window in a house, a pair of glowing red eyes peered back out at her.

She pulled away from the telescope again and shook her head. They will surely all head back towards Ponyville. If they manage to survive and make it there, they will not live much longer, she thought. I’ll be waiting for you, precious Luna.

Scootaloo sat up and rubbed her eyes. The feeling of a cloud beneath her was both comforting but also unfamiliar after so long. She turned her head and spotted Princess Celestia across the way, gazing down towards the earth. She stood up and felt the weight of her strange pendant swing out from her chest and then back in. She looked down at the shining, flame-shaped jewel, and then started to move towards the princess.

“Princess, where are we?” she asked. Celestia turned her head back and smiled at the filly.

“Cloudsdale,” the alicorn replied. “It’s not the same as you may remember it, though. It seems to be completely abandoned. Hop on my back, we’ll go take a look around.”

Scootaloo felt her legs beginning to tremble and fell backwards onto her rump. Celestia tilted her head slightly and then lifted the pegasus back to her hooves with her magic.

Scootaloo blinked. “I’m pretty hungry,” she said. “I hadn’t noticed. How long was I asleep?”

Celestia lowered her back towards the cloud ground. “Only a couple of hours. Considering the amount of magic you three let out, I figured you might be hungry.”

Scootaloo hopped up to the princess’ back with help from a little levitation spell from the princess and then wrapped her hooves around her neck. “It had been a while since we’d had anything in our dream, too,” she said. “I just hope the others are doing okay.”

Celestia nodded, spread her wings and leapt down, gliding across the expansive city. Directly ahead of her was a palatial structure. “Since this is Princess Luna’s dream, we will head to Stratocumulus Castle, our home here in Cloudsdale. She would be most familiar with it, so it would be the most detailed aspect of this city,” she said.

Scootaloo glanced down at the row of houses to the west of the castle. She swallowed and began to speak. “Can we go to…” she started, but decided not to finish.

Celestia smiled. “You want to see your old home, is that it?” she asked. “Your father still lives in the same place, but I am not sure it will be as you remember it. I don’t think Luna has ever paid him a visit.”

Scootaloo didn’t respond, but the princess banked left anyway, heading towards the large homes that rested against the thick, white walls that surrounded the palace. She landed in front of one particular house that sat roughly in the middle. Scootaloo hopped off Celestia’s back and made her way slowly up the steps. She pushed the door open, revealing a large foyer which led to a living room. There was nothing inside but very basic furniture, the kind you would imagine most ponies would have in their homes. There was nothing anywhere to indicate that she or her parents had lived there.

Celestia followed the filly around and into the kitchen. Scootaloo pulled open the pantry door, revealing a fully stocked set of shelves containing many different kinds of food inside cans and various other containers.

“Well. I guess it makes sense that she’d assume there would be food,” Celestia said. “I’m sorry it’s not like you were expecting, Scootaloo. Ever since what happened in your dream, you must have your father on your mind an awful lot.”

Scootaloo nodded her head. “Do you think the changelings invaded Cloudsdale, too?” she asked as she pulled a can of sliced peaches from the shelf in front of her.

Celestia shook her head. “I couldn’t say, but I would think so,” she said, looking at the child and seeing her worried expression.

“What if I never get to see him again?” Scootaloo asked. She turned towards a drawer and opened it, rummaging around for a can opener. Princess Celestia lifted the can up with her magic and popped the top off. She patted the filly on her head.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” the princess said with a gentle smile. “I know your father. He may be a tad… eccentric,” Celestia started.

“A tad?” Scootaloo asked with disbelief, a slight grin forming upon her lips.

Celestia chuckled. “Okay, more than a tad eccentric,” she continued. “But you know as well as I that he wouldn’t ever roll over that easily. I pity the changelings that try to take him down."

Scootaloo tilted her head back and poured a slice of peach into her mouth from the can. She chewed it, chuckling at Celestia’s statement, and then held the can up to her. Celestia lifted a segment of the light-colored fruit up with her magic and slid it into her mouth.

Suddenly, there was a hissing sound, like steam leaking out from a pressurized pipe. Celestia pulled Scootaloo close and jerked her head around towards the stairs on the other side of the living room.

“What was that?” Scootaloo asked, shaking slightly.

“I don’t know, but I think we should leave now,” Celestia said and then lifted the filly up onto her back. “I’ll grab some other items from the cupboard and then we should go.” She levitated several items out from the shelves and placed them in front of Scootaloo, who then wrapped her forelegs around them.

The hissing came again, even louder this time, and Celestia bolted from the kitchen and through the living room. As she passed the staircase, she glanced up it and saw a pair of burning red eyes staring back at her. She burst out of the doorway and took to the skies, flying faster than before, and heading southward. After a minute, Cloudsdale was left behind them.

“What was it?” Scootaloo asked, shaking slightly. “Did you see anything?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, but I don’t think we should stick around any longer to find out. There’s no telling what may be lurking anywhere in this dream world. I hadn’t considered it, but it’s just like Luna said. Nightmare Moon has done things to this world. We have to keep our guard up.”

The pair of red eyes were still vivid in her mind as she flew. Best not to scare the filly any more than she already is. That wasn’t Nightmare Moon, though. It was something else, Celestia thought. She swooped downward and traveled low to the ground, heading towards the forested foothills of the Unicorn Range as fast as she could. The fact that she hasn’t found us yet is troubling. We shouldn’t be able to hide from her in this world, but all the same, we had best stay hidden. We should avoid places where she might expect us, such as Canterlot or Ponyville. I hope the others think of that as well…

Fluttershy heard the crackling of flames and felt the warmth of a fire against her body. The sensation of pain and itching again entered her mind, and she realized that her back right leg felt cold. She opened her eyes and the light from the nearby fire made her blink a few times. She reached her right foreleg down and touched her hind leg just below her flank. Pain shot through her leg, and she could feel some sort fibrous cloth wrapped around it. She grunted slightly at the sensation. She pulled her hoof back up in front of her face and saw it streaked with blood. She gasped slightly, and then heard movement.

She turned her head towards the sound and saw Mulcibar on the other side of the small campfire standing and looking down at her. “You’re awake again,” he said calmly. “Don’t move around too much. Your leg was gashed open. You were bleeding out pretty badly, especially after the first time you woke up and dragged yourself across the cave.”

Fluttershy turned her head as best as she could and looked down at her leg. It was tightly wrapped in white cloth, with blood seeping through, but not to the point where the bandage was soaking in it. Her mind was so full of fear and confusion, she couldn’t bring herself to speak.

“That’s stopped the bleeding for the most part, but you need to rest and stay still,” the changeling continued, walking around towards the frightened pegasus. He stopped a bit behind her and to the side. “We seem to be safe here for now.”

Shivers went up Fluttershy’s back as she remembered how Mulcibar had spoken to her in the last dream world.

Oh yes, I’d definitely show you a good time, my dear.

Fluttershy pulled her left hind leg tightly up against her body and wrapped her tail closely around her rear.

Mulcibar laughed in response. “Your memory seems to be working, Don’t worry, I’m not so desperate to try anything like what you’re thinking,” he said, and then leaned down, speaking softly just behind her ear. “Not with you injured like that. I’d rather you to thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Fluttershy shook again, goosebumps peppering her neck. Mulcibar laughed and stepped away from her, sitting down in front of the fire a few feet to her left. “Besides, now is hardly the time or place,” he finished.

Fluttershy felt only somewhat more at ease and still kept her guard up. She glanced around the cave, spotting the mouth in the distance. She heard Mulcibar tap his hoof against the ground and turned back to him.

“I wouldn’t go out there. There’s something out there. Many somethings. We’re in a cave in the middle of a forest somewhere, and the forest is full of strange, moving shadows. I imagine Nightmare Moon created them, of course, and I’m sure they aren’t too friendly. I’ve put an illusion up at the cave’s mouth. From the outside, it looks like a sheer rock face. Whatever those things are, they don’t seem to be able to see through it.”

“What happened to me?” Fluttershy managed to ask, her voice nearly a whisper.

“You landed on a sharp bit of tree trunk that was sticking up out of the ground. Your leg was cut, and your flank was impaled where your leg meets it,” he said, and then tapped his hoof against the empty socket at the base of his horn. “Without my focusing gem, I couldn’t do much to heal you, and the large outburst of magic drew the attention of those shadow creatures. You’re lucky I found you when I did, and we’re both lucky this cave was nearby.”

Fluttershy looked toward the ground. She saw that she was lying on a bed of grass and hay. She glanced over at Mulcibar, and he was sitting on the stone ground. Maybe… he’s not such a bad guy after all, she thought. He was so menacing and scary before, but now he’s taking care of me… but why?

As she was thinking, her stomach growled. She felt a pang of hunger, and blushed slightly. “Sorry, I just…” she said, not even sure why she was apologizing.

“I couldn’t scrounge up much food,” Mulcibar said. “Hopefully that’s the sort of thing you would eat.” He slid a piece of wood towards Fluttershy. Lying upon it was an assortment of mushrooms, a pair of yellow apples, and some cleaner hay.

Fluttershy glanced down at the assortment. “Those mushrooms are poisonous,” she said, but reached her head forward and took hold of an apple, biting a big piece out of it. She chewed briefly and swallowed, her stomach now ceasing its complaining. She looked back up at Mulcibar, who had turned his gaze back toward the fire. “Why are you helping me?”

Mulcibar looked back at her and shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked. “You heard Nightmare Moon, we could die for real here. I can’t just let you bleed to death.”

Fluttershy stared at him in awe for a moment. Maybe he really is a good guy. He’s sort of a weirdo, but maybe he was only acting so mean because he had to for some reason, she thought.

He tilted his head upward and continued. “I’m sure we’ll be able to get plenty of love energy from you, so of course I can’t let you die.” He grinned as he spoke and a bit of drool almost escaped the corner of his mouth.

Steam practically shot out from Fluttershy’s ears. Nevermind! She thought. It was stupid of me to even think such a thing!

Mulcibar looked down at Fluttershy’s now strained, angry expression. “Was it something I said?” he asked. “In any case, do try to relax. We don’t need that wound opening back up again. That ‘bandage’ was just a random piece of cloth I found out there.”

Fluttershy finished eating the apple in silence, and then started on the hay. She glared over at Mulcibar, her face seeming to be stuck in that expression. She began to take note of his various features, though admittedly she had never paid much attention to changelings before. She actually found his folded butterfly-like wings lovely. They were dark and covered in blue circles, which seemed to be glowing ever-so-slightly. He sat with a bit of a slouch, and he had barely visible bags under his eyes. He stared towards the mouth of the cave, paying seemingly no attention to Fluttershy at all.

The yellow pegasus sighed. She pushed the makeshift tray of food back towards him. He looks tired and must be hungry, she thought.

“Why don’t you eat something?” Fluttershy asked, trying to sound as unfriendly as she could while offering the changeling the other apple.

Mulcibar glanced down at the food and shook his head. “Didn’t you say the mushrooms were poisonous?”

“I meant the apple…” she said, and then tried to think of something to tack onto the end of her sentence. “m… jerk!”

Mulcibar laughed. “Of course. Sadly, that’s not something I could eat. Rather, it would not help me, and considering your attitude, I have a feeling my next meal is a long way away.”

Fluttershy blinked and then realized what he was saying. They feed on love. How can they even live like that? she thought, her expression softening a bit.

Mulcibar flashed a toothy grin. “Who knows, maybe I’ll grow on you,” he said. “But I can’t do much but keep that forcefield up for now.”

Fluttershy looked back toward the entrance. “How are you doing that? I thought you said you couldn’t use magic without that jewel.”

Mulcibar tapped a hoof against his back. “My illusion magic channels through my wings,” he replied. Fluttershy nodded her head and looked back at his glowing wings.

A high-pitched scream from outside broke the quiet and Mulcibar shot up to his hooves. “Stay here!” he said, not that Fluttershy could move very well if she wanted at this point. The changeling bolted toward the mouth of the cave and leapt out, vanishing from sight into the darkness.

A moment later, there was a series of bright flashes of magic, the same high-pitched scream again, and then another that Fluttershy knew came from Mulcibar. She pushed herself up to her legs with a grunt, balancing on three legs with the fourth hanging somewhat limply. She hobbled toward the entrance, moving slowly. Flashes of magic and sounds of pain and fear continued to come from the forest. Before she could reach the mouth, something barrelled into the cave, crashing right into her and knocking her to the ground.

Fluttershy lifted her head and pushed against the weight that was now lying atop her. It felt warm and furry. She looked down and saw Sweetie Belle, her eyes wide, staring toward the cave entrance, breathing quickly and heavily and speechless with fear.

Outside the cave, just barely visible through the shimmering surface of the illusion spell, several pairs of glowing red eyes shone in the dark of the woods.

“Mulcibar…” Fluttershy said to herself quietly, reaching a hoof out towards the opening.

Twilight Sparkle had been trudging through the swamp for several hours now. Her legs were wet and cold and she was starting to get hungry. There was no apparent end to the swamp in sight. She glanced behind herself for the first time in several miles and saw Linnai still plodding along behind her.

Twilight could see an island of dry land up ahead, the swamp was full of them, though none were ever very large. We’re both starting to move a bit slow. I’ll have to stop to eat and rest soon, she thought, furrowing her brow a bit. Can I trust her to not try something while I’m asleep?

Twilight climbed up the embankment and scoped out the lay of the small piece of land. There was a large mound of solid dirt and rock on the far end. Twilight decided to use that as a piece of protective cover. She began to gather dry sticks and larger pieces of wood together. At this point, Linnai had climbed up to the small island as well and was watching Twilight work. She leaned against a tree right at the island’s edge.

Twilight had finished setting up her fire pile, complete with a couple of large logs of fallen trees that she’d broken into segments with her magic. The flames caught quickly thanks to a fire spell, and now Twilight was starving. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be had in the area. A large patch of thick grass and reeds was nearby. Grass was never Twilight’s favorite, but she would have to make do. She toasted the vegetation over the fire briefly and began to force down the bland, fibrous things.

It’s not the greatest, but at least it’s something, Twilight thought. She looked over at Linnai, who was now piling sticks together. The changeling bucked her back hooves against the tree she was near, knocking more sticks and leaves down, and then piled them together. She looked over at Twilight, her face full of frustration.

Twilight quickly looked away from her. What’s her problem? Twilight thought, then glanced back at her briefly, noticing the empty socket in her horn once again. Oh yeah, I guess that would make it a bit harder. Twilight felt her legs almost start to move on their own to go help her, but she stopped herself.

We’re not on some journey together because we’re friends. I can’t just start helping her, Twilight thought and sat back down in front of her fire. She placed a hoof against her chest where Linnai had put a gaping hole in the previous dream. She felt her heart sink in her chest, all the same as she trained her eyes nervously over towards the changeling and the tiny but ever-growing pile of wood. It’s so hard, though… I’m just not used to being cold to anypony anymore.

After a few more minutes, Twilight heard the sound of two sticks rubbing together. She turned her head towards Linnai’s area and saw the changeling ineffectually trying to ignite some leaves as kindling. Twilight sighed. She’s not going to get anywhere without magic. That kindling is so damp.

Twilight laid down and closed her eyes, but didn’t sleep. The crackling of her fire, along with the sound of Linnai shivering as she scraped her sticks together faster and faster filled her ears. She knew she couldn’t fall asleep until she knew Linnai was.

Suddenly, a loud hissing sound came from Linnai’s direction. Twilight opened one eye to look. Did she get it started? she thought. There was no fire, but Linnai had backed against the tree near her and was staring out into the swamp.

Twilight leapt to her hooves, staring out towards the swamp in the same direction. A dozen red shining eyes stared back at her.

Across the continent, aboard a pirate ship, Princess Luna and Discord sailed north along the coast of the Palomino Desert towards Las Pegasus where they had seen a distant explosion. Neither had spoken in some time, and Discord was becoming antsy.

“So,” he finally said after clearing his throat. “I liked the idea of sailing at first, but couldn’t we just fly? Or teleport?” he pulled his patch eye off and hung it off one of the wheel’s handles.

Princess Luna shook her head. “No, I think it’s best if we stay as low-key as possible. I’ve somehow lost my lucidity, and thus my connection to this world,” she said. “I speculate that Nightmare Moon has likely also lost this connection since she has not sought us out yet.”

“Either that or she’s busy dispatching of our other companions,” Discord suggested.

Luna drooped her head. “I shan’t succumb to such thoughts,” she said. “We must stay positive and find a way out of this. I still have my magic, and you have yours. Together, we are a formidable team.”

Discord detached his arms and left them to handle the wheel while he took a few steps towards Luna and sat down in front of her. “So, since we’ll be sailing for a while now, please do tell me more of this Nightmare Moon persona of yours,” he said. “Remember, I was locked away in stone for the entire incident. Come to think of it, the last place I remember being was in the far south where you and your sister faced me down.”

“Yes, you were first moved to our old castle so we could keep an eye on you, and then I suppose sister moved you again to Canterlot,” Luna replied.

“Yes, It was quite a shock to find myself in that garden when those three fillies woke me up,” Discord mused. “Ever wonder how on earth those three managed to free me? Oh, of course you hadn’t, you had more to worry about. Anyway, please do tell about Nightmare Moon.”

Luna blinked in thought for a moment at Discord’s question. How did that happen, anyway? she thought, an odd feeling of cold spreading through her briefly. She shook her head and shivered slightly.

“There is not much to tell,” the princess began. “She came into being not long after we’d defeated you, honestly. In the years after that, my heart began to grow colder and colder rather suddenly. Twas my own foolish thoughts that dragged me into a pit of depression and anger.”

“And you just… transformed into this other mare?” Discord asked, propping his chin against one of his stump arms. “How fascinating, though bizarre.”

“What are you implying?” Luna asked, slightly annoyed, but also perplexed.

“Oh well, I don’t know, I wasn’t there to witness any of this, but,” he said, pausing a moment and turning his eyes skyward. “I’ve just never heard of anypony going through such a transformation just from a little mood swing.”

“A little mood swing?” Luna scoffed. “You can not imagine the depths I fell! The thoughts I had!” Her eyes went wide and she realized Discord was now staring just as wide-eyed back.

“Oh, but I can,” he said, his voice lowering. “Perhaps you underestimate what a mind like mine is capable of. But I didn’t turn into this twisted image you see before you just from having a bout of jealousy and angst. So you tell me, now… what do you think really happened to you?”

Luna blinked, astounded at the question and all it suggested. “What… really happened?” she asked. “Forgive me, weren’t you the one asking me about Nightmare Moon? Dost thou now suggest some greater insight than one who lived through it?”

Discord slowly stood up and turned back to the wheel. “My apologies, I never meant to be so brash. I wouldn’t dream of upsetting you, Princess Luna.”

Luna bit down tightly and held her tongue. This is most unpleasant! I shall be quite pleased when he is but a statue once again! she thought, but then recalled his question. During that time when I became Nightmare Moon, I merely manifest my negativity into that form! That was all that happened… wasn’t it? She shook her head, images of the past now spinning through her mind as Discord slowly steered the boat along the rising and falling waves of the sea.

Look at how they love her, a voice whispered in the back of Luna’s mind. You will never command such respect. You will forever be cast into the shadow of your sister.

Luna blinked. Who…? she thought.

You can have it all, my princess. You can take what should be yours, the voice whispered again. For too long you have sat in the darkness. Your patience has held you back, your attempts to win their hearts have failed, and your affection for your keeper of a sister? Well… misplaced at best.

Luna felt the creeping hand of darkness slowly gripping her mind. Stop! she cried out in her mind. Don’t listen!

The time has come to take what is yours by force! If they will not love you, then you shall teach them to fear you instead! the voice now screamed in her mind.

Luna pushed her hooves against the sides of her head and shut her eyes tightly. No, please! she thought, tears streaming down her cheeks. I don’t want that! I don’t want it! She slowly opened her eyes, her pupils now slitted and her irises glowing. She lifted her face toward Discord and glared at him.

Discord, she thought, rising to her hooves and taking a step towards him. We should have killed you back then. Sealing you away was too merciful for all the pain and suffering you caused! After tonight, you’ll be nothing but a statue!

“Luna, look!” Discord shouted, pointing toward the shore and turning to look at her. “There, on the beach!”

Luna’s eyes snapped back to normal. She blinked her eyes shut and put a hoof against her forehead. What… was I thinking? What was that voice?

Discord waved his claw in the air. “You okay, there?” he asked and held two of his talons up. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Two,” she said, and pushed his hand down as she walked past him to see what he had been shouting about.

Discord pulled his hand back up and the two fingers he’d been holding up split outward. “No, thirty-seven! Anyway, get your sight cleared and look over there!”

Luna slammed her hooves against the railing. Across the water and on the beach, she saw a small pony washed up on the shore, the sand around her visibly red with blood even in the moonlight. Luna didn’t speak a single word. Her horn exploded with magic and she teleported to shore. A second later, Discord joined her with a flash. Luna now recognized the small pony as Apple Bloom. Her head was cut open and she was unconscious, though breathing shallowly.

Luna turned her horn downward and began to cast a healing spell on the filly. “I have to stabilize her as quickly as I can. She’s fading!” Luna said, trying to remain calm. The cut on Apple Bloom’s head slowly closed and the blood began to fade from her fur.

Discord tapped Luna on the shoulder. Luna shrugged his touch away and continued to concentrate on the injured foal. “Not now, please,” she said.

“We’re not alone,” Discord said plainly. “I’m not sure what it is, but it’s kind of creepy. It’s looking at you… I think?”

Luna glanced up briefly. Standing several yards away, at the edge of a rocky outcropping, was a pale white pony with a flowing mane that seemed to glow in the moonlight. It had no face or visible features. It just stood quietly, its nose pointed towards her.

Shivers shot down Luna’s spine. “Well, keep an eye on it. Can you get all three of us back to the ship if we need to go?” she asked.

Discord nodded his head, staring at the faceless creature. A dark line began to form horizontally across the creature’s face just above its snout. The line soon spread all the way from one side of its head to the other. “Um, something is happening. I don’t know what, but…”

“I’m almost done,” Luna said as Apple Bloom’s breathing was becoming more regular. “Just a bit longer.”

The line across the creature’s face began to split open and the two halves of its head began to separate, revealing rows of jagged, pearly white teeth within. From the back of the newly revealed cavity, two red eyes burned brightly.

“I think it wants to say hi,” Discord said. He snapped his fingers and the three of them flashed back to the ship, landing gently against the deck. Luna regained her composure and gazed out at the creature on the shore. Its bright red eyes stared back at her, accompanied by a loud hiss.

Luna forced herself to look away from it and began casting her spell on Apple Bloom again. The ghostly pony eventually faded from sight as the ship sailed northward.

Corruption Ch 5 - Hunger

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Book Four: Corruption

Chapter Five - Hunger

Mulcibar leapt past the illusion wall at the cave’s entrance, landing upon the damp forest ground. He turned his head back and forth, looking for any sign of who had screamed a moment ago. A flash of magic to his right caught his eye and he charged toward it. The forest was dark, and without his focusing gem he was unable to cast a light spell, but after several yards he finally caught sight of Sweetie Belle backed up against the cliff face. The shadows in front of her were advancing slowly towards her, accompanied by a hiss and several dots of red that seemed to float in the air.

Sweetie Belle heard the pounding hoofbeats from her left and turned her head. She saw the familiar changeling charging right at her and screamed. The pendant around her neck flashed with light and she let loose a blast of magic from her horn. The beam missed its mark and struck the cliff to Mulcibar’s right, blasting rocks loose from its surface. The rocky discharge pounded against him, and he felt his balance deteriorate. He fell against the ground, sliding to a stop several feet away from the foal, who stared down at him in wide-eyed fear.

“Don’t just stand there!” Mulcibar managed to cough out. “I doubt those things just want a hug! Run along the cliff behind me and feel against the wall. You’ll find an opening disguised as a rock face.”

Sweetie Belle turned her attention back to the shadows, too terrified to move. Jagged rows of teeth floated through the air, now speeding towards her, the searing red eyes behind them staring past her skin and into her soul. All she could do was shake.

Mulcibar groaned and pushed himself back up to his feet. “You’ve got that magic pendant, don’t you?” He barked out. “Use it!”

Sweetie Belle tightly shut her eyes and cried out, firing a beam of magic into the general direction of the shadows. The forest lit up as the beam blazed through it, revealing dozens, if not hundreds of the shadowy creatures. She opened her eyes just in time to catch a glimpse of the ocean of monsters and fell back to her rump.

Mulcibar lurched toward the filly and grabbed her, pulling her up against his chest. He turned and ran back along the cliff towards the cave. “Plan B!” he shouted. “We’re getting out of here!” Sweetie Belle could only nod her head, her body paralyzed with fear. He saw the illusion wall ahead of them, but there was a collection of the creatures between them and safety. Several of their jagged maws opened before him, hissing loudly as he approached. From their open mouths, pale red tentacle-like tongues fired like spears . He ducked to the ground, shielding Sweetie Belle underneath him. The sharp tips of three of the appendages stabbed into his back and shoulders.

Mulcibar growled in pain, but then pushed himself up and pulled back against the freakishly long tongues. The creatures they were attached to were flung up and over his shoulder, causing the spear-like objects to eject from his body, which only served to send another jolt of pain through his system. He took it in stride, though, and charged forward, barreling through the beasts like a bowling ball through pins.

“Brace yourself!” he said, and then threw Sweetie Belle into the cave as hard as he could manage. He skidded to a stop and pressed up against the rock wall on the other side of the cave opening. He stared out at the creatures and grinned, baring his own teeth. “I was really enjoying sitting at fireside with a lovely mare, but no, you had to ruin it. Bad move.”

The shadows in front of him swung their mouths open, hissing and launching their tongues in his direction. A second later, the changeling’s horn erupted with magic. The force of the massive magical explosion tore trees from the ground, shook rocks loose from the cliff, and sent the shadows, sometimes in pieces, flying. After mere seconds, all that was left in a several yard radius was earth stripped bare of grass, jagged tree trunks, and remnants of the shadow creatures dissolving into a steam-like vapor and flying up into the starry night sky.

Mulcibar took two steps toward the cave opening, but collapsed onto the ground. The glow from his wings faded, and the illusion wall vanished. Fluttershy stood at the mouth of the cave, her hoof outstretched, staring out at the scene of destruction. She hobbled forward as best she could until she caught sight of the changeling lying on the ground. In that moment, as if her wounds suddenly meant nothing, she ran to him.

“Sweetie Belle!” Fluttershy shouted, glancing over her shoulder at the foal who was now peeking out at her. “Help me pull him into the cave!”

After a moment of hesitation, the filly compiled and used her magic to levitate him above the ground while Fluttershy pulled him back to the fire. A trail of blood lined the path they moved him along. Fluttershy laid him down upon the bed of hay that she had been using. She turned her head to Sweetie and pointed her hoof towards the gaping wounds in his back. “You healed Twilight before, right? Can you do the same for him?”

Sweetie Belle stared down at the changeling. The sight of him only brought back memories of how he had trapped them in an illusion and attacked them before; How Linnai had tried to kill Princess Celestia and Twilight. She clenched her teeth and turned her head up to Fluttershy, her eyes tearing up a little. “Why?” she asked plainly. “He was so terrible! They both were!”

“Sweetie Belle!” Fluttershy gasped in shock.

The filly continued to speak, shaking as she did. “I hate this! He was so mean, and yet… I can’t stand seeing him like that, but... I don’t want to help him! We shouldn’t help him!” Her eyes danced across his body, bloody and bruised, and thought back to how he’d just saved her life not two minutes ago. “It’s not fair! Why did he have to save me?”

Fluttershy smiled bittersweetly down at Sweetie Belle. “I know,” she said calmly. “He saved my life, too. He may be part of the enemy team, but we can’t just let him die. Not after what he’s done for us, Sweetie. We must repay his kindness with our own, even if his intentions were different.”

“The foal is right…” Mulcibar wheezed. “You know… she is. You two would be fools… to help me now. I did this to myself.”

Sweetie Belle frowned and clocked the changeling over the head with her hoof. She then closed her eyes and began to concentrate. Her horn and pendant both shone with a radiant pink light and the wounds on Mulcibar’s back began to glow as well. The blood around them seemed to evaporate and the holes began to slowly but surely close. After several minutes, he was left only with some scars and his breathing had improved slightly.

Sweetie Belle stopped casting her spell and fell back to a sitting position. She breathed heavily, the output of so much magic having taken a drain on her. She looked back at Fluttershy’s hind leg and shook her head. “I’ll heal you next, Fluttershy. Just give me a minute to rest,” she said. She took a few steps around to the other side of the fire and then fell forward, seemingly uncontrollably, and her eyes shut. “Don’t worry… Fluttershy. We’ll be okay…”

Fluttershy smiled down at the drowsy filly and then looked back at Mulcibar. He was gazing up at her, a weak smile spread across his lips. His wings flashed and began to glow blue once again, though dimly, as the illusion wall rose at the cave’s mouth once more.

“You said you were repaying my kindness,” he said. “So, does that mean you weren’t so mad at me after all?”

Fluttershy sighed. “No, I really was mad. Maybe the fact that you were being so nice to me all of the sudden made me even madder. I still haven’t forgiven you for all those weird things you said to me,” she said.

Mulcibar blinked. “Weird things?” he questioned. “What sort of weird things?”

Fluttershy blushed. “Oh come on, don’t make me repeat it,” she said, flustered. “You know, about having a good time, and wanting me to enjoy it.” Her voice trailed off and became barely a whisper by the end of the statement. Her flushed red cheeks only grew brighter as she spoke.

Mulcibar smirked. “What is so weird about that?” he asked. “I meant every word of it.”

Fluttershy turned her face away from him and closed her eyes, letting out a slight “Hmmph!”

Mulcibar coughed. “What? I did! Who wouldn’t mean every word of that to an attractive mare like you… not that it matters anymore,” he said. “I really do appreciate the healing spell that filly used on me, but even that can’t stop the inevitable.”

“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked and looked back down at him.

“I’ve used up too much energy. I’m fading away,” he said. “Starvation has its cold talons wrapped around my throat. Hunger is not something that a changeling can just brush aside. I won’t last much longer after using so much energy.”

Fluttershy gasped and leaned down toward him. “That’s not true. You’ll be okay. We’ll find something to get your energy back somewhere, somehow. Just don’t talk like that,” she said.

“I don’t think so, but...” Mulcibar said softly. “Will you please… grant me a selfish request?” He gazed into her eyes, his light blue irises fading to gray.

She gazed back at him and simply nodded her head. I know what it’s like to be selfish, she thought, remembering the time when she and Rainbow Dash were trapped in that cramped tree in her dream world.

“Please, let me have one more moment of bliss,” he said. “Allow me to… feel the soft touch of your lips.”

The yellow mare pulled back a bit in response, her face exploding with bright red color. Flabbergasted, she stuttered as best she could manage. “Y-y-y-you mean like.. k-k-kiss you?” she asked. “I, I don’t… ummm…” She shrunk down lower to the ground and averted her eyes. She could feel heat rising from her cheeks and her heart was pounding just from him even asking such a thing.

“Sorry,” he said, his voice sinking. “It must seem like such a strange thing to ask out of the blue.”

It’s not that! Fluttershy thought, turning her head back to him and looking into his cool blue eyes once again. I just… I’ve never… She shook her head.

“Sorry, I just… I’ve never… kissed anypony before, and I guess I don’t really…” she said, her voice trailing off yet again.

Mulcibar sighed. “How can that possibly be? Not ever?” he asked. “I would think you’d have more than a few interested stallions knocking on your door.”

“Well, I don’t think there have been,” she responded. “Still, it would be my first kiss, and I guess I’d always thought it would be more… romantic.” She batted her eyes, now looking straight down at the ground, her cheeks a bright cherry red.

“Isn’t this romantic?” Mulcibar asked genuinely. “We’re lying by a fire, out among nature… well, sort of. I guess it doesn’t count since it’s in a dream world. Then again, does a kiss even count in a dream world?”

Fluttershy pursed her lips together tightly, her tongue running back and forth along her teeth as she tried to remember if she had kissed anypony in a dream before. A memory from her dream world appeared in her mind. She remembered sitting at the bottom of the ravine beneath the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, holding Rainbow Dash in her forelegs, her hair draped down over them. I’d kissed Rainbow’s cheek at that time, but had almost considered… She shook her head slightly and raised her eyes nervously back up to Mulcibar. He was looking right at her, and when her eyes met his, she felt her heart rate elevating.

Fluttershy swallowed hard. “Okay,” she said, barely audible. “Here I come.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and clumsily pressed her face forward. She felt her tightly closed lips press against his. The sensation was strange and different than she had expected. She felt a small burst of Mulcibar’s breath against her lower lip, which sent shivers up her spine.

I thought it would be warmer, somehow, she thought to herself as her heart raced. Maybe not quite so… bumpy? She let out a slight squeak as she felt another puff of breath accompanied by what sounded like Mulcibar trying to contain laughter. She slowly opened her eyes and was greeted by his forehead. She looked down and saw his eyes, practically tearing up, looking back up at her.

“That’s my nose,” he said, and then completely lost it, somehow managing to erupt in laughter.

Fluttershy fell to the ground, pulling her hair and hooves over her face. Her first kiss, real or otherwise, had been with a nose. “It’s not funny!” she managed. “That was my first kiss!”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Mulcibar said, regaining control of himself. “That double doesn’t count. You’ll just have to try again.”

“Maybe not right now,” Fluttershy said, her voice muffled from her hiding position.

Mulcibar shrugged. “Really? That’s too bad,” he said. “Fair enough, though, your choice. At least you tried.”

“I’m sorr—“ Fluttershy started.

“Thank you,” Mulcibar interrupted, his voice calm and quiet. “Thank you for trying.”

Fluttershy continued to hide, her breathing and heart finally slowing down. What is wrong with me? she thought. Why do I get goosebumps from everything he says? Why did I agree to kiss him so easily? Was it just sympathy? Am I just too nice?

Her hair fell slightly to one side and a single eye peeked out from behind it, staring over at the changeling stallion. He had laid down flat against the bed of hay and was fighting to keep his eyes open, looking toward the cave entrance.

Why does he have to be a bad-guy? What if… She thought, slightly shaking her head. A flashback from the previous dream world quickly put a stop to that train of thought.

“I can be your new Twilight Sparkle!” Mulcibar had said to her, having taken the form of Twilight. “We can be the best of friends!”

Don’t forget who he really is, Fluttershy! She thought to herself. His icy blue eyes flashed through her mind once again and her thoughts drifted. Maybe that’s not how he really is, though. Maybe how he’s being right now is what he’s really like. It’s just so hard to tell.

Mulcibar fell to his side and his eyes closed. Fluttershy perked her head up nervously as he let out a low, raspy groan. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?” she asked.

It’s happening,” he said, barely above a whisper. He opened his eyes and looked in Fluttershy's direction. "I can’t… I can’t see anymore.”

“Oh no!” Fluttershy shouted, pushing herself up and towards him.

“Listen to me,” he said, his voice pained. “Listen well. When I die in here…”

“Don’t say that,” Fluttershy interrupted, her voice wavering and tears forming in her eyes.

“Quiet,” Mulcibar snapped. “It’s happening. If what Nightmare Moon said is correct, I’m going to drop dead on the outside, too. The others will know something has gone wrong and they will be coming after you.”

“What do we do?” Fluttershy asked, trying to stay calm, but her heart so awash with sadness.

“You have to get out of this dream. If The Order comes barging in here horns blazing, you will all die,” he said, his voice becoming weaker and more coarse as he spoke. “Not just you six, but every pony in every cocoon. The shockwave of death will spread through the magic web and they will all die! I can only hope… that I am far enough removed from it that… my death doesn’t… cause the same…” He coughed and his head fell downward onto one of his forelegs as he gasped inward for breath.

“This can’t be how it ends,” Fluttershy said, her tears falling freely now. “Not for us, and not for you!”

Mulcibar opened his eyes and looked up at Fluttershy. “Don’t cry,” he said. “You’re so much more lovely when you’re smiling.” He couldn’t see her other than a blurry, dark outline, but a crystal clear image of her face formed in his mind.

Fluttershy scooted closer to him and wiped her eyes. “Don’t say things like that,” she said. “You’ll just make me cry more.”

Mulcibar smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you for everything. As fake as this sounds coming from somepony who can’t even properly show you affection, thank you for all of your kindness. You’ve somehow made… my last moments, here in this cave… happy…”

Fluttershy blushed again, her mind racing. What must it be like to be attracted to somepony without having a shred of love in your heart? It must be terrible, she thought. Almost torturous. Even if it’s all he’s ever known… She blinked heavily, fresh tears cutting down her jawline. She stared at Mulcibar’s closing eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat as hard as she could. With a single motion, she reached her hooves out, wrapped them around his head, and moved her face to his.

This time, her aim was perfect. Her lips softly pressed against his, warm and tender. A slight surprised sound escaped him along with a jet of warm air. She felt her lips gently easing apart. If her heart was racing before, it had done a sonic rainboom at this point. Her legs were shaking from the sudden head rush, and she was thankful she’d already been so near to the ground because she fell to her knees. The experience was unlike anything she’d felt before, and from beneath the sadness in her heart came an eruption of warmth and passion. The feeling washed over her completely, an almost magical aura to it. Any second thoughts she’d been having before seemed to dissolve.

I just wish I could have gotten to know you better, Fluttershy thought, no longer crying, but her face still moist with teardrops. You may not realize it, but you were truly noble in your own way.

She felt his shallow yet warm breath pressing into her mouth, his tongue pressing against her lips, soft and warm. She nervously pulled her mouth away for a moment, breathing inward heavily, and then pushed back up against him. She was scared, but also completely swept up in the moment. Without even thinking, she pressed her tongue forward into his mouth and wrapped her forelegs more tightly around the back of his head. As if possessed by the sudden uncontrollable feelings of passion within her, she delved deeply, her mind becoming nothing but a fuzzy haze.

From the depths of her being, she suddenly felt a new sensation. It was warm, sensual, and arousing. Her heart felt like it was burning, but there was no pain, only an intense feeling of warmth and safety. She felt Mulcibar wrap his forelegs around her. At first she thought nothing of it, completely absorbed in the kiss. Shortly after, though, she felt herself being pulled toward him and onto the bed of hay. She felt herself being flipped onto her back, and she felt the weight of his chest against hers. She pulled her eyes opened and was greeted by the sight of his face, eyes closed. He was leaning over her, his whole body aglow with a light pink aura. She folded her tongue quickly back into her mouth and stared up at him, her body still trembling with adrenaline and endorphins. He gently pulled his lips away from her and rose up, standing over her. A visible trail of pink energy continued to flow away from her and into him. He smiled down at her, gazing into her eyes.

“Thank you,” he said softly. “That was truly… breathtaking.”

Fluttershy’s heart was a mix of emotions as she felt a lump forming in her throat once again. She had no idea how she should feel as she slowly realized what had just happened. He drew me in, played off my sympathy, had my first kiss, and then fed on me. He used me, just like the changeling queen has been using all of us... as food. she thought. Her heart began to seethe, but her mind kept reliving the kiss over and over. The feeling, the rush, the sensation of her lips on his, the taste of his mouth. She bit her lower lip and breathed in deeply through her nose.

He looked down at her, his sight having returned to him. The pink aura faded away and his smile disappeared. “Are you upset with me?” he asked.

Fluttershy turned her gaze away from him, unable to think of any way to respond. Her heart was still beating quickly and her body was still shaking slightly. She replayed the kiss in her mind over and over again before finally turning her gaze back to him.

“Maybe a little,” she said, and then reached her hooves up, placing them against his cheeks. “I am glad you’re okay, though.” She pulled his head down towards her and locked her lips against his once more. A tear streamed down her cheek as the minutes passed like seconds. Before she knew it, he was lying beside her, gazing out toward the cave’s entrance, his wings shining steadily again. Fluttershy had entered a state of confusion now, the glow of the moment having worn off, and she was left to ponder what had just happened. Two kisses later in her life with all but a complete stranger who wasn’t even a pony. She couldn’t have imagined it even a day ago.

Even if it was in a dream world, she thought, I’m pretty sure that still counted. She looked into his azure eyes and blinked, thinking that he somehow looked more regal than before. Any fear she’d had of him had vanished, and she was left only being able to think of him as a puzzle. A creature whom she neither hated nor loved, but felt something strange and in-between for. Her own feelings, along with his true intentions, were a mystery. Without any deep contemplation, she opened her mouth and spoke.

“Why did you want to kiss me?” she asked. He turned to look at her and grinned.

“Why not?” he asked in response.

“That’s not what I mean,” she said. “Did you know? Had you planned to, well… feed upon me like that?”

Mulcibar shook his head. “In that moment, no. I just wanted one last moment like that. But then, in the midst of it all, I felt your love energy practically pouring out,” he said. “Have you ever been so thirsty that just the sight of water makes you want to drink down every last drop? That’s how it was. It was… irresistible.”

“Irresistible,” Fluttershy repeated, nodding slowly.

“Much like you,” Mulcibar added, his grin widening.

Fluttershy sighed. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that way, yet feel no love or affection,” she replied.

Mulcibar laughed. “Well, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be able to do what you do. To be able to feel such a powerful emotion,” he said. “Somepony once told me that giving yourself freely to a changeling is one of the most intense feelings she’d ever felt. So, how was it for you?”

Fluttershy thought back to the brilliant heat she had felt, the butterflies in her stomach, and the feeling of needing more and more. “To be honest, I still don’t know what to think,” she said. “I felt like I was going to lose control of myself. I think… I didn’t ever want it to stop.”

“That’s one of the problems we have, actually,” he responded. “Once we begin to feed, it drives the one we’re feeding from to give more and more. We have to practice our own kind of restraint, as it were.”

“Well, I can’t say it was a bad thing, honestly,” Fluttershy said shyly.

“I’ve heard it’s even better if you take it further than just a kiss,” Mulcibar said, his grin widening.

Fluttershy pushed a hoof against his cheek. “Let’s not get carried away, now,” she said, a hint of nervousness in her voice.

Mulcibar laughed loudly, his voice echoing across the cave.

“So,” said Fluttershy, thinking of ways to get off of that topic. “I take care of animals in Ponyville. There is a thing called a symbiotic relationship where two or more creatures need one another to survive and benefit mutually.”

“Are you calling us animals, now?” Mulcibar said, laughing.

Fluttershy sighed. “No,” she said, “but I somehow recall you making that sort of comparison to us, now that I think about it.”

“Fair enough, I apologize,” he said. “I’ll give you that one.”

Mulcibar turned his gaze downward. “Unfortunately, there are so few who are as kind as you are, my dear. If it were that simple, don’t you think we would have lived like that?” he asked. A flowing wave of light coursed over his body. When the light subsided, he had changed his appearance and looked exactly like Fluttershy. “Why do you think we have to disguise ourselves and steal love from others just to survive?” His voice perfectly mimicked Fluttershy’s own.

With another pulse of light, he took the form of Queen Chrysalis. Fluttershy instinctively flinched away. “You see?” he said in the queen’s voice. “Even knowing who I am, you are taken aback by us. Queen Chrysalis has led us for several generations now. Her wisdom and planning have kept us alive through some very hard times. I must admit, there were some among us who questioned this plan. It just come out of the blue, as if madness had struck her.”

“Then why follow her?” Fluttershy asked. “Why not try and think of some other way?”

Mulcibar flashed back to his own form and turned his gaze to the yellow pegasus, his eyes narrowed in seriousness. “There is no other way,” he said. “No other way but to live as a parasite in that so-called symbiotic relationship.”

Fluttershy lowered her gaze this time. “So that’s really all there is?” she asked. “Just a means to an end? Just using others for your own survival?”

“And pleasure,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Fluttershy frowned and pushed herself up to her hooves. “Well… I shouldn’t be surprised,” she said, another tear rolling down her cheek.

The sound of Sweetie Belle stirring drew the mare’s attention. She wiped away her tears and looked to where the filly had laid down.

“How long was I asleep?” Sweetie Belle asked. “I’m hungry…”

Fluttershy picked up the remaining apple and brought it over to Sweetie Belle, setting it down in front of her. “We all were,” she said, looking nervously back at Mulcibar. “Eat up, Sweetie.”