An alternate Mane Cast cross over into the normal Equestia, things go down hill from there.
Rock's as solid a unicorn can be without being an earth pony. Then most of a life time growing up in a mine is going to leave a whole bunch of rough edges. Still Rock's always figured that it was pretty good preparation for when the sun went down for the last time ever over a year ago.
Now though she's stuck in a whole other Equestria and there's another unicorn that looks just like her that also lives in Ponyville. Just she's still calling herself Rarity and is far too prissy for her own good.
Soon she's going to meet other ponies in the same predicament, linked in ways they don't yet understand and try to find a way home to the Equestria that they know.
Course first off she's going to have to work out how to get along with herself...
This fic was completed in the week between One Bad Apple and Magic Duel, so consider anything before that as having happened for purposes of this fic and everything after as not happening yet, or at all.
Original chapter publish dates: Chapter 1 - 24th July Chapter 2 - 29th July Chapter 3 - 2nd August Chapter 4 - 8th August Chapter 5 - 12th August Chapter 6 - 30th August Chapter 7 - 1st September Chapter 8 - 5th September Chapter 9 - 9th October Chapter 10 - 5th November Chapter 11 - 28th November Epilogue - 28th November
Under the light of the early morning sun the ponies of Ponyville were already beginning to go about their business. A certain wall-eyed mare was haphazardly delivering the daily mail, the overnight train from Canterlot was just pulling into the town's station and all kinds of stalls were being set up for the morning trade. The competing carrot and apple stall owners were already glaring at each other over their personal produce. Amongst all this, and ignored by most of the other ponies doing business in the centre of the town, a unicorn blinked at the unfamiliar light while trying to work out just what in Tartaurus could possibly be going on.
I expected parties, music and celebration, at least the odd balloon or two when it finally happened, thought the unicorn, with her brow furrowing. Not everypony just going on like normal.
Most ponies weren't paying attention to the deeply confused newcomer, but the pink pony bouncing over with a fierce look of determination on her face as she locked onto her target always made it her business to know absolutely everypony in town. Somepony she didn't know... Well, that meant that pony wasn't her friend yet and that was frankly unacceptable!
“Hi! What's your name? I normally know everypony’s name, but I don't know yours, so you must be new! Oh you don't know mine yet well I'm Pinkie Pie! Welcome to Ponyville!”
The powerfully built unicorn turned to look at the hyperactive welcoming committee. Her hooves were stained with mud and a dirty blue rag was wrapped around her head. She blinked a few times more and attempted to focus on the pink blur hopping up and down in front of her.
“Oh hello, Ms. Pie,” she said, relieved at seeing a familiar face as her vision finally adapted to the light. “How's that axle on the cart holding up? You know you wouldn't keep having to get it replaced if you didn't keep loading so many heavy rocks on it.” Seeing Pinkie's blank look—normally it was Pinkie who confused ponies, not the other way around—the unicorn asked, "Pinkamena, you alright?”
This unexpected comment brought Pinkie Pie up short, even to the point of stopping bouncing up and down for a moment. As far as she knew the only three ponies in town who knew her proper name were the three fillies known collectively as the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and she certainly didn't have a rock cart any more. Anyway, that had been her father's and she really did prefer not to think about that period of her life prior to discovering the wonder of parties if she could avoid it, which she usually did. She gave the unicorn a suspicious full look-over and was surprised to discover that it was her good friend Rarity buried under all the grease and dirt. Pinkie Pie laughed happily as she realised what was going on. Rarity was playing a prank on her! Sweetie Belle must have told her older sister all about Pinkie's cutie mark story and now Rarity was having a bit of harmless fun at her expense.
“Rarity, you got me good! I can't believe you'd go to so much effort to prank me! Did Rainbow Dash put you up to this?”
“Rarity? How'd you...” The unicorn looked shocked before shrugging. “Never mind. It's Rock, just Rock. You know that, Pinkamena. Anyway, since when do you talk so much and, for that matter, bounce?!”
Pinkie Pie stuck her tongue out at this and her eyes narrowed. This was a puzzler, and if anypony could solve it then it’d be her! Looking over Rock, she finally noticed the difference between this mare and the pony she knew. Rather than three gems on the dirty-white unicorn’s flank there were instead three interlocking cogs. Whoever this pony might be, this was definitely not her friend Rarity even though she looked so much like her.
“Okie dokey, Rock!” Pinkie said, resting a foreleg around Rock’s shoulder. “We’re going to be the best of friends. Specifically the best of friends who hang out over in that building right over there!” Pinkie pointed towards the Carousel Boutique with her other forehoof before Rock shook her off.
"Sure, I guess," Rock grumbled. "This better not be any girly frou-frou nonsense though." She reluctantly let herself be maneuvered, if not full on pony-handled, towards the nearby shop. “Doubt I'm gonna get any work today anyway. What with the return of the sun and all,” complained the strange pony, she was still blinking as she tried to shield her eyes from the light of the sun.
“Any excuse for a party is just fine with me! C'mon, it's just over here!"” said Pinkie Pie. This was funny, but not funny haha more funny odd-odd and Pinkie Pie wanted to get this over as soon as possible, so she could get on with important matters like organising a ‘Rarity has a twin!’ party.
“Welcome to my charming boutique, where style is always chic, unique and magnifiq—” trilled Rarity, as she went into her usual sales spiel when the pair entered her establishment. She trailed off quickly as she looked right into the face of her double, who looked just as shocked as she did.
It was Rarity who broke the spell first. “Pinkie Pie, this isn't one of your pranks, is it? Twilight's in a bush somewhere outside maintaining the illusion, right?” She raised a hoof cautiously and poked the other unicorn, who then flinched.
“Oi, hooves off, pinhead!” Rock backed off, rearing up and looking at the other two ponies wildly. “I don't know what's going on here, but unless somepony wants to get bucked into next week, they better explain right now!”
“Twilight Sparkle,” agreed Pinkie Pie, figuring that if anyone could solve this impressively pretty pickle it'd be her.
“Don’t worry, Rock! We're going to get this all sorted out. Our friend’s super-smart and she’ll sort this out, as sure as my middle name is Responsibility!”
Twilight Sparkle currently had problems all of her own; namely getting rudely awakened by another pony landing on her bed. Whoever this pony was she was now hiding under the covers and refusing to come out.
“I'm really not that angry. Just please get out of my bed,” she asked as nicely as possible, given she'd been trying to reason with her unexpected guest for a good ten minutes now and was rapidly running out of patience.
“I... I don't want to,” the intruder pleaded softly, her voice muffled by the blanket. “Please go away. Um, you know, if that's ok with you.”
“Right,” said Twilight, finally having had enough.
With a surge of power from her horn, she levitated the pony and the covers in one easy motion and then promptly dropped her again on the bed when she realised the other unicorn looked exactly like her!
“P-please don't be mad, I didn't mean any harm...” the other her said, seeing the expression on Twilight’s face. She was so like her, but yet unlike. The other Twilight Sparkle was wearing a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses and her cutie mark was not the starburst representing her gift for magic, but instead a stack of three thick books.
The other mare nodded her head slowly. She looked absolutely terrified, but Twilight Sparkle wasn’t scared herself. She was reasonably certain that this other self didn’t mean her any harm, but she was definitely fascinated by her double’s sudden appearance here in her room.
“How did you get here?”
“Um, I... I'm not sure,” her double stammered, trying to look anywhere but at Twilight.
“This is incredible! Maybe it's a magical flux-based convergence. Hmmm, no, that wouldn't do it...” Before Twilight could continue theorising, she was interrupted by a knock on her front door.
Twilight yelled for Spike to get it, but upon not hearing any response, figured the little dragonling was out on some errand.
“Just stay here,” Twilight said, in the most reassuring manner she could manage. “I'll see who that is and I'll be right back. Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be ok.”
“Please take your time,” her double said, before diving under the safety of the covers once more.
As they made their way to Twilight's, Rarity was indulging her own curiosity in her strange new-found double.
“You are me, aren't you, darling?” Rarity said, looking over Rock with some distaste at what she was seeing. “I mean I can't imagine going out with my mane so clearly uncared-for and I must wonder when you last had a bath from the smell, but you are a Rarity, are you not?”
“You saying I stink, pinhead?” Rock asked, with a nonchalent shrug.
“Well, you could certainly do with a visit to the spa. I do have a discount there you know.” Rarity offered, before attempting to get back to the point in hand, while trying desperately not to be offended. “Are we the same pony or not? And why do you keep calling me pinhead? Even with that horrible filthy rag I can see you're a unicorn too."
“Guess so. Though how I could get so prissy is beyond me.” Seeing Rarity's doubly insulted look, Rock attempted to backtrack a bit.
“Okay, so you probably do make more sense given what we were like as a filly, y’know with our dreams of being a fashionista,” Rock spat the word out. “Sorry about the pinhead thing too. I... I'm not keen on unicorns, apart from my little sis of course."
“Well what then happened, darling? I mean, I can't imagine how I could have ended up looking so, well, uncivilised!”
“Growing up in a mine will do that to you.”
Before Rarity could get to the bottom of this new mystery, they had arrived at Twilight's, and Pinkie was knocking on the door.
Twilight opened the door magically with her horn. “Sorry, Pinkie, but this really isn't a good time...
“Oh,” she said, as she spotted the two other unicorns and promptly connected the dots that led right on back to her own guest upstairs.
“You better come in so we can get to the bottom of this,” she said. As sure as she was Celestia's favourite pupil, she was going to work out what in the name of her mentor was going on here! Twilight confidently thought to herself.
The five ponies were soon gathered and crammed in together in Twilight's bedroom. They had not been able to get the other Twilight to move, so that’d been the only option. After all the introductions had been made, Twilight Sparkle turned to the other Rarity, hoping she'd be a bit more forthcoming.
“Can you tell us how you got here, Rock? Anything you remember could help.”
“Well, I don't rightly know.” said Rock. “It’s all a bit of a blur. I was so amazed to see the sun up when I got here, you know?” All the light streaming in through the windows of the treehouse was beginning to give her a headache.
“Yeah, not seen hide nor hair of it for a whole year now since Nightmare Moon took over. Guess that ain't happened here, right?”
Twilight Sparkle sat down, completely and utterly stunned. She had always thought parallel existences were a mad mare's dream, although she knew there was some scientific basis for the theory. This, however, was real living and talking proof sitting right in front of her of a world where Nightmare Moon had returned completely unchallenged by the Elements of Harmony. The very idea of it gave her the cold shivers all the way down her flank.
“How horrible! It's been night all that time?” asked Rarity.
“Oooh you must have lived on cupcakes! You know! After all the plants were gone,” said Pinkie Pie, jumping happily around the room at the thought of it.
Ignoring Pinkie Pie's song about her favourite food group, Rock continued. “Well, she is a Goddess too. The Princess kept everything going like it should have done. We still ran the leaves and wrapped up winter; just all of it totally in the dark and done by torchlight.”
“But that's completely impossible! Not even magic could... wait, you said the Princess?”
“Yeah, Nightmare Moon said she was Princess Luna, returned after being banished or something for a thousand years by her terrible tyrant sister. Didn't pay much attention to it myself.”
“Propaganda!” came a cry from the bed, still muffled somewhat by the blanket pulled over her. The other Twilight Sparkle untangled herself with a new fire in her eyes. “Nightmare Moon's a usurper who took Princess Celestia away. We’ve got to get her back, we’ve just got to!”
“Sure, if you ain't got anything better to do,” replied Rock with a shrug. “Some of us have to work for living. So if you're her,” she said, pointing an accusing hoof at the other purple unicorn in the room, “then you must be that pinhead recluse who lives in the library and never, ever comes out. Socks or something, right?”
“Sp-Sparks... it's what Mrs. Cake calls me when she brings me food.” Sparks deflated, clearly not used to real confrontation.
“Typical. A useless pinhead layabout. Now isn’t that a shock,” said Rock. “How'd you pay for that then? Magic up some bits or something?”
“No... I get some m-money from my parents.”
“Trust fund filly,” Rock said, waving a hoof in the air. She turned back to Twilight, completely ignoring the angry glares she was getting from everypony else in the room. “So yeah, woke up by the same tree I'd kipped under last night, and when I saw the sun I just ran into town to see what was going on. Should have worked out things weren't right when no other pony was reacting at all.”
“You sleep outside?!” asked Rarity, unable to believe even now that her double could be so rustic.
“Well, I got a small place I rent for me and my sis, but I like to get out in the fresh air every so often and kip out under the stars. Never rightly cared much for politics or that other one, but even I've got to admit that the Princess does good work on that sky of hers with all the patterns and stuff. ” Twilight winced to hear one of her favourite passions being described so curtly. She figured that ‘the other one’ had to be Princess Celestia, which just raised more questions about why Rock didn’t want to refer to her directly.
“But she's evil!” Sparks whined, then cringed again as Rock just looked at her.
“Sparks is right; Nightmare Moon was a monster that had to be stopped,” said Twilight, putting a hoof around her double’s shoulders.
“Don't rightly know about that. The Princess ain’t ever done anything to me or my sister, apart from taking the sun away, and I don't hold no grudges that I don't see the need to. Spend most your life down a mine and a sun is a bit of a luxury really.”
The three friends were all shocked to hear anypony so casually unmoved by both the absence of the sun and whatever must have happened to Princess Celestia in that world. The very thought of a world without her beloved mentor made Twilight feel almost physically sick.
It was then that Twilight Sparkle noticed something interesting. The eyes of her double were glowing faintly with a mystic corona playing about her pupils, the tell-tale sign of a spell still in progress. Keeping a careful watch, she decided to conduct an experiment and asked Rock to sit down on the bed with Sparks. Sure enough, as Rock and Spark got closer together, the glow flickering around her eyes brightened. Not by much, but enough to confirm her suspicions. She sighed. It wouldn't be the first time a spell had gone awry. At least it technically wasn't one of mine this time, Twilight Sparkle mentally noted, with some relief.
“So what spell were you trying, Sparks?”
“Umm... I don't know what you're t-talking about.”
“It's ok, darling. You can tell us. We're all friends here,” said Rarity. Rock gave an amused snort at this, but let it go for now.
“I didn't know this was going to happen! The book said it would gather the Elements of Harmony and... and then I could have saved everyone.” Sparks cried, burying her face into a pillow.
“What's that, Twilight?” Rarity asked, as Twilight Sparkle had that usual satisfied grin she got when she'd worked out something complicated.
“Right, you've got to remember that magic has its own logic, and while we might think it doesn't sometimes when you don't get the result you expected, the actual process follows quite an elementary...”
“Twilight, darling, please. You don't need to show your work. Just try to explain it simply, if you can.”
“Oh sorry, right,” Twilight said, with a guilty look upon her face having let herself get carried away again. “Sparks here tried to summon the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, but her magic wasn't anywhere near strong enough to physically move five ponies to her location. So instead, the spell dropped her, Rock here, and I'd assume Pinkie's double and the rest right into our version of Equestria.”
Twilight continued, as she began to get into the swing of her lecture. “I'd imagine as it was the nearest divergent parallel with awakened Elements of Harmony in the six of us. None of them will have actually moved even an inch. Rock woke up where she went to sleep last night and Sparks would have been right here in the library. Quite simple really, when you think about it.” Twilight Sparkle could tell from the glazed-over looks on the others that they didn't find this simple in the slightest. Oh well, she was pretty certain now how to send Sparks, Rock and the rest home.
“All we need to do is gather the six Elements of Harmony from their world back together and the spell should complete, sending them home.” She clapped her forehooves together. “Just like that!”
“There’s one thing I really don't get at all," said Rock, getting up and beginning to pace about the room. "Just what the flying feather are the Elements of Harmony?!”
“There’s six of them: Magic, Generosity, Kindness, Loyalty, Laughter and Honesty.”
“And that has what to do with me exactly?” said Rock, her head tilting to one side as she tried to work out what Twilight was getting at.
“Well you represent one of them. Generosity I'd have thought, because that's Rarity's.”
“Huh, well not something I've ever noticed in myself I’ll admit,” Rock confessed. “So who are these other three ponies then? Pinkamena's probably at her farm wondering what in Equestria—” Rock laughed, as she realised what she was saying. ”Nah, she's probably too busy working to notice a little something like the sun being up.”
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Pinkie had finally stopped bouncing around singing and was waving a hoof in the air.
“What is it, Pinkie?” asked Twilight.
“If I'm still on the rock farm and Rock and Sparks don’t have their normal cutie marks... Then that must mean that there was no sonic rainboom!”
Twilight Sparkle face-hooved. She couldn't believe that she hadn't thought of that. If it hadn’t have been for that event, she could well have turned into even more of a reclusive shut-in. She suddenly felt immensely sorry for her double. Sparks had clearly grown up without Celestia's guidance or Spike to keep her company. Still, there was something bothering her about all this. It couldn’t just be that simple, right? Twilight thought to herself.
“That must be it," said Rarity. "Well done, Pinkie! So what happened when your horn led you to that rock, Rock? Or can I go ahead and guess from the nickname?”
“What's a sonic rainboom?” Rock asked, before shaking her head. “Oh never mind! Y’know what happened? Absolutely nothing! I still don't know what my stupid horn was playing at. Stupid horn and stupider pinhead magic!” Rock breathed hard and tried to calm down. “Still, I figured there might be something in it and ended up running away from home. Not the brightest idea I ever had, but well, you know how some colts and fillies get when they don't have their cutie marks.”
Rarity sympathised with that. Especially when she thought about her little sister and her friends.
“Right, the others are Rainbow Dash.” Twilight Sparkle said, trying to get things back on track. Neither Rock or Sparks had heard of her or recognised the description of a brash flyer with rainbow coloured hair.
“Applejack.” This was also met with blank looks. Twilight Sparkle realised that probably meant that Applejack’s double could well still be in Manehattan. Which would almost certainly make her the double that was the furthest away from the rest.
“And Fluttershy.” Now this got a reaction, as Sparks hid under the bed entirely. She was whimpering in fear, while even Rock gasped at the name.
Sparks had started crying, low choking sobs of fear that caused her entire body to shake.
Rock attempted to answer on their behalf. “Fluttershy, well Captain Fluttershy Posey... She's a Shadowbolt. Oh hay, the Shadowbolt to most ponies.” Rock glanced over at the trembling unicorn. “Don't know why she's got Sparks' here so terrified, but she wouldn't be the first pony I've met who reckons she's scarier than even Nightmare Moon herself. I've heard that she was the one who gave the order to set the torches after the riots in Stalliongrad. Burned most of that poor town to the ground.”
“What... really?!” Twilight genuinely couldn't believe that she was hearing this. “Fluttershy, pink mane, yellow coat and three butterflies for a cutie mark, right?”
“S-she hurt me...” moaned Sparks, still quaking in absolute terror.
Rarity went to the other unicorn’s side and put her hooves around her to try to offer some comfort. “It'll be all right, Sparks. While I certainly can't imagine our Fluttershy doing such horrible things, we will protect you nonetheless.”
It took awhile for Sparks to calm down, but eventually the story came out. When Nightmare Moon had appeared for the first time in Ponyville, Sparks had unwisely challenged the Nightmare with her knowledge of the Elements. She'd thought that she'd been lucky that Nightmare Moon had only mocked her after her little act of defiance. Not knowing what to do and being far too scared to venture into Everfree forest—where her research suggested the Elements might still reside—Sparks had retreated into deep study to try to unlock some way of defeating Equestria's new ruler.
It had been a week later when Fluttershy had turned up on her doorstep unannounced. She’d come wearing her new black lightning-fringed flight suit and a dangerous look upon her face.
“She'd been there too that night. She said I hadn't paid sufficient... re-respect to our new princess, and while Nightmare Moon might be happy to let me go unpunished as I wasn't... w-worth bo-bothering with, Fluttershy wasn't. Then, she hit me... I don't want to t-talk about it.” Rarity hugged Sparks closer as she began sobbing again.
The room was silent except for the sound of Sparks’ crying and the calming shushes of Rarity trying to comfort her. The other ponies just sat there. All were equally appalled that a pony could willingly be so vile.
“Pinkie Pie, can you go and check your parents’ farm and bring your other self back here?” Twilight asked, grabbing her clipboard with her magic along with a quill. She started drawing up a checklist to get things organised. Twilight always felt happier when a checklist was involved.
“Okie dokie lokie!”
“Rarity and Rock, go talk to Applejack.” said Twilight, as she added another entry. “She's our best chance of being able to track down her double. After all, she's the only one out of all of us who has ever been to Manehattan before. After that, let Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash know what’s going on. I'll stay here and take care of Sparks.”
“Of course, Twilight. So, what are we going to do about their doubles?”
“Well Fluttershy could be anywhere. Maybe Canterlot, I'd guess? Still, she might be our best link to finding the other Rainbow Dash. They did know each other as fillies. I wonder what happened given that something must have stopped her from completing the sonic rainboom. I do hope she's okay.”
Rock and Rarity watched Pinkie Pie bounce away, before starting to make their way over to Sweet Apple Acres on the other side of Ponyville.
“That pony’s kinda a nutcase, y’know that?” laughed Rock, as Pinkie Pie disappeared over the horizon at her usual, but inexplicably, high-speed.
“Pinkie Pie is a good friend, even if she can be somewhat random.” Rarity smiled, though still not entirely comfortable being paired up with her frankly rude double. The very idea of a unicorn tribalist prejudiced against other unicorns was giving her a headache too. “So, what's her double like then? You said you knew her?”
“She's a bit on the scary side,” Rock said, momentarily closing her eyes. “I've done a fair few repair jobs for her in the past. Very unlike your friend though. I don't know how Pinkamena's going to react to this at all.”
“I'm sure she'll be fine. Pinkie Pie gets on with everypony, so I can't imagine she'd ever have much trouble with herself.” A couple of miles down the road already, Pinkie felt her cutie mark twitch for just a moment and wondered why. “Anyway, Rock, I'd still like to know more about you. Did you really run away from home?”
“Ain’t sure if it’s any of your business, pinhead.” Rock huffed.
“Well I never! I didn't think I could be so rude!” Rarity was genuinely close to snapping. She was certainly not prone to raising her hooves in violence, monsters aside of course, but even she could only be pushed so far.
Rock hung her head in frustration. The sun was still getting to her and she was finding she actually missed the cool air of the eternal night. Worse was this nosy unicorn who had never experienced the life she had known.
“Look, I'm sorry. I'm really not being fair to you at all, pi... Rarity. I'm having a very odd day here.”
“I understand,” Rarity said, glad for the peace-offering. ”It's not everyday I meet doubles of myself and my friends either.”
They continued on in silence for a bit under a temporary flag of truce, before Rock spoke up again as they began to approach the apple farm. “So, does Sweetie Belle live with you too in that fancy-schmancy shop of yours?”
Rarity carefully ignored the attitude. She was too pleased that they might have something in common they could actually bond over. She'd get this mare into the spa, that Rock so sorely needed, if it was the last thing she did. “Quite often yes, what with our parents away so much. Is your Sweetie Belle going to be all right with you gone? I'd be distraught if I had to leave her alone for too long. Especially without having planned for it.”
Rock grinned with sisterly pride. “What, my axe-crazy sis Sweetie 'Timber!' Belle? She'll be fine. She might cause some chaos with Dinky and Scoots. Just as long as they don't try to attach fireworks to turbo-boost that scooter... I'm sure she wouldn't try that again. Well... reasonably sure.”
“Well fillies do get a bit silly over their cutie marks—”
“Hah! No, they just do that for fun. Sweetie Belle got her cutie mark a couple of months back after chopping down the big blackwood down near the swamp. Still got no idea how she got her heart set on being a lumber pony, but she seems to enjoy it.”
“How...?” Rarity’s mouth gaped open. “She's just a filly and that tree is enormous, and not to mention the hydra?!”
“Persistence, lots and lots of persistence. I think she just likes the loud noises when they eventually topple over.”
“Please do me a favour, and never, ever mention that story to my sister,” said Rarity, with a shudder. She sighed. "Dad must love you. We do get on, but I've never thought he really understand me and my passion."
Rock howled with laughter in a most unladylike fashion causing Rarity to jump. "Oh yeah, the whole claiming I was an orphan and disappearing for over a decade thing really warmed him up to me. I didn't exactly get his or mum’s permission to work down that mine, y'know?"
"You claimed they were dead?!" Rarity was beginning to think she might need her fainting couch handy to get through this conversation.
"Yeah, but when the mine was finally tapped out I figured I'd try to make my peace with them and trotted on back to Ponyville. Once the yelling and crying had quieted down I ended up looking after Sweetie for them, so they could finally take a well-earned break."
“Oh look, we're here," said Rarity, with a certain amount of relief as the front gate of the farm came into sight. She hadn't been sure how much more she could have taken of that conversation.
They eventually tracked down Applejack mid-buck out in the orchard. She already had near half a cart full of crop and she wasn't looking like she was tiring any time soon. After a couple of double takes and a mumbled promise to Celestia that she'd never touch Big Mac's home-brewed scumble ever again, Applejack finally accepted that there may be such a thing as parallel universes, that there could well be another pony that was her out there in Equestria right now, and that this really wasn’t some kind of elaborate unicorn prank or Changeling invasion.
Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. She’d already had to go through this explanation once that, if she was honest with herself, she didn’t fully understand any more than her double did. She was already dreading having to try to explain it to Rainbow Dash.
“Well boy howdy, so there's another me over there right now in Manehattan?” Applejack said, adjusting her hat back into its proper place. “Poor filly, don' even like to think what I'd be like if I'd never left that place. Prob’ly somethin' not unlike you, Rarity... No offence, of course.”
“None taken, darling!” replied Rarity, with a smile. She was well aware of Applejack's usual opinions on any pony possessing class and grace, both of which she had in spades.
“Twi's right though. I probably am the only pony that'd have a good idea of where t’ look for her... Can't go though, these trees aren't going t’ buck themselves,” Applejack said, shrugging her shoulders. There was also the fact that she'd be happy never setting hoof in the big city again. Sure she felt sorry for her double, but the farm had to come first.
“I could pitch in for you, rightly enough,” offered Rock. Rarity noticed that ever since they’d got on the farm her double’s accent, usually a north Trottingham twang, was slipping ever downwards to the level of the Apple family. She briefly wondered whether this was an affectation, or just a way to ingratiate herself with an employer.
“Naw, I can't ask you t’ do that. I don't like too much magic near mah crops and I guess you'd have to stop for beauty treatments or whatnot if yer anything like our Rarity.”
“Who said anything about fancy-shmancy magic?” replied Rock with a feral grin. She turned and gave the nearest apple tree a buck that Big Macintosh would have been proud of.
When it had stopped raining apples, Rock asked, “So, happy I can cover you then? Wouldn't be the first time I'd helped cover the buckin', though normally I'm getting paid the bits by your lil' sister Applebloom to do it.”
Applejack was just standing there in shock. First looking at Rock and then at Rarity, and then back to Rock again. “Shoot, I dunno how she came to be you, but that's a mighty pair of buckin' legs you get on you there, Rock. I'll square things up with my brother and leave as soon as possible. Check in with him tomorrow morning and he'll sort you out. You need a place t’ sleep? Can't offer you much more than a pile of hay in the barn though.”
“Sounds like you're spoiling me, Ms. Applejack. That'd be more than acceptable,” said Rock respectfully.
There was a light thud, followed by the very undignified sounds of a pony falling over. Both Rock and Applejack looked over at Rarity who had clearly just had a go at imitating her double, but without anywhere near the same success.
Rarity picked herself up, attempting not to look too embarrassed. “I suppose there's some knack to it... Never mind, come along Rock. We must be getting on to visit Fluttershy and let her know the news.”
Rock punched Applejack lightly on the shoulder with one of her hooves. "See, pinheads don't know anything about proper work. Don't you worry none though, Ms. Applejack, I'll..."
Applejack spun around so she could look Rock straight in the eyes. "Naw don't you Ms. me, you’re going to listen to me clearly t' what I say right now. I won't stand for that tribalist horse hockey on my farm and certainly not at my good friend Rarity’s expense, who is easily worth ten of you. And that’s whether she can buck an apple tree right or not."
Rock’s ears flattened and she looked down at her hooves in shame. “I... I didn’t mean anything by it. I really am sorry.”
After several more profuse apologies from Rock and Rarity attempting to smooth things over, Applejack finally relented. She’d formed an opinion of Rarity’s double though, and it certainly wasn’t a positive one.
Once they had left the farm, Rock stopped to lean heavily against a fence. “Now that was spooky.”
“What's that, Rock?”
“You know I said I normally got paid by Applebloom?” Rock said, still breathing a little heavily after her encounter with Applejack. “Seeing her sister is like seeing a big version of that self-same filly. Same hat, same accent, definitely the same attitude, even down to the cutie mark... It's actually kinda uncanny.”
“I guess without her big sister around she felt the need to grow up quick to replace her.” Rarity mused, more to herself than to Rock.
“You're probably right, I guess. So, Fluttershy next then? As if this day couldn't get any stranger.”
Twilight Sparkle had given up trying to get any more out of her other self and had retreated downstairs to read a book. Still, her mind was racing with everything she wanted to know. What had happened to Princess Celestia? How did the plants still grow without a sun? How, just how, in Equestria could sweet, nervous Fluttershy have got such a position under Nightmare Moon? But what she really was worried by was Rainbow Dash. Twilight Sparkle was desperately worried that the rainbow-haired speedster might have had something horrible happen to her... After all, if something stopped that fateful sonic rainboom that had connected the six of them back then, who knows what could have happened. Worse, that could mean the other five could be stuck in this Equestria permanently, never to return. She sighed in frustration. If only her other self wasn't so reclusive!
Her train of thought was disrupted by frantic knocking on her front door. “Twilight, let me in. We've got a problem! Major, major problem!” Now that was Rainbow Dash's voice. Given that she normally made her way in by crashing through an open window and now she was actually using the front door for once, Twilight's concern ratcheted up several notches.
Twilight opened the door with her magic and Dash flew in at high-speed. The pegasus was looking absolutely frantic. “Nightmare Moon is back!” Rainbow Dash groaned. She was actually somewhat out of breath for the first time Twilight Sparkle had known her.
“Wait, what do you mean, Dash?” asked Twilight.
“Well,” Rainbow Dash said, as she tried to calmed herself down. “Remember when I went across that bridge back when we were looking for the Elements? Nightmare Moon appeared as these three jerks in flight-suits, like dark-evil knockoffs of the Wonderbolts. She tried to get me to join them and desert you guys. But I refused, ‘cause you know I’m awesome like that. Never mind that though, because I just saw one, Twi! She was flying towards Canterlot and I couldn't catch her! Me, Twilight! I can keep up with anypony normally, if not fly circles around them! It must've been Nightmare Moon... Oh, what are we going to do?”
“This Shadowbolt, was her hair pink?” asked Twilight gently, hoping that she was right about this.
“How do you know they were called the Shadowbolts? I don't remember telling you guys that—even after I dressed up as one for Nightmare Night—but err... Yeah, I think she did.” Twilight started to laugh, much to Rainbow Dash's annoyance. “This is serious, Twilight!”
“Sorry, Rainbow Dash, but you just got out-flown by Fluttershy,” said Twilight with a grin. Even with the seriousness of the situation she was finding this immensely funny. Just for the sheer irony of it all.
After one long explanation punctuated by several more 'whats' and 'you must be kiddings'—along with a quick inspection of Sparks upstairs, who was dragged out from under the bed again—Rainbow Dash was on board and sitting down on her rump in a certain amount of shock that she'd been so badly shown up by Fluttershy of all ponies.
“So wow... Fluttershy. Any idea how that happened? It's so completely out of character for her...”
“No idea,” said Twilight with a certain amount of frustration in her voice. “Sparks isn't being particularly helpful.”
“So-sorry.” Without either of them noticing Sparks had finally come downstairs after following them out of Twilight's bedroom.
“Oh Celestia... I'm sorry, Sparks,” apologised Twilight, somewhat mortified, but still relieved to see her double was finally out of her room. “So, you don't recognise Rainbow Dash at all here?”
Dash posed cockily while Sparks quickly looked her over. “No, I'm so sorry, Twilight. Do you think she might be... W-well you know?”
“I'm sure she's fine and I imagine you've not seen that many other ponies, right?” Sparks shook her head at that to acknowledge that was true. “She'll be fine,” Twilight repeated, partly to convince herself of that fact. “Dash, any idea where you might have ended up if you’d have left the young fliers camp early?”
“No idea. Anyway I'm going to go look for her. First I'll check out Cloudsdale and then I'll try a couple of the other nearby towns.” With that Rainbow Dash spread her wings and took off out of the nearest window.
Sometime later Twilight Sparkle had given up again on trying to get through to Sparks and had returned to her reading. After Rainbow Dash had left, Sparks had gone through a massive panic attack over the possibility of Dash's double never being found and had retreated once more to the relative safety of Twilight's bed sheets. Twilight Sparkle really did want to be sympathetic as she remembered what she'd been like when she was younger, but still she really didn't want to believe she'd ever been this bad. Surely she hadn’t, right?
For the third time that day someone knocked on her door, but this time it was with enough force to break the door completely off its hinges.
It was Fluttershy... But the last time that Twilight had seen Fluttershy with anything like that look on her face she'd been under Discord’s influence. Her Shadowbolt flightsuit was pulled down, leaving her face fully visible, and a pair of was goggles hanging around her neck. “You,” she snarled. “Someone's been a bad filly and is going to get herself in trouble all over again.”
Ah, Twilight thought, she thinks I'm Sparks. “I don't know what you're talking about,” she said, attempting to stall while she tried to work out what to do.
“You can get out-of-the-way for a start, unicorn. I have no quarrel with you. I'm looking for your... your copy.” Twilight involuntarily twitched in surprise at that. “If you were the pony I was looking for, you'd be cowering by now and probably crying too. You look to actually have something about you. Now get out of my way or I will make you get out the way.”
Twilight Sparkle snorted, feeling her temper begin to boil up. “How about instead, you sit down and we can discuss this like civilised ponies.”
Fluttershy’s wings flared out and she began to advance upon Twilight slowly. “I said move. I am Captain Fluttershy of the Shadowbolts, chosen herald of Nightmare Moon, rightful princess of all Equestria. I don’t repeat myself.”
“Sparks is with me and I'm not going to let you hurt her ever again!” said Twilight defiantly, feeling her mane catching flame. How dare anypony act this way!
Fluttershy's eyes narrowed. She exploded into sudden movement and charged right at this stupid unicorn, who actually seem to think that she could stand up to her! Next thing she knew Fluttershy was in a whole world of pain. She was pinned down with two hooves pressing down on her chest and terrible, bright, glowing eyes staring right back into hers. Forming a blade with her feathers—like the Royal Guards who had honed her in combat—Fluttershy reflexively slashed one of her wings across where the unicorn’s neck should be. Hitting only air, she looked up. Twilight had teleported again. This time several feet directly into the air. Fluttershy barely had time to let out an eep before Twilight landed heavily on her, hooves first, completely knocking the wind out of her.
“Under. My. Protection. Understand? Now, Fluttershy, would you like to discuss this?” Twilight pushed down her hooves, increasing the pressure on the pegasus’ chest to underline her point.
“Okay, okay, I get the message. Do you want to get off me now?” Fluttershy rolled up and onto her hooves after Twilight got off her. “That's some impressive magic you've got there, reflexes too. Never seen a unicorn able to do that to me before, and especially not that weakling copy of yours. So, what's going on here anyway?” Fluttershy rubbed the sore spot on her head where she had collided with the wall after Twilight had first teleported out of the way.
Twilight Sparkle was beginning to wish somepony else was around to keep explaining this over and over, but the captain was a lot faster on the uptake than Rainbow Dash had been.
“So, it was all your double’s fault then?”
Twilight Sparkle had been wondering about that. There was still something about this situation that really didn't add up to her. “Possibly, I think she might have had some help from some other pony. I mean I’m fairly certain I couldn’t have cast that spell successfully, so I’ve got no idea how Sparks managed it.”
“Well, I can just look into that when we get back to the real Equestria. I’m sure she’ll tell me everything I want to know.” Twilight Sparkle really didn't like the way the Shadowbolt had said that at all, but left the threat hanging in the air alone for now.
“This makes sense though, thank you,” Fluttershy said, bowing her head for a moment. “I woke up where my castle should be in the Everfree and it's in ruins. It’s like it had never been rebuilt at all and the sun, of all things, is up in the sky where it absolutely should not be. So I flew as fast as I could to Canterlot and I saw her, my Mistress, all diminished and pathetic. I think she was actually having some morning tea and making nice. I didn't particularly want to risk a confrontation—especially with she who must not be named back—so I went looking for someone dumb enough to try something like this and look, I was totally right first time. Woohoo.” Fluttershy’s tone was positively oozing sarcasm at that last part. “So, what now then?”
“We need to get you together with five other ponies, including Sparks. Only problem is that we don't know where one of them might be. Her name is Rainbow Dash. She should have been in the year below you in flight camp? We were hoping you might remember what happened to her.”
“Rainbow, Rainbow...” Fluttershy closed her eyes, as she tried to think back to her days in flight camp. “Blue pegasus with a distinctive rainbow mane, right?”
“Yes!” said Twilight excitedly.
“Barely lasted a couple of weeks from what I remember.” Fluttershy gave a half-shrug. “Flight camp’s really not for everypony. I barely got through it without being permanently grounded myself.”
“Oh no...” said Sparks quietly. She had been surreptitiously peeking in and listening to the conversation. Fluttershy raised a hoof to give her, what Twilight suspected, was supposed to be a friendly wave and Sparks disappeared again with a little squeal of terror.
Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “So, to get us home we need some rainbow haired dropout who could be anywhere... Well that’s just wonderful.”
“I'm not even sure where we should even start looking. Or if she's even somewhere to be found at all...”
The no longer Great and Powerful Trixie woke up in a ditch by being shaken awake. She'd have to admit that this was not the first time this had happened, and it probably wasn't going to be the last. Trixie knew eventually that this would get unbearable enough that she'd crawl back to Ponyville to try to retrieve and make something from the wreckage that had been her life. But for now she was content to wallow in... well whatever ponies are supposed to wallow in. Last night this had turned out to be this muddy ditch. Which, aside from a few over-friendly centipedes, had actually been kind of comfortable. So she wasn't in too good a mood to be woken up by some incredibly rude individual who was now pony-handling her.
Rubbing her eyes in the light of the early morning sun, Trixie was surprised to find her assailant was that rainbow haired thug who had heckled her back at that fateful stage show. Even stranger, was that for some reason, this pegasus was wearing her hat.
To be continued.
Authors Note: The Sweetie Belle as a Lumberjack stuff is inspired by the hilarious CMC fic The Cutie Mark Conspiracy by Cold in Gardez.
Inky Pie woke up to the sounds of hectic activity coming from outside. She’d had the rock farm to herself for the first time in a good long while, which was all thanks to her sister Blinkie and their parents visiting relatives in Baltimare. She had planned to lie in for once after a solid night on her own private stash of Wild Pegasus whiskey. So she definitely wasn’t best pleased to find herself awake well before the afternoon. Especially given she’d been having her favourite dream; the one where she throttled her annoying cousin to death with her own bow tie before making passionate love to her cousin’s now unattached DJ marefriend in the pouring rain. She always kept getting distracted though by the sight of a unicorn on a unicycle chasing a dragon waving a banner going past... Inky was never quite sure what that bit was about.
She didn’t hate her cousin honestly. Inky just really, really, really disliked her. Not that Inky would actually do or say anything about it and as far as she knew the feeling wasn’t mutual. Inky knew it truly was an irrational dislike, so it just stayed all in her head. It would just be nice if ponies would stop confusing the two of them... It was bad enough being stuck on a rock farm in the middle of absolutely no where, but constantly being compared to her far more successful cousin who lived a life Inky could only dream about was like they were delighting in rubbing her situation in. Inky did wonder sometimes if Fiddlesticks—their second cousin once removed—over in the Apple clan ever felt the same way.
Inky lay in bed trying to ignore the sounds laying siege to her consciousness. She was so very comfortable in her nice warm bed and snuggled up under the heavy covers. Even if her mouth did feel drier than a wasteland dust storm after her drinking last night. The noise outside didn’t seem to be stopping any time soon though, so with a few choice muttered oaths she resigned herself to the sad fact that she would indeed have to get up today. Inky hauled herself out of bed with a groan before looking out the window.
Inky was fairly certain that should mean something, but went downstairs to make a cup of tea to try to process this thought through her sleep-fogged head. As the kettle boiled she blearily glanced out the window again.
“Pink,” she muttered to herself before having a go at rubbing some of the gunk out of her eyes from the night before with her hooves. There certainly was a lot of that pinkness out there. It probably meant something important and it certainly seemed familiar, but it could probably wait for now.
One reinvigorating cuppa later she looked out the window again.
Thirty hectic seconds later Inky was out the house and staring at the scene before her in utter horror. There were Pinkie Pies, many, many Pinkie Pies, whole multitudes of them in fact. Pinkie Pie’s moving rocks about the farm, Pinkie Pie’s hauling on pulleys lifting boulders into strange lattice-like structures made of wood that seemed to defy the laws of physics and even more Pinkie Pie’s were constructing a whole new building that was taking shape on the other side of the farm.
One of the Pinkie’s noticed her sister and waved. Moments later there was just the one and she was trotting over to Inky, whose eye was twitching rapidly as she struggled to deal with this. As she approached Inky just about noticed—as her mind was shutting down in self-preservation at the sheer impossibility of what she had just witnessed—that she hadn’t seen her sister with straight hair like this since Pinkie had been a little filly without a cutie mark.
“Hello, Inky," said the straight-haired Pinkie. "I’m not sure how it happened, but based on the sun being up, my merchant guild offices in Canterlot not being there and the lack of a visitor’s centre here on the farm; I’m not the Pinkamena that you know. But as I’m here anyway I thought I’d do some work on the farm to help out. Your rock spacing was very inefficient, so I’m correcting it for optimal mineral growth and gem harvesting. I hope you don’t mind?” Pinkamena looked with some concern at her sister, who had now started shaking. “Inky, are you feeling okay? I know this must be a bit of a shock.”
“W-what?” Inky just about managed to blurt out. Her eyes were twitching so badly now that she was worried one of them might pop out entirely.
“Probably some kind of magical phenomenon. Still that’s no excuse not to get on with some work.”
“You’re not my sister?” Inky grasped at the one part she’d understood so far. She was also wondering if she had any whiskey left and whether that would help her to be able to process this.
“I am your sister, just not the sister you know I’d assume. I can tell you’re not the one I know from your geode cutie mark.” Inky looked at this strange other Pinkie’s flank and instead of three balloons there was a lidless staring eye in the middle of a star. She also finally noticed this Pinkie was wearing a black tie, which if anything, disturbed her even more.
“But, but how do you know any of this?!” Inky asked desperately, rubbing at her head which was beginning to pound. The hungover had been bad enough, but this was just ridiculous!
“I popped over to Canterlot to have a look around when I woke up and I saw the sun up in the sky for the first time in a year after the beginning of the long night. Observed Nightmare Moon enough that I’m certain she’s not a Nightmare anymore. Though if anything she’s got even louder. So then I checked out my office there and given it’s still a...” Pinkamena paused. Velvet was a valued member of the merchants guild and she seemed very much the same here, so how to describe it politely? “Ahem, ‘speciality’ goods shop, so given all that this must be some kind of alternate Equestria. I’m sure somepony will be along to sort it all out shortly. My knees are twitching once every couple of seconds so I’d say two hours? Possibly three, I’m not exactly certain,” Pinkamena explained with growing concerns that Inky didn’t seem to be handling this too well. She was pleased though to see her sister on the rock farm though, as her Inky had fled to Canterlot to play the tuba in a band with their cousin years ago.
Inky stared at this other version of her sister and decided she could continue to try to understand this, but seeing as she wasn’t even going to start trying to work out the multiple Pinkie workforce thing, or how this Pinkamena had got to Canterlot and back this morning—which would take at least a couple of days by hoof for any normal earth pony—so she mentally waved the little white flag, surrendered to the insanity and decided to just go with it. “Thanks for the help on the farm. You’ll have to show me how those structures work. Don't suppose you'd like a cuppa?”
Seeing that Trixie’s eyes were finally open, the rainbow-haired thug decided to add yelling to the shaking. Trixie really did think this was most unreasonable, especially as it didn’t seem to have the courtesy to make any sense whatsoever.
“Where’s the caravan?! Trixie, have you been drinking, why haven’t I been drinking? Did you go out last night without me? I’ve been looking all over for you, the caravan is gone, my cape is gone and you’re in a ditch! What's going on, Trixie? What's going on?!”
Quickly getting tired of being shaken and shouted at, Trixie enveloped the other mare in a telekinetic field and placed her back down firmly on her haunches. “Can you calm down? Trixie doesn’t know what you’re talking about.” Her voice was still weak after not speaking to another pony in months, but irritation was quickly giving her strength.
“Trixie?” the other mare asked, clearly upset as Trixie’s magic kept her pinned in place for now.
“Trixie thanks you for bringing back her hat though,” she said, letting the other mare go. She attempted to lift the hat back into it’s rightful place on her head, but was stopped as the pegasus held on hard to it with her hooves.
“It’s my hat, we agreed remember? You’re the talent, but I’m the star!” The pegasus lifted herself gently into the air with a beat of her wings and thrust her forehooves out wide with her head swept back in a super dramatic pose. “I am the Awesome and Stupendous Rainbow Dash!” She held the position for a moment, before glancing at Trixie with surprise as she’d missed her cue.
“All out,” Trixie said, with a shrug. “What do you want anyway? Trixie has not seen you since Ponyville.”
“But... I’ve never been to Ponyville,” the Awesome and Stupendous, but somewhat Puzzled Rainbow Dash replied with an impressively confused expression on her face. “That’s on the border to Everfree forest, why would any sensible pony want to go there?”
Trixie laughed ruefully. “Yeah, why would any sensible pony want to go to Ponyville... So, Trixie didn’t once get heckled by you and your friends, before being humiliated at the hooves of that purple unicorn?”
“I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about, Trixie. Now why don’t you stop being such a silly pony, give me a kiss and I’ll forgive you. Then you can tell me where the caravan is.”
Trixie’s eyes widened; this was quickly getting utterly weird. Looking at this Rainbow Dash she was getting more and more convinced that this was not the pony she had met before. The hairstyle was completely different and she couldn’t be sure, but hadn’t she had a lightning bolt cutie mark or something like that? As this pony had a laughing mask for her mark instead, something very odd was going on here. Otherwise she was the same from what Trixie could recall and somehow she knew Trixie. Even more than that they seemed to be involved, which was completely ridiculous anyway as she really wasn’t Trixie’s type.
“Rainbow Dash, right? We should head to Ponyville. It's only a day’s travel from here.” Trixie sighed—she really didn’t feel ready for that particular reunion yet—but she had to admit she was intrigued by what was going on here and couldn’t think of anything else to do. Assuming of course she was right that this was a different pegasus from the one that she had met. If not, that purple unicorn who had beaten the Ursa so easily would probably be the best pony to work this out, as loathe Trixie was to admit it. “Trixie thinks there’s somepony you should meet there. The caravan is there too.” Which wasn’t technically a lie, well as far as Trixie knew anyway, given that was where she’d left it after that damn Ursa had stomped on her home.
“Okay, if you say so, Trixie! So, c’mon is this pony cute then?”
Spike walked through the door of the library just like he did every day. He’d been out to pick up some food for him and Twilight, so he was certainly not expecting to be seized about the neck, skilfully flipped into the air, before being caught and pinned by a very strong hoof against the nearest bookcase. Two cold eyes that filled his entire world stared into his, as if attempting to discern his purpose.
“You even think about flaming, I’ll break every single bone in your body, vermin.”
The young dragon shook his head, as if that was the absolute last thing he was going to do. His tough scales were doing a good job at protecting him for now, but he could feel the bookcase behind him beginning to crack. So he didn’t think for one moment that his assailant couldn’t carry out their promise with ease.
“You’re a long way from home, little dragon. Still shouldn’t take me to long to fly you back out to the wastes. Course what height I drop you from all depends on how well you behave yourself.”
“Um... would you mind putting him down please?” Spike turned to look to see who had come to his rescue. It was a mare that looked eerily like his adopted big sister. The other Twilight was peeking down from the top of the stairs and shaking like a leaf. She didn’t smell right though, so it couldn’t actually be Twilight, and that was really confusing.
“You dare to actually speak to me?” Spike was let go and dropped to the floor. Picking himself up he was stunned to see a pegasus who looked exactly like Fluttershy—well aside from the dark flight suit and goggles she was wearing—advancing menacingly on the not-Twilight. The not-Twilight screamed and fled. The door to the kitchen burst open revealing the real Twilight Sparkle, her horn already glowing with purple magic. The not-Fluttershy disappeared in a flash, before reappearing instantaneously upended.
“Anyone want to tell me what’s going on?” asked Spike, looking from his Twilight, to the not-Fluttershy—who was attempting to recover her poise after being dumped on her head—to the stairs where the other Twilight had disappeared and back again.
“Spike, meet Captain Fluttershy of the Shadowbolts, herald of Nightmare Moon. Yes, really. Fluttershy, this is Spike, he’s my number one assistant. You so much as even look at him in a way that I don’t like and it’s going to be round two and I promise you, this time I won’t hold back. Spike, I swear I’ll give you the full explanation later. Now I’m going to have try to calm down another me, who is probably hiding under my bed. Again.” Twilight disappeared in a flash of magic to tend to her double. Leaving the pegasus and dragonling alone once more.
“She’s got a dragon for an ‘assistant’...” Fluttershy said to herself, with no small amount of awe, before turning to Spike. “Sorry about that. Still count yourself lucky. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered with the warning and you’d be falling right now from about a mile or so up. Heh, though not for long.” She grudgingly apologised while musing to herself that she’d have to reign her normal behaviour in even further to avoid any more trouble. Fluttershy wasn’t too sure she’d be able to handle Twilight if it came to it. This was turning into a deeply aggravating day and when she got back, somepony was going to pay for this.
“Err, yeah no hard feelings here," said Spike as he brushed himself down. "Want a cupcake?” he asked, as he retrieved the now slightly squashed sugary treats from where they’d been dropped during the assault.
Fluttershy accepted one with a mumbled thanks. Which turned into a real smile as they really were genuinely good. Better than anything she’d had at the palace, if she was being honest. “A dragon assistant, what must be near Alicorn levels of magic, and she lives in a library?!” she muttered to herself. “Just what is that unicorn anyway?”
“She’s Twilight Sparkle,” replied Spike, with a toothy grin full of brotherly pride.
The visit to Fluttershy’s house had gone a lot better as far as Rarity was concerned. Rock had been too gob-smacked by the cutesy-wootsy cottage and it’s animal inhabitants to say anything that might upset her. Especially as she knew the owner as one of the most villainous ponies to hit Equestria since the legendary unicorn necromancer, Dread Mare herself, from the Discordian age. She’d commented afterwards that it had been like catching Nightmare Moon unawares in a fluffy pink bathrobe.
Fluttershy herself had coped as well as could be expected to find out that there was an evil double of her flying about. Rarity had admittedly sugar-coated matters a bit. She'd left it simply by saying her double wasn’t a very nice pony who worked for Nightmare Moon. Leaving out the part where the other Fluttershy had brutalised Sparks of course, as she didn’t want to upset her gentle friend. Rarity was actually kind of hoping that the two Fluttershy’s wouldn’t even have to meet at all, before the other six ponies could be sent back to where they came from.
She had raised the point eventually after many ‘oh mys' that this was something that Discord might have put in motion. Which might mean he was free from his stone prison. Rarity managed to convince Fluttershy, and herself for that matter, that while he might well do something like this, he wouldn’t be happy just leaving it at that without throwing in some chocolate rain or some other randomness as well.
After they’d finally left Fluttershy’s house, Rock and Rarity had found themselves at a bit of a loose end. It was too late in the day for Rock to start work at Sweet Apple Acres, while Rarity knew she wasn’t going to manage to be creative after the day she’d had. So they’d agreed to have a very late lunch. Which they managed to get through—with a certain amount of awkwardness—as they tried to avoid criticising what the other mare had chosen to eat. Then they headed back to Carousel Boutique, as Sweetie Belle would be back from school now, and Rock had asked if it would be alright to meet her.
They’d agreed that Rock would be a cousin Belle from out-of-town, as Rarity reckoned that the less ponies that knew about this, the smoother it would be to gather the six to send them back home.
Sweetie Belle had been attempting to play with Opal when they'd arrived. The cat had taken the opportunity to flee upon their entrance into the shop rather than having to wear the outfit that the young filly had in mind.
“Sweetie, this is Rock. She’s a cousin of ours, who is taking a holiday from the... um,” Rarity trailed off as her mind went blank, realising she didn’t actually know where any mines were.
“Puddinghead’s Folly. We’ve got a silver mine up there,” filled in Rock promptly.
Rarity smiled at Rock, mentally thanking her for the save. “That’s right, Rock’s going to be staying at Sweet Apple Acres while she’s visiting.”
“Cool!" The little filly jumped around, excited to be meeting such a cool new relative. "Ooh sis, do you think I could get a mining cutie mark? We’ve never tried that before and there’s no chance that could possibly end up with us getting covered in tree sap!”
“Tree sap?” asked Rock quizzically. She’d felt that she’d coped reasonably well so far. She was even beginning to get used to the sunlight. But seeing her little sister with an elaborately styled mane, instead of wrapped in her old mining bandanna that she’d given Sweetie last Hearth’s Warming Eve, and without an axe cutie mark was really getting to her.
“Believe me, I’ve asked and she’s never given me a decent explanation. Sweetie, you’re not going mining, it’s dangerous,” Rarity said, and Rock nodded in agreement.
“Tell you what, Sweetie Belle. How about I tell you the story about the time we tunnelled into a Quarray Eel nest?”
“Yay!” Sweetie Belle shouted, both happily and with impressive volume, before showing Rock to her room.
Maybe this will all be all right after all, Rarity thought to herself, She was happy that at least, for all Rock’s faults, she could be nice to her little sister.
Trixie wondered exactly what she’d done to deserve such a cruel and unusual punishment. It might have been a beautiful sunny day with the birds singing and the flowers out. Perfect conditions for the long trot through the Whitetail Woods, but Trixie couldn’t enjoy it. Trixie’s current mood had only one possible cure and that would be for this damned pegasus mare that she’d taken up with to actually stop talking!
From what Trixie could remember of the other Rainbow Dash, she had been rude, arrogant and utterly convinced that she was Princess Celestia’s special gift to pony kind. That of course was Trixie’s job.
Still, if Trixie now had to choose between that Rainbow Dash and her current traveling companion she’d have picked the Ponyville one now in a heartbeat. If she’d been physically capable of doing the journey to Ponyville at a gallop she would have done that just to get it over with all the sooner, but living as a homeless drifter and sleeping rough for months had put paid to that idea. Trixie had good enough survival skills after learning the hard way how to make the bits stretch when her shows hadn’t brought in enough money, or after those unfortunate but all too frequent times she’d been run out of a town with nothing. Even so she couldn’t deny that the last year had taken a toll on her, both mentally and physically.
If Rainbow Dash could just stop talking for one moment, if she just wasn’t so relentlessly happy about everything, if she could just omit one single detail of her life, then Trixie might have been able to cope. As it was though, Trixie was half hoping that the wood might be infested with manticores or something that might be able to put her out of her misery. At least that would be faster than this slow torture.
“...and Fleur, she’s a professional model you know and a very close personal friend! Of course this all happened before she got famous and now she’s married to Fancy Pants of all ponies. Such a handsome stallion and such a catch! But such a loss to every single stallion and mare out there when she went off the market, none of us could compete with her on the stage back in the day when Fleur turned on the charm, though we did try of course and we had such fun when the curtains went down and oh the things that mare could do with...” Rainbow Dash nattered away, cantering lightly through the woods without a single care in the world.
“Rainbow Dash?” Trixie said, interrupting the other pony's incessant flow.
“Oh, nothing.” Trixie couldn’t believe that had actually worked but she wasn’t complaining that it had. Now she was just bucking herself that she hadn’t thought of it sooner.
Completely knocked off her train of thought, Rainbow Dash actually trotted along in silence for a bit. Of course the blissful relief couldn’t last. “Hey Trixie, the sun’s shining!”
“Your point being, assuming you actually have one?”
“But Nightmare Moon said the night was the best thing ever, and she’s so hot and awesome and she works so hard on the night sky for us all, so the sun being up after so long is a bad thing, right?”
Trixie stopped up short. The other mare continued on for a bit before realising she was trotting along by herself and turned round to see what was up. “Right, this may come as a bit of a surprise and Trixie really doesn’t know why or how for that matter, but I’m not your Trixie and this isn’t your world. Nightmare Moon only came back for a single night, or so Trixie heard anyway.”
“So it’s been day instead all this time?” While she still wasn’t her type, Trixie did have to admit to herself, that Rainbow Dash did look pretty adorable with her muzzle all scrunched up like that. Her hat looked pretty good on the other mare too now that Trixie was thinking about it. She shut down that particular line of thought down hard.
“Well days and nights. Princess Luna raises the moon while Princess Celestia raises the sun.” Rainbow Dash actually winced at Celestia's name, which caused Trixie to raise an eyebrow.
“You’re not my special somepony?” Rainbow Dash pouted.
“'Fraid not,” admitted Trixie.
“Aww... ooh wait, idea! We could be special someponies too!” Dash began to advance slowly on Trixie, who was starting to really not like the way this conversation was going.
“Woah, slow down! You wouldn’t want to cheat on your Trixie would you?” Trixie asked desperately.
“Oh, she doesn’t mind! I like lots of ponies!” The other Rainbow Dash grinned widely, her eyes sparkling as she was getting worryingly close to invading Trixie’s personal space.
“I’d mind!” Trixie protested, so flustered that she managed to say something not in the thirdpony for once. After so long with nopony else to talk to other than herself, it had become a habit that she was now finding very hard to break. “How about you tell Trixie how we got involved while we get on to Ponyville? Trixie’s sure we can get some answers there.” Trixie set off at the quickest canter she could manage, hoping that this would work in distracting her again.
“Sure!” said Dash, mentally jumping rails once more with ease, and chased after Trixie to keep up. “Must have been five years back, you were doing one of your very first shows back down on the coast in Bridleton...”
Trixie remembered, after earning her cutie mark she had known she’d wanted to wow other ponies with amazing feats of magic never before seen by pony eyes, but first she needed to somehow break into actually being able to do it for a living. She’d been staying in Bridleton with her only surviving relative, her uncle Con Job. A thoroughly disreputable earth pony—from her mother’s side of the family—who had first got her interested in stage magic. That had been all thanks to the stories he'd told of his, probably highly embellished, exploits. He’d been the one who had convinced the pony in charge of the bookings by calling in some favours to give Trixie a chance on a stage set up on the pier itself.
“I’d been doing a whole bunch of bit parts, dancing and other background roles," Rainbow Dash said, somewhat wistfully as she trotted along beside Trixie. "Doing the rounds and trying to get a permanent paying gig myself, as I'd drifted from town to town and I happened to catch your show, well the other Trixie’s show I guess. She’d been doing some basic tricks, you know flowers out of her hat and stuff. She didn’t seem too confident though, the crowd were barely interested and that was when some drunks started making trouble.”
That had been the first time she’d said those fateful words ‘anything you can do, I can do better’, Trixie recalled. The first pony, a brutish unicorn, had been a professional duellist and Trixie had humiliated him by having his sword chase him around the stage. The crowd had absolutely loved it. Riding the waves of the applause, Trixie had called out pony after pony, until the applause and laughter had been positively rapturous. That had sealed the deal with the pier manager and Trixie had been a permanent fixture, until she’d saved enough for her caravan to take her show on the road.
“Well I thought, ‘I just bet I know something I can do better than you’ and flew up to join you. My Trixie asked what I did that was so special and then I kissed her.”
Trixie blushed; nopony had ever tried that with her. Which was probably a good thing, Trixie considered, as she doubted she’d have handled it very well.
“Eventually she got her wits back and after all the catcalls and howls of laughter from the crowd had calmed down. Trixie apologised to the audience, but she was finishing the set, right then and there, as she was conceding defeat and asked me if I wanted to go out sometime, like say right that moment. The following morning over breakfast, we came up with the idea of teaming up to combine our talents and created the Awesome and Stupendous Rainbow Dash. It took us awhile to perfect the act—with you backstage using mirrors and stagecraft to hide your casting and with me upfront as the star—but when we got it down we were making more than enough bits for both of us and eventually we left Bridleton and took the show all across Equestria.”
Trixie had to admit she was seriously impressed with her double. Most unicorns barely knew more than a single spell linked to their special talent. So Trixie with her jack-of-all-trades approach, along with of course, the all important presentation to came across as impressive to the ignorant yokels—which she preferred not to admit to herself—that made up most of her target audience. But a spell casting pegasus with the powers of a unicorn and showmareship on top of that too? Now that had the potential to be something truly special if it was done well and the other Trixie and Rainbow Dash sounded like they’d nailed it. That was the kind of show you could take to Las Pegasus, Manehattan or even Canterlot and have a chance of making the big time.
Rainbow Dash went quiet for a bit and appeared to be thinking about something, suddenly her wings extended sharply, startling Trixie and causing her to dread whatever she was going to say next. “So...” she said slyly. “If you’re another Trixie, does that mean there’s another Rainbow Dash here?”
“That’s right, well Trixie’s assuming she’s not now in your Equestria. That’s why we’re going to Ponyville so we can check,” admitted Trixie.
Trixie really didn’t like the way Rainbow Dash was grinning at that.
Pinkie Pie had finally nearly made it to the rock farm. It was a trip she made every couple of weeks to see her sisters given it was much faster for her than it was for them, even if it still made her... uncomfortable to stay too long.
Cresting the hill she took in the new building, nearly half fully constructed before she looked down into the valley, she saw....
A migraine ripped through her mind. So painful it drove Pinkie to her knees. She cried out once as the pain took her, before collapsing into merciful unconsciousness.
Pinkie Pie woke up to a very familiar face, one that she saw in the mirror every day in fact, looking down at her.
“Are you alright?”
“...schup-schapes,” Pinkie Pie slurred, still pretty much entirely out of it.
“...not gonna be made inna cupcakes.” Or something like that, from what Pinkamena could make out from her still completely incoherent double.
Pinkamena prodded her double with a fore hoof, firmly though not unkindly, somewhat concerned that her double appeared to be delirious. The whole idea was silly anyway, given she’d really never got the knack of cooking and certainly wasn’t one for baking treats.
With a speed, that for any other pony would have been completely unthinkable if not impossible, Pinkie Pie leapt to her hooves her hair exploding outwards into its normal happy curls. Her earlier pain, along with what she’d seen that had knocked her flat, completely forgotten.
“Hi, me! Or me who is not me as I’m me, oooh do you want to be Pinkie One or Pinkie Two? You know what this calls for? This calls for a PARTY, Pinkie Two!” Pinkie bounced happily around her double.
“Why does this call for a party?” Asked Pinkamena slowly, still convinced that her double must have fallen down and hit her head to be suffering from such a terrible delirium.
Pinkie stopped, that was a tricky one as surely the answer should be self-evident to herself and why wasn’t her double smiling anyway? “Because there’s two Pinkie Pie’s and that means every pony will be my friend twice as much than they were before and that means where ponies would smile, smile, smile when they saw me before but now they’ll smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, and smile!” This was going to be the best thing ever! Pinkie was already imagining the happy faces as not one but two Pinkie’s bounced down the streets of Ponyville.
“I don’t have any friends, never really seen the need for them.” Ignoring the loud dramatic gasp from Pinkie, she continued. “Anyway it’s Pinkamena please if you don’t mind, Pinkie. It was the name our parents gave us you know.”
“Don’t have any friends, never, ever...?” Pinkie said, desperately trying hard not to believe something so horrible could possibly be true. Somewhere at the edge of her mind, she could hear a piece of lint and some turnips calling.
“Well acquaintances, business partners and I do love my family I suppose, but friends? No I’ve never really had the knack," explained Pinkamena. "Always seemed like a waste of time when I could be working really.”
“I’ll be your friend, Pinkamena! If I can’t be friends with myself then nopony can! Then we have to have a party as then we can make you lots and lots of friends, that’s what parties are for!” Parties would solve everything, they always had and they always would. Okay, so there had been Discord and there had been Black Snooty Pants... Pinkie wondered if Twilight Sparkle would mind them using the Elements of Harmony on her double if the party plan somehow failed to pan out.
“I hardly see what we have time for that given I need to return to my Equestria, I have obligations and responsibilities to fulfil and I can hardly do that stuck here can I?” Pinkamena pointed out.
“Oh...” Pinkie said sadly, how could Pinkamena not want to be her friend? She was her, so surely they just had to be the best of friends right? Maybe it was that stupid black ties fault and it was blocking the friendship from hitting her doubles’ brain. Memo to self: Steal the tie! Still while she waited for a chance to put her fiendish master stroke into effect, she probably should tell Pinkamena what was going on. “I was sent to get you. We need to go to Ponyville and then you can go back home.”
“There, that wasn’t so hard was it?” Pinkamena said, relieved that her other self was being sensible at last.
“No, I suppose not,” Pinkie replied mournfully, still struggling with the idea that she wasn’t allowed to be friends with herself. Clearly she’d just have to convince Pinkamena they could be the best of friends if it was the last thing she did!
“One moment, just let me say thank you to Inky for her hospitality.” The space that had just previously been occupied by Pinkamena was now empty of the pink pony that it should have contained. Pinkie looked around in confusion for where her double could have gone before hearing the sound of a bottle smashing coming from the farmhouse followed by a very surprised EEK! from her sister Inky.
Pinkamena stepped back out in front of her, completely out of thin air, “Have you talked to Inky about her drinking problem? She does seem to startle very easily, she seemed to get quite hysterical when my head came out of the sink.”
Pinkie had sat down to try to get a grip on this, but was failing badly. “How... how did you do that? I was looking at you... You can’t do it when ponies are looking at you, that’s... that’s not allowed.”
“You mean you can’t move like that?” Pinkamena asked with some surprise—she’d always known the things she could do weren’t exactly normal—but surely the two of them couldn’t be that different could they?
“Well yes, I think I can anyway but only when somepony is about to break a Pinkie Promise or I’m singing or somepony is hiding or it just seems appropriate at the time...” Pinkie tried to explain. It had never really been something she’d had much conscious control over or even really thought about it, but the way her double was casually doing it disturbed her on some base level she didn’t understand at all.
“Just follow me then.” Pinkamena disappeared. Pinkie had tried to follow it—having never seen it from the outside before—but it was too fast for even her to follow. One moment the other pony had been there and the next she was gone.
Barely seconds later, Pinkamena was back again. “You didn’t follow me to Ponyville, what are you waiting for? Mayor Mare’s still dying her hair I see.”
“But, but you just can’t, I couldn’t...”
“And why can’t I?" Pinkamena's eyes glowed with an inner fire as she spoke. "If I can go anywhere I like in Equestria in a blink of an eye, manipulate future events, or even create more of myself to work on tasks more efficiently, it’s just all far too useful not to use them to the very fullest, even if I’ve never seen another pony that can do what I can do. They’ve made me a small fortune of bits, but compared to the power and the control, oh the bits are nothing, Pinkie! Not compared to running a business coalition, neigh an empire, that started right here on a humble rock farm.” Really Princesses and Nightmares were completely irrelevant when compared to the cold-stern hoof that was modern pony business, as far as Pinkamena was concerned.
“BUT IT’S NOT FUNNY!!!” Pinkie yelled, completely incensed by her other self. To see herself so serious, so straightforward and using the way she was that even if she didn’t understand, she still knew somehow that exploiting it for her own benefit, just being able to consciously control it well it just wasn’t right! She tried to calm down a bit but she was so angry she was snorting in rage. “I don’t even want to be your friend now!” Pinkie gasped, she couldn’t quite believe she’d just said that.
Pinkamena cantered back a few steps, completely taken back by the sudden vehemence from her normally cheerful other self, whose eyes had turned golden and hair, somehow, was deflating and leaking air in a way that didn’t make logical sense.
“I’m sorry if I offended you, Pinkie, I promise not to do anything outside the normal any more if it upsets you.” She wasn’t that sorry, but for some reason her other self cared deeply about it and Pinkamena didn’t think the wise thing to do here was to start making enemies. Especially from a pony that was trying to help her get home. So if that meant she had to waste some time humouring her double, then she’d just have to grin and bear it. Well maybe not grin, it just wasn’t her style.
“Okey dokie! C’mon I’ll race you to Ponyville!” Pinkie bounced off completely back to normal already with a happy smile on her lips and a song kicking in to get them on their way.
Pinkamena followed at what quickly turned into a full on gallop as she struggled to keep up with the manic party pony, who seemed to be able to keep in front of her just by bouncing. Somehow she was getting even faster as Pinkamena was starting to feel her muscles strain and she was going full-out as it was. Pinkamena did wonder how this didn’t count as abusing their abilities, but if it got her home quicker she certainly wasn’t going to complain! She tapped deep into herself and the terrain began to flow beneath her hooves as two pink blurs shot towards Ponyville.
Rock sat by Sweetie Belle's bed, just watching the young filly sleep. She'd gotten into the habit after she'd come back to Ponyville and taken on the responsibility to look after the younger sister from their parents. The hard-bitten unicorn knew this wasn't really her sister. Still sitting like this was the closest she could get to feeling like she was back home in the real Equestria where there wasn't this frustrating other version of her. A mare completely obsessed with girly nonsense like fashion and dresses. Rock had decided it would be better to try to get on with this Rarity, but seeing herself so weak, so pathetic, so completely well, a complete and utter stuck up pinhead was grating on her like a constant headache she couldn't quite shift.
Still, Rock did have to admit, as she looked out the window that there was one thing to be said for this Equestria and that was the night sky. She couldn't put a hoof on it but there was a sense of inspiration and care that made the constellations Rock remembered from back home seem like a lesser imperfect copy now she could compare the two. It was like Nightmare Moon had attempted to duplicate a fine art painting and while she knew all the techniques. She was lacking the love for the work to make a true masterpiece.
She also had to admit to herself she really had enjoyed her time with this Sweetie. While some ponies would have told some heroic fantasy of striding through the Quarray Eels, dual wielding pickaxes with her magic and cutting down anything that dared got in her way. Rock had instead told it straight. She'd never believed in lying to her sister, or well anypony and Rock certainly was going to start now.
The first sign of danger had been the distinctive acidic stench that burned the ponies nostrils as they'd broken into the cavern. Recognising the very real peril they were in the forepony had ordered an immediate tunnel collapse, but before they'd had a chance to bring up the black powder charges, they could already see the silvery slick bodies glinting in the distance, reflected from the torchlight, and starting to move.
Feeling dirt sprinkling down on the back of her neck, Rock had just enough warning to catch the first attacker with her distinctive blue unicorn magic. Having never seen one before she'd taken a moment to examine the juvenile elver; a squirming sightless silver worm well over a foot long. Far too young yet to grow the distinctive burgundy red scales of the adults, but filled to the bursting point with far too many snapping needle like fangs for her liking. Rock had crushed the elver's skull beneath her hoof with a satisfying crunch as the forepony, Tinder Box, had spitted a second one that had dropped out of the ceiling upon his pickaxe. Flint hadn't been so lucky as a elver hole had appeared right by the massive dirty white stallion back leg. An elver had tunneled deep into the ponies flesh without warning before reappearing again seconds later out of his haunch, drenched in pony gore and blood. Rock hadn't described that though or the scream to Sweetie for fear of giving her nightmares. Though the horrible, wrenching howl that had been the last sound Flint had ever made as the elver had moved within his body would stick with her to the end of her life.
His death had been the signal for everything to go from bad to utterly screwed, as the ponies fought desperately just to stay alive as countless elvers swarmed into the opening from the cavern. All while even more popped out of holes opening in the ceiling, floor and the tunnel walls. Then as if things possibly couldn't get worse the tunnel had started to vibrate. The miners that had been able to run took their chance as the elvers paused their assault. It saved most of their lives as an immense adult Quarray Eel had burst through the rock wall before collapsing the tunnel behind him. Four ponies had died that day; two to the elvers, another swallowed whole by the Quarray while another was caught in the collapsing tunnel as they'd fled. That had not been a good day, then it had nowhere near been the worse, down in the dark beneath the world...
Sweetie had listened to the story, with her eyes glowing in excitement. She'd impressed Rock with both her enthusiasm and her intelligent questions as she'd asked about the eels life cycle and why anypony would want to be a miner if it was so dangerous. Rock had explained, that while she had been called to it she'd felt, mining could be highly lucrative for an earth pony. It was insanely dangerous, she admitted, especially sunblood mining which required the deepest exploratory digs ponies were capable of. But compared to a boring life of say, farming or cooking, there were always ponies out there looking to make a big score of bits, especially as it was one of the few jobs out there where you'd never have to compete with a unicorn or pegasus to get it. Pegasi hated being underground where their wings were useless, while the idea of pinheads doing a proper days work was laughable as far as Rock was concerned, though didn't use that word when she was explaining it. Rock herself, while not having been paid other than being kept fed while she was younger, had still made more than enough bits after she'd come of age to bargain for a proper wage from the overseer to help send her parents on a cross Equestria trip as a way of an apology for the whole pretending they were dead thing and still had enough to keep her and her sister comfortable, while doing odd jobs about the village to keep herself busy and out of trouble.
When she went to look for Rarity, she found the other her curled up in her room with a book. As soon as Rock entered, the book got flung aside with a guilty start. Rock figured it was probably some trashy romance with princes and stuff. She snorted, the entire concept was ridiculous.
"Is Sweetie asleep?" Rarity asked, while attempting to regain her usual composure.
"She is yeah, Rarity, I... I just want to say thanks for letting me do that. I know she ain't really my sister, but for a bit it felt like she was. I miss her so much." Rarity didn't call attention to it as she knew Rock would deny it, but she could see her doubles eyes were glistening.
"It's not a problem I assure you, darling. I can only imagine what it would have been like if I'd been in your hooves, trapped in a strange place where things are familiar but not as they should be. It must be very disconcerting."
"Oh you have no idea... I've done my best, Rarity, but it's been hard." Rock sighed, before collapsing on her other selves bed. She caught sight of the discarded novel out of the corner of her eye and was deeply surprised that she recognised the cover. Even more so that it was her own favourite bit of bedtime reading. Rock smirked inwardly, she wouldn't have thought her double would ever be into anything like that. "No special somemare then for you either then?" Rock asked, hoping she wasn't overstepping her bounds. "No offence, but I'd have thought you'd be after some prince to sweep you off your hooves."
Rarity blushed at the comment. She considered being angry, as it wasn't any of her doubles business, but really it wasn't as if she ever spoke to her friends about this. So she might as well now she had the chance to talk to somepony that was at least a bit like her. "Tried a prince, he was a boor, a ruffian and a disgrace to all of ponydom. After that I tried a few times with a variety of supposedly dashing stallions, but in the end I had to be honest with myself and yes I'm still looking, surreptitiously of course and spend the rest of the time getting pampered by a very nice pair of twins at the spa. You?"
Rock raised an eyebrow at that, maybe she'd have to give this spa thing a try after all, "Always known, but I tend to intimidate ponies, so pretty much given up." Rarity clucked in sympathy.
"It's hard being the only filly-fooler in the village isn't it?" Rarity said, with a self-pitying sigh.
Which provoked gales of laughter from her double. "You have met Lyra and Bonbon right? They're not what you call subtle."
"What? I always thought they were just good friends!"
"Rarity, you're an idiot, you know that?" Rarity laughed too at that, admitting that she may just well be. "Leaving that aside, I know for a fact that Berry Punch and Cloud Kicker bang anything with a pulse, but you've got friends. I mean the only relationship I've ever not been able to mess up is with my little sister, but you've really never thought about any of them?"
"Well, yes... I mean they're all very attractive mares in their own ways," Rarity said. She fished out a bottle of Sweet Apples Acres finest cider and poured her and Rock a glass each. Reasoning she'd need a stiff drink to get through this particular conversation. "Well Applejack's a very traditional sort. I'm not entirely sure she knows what a filly-fooler is and even if she did, she'd reckon it'd be 'ain't natural'. Fluttershy prefers the company of cute animals to cute stallions, ditto Twilight Sparkle and her books. Rainbow Dash could be a dracophile for as far as I know and it wouldn't matter in the slightest. She's so dead set on sacrificing everything else to become a Wonderbolt to have any time for romance. Pinkie Pie... I mean can you imagine? She still throws parties with pin the tail on the pony games. It would just be far too weird."
Rock took a drink, which resulted in a blissful smile as the scumble warmed her whole body from her hooves all the way up to the tip of her horn. "I'd think Applejack might surprise you actually, I know her brother's good friends with Caramel, so I'd doubt she'd be as close minded as you think and she was awfully protective back of you on the farm."
"Now that's a happy thought." Rarity was feeling impressively jolly, they were finally bonding at last, though maybe that was the cider, but she felt like she could now ask the question that she'd been absolutely dying to get off her flank. "Rock, can I ask what happened when you were a filly? I don't think I'd have had the first idea how to run away like you did."
"It seemed like fate at the time," Rock admitted. "There was an article in mum's copy of the Equestria Daily about sunblood being found way down south in the badlands, just the day after I was dragged out to that rock and I figured that would do nicely." Rarity nodded as she had heard of sunblood before. The name for an ore that was more beautiful than gold yet as strong as steel when forged. It was incredibly rare though. The only time Rarity had seen some herself was the crown of Princess Celestia.
Rock continued. "So I set off with a pack on my back to meet my destiny and get my cutie mark. I'm still amazed I got through to the great buffalo plains alive. That was well before the train over the Ghastly Gorge of course, so I'd made a small detour into the Everfree and somehow made it out the other side. After that it was easy, this was also before pony settlers had started heading that far south, so the Buffalo were really good to me in helping me pass from tribe to tribe and letting me have supplies to send me on my way with."
Then Rock had finally found the mine by some stroke of luck and not a Changeling hive or something even worse. The mine overseer—an utter bastard of a highlander pony with probably a fair amount of goat in him from his gruff attitude—had seen the idea of an actual unicorn willing to go to work as an opportunity and not an underage filly that absolutely should be sent back to civilisation as soon as possible and had overruled the objections of the other ponies there. Rock had been put to work. Helping out around the mine with her skilled use of telekinesis, which even as a filly, she'd had a fair flair for and certainly more than an earth pony could manage with a hoof or their mouth making her a real asset to the mine.
Her voice beginning to slur a little as she kept taking sips, Rock recounted how after she'd only been there for a couple of months disaster had struck. The main mineshaft had a rickety lift to take ponies down from the surface to the depths below. The mechanism holding it in place had been inexpertly put together and one day it just snapped. Rock had happened to be close enough to see it happen and for one brief fleeting moment had managed to seize the entire lift with her fledgling magic. It had only been long enough to look into the eyes of the terrified ponies trapped within the lift, before her magic had failed, and they plunged to their deaths. After that the idea of if there had just been another unicorn who could have helped her save them wouldn't leave the young Rock alone, as she'd become increasingly resentful of the fact she was the only pony with a horn at the mine. She'd rebuilt the mechanisms herself and when the lift was working was once more and the mine was back open; Rock had got her cutie mark. But Rock hadn't been happy, as she could only see it as a memento of how she'd failed, due to being the only one of her kind to do this kind of work.
Rock stopped talking as she realised the bottle was now empty, Rarity just smiled and brought out another bottle from her secret stash and the two unicorns ended up talking and drinking late into the night.
"So, is she finally asleep?"
"No thanks to you, but yes she's asleep."
Fluttershy shrugged, as she really was not bothered. "What's it like then to see yourself like that? Must be pretty embarrassing for somepony so powerful."
"Might be if I had an ego as big as yours," Twilight shot back.
"Do you want me to leave then? I should probably be finding somewhere I can stay the night. Maybe I should check in with my own double and see if she'll put me up—"
"No!" Twilight Sparkle insisted. "I... I mean, no. I want to keep an eye on you. I've got a double bed we can use anyway." She laughed nervously as she realized that, for the first time in her life, she'd just invited another pony to share a bed with her.
Luckily for Twilight, Fluttershy ignored the implications in favour of getting a few more jabs in. "Oh goodie, it'll be just like a sleepover. Maybe we can wake Sparks up, do each others hair and tell ghost stories. I'm sure you've got a book here that tells you all about it." Twilight carefully ignored that, especially as she did indeed have such a book.
Fluttershy pulled open her flight suit after having it on all day and started taking it off. It was then she noticed that Twilight was staring at her as she stripped off and more specifically her flank. "See anything you like?" she said, putting on a mock seductive tone, before she realised that the look on Twilight Sparkle's face was a mix between stunned fascination and horror.
"That... That can not be your cutie mark, it's impossible, you are impossible!" Twilight insisted, staring at the familiar pony skull and bony wing that had also decorated her flightsuit.
The Shadowbolt captain checked her own flank out to make sure nothing too weird was going on, but no there was her cutie mark same as always. "What's the problem?" she asked with some confusion.
"But you can't change a cutie mark with magic, believe me I've tried!" Twilight yelled, getting increasingly freaked out. Not even Princess Celestia could bestow or change a cutie mark, the Princess had told her so herself, so it would have to be impossible for Nightmare Moon too, it just had to be!
'Shush, you'll wake Sparks up and the last thing I need is not one, but two Twilight Sparkles going crazy. That really is my cutie mark. I'm not sure why you're getting so upset?"
"It's the Shadowbolt symbol! Nightmare Moon used it here too, Rainbow Dash told me before you turned up. So I can't see how you could have it as a cutie mark as she only came back last year."
"That's when I got my cutie mark," Fluttershy admitted with some hesitation.
"You were an adult blank flank?! But you're a year older than me," Twilight Sparkle asked, with wild staring eyes. She'd heard of adult ponies who had never received a cutie mark, but they were vanishingly rare and Twilight was certain she'd never seen one herself.
"You're not going to leave me alone until I tell you about it are you?" Seeing Twilight shake her head, Fluttershy lay down and got comfortable motioning the unicorn to do the same. "I might as well start at the beginning then..."
"I didn't have the best time in flight school." Fluttershy said, with a faraway look in her eyes. "I was a weak flyer and these three jocks took every opportunity to bully me. I never had any friends as all the other ponies at the camp were scared that if they stuck up for me they'd be picked on too. It did toughen me up though and by the time I left flight school I could hold my own as a flyer and was alright at weather management, but still unlike every other pony I'd somehow graduated without a cutie mark on my flank.
"I'd never found anything I particularly cared for or was interested in, so I ended up working in the weather factory in Cloudsdale. Unfortunately those same three jock stallions were there too. Ready and waiting to pick up where they left off. It was probably inevitable, but one day I just snapped and kicked their flanks all the way up and down the factory floor. Got let go over it, but heh, so did they." Fluttershy smiled, enjoying that particular memory.
"Well after that I had to move on, as it turned out one of their dads was the Lord of Cloudsdale and he wasn't best pleased with me. I ended up in Ponyville which is where I met Gilda."
"Gilda, as in griffon, calls people dweebs, a lot of a temper, that Gilda?" asked Twilight with some surprise.
"She is a griffon, but she's probably one of the most mellow creatures I've ever met. Which could have something to do with her 'life-partner' Derpy." Fluttershy made quotation mark gestures with her wings. "Well okay her real name was Ditsy Doo, but she's a total airhead with dumb, stupid eyes, so Derpy it was, least as far I'm concerned anyway. Gilda was the weather-team captain in town and for a none pony to have a position of any kind of responsibility in Equestria is about as rare as a pony to come of age without a cutie mark, so I think she saw me as some kind of kindred spirit. She was always trying to be my friend and inviting me back to her house for meals with her and Derpy and their kid Dinky and horse apples like that."
"Dinky?" asked Twilight, wondering how that had still happened, though she had to admit she only knew Ditsy and Dinky as two ponies she occasionally saw around Ponyville.
"They'd been inseparable during flight school, but Derpy had a foal young while they were separated when she was still struggling with the whole interspecies filly-fooler thing, Hugh Jelly was an utter freak of a pony though. You wouldn't believe the stuff he was into and she quickly went flying back with her tail tucked between her legs, but with Dinky as a foal in tow. Gilda forgave her though and they're now annoyingly, blissfully happy." Fluttershy said, with a grimace as if she'd smelt something unpleasant.
That really doesn't sound like the Gilda that Pinkie Pie had described and the griffon that she'd met very briefly at that party, Twilight thought. Then Gilda had grown up without Rainbow Dash too, guess it was Dash that had been the bad influence in that friendship after all, huh.
"Finally Gilda gave up being all friendly and just tried being my boss which didn't go much better. I resented her and the other weather ponies couldn't stand me, so I ended up doing all my weather assignments solo. Did end up being probably the best weather pony on the team, as I never needed any back up, but none of them cared and the feeling was mutual."
"Then came the night of the summer solstice..."
Nightmare Moon cackled as she looked over the terrified faces of the gathered town. They'd learn to love her soon enough without their precious sunlight.
"Um... I-I know you are, you're the mare-in-the-moon, Nightmare Moon." A purple unicorn wearing a pair of glasses was pointing a wavering, but accusing, hoof at her. She really didn't look like she'd be any trouble. In fact she looked like she was going to bolt any moment.
"Why yes, I am Nightmare Moon. Is that going to be a problem?" she asked with mocking concern.
"No... I mean y-yes... um—" Sparks trailed off, mumbling something that might well have been about the Elements of Harmony. Nightmare Moon was a little impressed, just a little, she'd thought they'd have been completely forgotten by now. Still the idea that this pathetic creature might be able to wield them against her was hilarious.
"The Elements of Harmony!" Nightmare Moon yelled dramatically, near deafening everypony in the room. "So, tell me, little unicorn do you in fact have any idea where the Elements are?"
Sparks was completely frozen in fear and all she could do was shake her head slightly to admit that she didn't.
Nightmare Moon cackled again, she did enjoy a good cackle. "Perhaps you should go find them then!" She punctuated her point with a blast of lightning for emphasis.
Sparks screamed and fled the hall. Nightmare Moon chuckled, it's not like the lightning had been near her! Anyway, even if she could find the Elements from their resting place in her old castle deep in the Everfree; somepony so weak wouldn't ever be able to actually wield them.
"Seize her! Only she knows where the Princess is!" the town's mayor yelled. This time Nightmare Moon didn't hold back and wracked the charging guards with lightning. Not enough to kill of course, dead ponies couldn't appreciate her beautiful nights, but she made sure it hurt enough that they'd think twice about doing it again.
Nightmare Moon had been just about to turn into smoke and leave when a yellow pegasus flew right at her yelling, "WAIT!" at the top of her lungs.
"Now you've got to understand, I'd never seen anything like her." Fluttershy said quietly. "I'd certainly never seen Princess Celestia before and really unless you live in Canterlot—which as a pegasus isn't going to happen unless you're a Wonderbolt team member—you're not going to, so she was the most awe-inspiring thing I'd ever seen. I could almost hear this audible mental click in my head as suddenly for the first time in my life something finally made sense."
"Fluttershy, no!" Gilda tried to tackle the pegasus down fearing for her life and received an angry double buck to her beak for her trouble.
Having shaken off the annoying griffon, Fluttershy prostrated herself before the Alicorn. "Nightmare Moon, I am Fluttershy Posey. I swear on my life that I will serve you... if you'll have me."
Nightmare Moon was stunned. Really in her heart she'd never thought ponies would actually love her, ever. Nopony ever had what with her annoying older sister being so perfect. So having a pony offering herself to her without restraint, somewhere deep in her heart that she'd thought had been long forgotten buried under hate, remorse and the blackest of magics, Princess Luna stirred. Somepony actually liked her!
With a very un-nightmarish 'squee!' she seized the yellow pegasus up in a full body hug. "Of course you may serve me and your service will be rewarded, as the first pony to acknowledge the return of the true royalty!" Fluttershy was struggling to breathe, but she'd still never been happier to finally be accepted by somepony. Only later would she discover that had been the long-awaited moment that her cutie mark had finally appeared on her flank.
"After that we returned to the palace and I was made captain of the Shadowbolts. I went into training along with some magical enhancements from Nightmare Moon herself, so I could actually do the job and have other ponies take me seriously."
"And then you went back for Sparks?" Twilight Sparkle asked angrily. She wasn't sure what to think. All it would have taken for this Fluttershy to be different was to have had somepony to stand up for her. To give her a chance to fall in love with the grounds with its so many wonders. But she hadn't and here she was; a monster so desperate for a purpose she'd thrown in her lot with Nightmare Moon.
"I'm not proud of that actually," Fluttershy admitted. "I was so eager back in those days and I used too much force compared to what was actually required. Especially on some dumb unicorn that had, for only a moment, the nerve to actually speak back to my mistress." She sighed ruefully. "Nightmare Moon was so angry with me when she found out about it. It was over the top and she told me so at length."
"What about Stalliongrad?"
"Stalliongrad was an example and it's not like anypony died! If they hadn't rioted I'd have never had to have to move in and restore order, would I?" Twilight really didn't think that was worth the destruction of an entire town and her expression of disgust did little to not show that.
"Look, Twilight," Fluttershy said, feeling herself getting frustrated, as she was feeling the need for the first time ever to justify herself. "You have to understand something about Nightmare Moon. All she really wants is for ponies to like her and to appreciate her nights like they used to appreciate her sisters days. Maintaining order or being an effective ruler; seriously if it wasn't for mine and Shining Armour's help she'd be completely lost."
Twilight Sparkle was stunned and she refused to believe it. There was just no way Shiny would ever work under Nightmare Moon. It was just completely unthinkable! "So Shining Armour is still the captain of the royal guard?" she asked casually and trying not to sound like she cared either way.
"He agreed to stay on to cut down on ponies getting hurt in the chaos caused by the transfer of power. Course now I think it's also because him and Nightmare Moon are bucking on the sly."
"MY BROTHER WOULD NEVER DO THAT!" Twilight Sparkle yelled, before putting a hoof in her mouth as she realised exactly what she'd just said.
Fluttershy laughed and her eyes dancing. This whole mess had been a major pain in the flank and the unfamiliar sunlight had been making her eyes ache all day, but suddenly with one word it had all been made worthwhile! "Shining Armour's your brother? Oh that is just too special!" She glanced over at Sparks who was turning in bed, still asleep but clearly disturbed in her rest. "So how do you think big brother Shiny would react if I paraded her about the palace on a leash and dressed in something skimpy?"
"You so much as lay a hoof on her and I will END YOU!" Twilight promised, her eyes literally aflame with rage.
"I assure you I'd be the perfect gentlemare!" Fluttershy laughed, this was going to be so much fun!
Twilight Sparkle had only once come close to murdering another pony as she was now and that had been in in the caves far below Canterlot. If Cadance hadn't repeated that childhood rhyme Twilight still wasn't exactly sure what she might have done. Her horn began to glow with seething purple energy just waiting for a chance to be unleashed. If she did this she could never go back to the pony she had been... But what else could she do? Sparks would certainly be safer here, but what about Rock? She'd never see her sister again and Twilight couldn't take that away from her. No matter how much she wanted to.
"So if Nightmare Moon and my brother are together are you really sure you want to upset him?" Twilight slowly reasoned it out, "Upset him and it might upset her too and you keep saying she's the most important pony that you'd do anything for, right?"
Fluttershy stopped rolling around the floor, giggling with glee. That annoyingly was a good point. "You're right, don't worry I'll be good." Well maybe not that good... Fluttershy mused to herself. She'd just have to possibly be a bit more diplomatic about the courting. If she played it carefully the pegasus was sure she could drive her rival completely up the wall and still not upset the delicate balance of power and far more importantly; not upset Nightmare Moon.
Completely unaware of the Fluttershy's internal dialogue Twilight breathed out in relief, letting the dangerous magics dissipate harmlessly. "Shall we get to bed then? It's been a long day."
"Sure." Fluttershy nodded. "Can't believe she slept through all that."
"I think the spell was far too much for her, we could have had a bunny stampede through here and she'd have probably not even noticed." Fluttershy raised an eyebrow at 'bunny stampede' but decided she was far to tired to ask.
Authors Note: The Gilda/Ditsy ship was inspired by the deeply funny if also impressively wrong Gilda vs. Knitting by PotatoJoe and as I forgot to mention it in a previous chapter Fluttershy's full name is from Sereg's excellent An Earth Pony's Guide to Magic.
Rarity woke up staring right into the face of her double who was looking deeply satisfied about something. She was in bed, under the covers, with her double, who was smiling at her and she couldn’t remember exactly what had happened last night. All she could recall was there had been cider; quite a lot of cider actually and that they’d talked. After that it all went a bit hazy. Oh no... we couldn’t of.. could we?
“Good morning, sleepyhead. You were really putting them away last night.” Rock said, looking at her double with a fair amount of pride.
Rarity buried her face into her hooves. “Please tell me we didn’t...”
“What? Oh... Oh!” Rock looked highly panicked for a moment as she put the various pieces together before breathing out relieved, as recollection managed to pierce the veil of the previous night. “No, nothing happened, nothing whatsoever! We just drank, a lot.”
“Why did I think that was a good idea again? Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that challenging another version of yourself to a drinking competition is a contest nopony is ever going to win...” Rarity said with a groan, still cradling her aching head in her hooves.
“Yeah... I’ve got no idea how we thought that was going to work given we’re clearly going to have exactly the same tolerance for the stuff; what with being the same pony and all.” Rock said, then thinking about it—which wasn’t exactly easy with the pounding hangover she now had—would suggest practice would have played a factor too. Then again maybe them being the same pony their liking for alcohol would be the same as well, so they’d have both imbibed as much in their lives up to this point rendering the whole theory moot.
“Now I’m not the type of pony to sleep with a mare and run,” Rock said playfully, ignoring the death glare from Rarity. “But the sun has just come up, heh, it’s still weird saying that! Seriously though from what I remember that’s when the farms start work, so I really should get down to Sweet Apple Acres for the day.” The other white unicorn rolled out of the bed and retrieving her favourite blue rag from the floor before wrapping it round her head with her magic.
Rarity took a sniff of the morning air and immediately wished she hadn’t. “Rock, darling, when was the last time you washed yourself?”
Rock shrugged her shoulders. “I think I got rained on last week. Does that count?”
Rarity vacated her now utterly ruined bed—with a speed that even Rainbow Dash would have seen as impressive—and turned various shades of red, before settling on screaming at her double to get out upon pain of death.
“Okay, okay, I’m going... I don’t suppose breakfast first is out of the question?” Rock asked innocently, before ducking under a hurled pillow.
Rainbow Dash had been glad to finally get back home after the frustrating day she’d had yesterday. After circling Cloudsdale twice just to make completely sure she hadn’t missed this other version of herself and then checking out a few of the other villages near Ponyville she’d had to give up for the day, as the night had drawn in. Rainbow Dash hadn’t been able to sleep though, as tired as she was from a full day of flying and even with her fluffly cloud bed. Her mind was racing with visions with what could have happened to other self. She’d never been introspective before, so she really wasn’t used to feeling like this. Had she failed the sonic rainboom? Surely that was impossible, but how could that have happened if she really had failed?
Still even if her other self hadn’t pulled off the sonic rainboom she’d still be awesome. Hay she was a Rainbow Dash; she just had to be! As the pegasus had lain awake she’d wondered. Maybe the other Rainbow Dash was already a Wonderbolt and could maybe give her some tips. Not that she needed any of course! Or she could be a brave adventure pony like Daring Do. That’d be awesome, or maybe she was a royal guard in Canterlot and that’d be cool too. Though maybe a bit boring with the whole not moving at all thing.
Waking up the next morning Rainbow Dash had just been doing her daily stretches when she caught site of a distinctive rainbow mane walking right below her cloud house. This was mildly frustrating after spending most of the previous day looking for her to have her just stroll by so conveniently. Then she spotted the pony who her double was with. Not even pausing—as she turned the air around her as blue as her coat with several obscenities that her friends would be surprised she even knew—Rainbow Dash burst into flight.
Descending like a thunderbolt she’d been all set to give Trixie a piece of her mind, but Rainbow Dash had to pull herself up short. Trixie looked terrible. Her formerly perfectly styled mane was unkempt with random hairs sticking out everywhere and she didn’t look like she’d been eating properly for months. Her eyes were even twitching not unlike Twilight Sparkle on a bad day and she looked like a stiff breeze would be all it’d take to knock her over.
Completely ignoring her double, and the frankly mystifying fact that she was wearing Trixie’s hat, Rainbow Dash asked with some concern, “Trixie, what happened to you?”
“Ponyville happened,” Trixie replied with a fair amount of bitterness. “Anyway, Trixie is perfectly fine.”
“No offense, but you’re really not.” Rainbow Dash said, crossing her front hooves matter-of-factly while still staying in the air looking down at the former magician. “Look, Trixie. Just cause you’re a loud mouth and kinda annoying doesn’t mean you don’t need help. I could fly you over to my friend’s house in ten seconds flat to help you get properly back on your hooves, as she’d give you all the care and attention that you could ever want.”
“Trixie doesn’t need any help.” She sniffed, before turning her nose up. Trixie had never needed any help from anypony and she certainly wasn’t going to start now. Even if she could admittedly do with some.
“Fine, be that way. It's your loss.” Rainbow Dash glanced over at her double who was just staring at her with her wings extended. She wasn’t even flying on the spot like Dash would expect, just standing by Trixie’s side. Rainbow Dash never stopped flying if she could avoid it, so that was almost as weird as the hat thing.
“Is she alright?” Rainbow Dash asked, referring to her double. “You’ve not cast a spell on her, or some kind of evil enchantment, have you, Trixie? She’s just staring into space and drooling a bit.”
“Trixie hasn’t done anything, believe me. Though Trixie believes your double is currently living out a life long dream. Trixie asks, just out of interest of course, but you can fly pretty fast, right?”
Rainbow Dash was stumped by why she was asking, but answered, “well yeah! I won the Best Young Flyers competition in Cloudsdale a while back and I’ve pulled off the Sonic Rainboom a couple of times now.”
Trixie grinned wickedly. “You should be fine then.” Which just left Rainbow Dash even more nonplussed.
“You’re gorgeous!” The other Rainbow Dash blurted out. “Um... can I feel your muscles, you look like you work out, you work out right? My own double...” She breathed. “Now neither of us will be virgins!”
Trixie glared at Rainbow Dash, ignoring the Ponyville pegasus who was wondering what exactly a ‘virgin’ was. “Rainbow Dash, you’re not a virgin.” After a day's travelling and hearing far, far too many all to explicit details for Trixie’s liking of the other pony’s history, if there was anything she was certain of about this Rainbow Dash then it was that.
“I’ve never done it with my own double before!” she said defensively. “That’s kind of like being a virgin!”
“No. It’s really not,” Trixie stated flatly.
“What’s a virgin?” Rainbow Dash asked with some confusion, while keeping a good vertical distance from her double who was frankly beginning to unnerve her with the way she just kept staring at her.
Zipping the other pegasus’ mouth shut with a flash of magic, before she could say something deeply inappropriate, Trixie answered, “how can you not know, didn’t they have the classes in Cloudsdale or something? At least Trixie would have presumed your parents would have given you the talk.”
“Err, pegasi born in the cloud towns and cities don’t have parents,” Rainbow Dash explained, with her double nodding in agreement. She didn't take any offence though at Trixie's presumption, as pegasi really didn't like to make a big deal about it. “We’re taken away after we’re born and raised communally by elders while we’re still foals. It’s a tradition going back to Commander Hurricane’s days, so the community is more important to us than any natural family could be. Well that’s the idea anyway.” Ignoring Trixie’s surprise at that, she continued, “and I always used to sleep through most of my classes that didn’t involve flying theory and weather handling. Who needs to know boring stuff when you could be having a nap or doing super-cool flying tricks!”
“Well, Trixie certainly isn’t going to explain it and if she,” Trixie said, glancing at the other Dash. “Offers to fix it I suggest you say no. Not that it’s any of Trixie’s concern of course.” The other Rainbow Dash was pawing at her mouth trying to work out exactly how to unstick it. Trixie took pity on her and released the magic binding her jaw.
“I’ll ask Twilight then, she’s an egghead and knows all kinds of stuff.” Trixie was sure that would be an impressively awkward conversation for whoever this Twilight was. How was it possible for any pony to be so clueless?
“You don’t seem to be too surprised to see another pony looking exactly like you. Have there been others?” Trixie asked.
“Yeah, there’s six including her. Though one is probably in Manhattan we reckon and another one I last saw heading towards Canterlot.“ Dash said, leaving out the whole version of Fluttershy that could fly faster than her thing as she was currently completely in denial about that. “C’mon let’s head to Twilight’s, she reckons that she can send them home.”
Pinkamena Diane Pie had stayed the night at Sugarcube corner. She had been a bit concerned about introducing herself, but Pinkie had smoothed things over with the Cakes with about five minutes worth of free form gibberish. Pinkamena hadn’t been able to follow it herself in the slightest. The couple on the other hoof had seemed happy to accept, before offering her an amazing assortment of baked goods and confectionery. So good in fact Pinkamena had already mentally pencilled in a meeting for when she was back in the real Equestria to approach them regarding membership in the guild. Clearly she’d been neglecting a real business opportunity by omitting Ponyville from her plans and that had to be addressed ASAP.
There had been one minor annoyance though when she’d woken up to find that her tie had gone missing somehow. But after a quick rummage in a randomly selected draw she’d found another one. After all she did keep black ties stashed all over Equestria in case of a black tie emergency. Okay, so she didn’t really and certainly not in another version of reality; the key though was to believe that she did. After all being able to lay hooves on any small inanimate object—and also DJ’s for some reason—at a moments notice was just far too useful not to exploit on occasion. Pinkamena had dedicated a fair bit of trial and error research over the years to try to work out exactly how it all worked, but in the end had decided that it was all an impossibility, so she’d long ago decided not to worry about it.
Pinkie had to work in the bakery for her shift, but had suggested Pinkamena head over to the town library, as her friend Twilight Sparkle would be helping her get home.
Standing outside the shop Pinkamena looked around to make sure the other pink pony wasn’t looking. Sure she had promised Pinkie she wouldn’t abuse her abilities, but if she didn’t find out about it then what was the harm? Ignoring the pony with grapes on her flank staring at her with a look of utter horror—as she’d just rotated her head a full 360 degrees in a flagrant disregard for normal pony anatomy—Pinkamena stepped completely out of existence.
Berry Punch, who was still attempting to get over the creepy head thing, now had to try to process the concept of ponies who were there and then not there. Clearly she was far too drunk if she was seeing things like that or maybe she just wasn’t drunk enough? Ignoring the fact she hadn’t been to bed yet from the night before she went off in search for a wine bottle that she could make friends with and who might be willing to help her forget what she’d just seen. ~~~
There was a suitable hole back in between the fourth and fifth book on the bottom shelf of the practical alchemy bookcase and as Pinkamena squeezed herself through the impossibly small gap she had just a few moments to take everything in before the entire room went completely mad.
Most obvious were the two identical purple unicorn mares reading. There were a few minor differences like the cutie marks and a few other details, but otherwise they were the same; right down to the speed they were turning the pages with their noses. In one corner there was an owl and what appeared to be a baby phoenix of all things both asleep on a bird stand. Near one of the other bookcases there was also a male dragon child cleaning up in a far too frilly apron for Pinkamena’s tastes.
Upon noticing Pinkamena’s sudden appearance out of seemingly nowhere, one of the unicorns screamed before diving under a nearby table. Being suddenly woken up the baby phoenix flared off in panic setting the owl’s feathers aflame who started flapping around the room and hooting madly. The curtains were a burning pyre too, as the dragon tried to catch the owl while also attempting to calm down the phoenix at the same time.
The other unicorn sighed and her horn flared so brightly all of the room was bathed in white. Within seconds everything was back to normal and the owl was back on its perch inspecting its wing suspiciously.
“What was that?” asked Pinkamena, rubbing her eyes. She was just about acclimated to the sun being up now, but that had been blinding.
“Fail safe spell, so you’d be the other Pinkie then?” Twilight Sparkle asked, with her horn still glowing faintly.
“Pinkamema,” she corrected.
“Hey, Pinkamena. Think I’ve seen you around Canterlot.” She looked up and to her fairly considerable surprise; that had come from a yellow pegasus with a pair of goggles round her neck who was pinned spread eagled on the ceiling and held completely immobile by a field of purple magic. That couldn’t be...
“You know you’ve got a pegasus on your ceiling, right?” Pinkamena asked, just thinking she’d better check in case the unicorn was unaware.
“Yes and she’s staying there until I’ve decided she’s paid enough for what she said to Sparks earlier.” Twilight Sparkle said, still with her horn glowing, and showing no sign of any strain in keeping a full-grown pegasus aloft and pinned in place.
“All I said was—”
“Nopony asked you to repeat it!" Twilight shouted, her horn glowing brighter causing Fluttershy to yelp as the pressure increased.
“She only said—”
“And nopony asked you either!” Twilight snarled, rounding on her double who let out a quiet *eep!* before going back to cowering under the table.
Pinkamena looked up again, there really wasn’t any doubt about it. “Is that really Captain Fluttershy of the Shadowbolts up there?” Twilight nodded, causing Pinkamena to swallow nervously. The less she had to do with Nightmare Moon’s personal enforcers the better so to be in the same room of one of the three most powerful ponies in Equestria was certainly not a place that Pinkamena wanted to be.
“Right, for my peace of mind are you either or have you ever been a Discordian cultist, a mythological monster like a vampony or were-variant, a changeling, actually a stallion, or some kind of hive being made entirely of parasprites in a skinsuit to walk among ponykind?” Seeing Pinkamena’s expression, Twilight added, “please, it’s been a very odd couple of days.”
“No, I’m just a businessmare,” Pinkamena said, straightening her tie with a hoof.
“Huh, you know what, but that might actually be worse,” said Twilight, with a fair amount of disbelief.
“You never told me that the pony we were coming to see was her!” Trixie yelled accusingly at Rainbow Dash, not pleased in the slightest to find out that Twilight was actually the nemesis who had shown her up so badly. The three blue ponies had just entered the tree-house unannounced with Trixie in the middle, as Rainbow Dash was keeping the unicorn between her and her amorous double as frankly she just felt safer that way.
“Oh look, it’s Trixie. Now that’s just what my day needed.” Twilight Sparkle sighed, rubbing her head with a hoof, as she could definitely feel a migraine coming on. Just what had she done exactly to deserve this?
Applejack was back in Manehattan and from what she’d seen so far not much had changed. It was the same cramped, noisy and horrible urban sprawl she remembered from when she was a filly.
The ponies were just as pushy and rude as they’d been back then too. She was often jostled and shoved as she trotted down the city streets. Still this time round Applejack sure as darn tootin’ wasn’t a lil’ filly anymore and in her wake she left a trail of ponies with a significantly enhanced appreciation for personal space behind her. As she made her way down fifth avenue to get to her Uncle and Aunts’ home, Applejack had to admit she wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to do if the Orange’s hadn’t seen her double. Trying to find a single pony in this packed city would be like trying to find one of Rarity’s needles in one of the haystacks back on the farm. And wouldn’t it be nice being back there right now, Applejack thought to herself.
Applejack let out a rueful sigh as she trotted down the boulevard. She always got antsy away from the ol’ homestead. While the train made the trip quicker than when she’d made the journey in her youth; it had still taken an overnight train through Canterlot to get to Manehattan from Ponyville. Applejack also wasn’t exactly keen on this ‘Rock’ character now that she was thinking about it either. Sure she was technically the same pony as her more sophisticated friend, but she completely lacked the selfless generosity that made Rarity such a good pony to know. Rock—as far as Applejack was concerned—was blunt, rude and just ‘cause she could buck an apple tree like an Apple family member realy didn’t make her worth a damn.
After she'd knocked the door was opened by her uncle and aunt’s unicorn butler, Silver Platter. Applejack had never got on with Silver. He’d always been perfectly polite to her as a filly, though never actually warm, but something about him had never sat right with her. Even when she was young, she'd not been keen on the idea of serving staff having grown up on a farm where everypony pitched in. When she’d grown up and had visited the unicorn city of Canterlot she’d found the predominantly earth pony upper class’ obsession with having unicorn servants in Manehattan even more suspect.
“Applejack!” her aunty Orange trilled, positively delighted to see her niece after so long. “You’ve timed your visit most superbly! I know we Oranges are seen as the black sheep of our extended family, but you could have let us known you had such a delightful sibling. Appletini! Come out here, it’s your sister!”
And there she was, Applejack’s heart sank. It was even worse than she had feared. Her double had elaborately coiffed hair that looked like it had taken a team of skilled artisans all morning to create. She was wearing a necklace that contained more gems than even the average creation out of Canterlot Boutique and her cutie mark was some fancy cocktail. Probably got it for being a lush, thought Applejack bitterly. She was even wearing some light-but-tasteful makeup.
“Oh, this is simply smashing!” Her double giggled, seemingly without a single thought in her pretty head. “Aunty, Uncle, oh but would you look at the time! Remember you have tickets for the most enchanting soirée with the Cantaloupes!” Seemingly within moments Applejack and her double were left alone after the Oranges and Silver had been swiftly but skillfully maneuvered out the door.
Her double’s empty brain-dead smile shifted with just a few muscle movements into a genuine grin. “That pappy’s hat?” she asked, her eyes dancing.
“Those dem tail extensions I've heard about?” asked Applejack, beaming back with an identical grin of her own.
They both laughed before giving each other a quick hug. Applejack mentally bucked herself one for jumping to conclusions just based on appearances. Given her good friend Rarity she really should have known better.
“First thing I could think of when I got here yesterday,” explained Appletini. “Well this is perfectly pleasant, but still would you mind ever so much to let me know what in Celestia’s infinite mercy is going on?”
“Right,” said Applejack, getting down to the brass tacks. “You’ve worked out this ain’t your Equestria, right?”
Appletini gave her a look which implied exactly what she thought of such a blatantly silly question. “Why, I had no idea!” she drawled slowly.
“Okay, okay! Well y’all been brought t’ this Equestria by a spell. We just got t’ get on right back to Ponyville t’ get y’all back home.”
Appletini’s face fell. She cantered back a few steps slowly shaking her head. “Oh no no no, I... I just couldn’t!”
Applejack understood. She’d realised where she truly belonged when the sonic rainboom had happened, but there had been two big reasons for why she’d wanted to live as far away from the farm as physically possible and at the time being a city socialite had seemed like the perfect escape from her loss.
“You don’t have to go up t’ the farm, not if you don’t want to,” she promised.
Appletini's eyes glistened with tears as she whispered, “thank you.”
In the Ponyville Library tempers were fraying. It’d been agreed that they wouldn’t be able to properly have it out while Rock was working down at Sweet Apple Acres, so they’d all meet back here tonight so that they could discuss this all together. Then the Awesome and Stupendous Rainbow Dash had attempted to seduce her double by putting on a flawless—although incredibly over the top—Fancy accent. The regular but still very much awesome, Rainbow Dash had fled making excuses that she really had to see a stallion in Hoofington about a cloud. The other Rainbow Dash had followed, bouncing out the door and calling out outrageous declarations of affection to the target of her desires.
Pinkamena had left next, deciding she’d had more than enough of this insanity as she wanted to go out and have a look around. Mainly so she could investigate Ponyville for potential investment opportunities to go along with the Cakes while she was here, as it was not like she could do any other work.
This left Trixie at a bit of a loose end. She had just been wondering if she could persuade somepony to get her a sandwich when she noticed that her nemesis was glaring at her in a manner that Trixie really didn't care for.
"Do you want something from Trixie?" she asked, attempting to be polite to the pony that had cost her so much.
“So, have you learned your lesson yet?” Twilight Sparkle asked coldly.
“What, lesson?” Trixie hissed as the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees.
“How about the lesson to not be a boasting show-off, who humiliated my friends, before almost getting the entire town destroyed.” Twilight trotted up to Trixie while staring her down.
Trixie knew it was foalish to raise to the bait, but she just couldn’t help herself. “They started it! They were talking during Trixie’s amazing performance and then they started heckling Trixie!”
“Maybe if you hadn’t have been bragging—”
“It. Was. An. Act.” Trixie stated, not trying very hard to keep the irritation out of her voice. “You work in a library for Luna’s sake! Surely you’ve got to know about the concept of acting?"
“So you didn’t cause Snips and Snails to bring an Ursa Minor into town?” Twilight asked rhetorically.
Realising her rival was getting the upper hoof she flailed around the room for something that could help her. Ahah!
She let out a mock gasp as she pointed a hoof at the stack of books on the table. “Daring Do! So if a filly or colt hurt themselves attempting to emulate her, Trixie takes it you’d surely hold the author responsible, right? Trixie means it’s clearly all her fault for telling lies that you can survive falling off a mountain by being in a boat. Just to pick an example.”
“Well no...” Twilight trailed off.
“So who would you blame then?” said Trixie, tossing her hair lightly.
“The parents, I guess?” Twilight really didn’t like Trixie’s grin of triumph at that. After the two days she’d had she had been hoping that Trixie would be a suitable outlet for her frustrations, but Trixie was countering everything she had. How dare she be so reasonable?!
Trixie was getting angry herself, this unicorn had a roof over her head and she was speaking down to Trixie and was that a dragon... and a phoenix?!
“How do you have a dragon and a phoenix...? Trixie means, how do you even afford it running a library in a small hick town like this?”
“Well, the phoenix is the dragon’s pet and he’s my assistant.” Twilight explained.
“I got him after my entrance exam at the School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot.” Twilight said smugly.
Trixie’s jaw gaped open. “Only the foals of the nobility can possibly afford to go there!”
“Well I am a marquise—”
“Chevaleresse,” Spike corrected. “Remember, you were knighted during the Discord affair.”
“Why yes, thank you my number one assistant.”
Trixie was turning a bright red in stark contrast to her usual blue. Her uncle had always said Canterlot nobs were a useless bunch of parasites who’d be the first against the wall when the revolution came and Trixie was beginning to think he might’ve been right. How dare this, this Twilight Sparkle with all her wealth and privilege and dragon, rub it in Trixie’s face!
“Trixie is going to defeat you. Trixie promises she will humiliate you like you humiliated Trixie. You may have gone to some fancy school but—”
“Actually I got taught personally by Princess Celestia herself.”
“And her foal sitter was Princess Cadance,” said Spike helpfully, enjoying how angry his adopted big sisters’ rival was getting.
“What.” Trixie shook herself. “So you may have been taught by the Princess, but somehow Trixie is still going to take you down! She's not entirely sure how... but still!”
“She’s the Element of Magic too!”
“Don’t care!” Trixie yelled, her horn flaring and getting right in Twilight Sparkle’s face.
Twilight Sparkle grinned, a most unfamiliar malicious smile was upon her lips. If Trixie had thought what had happened to her last time had been bad, well she hadn't seen anything yet! Oh she was going to enjoy this...
“Are you two going to kiss yet or what?” asked Fluttershy, from where she was still pinned to the ceiling.
The rivals sprang apart as if they’d been shocked. Their previous anger forgotten; the two unicorns blushed hard trying not to meet the other pony’s eyes.
Twilight Sparkle recovered her wits first and immediately felt guilty about what she’d been moments from doing. “Fluttershy, you know how to cook?” Not waiting for an answer, she ordered Spike to give her some lessons before disappearing them both into the kitchen.
Trixie was bashfully toying with her tail trying to get some of the larger twigs out when Twilight looked back at her. “Shall we try this again?” she said quietly.
“Trixie would not mind that.”
“Seven bits, Trixie. Seven bits. Was that really all you had?” Twilight asked, trying not to put too much pity in her tone.
“So you looked through Trixie’s caravan then? But yes, that was all Trixie had.” She slumped, all the energy that had got her this far had suddenly left her.
“But that’s barely enough for a meal...” Twilight was stunned. She’d kind of hoped that Trixie had other funds or some other ponies she could turn to. But it was becoming very clear that Trixie had fled Ponyville with nothing, not even her pride.
“Trixie had hoped to make enough in Ponyville to get her to the next town, but well, you know what happened. Trixie doesn’t suppose her hat and cape...?”
“Nothing but torn and dirty rags after the Ursa stepped on them, sorry.” Trixie slumped down even further feeling like she’d just been stabbed through the heart. She’d known they were gone but she’d had them from her first performance when she’d got a cutie mark as a filly and had them ever since. They really had been special to her...
Seeing Trixie looking so miserable, Twilight sat down beside the other mare. “Trixie, my friend Rarity’s a fashion designer and I’m sure she could whip you up a new pair in no time at all.”
“Which friend of yours was that?”
“Um... The one whose hair you turned green and then she ran off crying.”
Trixie looked down at the floor. She sure had burned a lot of bridges last time she was in Ponyville, she thought. Typical, normally I only get heckled by drunks and idiots. Just my luck in this town I had to take on ponies that were actually popular.
“I didn’t ransack your caravan by the way.” Twilight said, believing that Trixie needed to know this. “Some local fillies ran a story about you in their school newspaper. Snips and Snails must have told them what they’d found in your caravan after you ran away. The whole town knows how poor you were.”
Seeing Trixie’s expression that she really, really didn’t think that was a good thing, Twilight continued. “But you see, when you ran away nopony liked you at all after nearly inadvertently getting the town destroyed by that Ursa. You got badmouthed by even the ponies that had laughed and applauded when you humiliated my friends. After the Gabby Gums story though, ponies felt sorry for you—okay so some of them thought it was hilarious that you’d been living like that—but at least some of them thought it was terrible that you’d lost your home and all your possessions. Well, what little you had anyway.”
“So they think Trixie’s pathetic...”
“Some of them, yes. But now you’ve got a chance to make a better impression than you did last time. Before the story you’d have probably been run out-of-town if you’d have shown your face in Ponyville again. Now though I think that ponies will at least give you the opportunity to change their minds about what they think about you.”
Trixie’s face contorted repeatedly as she struggled to process this. It sounded like she owed a certain Gabby Gums a large hay smoothie with extra hay.
“You really think this Rarity would make me a new hat and cape?”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.” Twilight smiled.
Rock was tired and leaving a haze of sweat and dirt behind her as she trudged back into Ponyville. The sun was setting over the town hall as she dragged herself through the streets to get to Twilight’s house. Rock really was beyond shattered. For a unicorn she was at the peak of physical fitness, but for the long haul—like for example spending an entire day, non stop, bucking for apples—she just wasn’t built right. She’d have been happy just collapsing in the barn on top of all that lovely hay and sleeping the entire night away, but oh no, she just had to go into Ponyville proper and back first.
It’d been earlier in the afternoon when she’d found out about the meeting. She’d still been in full flow when Rock had realised she was being watched, or to be more accurate, ogled.
The pegasus had been staring at her from behind a tree and peeking out from underneath of one of the most ridiculously gaudy hats that Rock had ever seen. Sure she wasn’t a fashionista like Rarity, but even she knew that sparkly stars had gone out of style centuries ago.
Upon realising she’d been spotted the pegasus mare had strutted over—as if she was the most amazing pony in the entirety of existence—before cockily introducing herself as the Awesome and Stupendous Rainbow Dash. Rock hadn’t been impressed, then the mare had crudely propositioned her, and Rock had jumped right into being royally pissed off. To her credit Rainbow Dash had taken the verbal tirade in response in her stride, and had apologised straight off for not using a bit more tact. Then she’d told Rock about the meeting later at Twilight’s before bouncing off, claiming that she was going to go look for some ‘fun’.
Finally having made her way to the town library, Rock pushed open the door to Twilight’s house with her face and promptly collapsed with a groan once she was in.
“Rock, are you alright?!” That had probably been one of the Twilight’s. Rock was far too tired to care which though.
“Sod off, I’m dying.”
Once Rock had been gotten a drink and agreed to stop being so overly dramatic, Twilight Sparkle tried to bring things to some kind of order. Present in the library along with her and Rock was Sparks who was wrapped up in a blanket and hugging a book for dear life. Rainbow Dash was looking mightily pleased with herself in her hat while the other Rainbow Dash was trying to keep as far away from her double as Rarity was from hers. Trixie was sitting next to Rarity, clearly attempting to work up the nerve to ask for her commission. Captain Fluttershy was perched on top of one of the bookcases, looking surprisingly comfortable for being curled up in such a precarious perch. Pinkamena just looked bored and Pinkie Pie was munching on some popcorn.
“Applejack should be back soon with her double hopefully. So I thought it might be a good idea to talk about how you can defeat Nightmare Moon when you get back!” Twilight Sparkle said happily, bringing out her reference guide to the Elements of Harmony.
Twilight Sparkle had been expecting objections from Fluttershy and maybe Rock. She was sure though that all together they’d be able to be convince the alternate elements to do the right thing for the good of Equestria! But the pony that spoke up first came as a total surprise to her.
“Sorry, but I can’t do that,” said Pinkamena. “I swore an oath to Nightmare Moon to not oppose her when she permitted the formation of my merchant’s guild. I’m a Pie after all. An oath is a promise, and a Pie keeps her promises forever.”
“Foreverrrr...” Pinkie Pie echoed, but her heart really wasn’t in it and she quickly trailed off.
Twilight Sparkle wasn’t sure how to respond to that and then the other Rainbow Dash pitched in. “Defeat Nightmare Moon?! But she’s awesome!”
“Rock?” Twilight asked, hoping that she might have changed her mind.
The unicorn slouching on the floor managed to move her aching joints into a noncommittal shrug. “Well, I ain’t totally against the idea, I guess. But I gotta look after my sis first and I don’t see going up against the Princess would be too clever considering that.”
Twilight only had to glance up at Fluttershy to see what she thought of all this. She was grinning.
A book flew across the room and hit the wall hard, breaking the spine and sending pages scattering everywhere. Twilight looked round as she gasped to see a book mistreated so. Sparks was on her hooves and gritting her teeth in determination.
“How can you all be so cruel?!” Sparks yelled, she paced on the spot as she raged ineffectually. “Why do none of you understand? We have to save everypony, I have to save everypony, I just have too!” She paused panting.
Rarity and Pinkie Pie started to move to get up to try to comfort her and get her to calm down, but it was far too late for that as Sparks’ eyes narrowed.
“You like Nightmare Moon so much?! Wellyou can all go and stay here then for all I care!” Spark’s horn glowed to blinding intensity. There was a crack of magic and she was gone.
Everypony was staring at the spot where Sparks had just been. Twilight Sparkle was torn between shock that she’d ever act like that, being mildly impressed that her double could pull off the stunningly complicated teleport spell, and full on incoherent rage that Sparks had actually wrecked one of her books.
“I’ll find her,” Pinkamena said. Her whole body flickered and like that she was gone without a sound.
“Woohoo a challenge! Not if I find her first, meanie-pants!” Pinkie said with a giggle, before zooming out the front door leaving a cloud of streamers trailing behind her.
Fluttershy jumped off the top of the bookcase that she’d been sitting on. “Right, I’m going to kill her. Any objections?”
“You ain’t killin’ her.”
Fluttershy glared at Rock who was hauling herself onto her hooves with a few groans. “And how exactly are you planning to stop me?”
“Mainly by doing it first,” Rock said as she charged out the library, ignoring the protestations of her aching body. No pinhead is going to keep me from my sis!
Fluttershy laughed, spread her wings and disappeared out of the nearest window. Displacing several books off the shelves in her wake. Twilight Sparkle concentrated. There was the ringing sound of an incredibly fast-moving object hitting an immovable magical force field, followed by a squeaking slide and then a final thud. “AW COME ON!”
Somewhat unsteadily the Shadowbolt staggered back through the front door into the library. “Please, Twilight. Y’know that I’m the fastest flyer you’ve got.”
“No way!” yelled Rainbow Dash, flexing her muscles. “What’s your wing power?”
“Well it used to be 14.2—”
“Not bad...” Rainbow Dash laughed. “Shame that I can clock 16.5 easy!”
“I did say used to be. I can pull 21.6 now and that’s only if I’m not trying too hard.”
Rainbow Dash just looked at her with her jaw hanging open and a certain amount of grudging respect. “But... but that’s not physically possible? Even Spitfire tops out at 20.2 and she’s the best Wonderbolt ever!”
Fluttershy extended a wing and spaced out the feathers so Rainbow Dash could see them clearly. In amongst the primaries and secondaries there was a spiderweb of pulsing translucent black shadows in stark contrast to her yellow feathers. “I am a Shadowbolt after all, and that means I get to cheat. Twilight, think about it. If we don’t find your double then you’re stuck with me and I know that you don’t want that.”
Twilight threw her forehooves in the air in frustration. “Fine! But no killing! We need her alive to send you home.”
Fluttershy nodded and took off again after Twilight had dispelled the purple force field surrounding the library. Moments later there was a boom followed by a black wave reaching across the night sky that blocked out the stars as it passed in front of them. The dark magical wake dissipated and Fluttershy was gone.
“I really hope nopony else saw that.” Twilight Sparkle said as she turned away from the window. “Rainbow Dash, you better try to follow her.”
Rainbow Dash saluted sharply and took off out of the same window that Fluttershy had exited from.
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said turning to the last pegasus left in the library. “Would you mind also going out there to look for her?”
Rainbow Dash looked down at her hooves. “Sorry, but I’m not that great a flyer. I was barely at flight school for a week before I left. I tried to help out once in Hoofington and all the other pegasi laughed at me for only managing 0.2 on the scale.”
“Okay, c’mon then me, you, Trixie and Rarity can check out the houses here in Ponyville. That fine with everypony?”
“Wonderful idea, darling!”
“Trixie’s going to pass on that as much as she wants to help out.”
Trixie put a hoof to her forehead and swooned dramatically. “Oh, Trixie is most overcome after her experience. Trixie will stay here and recuperate,” she said stretching out and getting comfortable.
Twilight let out a little growl in frustration. Clearly she’d been expecting too much of the showmare. “Fine! If you want something to eat that’s alright. Just don’t wake Spike up to get it,” she warned.
“Let’s get out of here girls, there’s no time to lose!” The three mares galloped out of the library leaving Trixie all alone.
Far to the north, almost in the shadows of the Crystal Mountains, two unicorn stallions had camped down for the night in the cover provided by their marvelous machine.
One of them jumped up with a start.
“Flam, dear chap. Are you quite alright?”
“Sorry, me old mucker of mine. But I could have sworn I just saw that pink pony from Ponyville pop her head out of one of the valves on the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 7000 XL.”
Flim gave his brother a long steady look. “Flam, mate. You’ve really got to stop sampling the product.”
Fluttershy accelerated into the sky out of the wake of her sonic shadeboom laughing like a madmare. With the wind howling in her face and the air pressing back against her wings she speeded up even further. Rocketing up ever upwards as she embraced the utter freedom of flight the pegasus was unable to stop smiling. Not from the wind forcing her features into a rictus grin, but after two days of being cramped up in a single place and most of that pinned against a ceiling; this was utter bliss as she corkscrewed just for the sheer fun of it.
Now she probably should be working on some kind of search pattern. Carefully staking out the nearby area and doing a slow sweep to make sure she shouldn’t miss any sign of the runaway unicorn. But seriously, buck that for a game of guards! Fluttershy let out a little giggle to herself. Sparks would probably turn up sooner or later, but now Fluttershy had a chance to do whatever she liked now that she was out from under the eyes of Twilight Sparkle. She knew exactly what she wanted to do now that she’d got the need for speed out of her system.
She looked around—pleased to see that Rainbow Dash was nowhere in sight—Captain Fluttershy did however spot a promising candidate for what she wanted to know. Fluttershy pulled off an impossible gravity defying turn with ease that would have ripped the wings off any normal pegasus. She rocketed back towards the ground with her target in sight.
Raindrops had settled down for a quick snooze after looking around for a bit for the perfect fluffy cloud for the night. She had barely closed her eyes when she realised that another pegasus had lightly touched down onto her cloud.
“Hi! I’m ever so sorry to bother you, but could you let me know where I might find Fluttershy’s place of residence, please?” the other mare asked with over-the-top politeness.
Raindrops looked up to see a yellow pegasus with a windswept pink mane in a pair of goggles. Must be a relative, she figured, as the other mare did look like Fluttershy—not realising due to the dark—that the other mare looked exactly like Fluttershy.
“New in town, hey? Okay well see that clock tower over there? If you head past that, her house is right on the border of the Everfree forest. You can’t miss it,” Raindrops said helpfully.
“Thank you so much!” The other pegasus shot off in the direction that had been indicated. Raindrops smiled to see such a nice mare and glad that she could help out.
“Everypony in the place! Are you ready to make some noise!” Vinyl Scratch yelled at the packed crowd who answered with a matching roar.
Octavia cringed beside her in a matching pair of purple shades, just why had she ever agreed to this?
A pink pony poked her head out from behind one of the pulsing speakers and not spotting any sign of Sparks vanished again without anypony noticing that she’d been there.
They’d missed the last train to Canterlot by several hours so the two Applejacks, not having anything else to do that evening, had ended up in a Manehattan pub that Appletini had suggested.
“So, what d’ya fancy? Some kind of cocktail?” asked Applejack, after they’d finally managed to secure a table.
“Ale would do me fine. Bugmare’s XXXX if they’ve got it,” said Appletini, having to raise her voice to be heard over the raucous noise.
Applejack’s eye’s widened with respect and she tipped her hat to her double. “Bugmare’s best it is!”
When they both had foaming tankards in front of them Appletini had asked about the incident that had brought her here.
Applejack explained about Sparks and how she had cast a spell to bring the six Elements of Harmony from the Nightmare Moon ruled Equestria to the Celestia ruled one. Applejack then had to explain exactly what the Elements of Harmony were.
“Honesty? But isn’t that a bit limiting?”
“How’d ya mean?” Applejack replied, taking another drink.
“Well being able to convincingly bend the truth is a valuable skill to have. Least it is in my line of work,” Appletini said. She really was enjoying herself. Appletini spent so much time with society ponies and she rarely got a chance to cut loose like this. “So you’ve really never ever told a lie?”
Applejack crossed her hooves under the table and blushed. “Err well... ah mighta weaseled my way out of a promise once and there was that whole mess with Discord... But otherwise no I ain’t.”
“I have, lots actually.” Appletini said, her eyes dancing.
“So, what d’ya do then?”
“Philanthropist would probably be the best word for it. Shameless social manipulator might be a better one though.”
“Ah phila-whatist?” Applejack said, having never heard that word before and not sure that she liked the sound of this. It seemed kinda shady.
“It means I make charitable donations using my own funds and encourage other ponies with even more than I do to do so too. Mainly by throwing lavish dinners, auctions and other functions fit for high society.” Appletini took another drink, draining her tankard completely and smacked her lips. “It’s fun of course, but it’s also important work and it’s not like the nobility and the business ponies wouldn’t fritter their money away otherwise. Equestria might be doing well—even with the long night— but did you know that many changeling nymphs are going hungry out in the wastes without the required amount of love to grow the thick chitin that they need to survive? I helped fund an expedition of volunteers and now Hive Thorndust is doing well and all the volunteer ponies came back as the Queen promised.”
“Ya help changelings!?” Applejack slammed her own tankard down hard on the table and losing a fair amount of ale in the process.
Her double looked back at her pursing her lips. “What would you prefer we do? Have Nightmare Moon send the Shadowbolts out and kill them all? They can be reasoned with y’know and with pony help changelings can take their place in Equestrian society. Minotaurs used to be seen as rampaging blood-thirsty monsters, but now they’re finally beginning to actually integrate. Even if most of them do stay on the Isle of Minos after Princess Celestia annexed their previous home Tartaurus for that prison of hers so many generations ago.”
Applejack wasn’t to sure what to say to that. She knew that many ponies did still see minotaurs as just monsters. Even now after they hadn’t been a real threat to Equestria for centuries at least that was how Granny had always told it. But changelings? She hadn’t been sure they’d been more than mindless insects, well other than their Queen, when they’d attacked at the wedding. Applejack really wished that Twilight Sparkle was here so she could get a second opinion from somepony who had almost certainly studied this.
Changing the subject she asked, “So ya got lots of bits then? How much d’ya send back to the farm?”
Appletini paused, thinking about how she was going to address this diplomatically. “I’m sorry, Applejack, but I’ve not had contact with the Apple side of the family since I was a filly. I honestly don’t know how Sweet Apple Acres is doing.”
“Well you should!” Applejack said her voice rising. “They are your blood and they need help!”
“How do you know that? It’s not the farm that you know, remember?” Appletini pointed out.
“Well...” Applejack trailed off. “You should ask though if you c’n help. It’s your roots after all.”
“I promise,” said Appletini with a smile not containing a single shred of dishonesty.
Meanwhile Princess Cadance and Shining Armour were having their official first ever tiff as a married couple.
“I’m going to throw him out and that’s final!” said Shining Armour, stamping a hoof.
Prince Blueblood in the other room—completely oblivious to the argument going on in the kitchen—helped himself to some more of the delicious hors d'oeuvres.
“But, Shining, he’s my brother!”
Shining Armour paced about. “I don’t care! You heard what he just said about my sister.”
“I know he said that she had a nice flank, but I’m sure he just said it as a compliment,” protested Cadance.
“No he slurred that he wanted to tap that flank! I don’t even know he could possibly be that drunk this early—”
“Shiny?” Cadance asked with some concern seeing the look on her husbands face.
“Sorry, my love. I could have sworn I just saw my sister’s friend Pinkie Pie, but with straight hair, pop her head out of the sink and then pop back down again.”
His wife glared at him before giving him a quick kiss. “I think you might have had a bit too much yourself. C’mon let’s see my idiot brother safely home.”
Rainbow Dash raced laps in the air above Ponyville. She’d completely lost track of the other Fluttershy entirely to her frustration and was half looking for her and half looking for Sparks. She’d just passed Sweet Apple Acres where she saw something else entirely.
It was her double holding onto Cheerilee—who was now wearing Trixie’s hat—in a deep passionate kiss. Rainbow Dash came in for a sharp landing disturbing the pair of lovers.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?! We’re all supposed to be looking for Sparks!” she yelled at her double.
Cheerilee gasped as she looked at the mare who she was still in the hooves of, and then at the mare that had just arrived. “But I... I thought she was you! Wait, does this mean that you're not leaving Fluttershy for me?”
“You lied to me,” said Cheerilee. Her voice raised angrily as she pushed Rainbow Dash away.
Rainbow Dash brushed herself down from where she’d landed. She quickly took the chance to retrieve her hat from Cheerilee’s head, before the other pony could protest, and returned it to it’s rightful place. Last thing Rainbow Dash wanted was for something bad to happen to it. For some reason angry romantic partners always seemed to want to take it out on the hat.
Ignoring Dash’s glazed over look as she really hadn’t followed that at all, Cheerilee sighed. “Such a waste,” she said, as she gazed wistfully at the two identical pegasi. “And to think I’ve had dreams that started like this.”
“What’s she getting at?” asked Dash, to nopony in particular. She really was not entirely sure what the flying feather was going on with the looks that Cheerilee and her double were giving each other.
“Sorry, Dash. I told her that while I was flattered of course by the offer, but I had to turn her down because you’re with Fluttershy, but she said that the Fluttershy thing was so over. Then she kissed me! She’s pretty good at that actually,” Cheerilee explained while blushing hard.
“What Fluttershy thing?” Dash growled, beginning to lose her temper at both her double and Cheerilee.
Cheerilee gave her a knowing smile. “It’s okay, really. I know all about how you and Fluttershy have been seeing each other on the sly. Blossomforth told me when I asked whether you were seeing anypony at the moment. I had no idea you were so romantic, Dash.”
Dash’s cheeks flushed bright red as realisation finally began to dawn. “Wait... Blossomforth told you that me and Fluttershy were special someponies? But, we’re just friends and for that matter; we’re both mares! Okay so I might have kissed her once, but we were fighting a horde of changelings at the time! Tensions were running high, it’s like sports y’know, things happen!” Dash was actually beginning to hyperventilate as she was rapidly running out of her ability to cope. She was also really going to have a very annoyed word with Blossomforth next time she held a weather team meeting.
The other Rainbow Dash patted her other self gently on the back between her wings. “There, there, it’s not that bad.” Then not being able to help herself, started to rub, knowing exactly how sensitive she was there. Dash jumped away from her with a squeak at the very unfamiliar feeling that was setting off butterflies in her stomach. She whipped round glaring at her double.
“What is she anyway?” asked Cheerilee. “A twin sister you’ve kept quiet, a changeling, or just Twilight Sparkle’s messed up a spell again, what?”
“Weird is what she is. She’s some kind of totally un-awesome other me from an Equestria where Nightmare Moon—”
“How about if I could be yours?” answered Rainbow Dash smoothly, as she butted in and swept Cheerilee off her hooves again. After, of course, cocking her magician hat to the properly rakish angle. “Look, I really am a Rainbow Dash as other-me said. If not the Rainbow Dash that you might have wanted. You told me that you’ve had a thing for me for ages and now you can at least have a me!”
Cheerilee kissed her. If this was the closest she was going to get to her fantasy mare; then this was a more than acceptable substitute. At least as far as this school teacher was concerned anyway. To be fair it had been a while. Closest thing I’ve had to some action was a love potion induced date with a pony of the wrong gender, thought Cheerilee ruefully before letting herself enjoy the moment.
“Um... Okay, I’m gonna look for Sparks... elsewhere.” Rainbow Dash said, looking anywhere but at what the two other ponies were doing together. “Yes, very much elsewhere. You two keep an eye out for her here, okay?”
Rainbow Dash and Cheerilee really weren’t paying attention to anything by now other than each other, as they rolled around in the grass. Still Dash took whatever they were doing as a definite yes and fled from the thoroughly confusing scene as fast as her wings could carry her.
In Hive Chrysalis, a changeling was loudly complaining. “Seriously we just don’t know what went wrong!” It morphed into Pinkie Pie again to make a point. “C’mon, how could she have seen better?”
Its compatriot clad in the armour of a changeling brood-guard shook it’s head after inspecting for obvious flaws like patches missing in the coat or holes still in the legs. “Well, we can’t tell the difference.”
The Pinkie Pie copy buried her face in her hooves and moaned pathetically in a most un-Pinkie Pie like manner. “We know! It’s a perfect copy. It’s not like we’re some freshly hatched nymph proud that they’ve got the right number of limbs.”
“Cutie Mark is slightly too small and it’s lopsided too, you don't smell anywhere nearly strong enough of cake frosting and your hair is ever so slightly the wrong shade of pink.”
“Errr... thank you, that’s very helpful.” The changeling shifted back out of it's pony disguise and looked around to see what changeling had given such good advice.
“No problem,” replied Pinkamena. She ducked back and disappeared into a small hole in the hive wall. When the two changelings investigated the pony was nowhere to be found.
Rock had made it all the way into the main square of Ponyville when her body finally gave out completely, as the effects of the adrenalin of the moment had finally worn off.
Twilight Sparkle had split off from Rarity and Rainbow Dash to cover more ground between the three of them. Spotting the wheezing unicorn collapsed against the town fountain Twilight instantly teleported over to her.
“Rock, you don’t look so good,” she said bluntly.
Rock coughed as Twilight helped her up. “Sorry, Twilight. I’ve had a very long day and I overdid it a bit with the applebucking I guess. I know I shouldn’t have galloped out like that, but I just couldn’t let that foal take away my sis.”
“It’s okay, Rock. You wouldn’t really have killed her, would you?” Twilight asked, concerned about what kind of pony exactly she was helping now.
Rock hung her head. “Well, I ain’t ever killed anything on the surface before and I wouldn’t want to start. Still can’t promise I wouldn’t have tried to buck some sense into that thick skull of hers.”
Twilight Sparkle figured that she could live with that. If she was being honest with herself she’d been tempted to do that to her double since the moment that she’d met her. Then she felt guilty again that this double of her was bringing bad depths to the surface that she'd previously been entirely unaware of. “We can find Sparks without you, I think. Especially in the state you’re in. C’mon where were you planning on sleeping tonight?”
“Applejack said I could sleep up in their barn—”
“Done.” Twilight Sparkle concentrated hard as she adapted the fiendishly complicated teleport spell for both the extra pony and the distance involved. A flash of purple magic later, and the two ponies were standing in the Sweet Apple Acres barn.
Rock collapsed happily on the nearest pile of hay. “Twilight Sparkle... I just want to say, thank you.”
Within moments Rock was asleep. Twilight stopped for a few moments as the sight of the white unicorn sprawled on the hay brought her up short. Now that Rock was asleep her face had softened and she looked so much more like her friend Rarity. Well if Rarity would ever willingly be that filthy and wear a rag like that around her head.
Twilight Sparkle shook herself, she had a missing pony to find after all. She concentrated to build up the magical energies in her horn and she was gone.
“I hate you!” Diamond Tiara as true to her usual form—when she had to do something that she didn’t like—was complaining. "I could be spending time with Silver Spoon, but nooo, Daddy insists I spend some time with you."
Screwball floated around her, occasionally spinning her beanie propeller absent-mindedly and kicking herself off again every time it looked like she was going to crash into a wall.
“I don’t know why I have to keep you company anyway!” Diamond Tiara stamped her little hooves in a well-practiced display of utter petulance. “It’s not like you’re really my sister anymore!”
Screwball thought about this, or at least she had a fair attempt at it. She half remembered—through a head stuffed with cotton candy—that she’d been normal once and she could well have had a sister that looked a bit like this filly. The nice stallion, Fishy Risk or something like that, wasn’t here though and Screwball missed him. He always let her sleep on the ceiling or wherever. He had stopped the bad ponies from taking her away to the boring place with the soft white rooms and gave her any combination of food that she wanted. Aniseed and watercress sandwiches being a definite favourite. Still she didn’t mind too much that she was like this. After all, what fun was there in making sense?
Ooooh, now what’s this? Screwball dived down, grabbed Diamond Tiara into a hug and pulled her over to the empty fireplace.
Ignoring her sister’s protestations, Screwball said, “okay, now say it with me! One, two, three, and surprise!” Screwball had timed it absolutely perfectly. So that the very moment Pinkamena popped her head out down out of the mantelpiece, she was met by a maniacally grinning violet mare with eyes spinning like pinwheels and a filly trying desperately to get away from her.
Pinkamena screamed. Then screamed again, this time in pain as she inadvertently smacked her head on the back of the fireplace. In all her years popping in and out of places nopony had ever managed to spot her coming before and she was now feeling profoundly freaked out. This was not helped that the filly in the tiara was now screaming too at the pink pony who had appearing out of nowhere.
Just a little touch of chaos and there, perfect!
“Your hair is pretty now!” said Screwball. She helpfully pulled over a mirror with a spare hoof while still hugging her struggling sister.
Pinkamena stared at the mirror to find that her hair had gone completely and utterly mad. Somehow it had been styled just like Screwball’s, and for that matter, fairly similar to her double’s. This absolutely would not do. Still priorities, getting my mane back into shape can wait. Find Sparks first and then I can find a brush!
“You don’t like it?” Screwball pouted, then giggled as she forgot why she’d been upset.
“It’s lovely,” Pinkamena said diplomatically. “Now, I’m sorry but I really must be going. Y’know places to be and ponies to find.” She pulled her now aching head back out of the room.
That was fun! Screwball so rarely got visitors and that polite pink pony had been far more entertaining than most. Diamond Tiara didn’t seem to have enjoyed it so much though given she was shaking and actually hugging her sister back. On the plus side she had finally stopped whining.
Rarity was wandering through Ponyville by herself. She'd lost Twilight Sparkle after the other mare had started teleporting and she'd lost Rainbow Dash after getting fed up with her stopping to chat to every single pony that they passed by. Ponyville was an open friendly town, but still barging into pony’s homes unannounced was most definitely rude. So Rarity had decided on a strategy of looking in through the windows for signs of Sparks while trying not to get too judgemental about some of the frankly appalling choices of drapes.
She'd only planned to give Sugarcube Corner a cursory look as the Cake's had closed up for the night, but on spotting Pinkie looking down in the dumps and half heartedly playing with Gummy, Rarity just had to find out what was going on.
"Pinkie!" she said after letting herself into the shop. "I thought you were out looking for Sparks?"
"I'm sure she'll find her, so why bother." Rarity didn't have to ask to know who she was. Still Rarity was concerned for her friend. She hadn't seen Pinkie look this put out since that whole unfortunate Tom incident.
Mentally filing that once more more under something to never ever think about again, she asked, "Pinkie, whatever possibly could be the matter? This really isn't like you."
Pinkie crossed her forehooves and sat resting against a sack of flour. "Don't you think I don't know that?"
"Is your double really that awful? I'm sure that just because she doesn't want to go up against Nightmare Moon it doesn't mean that she's a bad pony."
"It's not that!" Pinkie said quickly. "If she made a promise to Black Snooty then she made a promise. I..." Pinkie Pie's voice got quiet. "I don't like her," she said, her expression betraying her horror at such an unthinkable idea.
Rarity gasped. Gummy just sat there with his usual inscrutable crocodilian expression, but Rarity was sure that he was probably shocked to.
“It’s just that I can’t believe, no I don’t want to believe, that I could have turned out like that if it hadn’t have been for Dashie. She’s just so grey and boring and flat and aggravating and businessy—”
Rarity put a hoof in front of Pinkie’s mouth. “Okay, okay, I get the picture. I’m sure she’s not that bad if you get to know her. Rock might have a distressing lack of elan, but she loves her Sweetie Belle. Just as much as I do my own sister and she does have a good heart. Even as buried deep as it seems to be on occasion.”
Pinkie Pie sniffed, then grinned as her mood bounced back. “If you can make friends with your double, then I can make friends with mine! Thanks, Rarity. I needed that. I will get Pinkamena to smile! Just you wait.”
Spitfire sank back into the water of the hot springs firmly convinced that this was the life. Not many pegasi got to relax in heated specially imported mineral water in the sky city of Cloudsdale, but then the Wonderbolts weren’t any normal pegasi.
Her relaxation was shattered when one of her teammates shrieked. Looking over Spitfire was shocked to see that a pink mare head had impossibly risen out of the sponge bucket and was looking around. Spitfire was used to the paparazzi, but this was ridiculous!
No Sparks, yet again, Pinkamena grumbled to herself. This was getting annoying, her hair was all messed up and there was still so much of Equestria yet to search. Then she noticed that amongst the angry scowls and panicked faces at her presence; a white mare with a yellow mane was grinning widely at her with a knowing expression on her face. For some reason she looked incredibly familiar to Pinkamena, but she just couldn’t put a hoof on why.
That mystery can wait though. I’ve still got to find Sparks, she thought. Pinkamena hauled herself out of the sponge bucket and jumped into the pool. There wasn’t a splash, but Pinkamena was on her way yet again.
Trixie trotted around the library, just generally taking the time to fully explore every nook and cranny of Twilight’s treehouse. She looked out the windows to make sure everypony wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon. Then she checked the bedroom and sure enough Spike was asleep under his blanket. Trixie trotted back down the stairs into the main room of the library and sat down a few feet away from one of the bookcases. She stared hard just off to the right of a vase of flowers.
“The others are all gone. You can come out now.” Trixie said in the most gentle tone she could manage.
Nothing happened, other than an ex-great and powerful magician sat all alone and seemingly talking to a wall.
“Trixie doesn’t care what you do, but she feels for some reason that you might want to talk about this,” she said cocking her head to the side.
Sparks dropped her spell, revealing herself to Trixie in the exact place that Trixie had been looking. “H-How did you know?”
“Trixie might be a jack-of-all-trades, but you know what Trixie’s always been good at?” Trixie smiled triumphantly. “Illusion magic and having an eye for detail. Trixie has heard of ponies who can pull of an invisibility spell; including herself apparently...” Trixie had been paying attention to at least some of the waffle that Rainbow Dash had been going on about during the trip through Whitetail Forest after all. “Never seen it, or as the case may be, not seen it done myself though until now.”
“But how did you know where to look? Or that I hadn’t teleported like my double can?”
Trixie tossed her hair back. “A good magician never reveals her secrets!” It wasn’t like Sparks needed to know that her command of the invisibility spell wasn’t perfect and had left a faint shadow revealing the unicorn’s position. Luckily for Trixie; not only had her own double had exactly the same problems perfecting the spell, but that Rainbow Dash had told her all about it yesterday, so that Trixie had known exactly what to look for.
“Oh...” Sparks frowned. “So why didn’t you tell the others then?”
Trixie laughed. “You could put it down to pettiness probably, but talking through a performance really is incredibly rude. Don’t you think?”
“Um... yes, I guess?”
“So, not only does Trixie get a bit of harmless payback on two of the three ponies that wrecked her performance, as they run about looking for you. But Trixie does honestly want to see if she can help, Sparks.”
“Why do you want to help me?” Sparks looked down at her hooves despondently. “Nopony ever wants to help me.”
“Well Twilight wants to help you too, but Trixie doesn’t think she can from what Trixie’s seen so far. She worries and then she gets frustrated and isn’t helping anypony getting like that. Everypony else is gone now and so we can talk this out now that we’ve got some quiet. Why were you getting so worked up anyway?”
Sparks got up and started pacing about the library. “I just want to help ponies! Is that really so bad? The rest of them may have it alright with Nightmare Moon in charge, but why can’t they think about Princess Celestia? Nopony knows what happened to her. Not only that, but I think of all the fillies and colts growing up and never seeing the sun and it makes me want to cry. It really does!”
“No offence, Sparks,” Trixie said looking Sparks right in the eyes so that she could see that she was serious. “But Trixie has talked about this to Twilight earlier. Well, listened to her complain anyway. You’re not helping anypony sitting alone in your library all the time.”
“I... I do go out sometimes,” Sparks confessed. “That’s what I learned the invisibility spell for, so I could help out without anypony getting mad at me and shouting.”
Trixie fought the urge to facehoof. “That’s not exactly healthy behaviour.” Trixie was well aware that was coming from a mare that had spent nearly a year drifting after one bad day—not to mention the whole compulsively talking in the thirdpony thing—but still the point did need to be made.
“I know that!” Sparks protested. “But I don’t know what to do, my brother’s the captain of the royal guard and I’ve done nothing my whole life..."
Trixie raised an eyebrow at that. A member of the nobility, a dragon, a phoenix, the Element of Magic, one princess as mentor, another used to be her foal-sitter AND a brother who is the captain of the royal guard?! That’s just beyond ridiculous! Even so, Trixie does totally get where Sparks is coming from.
"I'm a failure and everypony knows it," Sparks said, looking thoroughly miserable. "Even my double knows. I can see it in her eyes every time she looks at me. I bet it was because she got in to the school of gifted unicorns. My parents knew I was so pathetic at magic that they didn't even let me apply."
“Trixie doesn’t think you’re that bad. There’s not many unicorns who can pull off an invisibility spell after all. Trixie doesn’t even think that your double, for all her power, knows that one,” she said, giving Sparks a winning smile causing the other unicorn to blush.
Sparks looked in a better mood to Trixie so at least she was being some help to somepony for once. Still Sparks was going to have to go back to an Equestria ruled by Nightmare Moon by the way everything was going with the other ponies. There was a chance that the hayseed double in Manehattan might be more sympathetic, but still two at best wasn’t enough to bring back Princess Celestia from what Trixie had been told. That was when Trixie came up with an idea. You owe me for this one other me. After all Trixie’s always wanted a glamourous assistant. Plus Trixie has to admit that in this Equestria, she’d be the one having to wear the sparkly leotard and not the magician’s hat.
“Just out of interest, but have you ever considered becoming a showmare?”
To say Sparks was unconvinced initially was an understatement. For somepony so reclusive the whole idea sounded like madness, but Trixie persevered. It would get her out of the library and meeting new ponies. It would also keep her from being found easily if a certain yellow pegasus wanted payback and as Trixie pointed out; who would think to look for a pony like Sparks in a travelling stage show? There was a lot to be said for hiding in plain sight. Still it was hard going, but Trixie was both persuasive and persistent. When Trixie had cause to fully turn on the charm not many ponies could manage to keep up.
“So do you really reckon this other Trixie would let me join up?” asked Sparks nervously hiding behind her forehooves.
“Oh trust me, you’re exactly the type of unicorn that’s she’s been looking for,” Trixie said with a wink. She wasn’t exactly in the habit of playing matchmaker on behalf of another version of herself. But Trixie was also sure her other self could do one hay of a lot better than a brainless pegasus that couldn’t stay true to her.
Sparks was about to ask exactly what that meant when the two unicorns were both interrupted by a loud thud of a body hitting the floor.
Pinkamena had appeared out of nowhere and was now lying by one of the bookcases groaning in pain. At least Trixie guessed it was Pinkamena rather than Pinkie Pie from the tie the pony was wearing, even if it had been shredded in half, but she couldn’t tell for certain as the cutie mark was covered in blood...
"What are we going to do?" Trixie said frantically. Pinkamena looked horribly pale and was bleeding all over the library floor and Trixie just knew that somehow this was going to end up being seen as all her fault.
"Don't you know any healing magic?” asked Sparks. “You are a magician, aren't you?"
"No! Trixie might know a few things, but healing spells are beyond me." Trixie said, with a definite note of panic creeping into her voice. "How about you?"
Sparks shook her head. "Um, well I'm sure Twilight wouldn't mind if we used her curtains given that there's a pony in need..."
Soon Pinkamena had been competently, if somewhat over enthusiastically, bandaged and Sparks was sitting by her side, brushing the business-mare’s new curls back into her usual straight-cut style.
Once she’d gotten her wits back Pinkamena actually looked somewhat contented as Sparks magically ran a brush through her hair. “Well done for finding her, Trixie,” she said, nodding towards Sparks. “I think I searched nearly all over Equestria looking for her.”
“Oh, it was nothing." Trixie dropped the smug act as she was genuinely concerned. “So, what happened to you then?” she asked.
“I was checking out some of the natural caves in the Ghastly Gorge. Since when have there been feral griffons living out there? Quarray Eels I’d expected, griffons not so much.”
Trixie admitted that she had no idea. It was not as if she was anymore local really than Sparks and Pinkamena were. Least as far as Ponyville was concerned anyway. She’d never even heard of griffons going feral though. Sure there were always rumours—usually from the more inbred out-of-the-way towns that she’d visited—where some friend of a cousin twice removed had heard of one that totally et somepony’s sheep. But they were only rumours, weren’t they? Trixie thought.
“Only griffon I know of living around here is Gilda,” said Sparks. “But she’s really nice and not feral at all! She’s the weather team captain in my Ponyville and occasionally comes into the library to see how I am and have a chat. Only pony that does that is Mrs. Cake and that’s because I pay her for food.”
“I’d assumed the caves away from the nesting sites would be abandoned and so a possible good place for Sparks to hide,” Pinkamena explained. “So the last thing I expected was to have two claws wrapped around my neck and an angry griffon in my face.”
Pinkamena closed her eyes and shuddered. The sight of those predatory eyes locked with hers was going to stick with her for a good long while. The griffon had been so fast too. Pinkamena had only just got her bearings before she’d been seized without warning.
“It was horrible, Trixie. She was such a sight. Old faded purple dye smeared all over her face and long dried blood staining her beak. I think she must have been there all alone for a long time.” Pinkamena went quiet for a bit, before beginning to talk again. “At one point she stopped clawing at me and just hugged me while she had a bit of a cry.” Now that had been awkward, Pinkamena reflected. She’d even tried patting the griffon gently while making soothing noises, as the griffon had sobbed horribly. Pinkamena had tried to ignore the pain as the griffon had squeezed her in the hope it would calm her down. It hadn’t lasted long though before the griffon had snapped again and flung her against the cave wall. Which fortunately for Pinkamena had just been the opportunity she’d needed to escape.
“Weird,” Trixie said, not feeling there was much else she could say.
Sparks was wondering about the purple dye, but shook her head dismissing the thought. There was no chance whatsoever that could be the Gilda of this reality. After all, she was the most kind and gentle creature that Sparks had ever met.
“Definitely,” agreed Pinkamena. “Even weirder, was that she was yelling that I’d taken her Dashie away from her. I don’t even know a Dashie.”
“Hang on, you don’t think that could have been the Rainbow Dash here do you? With your mane messed up like that maybe that griffon thought you were your double,” Trixie suggested.
Pinkamena considered this. “But what could they have done to upset her so much that she did this to me?” she said, gesturing to the improvised bandages now covering her many wounds. “I only just got out of there in one piece that griffon was in such a frenzy.”
“Don’t ask me,” Trixie said shaking her head. “Trixie just threw a performance once in this lousy town. Certainly not long enough to find out about if some filly-fooling interspecies love triangle was going on.”
Sparks blushed and tried to hide her face under her bangs.
Pinkamena laughed and then winced in pain as she felt her sides ache at the sudden unexpected movement. She was about to sling a suitably barbed comment at Trixie for making her hurt like that and then she stopped. I just laughed. Her eyes widened. I never laugh. I’ve got to get back to the Equestria I know. This world is making me crazy...
“I could so gallop back to Ponyville.”
Appletini’s eyes were struggling to focus on her double sitting across from her. "Just because I go to fancy parties doesn't mean I'm any less of an Earth pony y'know."
"Ah know." Applejack went back to gazing into her ale. She was half-hoping it might contain the answers to why her double was getting so worked up by this. Though if she had to guess, she did wonder if Appletini might be feeling a bit guilty for neglecting her roots. If she didn't find some way to take her mind of this Appletini probably wasn’t far from challenging her to hoof-wrastle... and that would just be embarrassing for everypony concerned. Along with probably getting them thrown out of the pub.
She wasn't the best at small talk—hay, not even a ribboner really—but Applejack figured it was worth a shot. “So you seeing anypony at the moment?” Applejack mentally face-hooved. Smooth, Applejack, smooth.
Ignoring the bluntness of the question, Appletini replied, “Been seeing Blooey for the last couple of months. He’s fun and treats me like a lady.”
Seeing Applejack’s blank look, Appletini said, "Surprised you've not heard of him. Before his banishment he was a real big deal in Canterlot."
Applejack's brow furrowed. "Fancy Pants?" She hazarded as a guess. He'd seemed to be a real gent of a stallion at Twilight's birthday party.
Appletini laughed lightly. "Hah, I should be so lucky. "
Giving up on her double ever guessing, she said, “Blueblood. His name’s Blueblood.”
“Oh, so you do know him... Why are you looking at me like that?”
Applejack actually let out a low dangerous growl. “He’s scum, Appletini. He spat out good down-home Apple family cooking. Worse he disrespected my friend.”
Appletini ground her teeth in frustration. She'd had to deal with the reaction before and the last pony she wanted to hear this lecture from was herself. “Look, I know he used to have some problems, but he’s a changed stallion since he lost his title.”
“Well that ain’t happened here. Not that it wasn’t more than deserved after that Grand Galloping Gala.”
“Well he did and I like him. I might even love him, though he really doesn’t need to know that yet,” Appletini said, with a wistful smile.
“So how’d he lose his title then?” asked Applejack, who couldn’t help but being interested. She was also working very hard to banish the deeply unpleasant mental image of her and that dandy fop to the very recesses of the back of her mind.
“Nightmare Moon, how else?” said Applejack. “She was less than impressed by the standards of the nobility after her exile. She seemed to take two members of the old royal unicorn lineage being still around especially personally. Blooey just lost his holdings, his servants and his title. His sister Princess Mi Amore Cadenza on the other hoof...” Appletini shuddered.
“Cadance, I’ve met her. She’s nice.”
Appletini took another drink. She was going to need it. “Everypony says that. Last thing she deserved was to have her wing implants destroyed in front of the entire Canterlot court.”
“Wait... implants? I thought she was like Princess Celestia an' Luna.”
Her double shook her head sadly. “So did a lot of ponies. Story came out afterwards that she got them implanted when she was young. Bit of a spoiled brat back then apparently. Y’know the kind of parents who were wrapped round her little hooves who’d get her anything she wanted. Even, as it turns out, illegal magical cosmetic surgery so she could look like a proper princess. Still given how she grew up she really didn’t deserve such brutal treatment. Sure Nightmare Moon healed her afterwards, but believe me, I think it left a bigger impression on everypony than what the Shadowbolts did to Stalliongrad.”
Applejack grimaced. The thought of a sweet pony like Cadance being brutalised like that made her blood boil. “Why’d that make a difference anyway? Nightmare Moon never exactly made a secret of being a monster here.”
“Well after the sun going down permanently and Princess Celestia’s disappearance there were a lot of scared ponies out there,” Appletini said. “But then everything kept growing despite the constant night and Nightmare Moon seemed like she might be actually be reasonable. Especially as she pretty much continued the old rule aside from a few minor alterations. Sure there was Stalliongrad, but some ponies thought that by peaceful protest and debate she might be convinced to maybe bring back the sun for one day a week say at least. After Cadance though, everypony forgot the foolish idea about her being reasonable and attempted to get on with their lives as normally as possible without the sun.”
“So everypony just gave up then?”
Appletini frowned. "Well you could say that I suppose. That front page photo of two small piles of dust, vaguely in the shape of wings, did tend to stick rather prominently in the mind.”
An awkward silence descended over the table. It was getting on in the evening and the pub was beginning to empty out. A pegasus stallion trotted over to try his luck and promptly beat a hasty retreat after feeling the full force of a double dose of the Apple family death glare.
In an attempt to change the subject, Applejack asked, "So ain't you worried about all them fancy events you're missing bein' stuck here?"
Appletini blinked a couple of times as she thought about it. "Nothing I'll be really missed at thankfully. I had planned to show my face tonight at the White Sock society meeting, but it's not like I'm a real member. More of an associate really."
"Oh, Manehattanite ponies with more money than sense are obsessed with all kinds of secret societies, conspiracies and other passing fads.” Appletini said airily. “There's the Discordians, the Cultists for the Second Coming of the Mag'ne, the Sect of the Horned Rat just to name a few and far too many others." Appletini grinned. "And I'm a member of most of them. Always good to know what's going on behind closed doors in high society in my line of work. Plus its useful knowledge if I need to do a little leg twisting if I need to secure a venue for a charity auction, say."
Applejack's eyes widened. "How the hay do ya keep all that straight?
"It's not too bad if you're organised. Course there was that one time I gave the Freemason secret hoofshake to a New Solar Republican." Appletini winced at the recollection. "Now that was awkward."
"So, what's wit' the White Socks then?"
Appletini waved her tankard dismissively. "Singular, but I shouldn't tell you. You're not going to like it. Hay, I know you're not going to like it, as I don't like it myself."
"Aw, shoot. Now ya gotta tell me."
Appletini sighed. "They eat meat."
Seeing her double's absolutely appalled expression, Appletini quickly added, "it's all ethically sourced! Part of the thrill for them is paying the exorbitant sums to the griffons to make sure it’s only from animals that have passed away from natural causes."
Applejack looked and felt like she was going to throw up. "And you've..."
Applejack sat quietly for a bit mulling this over in her head. "Hang on. If this was happenin' tonight for you... Then it's also goin' on here now as well." She looked liked she was moments from getting up to go buck some ideas of proper pony behavior into some heads.
“It could well be,” Appletini admitted.
“Where?” Applejack snarled out the single word, her eyes burning with rage.
“It’s not going to help getting mad about this,” said Appletini, trying to calm her other self down. “Even if it was happening here too, and there’s no guarantee of that, then they really dislike uninvited guests who shouldn’t even know that they exist. They don’t just hire griffons to procure the meat, but bodyguards too.”
“Ah could take a griffon,” Applejack said, putting her forehooves down onto the table hard.
Appletini sighed. “I’m sure you could, but several of them and armed with crossbows? Anyway we could get there and the house could be empty for all you and I know.”
Applejack settled down back into her seat with a huff. “Ah don’t like it. It’s just not right.”
“No, it’s not. Not right at all. Anyway as I said it might not even be happening in this Manehattan.”
“Why not? It’s ain’t like the lack of that sonic rainboom would make a bunch of ponies into meat-eating freaks.”
“Y’know I’ve been thinking about that,” said Appletini carefully. “It’s nice to think that some single event is the key to the differences, but I’m really not so sure. You and I while similar some ways are very different ponies in the way we approach life. I really do think that even if I had seen some rainbow pointing back to the farm as a filly.” She took a deep breath.“I still don’t think I’d have gone back,” Appletini said quickly, her eyes darting.
“Ah know, sugarcube,” said Applejack. “Y’all don’t need to be nervous that I’m goin’ to judge you poorly for it. You’re a good pony from what I can reckon and that’s all I need to know.” She grinned. “Your dreadful taste in stallions on the other hoof...”
Appletini laughed and the two tapped their drinks together.
Fluttershy touched down lightly just outside of the cottage. It’d been just been where that helpful pegasus had described, right on the edge of the Everfree forest. Lights were shining in the windows much to her relief. Good, she’s home.
She trotted over the small bridge, taking everything in to try to build a picture of her double before they met. Though all the little birdhouses all over the place were especially confusing. Shrugging that off, Fluttershy raised a hoof and tapped on the front door.
Not hearing any response, she knocked again, this time a little harder. Straining her ears she could just about hear someone moving around inside.
Eventually the top half of the front door opened. “Sorry to keep you waiting, but Mr. Mousey... Oh, it’s you.” She squeaked and disappeared beneath the top of the door.
“Mind if I come in?” Fluttershy asked, trying to keep her voice as neutral as possible. This was not a promising start.
“Um, I suppose that would be okay.” The door opened revealing her double cowering on the floor.
Fluttershy’s breath caught in her throat as she looked down at her other self. She was beautiful. Sure Fluttershy knew she could look pretty decent if she put some effort into it, but her double was on a whole other level. Then again she remembered how aggravating that effort could be when she’d been posing for those Shadowbolt propaganda posters. Photo Finish had proven to be absolutely impossible to completely satisfy with her appearance no matter what they’d tried. Fluttershy had ended up having her locked up in the dungeons on the basis of being utterly insufferable and ordered the photographer’s assistants to take the shots instead.
This other self though—who she decided to mentally dub ‘Shy from the way she was actually trembling just from being looked at—radiated an effortless innocence that could stop any pony in their tracks. It was like looking at the mare that she’d always wanted to be, but had never known that it was even a possibility.
Recovering her composure, Fluttershy trotted in and had a look around. Birdhouses continued to be a major theme in the decoration, along with what Fluttershy guessed were animal runs. She could just about make out the sounds of many little voices all breathing in and out.
“So... you like animals then?” Fluttershy asked, rubbing her neck as she took in the whole room. Animals definitely did seem to be the major theme.
“Oh my yes!” ‘Shy got up, seemingly more confident that she was standing on stronger ground. “I just love them all so much. I’ve had a special connection with all my furry and feathered friends ever since I was just a filly.”
Fluttershy checked out the three butterflies on ‘Shy’s flank in stark contrast to the winged skull on her own. “You got your cutie mark when you were a filly?” she said slowly, feeling a vein in her forehead start to throb.
“Second year of flight camp. Well it was the first year again as I had to retake it.” Fluttershy raised an eyebrow at that. She’d struggled at first sure, but she’d definitely never been held back like some pathetic lead-wing.
‘Shy then told Fluttershy all about the story of how she’d got her cutie mark. How Rainbow Dash had come to her defence when she was being bullied, leading to the race that knocked her off the cloud and sent her plummeting towards the ground. Fluttershy had come close to putting a hoof through the nearest wall when she heard that part. Hearing about being so weak was bad, but hearing that nopony bothered to actually try to catch her was so much worse. The revelation that she’d been saved, not by some camp instructor, but by a bunch of stupid butterflies of all things didn’t exactly improve her mood.
“So, all you had to do to get your cutie mark was to come down to the ground, and that’s it?”
“Well it wasn’t just that,” ‘Shy said, glancing at the kitchen wondering if she should be offering her guest some tea. “After the sonic rainboom I realised I could communicate with all the birds and animals to help calm them down after the nasty shock. That was when I realised what my special talent was and I got my cutie mark. I’ve lived in Ponyville ever since... Um, are you feeling okay? Can I get you anything?”
Fluttershy’s head drooped as the goggles around her neck suddenly felt terribly heavy. Flexing a wing the feathers formed a blade which she slashed through the nearest birdhouse and breaking it in two. Three very surprised starlings flew out and disappeared up into the ceiling.
“Oh, goodness...” her double breathed quietly.
Fluttershy shook her wings out and flashed her double a wicked knife-slash grin. “Y’know I really did think this might be a good opportunity to learn something about myself. Really begin to grow emotionally as a pony with this chance to meet another version of myself and see what I might have become. I mean I don’t like to complain, but do you know how hard it is going your whole life without a cutie mark? Not know who you are meant to be?” She absent-mindedly smashed another birdhouse. The now homeless family of robins took refuge under the relative safety of ‘Shy’s wings.
“Then I meet Nightmare Moon and finally I think this is it,” Fluttershy said, as she paced about the room. “Something worthwhile to bring my life some kind of meaning and it’s given me wealth and power that other ponies can only dream of... So, tell me please, why am I not happy?”
‘Shy was frozen in fear and could only watch as another version of herself rampaged around the room. Her feathered friends were in danger, but it was another her that was doing it.
Fluttershy was momentarily distracted from her rage by the unexpected sight of a small white bunny hopping towards her. She bent down to take a closer look at the bunny giving her an impressively dirty look, despite being on such a cute-fuzzy face. Without warning the little bunny smacked her hard across her mouth with his paw, causing Fluttershy to reel back in shock at the unexpected blow. Still giving her an angry glare the bunny pointed sharply towards the door.
“Angel bunny!” ‘Shy squeaked, reaching out with a forehoof desperately.
Fluttershy bent down, picking the squirming rabbit by the scruff of her neck, spun round and tossed him out the still open door with a fair amount of force. She was rewarded by the sound of a splash as he hit the water in the stream outside. He’d survive, not that she imagined that he was going to enjoy the experience very much.
“Can’t believe you keep such a rude pet like that around,” Fluttershy said. “C’mon your friend owns a library. The word ‘self-respect’, look it up.”
‘Shy stayed huddled down, whispering words of assurance to the birds that had taken refuge under her wings.
“Seriously though,” Fluttershy said, picking up from where she’d left off. “The things I’ve done in my time that you could never even imagine having the nerve to do! I burned a whole town to the ground. I wrestled a manticore into submission single-hoofed. And I personally drove the spear into the eye of the red dragon on top of the jagged mountain. Sure he burnt three of my Shadowbolts to a crisp, but...” she trailed off. Something was wrong, but Fluttershy couldn’t quite put a hoof on why. Her double seemed to be mumbling something to herself as her back stiffened.
“You might have killed that dragon.” Suddenly Fluttershy realised what was missing as the room fell eerily silent. All those tiny voices were holding their breath in apprehension at what was going to happen next.
“But I made him cry.”
Captain Fluttershy Posey looked into the two steely eyes burning into her own as they became her entire world. Reflected there was her own utter disappointment in what she could have been and what she had become. Every bad decision, all the actions that she could have taken to choose a better way, but had failed every time. Unbidden a single tear dripped down her face as her knees began to buckle. Unable to look away, unable to close her eyes, or even just to shield them to somehow hide away from the remorseless judgement. Fluttershy began to wail in anguish as she was held in ‘Shy’s stare.
Authors Note: The Cultists for the Second Coming of the Mag'ne were inspired by the wonderful G1 crossover The Elements of Harmony and the Savior of Worlds fic by RK_Striker_JK_5.
Twilight Sparkle awoke as the early light of dawn entered in through where her blinds used to be and disturbed her rest. She groaned out loud as the events of the previous night immediately sprang to mind. Though she did have to admit that the sight of Trixie and Sparks attempting to hide behind each other to escape her wrath had been pretty funny. She’d forgiven them eventually though what with there having been a pony in need after all. Thankfully Pinkamena had been completely fine after a quick casting of ‘lesson forty-seven: cure minor injury’ administered by herself, and hadn’t needed to visit the hospital out-of-town. Twilight had also just been relieved that Sparks hadn’t done anything too silly when she’d run away.
Somewhat aggravating that she’d trotted back with her tail between her legs while the rest of them had all still been out scouring Ponyville and the surrounding countryside with a fine tooth comb. But now Sparks was safely back in the library and that was what really mattered.
Lying there with her eyes closed hard to keep out the light of the morning sun intent on disturbing her rest, Twilight went through her daily mental checklist for waking up. Spike hadn’t woken her up, so she hadn’t slept in late again which was good. She was actually in bed, so she hadn’t fallen asleep while studying late into the night. There was a heavy weight on one of her hooves though. Now that was a new one.
Finally opening her eyes she was somewhat relieved to find out it was in fact Fluttershy lying on top of the covers. Twilight had been concerned that there’d been no sign of the Shadowbolt last night, but by the time she’d got in after midnight and dealt with Sparks and Trixie she had been far, far too tired to worry what a rogue pegasi might get up to without proper supervision. She figured that Fluttershy must have come back sometime after she’d fallen asleep. Though she did wonder why Fluttershy had chosen to sleep on top of the covers rather than just getting into the double bed with her like she had when they’d shared it yesterday. I mean it’s not like she would have actually cared if she'd woken me up in the middle of the night, Twilight thought to herself.
Twilight realised it was odd seeing her completely naked like this for the first time since she’d met this other version of her gentle friend. Sure most ponies in the town always went about unclothed, but Fluttershy wasn’t even wearing her favourite pair of flying goggles around her neck. Looking around she spotted that they’d been placed neatly on top of her folded up jumpsuit in the corner in the room.
Remembering she’d been surprised by the similarities between Rarity and her double when she’d watched Rock sleep; Twilight carefully observed the subject before her. Sure the haircut was a little spikier, there were Nightmare Moon’s little improvements hidden away in her wings, and there was the cutie mark of course, but otherwise with her at rest like this, Twilight would have struggled to tell the difference between this mare and her friend. Twilight knew from experience that despite Fluttershy’s seeming frailness that she could throw around a full-grown bear with ease and her double was undoubtedly no different.
Fluttershy rubbed her eyes and yawned. Realising she had been lying on Twilight all night she jumped into the air and stayed aloft as she looked down at the bed. “Sorry about that,” she said softly. “I don’t suppose you want breakfast do you?”
Twilight Sparkle had to check again, but no there was the winged skull on Fluttershy’s flank confirming which pegasus she was talking to. “Sure, I guess,” she said, after only a brief hesitation. “I’ll help you out. It’s far too early for Spike to be up anyway.”
Their combined culinary skills weren’t up to much at all, but they just about managed to come up with a bowl of oatmeal each. After they finished eating Twilight was aflame with curiosity. She didn’t want to ask why Fluttershy was being so mellow and easy-going this morning for fear of her usual hostile self coming back, but she now had a chance to ask some questions about the other Equestria. Rock, Dash and Pinkamena had been keeping themselves far too busy to pin down while Sparks... well Twilight found the less time she spent with her double the happier she was going to be.
“Would you mind if I asked a few questions about back home?” she asked, raising a cup of camomile tea to her lips while mentally bracing herself for the return of the Shadowbolt’s usual bad attitude.
“Sure, why not?” Fluttershy replied, as she made herself comfortable. Twilight just about managed to keep her mouth shut, as she struggled not to blurt out several questions about Fluttershy’s odd behaviour this morning. She really had expected another argument rather than immediate agreement.
Twilight fetched a parchment and a quill with her magic to make some notes. “Rock mentioned that you still do Winter Wrap Up and the Running of the Leaves, but I was wondering about some of the other Equestrian holidays like Nightmare Night?”
“Oh it still went on, if a bit half-heartedly,” Fluttershy said. “It was a bit of a shock after all for everypony to find out the boogey-pony turned out to be real after all.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “So Nightmare Moon didn’t mind?” she asked quizzically.
“Not at all,” Fluttershy said, with an easy-going smile. “In fact she was really quite overjoyed to find out there’s a night where everypony has to give her candy or else. She even did a tour on the chariot around most of the major towns and brought back a haul of sweets that you wouldn’t believe. Her half-breed pegasi guards were struggling to keep her and the chariot in the air towards the end her sack was that big.”
What about Hearth’s Warming Eve?” Twilight asked, as she was struggling to banish the mental image of Nightmare Moon swimming in a veritable pool of candy.
“That went on too, I even got to play Commander Hurricane in the Canterlot play,” said Fluttershy, tapping a hoof on her chest with a certain amount of pride. “Was a bit off-putting though with Nightmare Moon front and centre in the audience laughing her flank off at every single thing.”
Twilight raised her other eyebrow. “She found it funny? Did you add some comedy to the script?”
“No, the only real addition that was made was Spitfire’s extra scene as Private Pansy, as she insisted on doing some action after I forced her take the role.” Fluttershy grinned. “I thought it was a pretty cool fight myself, even if she is a total pain in the flank as a number two.”
“So why did Nightmare Moon find it funny?” Twilight said. So Spitfire is a Shadowbolt there? Memo to self: do not tell Rainbow Dash about that ever, she thought to herself with a little shudder at how she knew her friend would react.
“I honestly don’t know. It’s just one of those things that she refuses to talk about. Like what exactly happened with her sister, or how everything continues to grow without the sun.”
Twilight was about to press her for more details when they were interrupted by Trixie making her way down the stairs and singing happily to herself.
“Watch as Trixie works her gypsy magic, eye of newt and cinnamon... Good morning you two.”
Twilight suppressed a flash of irritation at the interruption and that Trixie looked to be in far too good a mood for it being so early in the morning. She herself didn’t normally get up before ten—even with Spike’s assistance—so raising with the dawn was a new and deeply unpleasant experience for her.
"As soon as Sparks has woken up, Trixie's going to be heading out," she announced. "There's a couple of ponies in town that Trixie could do with talking to, your friend Rarity especially, and if Trixie's out with somepony that looks like you. Well then maybe Trixie won't get herself lynched." The magician let out a little wry chuckle at that.
“How is Pinkamena?" asked Twilight.
"Gone already," Trixie said. "She did leave a note that she'd be back later today though."
Twilight gave her some directions about the town and wished her good luck with Rarity; figuring that she was going to need it. Trixie retreated back upstairs to try and get Sparks up and attempt to persuade her that she really did want to leave the relative sanctuary of the library today.
Rarity was tweaking a new design on one of her poniquins. The whole outfit did look good, true, but perhaps the ruffles might be too much? She was just about to go the attack with a pair of scissors when she heard somepony knocking on the door.
“Feel free to come in,” she trilled, hoping for a suitably wealthy new customer to add to her client list
The door opened and Rock traipsed in slowly. Rarity was about to make some pointed comments about her usual noxious stench and the events of the previous morning when her better graces brought her up short. Rock looked thoroughly miserable to the point it was practically coming of in waves. She wouldn’t have believed if somepony else had told it to her, but she could even see the tracks where tears had cut a course through the perpetual mask of dirt and grease that covered Rock’s face.
"Rock, whatever could have happened to you?" she asked, rushing to the other unicorn's side.
"Oh Rarity, I've ruined everything!" Rock exclaimed, burying her face into the mane of her double.
Rarity gingerly patted Rock on her shoulder. "I'm sure it's not that bad, darling,” she said, trying not to mind too much her double sniveling into her perfectly styled mane. “Now why don't I put the kettle on and you can tell me what happened."
Once Rock had been calmed down somewhat and was sipping something suitably soothing from one of Rarity's china teacups the story started to come out.
"So, I take it that dog is Applejack's then? It's not on their farm at all back home," asked Rock.
"Winona? Yes, she's Applejack's. She got her a couple years back to keep her company I believe."
"Well, she woke me up this morning,” said Rock darkly. “Guess she thought I was an intruder, what with me sleeping in the barn, and she jumped on me snarling and barking her damn-fool head off." Rock's ears drooped and she looked down at the floor miserably. "Don't remember much of what happened next, but by the time Big Macintosh got me to calm down, poor Applebloom was crying from the racket I'd been making and Granny Smith was yelling about what all the commotion was. After that he wanted me off the farm and told me to only come back when I got my head sorted out right...”
“I just really don't like dogs," said Rock, finishing off with her voice completely flat.
Considering Rock's history as a miner, Rarity really didn't have to be a Celestia's favourite student to work out why. "So how long were you their prisoner?" she asked softly.
Rock looked up sharply, her eyes wide with surprise. "How did you know?”
"It was just a guess. If admittedly an educated one," Rarity said, shrugging her shoulders. "You should talk about it though. It never helps keeping experiences like that bottled up."
Rock looked for a moment like she was going to argue that and then sighed. "I suppose you're right," she said, taking a sip of tea. "I was still pretty young when it happened, barely just a mare really. They came at night mounted on timber wolves and raided the camp looking for slaves. Everypony was running, the howls seemed to be coming from everywhere, I remember Tinder Box yelling for us to get organised, and then I got clubbed on the back of the head."
"How horrible," Rarity murmured.
"Woke up chained to one of their carts and all alone in the dark. I was only there for five days in the end before I was rescued by the other miners. Those five days seemed like they’d gone on forever though. Mainly filled with 'pony pulls the wagon, pony pulls the wagon' over and over..." Rock shuddered at the memory of those damned voices that never left her alone and barely let her sleep. “I honestly didn’t think I was ever going to get out of that hole,” Rock said, as her voice began to tremble. “And if the rest of the camp hadn’t been able to find me then I never would have.”
Rarity placed a comforting hoof around her double and then felt a big smile creeping across her face as a wonderful idea came to mind.
“You know...” she said slowly. “There’s actually a colony, just to the north-east of town, that I’m on pretty good terms with. We could go out there and be back in just a few hours. It just might help you get over that whole terrible affair by seeing that there’s nothing to be really scared of by them.”
Rock seemed to shrink right before Rarity’s eyes. Her usual gruff manner was completely gone leaving only a scared unicorn with none of her normal bluster. “I... I don’t think I...”
“I assure you that it’d be perfectly safe.”
“I...” Rock’s eyes darted around the room as she looked desperately for a way to get away. But Rarity had moved so she was blocking the nearest way out.
“Please, for me.” Rarity hit her with the full force of her winning personality all delivered in one utterly devastating smile.
“Okay, if you’re sure it’d be safe,” Rock said, making a little circling movement on the floor with one of her forehooves.
“Perfectly safe, I promise. Now I’ve just got to go get changed into something more suitable!” Rarity practically bounced out the room. This was going to be so much fun!
Rainbow Dash soared high across the skies above Ponyville. Normally she’d be throwing in a few of the more simple moves from her tricktionary just to keep her wings limber, or searching for a suitable cloud for the all important mid-morning snooze. Not today though as her eyes were locked to the streets far below. Finally spying her target, she locked her wings and dived.
The blue sparkly hat got closer, and closer, until she could almost see the colour of her double’s eyes. Breaking her descent with the barest moments to spare, Dash spread her wings to momentarily slow her descent and in one agile motion picked her unsuspecting other self up and pushed down hard blasting the both of them back up into the air. Her double didn’t even have time to scream before Dash touched them both down again just out of town by the lake.
Not giving her a chance to even get her breath back, Rainbow Dash started yelling, “you’ve only been here two days and you’ve already ruined my life, Dashie!” For some reason that annoyingly cute nickname that Pinkie called her all too often seemed appropriate for just how aggravated Rainbow Dash was right now with her other self.
Dashie just looked back at her with her eyes wide.
“I’ve just been cornered in an alley by Aloe and Lotus giggling about my ‘sensitive hooves’, whatever that means! Cloudkicker couldn’t stop laughing and making weird comments this morning when I tried to give my weather team meeting, and all I said was a quick ‘hello’ to Caramel when I went to get breakfast and he ran a mile just to get away from me! Everypony must think I’m some kind of loose party-pegasus after what you’ve been up to.” Rainbow Dash slumped down onto the grass. “And now I’ll never get into the Wonderbolts.”
Finally finding her voice again, Dashie just about managed to get out a “but,” before Dash jumped back up into her face again.
“How could I ever turn into a mare like you? I can’t even see how your Trixie likes you, and c’mon that’s Trixie of all ponies!” Rainbow Dash said harshly.
Seeing her double’s lower lip start to quiver, Rainbow Dash realised she might just have gone to far. It was too late though as Dashie started to cry in a full-blown display of waterworks.
Rainbow Dash attempted to mollify her angry tone somewhat, and said, “C’mon, stop crying. I’m sure we can work this out.”
“I don’t know what to do, my whole brain is crying!” Dashie wailed. Her tears were showing no sign of stopping anytime soon as they streamed down her face in torrents.
It was now Rainbow Dash that sat there staring at her double and struck dumb with what to do. Comforting upset ponies was really not something she was good at, being all too well aware that she lacked any form of tact entirely. That she’d been the one to upset Dashie was just a whole new level of uncomfortableness altogether.
Her tears finally slowing to a damp trickle, Dashie sniffed. “I’m leaving,” she announced, turning her back on Rainbow Dash. She spread her wings out and unsteadily took to the air.
As Rainbow Dash watch her fly out over the lake her face rapidly contorting as her concern skyrocketed. What is she doing?! Her techniques practically nonexistent! It’s almost like she doesn’t really know how to fly. Oh, pony-feathers... Rainbow Dash looked on in horror, as she saw Dashie perform the one fatal mistake that inexperienced flyers had an unfortunate tendency to do. But usually only once if they were without support. She looked down.
Not even stopping to think Rainbow Dash sprang upwards into the sky leaving a rainbow coloured jet stream behind her. She caught Dashie before she’d barely plummeted more than a few feet. Unfortunately there was a world of difference between the planned maneuver Dash had snatched her up with earlier and the full terrified body hug Dashie was giving her now, especially with her wings flailing against hers, and Dash realised she was struggling to maintain her place in the air.
Dashie screamed as she hugged on even tighter and the two pegasi tumbled wildly through the air in an uncontrolled descent towards the lake below.
“Calm down!” Rainbow Dash yelled, as loud as possible as the wind tried to steal her breath away. Dashie just about managed to nod in understanding before going limp against her.
Several moments later they were both safely back on the ground. “What exactly were you thinking?” asked Dash, trying not to sound too annoyed.
“I don’t think I was. I just wanted to get away,” admitted Dashie. "Especially after what you said about my Trixie given that half the time I don't think she likes me very much."
“But I thought you said you were marefriends or something yesterday?” Dash asked, scratching her head. “In the few moments that you weren't staring at me when we were walking over to Twilight’s you were going on about how you had such a great relationship with her.”
“I lied,” said Dashie, her usual smirk returning to her face. “It’s a thing that I do, though usually ponies just call it acting. Oh, we have our moments and we’re amazing together professionally, but I do have enough self-awareness to realise that I drive her up the wall. I just like to see ponies smile. Is that really so bad?”
“I guess not?” Rainbow Dash wasn’t entirely sure she knew what Dashie was talking about, but she had a good idea that making ponies smile didn’t involve the kind of parties that Pinkie threw.
“See, that’s what I always say! But no, she thinks that really special someponies are exclusive. Still I’ll make it up to her someday. Find her a nice, reliable mare that she can truly love and will love her back.”
“But what about you?”
Dashie laughed lightly tipping her hat that somehow had managed to remain placed on her head. “I’ll survive, and while I do love her in my own particular way, Trixie’s hurting and I really do want to see her happy. Even if that means she’s not with me.”
Rainbow Dash was stunned. She’d honestly thought that her double had nothing about her whatsoever, so to hear her ready to put another pony’s happiness above her own... Dash might not have had any practical experience of romantic relationships, but she could still definitely understand and respect that.
“C’mon, let’s get back to town and I’ll buy you a drink, or something,” said Dashie, as she checked she still had a few bits tucked away in her hat.
She turned to find the way back to Ponyville blocked by Rainbow Dash’s outstretched wing. “No way, Dashie,” said Dash with a grin. “That was a totally unacceptable and distinctly un-awesome display. Y’know what that means?”
“I’m going to teach you how to fly properly. I’m the number one pegasus in Ponyville, so with my help I’ll have you flying like a pro in no time!” Rainbow Dash said, grinning with total confidence.
Dashie gulped nervously and then scrambled backwards with a start.
Rainbow Dash wheeled round to see what exactly had startled her double so badly.
"Heya, dudes," said Gilda, wearing a very nervous grin who had just landed behind them. "So, it's been awhile."
Rock had been minding her own business in the boutique for far too long and she was now thoroughly bored. Rock had flicked through a few of Rarity’s magazines before getting annoyed with the sheer vacuousness of it all. Then she’d had a look through some of Rarity’s rough designs, but she’d had to stop that as she’d caught herself making some notes with suggestions for improvements. Of course being bored did mean that she wasn’t in the state she’d been in earlier, but she wasn’t sure this was all that better. Still the sense that she’d let everypony down refused to leave her alone. She couldn’t imagine that Applejack would think much of her at all when she got back from Manehattan with her own double.
When Rarity finally deigned to make her arrival she was met by a full-on glare from Rock. “It took you almost an hour, just to put that on?” Rarity had wrapped herself in the dark cloak—the one that she normally saved for brooding—which with the hood up completely covered her body and shrouded her face.
“Yes, yes it did,” replied Rarity, matter of factly. “Shall we be off?”
Sometime later Rock and Rarity were trotting through the badlands to the north-east of town. Rock was getting more and more nervous as they were getting ever closer to the tunnels that would lead to the underground colony. That Rarity kept giggling to herself really wasn’t helping her nerves.
Rock finally had enough and stopped forcing Rarity to stop and see what was up. “I still don’t understand, Rarity. You make dresses for a living, you shouldn’t know anything about diamond dogs."
Rarity looked around to make sure they were the only living creature in sight. “I suppose this is far enough out that it should be safe.” She laughed and threw her hood back. Her eyes were shining with delight and two feral symbols had been painted on her cheeks. Rock gasped, she recognised the markings from her time in captivity. They were canine script. “Oh, I’ve never shown anypony this before!”
“Awhile back I got captured by them. Oh, my friends came to rescue me, not that I was never in any real danger of course. What none of them know is that after we left with all the gems of theirs that we could carry between us, I went back and took over.”
The cloak was cast aside and Empress Rarity, Tyrant of the Underdark was revealed in all her glory and splendour. Rock’s jaw dropped, her dress was frankly incredible. It was a riot of flawless black diamonds, ornate lace, fancy pleats, and what surely couldn’t be leather, could it? The shoes were inspired by Nightmare Moon, Rock was sure of it, but she had no idea what some of the other influences were. Topping the ensemble off was a truly gobsmackingly sparkly necklace with even more black diamonds and three sapphires as the centrepiece in the same arrangement as Rarity’s cutie mark. In the hooves of any other designer it would have just been a chaotic mess, this though could only be called a masterpiece.
“So do you like it?” asked Rarity shyly, in a manner completely opposed to how she was currently attired.
“...buh?” said Rock, still staring in quiet awe.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“I think I’m in love.”
Rarity giggled. “Shush, we’ve got two too many narcissists with those not so great and powerful magicians hanging around. Last thing we need is another one.”
“That’s not really leather, is it?” she asked, eyeing the straps after she finally got back some of her wits.
“Ocean leather actually,” Rarity said. “Made out of kelp by sea ponies if you’d believe it. Stunningly expensive of course, but worth it I think for this particular outfit.” Rock could only vigorously nod her head in agreement.
“So you’re in charge of a whole colony?” asked Rock, still struggling with the concept.
“Oh, the deal is they either send me enough gems for all my clothes designing needs over the course of the month, or I turn up and they have to serve my every whim for a day. Does save the time when I used to have go gem hunting myself. You'd be surprised, but the arrangement really does work and I only pop over to the caves very rarely now as I do prefer the gems to the fawning.”
A polite cough drew the attention of the two unicorns. Rover had poked his head out of a newly formed tunnel and nodded to Rarity. “Grrreetings, Miss Rarity. You and other not-so-pretty pony will come now.”
Rock trotted through the tunnels following the diamond dog and Rarity. She knew she would normally be absolutely terrified, but the presence of her double trotting ahead with such confidence that she owned the place and everything in it was definitely reassuring. Still that this colony didn’t seem to reek anywhere near as badly as the one she’d been taken to did help too. Rock couldn’t imagine how Rarity had accomplished it, but she actually seemed to have persuaded the diamond dogs to bathe occasionally.
They arrived at the main chamber and Rock’s jaw dropped once more. The gem-encrusted granite throne she wasn’t too surprised by. The massive banners with crude paintings of what was clearly Rarity’s face on the other hoof were definitely more so.
Noticing her double’s gaze, Rarity said, “I assure you, those were entirely their idea.”
Later they were both drinking some impressively fine wine from golden goblets and Rock was in a genuinely good mood. That this was while she was currently at the bottom of a cave and surrounded by diamond dogs was absolutely staggering.
“So, feeling better?” asked Rarity, from her place on her granite throne.
“Definitely,” replied Rock, downing her goblet and waving it at a nearby diamond dog who dutifully obliged with a refill.
“That’s good,” said Rarity, with some relief. She was having the time of her life. Rarity had occasionally felt guilty at exploiting the diamond dogs like this, but being able to share it with another pony who’d understand was turning out to be incredibly fun. Sure she’d have to spend a few afternoons out with Spike to make up for the gems she wouldn’t be getting as tribute this month, but the little dragon was good company and seeing Rock smile like this was making it more than all worthwhile.
“So you’ve never had problems keeping this lot in line?”
“Oh no. They know would happen if they tried that.” Out of Rock’s line of sight Spot reflexively put his paws against his head and slowly backed away just in case.
“Did have one of their matriarchs turn up once though,” added Rarity. “She heard about me and had come prepared to challenge me for the colony.” She smiled remembering the rangy diamond dog coming at her with mud clogged in her ear holes.
“How did that go?”
“Miss Rarity beat her, Rock-pony,” answered Rover on her behalf. Rock looked over at her double for confirmation who flexed her forehooves and nodded.
“Oh, she apologised for being so frightfully rude, well after she’d managed to get back on her paws anyway,” said Rarity.
Rock couldn’t help herself and pumped a hoof in the air in vicarious triumph. She was sure that some ponies would be jealous to find there was another version of themselves that were arguably more accomplished than them and would use it as an excuse to be bitter about all the breaks that they didn’t get. Rock figured that would be a pretty silly attitude to take though and realised she found it genuinely inspiring that she could have all of this and with such style and grace as well. She inwardly chuckled at that. Style and grace were two words that she’d never seen as things to aspire too, but maybe there was something to be said for them after all.
Rock decided she definitely owed Rarity one for this whole excursion. Now what can I do to make it up to her? She thought to herself as she mused things over.
“So,” Rock said casually. “I believe you mentioned you have a discount at the Ponyville spa?”
"Gilda!" Rainbow Dash yelled, far too stunned to process how exactly she was feeling by the sudden appearance of her oldest friend. The griffon had appeared to have had ago at cleaning herself up very recently, but she still looked thoroughly bedraggled with hastily applied purple markings around her eyes and a few spots of dried blood dotting her feathers that she'd missed.
"What's with the dweeby looking you anyway?" Gilda asked, looking Dashie up and down who glared back.
"Never mind that!" Dash insisted loudly. "I've not seen you in ages after that stupid mess you made of that party. Where the flying feather have you been?!"
"Err I've been about y'know," Gilda said slowly her eyes glancing about. "All sorts of cool places not that you'd care."
"I always cared," said Dash, getting her face right in Gilda's face. "You were the one that buzzed off after insulting my friends, remember?"
Gilda shook out her wings. "Things were said and you were super-lame too, dude. Not apologizing for them, but... ugh" She grimaced as if she'd just tasted something really bad. "Look, Dash is that Pinks or whatever that pony's name is about? I think I might have done something really bad..."
"What did you do?" growled Rainbow Dash, her wings were fully extended now as she planted her hooves in the turf hard.
"She popped out of nowhere, okay!" Gilda yell back, her feathers ruffled. "I'd been minding my own business in Ghastly Gorge for a few months now just living off the land, y'know? Pretty chilled out gaff basically."
"You were living rough?" asked Dash. "I thought you'd gone back to the Griffonwylds."
Gilda swallowed hard. "Did for a bit. Fell out with the folks again about them being so incredibly lame. Shacked up with a few of the clan, but got super bored of all that 'duty and honour' noise they're always screeching on about and figured I'd strike out for myself."
"So what happened?" Dash pressed.
"As I said she surprised me, alright?" Gilda said. "I just lost it as her stupid bouncy mane came into view. I know it wasn't totally all her fault my life is now such a pile of a droppings, just mostly, but I think I hurt her pretty bad so I thought I'd come say sorry. Y'know be the cooler griffon and all that."
Dash was quivering with barely repressed rage and looked to be on the verge of launching herself at the griffon to give her a taste of what a pegasus mare could do when fully provoked.
The sound of her own voice though brought her up short. "She's fine now," said Dashie quickly. "Just a few scratches."
"I... I thought I really..." Gilda stammered, as a weight of guilt seemed to drop off her shoulders.
"She's okay I promise!" Dashie said brightly. "I only just spoke to her half an hour back and she was completely fine before Dash here so kindly decided to show me this beautiful lake."
"Phew," Gilda breathed out. "Err, thanks other Dash," she said, though her voice and wide eyes let on just how crazy she was finding this conversation with her friend's unexplained double. "You're alright, even if could do with some more muscle on you."
"You should probably go though," said Dashie smoothly. "I'm sure you wouldn't want to give Pinkamena another scare again so soon right? Don't worry I'll let her know you're very sorry for what you did."
Gilda looked hesitant for a moment, but then nodded. "Yeah, alright, dude. Dash, I'll see you about sometime, okay?"
"Okay," answered Dash, which was pretty much all she trusted herself to say right now.
The two pegasi sat silently for a bit as they watched the griffon fly off back in the direction of the gorge.
"Thank you," said Dash eventually. "You handled that far better than I would have," she added with a certain amount of surprise creeping in to her tone.
"Not a problem," said Dashie, smiling back. "She really likes you, you know."
"Well yeah!" replied Dash cockily. "We were best buds back at the junior speedsters flight camp."
Dashie shook her head. "No, I mean really likes you!"
Dash stared back at her completely non-comprehensively.
"She..." Dashie trailed off and sighed, recognizing a brick wall when she saw one. "You really should see her for that chat though if you've really not seen her in so long I think."
"Yeah, you know what I think I'll do that," said Dash, suddenly smiling at the thought of properly catching up with her old friend. Even if she did have bouts of being incredibly uncool.
Dashie stared down at the grass, as she knew while she might have had a reprieve she wasn't going to be able to put it off much longer. "So, you said something about teaching me to fly," she said resignedly.
Rainbow Dash had put some thought into this. Given that her double, Dashie, was a full-grown mare trying to teach her like she was a filly just wouldn’t work. The wings and build would just be all wrong for the exercises that Dash could still remember from her days at flight camp to work. Anyway there had been that afternoon she was still trying to forget when she’d finally caved to Scootaloo’s pleading for a few tips... No, this would go better, Dash was sure of it. How had she been supposed to know that’d been the day for the annual razorwing frenzy anyway.
So what she’d found was a rope that was now tied securely around both hers and Dashie’s waist. Her amazing idea—of course it was amazing as she’d thought it up—was this way she could fly above and give pointers when and where she saw them. It’d also be handy to keep Dashie in the air just in case she panicked again.
She’d taken Dashie up as high into the sky as they could both reasonably get, as she figured the higher they were, the more time she’d have to fix things if things went wrong. Still wouldn’t hurt to check on her charge now they had plateaued. “You okay down there?”
“I think so,” replied Dashie, with a very noticeable tremor in her voice. She’d been forbidden from looking down again, but she really wished that she couldn’t see all the fluffy-white clouds going by.
“I know you left the flight camp early and all, but I still can’t believe you’re this bad.” Rainbow Dash had kind of hoped that being up here in the open blue would kindle her double’s love for flying. For her being this high was pure Celestia-sent bliss with the light of the sun warming her wings and the wind ruffling her mane. It didn’t seem to be taking hold yet though for Dashie.
“I just don’t like flying, okay!” Dashie yelled back, her voice just a few steps away from cracking entirely. “A couple of feet off the ground is fine and that’s more than enough for my act.”
“I still don't see—” Dash cut herself off as she felt the rope going taut. “Keep your wings straight! You don’t need to flap them about so much. At this altitude it’s all about gliding.”
Dashie adjusted and the rope went slack again. “Sorry!”
Rainbow Dash fought the urge to facehoof. She had a vague idea that it wouldn’t be a very reassuring gesture for her ‘student’.
“Can I ask you something?” said Dashie, in an attempt to keep her mind off what she was doing.
“Sure, why not.”
“How are you so completely oblivious?” Dashie asked. “I’ve never met a mare our age so willfully dense about how to have fun.”
“I’m not oblivious and I have tons of fun!” Dash yelled back defensively. “I just don’t care. I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt some day. I don’t have time for anything else and especially that.”
“So why aren’t you then? You’ve actually applied right?”
“They’re currently full, okay? And given the only way in is if somepony retires, or gets injured too badly, or... Well until then I’m stuck. Anyway it’s not just a case of applying! Wonderbolts are selected from the very best flyers out there.”
“Y’know I’ve heard some things about that Spitfire,” said Dashie. If only a small percentage of the things she’d heard in her time about that flame-haired pegasus were true then that seemed like a more than viable option to her. “There’s more than one way to the top if you know what I mean.”
Hearing only a very stony silence Dashie figured it’d be very wise to drop that particular line of conversation. She looked up to see Dash had her eyes pointedly fixed ahead at the horizon. Hmm touchy or what, she thought to herself. Still possibly interesting for her to react so strongly Dashie mused.
Rainbow Dash felt the rope go taut again. Dashie was flailing at the air with both her wings and legs in a desperate attempt to dive downwards, but was having no luck making any real headway at all. “What is it now?” she asked, the frustration clear in her voice.
Dashie wordlessly pointed upwards, looking even more terrified that she had been before, while mouthing the word ‘dragon’.
“Wrong time of year here for dragons. Their migration near Ponyville isn’t for months now.” Dash quickly checked upwards and spotted the sinuous dark green body far above the two pegasi that she’d expected to see. “That’s a wyvern, Dashie.” She didn’t look anymore relieved to hear that update in the slightest. “They won’t go near pegasi. You wouldn’t believe it from their size, but they’re far more scared of us.”
“Wyverns,” Dashie said, trying to jog her memory. “Aren’t those the things that we used to hunt before the unification of the three tribes? I always loved those stories when I was just a filly.”
“Same here!” Dash replied, smiling wildly to find out that at least at one point in their lives they’d had something in common. "Watch your form; you're slipping again."
Dashie muttered something darkly about 'watching your form' before tightening her legs up as instructed.
She sighed. "Look I hope I wasn't being offensive if you're really not into anypony. I’m not exactly the best poster-pony for lifestyle choices as it."
"It's not a big thing for me, I just really don't care. Anyway what pony could tie down somepony as awesome as me, right?” Dash spread her wings wide to put on a burst of speed forcing Dashie to compensate to not dragged along. “I'm on my way to the top and that doesn't leave room for hangers-on."
Dashie had just been enjoying the mental picture of tying her double down when she realised something she now didn't quite get. "You mentioned you kissed somepony called Fluttershy once. What's that about then if you're really not interested in having a relationship with anypony?"
"Oh, that.” Dash somehow managed to shrug in mid-flight. “It was a changeling invasion. Life-or-death fight against the swarm. It just seemed the right thing to do at the time to reassure her, y'know?"
"That's nice,” Dashie said, as she rolled her eyes. “So do you spend a lot of time with her?"
"Yeah! I even went to watch the lamo-boring butterfly migration with her. We were out there all day doing plain nothing, but watching them go by. Got old real fast."
"So you spent a whole day watching butterflies together when you could have been training for the Wonderbolts," said Dashie, sounding it out more to herself as she was rapidly coming to a conclusion. She could kind of understand her double being totally oblivious about Gilda's interest in her, but not even recognising her own feelings for another was just way too odd, at least as far as Dashie was concerned.
"She's pretty awesome though. Of course she’d have to be friends with a pony as awesome as me," insisted Rainbow Dash, completely unaware of Dashie's internal thought processes. "Fluttershy's always got my back whether we're chasing down a runaway cart, or catching two of our friends from a mid-air plunge after a tussle with an overgrown dragon!"
"Week or so back I forced her into a set of armour so that I could charge at her repeatedly with a jousting pole. Oh, Celestia now that was fun!" Dashie's jaw hung open in the air and then closed it again as the wind drag got too much. That was just a whole new level of blatant that even she hadn't been expecting. The symbolism alone! Even if she was sure it'd be completely lost on her double. Rainbow Dash clearly wasn't just in denial. A whole new word needed to be invented to cover this complete lack of self-awareness.
Dashie head whipped upwards. Her line of thought completely disrupted, as she really didn’t like the sound of that. She followed the direction that Dash was now pointing in. An enormous flock of geese, what must be in the hundreds, had just emerged from out of a nearby cloud bank and was heading right in their direction.
Dash gulped, hitting that lot head on would not be pleasant in the slightest. “Hold on tight!”
“Hold on to what?!” Not having time to give Dashie an answer, Rainbow Dash banked hard pulling her double behind her like a lead weight on a string.
The flight safely passed on by with only a few *honks* of annoyance at the two pegasi who had only just before been in their path.
“More warning next time please,” said Dashie, breathing hard as she fought to maintain some sense of personal equilibrium. “Actually no next time at all would be even better.”
Rainbow Dash laughed uproariously in response. They continued the flight without further incident and ever so slowly Dashie was growing in confidence as a flyer. Sure Dash figured her wingpower was as close to zero as it was possible to get and she reckoned that even the Fluttershy from when they'd met for the second time last year could have flown rings around Dashie with ease.
The two pegasi finally made it back on the ground and Dashie collapsed. Her wings really weren't used to that kind of punishment and ached terribly. Still she eyed her double with an appraising gaze. "You know," she ventured, "now you've taught me how to do something I really should return the favour."
Dash raised an eyebrow, but couldn't fault the logic. "I suppose that's fair; I guess. What did you have in mind?"
"How about, I don't know, kissing." Seeing Dash was about to bolt, she added, "Absolutely nothing else, I promise. Just simple kissing. Important skill and if you ever did it again you wouldn't want to be bad at it would you? Unless you're happy with the idea of not being very good at something of course..." Dashie let the point hang heavy in the air.
"Hey! I bet I'm awesome at kissing!" Dash yelled defensively, not realising that she’d just been outplayed.
Trying very hard not to grin wildly in triumph, Dashie said, "well, there's always room from improvement!”
Rainbow Dash glanced about, but finding no other ponies around, gulped loudly. She wasn’t entirely sure if she’d been looking for help or just potential witnesses. “This doesn’t make us special someponies, right? Cause that would be weird.”
“Not at all,” said Dashie with a reassuring smile. “If it helps just close your eyes and pretend I'm Fluttershy."
Dash held her forehooves up firmly and said, "no."
"But..." Dashie's face fell completely and her wings tucked back against her sides. She kicked a back leg viciously into the dirt. So, so close and yet so far.
"I won't pretend that you're Fluttershy," Rainbow Dash stated. “That’d be... well it’d be wrong, and also uncool, but mainly wrong.”
Dashie put a hoof under her jaw and thought about this. “How about, just as a completely wild and out there suggestion, that one day you’re with Fluttershy and it’s the right moment for both of you and you really do want to kiss her, but you want to make sure you do it properly to knock her off her hooves?”
Rainbow Dash mirrored Dashie’s pose as she too thought the scenario through. "Yeah, that works for me," Dash said quickly, as she leaned straight into her double's embrace with eyes wide open.
Twilight Sparkle had covered both sides of her first scroll and was just starting on a second in her neat and tidy horn-writing style. Fluttershy had provided an absolute treasure trove of information about the other Equestria without complaint and Twilight was beyond fascinated. There wasn’t just a research paper in this, there was a whole treatise! What she was most intrigued by though was how similar the two lands still were a year later after the coming of the eternal night. There were some changes which Twilight thought she could lay at the hooves of the existence of Pinkamena's merchant guild or Fluttershy's Shadowbolts, but taking an average pony at random it would be very likely that after the sun had gone down here that pony would be doing the exact same thing in both worlds.
Deciding that she had enough of the day-to-day business covered; she moved onto the question that she'd been dying to get off her chest. "So what happened when Discord woke up?"
"Who?" Twilight scanned Fluttershy's face for any kind of deception, but she just looked a bit confused.
"Ancient spirit of chaos and anarchy. He must still be locked up in the statue still in the Royal Canterlot gardens.” Twilight tapped herself lightly on the head. “Of course he is! The Elements of Harmony haven’t been awakened properly in your world.” She frowned. “Anyway you may want to watch out for that. He's the draconequus statue by the way. He's not too hard to spot, as he's the only non-pony one there."
"Oh, you mean the old 'prison',” Fluttershy said, as realisation dawned. “The princess sealed it off to everypony. Only went in there just the once as she wanted to introduce me to my predecessor."
Twilight was entirely lost. "Predecessor?"
"The last captain of her Shadowbolts of course. Y’know, the pony before me," Fluttershy explained slowly.
"But how could you meet a pony from a thousand years ago in the statue garden... oh."
Twilight refused to turn round. It was an absolute logical impossibility what she'd just heard. Discord was sealed away permanently miles away in Canterlot, but still she could have sworn that she'd just heard that insufferably smug voice whispering, "at least I don't turn ponies into stone," into her ear.
"Princess Celestia would never—"
Fluttershy silenced her protests with a wave of her hoof. "It was a different time. Nightmare Moon seemed so regretful about her, as if she thought that she was the pony responsible and not her sister. She's always promised that this time round she'd be the better pony and not make the... Well the mistakes that happened last time."
Twilight Sparkle refused to believe it, could not believe it, that her beloved mentor could do such a thing, but still couldn't help asking, "which one?"
"But that's Silver Hammer from the Diarchic era. I can show you the book I've got about her! Anyway she was an earth pony."
Fluttershy's face paled. "Her wings didn't survive the process," she said weakly.
Twilight ground her teeth hard to the point they almost bled. She was going to prove this false imitation of Fluttershy wrong. After her deeply unpleasant encounter with a cockatrice in the Everfree forest she knew just the spell to reverse petrification. All it would take would be a quick teleport to Canterlot and back and she could get this all sorted out...
"Don't," Fluttershy said, some of old steel returning to her voice. "Whatever you're planning, just don't. Let her sleep. Awakening her now would be evil."
"Is your peace-of-mind that important to you if you find out you're wrong?" Fluttershy asked quietly.
Twilight opened her mouth to say something and then shut it again. The manic episode that had been building within her deflated entirely. She still wanted to know, but she really didn't want to pay the possible cost of herself to learn it.
"Greetings again," said Trixie as she trotted back into the library.
Sparks followed in behind her and mumbled out a quiet, "hello."
"Weren't you going to that fashion pony's place or something?" Fluttershy asked, after Twilight had only grunted out an acknowledgement while keeping her back to the pair.
Trixie shook her head. "There was a note on the door saying she had closed up for the day. So Trixie decided she'd try it again tomorrow."
When Trixie and Sparks had retreated back up stairs, Fluttershy said, quietly enough so that there was no chance to be overheard by the other two ponies, "you really don't like her do you?"
Twilight stood up causing Fluttershy to scoot backwards a bit at the sudden movement. "And what makes you say that?"
"Well the eerie glowing green eyes and the black miasma floating out of them is a bit of a giveaway," Fluttershy said, struggling to keep her voice from quavering. "It started as soon as Sparks said 'hello'. It was all I could do to keep my face straight."
Twilight blinked and her eyes were back to the usual purple. The miasma evaporated into the air like it had never been there at all. She couldn't believe the potent mix of hate and fear Sparks provoked in her had actually started to subconsciously effect her unicorn magic. "That better?"
"Much better, thanks. Um, and the crystals?" Fluttershy said, eyeing the black growths that were slowly spreading up some of the nearby bookshelves.
Twilight Sparkle gave a little guilty laugh. "Whoops! Let me get those." Her horn glowed emitting a warming light that filled the room from wall to wall with an enormous sense of well-being. The gems crumbled into nothingness returning the library back to normal. "Sorry about that," she said in the tones of one confessing to an embarrassing personal problem. "I guess she just brings out the worst in me."
"I've seen those crystals before," said Fluttershy, narrowing her eyes. "Up north, but I'm sure you’d know that.”
She raised an eyebrow in response to that. So, the Crystal Empire returned there too... Well no reason it wouldn’t have I suppose, Twilight Sparkle thought.
“It’s not dangerous,” Twilight said, sitting back down again and giving the pegasus an easy reassuring smile. Fluttershy barked out a cynical laugh.
“Right, and I’m sure the ‘faithful’ student Sombra said something similar all those years ago,” Fluttershy said, making quotation gestures in the air with her wings.
“I’m nothing like him...” Twilight trailed off as her brain caught up with what her ears had just heard. “Wait, what?”
Fluttershy sighed. “He used to be Princess Luna’s personal student before her original rebellion. It didn’t end well for him. At all.”
Twilight sat back in stunned silence. Why hadn’t Celestia told her? Then again that look that Luna had given her back at the castle before she’d set out now suddenly made a lot more sense.
“Couple of weeks ago he came back, along with the whole Crystal Kingdom,” Fluttershy said, as she continued her tale. “The Princess found out and me and her went up north to sort it out. Not like I was needed, but she asked me along for moral support.” The yellow pegasus frowned as she recalled the all too recent memory. “If those pampered ponies back in Canterlot were upset by what she did to that wannabe alicorn skank Cadance, then they’d have collectively soiled themselves after what she did to that old student of hers.” She sniffed. “Almost enough for me to feel sorry for him. Then after what he’d been doing to those poor crystal ponies in those mines of his; only almost and nowhere near enough.”
“So you didn’t need to find the crystal heart?” asked Twilight. She’d kind of figured that the princesses could have sorted it out if they hadn’t wanted to test her progress, but it was still bit of a shock that Luna could have dealt with it so easily.
Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “Oh that old thing. I retrieved it from the top of the tower just before we left back for Canterlot. The crystal ponies seemed to appreciate the thought, though not as much as seeing as their old master getting publically eviscerated by an unbelievably pissed off alicorn.”
“We exploded him with it,” Twilight said, feeling that she need to stick up for what she’d accomplished with the aid of her number one assistant.
“Well done,” Fluttershy said with no trace of irony then looked around at the library. "Still no offense, but you don't seem the sort to have dark magic leaking out of you. I can't even see a copy of the Neighcronomicon on your shelves."
"It's not inherently corrupting, you know!" she protested loudly.
"Of course it isn't." Twilight's face screwed up, as she sensed she was being humoured.
"Look, believe me I'm not normally like this," she said more softly. "I've been studying the magic of friendship long enough that I should be bonding with Sparks; believe me I know! I even managed to correct her eyes so she doesn't need those glasses of hers yesterday night and as long as she doesn't say anything I'm fine. It wasn't as if her sight was all that bad just even more looking at books than I've managed somehow."
"But?" Fluttershy prompted.
"Every time I look at her I see what I could so easily have been," Twilight admitted. "And frankly it scares me how close I could have come to never even having a single friend to call my own." She shuddered. Some nights she woke up convinced coming to Ponyville had only been a wonderful dream and those were always the worst. "I even find myself hating her for not trying harder, as surely if I could do it so could she. It's so bad it's even enough to spark dark magic off and believe me I feel so guilty for feeling like this and I wish I didn't understand why I'm feeling this way. I've been so on edge since she turned up I almost did something I'd never be able to forgive myself to Trixie if you hadn't have butted in when you did."
"I can see that must be hard," Fluttershy said understandingly. "If it helps I don't think that Pinkie of yours is doing any better from what I've seen."
Twilight had finally had enough. “What is up with you this morning anyway? You're being all pleasant and helpful; it's not like you at all.”
“You don’t like the new Fluttershy?” she asked giving her a cute, winsome and totally harmless look that even Angel now would have given high marks.
Twilight Sparkle on the other hoof, wasn’t anyway near as moved. “You're kidding, right?"
"No, not at all.” Without warning Fluttershy leaned over and hugged her hard. “You've given me a place to stay and began far more tolerant than I could ever deserve. I'm so, so sorry for how I've behaved and I am going to make it up to you!"
Twilight was torn between being surprised and being genuinely touched by the display. She was also struggling to breathe. Eventually Fluttershy noticed the frantic choking noises and slackened her hold a bit with a deeply cute embarrassed squeak.
She took a few breaths so that she wasn’t seeing double. “I don’t understand why you’ve decided to change, but I am glad that you’ve decided to,” she said, as she hugged Fluttershy back.
“I...” Fluttershy trailed off, before swallowing hard. “I went to visit your Fluttershy’s cottage.”
Feeling Twilight’s horn near-instantly becoming red-hot right next to her head, Fluttershy very quickly added, “She was so disappointed with me and she insisted I was going to be a better pony.” Fluttershy breathed out with relief as the heat dissipated. “We talked for most of the night afterwards and your friend... well she was very persuasive.”
Not pulling away from the hug, Twilight said proudly, “She sure can be when she puts her mind to it.”
Pinkamena had been having a deeply productive morning. First she’d bumped into an acquaintance she’d known for a long time back in her world, but had certainly not been expected to run into here in Ponyville. Normally she knew her as Golden Harvest the Fifth, but here she just went by Carrot Top. The vegetable store owner had been in a jovial mood with her usual main competition being absent and had been doing a roaring trade when Pinkamena had been trotting by.
Still while very different from the refined pony she knew, Pinkamena had more than enjoyed their conversation. She’d had no idea that food retail could be so vicious, but had come up with a couple of sharp-business tips for Carrot Top to put one over her apple selling rival.
Then she'd run into a pony she'd somehow managed to remain completely unaware of, but would be certainly be looking up when she got back to her Equestria. Filthy Rich, owner of Barnyard Bargains was a real find and a shoe-in for the guild as far as she was concerned. Sure he had cornered the market by viciously undercutting all of his now former competitors, but he managed to stay a genuinely decent stallion of strong moral fibre. She'd especially enjoyed his story of how he'd formed a strong relationship with the Apple family to secure the rights to their zap apple harvests in perpetuity. Sure he was getting on in years and one of his daughters was only a few years younger than herself, so Pinkamena had been deeply surprised to find herself awkwardly flirting with the business owner. She wasn't sure whether his obliviousness had just been down to her being incredibly out of practise, or just him being nice and saving them both the embarrassment.
She'd had a quick working lunch and had been further exploring some of the back streets of the main thoroughfare of Ponyville when she'd come across her double. Pinkie was listlessly poking at the ground with her hoof and sat beside her was an impressively elaborate cake. The whole scene was so incongruous that Pinkamena just had to stop to find out what was going on.
"Good afternoon, Pinkie," she said casually, as if dropping in on her other self was something she did everyday. "Are you feeling quite alright?"
Pinkie looked up with her ears completely drooped. "Oh no... you're too early! I still haven't worked out how to be your friend and nothing I can think of is going to work at all!"
"Is it really that important to you?" Pinkamena asked and received a nod as confirmation.
She sighed; maybe she should just play along. Seeing her double like this was really getting to her for reasons she didn't entirely understand. "Okay, Pinkie. Why don't you let me know what you've come up with?" she said, as she eyed the really quite yummy looking cake on the ground and fought the urge to drool.
Pinkie perked up a bit. "Well! First I was going to go with the classic and throw you a surprise party, but I met Trixie and Sparksie earlier and they told me about what happened with that meany-pants griffon, so I figured surprises would not make you happy at all at the moment."
Twilight's spell had been effective last night in not leaving a mark on her from the experience and Pinkamena had only experienced the odd twinges today, but she agreed any surprise right now would still be enough to get her to gallop a mile in the opposite direction.
"Then I was going to go for a song-and-dance number featuring the entire town, but I asked the Mayor and she won't let me have permission until next Tuesday and you'll be gone by then..." she said mournfully.
"You need permission for that?" Pinkamena asked, mildly surprised that this was something Pinkie was able to organise at short notice. Surely the choreography alone would take days.
"Oh yeah and all the forms you have to fill out! Had so many last time I just ended up making it into paper mache for the twins," Pinkie said happily. "So then I thought I'd used the mirror pool until I found a Pinkie that could be your friend."
"And into her own reflection she stared, yearning for one whose reflection she shared, and solemnly sweared not to be scared, at the prospect of being doubly mared?" Pinkamena quoted. "Course not that I've ever needed to find out whether that old story of Nana's was true or not." She finished off in unison with another Pinkamena stood at her side.
Pinkie winced at what she was seeing in front of her before sighing in relief when there was just one of her doubles again. "It did work, but it didn't go too well for anypony! Especially me! I had to stare at paint drying for ages! And then I remembered it's got a big rock over the entrance now anyway."
"Okaaay," Pinkamena drawled out ever so slowly backing away slightly. "So what about the cake then?"
"Oh, I was just going to throw it at you," Pinkie admitted.
Pinkamena's eyes crossed as she tried to work out the logic there. "How was that going to make us friends?"
"I have absolutely no idea!" Pinkie said with a wide grin. "Seemed like a good plan at the time, but I figured you'd probably just be upset if I assaulted you with cake and that'd probably be a surprise too anyway."
"Why don't we try it?"
Pinkie jumped up. Her all important poking of the ground completely forgotten. "Really, really?"
"Sure," Pinkamena said graciously. "It's seems like the fastest option, so going for efficiency assuming it works is definitely a positive factor."
"You won't get mad?"
"I promise," Pinkamena said, putting a hoof on her chest.
"Pinkie promise, like Nana used too," Pinkie insisted.
"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a diamond in my eye." Pinkamena said, complete with all the correct actions.
"Yes!" Pinkie shouted, completely back to her usual level of perkiness and flung the cake with pinpoint accuracy.
Pinkamena blinked as the delicious frosting dripped down her face which she licked up reflexively. The way the lemon blended into the chocolate was really quite extraordinary. Sure it had lacked a certain spontaneity, but there was something about this that just tickled something deep down inside herself. She felt her lips start to widen as something threatened to rise up and flood over the dam within. Something totally unfamiliar that just was not her at all. She was a serious pony, one of proper work ethics, responsible and mature, not that...
"Sorry, gotta go," she said curtly. Pinkamena just had time to see her double's face fall before she was back upstairs in the library again.
"Trixie, you need to hit me as hard as you can!" The magician and Sparks had been practicing a routine and were now staring at the completely mad looking pony with still a fair amount of cake smeared into her coat. Trixie had apparently been showing Sparks escapology. Pinkamena did briefly wonder how she was going to get out after being so trussed up as completely as that.
"What?" Trixie asked weakly, dropping the length of rope she'd been holding with her horn.
"I need you to hit me," Pinkamena repeated, her face contorting in concentration.
Trixie frowned while Sparks shrank back. Though not by very much as she was still completely tied up. "Trixie's not going to hit you!" she insisted, wondering if the business mare had snapped entirely.
"Don't just stand there and hit me!" Pinkamena yelled waving her forehooves wildly in the air.
Trixie shrugged her shoulders and lightly slapped Pinkamena across the face.
"Thanks, Trixie. That was a close one," Pinkamena said, with a fair amount of relief at reclaiming her mental equilibrium as she straightened her tie. "You're a good pony you know that."
Trixie blushed lightly. She really wasn't used to ponies actually respecting her, but it definitely felt good.
Rock had never felt quite like this in all her life. If she was anymore relaxed she'd now be a pony puddle all over the floor. Her and Rarity were in the spa's cooldown room after a vigorous massage and beauty treatment with the incredibly talented Aloe and Lotus. They'd both received the new faux crystal pony course at Rarity's request. Braids entwined in their manes, full facials, and of course plenty of sparkles all over. If it wasn't for Rock's old rag which she'd wrapped round one of her hooves and the colours of the braids the two would have been indistinguishable in their gorgeousness.
"I could get used to this," murmured Rock, as she sipped some refreshing mint tea. "I really could y'know that."
Rarity gave a ladylike grunt in reply, far too mellow to do something so strenuous as talking.
"Can't believe I've lived for years in Ponyville and never even given this place a second look," said Rock, as she stretched languorously. "That's going to change though. Just a shame I'll have to tone it down a bit for work," she said as she looked down at herself. The pony pedi, as nice as it was, would definitely have to be dropped for not being practical.
Rarity started to snore in a deeply unladylike fashion leaving Rock talking to herself. "And I owe this all to you, Rarity. I'll never forget it. I promise you that."
Applejack and Appletini stepped off the train at the Ponyville station. Appletini looked around as the trained pulled out on its way for the rest of the journey. "This place doesn't change much does it?"
"Naw, just the way we like it," Applejack replied, with an easy smile.
"I meant to say something on the train, but I really do appreciate you coming to get me. I know it must have been hard leaving the farm to sort out some pony you've never met."
"Aw shucks, sugarcube. Wasn't any trouble at all. Turned out to be a pleasant trip all round and wit' good company too," Applejack said, tipping her hat to Appletini. Her double blushed and grinned back.
"So what now then?" she asked, her eyes glancing towards the direction of where she knew the farm resided.
"Well, 'spose we better head to the library—" Applejack stopped talking suddenly as her eyes widened in shock.
"Your eyes are sparking up a storm!" Applejack yelled over the rising crackle of magic in the air.
"So are yours!" Appletini shouted back.
Applejack held onto her hat, as the leaves in the nearby trees all started to crumple up. "Ah don' suppose we've got time for a goodbye hu—"
There was a *CRACK* in the air and they were gone.
The ground floor of the library went from having just Fluttershy and Twilight to an another ten ponies in the blink of an eye. Even Pinkamena and Sparks who had just been upstairs appeared in a crash of harmonic magical spray. All eyes were drawn to the two azure pegasi who seemed not to have noticed their teleportation at all and were still passionately snogging on the floor.
It was Applejack who spoke first, "Heck girls, that just ain't right."
Trixie who was looking down from the upper level and had spent the most time with the other Rainbow Dash could only whistle in admiration and tip her currently non-existent hat in admiration. Damn she's good, she thought to herself.
"What the heck is going on?" Rarity yelled, having been rudely awakened by the thaumalogical storm.
Twilight looked around frantically. Everyponies eyes in the room with the exception of Trixie were glowing ever brighter and she could see raw magic sparking from horn to wing to earth pony hooves. The two Dash's were holding on for dear life to the other now with both their faces contorted in alarm. "This is the spell! It must be about to send them home, but Sparks could never of cast this much magic! It's imposs—"
She was cut off as the magic in the room mounted to crescendo linking the six doubles in a rainbow chain. Sparks, Pinkamena, Captain Fluttershy, Rock, Appletini and the Amazing and Stupendous Rainbow Dash slowly raised into the air, held completely immobile, as they were caught within the embrace of the tempest. Twilight could just about make out familiar golden objects emerging out of their bodies as if they were coming directly from out of their very hearts. Rock's who was closest to her was decorated, sure enough, by the three gears of her cutie mark upon the necklace. She looked around to see if she could find the pony wearing the tiara of magic, but the rainbow was getting so bright that she was having trouble seeing anything at all.
There was an earth-shaking boom knocking every single book off the shelves and the remaining ponies off their hooves. Twilight looked up with her head ringing and her vision doubled. She could still see the after image of six pillars of light that had seemed to stretch into infinity.
Trixie had landed sprawled right on top of Fluttershy sometime during the magical storm. The pegasus was now politely, but firmly suggesting the unicorn get off her right this second. Applejack had her hat pressed against her chest and was looking forlorn at not getting a chance to have a proper goodbye to Appletini. Rarity was looking much the same.
“They’ve gone?” Pinkie asked, springing up out of a landslide of books she’d been buried under. She was trying not to giggle in delight out of respect for her friends, but was failing badly.
“Yes, they’ve all gone.” Twilight Sparkle replied, trying not to look to happy herself. She knew she should be feeling guilty for not attempting to be friends harder and maybe that made her a bad student. But frankly Sparks was permanently out of her mane and the reminder of the pony of who she could have been without Princess Celestia was gone for good, and Twilight couldn’t help but smile.
Sometime later Spike was resignedly replacing all the books to their proper places. Fluttershy had politely excused herself, but had needed to leave right away as poor Angel was suffering from hypothermia and she needed to go home and take care of him.
Twilight Sparkle was waiting for another explosion when she realised that Applejack was now meeting Trixie for the first time since the unfortunate incident last time. Shielding her ears and taking cover on the floor she awaited the inevitable moment of realisation. Not hearing anything she looked up again to see that everypony was just looking at her oddly.
"Um, you have noticed Trixie's over there, right?" she asked Applejack. Trixie waved awkwardly in what she hoped was a friendly way.
"Ain't sayin' it's not a surprise, but she doesn't seem to makin' any trouble, so it'd be downright rude to start some mah self." Trixie breathed out a relieved sigh she didn't realise she'd been holding. "Anyway, ain't like it was the first time ah've been tied up, sugarcube," Applejack said with a wink.
Twilight smiled happily that everypony was going to be able to get on. In fact it gave her just the perfect idea. "Spike, take a letter." The young dragon put down the book that he'd been holding with some relief and retrieved a quill and some parchment. "I'm sure we can get a friendship lesson out of this whole affair. Anyway Princess Celestia really should know all about this and not before time! How about you to start, Rarity?"
Rarity was sitting quietly with a blissful look on her face, so Twilight asked again, "Rarity, you in there?"
She breathed out. "Oh sorry, darling. I was miles away. Anyway, Rock was a perfectly agreeable pony, so I don't think I can think of anything for a lesson, Twilight."
"Really? Well if you say so," she said, with a certain amount of unbelief in her voice. She turned to her farmer friend. "How about you Applejack?"
"Ah learnt I'm great, no matter what kind of pony I ahm." Her voice effortlessly shifted into a cut-glass upper Manehattan accent. "Of course, my dear, I always did suspect that already."
“Oh no, we’re not doing that again,” Twilight said, remembering the letter she had got back last time. Leaving Applejack aside as the experience with her duplicate had left her completely mentally unbalanced, she turned to Rainbow Dash. "I don't suppose you learned anything did you, Dash?"
"I learned that I am awesome at kissing!" she declared proudly. "Course I'm awesome at everything anyway, so there never was really any doubt."
"Dash, I can't write and tell the princess that!" Twilight said and blushed fiercely.
"Why, do you think she'd want a go?" teased Dash. She waggled her eyebrows in a suggestive manner that would have probably got herself sharply told off if Rarity wasn't still in her happy place.
"Pinkie?" Twilight asked desperately, worried she wasn't going to be getting a friendship report out of this at all.
"She was a stupid meany-pants and I don't care about her at all," Pinkie said with a huff.
Rapidly running out of options; Twilight turned to Trixie.
After the concept was explained to her, Trixie slowly said, "So let Trixie get this straight. You write to the princess about lessons involving the magic of friendship as part of a research project on a regular basis." She paused. "And this would involve telling Princess Celestia that you sent back the six wielders of the elements of harmony without any guarantee they'd free her sister from being Nightmare Moon or indeed rescue her from whatever terrible fate she's suffering there?"
Twilight opened her mouth to say something before realising that the former magician had raised an excellent point. After telling Spike to get back to the books, she asked, "So what are you going to do now, Trixie? I'm sure everypony would be okay with you staying in Ponyville if you found something useful to do."
Trixie stopped as she thought about the offer. Sometimes you get to wear the magician's hat, Trixie. But sometimes you have to wear the sparkly leotard... she thought to herself, as she inwardly swallowed her pride.
"I don't suppose you've got a place for an assistant, Twilight?"
Applejack stood at the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. The others had very briefly exchanged pleasantries and made their excuses and then promptly left; leaving her with a very long journey home. Sparks and Dash had departed together deep in conversation. Pinkamena had trotted off with a fixed look on her face. Fluttershy had looked like she wanted to say something, but had flew off without a single word. Rock—a most exquisitely presented mare from what Applejack had seen and not at all the thug that her double had described—had galloped off, though had yelled a quick apology for the rush. Still it had been fun being Appletini and she really had appreciated her double's company for the perspective it'd given her on her own life.
Lacking in options she'd found herself automatically walking the old path back to the farm. She'd sworn as a filly that she'd never, ever set a hoof here again after it took both her parents from her. Yet here she was. Same old buildings, same old trees and same old farm.
It would be nice to see her big brother again of course. He'd weep like a filly, like the big soppy lug he always was. There was Granny Smith of course and tiny Applebloom. Though she imagined she'd be well on her way to being grown now.
She sighed heavily out loud. All it would take was putting one hoof in front of another. She could just imagine her other self in pappy's old hat laughing at her good-naturedly for being such a coward.
There was really nothing to it in the end and Applejack went home.
Rock arrived home, somewhat out of breath, and looked around at the ground floor flat she rented for herself and her sister. It was so much more dirty than she remembered and the low ceiling that used to pleasantly remind her of the mines now seemed stifling. She was trying not to compare it to the light and airy Carousel Boutique, but it was so hard not to. Instead of immaculately dressed poniquins there were mounds of old clothes and instead of the bustle of business there was just the ancient mare who rented upstairs snoring loudly. Then there was her old pick hanging up along with Sweetie’s first hoof-axe. Rusty and dirty sure, but beloved mementoes nonetheless. Then there was the sawblade her sister used now for her work, resting up against a wall, reminding her that what she had here was just as valuable as anything Rarity had.
“Sweets?” she called out. “You home?”
Sweetie Belle appeared out of the kitchen in her usual dainty red-woollen chequered shirt. She did a visible double-take at her sister's appearance. "Sis, you look like you should be trawling the Flankfurt back streets," she dead-panned.
Rock let out an utterly mortified squeal. "Sweetie Belle! You shouldn't know anything about that!"
Her little sister grinned. "Where you been hiding these last few days anyway?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she replied with total honesty.
"Prob'ly not," Sweetie agreed, eyeing her older sister's fancy get-up.
Rock crouched down, seized her sister in her forelegs and pulled her in for a hug. She was getting sparkles all over her sister’s best woodcutting top and didn’t care at all. "I've missed you," she said, with her eyes beginning to lightly glisten. “I thought I might never see you again.”
The young filly almost fought back against the unusual display of sisterly affection, but then shrugged. Even with Scoots and Dinky to hang with, the house had been pretty lonely without her big sister about. "I missed you too, sis," Sweetie said, returning the hug fiercely.
"I'm never going to leave you again, you know that. Best sisters forever," she promised.
Sweetie Belle sniffed happily. "Best sisters forever."
Captain Fluttershy touched down onto the battlements of Canterlot. She knew that she'd definitely need to check in with Nightmare Moon after going absent without leave for the last couple of days, but trotting over towards her now was the absolute last stallion that she wanted to see. Somepony must have seen her coming and let him know to prepare a proper unwelcoming committee. She glared at Shining Armour advancing on her with his far too shiny black and gold-edged armour. Oh and all the spikes and fake skulls of course. She sometimes wondered if the captain of the royal guard enjoyed looking bad a little too much than was entirely healthy.
“Where have you been?” Shining Armour demanded shortly. “She’s been asking for you.” Fluttershy didn’t need to be told who she was. The stallion was quickly getting entirely too close to her body space for her to be entirely comfortable.
This was clearly not the time for new Fluttershy, as she armoured herself up in her old attitude. “None of your damn business, Armour.”
“She’ll tire of you in the end and then nopony will be there to protect you. It’s not like any other pony actually cares about you y’know.” Fluttershy trotted along lightly on top of the battlements as Shining Armour following along and lectured her. She’d heard those empty threats and bluster from the stallion thorn-in-her-side many times before and they had no more effect on her now than they had before.
She was going to just fly off and go to the princess when something made her stop and look back at Shining Armour. “You should visit your sister sometime. I’m sure she misses you,” she said softly, her voice barely above a whisper.
The stallion’s jaw clenched almost imperceptibly. He was doing a good job of hiding it, but Fluttershy could see the sudden look of fear in his eyes. “If you’ve hurt even a single hair in her mane, I’ll—”
Fluttershy smiled with a surprising amount of sincerity. “It was just a thought,” she said lightly. The captain of the Shadowbolts spread her wings and disappeared into the night air leaving her opposite number speechless.
From the look on Nightmare Moon’s face it was going to be one of those meetings. Time to be professional, thought Fluttershy as the alicorn rose from her throne.
“Oh, captain. You’ve been neglecting me,” Nightmare Moon chided gently.
Fluttershy stiffened to full attention. “Apologies, my princess. I was indisposed.”
“Indisposed?” Nightmare Moon chuckled to herself. “I hope it was not too serious. I would hate to lose my favourite subject.”
“Of course not, my princess,” said Fluttershy, keeping her wings flat against her flanks.
She kept her eyes locked on an indeterminate point towards one of the many stained-glass windows as the ruler of Equestria started to pace about the throne room.
“None of them like me. Even now a year later without their precious sunlight.” There was a definite whine creeping into the alicorn’s voice. “Sure I think some of them might respect me now, and Shining...” Nightmare Moon coughed. “Is fun in his own way, but none of them actually seem to really like me. Not like you do. Why is that?”
“Couldn’t say, my princess,” said Fluttershy, keeping her gaze level and unmoving. The perfect soldier and servant down to the bone.
“Not one of your many prepared speeches about my power or beauty?” she said, a little disappointed. “I do always enjoy hearing those.”
“Sorry, my princess.”
Nightmare Moon had returned to her throne, but instead of placing herself down, she sat down beside it and placed a forehoof lightly down upon where another pony used to hold court. She let out a long choking sob that disrupted Fluttershy’s calm visage entirely as she whipped her head to look upon her ruler.
“Maybe my little ponies would like me if I raised the sun just one day a week, perhaps...” Fluttershy’s mouth hung open at what she was seeing, let alone what at she was hearing. “But no, the night must last forever.” Nightmare Moon finished her voice returning to it’s usual firmness. Fluttershy was still struggling to process what she’d just witnessed. For a moment she fancied she’d seen the princess from another Canterlot who she’d observed taking tea in the garden before the darkness had flowed back once more.
“Watch in awe,as you witness the magic of the awesome, the stupendous, I am RrrainbowDash!” The pegasus rolled her name with heart-stopping perfection, as the gathered Ponyville crowd hung on her every word.
Sparks watched from the back of her crowd. As far as they knew she was still in the box on stage and about to be menaced by the multiple sharp objects that Dash was doing such an impressively showy job of caressing at the moment.
“You’re doing great by the way.” That was from the Trixie of her world. She was currently standing beside her and using the same invisibility spell so as not to spoil the trick.
“Thanks. Least I’ve stopped shaking. I guess,” said Sparks quietly, as she kept an eye on the stage to see how long she had till her cue.
“Oh, nopony noticed that,” Trixie said, with a reassuring grin. Not that Sparks could see it at the moment of course.
Sparks rubbed the sparkly garment down that she knew she was still wearing from the way it hugged her all over. “I can’t believe you came up with it so fast. We’ve barely been back a couple of hours.”
“Call it inspiration.” Trixie voiced switched into full on business mode. “Right, remember just drop the pouches for the smoke, but the fireworks you’ll need just a bit of magic to spark off. Not too much though!” she said, as she helped Sparks up into the tree. A complicated maneuver made all the harder that neither pony could see each other, or indeed themselves.
Seeing that Dash had moved onto the final broadsword, she knew she didn’t have a lot of time left, but an irresistible inspiration struck her and she leaned down and managed to place a kiss on Trixie’s nose. Sparks was rewarded with the sound of a delighted squeak from the other unicorn.
She whispered back, “We’ll talk about this later,” just about loud enough for Sparks to hear before she dropped the pouches and everything exploded in fire and stars as the former recluse revealed herself to the crowd.
“My lovely assistant, everypony, the Spectacular Sparks!” Rainbow Dash, called from centre stage and the crowd went wild with applause.
Pinkamena trotted slowly back down the road that would lead to her rock farm. She could have been there long ago now, but she’d decided she needed to take some time about what she’d experienced over the last few days. Something was bubbling up deep inside her and it was struggling to get out. There was just something about those all those faces that she’d seen going about their business in the other Ponyville that refused to leave her alone. She was sure that the bits had flown faster in the sunshine, but she couldn’t be certain why. It couldn’t just be as simple as the sun being up in it’s proper place, Pinkamena reckoned. Then as she knew all too well that the laws of finances had a complexity and a psychology that even dwarfed the study of magic itself.
Of course it wasn’t like she could do anything about it even if she wanted too. Pinkamena had sworn an oath after all. The image of the contract sprang immediately to mind; courtesy of her perfect recall.
Pinkamena didn’t giggle, she absolutely didn’t ever giggle, but whatever escaped her lips at that moment was still deeply amused nonetheless. ‘I, Pinkamena Diane Pie, swear eternal fealty to Princess Luna...’ Oh there were a bunch of titles after that, but none of them had been Nightmare Moon had they. From what Pinkamena remembered was that it’d been easier to use her name officially as a princess when she’d first taken over, as Nightmare Moon had no real legal power beyond right of contest, while Princess Luna had plenty. So it could be argued, and Pinkamena certainly could, that using these elements of harmony on the princess would be working in her best interests regardless of any instructions from Nightmare Moon herself.
Sure she’d have to convince the others. Sparks would be easy, and so would Rock and Appletini, Pinkamena was sure of it. Dash might be a bit more tricky, but she wasn’t much of a deep thinker as far as Pinkamena reckoned, so would probably succumb to peer pressure. That just left Captain Fluttershy. Still something had changed about the pegasus during their time in that other Equestria and Pinkamena was sure that she could work with that. After all she had a lifetime of experience in persuading ponies to do what they didn’t want to thanks to her time in business so Pinkamena reckoned she wouldn’t be a problem.
All it would take was a push. A spark, if you will,to set it all in motion, Pinkamena thought as she adjusted the crown that rested upon her head. A smile wide enough to encompass the entirety of Equestria spread across Pinkamena’s face. She stopped in her tracks, as her straight hair practically exploded into unstoppable bouncy curls.
“You know what this calls for?” she said out loud to anypony that might be listening. “This calls for aPARTY!!!”
Lyra was trotting homewards through the night-time streets of Ponyville. Of course it was always night-time these days in all of Equestria, but it was currently late into the evening going by the clock on the town hall. The streets of the town that she’d made her home were far more crowded than normal. Pretty much everypony had been out to see the magic show and were now filtering out from the main square and back to their own homes. It had been a genuinely good night out, as everypony who had been to see it would agree. The pegasus magician had weaved the illusion of being a real spell caster with both flair and consummate skill. Her assistant, while clearly nervous initially, had quickly warmed up and had dazzled in backup with some truly impressive tricks of her own. Course that outfit of hers hadn’t hurt at all either, thought Lyra with a grin on her face as she trotted on home.
She could just do without the sense of unbearable smugness that was floating around the back of her mind.
“I suppose you’re happy then,” Lyra said quietly to herself, so no other pony would hear.
Very much so, Lyra Heartstrings, the voice in her head whispered back. Lyra couldn’t see who was speaking, but she could tell that she was smiling anyway.
It was still risky. She could have got herself killed casting such an uncontrollable spell with nowhere near enough magic. Let alone whatever could have happened to her while she was gone, Lyra thought back reproachfully. It was a sore point for her which she’d raised often, even if she did understand why it had been necessary.
We did help her, remember? Alone she would have had no chance to create more than a few sparks of the spell, even after we’d provided her the book. And without it we would have been stuck with knowing the identity of just the one and now we know all six. You remember what a fluke it was that we even discovered the bearer of Kindness.
Lyra had to admit that was true. If she hadn’t have spotted the connection between the anonymous good deeds being done throughout the town and the illusive recluse in the old library they could have been still searching for their first bearer now. Then she’d had an unwelcome passenger in her head for nearly a year now so she wasn’t in the mood to be charitable.
And now she and the bearer of Joy are together creating a new bond of harmony. The rest will surely follow now that they all know each other and the dawn will come again. All we need to now is wait, and see.
You’re loving this aren’t you, thought Lyra. Why you couldn’t have ended up in Moondancer’s head...
The voice in her head laughed musically. You were closer and I didn’t exactly have a great deal of time did I? Poor Luna, I do wonder if she’ll ever work it out.
Lyra knew full well that’d been the only option not that it made it any easier to bear. A full-on fight would have devastated most, if not all, of Equestria, so this really had been the only way. It’d just been chance that she’d been visiting her parents near the palace in Canterlot at the time and had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lyra looked upwards to the familiar mare-in-the-moon hanging in the night sky. She knew that she was never going to get entirely used to the idea that her mental lodger’s body could be way up there, but not her actual self which was a heck of a lot closer.
So are we going to be seeing Bonbon tonight?
The mint-green unicorn blushed hard. It was tricky enough charting the course of a still relatively new relationship without having a many millennia old princess with far too many ‘helpful’ suggestions whispering away from the back of your head.
Yes, I think we will. Lyra thought back completely unable to hide the bashful smile at what she’d be doing later. Even with somepony else constantly looking out from out behind her eyes that couldn’t bring her down. She was in love, the sun would rise again, and it was all going to be as the princess had promised. Everything was going to be alright.