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Elements of Discord

First Blush

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        It was another sunny summer day in Ponyville, with the sun well-exposed by the army of weather-controlling Pegasus ponies. But all that sun was quite welcome on the expansive Apple Family farm, Sweet Apple Acres. The various Ponyville-native Apple family members were doing their usual actions: ancient Granny Smith was asleep in her rocking chair, dreaming of a new hip; Big Macintosh was hauling huge loads of apples to market, while also searching for a new piece of straw; Applebloom had scampered away from her responsibilities to join Zecora in the Everfree Forest; and Applejack was doing her duty, bucking apples from the trees, to later gather them up for Big Macintosh to take away. It was hot, tiring, unforgiving work, but she loved it. She relished the chance to work her muscles and do all kinds of physical labor.

        Having just bucked down a load of apples, she was hauling them away in a cart to the central repository, where they could be loaded into the larger market carts that Big Mac hauled day in and day out. She wiped at her forehead with a hoof, and started trudging along again, when all of a sudden, the most deliciously cool breeze blew over her body, making her stop in closed-eyed bliss to savor the sudden turn in her meteorological fortunes. “Well mah goodness. This here shore is refreshin'.”

        “Just wanted to see if I could get you to stop.” With her usual chuckling tone, Rainbow Dash sped off from her position in front of Applejack to zip around in the space above her head. “You should have seen your face. You were glad to stop and relax. I always knew it.”

        “Yew know very well that it’s hot out heah, Sugarcube! It’s not mah fault that a little breeze feels good undah all that sun y’all Pegasus ponies put on us. An’ besides, what would y’all know 'bout hard work anyhow? Not like y’all ever worked hard a day in yer life. T'aint fun but yew do it, and if it takes a little breeze break then it takes a breeze break.”

        “Never worked hard a day in my life? Are you kidding me?” Rainbow Dash zipped down and hovered right in front of Applejack, flying backwards to follow her inexorable forward motion. “Do you have any idea how much work it takes to be worthy of flying with the Wonderbolts? I have to do turns and dashes and stops until my wings feel like they’re going to fall off! I’ve smashed my face into the ground and trees and water more often than I can count. I’ve done a lot of hard work to get this good, you know. I mean, do you think that mail lady Ditzy Doo can fly backwards? I don’t think so.”

        “Huh. So yew can fly? What’s so special about that in a pegasus pony? Ah do all kindsa very specialized and technical hard work. Why, you practically gotta have a technical degree to work heah.”

        “Come ON, AJ! How card can it be to buck down apples all day then get your muscle-head brother to haul them to town?” To demonstrate, Rainbow Dash flew up to a tree with apples and gave it a sharp kick. Only one apple fell, straight onto her head.

        “Yew cain’t say that kinda thing about Big Macintosh. Shore… He’s not the swiftest pony in the world. But he does a good job! We all do. ‘Ceptin’, o’ course fer Granny Smith but she’s too old for applebuckin’. And Applebloom on account o’ her spendin’ all her time with Zecora out in the Everfree forest and… What was we talkin’ about again?”

        Rainbow Dash softly rubbed her head where the apple hit, then looked over at Applejack. “Ugh… Stupid thing… I, uh, think we were talking about a lunch break. I’m gettin’ kinda hungry. Have you got any carrot-apple fritters?”

        Applejack rolled her eyes at Rainbow Dash’s casual dismissal of the main point to talk about slacking off. Again. “Well… Ah’m kinda hungry myself. And ah DO love me a good fritter. How did yew know they’s mah favorite?”

        “I didn’t. That’s my favorite too.” Rainbow Dash smiled to Applejack, and flapped her way steadily over to her. “And do you like celery-carrot muffins with cinnamon candies?”

        “Ah don’t eat 'em a lot. But yea, when ah need a break from apples… What do y’all think of apple tea?”

        “Love it. It’s great during the winter. And apple-cinnamon hot chocolate.”

        Applejack motioned towards the farmhouse with her head. “These apples’ll keep. Let’s have somethin’ to eat. And talk about stuff we like.”

        While Rainbow Dash and Applejack went off to lunch, Twilight Sparkle was well into the middle of hers. She had a sensible spread of alfalfa salad, carrot sticks, celery stalks and water. Spike, for his part, appeared to have an equally sensible spread of lighter element crystals, low-end diamonds and a few gold pieces as a side; thought Twilight Sparkle knew that at least some of the alleged azurite spreads were rock candy grown on a stone.  She didn’t begrudge him his little nutritional indiscretions. He was a young dragon, after all.

        “So it looks like we’re all ready for next Winter Wrap-Up. The mayor just told me that she liked my logistics and wanted them implemented on day one hour one. I’ll write up a few checklists and deliver them, so the team leaders can have them ready.”

        “Man, Twilight, when you get into something you always get REALLY into it. I still say we ought to just use magic like we did back in Canterlot.”

        “No good. Remember the berserk snowplow incident? Besides, like I told you a hundred times, it’s traditional here in Ponyville to do it in a non-magical way. So as long as that’s how it’s done, we’ll do it the sensible way. With logistics.”

        “Alright, alright. Geez, you’re like a broken record.” Spike chewed sullenly on a piece of gold for a moment before saying, “You know, time has passed again and I think I should ask…”

        “Spike, I’m still not going to give you a moustache again.”

        “Come on! At least give me the soul patch! I looked really good with that thing! I’m sure I could get Rarity’s attention with one of those.”

        “Keep eating all that gold and I’m sure you’ll attract Rarity’s notice. She’s over here often enough as it is.” Twilight daintily leaned down to nibble on her vegetation.

        “Hi there! Oh my gosh, Twilight! Are you having lunch? Why didn’t you say so? I got so busy over at the bakery I almost forgot, which is weird because I was surrounded by food. But I guess my tummy just didn’t remember to keep up with everything, and then I forgot to listen because it was growling and growling and growling but I thought it was the timer so I kept looking around and there wasn’t anything going off and I finally realized what it was, so here I am.” Following the intense explosion of rapid-fire chatter, Pinkie Pie stood there, smiling her biggest, Pinkie-est smile at Twilight Sparkle, whose face at been propelled into the pile of alfalfa.

        “Pinkie Pie… I can appreciate your, how do I put this, unbridled enthusiasm for life in general. However, I really, really don’t think it’s…”

        “Oh! Twilight, you don’t have to say anything. I know what’s wrong! You’re upset because all you have is that boring alfalfa for lunch. But don’t worry! I made sure to be a good friend and bring you these!” From out of her side-pouch, which Twilight had just noticed, Pinkie Pie extracted several cupcakes, her usual specialty.

        “Ahh, err… Th-thank you, Pinkie Pie. That sounds good. But I…” Twilight Sparkle looked into Pinkie’s eagerly-smiling face, beaming with hope and enthusiasm, trusting her dear friend to eat her super-sweet treats. “Ummm… I…” The smile bored into her soul. And Twilight Sparkle sighed. “I’ll have a few.”

        “Pushover…” Spike muttered, scraping the alleged azurite off the small piece of rock on which it spread.

        Twilight Sparkle made a mocking facial expression at Spike, then smiled brightly to Pinkie, biting the top off of one of the cupcakes, getting a huge mouthful of frosting and cake. Oh, the sugar. She could feel her teeth under assault. “Just like I remember the last few you brought over.”

        “Yaaaaay! Oh I just KNEW you’d love love love LOVE it, Twilight! And did you see? Did you see? I was up all night mixing up the colors but I finally got the frosting to be the exact colors of your body and mane! Isn’t that just amazing? It’s like you’re eating yourself, but, you know, less painful.”

        “Yes, it’s a very… Attractive mental image…” Twilight Sparkle finally looked down at the cupcakes and realized that, indeed, they were her own shade. The thought was as creepy as it was unusual.

        “Oh! And look! I made one that looked like me!” A bubblegum-pink cupcake tumbled out of the bag, ending up leaning against one of the darker ones. “Awww, how cute! They’re hugging! Now chomp ‘em down!”

        “W-what?” Twilight Sparkle was seldom surprised by any random thing Pinkie said. That was something that passed the normal mark.

        “Go on, they’ll be all happy together in your tummy! Come one. Pleeeeeeeease?” The sweet expression was back, the too-wide smile and enormous eyes, pristine teeth gleaming. It was almost impossible to resist such a face.

        “Fine…” For Twilight Sparkle, entirely impossible. She very rapidly munched down the pair of cupcakes, briefly struck, again, by the oddity of coloration.

        “Aren’t they just delicious? I used a little flavoring in the frosting and it all goes together perfectly. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?” Pinkie asked her questions in an increasingly manic voice, jabbing her head closer to Twilight and twisting it more and more, until she was at the limit of her capability.

        “Ummm. Y-yea! They’re really great! That was way better than all my other food.” Twilight Sparkle felt no shame in lying to Pinkie. Primarily because she wasn’t really lying. Better in flavor, of course, though nutritionally dubious at best.

        “Yay! I knew it! Well, I’ve gotta go back to Sugarcube Corner. I just wanted to share with you. You needed something nice to eat.” With a final, tremendous smile, Pinkie Pie bounced out of the Library.

        “Ugh… How does she manage to talk me into this sort of thing?” Twilight Sparkle hung her head and shook it a little bit, mutedly munching on the alfalfa and other bits of vegetation still before her.

        “How? Duh! The same way Whispering Wind used to get you to do her calculus homework, and how Cinnamon Cider got you to give her your desserts. She smiles, she begs and you cave in. I swear, Twilight, you’re so easy. And this one is even worse! I never believed for a second you really cared about Whispering Wind or Cinnamon Cider, but Pinkie…”

        “Stop. Right. There.” Twilight Sparkle reached across the table and planted a fore hoof on Spike’s lips, glaring hotly at him. “Yes, I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Like my being a lesbian is a secret. And yes, Pinkie is cute. But I do NOT have a crush on her. Know how many friends I’ve had before I got here, aside from you? None. Know how many times I’ve fallen in love, really? None. The first one, I’ve fixed. But I’m not trying to fix the second. So forget whatever it is you’re thinking. And understand this, I am not in love with Pinkie Pie.”

        Well away from that happening, Fluttershy was feeding her animal friends, leaving out carrots and celery and seeds. She was surrounded by her usual cloud of birds and bunnies, who all waited for another treat to be dropped. “Oh my little friends, be patient. I won’t forget any of you.” Her soft voice was louder than normal, her confidence slightly increased thanks to her proximity to the animals. She was so much more comfortable and confident with them. They didn’t scare her. They didn’t judge her or try to hurt her. Except for that rabbit, Angel, but he hadn’t been bothering her lately.

        “Oh there you are! Darling, I’ve been looking just everywhere for you.” With a sudden flash of sparkles and rattle of gemstones on precious metal, Rarity was there, trotting her way from Ponyville out into the nebulous wild area on the outskirts. “I see you’re with you… Quaint… Animal friends once again. Well, I suppose it is a rather charming part of your personality.”

        “Rarity!” Fluttershy’s voice scarcely rose above her normal quiet tone as she reacted to the coming of Rarity and the departure of her animal friends. They tended to get skittish around the others most of the time. They only ever seemed calm during the Winter Wrap-Up, when they were ushered back or awakened from hibernation. “Um… What are you doing here?”

        “What am I doing here? Why, I’m looking for you, of course!”

        “M-me? Why would you be looking for me?”

        “My dear, can’t you tell? I am designing my new summer line for next year. It’s just the perfect time for it. And, darling, I simply MUST have you.”

        “Yo-you must?” Fluttershy’s voice went up an octave, and her body hunched down just a touch.

        “Indeed I must! Why, who else in this little village SCREAMS summer quite as much as you? No one, that’s who. So come along, and quickly. We have so much to do and so little time to waste. Can you imagine having the summer line ready while it’s ACTUALLY that particular summer? Unthinkable!” With that, Rarity clopped around behind Fluttershy and began pushing her rump towards the dress shop.

        “No… Really, Rarity. I’m telling you that I’m entirely the wrong person for this kind of thing.” Fluttershy’s protestations fell on deaf ears. And were rather well beyond redundant, because while she was making her soft-voiced objections, she was already in the dress shop, with a bright yellow slip on her, while Rarity used her magic to hover several different Victorian-style yellow-ruffled monstrosities before her face.

        “Now, now, now, none of that! I’ll have no pouting and no shrinking from my primary model. You will be the cornerstone of my entire collection, everything tailored to your body and your look. And if all the rest of them can’t pull it off, well… That’s just their problem. My goal is to turn you into the “IT” pony of the year. After all, you look spectacular.” The dress which was slipped onto Fluttershy was a medium-collared yellow-and-blue number in soft, subtle shades that did not intrude too much into a mixture that created the horrible green which Rarity disliked. “But I can make you look like a goddess.”

        Fluttershy gasped loudly, her ears perking up and her tail flagging lightly as she bounced. “D-do you mean it? Um… I mean…” She went back into herself again, lowering her ears and head, and dropping her tail. “I don’t think I can do it. I’m not really beautiful.”

        Rarity pulled at various pieces of the dress, fluffing the ruffles and lace, or adjusting the collar, before her magic brought in a lovely embroidered corset to wrap tight around Fluttershy’s  middle and squeeze in tightly. “Don’t say things like that. I can assure you, you’re absolutely beautiful.” She went back to pulling and adjusting. “You just need some confidence and the right style. Trust me, I will bring out your inner beauty queen.”

        “Um…” Fluttershy blushed deeply, and hid behind her hair at the thought of spending so much time with the elegant Rarity. “Th-that sounds like… It will be nice.”

        “… With a dozen apples flyin' through the air and all the limbs flailin‘ all over. Eventually, Granny poured somma her “medicine” on the roots and Big Macintosh chopped it down. And that's why the Apple Family don’t do graftin’ no more.” The Apple Family homestead was a strangely perfect example of the Ship of Theseus, though no one in the family could appreciate that. The roof was original, though well-patched, while the rest of the house had been entirely replaced following the parasprite attack. But it had been replaced exactly as it had been, and it was thought of as the same old homestead. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were sitting at the new old kitchen table, each faced with the remains of a few carrot-apple fritters. “There’s also a story ‘bout why the Apple Family don’t do no more GRIFTIN’, but we don’t talk ‘bout crazy uncle Bad Apple in polite society, like Granny says.”

        “Wow. I never realized that the life of an apple orchard owner could be so awesome!” Rainbow Dash went from a face of transfixed awe to one of excitement, a hoof clopping down on the table a few times. “You’re really surprising, AJ. I mean, I knew about rounding up stampedes and all that, but I didn’t think you did that kind of stuff a lot.”

        “Well, maybe not a lot. We’re not as magical as, say, Canterlot. But ah’ll tell ya, Sugarcube, with the Everfree forest jes over yonder, and all them unicorns about, and all them other critters what come through, ah keep purty busy.” Applejack was casually leaning back, seeming quite pleased with herself. It was a real feat to impress Rainbow Dash. And a great pleasure as well.

        “I’ve still gotta hand it to you, AJ. You kick tail.” Rainbow Dash slurped a big mouthful of apple juice through a straw and sighed right after. “Well, back to work for me. We’ve had clouds drifting in from the Everfree forest all day, and I’m the only one willing to put in the time to handle them. And, I guess you need to get back to work, too.”

        “Oh, raht. Work.” Applejack sucked down the last of her apple juice, and got up from the table. “Back t’ applebuckin’. Gotta get them apples ready for market day, so’s  Big Macintosh can just gather ‘em up in his big market carts and haul ‘em away.”

        “Do you know? Have you heard the news?” Jealous eyes glared hotly at Applejack as she emerged from the homestead right behind Rainbow Dash. “No, of course you don’t know. I’m not going to tell you how completely I’ll ruin you…” Harsh, hateful words rasped out from a bitter mouth, while the eyes fairly glowed with malice. “You don’t know anything. You don’t know about pain. But I’ll teach you, Applejerk. I’ll make you share my suffering.”

        “No, no, with CONFIDENCE, darling. Almost all of modeling is sheer, pure confidence. Do that, and the audience will just fall at your hooves, stunned and unable to resist.” Rarity, done with her designs, was leading Fluttershy through her paces in one of the outfits she had created. She led the shy pony up and down her small runaway, trying to get her to strut like a proper model.

        “But Rarity, um… I just don’t have that kind of confidence…” Fluttershy once again tried to hide behind her hair, her head slightly tucked down, her nervous legs trembling each time she took a dainty step. “C-can’t you just use one of those mannequins to show off these clothes? Why do you need me?”

        “Why, I told you. You’re the only one who could possibly make these designs shine! But, it will require a little confidence on your part. I’ve thought for a long time, that you could be a real beauty, almost as stunning as me, if I could just bring out the shining glory I know is in you. Remember, it’s all about attitude.” Rarity clopped along the floor below the runway, reflexively adjusting things on the outfit Fluttershy was wearing with little flashes of her power.

        Fluttershy began to breathe quickly, tucking her head down more, blushing hotly and scarcely able to believe what she was hearing. Such kind words, from someone she had always admired. Rarity’s beauty and her strong sense of confidence were both attractive traits. But to actually hear the object of her adoration speak to her in such a manner was beyond words. “Can you make it happen?”

        Rarity nodded firmly and smiled her most radiant smile. “Darling, just let yourself fall into my capable hooves. Why, when I’m done molding you, you will be the most radiant beauty in all of Ponyville, next to me, of course. You will be my finest project, and everyone will be in awe when they see you.”

        Fluttershy’s heart leaped in her chest, and her wings fluttered just enough to get her hovering over the runway. “Then… Do whatever you need to.”

        Rarity prepared to say more, but was distracted by the sight of her clock. The face was made of a single large piece of opal, with hands made of delicately carved obsidian. Rather than numbers, a precious stone was inset at the proper spot, each shaped in a beautiful diamond. “Oh dear… I’m such a flighty girl when it comes to attempting perfection. I let time just slip away. I have a prior engagement to which I simply MUST attend. You are most welcome to keep the outfit. Should anything happen to it I will be only too glad to repair it. Just please be sure to come back tomorrow. Early. Bright and early.” She winked at the hovering Pegasus, and flashed a shining smile.

        Fluttershy slowly lowered herself back down to the runway, and shyly nodded her head with a deep blush on her cheeks. “Alright. I’ll be here.” Still blushing, she slowly clopped out of the shop, just ahead of Rarity, who seemed to be smiling just for her.

        “So, I guess I know what’s been going on out here.” The same bitter voice, the same jealous eyes. All belonging to a gryphon that dropped smoothly from the sky in the secluded apple orchard, right beside Applejack. With no one else around, leaving them alone. Isolated. “What you’re doing behind your family’s back.”

        “What are yew talkin’ ‘bout? And who..?” Applejack turned around quickly, and found out who it was. “Wait an apple-pickin’ minute. Ah know yew. Yer that “friend” a Rainbow Dash’s. The one that didn’t lahk us ponies here in Ponyville. That wasn’t very neighborly of ya.”

        “Oooh, I wasn’t “neighborly”, was I?” Gilda affected a mocking tone, superficially attempting to mimic Applejack’s drawl. “That’s not my style. It’s not what I’m here for. Wasn’t what I was here for. I was trying to get back in touch with Dash. But you little ponies wouldn’t let up. Especially that pink one…” Gilda snapped her beak at the memory, but returned to the present. “Anyway, that’s old news. Now I’m here for something else.”

        “Well, whatever it is, do it somewheres else. Ah’ve got apples t'buck. Yew know, some of us work fer a livin’.” With that simple, but firm, comment Applejack went back to kicking the trees and knocking the apples into baskets.

        “Oh yea. You work hard for a living. Except when you’re in your family’s house. With another girl. Doing things.” The gryphoness narrowed her eyes and leaned in closer to Applejack, as though imparting a secret. “Filthy things.”

        The statement made Applejack miss the tree completely, sending her backwards into a heap. “What in the heck are yew talkin’ about? We was havin’ us some lunch and that’s all! Ah think it’s time fer yew tew leave. Imagine, comin’ ‘round here and sayin’ stuff…”

        Gilda smiled. “You didn’t deny her being there. You wouldn’t, would you? I know your type. You pretend to be close-knit. Very friendly. Sure, you could be alone with her, but nothing was going on. And your family will believe you. I believe you. I just wanted to hear it for myself. Go back to work if you want. But just remember something, Applejerk: You’re not special.” Before a comment could be made, Gilda flapped her wings and bolted through the air.

        While Applejack was still contemplating Gilda’s form, she was suddenly joined by Ditzy Doo, with her mailbag bulging. “Mail call! I had a big package and didn’t want to leave it by the mailbox.” From out of the oddly deep bag she pulled a huge box wrapped in brown paper. After handing it off, one eye popped out of position and she said, “Sometimes these kinds of things are a lot of trouble. But something good comes of them too. Derp.” The eye popped back into place and she ran off with all speed.

        Applejack was having quite an odd time with people making statements and running away. But she just ignored it and opened up the package. It was her new hat! It looked exactly like her old hat, down to the tiniest detail. But, it was brand new. And that’s what mattered. She tried to put the incident with Gilda out of her mind and just plopped the new hat onto her head and tossed the old one onto the handle of her cart.

        “Ok, lunch, check.” Twilight Sparkle checked lunch off of her daily scroll and brought it close to her face for more examination. “Next it looks like I have to… Give Spike… A big moustache…” Below her neatly-depicted lunch was a crude, smudged drawing of Spike’s head, sporting an almost comically-oversized moustache. “Nice try.”

        “Darn it!” Came the reply from elsewhere in the library.

        “Sorry, Spike. But I’ve got this all planned down to the tiniest detail. An entire day of carefully structured and regulated activity, without a single piece of random interaction or an unexpected inter-”

        “HelloooOOOoo!” All of a sudden, Rarity burst into the library, carrying several bolts of cloth across her back and two saddlebags presumably full of sewing equipment.

        “Rarity?” Twilight Sparkle lost her concentration and dropped the scroll to the ground.

        “Rarity!” Spike, in a bit of a panic, looked down to his still-unfinished lunch plate and saw a large lump of gold he had been saving. Thinking fast, he quickly squeezed it into passable moustache shape, breathed a little fire on the middle portion to get it melty and then pressed it to his upper lip, the cooling metal adhering to his fireproof scales. “Fancy seeing you here. I guess you heard all about the new ‘stache.”

        “No, actually, she’s here for her, ahem, totally random and completely unexpected pop-in visit to try and dress me up in some new zany creation. See, it’s right here on the schedule.” Twilight Sparkle levitated the scroll to show Spike that right underneath his crudely drawn picture was Rarity, carting a collection of items. The box next to it was swiftly checked off. “Glad that’s out of the way. You can head back to your shop, Rarity. I’m sure you’ve got lots of work waiting and I really don’t want you to put any of it off any longer than you have to.”

        “Oh, Twilight, how quaint you are, with your little schedules and frightening ability to plan for surprises. Now, come on. I brought in some all-new materials. No need for the measurements this time. I remember your sizes well. And… I know you’re still a bit wary after the odd incident with the measuring equipment.”

        “It still stings when I sit down wrong.” Twilight Sparkle noted, flatly, trying to ignore Rarity as she stocked the bookshelves.

        “Now, honestly, that was not my fault. Something distracted me to such a degree that I simply could not keep focus on the ruler. You  act like I did it on purpose.” Rarity carefully laid her fabric on one of the library tables, arranging it by dominant shade.  “Come now, Twilight. Don’t be difficult. You know well that you absolutely NEED the magnificent creations that I can produce. Darling, it’s quite undignified to go around as bare as you do. How utterly common. Can you imagine! No, no. Someone such as you must be attired in only the finest, head to hoof.”

        “Don’t mean to burst your bubble, Rarity, but I’m a scholar, not a fashionista. I leave that kind of thing to you. And Fluttershy. Sure, sometimes I need to wear robes for formal magical events or a dress for an especially important meeting in Canterlot. But besides that, what I wear is all about the weather and how I feel, not about fashions and trends or even art. Do you understand?”

        Rarity paused in her work, having used her ability to manipulate multiple objects simultaneously to stretch out several of the bolts of cloth, with pins and scissors ready to trim and shape them. “I’m sorry, I was working on my preparations. I think I’ll go for an understated fall evening gown. What did you say?”

        Twilight Sparkle shook her head and gave Rarity a strained grin. “Really, Rarity, I appreciate the effort. But it’s not in my nature to be so showy. Please let me continue with my work. I’m sure you’d like to continue with yours.”

        “Yes, exactly! Which is why I need you to hold still for just a moment…” With a flurry of activity, the cloth and pins and threaded needs flew at Twilight Sparkle as though they were attacking. In a flash, the rough outline of a gown was set with small stitches, pins and cloth seconds. It was flowing, and pleated, dark purple with black trim, magenta lace at the throat and the trim of the sleeves. “Perfect! It’s dark, mysterious, and stunning. In the bright light of a banquet or gala every eye will be upon you!”

        Twilight Sparkle had no mirror ready to hoof, but her magic was always ready to provide her what she needed. The table before her became an ornate mirror with a flash of her horn, revealing what Rarity had done to her. It was about what she expected. “And let me guess, you’re going to refine this, aren’t you?”

        “And add a corset, high boots and some variety of hat. Or perhaps a snood. I’ll decide as I go. And don’t worry, darling, I’ll be sure to work all manner of stars into this. Don’t you trouble yourself about a thing.” The dress slid off of Twilight Sparkle and carefully floated back over to Rarity, who placed all the floating objects back into their proper place. “I’ll work my heart out.”

        “And that’s what I was afraid of…” Twilight Sparkle sighed, the mirror turning back into a table. “At least she’s gone.”

        “And she didn’t even notice my ‘stache.” Spike drooped, his gold moustache dropping from his lip to the floor.

        Back at Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie Pie was doing her thing, desperately loading up boxes of treats as they popped off of Mr. and Mrs. Cake’s complicated treat machine. All the couple had to do was pour batter, frosting, liquid or semi-liquid base product or whatever else they had ready into appropriate input hoppers, push a few buttons and relax as the numerous metal forms, coal-fed ovens and steam-driven arms took the material and turned it into a colorful assortment of treats. It was the only way to keep up with demand, though they still made the odd thing by hoof, for the sake of appearances and tradition.

        It left them very free to experiment with different flavors and varieties of familiar products, while keeping up production of “The Usual.” But it also left their single employee, Pinkie Pie, responsible for collecting the finished products, adding any needed touches such as names or additional decorations, boxing them or setting them on counters, and then arranging everything for later shipping. And shipping later in the day. It was hard work. But Pinkie Pie’s relentless, sugar-and-hot-sauce-fueled energy made her the only pony in Equestria that could actually handle the job.

        Rainbow Dash made her way into the back room, using her normal, cool, casual attitude to make it look like she belonged back there. Even if Mr. and Mrs. Cake had noticed, they wouldn’t have cared; they knew Rainbow Dash was Pinkie Pie’s friend, and was often in to see her. “Hey Pinkie! They got the machine on high again?”

        “Oh hi..! Rainbow Dash… I don’t really… Know what… Speed they… Have!” Pinkie Pie smiled at Rainbow Dash, but only managed to speak when she was placing a box of treats near her. She was moving at a fair clip, and seemed to be keeping up very well.

        “Oh man. I may be fast but there’s no way I’d ever be able to do your job. How do you even keep up with that thing?” Rainbow Dash sat on her haunches and watched the pink blur in action, astounded by the perfect box stacking and occasional set-aside item destined for personalization.

        “Oh! It’s… Easy! I just… Push all… The buttons… And it just… slows down… For a minute!” Saying that, Pinkie Pie quickly hit random buttons beside one of the output hoppers and was rewarded with a reduced noise and generally slowed gears, which gave her time to pack up boxes of cupcakes and get ahead of the machine, still not looking all that stressed.

        The machine, however, was clearly stressed by the combination of buttons pushed, or perhaps by the accumulated effect of all those buttons being repeatedly pushed. Not long after it resumed a normal operation, there was a hideous grinding sound of metal-on-metal and a wicked screech from deep within the iron heart of the device. All of a sudden, with a great shuddering heave, the thing gave out and simply stopped.

        Though Rainbow Dash looked utterly shocked by the spectacle, Pinkie Pie never batted an eye. She simply hopped her way over to a cord and pulled it with her teeth, a faint tinkling sound heard not that far away. A moment later, a familiar figure trotted into the bakery. He was a chestnut stallion, with a pocket watch Cutie mark. He had heavily-laden saddlebags which clanked slightly as he moved; a strange contraption on his head that contained many lenses on metal arms that could, it seemed, be lowered into position one before another; and six watches on each leg, all of them ticking in precise unity. It was Tic-Tock, the Ponyville clockwork repair and construction specialist. “Ahh, yes. Miss Pinkie Pie. Causing harm to my devices again. Very well then. Mainspring. By the way, you rang for point-oh-five seconds longer than necessary. Try to be more efficient. Flywheel. Time is valuable.”

        “I can’t get over that weird word thing…” Rainbow Dash whispered to Pinkie Pie, watching Tic-Tock open a panel in the device and trot inside. “So, does this mean you’re off for the day?”

        “Nope! Once he fixes the machine I’ll get back to work. But thanks for stopping by, Rainbow! It was really great of you.”

        “Hey, no problem. I’ve gotta jet anyhow.” With a wink, Rainbow Dash zipped out of the bakery, leaving a rainbow rush in her wake.

        “Come now, little ones, that’s right. You can stay with me tonight. It’ll be ok.” Fluttershy floated down the street, still cheerful from her time with Rarity, leading a family of chipmunks away from a tree which had blown down. “And tomorrow, we’ll find you a new…” Suddenly, there was a rush of wind and a sound of roaring, the chipmunks chittering in fear and climbing onto Fluttershy. “Oh my!”

        The colorful blur halted further on and then zipped back, revealing Rainbow Dash. “Sorry about that, Fluttershy! But I’ve gotta do my speed runs every day if I want to be ready for the Wonderbolts.”

        “Oh, it’s ok, Rainbow Dash. I understand. Just, please watch out. You could have hurt the little chipmunks.” Fluttershy lifted a wing to show off the shivering family. “If you like, I can go out and cheer for you while you practice.” She sucked in a quantity of air and let out a tiny, almost inaudible, “Yay.”

        “Yea. That’s… That’s great, Fluttershy. You keep trying that out. I’ve gotta head out. See you around!” Rainbow Dash shot off suddenly, zipping through the forest and around trees fearlessly.

        “Wow, she’s really good.” Twlilight Sparkle came up from behind Fluttershy, who had been looking at Rainbow Dash with some impressed admiration.

        “EEP!” Fluttershy responded as she normally tended to, going stiff and curling her legs under her, to become like a yellow rock.

        “Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to… Uhh… Fluttershy?” Twilight nudged Fluttershy with a hoof, while the Pegasus pony trembled in natural fear.

To be continued.

Elements of Discord: Second Thoughts

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        “Well ah am a rancher and ah’m proud to say, ah live to work hard all the long day!” Out in the apple orchards of Sweet Apple Acres, the day after the meaningful lunch with Rainbow Dash, Applejack was doing her normal thing, examining the trunks and leaves for signs of infestation or disease. As she walked the aisles of neatly-planted trees, she sang a country tune of her own invention. “Ah don’t take vacations, ah know what ah lahk…”

        “But I am not proud I’m one giant DYKE!” Suddenly, a discordant voice screeched out from the heavens, growing louder towards the end of the line until at last it was screaming from right behind Applejack, revealing the form of Gilda, once more. “You were going to leave out that part, weren’t you?”

        “Oh you! Y’know, t’aint polite t’ just barge in on a body while she’s workin’. ‘Specially when yer also trespassin’ on somepony’s land. Yew’re lucky ah ain’t aimin’ t’ teach yew some manners. Ah left mah rope back at the homestead so yew can jes get on yer way.”

        “Yea, sorry, Applejerk, I’m not interested in your weird country bondage games. I’m just here to tell you, you’re not that special. But the hilarious thing is, you probably think you are. That’s the best part. Especially after yesterday. I know I said it already, but I have to keep saying it, so you never forget.”

        “Yea, yea. Yew jes keep sayin’ it. And ah don’t have the faintest idea what yew mean. Ah ain’t nuthin’ special. Jes a lil ol’ country pony what works hard to keep the farm goin’. With, yew know, the help of mah brother and sometimes sister. That’s not important. What’s important is, ah’m not like yew. Ah ain’t like you at all. Ah ain’t interested in bein’ all about me.”

        “Nah! Not you. You’re too humble and country and hayseed for that. You’re above all those things that city folks like us do. You’d never think you were something awesome. No, no way you’d figure you had something worth loving, right?” Gilda smiled, her dangerous beak curled into a mocking grin. “Not you. You’re nothing special.”

        Applejack shut out the initial insults. She was used to it. She had heard every insult in the book. Redneck. Hayseed. Bumpkin. Hick. Cornfed. Young ponies could be cruel to a late bloomer that wasn’t from the city. But the ending… All that previous talk had not fazed her. No one could hear anything. But her final mockery was VERY directed. Only one pony needed to hear that abuse. That’s what she was implying. “Why you..! Ah ought to tear out yer wings fer that!”

        “Ha! Strike a nerve there, hayseed? You knew what I meant yesterday. And you know what I’m talking about today. You think you’ve got something that’ll make you different? You don’t. It’ll all be the same. Exactly the same. But, get your hopes up. Get them up really high. Nothing’s sweeter than watching them crash and burn.” Gilda spread her wings and launched herself into the air, laughing as she went.

        “Gol’ durn griffin… Ain’t got an ounce’a common decency in her body. Ah don’t know what Dash ever saw about her.” Applejack went back to her examination of the trees, noticing something coming low in the sky. She braced for a parting volley from Gilda.

        Instead, it was Ditzy Doo, doing what seemed to be cloud patrol. The only mar in that was her eyes were popped out of alignment, as sometimes happened. She looked different, however. Crimped mane and tail, leg warmers, cheap plastic watches on her legs above the warmers. She looked like 1980-something exploded. As she passed, rather slower than normal, she could be heard saying, “Man, we were so weird back then. How did we ever manage to stand this stuff? I guess we figured out we were ridiculous. Derp.”

        Applejack traced Ditzy’s path; she was heading towards the Ponyville town center. Looking like that would be pretty silly. But Ditzy DID tend to act that way. She shook her head a little and went right back to her trees, feeling slightly better than before.

        Twilight Sparkle stepped out of her library-home with a small yawn. She had slept in, and enjoyed it. She wanted to say she had finally experienced a sugar crash, but she ran into that long, long before going to bed. She had just felt lazy and lounge-y. She even let Spike sleep in to his heart’s content. But on stepping outside, her eyes caught sight of something odd. Everypony clustered around in the square, in the sky and in the shops that she could see was kitted out like crimped hair and New Wave had returned with a furious vengeance. “What’s going on here? Did someone invent a time machine while I was asleep?”

        “I knew it! I’m going to get that joke all day! Faceplate.” Tic-Tock walked past Twilight Sparkle, wearing a wild white wig, a white lab coat and dark goggles.

        “Yea, nothing out of me, lately. I mean… Nothing.” Behind Tic-Tock walked a brown stallion with feathered hair and an hourglass mark on his flank.

        “Good morning!” From seemingly nowhere, Pinkie Pie suddenly appeared, with a feathered mane, fancy jacket, and a pink skirt. “Isn’t this great? I told everypony that it would be fun if we all dressed up like it was 30 years ago! And it’s great! A lot of folks still have all the clothes, even if they don’t fit. Mr. and Mrs. Cake look so funny trying to do their work with big hair and lots of chains on their clothes.”

        “Yea, Twilight, didn’t you get the message?” Rainbow Dash flapped slowly from the sky, wearing a white suit that made her body look twice as large as it actually was, and a red hat with a circular stair-step design.

        “You know, at first I was uncertain about such a hideous prospect as wearing the clothing of such a curious time. But I embraced the retro style and must say it seems to be an entertaining exercise in letting our inner rebel out.” Rarity was resplendent in a collection of layered t-shirts and spandex pants, along with about a hundred barrettes.

        “Um… Rarity… Are you… Are you sure that this… I mean… I’m so embarrassed…” Fluttershy shyly moved up beside Rarity, tucking her painted face down, trying to hide the white makeup and black decorations. But nothing could hide her extremely high boots, with thick soles and spikes; nor could anything hide the very… Curious… Metal spikes that protruded, contextlessly, from either side of her lower abdomen.

        “Oh, Fluttershy, never doubt you look FABULOUS! You must have CONFIDENCE if you are going to be my summertime mare and add all glory to my designs. You need to shine, inside and out. So, chin up now. Don’t be shy, just do your best.”

        A remarkable change came over Fluttershy. Her head lifted up while a small, sincere smile spread over her painted face. She held herself in a more confident posture, taking a slow, deep breath as she displayed herself to the world. And unlike other instances of such, she did not collapse back into her normal shy ball. “Y-you’re right, Rarity. I need to be a little more confident.”

        “Ok… Clearly this was the wrong day to not read my messages.” Twilight Sparkle clopped her hoof against her forehead below the horn and shook her head  a touch. “Guess I’ll be the odd one out again. It’s not like I’m bad at it. Anyhow… Pinkie Pie, would you care you join me for brunch? I’m having Spike lay out an impressive spread as soon as…”

        “Eh, sorry, Twilight. Pinkie’s gonna be busy today. We’ve got some work to do and need to take all day on it.” Rainbow Dash quickly thrust herself between Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie, shaking her head a bit.

        “Yup! Prankster season is coming up fast! I’ve got the day off from the bakery so I need to spend time with Dash and plan. And scheme.” Pinkie Pie looked shiftily from side to side, rubbing her front hooves together. “Yes… It will be a brilliant scheme.” She blinked, all eyes on her. “Did I say that out loud?”

        “Pinkie Pie, you’re so random.” Rainbow Dash chuckled softly, and nudged Pinkie Pie from the side.

        “O-oh. Ok. Well then, I’ll see you later, Pinkie…” Twilight Sparkle stepped back a little bit, as Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie walked beside her, laughing and talking with their heads close to one another.

        “Ladies…” Spike stepped out of the library with a flourish, sporting an open-chested white leisure suit with extreme bellbottoms, lots of gold chains, and a thick, black fake moustache hanging off of his upper lip.

        “Uh, Spike, you’re a decade too early. Nice effort, though.” Twilight Sparkle considered for a moment and then shuddered. “But I really don’t want to know where you got the hair for that thing.”

        “Hey, I can’t help it if I make this look better than what’s going on. Besides, I had it in the closet. And this is all mine. I saved the hair left over from all your hair-growing experiments. Looks pretty impressive, don’t you think?” Spike slowly stroked the moustache while he popped his eyebrow ridges in Rarity’s direction.

        “No luck there, Spike. She’s focused on her new projects. The next Summer line and… Ugh… Whatever frill-filled monstrosity she’s going to inflict on me sooner or later. Anyway, you’re not going to make any headway on her today.” Twilight Sparkle motioned with her head back towards the library. “Come on. We’ve got some work to do.”

        “Still want me to make some brunch for you and Pi-”

        “No.” Twilight Sparkle cut Spike off rather quickly, though without raising her voice. “No, it’s just us, for regular lunch. Again.” She looked over towards Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, who were huddling their heads together, talking quietly and occasionally giggling while they focused on one another. “We won’t be having the company I thought we would.”

        “Lunch is served! Canterlot special: asparagus spears, celery stalks and carved carrots, in a castle shape on a bed of bean sprouts and timothy hay. And for me, metal and gemstones in the shape of Princess Celestia’s crown. I decided to keep the special menu going. I had the ingredients.” Spike carefully set the plate of greenery before Twilight Sparkle, who didn’t seem to notice. “And I still have all that pink icing if you…”

        “No need for that.” Twilight looked at the plate of food without enthusiasm. “Plans change. I’ll try again later.”

        “Well, I’m gonna have some…” Spike slathered on a big coating of bright pink icing, coating his crown with the sticky sweetness before he took a big bite, noisily crunching the gemstones, his teeth whining lightly as the adulterated gold was scraped and compressed. “Ready to admit this isn’t like those times at school and you’re actually in love?”

        “Spike! This is hardly the time to be making those kinds of wild accusations. I just like it best when plans work out well is all. I told you, I do not love Pinkie Pie. She’s spastic and wild, and she has that Pinkie Sense no one understands, and there’s all the parties and spontaneous singing and random statements of non-sequiter thought. How could I possibly feel anything for someone like that?”

        “I dunno. Maybe it’s because all the times you tried with girls just like you it failed. Whispering Wind and Cinnamon Cider were you with different colors, boring workaholic students.” Spike attempted to take another bite but found, suddenly, that his mouth was sealed shut by a zipper.

        “That’s quite enough out of you. Can we drop this whole matter? Right now, I just want to eat and get on with proper cataloging.” Twilight Sparkle looked down at her plate of food again. A sad, dispirited lump of vegetation that sagged tiredly on the plate. It needed sprucing up with some bright colors. The mere thought was enough to make her close her eyes and munch passionlessly on whatever made it into her maw.

        “Now, as much as I may enjoy our quaint festivities in Ponyville, work will not wait for anypony. Ponies need to keep their deadlines in mind and do all they can to keep to them. Of course, right now I set my own deadlines. So perhaps there’s a bit of leeway… No! I must muscle on.” Rarity nodded to herself, carefully manipulating a pair of scissors as they delicately cut, almost thread by thread, though a piece of black cloth. It was most lovely, with tiny embedded bits of gemstones, creating fantastic sparkles in many colors, much like the night sky itself.

        “But what about me, Rarity? Can I help you with that? It looks like awfully delicate work. And you know how very careful I am.” Fluttershy came up close beside Rarity, leaning in to look closely at the slow, methodical severing of thread after thread.

        “Oh, no no. This is a very special project. I haven’t quite had the design coalesce as I want. But I have some very broad ideas. That’s why I’m being so careful with this. That and it’s very important that every little detail be absolutely smashing.”

        “Gee, Rarity. You really DO want this summer collection to be perfect. I’ve never seen you work this hard on anything before.”

        “Oh this? This isn’t part of the summer collection. This is an order for a very… Special client. No, my summer collection is over there, in various states of work.” Rarity motioned towards the back of the shop to a collection of dressmaker’s dummies. They were variously attired, in nearly-completed outfits, partially sewn pieces, pinned-together bits of fabric, or merely draped in cloth with the patterns nearby.

        “Goodness! You seemed so eager just yesterday. You’ve almost finished some of these. Would you mind terribly if I… Well, would you mind if I did the sewing on these for you? I don’t want to be a bother and as long as I’m here I can try to be useful.”

        “Well, I didn’t expect to be so caught up in this project… I do suppose I require such help. Thank you, Fluttershy. You are truly a dear, dear friend.”

        “Oh… It’s no problem. You know how much I love to sew. I’m very good at it. And I just love y- Helping you. I love helping you.” Fluttershy vanished into a dark blush, trotting slowly to the dummies, to see what she had to do with them.

        “Ok, so you’re saying that after Mrs. Cake gets out of the tub of pudding she’ll pull on a cord that sends the bag of flour onto Ditzy Doo and then that gets her to set off the fireworks display? But I thought you were going to setup the fireworks on the other side of the town square. And how will she set off the flour when it’s chocolate pudding? I told you to use butterscotch.” High in the clouds, at Rainbow Dash’s cloud condo, Pinkie Pie hovered, attached to numerous balloons while Rainbow Dash looked over the plans that had been, so far, concocted, commenting on the details.

        “No, you see, Mrs. Cake LOVES butterscotch pudding. She HATES chocolate pudding. Which is weird since she loves chocolate cake. I wonder how that works. She’d probably hate chocolate pudding cake, if you could somehow get pudding into a cake. But would she feel the same about chocolate cake pudding? Sometimes I wonder because they can do all kinds of things with…”

        “Pinkie Pie! Ugh. You’re SO random!”

        “OH! Sorry! Anyway, she’d be eager to get it off of her. So, she comes out of the tank and finds a towel. She pulls it and sends the flour. Ditzy Doo does that eye thing when she gets upset and she can’t control herself. She’ll fly over to the other side of the square and set off the fireworks.”

        “Huh. I never thought of that. I guess this is that weird part of your brain that lets you beat Rarity at tic-tac-toe.”

        “Oh that! No, Rarity always tries to make the board look like a diamond. It’s easy to beat her.”

        “I should have known. So, I guess we’re done for now. We might need to give this another look but… It looks good. Need me to help you back to the ground?”

        “Nope! I’ve got it.” Pinkie Pie whipped out a pin from somewhere on her person and jabbed a balloon, dropping down a bit. “Just gonna take me a while. But that’s ok. It’s my day off.”

        “Ok. I need to go see AJ. Good planning with you.” With a quick nod, Rainbow Dash flew off towards Sweet Apple Acres.

        “Ah don’t take vacations, Ah know what I lahk, but ah am not proud that ah’m… Gol durn it! I know I didn’t have a rhyme but why did that pest’s one have to get inta mah head?” Applejack was nearly done with her sweep over the orchard, with all the trees looking healthy as ever. “Ah swear, she’s gonna drive a body ta…”

        “Who’s gonna drive who to what?” Rainbow Dash zipped in from above, stopping short from ramming into Applejack, and sending up a rush of fallen leaves and dust.

        “Ah! It, uh… It ain’t nuthin’ ta concern yew, sugarcube. Jes a lil’ situation ah’m havin’ with a frequent visitor. But don’t yew worry none. Everythin’s alright.” Applejack flashed a genuine smile to Rainbow Dash, savoring her presence.

        “I told Scootaloo not to bother people so much. Man, it’s like she’s actually my little sister. Sorry about…”

        “Oh no! No! It ain’t Scootaloo. Naw, she’s jes as sweet as an apple fritter. It’s… Well, t'aint important, that’s all there is to it. Ah’m jes glad yew stopped by. Ah’ve been thinking’ ‘bout… Lots o' stuff. And ah wanted t’ see yew.”

        “Oh really? Well… Here I am. What did you need?” Rainbow Dash finally stopped hovering, letting her hooves touch the ground slowly.

        “Ah’ve been thinkin’. Thanks to some annoyin’ talk, I’ve been considerin’ sorta…” Applejack clopped nervously closer to Rainbow Dash, head low. “Sorta… Tryin’ tew be less of a wild and lonesome mare down on the farm.”

        “And what would that mean? I thought you loved taking care of this farm. Do you want to just give it up to your brother? I thought Musclehead Mac couldn’t do it all by himself, especially since Applebloom is doing her Cutie Mark Crusaders thing.”

        “Hey now. My brother may be big but he’s not a dummy. He’s really pretty smart, when he feels like it. Naw, Ah know Granny cain’t do it, and Applebloom’s too young, and Big Macintosh needs help. But ah mean, well… Ah don’t wanna be alone. And not just bein’ in town with everypony.  I want somethin’ more.”

        “Something more? What, are you going to turn into one of those whiney girls they always show on those movies on Equestria Broadcasting Organization? Do you want a bigger stable, and more bits, and lots of fancy harnesses and saddles and a man to make your life complete?” Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and shook her head at the very thought of it. “Those are old pony tales that they keep modernizing so ponies’ll keep watching them over and over again. I thought you were better than that, AJ.”

        “Naw! Oh that ain’t me, sugarcube. You ever catch me actin’ like that, well, yew can jes put me out ta pasture right there. T’ain’t the sort of wantin’ more that ah meant. Ah mean that ah’m feelin’… Well, ah’m jes feelin’. Feelin’ things in me that ah ain’t felt befer. An’ ah mean ta express ‘em afore they right bust out.” Applejack had, by then, just reached Rainbow Dash.

        “Well, spit it out already.” Rainbow Dash looked to Applejack, face just inches away, oblivious, and curious.

        Applejack leaned in closer, nearly bridging the full gap, leaving  just a hair of breathing room. “Well, sugarcube… Y’all know how ah lakh t’ call ponies that. See, thing is, ah never really mean it. Well, ‘ceptin’ a’course fer…”

        “Applejack! There you are. I’ve been looking all over Sweet Apple Acres for you.” All of a sudden, Twilight Sparkle was there, coming through some thick foliage, making both other mares leap back a bit. “I’m here to give another, probably futile, pep talk and informative speech to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. But… I’ve never actually been out to that clubhouse they fixed up. You’re the only one that knows where it is. Think you can give me directions?”

        “Ahhh… S-shore, sugarcube. Jes go down t’ th’ end of the apple orchards and turn down away from the homestead, follow the little path through some bushes and ya cain’t miss it.”

        “Thanks Applejack. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Twilight Sparkle smiled brightly as she left the orchard. It was good seeing Rainbow Dash. Somewhere other than around Pinkie Pie. And looking very… Close, to Applejack. For whatever reason, it was a good sign.

        “Heh. Sorta… Ruined the moment I guess. What were you about to say?”

        “Uhh… Uh… Ah, it’ll keep. The mood IS sorta gone now. It don’t matter none. Plenty a time to do it again sometime. Anyhow, now that the orchards’re checked ah can get ta irrigatin’ and such. Not much fun but, what is? Don’t le me keep ya if ya got someplace ta be.”

        “Noplace to be. But a few more sprints never hurt. Gotta keep in shape. Sonic Rainboom shape. The Wonderbolts aren’t gonna take just anyone.” Rainbow Dash hopped into the air and started flapping her wings, hovering a short way off the ground. “I’ll see you around, AJ.” She started to take off, but turned around before she got too far and called back, “By the way, nice new hat. It was about time for one.”

        “Whu..?” Applejack turned around to see Rainbow Dash getting further and further away. But the compliment still echoed in her ears. And brought a blush to her cheeks. “Aww. She noticed.” Applejack adjusted the hat, and started making her way, sedately, towards the water control.

        “Girls, I’m here to help you out a little. Are you in…” Twilight Sparkle located the tastefully decorated and painted clubhouse of the Cutie Mark Crusaders and looked in the open door. She saw a rather nice backdrop that looked like some pseudo-Gothic locality, surrounded with lovely painted lilies. In the middle of the setting were Sweetie Belle, on the ground looking like someone in a swoon, with Scootaloo over her, looking properly heroic. “Here?”

        “You’ll never steal our power to find what we want to do in life! Come on, I’ll take you on! Sword of Celestia, grant me the power to bring Cutie Mark location!” Scootaloo leaned her head down and bit something near Sweetie Belle’s chest, pulling out a prop sword made of polished wood.

        “Girls? What’s going on in here? It looks like you’ve got a whole performance going on. I’m guessing Applebloom did the decorating for you. But… What is this?”

        “It’s a play! Sweetie Belle wrote it. It’s all about finding our Cutie Marks no matter what.” Scootaloo dropped her sword and smiled brightly ay Twilight Sparkle.

        “Aww… Well, I changed some of the lines. I still need a part for Applebloom.” Sweetie Belle got up from the ground, blushing.

        “Speaking of her, where is she? Shouldn’t she be in here at least watching? Don’t tell me you’re putting on this play, with this background, with no audience.”

        Scootaloo laughed a bit and motioned with her head. “Everfree Forest. You know. Besides, we need to rehearse before we perform it.”

        “It seems… Interesting. The Sword of Celestia? Really?”

        “That was just one of the choices. It sounded best, see?” Sweetie Belle clopped over to Twilight Sparkle with a piece of paper in her mouth, with many pencil notes on it.

        “Theos, Dieu, Deus, Abraxis… That one’s just a legend. I see what you were doing. Well, it seems… Interesting. I don’t suppose you want to listen to my advice right now? It wouldn’t really be fair without Applebloom here.”

        “Sorry, Twilight.” Sweetie Belle looked down at the floor, slumping a touch.

        “It’s ok. But the next time you three are together, come see me in the library. I’ve got all kinds of advice to dispense and a nice speech all worked up. “ Twilight Sparkle smiled brightly and nodded her head. “Well, have fun. Try not to hurt anyone with that Sword of Celestia you’ve got there.” She strolled casually out of the clubhouse, as she heard the two girls going back to their playing. It reminded her of many old pony tales she had read. Just, there was usually a stallion involved somewhere. Maybe that would come later.

        “I’ve finished some of the pieces you had almost completed, and got cutting done on the ones that only had the patterns laid out.” Fluttershy slowly approached Rarity, head down, voice as soft as ever, while Rarity continued to labor over cutting fabric. She had moved on from black to deep violet, and continued to cut a thread at a time. “I hope you… You like them.”

        “Fluttershy, I am certain, to my core, that they are absolutely perfect. You’d never hurt my designs. You’re too respectful for that. You’ve been most helpful.” Even though she never looked up from her delicate detail-work, Rarity praised with all the passion and sincerity that she always did.

        “Oh… My… Thank you Rarity. Umm… I need to go now, and feed the chickens. Thank you for letting me help you.” Fluttershy slowly turned around and walked out of the shop, burning with a bright blush as she went along. It had been a good day for her. A chance to stretch her potential, and a chance to be of help to Rarity, something more than a living mannequin. Surely, Rarity would notice her efforts and become… More friendly. The blush deepened as she considered it.

        “Hey there, Fluttershy. Where did you get off to? You sure left pretty quickly. Were you really that embarrassed?” Rainbow Dash flapped down from above, settling into pace beside Fluttershy as her hooves touched ground.

        “Eep!” Fluttershy leaped in place and pulled into a quivering yellow ball for a moment. “O-oh, Rainbow! It’s you…” She slowly pulled back into a normal posture and resumed walking towards her house. “Yes. I was a little embarrassed by… All of it. Oh! But Rarity selected it so I was happy to wear it. Actually, I spent most of the day with Rarity, helping her finish her Summer line.”

        “Is she done with that already? Man, she’s really pushing herself. It takes her weeks to do that. She hasn’t been eating Pinkie Pie’s hot sauce cupcakes, has she?”

        “Oh! No. Well, you see… She made the summer line with just one pony in mind. She designed for them alone, expecting that everyone else would have to accept it. That’s why she was so fast. But, I was also helping her. She had a lot of it already done. But I did some sewing and cutting while she did a special project for a client. And we both did a lot. I’m very proud of us.” Fluttershy smiled a sweet, small smile while a blush rose on her cheeks.

        “I’ll bet you’re proud. And she must have been totally happy about this. I’ll bet she’s been looking at you all… Close.” Rainbow Dash winked at Fluttershy. “Am I right? I’ll bet you’re her favorite model and she does everything for you. You sure do enough for her.”

        Fluttershy stopped again, ducking her head down and hiding behind her hair. “Oh! Rainbow Dash! You know I don’t think like that. Rarity doesn’t owe me anything. It would be wonderful if she… She… But… I just want her to be happy. And I think she is.”

        “Ahhh, I knew it! You’ve got a crush on the fashion maven! I never knew you had it in you.” Rainbow Dash nudged Fluttershy in the side, actually succeeding in tipping the reticent lightweight onto the ground. “So, when are you going to ask her out? At your next spa date? When you go to moon at her while grooming her cat? Come on, spill!” With Fluttershy prone, Rainbow Dash could easily prod and tickle at her belly and sides.

        “Ah! Stop! P-please!” Fluttershy dissolved into giggling hysterics. She wasn’t against a sudden tickle attack. Despire her very standoffish appearance and bearing, she really did love to laugh. And Rainbow Dash meant her no harm. Bu she wasn’t going to tell anything! Was her crush so obvious? She wasn’t like Spike, she tried to be subtle.

        “Oh! Rainbow Dash. And… Fluttershy. Hello.” Without realizing it, the two ponies had engaged in the tickle-war in front of the library, which brought out Twilight Sparkle to get some handle on the situation. “Is there a particular reason you’re laughing madly. In front of the library. In the evening?”

        Both mares looked up from the ground, suddenly realizing where they were and what they were doing. Rainbow Dash stepped away, while Fluttershy got slowly back onto her hooves. “Uhhh… Nothing. Just trying to get some info. But, I guess I don’t need to know right now. Guess I’ll see you around.” Rainbow Dash nodded to the other mares and zipped off.

        “I, um… I need to feed my chickens…”Fluttershy clopped away, hiding her burning blush behind her hair. She seldom let herself go like that. But after the day with Rarity, she was too willing to just let go and indulge. Of course, the cost of that was being in the eye of others. At least this time it had been her friend Twilight.

        Twilight Sparkle looked out at the two retreating mares. Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Fluttershy. She certainly saw Rainbow Dash in all kinds of places in all kinds of situations. With all kinds of mares. That wasn’t too unusual given the gender percentages. But Twilight Sparkle was inclined to believe negative things because Pinkie Pie wasn’t able to recognize deceit. “Maybe… Just maybe there’s something here…” Twilight Sparkle mused to herself before turning back into the library.

        “Something where? What’s going on?” Spike was already in his basket-bed, looking up at Twilight Sparkle with tired eyes.

        “Nothing Spike. It’s nothing that anyone needs to make a fuss over. You go ahead and go back to sleep. Don’t mind me, I’ll just be doing a little work.”

        “I’m already… Snnnnk!” With an attempted flourish, Spike fell asleep, snoring loudly while Twilight Sparkle shook her head and smiled, before going to her shelves. She had a lot of reading to get through.

        “Twilight?” Spike stood upon Twilight Sparkle’s back, gently tugging on her hair. “Twilight? Twilight? TWILIGHT!”

        “Wha- What is it, Spike? Can’t you see I’m reading here?” Twilight Sparkle looked up from the book she was perusing, to cast an annoyed glare Spike’s way.

        “That’s the problem, Twilight! You’ve been in that same spot all night. And all day. It’s practically bedtime again. You didn’t even eat.”

        A loud gurgle from the mare’s stomach helped to hammer the idea home. “Err… Sorry, Spike. I’ve been very engrossed in this very important research.”

        Spike looked at the titles of the books that were scattered on the ground. “’Legend of the Mysterious Power’, ‘A History of the Equestrian Quest for Might’, ‘The Dawn of Equestria’? This is research? These look like old pony tales. Kinda like that stuff about Nightmare Moon. Except, you know, that was real. Still! This doesn’t look like serious research.”

        “Ok, it wasn’t very serious. But I got to thinking about things. And I wanted to look into… Some things. Never mind. Sorry. I promise I’ll be a bit more responsive tomorrow. I’m guessing you want to get some sleep.”

        “I’m way ahea- Snnnnnnnk!” Spike had gotten into his basket and was down for the count before he had even finished speaking, as usual.

        “Tomorrow should be better. After all, what could have happened?”

        “Sorry, Twilight! I’m going to be busy with Dash for the next week at least!” Pinkie Pie was her usual bubbly, cheerful self the next day, which made her statement all the more impactful. “We’ve got lots of things to do! Just getting all that chocolate pudding will be a major headache. Not to mention the mud, the oil, the feathers, five kinds of noodles…”

        “Pinkie Pie, I think she gets it. Sorry, Twilight. But we’ve got a lot of things to do. And it’s not likely to get any less busy, especially as it gets closer to our time. I’m sure you understand.” Rainbow Dash clopped away, with Pinkie Pie bouncing casually along behind her.

        Twilight was left looking gob smacked. “Noodles? Oil? Pudding?”

        Out at Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack was enjoying a rare moment of peace, her hat pulled down over her eyes, a piece of wheat stuck into her mouth to bob as she idly chewed on it. She could see why her big brother always had one in his own mouth. It was quite contemplative. She had no idea what she was going to do with herself. She was more comfortable, ironically, desperately trying to do all kinds of hard work. She was a farm filly through and through, and a hard-working contributor to her family.

        There was no indication of anything about to happen, save the slightest hint of flapping. For the last few days, wings were never a good sign. That set Applejack to tensing, hat remaining pulled down. All of a sudden, there was activity. She was impacted with a solid, muscular weight, which set her legs to kicking, and her body to struggling. Her opponent wasn’t making an effort to do her serious harm, just get her down. “It ain’t gonna be that easy t' get me down! You wanna mess with me, come get sum!”

        At that moment, her hat fell off, revealing the grinning face of Rainbow Dash, who was deftly avoiding her dangerous strikes and doing her best to pin the struggling farm mare to the ground. “I’m getting all I can get. But you KNOW you’re no match for me. We may have bombed out at the Running of the Leaves, but I can still beat you here.”

        The revelation actually left Applejack dumbfounded. She had been expecting a sneak attack from Gilda, not a wrestling match. That moment of stunning was enough to get her pinned to the ground, squirming slightly beneath Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow Dash! Jes what in the name ‘a apple streusel is goin’ on here?”

        “Cool your apple cider, AJ. I just couldn’t resist getting a jump on you. I figured this would show off my skills. Looks like it worked. You’re pinned, aren’t you?”

        Applejack regarded herself. She could easily buck the fancy flyer off of her. But there was a certain delight in being pinned by the unknowing object of her affection. “I shore am, sugarcube. Took a sneak attack t’dew it, but, ah’ll give it tew ya. Ya did it.”

        Shining eyes watched the scene, with a scowling face behind. But they did not belong to the raging Gilda. It was Twilight Sparkle, safely hidden in a mobile shrubbery. Her horn glowed as a pencil scratched against a notepad. “Twelve-fifty-seven PM, Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow Dash seen physically contacting Applejack, with much wrestling and grinding. Further notation is needed.”

        “Ahhh, yes, Spike. Tell me, is Twilight about? I have a great need to speak with her.” Back at the library, Rarity had arrived with a flourish, along with Fluttershy who had various pieces of cut cloth on her back, in many dark shades and materials. “Er, Spike? Spike?”

        “Rarity…” Spike was off in his own world. Glazed-over eyes, slack mouth, hanging arms. It took him a moment to shake his head and focus on what was being said. “Oh! Right! Twilight. She’s out doing some kind of… Research. I dunno. She’s been doing that lately. Anyhow, she didn’t say when she’d be back.”

        “Goodness. How unfortunate. I needed to see these prepared pieces against her body. Pressed up tight, rubbing slowly against her with every move of her soft muscles…” Rarity shook her head with a hard breath, looking around at the other two in the room. “Oh! Well… I see… I do suppose I shall return another time. Come along, Fluttershy. We have more work to do.” With that, Rarity walked out, slightly rubbed-legged, while Fluttershy stuck close behind, with eyes for Rarity alone.

To be Continued…

Elements of Discord Interlude: The Poison Apple Tree

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        “Well, ain’t nuthin’ fer it but ta dew it. It’s a shameful thing and it’s gonna break a lotta hearts. But it’s only right. The boy shoulda knowed better than ta dew sumthin’ like that.” Granny Smith, the iron-hoofed ruler of the giant Apple clan, mildly tottered around the Apple family homestead, carrying a photograph of Braeburn against her pastern and chest.

        “Gotta dew wut, Granny?” Applejack looked on curiously. Granny Smith never moved that fast normally. Nor did she really speak that often without very good reason.

        “Ah’ve just gotten word from way out in Appleloosa. Yer cousin Braeburn is off dewin’… Well, t’aint right. It’s wrong. He’s breakin’ all kinds of rules with his disgustin’ ways. He might spread his own evil through our family and that ain’t right.” Granny Smith reached a large, almost-blank wall. The only thing on it was the image of a smiling caramel-colored pony with slicked-back black hair dressed in a nice suit, with a ruffled shirt and lace at his throat. Beside that picture was hung the image of Braeburn. “So, he’s on our wall of shame. Let none in the family speak of him again. Now, ah gotta inform everypony.”

        Granny Smith scooted, slowly, away towards her writing desk. It was the starting point for any Apple family message. A simple letter to each of her children, that she spoke to, would be filtered out to all their children and related persons through marriage.

        While Granny Smith was distracted, Applejack looked at the wall. It seemed almost ridiculous. So much space, all dedicated to two pictures. Her uncle Bad Apple, and now her cousin Braeburn. At least uncle Bad Apple wasn’t alone anymore. Not that it was a good thing. And, she reflected, Braeburn would never know. No one would be allowed to talk to him anymore and tell him why he wasn’t allowed in the Apple family anymore. It wasn’t right.

        Applejack dashed off to her apple cellar, where she did a lot of her private things. She had a little writing desk, salvaged from the trash and cleaned up, with some stationery and a pencil well-chewed near the end. She wasn’t a very good, flashy writer, but she could do it.

        She sat down before her desk, took the pencil in her teeth and began to slowly write out a letter. “Dear Mister Bradley X. Higgensbotham, Esq., It’s me again. Applejack. I got sum news for Braeburn. Think you can run to Appleloosa? …

Observation Day Three, Seven AM: Rainbow Dash seen sleeping in her cloud. Scheming. No doubt she’s preparing for another day of deception.

Eight AM: Still sleeping.

Nine AM: Still sleeping. Lazy liar.

Nine-forty-seven AM: Rainbow Dash woke up and began eating a plate of apple fritters, most likely gained through deception.

Ten-oh-one AM: Rainbow Dash seen talking to Pinkie Pie. Seemed very close, tried to touch her. Maybe. The motion was inconclusive as Pinkie Pie was moving at the time.

Observation Day Six, Five-seventeen PM: Rainbow Dash seen with Applejack. Much conversation, mostly of inconsequential things, including talk of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Not informative.

Observation Day Seven, Noon: During a necessary lunch break to shake suspicion from Spike, Rarity came to visit. Fluttershy was with her. No sign of Rainbow Dash despite normal proximity as some times. Rarity was attempting to size me for some dress or another that she was making. Politely refused. Rarity persisted. Fluttershy assisted. Refused. Subjected to pleading eyes. Refused with strained smile. Rarity backed down, walking out while Fluttershy spoke quietly to her.

Observation Day Twelve, Three AM: Rainbow Dash seen asleep. Allegedly. Observing to check for covert dalliances during the night. Must get more caffeine.

Observation Day Twelve, Ten-Twenty AM: Woke from an unrealized slumber to Rarity touching flank, with a ruler. Making comments to Fluttershy about ride and sizing. She had some kind of bluish-black monstrosity of a dress that was well-made but clearly over-the-top. Said so. Rarity retreated in tears. THE STARE received from Fluttershy on leaving. Must get more espressos.

Observation Day Thirteen: Rainbow Dash passed near Pinkie Pie. Intentionally.

Observation Day Sixteen: Rainbow Dash spent more time with Applejack.

Observation Day Eighteen: Rainbow Dash talked to Fluttershy and nudged her. Deception!

Observation Day twenty: Rainbow Dash hovered close to someone. The particulars are inconsequential. Contact was nearly attained. Even more deception!

Observation day Twenty-One

Observation Day Twenty-Seven




        The time had finally come. No more observations. No more torture with images of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, being friendly. Action was necessary. Twilight Sparkle had to act. So, she wrapped herself in a black cloak and galloped off into the Everfree Forest, losing herself in the shadows of nature unleashed.

        She trotted along the overgrown ways, following a narrow path carved through the choking growth by regular travel. It was a thin road through, but it was remarkably clear, even in the near-moonless night. She could make out the small hoof prints that had been worn in the dirt, going and coming over and over again, carving down the road with the regularity of their passing.

        Nothing disturbed her on the journey. None of the normal hazards of the Everfree Forest interrupted her trek, which would have seemed unusual had she not been away of the lingering scent of herbs along the trail. A particular mixture that was faintly repellant to the monsters of the forest. It wade for easy passage from beginning to end.

        At last, her destination came into view. The darkened home of Zecora. It was not as brightly lit as normal, but smoke still poured from the chimney which told of the zebra’s presence. That was what Twilight desired. She was certain Zecora was just the one to help her with her problem. She had all kinds of skills. She was certain to know of many herbal techniques for doing what was necessary.

        The low fire and fresh herbal scent, however, made Twilight Sparkle slowly move towards the house, stealthily peeking into the window to ascertain what was happening within.

        She saw Zecora before the fire; it got chilly in the Everfree forest, even in the summer. Her back was mostly to Twilight Sparkle and she was slightly curled around a second figure. It was Applebloom, similarly curled, but in a fully flat posture. She appeared to be asleep as an effect of the warmth of the fire.

        Zecora leaned her head down to gently brush her snout across Applebloom’s cheek, causing the small filly to smile and lightly move. A smile drifted across Zecora’s features, then fell into a melancholy aspect. “Though love is sweet it is our fate/ To make no move; all things must wait.” Zecora bent down again and placed a soft kiss on Applebloom’s cheek.

        There was no indication of anything, yet Zecora’s head came up, and looked around slowly. She never looked at the window with Twilight Sparkle in it, but she spoke out, loud enough to be heard, but too soft to awaken Applebloom. “Soak in revenge, of blood drink your fill/” Her head went down again, to kiss Applebloom once more and then rise again, head turned to glare hotly at Twilight Sparkle. “But it will not be I who helps you kill.”

        The steely gaze and direct words were enough. Twilight Sparkle galloped off into the night, back to Ponyville, to her books. She had important research to do.

        “Twilight! The Cutie Mark Crusaders are here! Twilight?” Days later, long after the trip to Zecora’s, and after the end of the observations. Spike gazed into the depths of the library. Though it was an open space there were still a few blind areas. And Twilight Sparkle had a habit of hiding in odd places when she wanted to study. “Come on, let’s go find her.”

        The search was short, but enlightening. Around one of the small, blind turns that followed the curve of the tree, they found was looked like a fortress made of books piled up high, along with pages of notes spotted with ink from a too-rapid use of a quill pen. Visible within the pile of books was Twilight Sparkle. She looked thinner than she had been before, and far more pale. She twitched her head rapidly between multiple books as she flipped through pages and scratched jittery notes onto a piece of paper. “It’s here, it’s here, it’s here… It has to be here. Where did it go?”

        “Uh… Twilight… I hate to interrupt your nervous breakdown, but the Cutie Mark Crusaders are here to get that talk you promised them.” Spike was rather surprised by Twilight’s appearance. True, it had been more than a week since he last saw her. She had been engaged in something for a while, and had simply dropped out of their regular meals together a week or so before.

        “Yea, yea, Cutie Mark Crusaders…” Twilight Sparkle never even looked up, she simply flipped through the hefty tomes, focused on the words within them while the notes were scribbled more furiously.

        “Uh, Twilight? Ah’m missin’ an herbalism lesson from Zecora bein’ here. An’ we all respect ya. So we’re here fer the wisdom yew promised us. An’ maybe after yew can tell Sweetie Belle to give me a better part in her play. She made me the annoyin’ friend! Ah am not annoyin’!” Applebloom stomped her hooves and scowled at Sweetie Belle.

        “Hey! You leave Sweetie alone! She did the best she could, but it was written as a two-star play! The only thing left is the villain, and that’s a colt role.” Scootaloo immediately stepped protectively in front of Sweetie Belle, staring down Applebloom with all of her fire, almost touching heads with her.

        “Scootaloo… Come on, don’t yell. She’s right. It’s not perfect. But it’s the best I can do. There’s no room for a third star. It’s hard enough with two. Scootaloo is really the star; I’m just an afterthought for the plot.”

        “Still, ah don’t like bein’ the annoyin’ one. Ah ain’t annoyin’, am ah Twilight? Twilight?” Applebloom looked pleadingly to the unicorn, eyes big and watery.

        Throughout the entire exchange, Twilight Sparkle had grown more and more annoyed, teeth grinding and eyes slowly going closed. At the culmination of it all she turned on the group and screamed, mane leaping into illusory flames. “I’m trying to concentrate! This is important research and I need to focus! Can’t you see that?”

        There was a moment of extreme shock, Spike planting his hands over his mouth, Sweetie Belle tucking her head fearfully under Scootaloo’s head, Applebloom taking a trembling step backwards. After that, Spike dropped his hands, trembling slightly. “T-twilight? What’s going on? Why did you just..?”

        Twilight Sparkle’s bloodshot eyes softened suddenly, her mouth opening slightly with her breath panting out. Her face moved into one of realization, a clear appreciation of what she had done. “I… I don’t know… I don’t know what came over me. Oh my little ponies… I’m so sorry. I’ve just been… I’m so busy lately. I don’t even… Oh… I’m sorry.”

        The Cutie Mark Crusaders remained stunned and shaken, though Scootaloo made an effort to look protective and strong while Sweetie Belle had her head tucked under her chin. They said nothing as they walked out, slowly, Scootaloo pressed against Sweetie Belle, Applebloom looking back at Twilight Sparkle a few times. Spike shook his head at Twilight Sparkle and looked askance at her. “Geez, Twilight. What’s wrong with you?”

        “Oh Spike… I don’t… I don’t know…” Twilight Sparkle looked down at her books with some sense of clarity. The insanity of her lack of sleep faded somewhat under her sense of shame. Her horn glowed as she tremblingly took up the quill again, scribbling out a quick note. “Please, send this to the princess.  I need to visit one of my old professor and she’d know if he’s still at the Canterlot Academy of Advanced Studies.”

        Spike took the piece of paper and breathed his signature green flames onto it, sending it away in a puff of smoke. “So, which one is it? Is in that really dry one that always smelled like ointment?”

        “Ugh, no, not Professor Windy. I think he retired years ago anyhow. There was some kind of big celebration, and he got upset that they were sending him off with a band and party hats. It was so Pinkie Pie. Pinkie... No, I mean my Honors Advanced Magical Effects and Outcomes teacher. You know, the one that was always reading poetry and liked to give impromptu speeches about poets.”

        “Oh yea! That guy. He was great, he always kept cheap diamonds in his desk drawer for me. It’s been a while, do you think he…” Spike’s speech was interrupted by a loud belch, which produced, in a flourish of green flame, a tightly-rolled scroll. “Oh, here you go.”

        Twilight Sparkle unrolled the scroll with a flash of her horn, scanning the contents. Her eyes suddenly grew wide. It was no ordinary letter. Princess Celestia had much to say. And it all connected to what she had been reading. The sleep-deprived madness returned, preying on her rational mind. It was there, always there, the mania and paranoia born of sleepless nights and obsessed observation. This was what brought it fully forward. The triumph of the green-eyed monster. With another flash, she took up the quill to write another letter. “This needs to go out, immediately. I need dispensation for a little trip.”

        “Dispensation? That’s a little serious. I thought dispensation was the kind of thing you needed if you wanted to get into, like, Paddock  51, or Silo 13.”

        “Spike, Paddock 51 and Silo 13 don’t really exist. They’re just fantasies by those crazy ponies that wear foil on their heads. Well, Paddock 51 is kind of a real place but it’s a training ground for the elite Pegasus guards and Unicorn guards. Anyway, it’s just an expression. I was, after all, told to remain in Ponyville, and only travel with my new friends to learn all about the magic of friendship. This would be moving away from that, for a while. I want to make certain the Princess knows what’s going on and gives me her ok.” Twilight Sparkle smiled brightly at her friend, reddened eyes shining as she handed over the note.

        “I’m telling you, they exist!” Spike dutifully breathed fire onto the note and then turned his attention fully to Twilight Sparkle. “They’re where they hide all the weird and unexplained things from all over Equestria. They’ve got, like, robots and lightning statues and space chariots! And in Paddock 51 they have these weird things that don’t look anything like anything in Equestria, and all the stuff they brought with them.”

        “Come on, Spike, you’ve got to stop reading the weird magazines that they sell on the sides of  the stands. They’ll rot your brain. There’s no mysterious artifacts, and no weird creatures from outside of Equestria. Princess Celestia would have told me, I know it. Sadly, Spike, the world is less interesting than you might think. Just focus on things like manticores and hydras.”

        “Come on, you have to admit there are strange things happening out there. Those weird patterns that pop up in fields with lights in the sky, and the stories of mares lifted up from their beds at night and getting probed by…”

        “Woah! You REALLY shouldn’t be reading THOSE kinds of magazines.”

        “Twilight, I’m in my early 30’s. Dragons can buy anything that ponies can buy. In Pony cities. Man, dragons don’t let you buy ANYHING until you’re about a hundred.” As Spike pouted he gave a loud belch, far larger than the usual kind. What resulted was a large and fancy scroll, capped in gold, with silver-colored paper and sealed with wax containing the royal signet. Before Spike could grab it, Twilight Sparkle snagged it with her power. “Woah! Fancy! Are you sure you’re not going to Silo 13?”

        “I told you, Spike, there’s no such thing as Silo 13. This is just a little travel document showing the Princess knows where I’ll be. Nothing special.” Bloodshot eyes sparkled as they regarded the document.

        “Ahhh, yes. Visitation. The one boon in the life of a retired stallion. And such a visitor. My best student, which I say without reservation. You were truly exemplary. I was unsurprised Celestia took you as her personal student. My only shock was that it took so long.” A unicorn stallion rose from a low couch and approached Twilight Sparkle with a smile. He was an older stallion, but not very, no real, clear signs worn into his face. His air was matured, however, experienced. His whole body was black, a pure and deep black, while his long and flowing mane was purest white, the hair so long it reached to his equally white tail. On his flank, a thin crescent moon, barely more than a tiny shine in the field of black. On his face was a pince-nez, with bifocal lenses.

        “Professor Crescent Sliver… It was such a surprise to hear you had retired by your own choice. I had assumed you would work as long as you were capable. You seemed to truly love to teach. And Princess Celestia always relied on you to identify students with the greatest potential.” Twilight Sparkle looked around her old teacher’s sitting room. The low couch was matched by another set a short distance away; a small table with seating for two was nearby; a bookshelf filled with heavy tomes rested near the back of the space; and all around there were potted plants that looked well tended.

        “I have moved on to a new phase, to the proper activity of puttering and watering potted plants, as every old educator does at some point in their life. It was my fate, my former student. Inevitable. But, I suspect, that was not your reason for coming to this place. I rather suspect your motives. But I wish to hear it from your own mouth.”

        Twilight Sparkle fell rather heavily onto the second couch, attempting to maintain her dignity against the effect of her sleep deprivation and general weakness. She shook her head firmly and looked to her former professor with tired eyes. “I have been making a study. Of ancient myths and legends…”

        “One of your specialties, I note. Even then. And it served you well, as I understand. News filters to me but slowly; however, I learned of your actions.” The professor cut in on Twilight Sparkle with a smile.

        “Yes, Professor. And in this study… I learned about a power. A great power. One of the rarest magics in all of Equestria. So strong and so secret that it is scarcely mentioned for fear of what it could do. Greater than Nightmare Moon because it is a branch of magic that has terrible consequences…” Twilight Sparkle leaned forward, eyes shifting side-to-side. “The power of destruction. Not merely second-order destruction. Not casting objects to destroy or making other objects do one’s bidding and destroying. Direct, hard, unrelenting destruction of a living being. According to legend, the masters of the technique could do most anything. Spontaneous combustion from the inside out, reversal of the body from in to out, detonation, even small-portal banishment into utter vacuum.”

        “Yes. Yes. The terrible branch of magic that exists to maintain the parity of all the goodness in our world. Not merely an expression of natural evil which none may perfectly control, but the working of genuine malfeasance.”

        Twilight Sparkle hesitated, her rational mind considering what she was doing. Then she thought of Pinkie Pie. “There was no indication of how it was learned, or even what the techniques may be. Not even a clue, clearly to protect others from it. Yet, it is magic. It can never truly die. When I wrote the Princess about you, asking if you were still at the Canterlot Academy of Advanced Studies, she told me… Among other things, you had this secret now. It was one of the reasons you retired. I still don’t understand. But… I wanted to seek you out for advice. And now, I can get more wonderful advice than I ever imagined. I beg of you… Please let me know the secret. Even the tiniest crumb of the knowledge. Surely your respect for me, and my position, as well as my knowledge makes you feel willing to give this to me, doesn’t it?”

        The Professor hanged his head, a soft sigh passing his lips. “You are not the first pony, unicorn or otherwise if you can believe it, nor will you be the last, I suspect, who has come to me with this very request. With all your supplication and humility, though without your history. This power… What it allows me to see. The things ponies ask. I can make many an assumption. You need not answer. But I suspect, at the barest, that you are in love…”

        “Yes.” Twilight Sparkle made a quick reply, snapping her head up and focusing intently on the stallion.

        “I do not want the details. I don’t require them nor would they make a difference. What is it in the nature of love that turns it to this so much of the time? So many tales through all time, telling of this. Well… Your mare is a lucky one, I think. Seeing you here… Please do not grow too upset when I say it distresses me. Saddens me greatly. I always assumed that the one pony, the only one, I could rely on to never pass my door would be you. You were the one. The incorruptible one… But no matter. I’m afraid I must send you away unfulfilled.”

        “Wh-what? Professor… I can promise you any number of things, and will fulfill them with the utmost fidelity. I can promise I will not develop whatever tiny piece of knowledge you grant to me. It will be used only once and then put from my mind, never to be used again. I won’t tell the Princess. So please… Please teach me. You know me. You can trust me.”

        “I know. That trust, that history, tugs on my soul; my weak and sentimental soul. You, my dear visitor, my student… I am tempted to give it. I could trust you with anything. Even knowing the awful consequences of the tiniest morsel of this power, knowing with almost absolute certainty what you intend… Were it within my power I might still give it.”

        “What do you mean, Professor? Can’t you teach me anything? You were one of the greatest instructors at the greatest academy of magic in all of Equestria.”

        “There is one thing the ancient legends never tell, for the best, I think. This magic is special. As I said, there is a certain degree of parity in Equestria. Because of this, this power exists. But, it is not like other magic, which may be taught. It arises from a force, a power in and of itself, which passes from unicorn to unicorn. Not in a line, but almost at random. The end of one carrier brings forth a new carrier. It is like a curse, moving body to body. No goodness or evilness will draw it. It just… Comes. And it came to me, when the last holder expired. That is why I did what I did. Why I am here. And why you will leave here, with nothing.”

        Twilight Sparkle’s face fell. Her last hope for resolution had withered and blown away. “A power that resides in you? Which came without you calling? Oh… If I didn’t know you, I’d suspect you were lying. But you don’t lie. But even so, when you discovered it, why didn’t you hide it and stay where you were? No one would ever have known.”

        “Oh, I would know. But that is not the real concern. We are all, as you well know, good at heart by and large. But consider this. Bad days happen. Negativity comes to us all. Frustrations, accidents, the varied encounters of life. Imagine a bad day, with the power of annihilation. One accidental rage, and there is chaos and destruction. A single misplaced emotion or furious thought and everything burns around you. But think beyond even that. Think of cooled anger, or simple ambition. Think of what could be accomplished being able to be rid of any pony. All those in your way, gone. Accident, or by will… It was not worth the risk. Temptation is the worst thing in the world to give to any pony. So it was that things happened as they did.”

        “But it was such an extreme action. Why didn’t you simply tell Princess Celestia and then go about your life?”

        “I did tell Celestia. As soon as I was certain I told her, and outlined my plans. She was like you. She advised me to keep my normal life. I told her what I told you. She was not pleased with my choice. But she understood it well enough. How could I ever trust that I would not be corrupted? It would be arrogant to assume I am immune. And so all precautions are prudent. As it was by my request, I could end it at any instant. But I choose to remain. It is not so bad here. It is, if you can believe, peaceful.” The professor clopped his hoof loudly several times, a burly Pegasus appearing in the barred doorway.  “Please tell Saveur I’ll be having the apple and turnip stew tonight with cinnamon tarts afterwards. Be sure the others get some too.” The huge stallion nodded with a smile and trotted off.

        “No matter how comfortable, or how much it was your will, it’s still a prison. And this place… What it does to magic.”

        “That is the advantage of it. The natural warping and damping of magic makes any manifesting of magic spectacularly weak. And other precautions reduce any chance to nothing. I am… I am sorry, in a certain sense, for not being able to help you. But then again… Is there no other way?”

        Twilight Sparkle slowly rose from the couch, looking down at the floor. “No, Professor. There is no other way…” She turned and began to slowly, dejectedly, clop out of the room, the door opened by the same Pegasus guard that had been there before.

        Crescent Sliver gave it a thought and then began to quote. “I was angry with my friend:/ I told my wrath, my wrath did end./ I was angry with my foe:/ I told it not, my wrath did grow./ And I watered it in fears,/ Night & morning with my tears;/ And I sunnd it with smiles,/ And with soft deceitful wiles./ And it grew both day and night,/ Till it bore an apple bright./ And my foe beheld it shine,/ And he knew that it was mine,/ And into my garden stole,/ When the night had veiled the pole;/ In the morning glad I see/ My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”  The professor watched as Twilight Sparkle halted for a brief moment and went on out of the door.

        As she passed down the twisting corridors of the deeply-cut mountain dungeon, Twilight Sparkle talked to the guard with her. “How is he? Really? I’m so worried now that I see him…”

        “Oh we all like him. He’s given us a lot of good life advice. I was having some trouble in my marriage and I told the professor about it. A few good talks and now we’re happier than ever. We all try to make it as comfortable as we can. It’s not easy, but he seems happy just being here.” As the two walked along, they passed a deeply recessed chamber containing unicorns. There were more than a dozen, some engaged in a concentrated application of magic, the rest resting and eating. Their magic was clearly felt to be a dampening of magical effects, the precaution Crescent Sliver had mentioned.

        Back in the cell, Crescent Sliver was back on his couch, contemplating. “A different object do these eyes require;/ My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;/ And in my breast the imperfect joys expire…” But he stopped, shaking his head, leaping immediately to the line he was destined to reach. “And weep the more because I weep in vain.

        “Thomas Gray never suited you, Crescent…” All of a sudden, Princess Celestia was at the entrance, smiling. “No poetry born of Sensibility did. Don’t you have something else for me?”

        Crescent Sliver smiled, bright and cheerful, recovered form his existential state. “While here I stand, not only with the sense Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts That in this moment there is life and food For future years.” He got to his hooves and slowly approached. “Is that more to your taste, Celestia? I assure you, it is sincere.”

        “Everything is music from you, Crescent.” Celestia settled herself carefully down on the second couch, more aware than usual of her size. “I gather from your lamenting Twilight has been here. And made you think of who you would prefer to see.”

        “You must recall, for many a year I was used to seeing you each day. Raising the sun from your chamber and raising the moon before you left the academy. And as dear as Twilight Sparkle was to my old educator’s heart, she is no substitute for you.”

        Princess Celestia smiled a bit, then sighed. “Did she… Did she ask what I thought she might?”

        “As every other visitor who has heard a whisper. Love makes ponies do strange things. It was distressing. But, at the least, she will leave unsatisfied and be forced to find a new solution to her troubles. Perhaps her mare will give her some indication of a more peaceful resolution.”

        “I wish I could help her. But she must learn on her own. Her lessons on magic are, for all intents and purposes, complete. Her lessons on life are up to her. She has been doing well. But now… I haven’t seen a letter from her in over a month. And when I finally receive a letter, it asks about you. I almost wish I hadn’t told her.”

        “She would have grown even more eager had you said nothing. At least now she knows. And who knows? She may visit again. That would be lovely.”

        Princess Celestia nodded her head slowly, still looking concerned. Then she looked up at Crescent Sliver with a smile. “And I am here. As you said, you looked forward to my visit most of all. There is much to say, very much.”

        Twilight Sparkle never saw Princess Celestia. She left the mountain by a different route. When she arrived at the exit, she showed her travel dispensation to the guard that had seen her enter. It was a formality, but the entire dance was necessary to emphasize the secure nature of the place. She pulled on her black cloak, which she had left at the entrance and pulled the hood up. She looked down at the winding and rocky road that led back down the mountain. Everything was a hassle. But that was just sensible. One did not simply trot into the Mountains of Madness.

        Applejack shook her head as she observed the mess in the orchard. High winds, ordered as a rush job, had swept through and made a mess out of the loose branches and leaves. It was another day of good times at Sweet Apple Acres. But she chose that life. It was better that tiny food and chortling city folk in Manehattan.

        The first few twigs were scarcely gathered together before she felt a familiar chill in her back. It was like she had her own version of Pinkie Sense. She could just feel that nasty griffon in her bones before the words were out of her mouth. “Hey there, Applejerk. Oh wow. Somebody made a real mess out here. I guess breaking branches and flying through canopies before a big windstorm is bad. Oops.”

        A few weeks ago, Applejack would have made every effort to snap back at Gilda. She could have yelled, kicked, snapped, something. But after all that time and all the grinding comments that had been wearing on her, she could only sigh and get back to work. “Jes wut dew yew want this tahm, critter?” She knew perfectly well what was coming. It was her routine.

        Gilda frowned, for a brief moment. The lack of anger made the whole thing cheap. If she wasn’t wringing agonized emotion out of her victim it was almost not worth doing. But she had to keep doing it. As much as it disappointed her, it was a step. It meant she was succeeding in her quest. She was wearing Applejack down to a broken nub. “Nothing much. I just noticed… Rainbow Dash isn’t here. Hasn’t been here for a few days. Something wrong?”

        Applejack quivered. That still stung. It was still raw enough to make an emotion surge. But even that inclination was put down with a sigh, more twigs gathered together. “Ah ain’t been feelin’ rahght lately. Been keepin’ tew mahself an’ everypony knows it. So… Rainbow Dash ain’t been comin’ ‘round here.”

        Gilda grinned, feeling a bit of schadenfreude from that revelation. She had never thought to ask about Dash’s comings before. She simply assumed she always came. It was even better than she imagined. Licking her beak, Gilda came closer to Applejack, mirroring her steps and just a short space behind. “Isn’t that interesting? If you were worth something, she’d be out here anyway. But, here you are, all alone. I think you can see two truths here.”

        “An’ jes wut truths would they be?” Applejack was almost done. It was almost not worth responding.

        Gilda quivered in the anticipation of victory. She was so close to feeding her bitterness the sweetest food in existence. “First off, Applesmack, you’re not worth attention. And secondly, and most importantly, Rainbow Dash is incapable of affection. She doesn’t love you, because she can’t.” With a screech of sadistic delight, Gilda rocketed up into the air, twirling grandly as she retreated.

        While Applejack was hanging her head sadly, Ditzy Doo came up to her with a gigantic package in tow. But on examining the address for confirmation, her lazy eye popped out of place.  “Oops, my mistake. I forgot to read this carefully. I guess I should focus more and check all the details. Derp.”

Elements of Discord: Third Strike/Third Charm

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        Fluttershy sighed softly, running another piece of material through the sewing machine. She had spent a lot of time as Rarity’s assistant, unofficially of course, with very little coming of it, except for the productions of very beautiful dresses that had been created with great skill and set out perfectly. And yet, with all that, Rarity had only ever been focused on her project for Twilight Sparkle. A project which, she feared, would harm Rarity.

        Rarity herself was laying collapsed on her drafting table, shaking her head lightly. Before her were sketches upon sketches, all the dresses she had designed for Twilight Sparkle were there. She had carefully measured and cut material for each one, and tried, over and over, to get Twilight Sparkle into them. But, time and again, she had been rejected. And towards the end, the rejections had grown sharper and more direct. “What’s wrong with me? Can it be… I’ve lost my touch? Oh… This is terrible.”

        “Oh Rarity…” Fluttershy stopped the machine, turning and trotting over to Rarity, hooves gently placed upon her back. “No, you’ve still got all your talents. I think all these designs are beautiful. Would you like to come to the spa? Maybe a good steam, massage and mud facial will make you feel better.”

        “No, no… I cannot leave this here. I must work on this more. You are correct, Fluttershy. All my talents are still intact. But I have not hit the perfect design that will move Twilight. I need to work harder. Perhaps with enough thought and designing, I can find that one, perfect style that will make her smile.” Rarity took up the pencil again and began to sketch on the huge expanse.

        “You always… You always make me smile, Rarity…” Fluttershy said, in her tiniest voice, slowly going back to the sewing machine. Every stitch she made felt empty. If she wasn’t doing it for Rarity’s affection, it seemed almost pointless… She shook her head and redoubled her focus. No! It wasn’t right to think like that. Rarity was a friend. And, she loved her greatly. Even if she never saw… Like that poor little bird that made the flowers bloom, she was determined to give her all for this.

        Twilight Sparkle had been gone for days. Spike explained she was traveling to see an old professor, and Celestia knew where she was. He also, with some sideways looking, implied she was going to get some rest and relaxing in, to help her recover from all of her study and sleeplessness.

        The library was quiet in her absence, and Spike took the time to slack off, and just relax in his basket most of the time. It was a rare treat. He also, quite often, made his various fruitless sallies to try and win Rarity’s heart. But he found her more distracted and disinterested than usual. So he accepted his fate and just enjoyed trying, wondering why he hadn’t tried to convince Twilight Sparkle to take a vacation earlier.

        One morning, as Spike was lazily eating amethyst spears in caramel sauce while dreaming of a mighty beard, the library doors opened wide, and Twilight Sparkle stepped through. She looked good. Calmer, healthier, better rested. Spike smiled as he looked her over. That was the pony he knew. “Wow. You look good. I guess old Crescent Sliver put your head on right.”

        Twilight Sparkle nodded slowly, as she thought back on the words the professor had given her as a parting gift, her jealousy missing the message and cutting down to the core of its own desire. ‘I was angry with my foe:/ I told it not, my wrath did grow … In the morning glad I see/ My foe outstretched beneath the tree.’ A smile spread across her face, a passable imitation of genuine happiness. “He was such a wonderful help. After talking with him, everything’s so much clearer.”

        ‘First off, Applesmack, you’re not worth attention. And secondly, and most importantly, Rainbow Dash is incapable of affection. She doesn’t love you, because she can’t. She doesn’t love you because she can’t. Applesmack. She doesn’t love you. Applesmack. She can’t. Applesmack. Applesmack. Applesmack…’ Applejack was repeating Gilda’s words over and over in her head, while she lounged, without feeling relaxed, under one of her precious apple trees.

        She tried to focus on the details of the last encounter. It seemed like the right thing to do. What stood out most was that name. Rainbow Dash had called her that once. It had never meant much before. But now it meant so much more. It was a term from Rainbow Dash, in Gilda’s mouth. Had she been… Watching them? That had been so long ago. What had changed? Applejack realized. She had been getting closer to Rainbow Dash. Actually trying to get her to notice.

        Gilda had been waiting. Watching. Probably waiting for the best moment to get back into Rainbow Dash’s good graces. Then the unexpected had happened. Someone else fell in love with her. She had a chance as long as she could make Rainbow Dash forget about her explosion. She could say she changed. But with somepony else… Somepony kind and sweet… She’d have no hope against someone that really loved her.

        That explained everything. Gilda was angry that Rainbow Dash might move on. That was why she said Rainbow Dash couldn’t love anyone. She assumed Rainbow Dash’s non-affection for her was universal. Any sign that it wasn’t, or even the potential of that, was enough to drive her to do most anything. She was torturing Applejack to a frazzled nub to keep Rainbow Dash alone and unloved. And unloving.

        “Hey, Twilight, I thought you said Crescent Sliver put your head back on right. What’s with the book stacks again? I figured you’d give it up for a while.” Spike face-clawed on seeing Twilight Sparkle back inside a fort of books, apparently relapsing hard.

        “Spike… When have you ever known me to NOT surround myself with a pile of books and study until you tell me it’s lunch, dinner, snack or bedtime?” Twilight Sparkle casually looked over her shoulder, the book before her hovering placidly in the air.

        “Well… You know… I was just… Ok, you’re right.” Spike looked fairly defeated, then brightened back up. “Anyway, it’s lunchtime.” While he led the mare away from her studies he took a quick look at her choice in books. “Weather stuff? Since when do unicorns care about weather? I thought pegasi built weather in factories and then distributed it around. Don’t tell me you’re going to give yourself wings. Remember the Pony Gaga incident with Rarity?”

        “Ugh, yes… Never again, Spike, never again. No, it’s nothing like that. I don’t intend to pursue it professionally. But it can’t hurt to learn what I can. I AM, after all, an autodidact…”

        “Oh my gosh!” Spike clamped his hands over his mouth and gave a wide-eyed stare to Twilight Sparkle. “Twilight, I had no idea. Are there pills for that? Or is that slang for something like they keep using on those shows on after dark?”

        “Oh Spike. ‘Autodidact’ means that I’m largely self-taught. Technically it would mean that I had no formal education, but in this case it just means that I’m a self-learner when it comes to things that interest me. And right now, weather interests me. Look!” Twilight Sparkle concentrated, her horn glowing slightly. After a moment, a small whirlwind appeared before her, spinning rapidly before the glow ceased and it simply blew itself out.

        “Hey, that’s pretty good. Even Pegasus ponies on weather detail need to start flapping like crazy to make a whirlwind. But, uhh… It’s kinda small. I don’t think you’re gonna put the Ponyville weather bureau out of business anytime soon.”

        “Come on. I’d never try to put those fine ponies out of business. This is just for my own amusement, and to expand the number of magical skills I possess. The Princess with be very proud of me. And I know it’s not so powerful right now. But you know me, Spike. I’ll practice hard to get up to a more impressive level. That’s how I am. Maybe a bit of a perfectionist, but it all pays off.”

        Pinkie Pie sighed softly, enjoying a break at her job. The great metal monster was silent, all of her pastry delivery boxes filled, all the ready-stock prepared. She still had the rest of her shift, but as long as her job was done the Cakes didn’t care how she spent it. She was enjoying herself with her pranking plans, obsessively tweaking them as new ideas drifted in and out of her head.

        “Ummm… Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy timidly stuck her head into the back room, casting her eyes around the room. She didn’t want to disturb the workday, and didn’t want the Cakes to see her and make a fuss about interruption of the business day.

        “Oh! Hey Fluttershy! What are you doing here? Aren’t you usually taking care of all your critters and helping Rarity with her sewing and things? I thought you had to finish her summer line for next year.” Pinkie Pie quickly zipped around, pulling up two chairs, a small table and a plate of treats. Seemingly from nowhere.

        “I just came from there. Rarity’s boutique, I mean. I finished the first stitches on some of the last of the dresses. With the designs done, now the production has to happen, and I’ve been working on that. But… Well, Rarity has been… She’s… She’s working very hard on a special project. But it’s not really… It could be going better.” Fluttershy, not questioning Pinky Pie’s actions, calmly sat in the chair closest to her and took the smallest of the offered treats, a sugar cookie, nibbling on it delicately.

        “Come on, you can tell me! Just trust in your Auntie Pinkie to help you out in your icky hour of need!” Pinkie Pie sat at the table herself, producing a pot of tea and cups from her usual, mysterious Pinkie-space, pouring a bit for herself and Fluttershy.

        “Um, I’m still a year older than you…” Fluttershy mumbled, though a full mouth. She took a sip of the extremely sweet tea before continuing, slightly louder. “She’s trying to make the perfect gown for Twilight. But… She means absolutely perfect. Flawless. And to do that, Twilight has to love it. But… Well… Twilight has been so strange lately, almost not like herself. And then she was gone for a while. It’s been so hard on Rarity.”

        “Awww, that’s no good at all. Rarity’s usually so happy and cheerful! She’s the best designer in all of Ponyville. I think the problem is Twilight doesn’t like fancy-dancey gowns, hates being fussed over and is in love with me but can’t admit it to herself.” Pinkie Pie gobbled three entire cupcakes in a single bite and then power-chugged a full cup of tea.

        Fluttershy daintily spluttered a sip of tea back into her cup, staring disbelievingly at the casual statement of such a thing. “Oh my… But that means… Rarity is just hurting herself for no reason. Twilight hasn’t said anything. She just keeps turning down the dresses.”

        “Oh, she wouldn’t. Twilight thinks she’s too smart and school-y to fall for someone like me. She’s so silly. I mean, just because I’m from a line of stern and plain, buttonless Rock Farmers, throw lots of parties and live in a giant cupcake above the bakery I work in, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong for her.”

        “You certainly seem very confident. But you just said Twilight doesn’t think you’re right for each other at all. How can you be so cheerful when she thinks you’re not compatible?”

        “Oh, I try not to think about that! After all, it’s enough to know she really cares about me. I can always tell. She eats all the super-duper sugary sweet treats I bring for her, even if she’s always talking about nutrition, and tooth care and glucose and stuff. But she still eats them, and she DOES like them. But mostly she does it to make me happy. I want her to say it, but I’m happy knowing she thinks it.” Pinkie Pie gave a big, bright smile, eyes huge and liquid, quivering with delight.

        “Oh my… You certainly… Certainly feel a lot for her.” Fluttershy pulled back from the table a bit, somewhat disturbed by the passion and depth put forth by Pinkie Pie. “But… Maybe she can’t tell. I mean, you feel so many things for so many ponies. All the emotions might be blending together.”

        “Nope! Couldn’t happen! Twilight’s WAY too smart for that kind of thing. She can tell the difference between me being friends with everybody and throwing all kinds of parties and all the things I do for her. She can tell the things I do are just for her, and special. Yea, this is fine. She’s got it figured out and knows me perfectly.” Pinkie Pie casually gobbled some cookies and had another cup of tea, looking supremely confident.

        “She spreads her affections around without a care. She’s so trusting, so naive, such a farm girl, susceptible to deception, more so than anyone else. She hasn’t given me any indication of what she feels. And she’s in the clutches of Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash…” Twilight Sparkle paced back and forth in the library, shaking her head while she talked to herself and attempted to summon more and more whirlwinds, focusing on numbers rather than strength. Her progress in learning the manipulation of weather was going well. Learning…

        “Professor?” Twilight Sparkle looked up to the dark stallion, as he wiped the chalkboard with an eraser in the grip of his horn’s magic.

        “Ahh, my favorite student. Soon to be former student. Congratulations my dear. First you were selected to be here. And now directly with Celestia. You’re moving up in the world.” Professor Crescent Sliver smiled down at Twilight Sparkle, gingerly setting the eraser down.

        “Yes. I’m sure my parents will be very proud. They’ve never been happier since I managed to get into this academy. I’m happy, too. This has been on of the best experiences of my life.”

        “I am glad to see you enjoy this experience so greatly. And I am glad to provide even a small part of that happiness. But, I suspect there is something besides happiness behind your new visit. To think of it, where is Spike?”

        “He’s having  his scales buffed and his claws done. Honestly, he loves living in the lap of luxury here. Well, he can get used to it. After all, it’s not like he’s going anywhere drastically different.” Twilight Sparkle laughed lightly and shook her head, before looking down. “But to the main point… I’m feeling a little… Uncertain.”

        Crescent Sliver nodded his head a touch, taking a seat behind his desk. “I understand. This IS a particularly large step. And such an important one. It changes everything.”

        “But that’s the problem. It’s not… It’s not just that. It’s something that has been on my mind for a while. I threw myself into my studies. I consumed all the knowledge I could. I did everything I could to learn. But learning never gave me any… Happiness. I was happy when I did things. When my learning gave me something I needed. But just learning didn’t do that.”

        The professor looked down to his desk, considering his response carefully. With a glow of his horn he brought a book down from a far wall. It was little opened, as could be gleaned from the creak of the bindings and the sharply crisp rustle of pages as they turned. “’But grief should be the instructor of the wise;/ Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most/ Must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth,/ The Tree of Knowledge is not that of life.’” The book slammed shut with a heavy thud, and went back across the room to its place on the shelf.

        Twilight was somewhat taken aback by the entire thing, both the words and the rather sharp shutting of the book. “P-professor… That’s very…”

        “Discomforting? Yes. And while I may not be a fan of ‘Manfred’, as you may have seen from the condition of the tome, I cannot doubt the truth of the matter expressed therein; would that I could.” The professor shook his head and let out a long, slow sigh. “This is truth… To an extent. As you have said, you can do things that make you happy. But there is something about learning… The more you know, the less you can doubt and ignore about the world. You know things that can go wrong, and those that have. Troubles, difficulties, all the thousands of little things that will grind on you, because you know the answer or what is going wrong.”

        Twilight Sparkle looked down, her forelegs shuffling a bit. “Is that… How it’s going to be? Learning will never make me happy?”

        “Learning will make you happy if you love to learn. If you get delight from poring over tomes and learning new magical skills, then I am sure your life will be an endless string of happiness. But know this: All those books are only books. And all that knowledge is just knowledge. You’re the one that gives form and meaning to all that you see and do. If it matters and means something to you, it will make you happy indeed.”

        The whirlwinds blustered around the library, growing larger, whipping loose paper around the room as they passed. They remained stable for a brief moment as they grew before spinning out of control and blowing themselves out. Twilight Sparkle smiled. This learning was going well. And it mattered so very much.

        “Twilight? Are you, oh! You’re here. Good.” Sweetie Belle came into the library as the last of the papers fell to the ground, nothing else indicating anything had been transpiring. The young filly had saddlebags slung over her back, bulging with papers and writing materials. “I needed some help with my play. And I thought you’d be a good pony to ask.”

        Twilight Sparkle regarded Sweetie Belle with a sincere smile. She had been rather mean to the young filly before her trip. And though she had been deep in the grip of a confused indecision, that was no excuse. “Of course, I’d be glad to. And I hope you managed to include Applebloom. I know she doesn’t begrudge you, but it IS the kind of thing a friend would do.”

        “I know, and I really did try to work her in.” Sweetie Belle clopped to one of the low tables and extracted a few very scribbly sheets of paper, along with several pencils. “I made the friend role bigger, gave her a speech and tried to move her away from being a clumsy comic pony.”

        The papers levitated slowly and passed before Twilight Sparkle, who read them with a critical eye. “Four acts. Very unusual but that’s good. Variable length, I see, experimental. Music. Lots of music. Mostly instrumental and chorus, so that’s… Is this a key character song? ‘Rainbow- Revelation’? Hmm… ‘Take my revelation’. A lot of this is very culturally unique. And more lilies. Not to mention all these characters in the margins. When did you learn about Neighpon?”

        “Rarity. She LOVES buying stuff from Neighpon. She speaks some of the language, to keep up with the latest fashion news. But mostly she just reads all these books filled with pictures of lilies, like that one about the Pegasus warriors, or the five about fillies in school. Lotsa big, heavy books with lotsa pictures. So I decided to read some of the translations she did and see what I could get. How is it?”

        “Very good. It has an exotic feel, but I see you still haven’t moved Applebloom’s character up into acts three and four. But so far it’s looking good. And I really think you should add more songs. You’re a natural, Sweetie. You deserve to let your talent out. After all, if you’re going to be on stage, you can sing.”

        “Yea but… Like I said… Scootaloo is the star. She’s got all the personality and confidence. I’m there to look pretty.” Sweetie Belle blushed softly and looked down away from Twilight Sparkle.

        There was a silent moment of consideration, before a hoof came up to gently lift Sweetie Belle’s face. “When I was your age, pretty mares made my breath catch, and turned my head. I couldn’t help it, and couldn’t stop myself. As I grew up, they just kept doing it. And I did lots of things when someone asked: gave up desserts and gave free tutoring.”

        Sweetie Belle looked to the side, trying to move her head back down but failing to move the hoof beneath her chin. “I… I don’t… I mean, I…”

        “I wasn’t in love. I was never in love. My head turned and I sighed, but nothing else. I would give anything to have actually been in love. Don’t be ashamed to say it. You did it for Scootaloo because you love her.”

        Sweetie Belle nodded her head a little and looked up to Twilight Sparkle. “But we’re just fillies. I don’t want to… Things can happen. There’s a lot of sad things in all the books. Fillies aren’t the best ones to be in love.”

        “Those are just stories. The writers love to tug on the heartstrings, and the artists know that sadness moves the ponies looking at it. They’re more dramatic. That’s why there are stories like that all over the place. The kind that reflect the real face of love is rare. I don’t quite know how it is, but I just have heard it’s nothing like what the books say.”

        Sweetie Belle give a slow nod. “I know. There’s lots of couples out there that look fine. Like Lyra and Bon Bon over at the music store. They’re really normal. But they’re older. And Scootaloo and I are just fillies. Maybe we won’t stay together. You said you kept wanting to date other mares.”

        “I said… I wanted to be in love. If I was in love… I’d do anything to make it work. If I really, really was meant to be with a mare, it would all come so naturally. Now, I know Scootaloo is a little… Well, she loves her scooter and extreme tricks and things like that. But she must like you. She’s always there with you, even when you’re not doing things as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. And even if she says she doesn’t like all the cutesy stuff you do together, she always does it. I think she’s telling you something. And I think you should confirm it.”

        Sweetie Belle continued to look down for a moment longer, before a small smile slowly spread across her face. “I guess so. Even when she complains, she keeps going. I guess I’ll go ask her now. Oh, and work on this a little later.” Sweetie Belle packed the papers back into her saddlebags and starts out. “Thanks for the help. Twilight!”

        “My pleasure, my little pony.” Twilight Sparkle shook her head after Sweetie Belle had left the library. “It’s really amazing that nopony can see these kinds of things right in front of their faces.”

        Rainbow Dash darted around a collection of tightly-grouped trees, expertly dodging around the gnarled trunks, feeling the rush of wind as she passed around them. She was in the best shape of her life! Though that was only because she was practicing way more than usual. She was awake and working more than usual. Before, she had spent that time shooting the breeze with Applejack. But ever since Applejack turned quiet, she had to find new ways of filling in the time. And all she could do was practice. Even if it made her better, it could get really, really boring. And there were no fritters or apple juice afterwards.

        “Hello there, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight came up behind Rainbow Dash while she was resting and thinking about fritters and juice.

        “Oh, hey Twilight! What brings you out here? You’re not usually the wooded area type. And there’s nothing out here except good training ground. Getting an early start on the Running of the Leaves?” Rainbow Dash chuckled at her own bit of humor, trotting over to the unicorn.

        “I thought a change of pace would be nice. Getting out of the library for a while, having a nice walk in the open hair. You know all about that sort of thing, so I figured you were the one to ask about the best places for that. It’s… Actually nice to just stretch my legs and trot through the countryside. Any suggestions about where to go for a quiet walk in the country?”

        Rainbow Dash regarded Twilight Sparkle with a raised brow and a slight raise of her head. That wasn’t very like the bookish unicorn. But ponies could change. Finally, she just smiled, slapping her friend on the back. “Ah, no problem! I don’t really walk places, but I know just the right spots. Stick with me. I’ll help you out.”

        “Only too happy to, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight Sparkle smiled, and remembered. ‘And I watered it in fears,/ Night & morning with my tears;/ And I sunnd it with smiles,/ And with soft deceitful wiles.

        “Ah ain’t havin’ no more of it, critter.” Applejack felt the familiar cold shiver run up her spine, like steel spiders scuttling malevolently up her back. “Ah can only guess yer game. It ain’t in mah nature tew think a the things yew think. But ah ain’t having no more of it. Ah knows yew was here, listenin’. Watchin’. Waitin’. Whatever yew was plannin’, jes give it up.”

        “Think you can scare me, hayseed? Nothing scares me anymore. I’ve touched the sky, earth pony. And lived to tell about it. And I’ve done more than you could ever hope to do. I took that one step and it was beautiful. Never forget it, Applejerk. I went where you can’t.” Gilda strolled calmly out of the shadows, voice heavy with anger and arrogance to disguise her surprise. Her weak, crumbling victim found some of her backbone. But she would try this new will, and break it like she had before.

        “Ah’ve never lamented not bein’ able to fly. T’aint mah place. Ah was born knowin’ that. Cain’t make me sorry ‘bout somethin’ ah don’t rightly care ‘bout no more. Ah’d suggest yew jes keep a-flappin’ til yew reach some new place. Don’t rightly care where; don’t gotta go home but yew cain’t stay here.”

        “That’s not what I mean and you know it, bumpkin. Don’t play dumb with me. I know you think you’re something. But at the end of the day you’re just another land-walking punk kicking down apples and wandering through your useless little life. I told you you’re nothing special and I meant it. I am. I AM!” Gilda screeched loudly at Applejack, her mind already casting back.

        “Guh, what a lousy place.” The young griffon regarded the scene with some degree of disdain. The fluffy clouds and sterner shaped-cloud buildings and accoutrements were so overly cheery, all made of the pure white puff, with not even a streak of the darker gray that could easily be factory made. And all around, young ponies, cheerily greeting each other and engaging in giggling races that meant nothing. “Pathetic. No one’s taking this seriously.”

        “I know, right? Pfft! Totally pathetic?” Suddenly at the young griffon’s side was a filly, just like the rest she could see. And yet, so different. Her rainbow hair was short and spiky; her wings were flapping ever so slightly, without stopping; and she was standing in a cool, relaxed fashion, looking too good for the place. “Didn’t think I’d find anyone here who was serious about flying.”

        “I know what you mean.” Gilda actually offered a cool little smile to the Pegasus, looking her over a little more closely. Cute. Very cute. Some potential in this Junior Speedsters thing. She held out a taloned forelimb and nodded. “Gilda.”

        The filly placed her hoof in the offered place and give a firm shake. She was quite strong for a pony. “Rainbow Dash, fastest flier to ever come out of Cloudsdale. My parents sent me here to polish my technique or something. I dunno what they’re talking about. I’m gold already. I can pull off tricks even grown ups can’t do. This’ll be a piece of cake.”

        “I’m not gonna make it easy for you. Just try to keep up, if you can.” Gilda  grinned and licked her beak, dropping into a pre-race pose.

        “Oh, you are ON, girl. Come on, you won’t see anything but my tail for all the time we’re here.” Rainbow Dash dropped down into position herself, scraping the clouds with a hoof, waiting for a sign to go.

        Gilda grinned wider as a nearby Pegasus hit the clouds, all the signal she needed. With a blast of wind, she was off. But right beside her was the eager filly, keeping pace like nopony ever could before. In that moment, she knew she had found someone special.

        “What do you mean, ‘Be quiet’? I don’t gotta be nothing!” Years later. Gilda and Dash had kept in touch after the Junior Speedsters meeting, and become very good, very close friends. They were together as often as was feasible, and did everything together that was possible. Especially going out at night to clubs that didn’t look at ID very carefully. Thus it was that they were in such a place, staring down patrons annoyed by Gilda’s loud beak.

        “Come on, Gilda, he’s not worth it! Let’s just enjoy the evening, I like it in here. It’s the best one we’ve found.” Rainbow Dash wasn’t sure what to think. She DID like Gilda’s company. But sometimes Gilda could be a bit intense. That was part of what made her awesome.

        “Yea, listen to her. Just quiet down and relax.” A Pegasus stallion shook his head while his friends nodded their assent.

        Gilda didn’t like her odds. Even if most ponies tended to back down, and even though the guy didn’t look like a brawler, he had backup and could make it a very uncomfortable fight. Not a guaranteed win, which wasn’t what she wanted at all. “Dash, we’re outta this lame place.” Gilda stalked towards the entrance, scowling, looking back to find Rainbow Dash still sitting. “Come on, Dash.”

        Rainbow Dash hesitated for a moment. She wanted to stay. And Gilda had been even more bossy and controlling of late. But still, she was a good friend and that was really important… “Right behind you, Gilda.”

        “I’m special. She came away with me. She loved me…”

        “I thought yew said she couldn’t love anyone.” Applejack gave it a thought and then smiled. “And… She didn’t come with yew that time. And ah’ll never forget the way she turned yew down.”

        “Watch your mouth, pony.” Gilda held up her talons, giving them a flex and snapping her beak.

        “Yew don’t scare me, critter. Ah’m a farm pony and ah’ve stared down Nightmare Moon. Ain’t nuthin’ yew can dew t’make me shake. Besides, ah brought me some backup.” From under her hat, Applejack produced a rope, already made up into a lasso. “T’aint wise to get in mah way.”

        Gilda analyzed her odds. She had talons, a wicked beak and plenty of speed. But that little farm pony was hard as a rock, and was no slouch on her hooves. The rope was a wildcard to be sure. If she was even half as good as she appeared, it would seriously affect the fight. Even a little snag could be the break needed for a double hoof to the face. She never did like a fair fight. “Fine. You got your spine from somewhere. But listen up, Applesmack. I was there first. And, I got you on the ropes once before. Maybe I won’t beat on you, because of your lame-o pony friends. But I’ll get you back down in that pit. Just you wait.” With a shriek, Gilda took off into the sky, soaring further and further away.

        “And yew jes keep flyin’, critter. Jes fly outta mah life.” Applejack placed the rope back under her hat and settled it comfortably on her head. She knew, though, in the back of her mind that Gilda was coming back. There was no way to avoid it. She was set on that course. And nothing could change it. She’d have some strange tactics, however. Now that she knew that her plan was displayed, she’d need something new and not physical. Applejack wasn’t eager to see what that might be.

        “And here, lots of nice, soft grass, a cool breeze, a few flowers for smelling and not many other ponies passing by. Fluttershy always walks around here, when she does. And she hasn’t been here lately since she’s been doing some kind of project for Rarity. So, you won’t freak her out and you’ll have a nice, quiet walk for yourself.” Rainbow Dash fluttered beside Twilight Sparkle, pointing out the pleasant features of a lovely lea outside of Ponyville.

        “You seem to know a lot about Fluttershy.”  Twilight Sparkle looked aside at Rainbow Dash, a pleasant smile plastered on her face while her eyes shone with scheming.

        “Well, yea. We’re buds from way back. Same town, same classes, we’ve known each other forever. Now, she moved to Ponyville before I did. She wasn’t built for Cloudsdale, really. No way she could have handled a factory job. I spent a little time up in Cloudsdale and other areas. But I wasn’t a factory type either and Ponyville needed more weather ponies.”

        “I see… And how about Applejack? Seems like you two have a lot of… Conflicts.”

        “Ha! Oh man, yea. That’s why. I LOVE competition. Love it, just love it. You probably figured it out, but competition drives me. How do you think I managed to pull off TWO Sonic Rainbooms? Applejack is, like, the PERFECT competitor. She’s always up for anything. And I’ll tell you, it takes WORK to beat her.”

        “Uh-huh… I see. And, uh… What about… Pinkie Pie?” Twilight Sparkle’s eyes burned with hidden anger and frustration. This was the crux of her need for vengeance. The most important issue in Equestria to her. And here was her chance to see how angry she really ought to be.

        Rainbow Dash laughed. A bit longer and a bit more obnoxiously than she probably intended. It did not escape Twilight Sparkle, and it only made her more upset. “Yea, yea… That’s weird, isn’t it? She’s got the whole heroine worship thing going on, like Scoots. But, we’ve got something going on. She’s really good at pranks, I mean, like, crazy good. It comes from that freakish part of her brain that knows how to win tic-tac-toe and throw parties.”

        Twilight Sparkle gritted her teeth behind Rainbow Dash’s back. She didn’t much care about the airy connection that barely existed between the Donna Juan Pegasus and Pinkie Pie. But the sheer audacity, the words she used to describe Pinkie Pie! Heroine Worship! Freakish! Crazy! “I see. Yea, that makes sense.” Her reply was casual, even bland, and her looks became the same just a moment later.

        “It’s just how we hang, you know? I’m pretty busy anyhow, training and all. Turns out, The Wonderbolts have to ask you to join them. So I figure, a few more competition wins, a little more kissing up to Spitfire, and I am SO in.” Ranbow Dash struck a heroic pose and listened to the fanfare in her head.

        “Right.” Kissing up to another mare. Just what kind of kissing would she be willing to do to get in? Hate surged in Twilight Sparkle’s heart. She didn’t care about anyone. She toyed with emotions and flitted around without a care. “Well, thanks for showing me this. It’ll be good to get in a nice, quiet walk. That library can get pretty crazy sometimes.”

        “Hey, no problem. You’re my friend, Twilight. It’s the least I could do.” Rainbow Dash set a hoof on Twilight Sparkle’s shoulder, before she leaped up into the air and zipped off.

        “At least you checked your nature and didn’t try that with me…” The wind swirled and rushed, as Twilight Sparkle’s horn glowed and her attempt at creating whirlwinds began again. It was larger, but less controlled than before. Too large for the library. This was perfect. A chance to refine and prepare it properly. “Soon enough…”

        “Perhaps I AM over thinking this. After all, not everypony enjoys the fuss of formalwear. Though it may pain me to admit that my normal styles are wrong, there’s nothing for it. I will have less room to add my normal glorious touches, but perhaps that’s good. It will force me to expand my horizons and do more with less. Ooh, such a challenge! I relish it.” Rarity was starting with a blank canvas, a clean piece of drafting paper with a simple unicorn mare outline on it.

        “That’s the spirit, Rarity. You can do this. I just know you can.” Fluttershy was at her usual place. She was so proud of herself. The Summer line for next year was ready. She had just put the last stitch in the last dress. She had brought Rarity’s vision to life. “But you know, maybe… Maybe you should… Ummm… Maybe Twilight doesn’t want a dress, at all.”

        “Oh don’t be silly, Fluttershy. Everyone wants one of my designs. They’re all the rage. And Twilight is surely aware of just what kind of magic can come of just the right look. She has to be waiting for that one thing that with make her rear up and cheer. I shall endeavor to do my best.” Rarity’s horn shone, and she started drawing a thin line on the blank paper, moving her pencil ever so carefully.

        “Right. Sorry. Um, I’ll see you another time, Rarity. Your dresses are done.” Fluttershy meekly got out from behind the sewing machine, and trotted her way out of the shop, with Rarity barely noticing, already deep in contemplation of her minimalist masterpiece.

        “Oh, hey Twilight.” Just a few days later, Rainbow Dash met Twilight Sparkle in the town square. The square was rather empty, thanks to the action of a gray day which had sprung up without any warning. All the weather pegasi had been caught off guard by that.

        “Hello…Rainbow Dash…” Twilight stared down the Pegasus from the other side of the square, her face hard and determined. It had taken a lot of work to turn the day gray enough to keep everyone inside. Everyone except Rainbow Dash. She’d always be out. Always going about her merry way. Deceiving. “I’m glad I managed to find you…”

        “Uh… Yea. G-great to see you, Twilight…” Rainbow Dash couldn’t put her hoof on it, but something about Twilight Sparkle just seemed… Off. Her face, her voice, her whole bearing wasn’t normal. There was nothing directly stating it but she seemed upset. “Are… You ok, Twilight?”

        “Me? You really care how I feel?” Twilight Sparkle trotted forward a few steps, horn lightly glowing, the wind starting to blow.

        “Well… Yea? I mean, you’re my friend and I…”

        “My friend!?” The horn glowed brighter for a second, wind surging with a howl. “You do the things you do and say you’re my friend?”

        “What? What things? I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

        “DECEPTION!” The horn flashed again, wind howling with an almost demonic fury. “You can’t stop lying! I saw! I saw everything! I was watching you all that time! You’re not going to keep doing this, Rainbow Dash! I won’t let you!”

        Fluttershy had fully intended to stay home on the gray day that had sprung up; days that didn’t follow the Pegasus plans were very inauspicious. It meant that weather was seeping out of the Everfree forest, making it somewhat dangerous. But she couldn’t stay cooped up in her house when there were potential problems. Unexpected days could hurt little animals. So she was on her way through town, to the fields on the other side when she saw Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, talking. She wanted to skirt them, to avoid unnecessary conversation. She hadn’t been very talkative since she had finished with Rarity’s dresses.

        “Twilight, I seriously don’t know what you’re… Wait a minute… What’s going on? No one ordered any wind. How is..?” Rainbow Dash stared, open-mouthed at Twilight Sparkle, not believe what she had concluded. No unicorn had ever tried to do weather in Ponyville before. She knew it was possible but they had always left it to the pegasi. “Why are you doing this? You’re not a weather pony!”

        “I tried so hard… Tried so hard to find a way to make this easy. I scoured the tomes for some shred of information. I even went to… Well, it’s not important. All I know is I failed. There is no easy way to do this. I had to look you in the eyes and get it done. Rainbow Dash! You’ve been dallying around Ponyville. With everyone! I’ve seen it. I spent days and nights seeing it. And I’m not going to let it go on!”

        Applejack worked every day, rain or shine. No gray day would keep her out of her normal routine. She always had things to do. It was the full-time nature of the task that kept it engaging and fun. And without any regular distractions, as she used to have, it was all that she could do to entertain herself. So she checked the soil and the drainage, as the sky looked a little bit like rain, worrisome enough on schedule, but worse without warning.

        “You don’t even have the sense to get out of the rain, do you?” Gilda landed with a rush of wings, her voice lacking its mocking tone. She was still trying to get a handle on the reversal that had been handed to her. It was no easy task for the hot-headed griffin.

        “T’aint rainin’ yet, critter. And ah ain’t such a prissy-bridle that ah gotta run an’ hide every time th’ sky ain’t too friendly. Ah told yew, ah’m a farmer. Ah gots things tew dew. This orchard is mah life and it always will be.”

        “Locked to the land, looking at the trees and digging in the dirt. And there I am, high above you looking down on your trees and laughing at you, tied to this jumble of rocks and sticks. And guess what, hayseed? Rainbow Dash is above you, too. You’ll never tie her to anything, least of all yourself.”

        Applejack didn’t respond for a while. As infuriating as Gilda was, and had been, she had a sharp mind that was right about any number of things. That was one of them. Rainbow Dash was a creature of the sky. She hardly ever let her hooves touch the ground; she scarcely even walked, just constantly hovered just to move around. “She may be up in the clouds, critter…” She kicked a tree lightly, dropping an apple from it then swiftly gave it a second buck, sending the apple flying in Gilda’s direction, though too high to hit. “But she comes down on her own. And she don’t mind bein’ tied tew somethin’ she loves.”

        Gilda snarled, still not confident enough in her ability to overpower Applejack to risk a direct attack. “Yea, yea. You say it, but even you said, she’s not coming around. I’ll bet she’s training to be in the Wonderbolts, or up in her cloud manor. In fact, I’m going to go up there right now, where you can never reach. I’ll get to see her all alone.”

        Applejack looked up at Gilda as she flew off with a screech of triumph, the noise lost in the sudden wind that had come up. That was unusual. It was coming from the direction of town. But it never swept in from that direction. It always came in unscheduled from the Everfree forest.

        Blowing in from the direction of the center of town, Ditzy Doo fought against the slight drafts that affected flying, though not critically. She came down in front of Applejack, eyes out of place. “Have you seen Rainbow Dash? I have letters for her but she’s not home. And if she’s not here then I don’t know where she’d be, with this wind making flying hard. Derp.”

        “Naw, ah ain’t seen Dash in… A while…” Applejack looked towards Ponyville proper. The wind was unnaturally blowing and too strong to be normal. The clouds almost looked to be gathered there and hadn’t drifted into scudding brightness as they usually did. “But ah know where she might be…”

        The winds blew powerfully in the Ponyville town square, growing strong enough to throw some of the smaller items around, whirlwinds starting to appear in the air around Twilight Sparkle’s head. The flying objects nearly hit Fluttershy, making her squeal loudly and drop into her usual Fluttershy ball. “Are you scared yet, Rainbow Dash?” Twilight Sparkle’s eyes began to shine, her horn glowing all the brighter. “You’ve been deceptive to everyone.”

        Rarity scratched out her latest minimalist design with a frustrated sigh. She had failed again. It was properly styled and would look decently enough but it lacked a certain spark. No matter what she did she could not help but consider ostentations to make it pop. But it doing so she ruined her creative vision. It was a conundrum indeed.

        She flipped back through her other failed masterpieces, minimalist and otherwise. They all looked fine. In any other circumstances they would have been perfect for production and retail. But they lacked something. There was some element absent from them that kept them from being ideal. A small bit in their shape or their construction or intended color didn’t fit at all. Something. It was like they were made so well, they were actually imperfect, something in their very nature was just plain off.

        They would have looked nicer with someone with a lankier shape and more delicate features. Not because that would fit Twilight Sparkle better, but because it was what Rarity saw when she imagined a perfect dress. Nothing too dark, even though it was required to compliment the unicorn’s naturally darker-toned coat. Her mind wasn’t in the place required to make Twilight Sparkle a perfect outfit. She had other things in mind.

        Seeing no use in looking over the failed designs again, Rarity turned her head aside and looked to where Fluttershy normally sat. The sewing machine was vacant and silent, but beside it, lined up on forms or folded carefully, were the dresses for next year’s summer line. She had finished the display copies and the production run. They were magnificent. She had handled every little thing and done it well, using her knowledge of sewing and craft to excellent effect.

        The unicorn pony slowly got to her hooves and examined the dresses with a practiced eye. They were practically identical. Not a stitch loose, dropped or out of place. The lace was ruffled to perfection, the fabric hung beautifully and all the lines were as crisp as a fresh-dug carrot. Perfect. The ideal lovingly rendered execution of her creative vision. All done with a gentle and patient hoof.

        Rarity ran a hoof over the stitching, frog confirming what her eyes had told her. Smooth and straight, not a quiver or jag to be felt. Her breath caught in her throat as she did it a second time, for a completely different dress. Flawless, insofar as anything could be. Fluttershy had done everything to ensure it was all perfect. And Rarity had… Never even noticed. Scarcely even breathed a word of thanks, to say nothing of praise. Fluttershy had done it all, not for money, thanks or status. Out of the goodness of her heart. Out of… Love?

        The past rushed back into her head, all the way back to her choosing of Fluttershy to be her model. Fluttershy was fearful and hesitant. But did it, no matter what. She never turned down a request and made sure to give her all. She followed along, doing what was needed, and offered insights when she had them to give. And every so often, her quiet tongue would slip. She had never thought it through, but Rarity now realized every slip, was a confession. Admission that she, truly, loved her. It was all out of love. That thought sent Rarity running out of her shop, into the sudden, and violent, windstorm in Ponyville.

        “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash found herself having to yell. The wind was getting worse, way beyond normal summer breezes, heading into the territory of windstorms, though of a class almost never used. It was getting dangerous. “Talk to me! Tell me what’s wrong!”

        “You don’t know? How could you not know!?” Twilight Sparkle’s voice reverberated, but slightly, just a slight undercurrent of it in her screaming. “You’ve done nothing but lie and cheat all the time I was watching you! Flitting girl to girl without care! To Pinkie without care! How does this feel, Dash? No way to escape to the sky! Are you afraid?”

        “Y-yea! Yea, I am! Is that what you wanted to hear?” Rainbow Dash’s mind was in complete disarray. This was unlike anything she had experienced, and completely unlike Twilight Sparkle. She was a quiet bookworm, not some kind of screaming engine of anger.

        “Know how many friends I had before I got here? None! Know how many times I’ve fallen in love, really? ONCE! ONE time, Rainbow Dash! And your selfish, deceitful heart couldn’t even let me have that!” Twilight Sparkle’s voice reverberated more, her eyes glowing faintly along with her horn, the wind growing even worse. “I won’t let you have her! You don’t deserve her! You! Don’t! Deserve her!”

        Rainbow Dash cowered on the ground, hooves scraping for purchase on the cobblestone street while her wings fought to stay folded in the fury of the wind. “I didn’t! I didn’t do anything with Pinkie Pie! We’re just friends! She helps me with pranks! Come on, Twilight! Stop this! I’m your friend, I am! We can talk about this, please!”

        Fluttershy found that being a still, silent ball of yellow wasn’t very effective when the wind could scoot her along the ground. She struggled for shelter somewhere, anywhere, hooves scraping harshly on the ground as she dragged herself along. She was too close to the center. The buffeting wind wasn’t letting her go backwards. The random whirlwinds were forming and keeping her trapped in the area of effect. All she could do was carry on, and hope she could find a niche into which she could tuck herself.

        Applejack fought the wind, finding it a strange thing. The closer she got to the center of town, the more random it got. Sometimes it pushed, sometimes it pulled, but it never did what wind was supposed to. She drive through it, desperately trying to keep her hat on her head as it picked up speed. She had to dodge several flying objects on her way to the square, where she saw Rainbow Dash, cowering before the fury of the wind, and Twilight Sparkle, horn glowing, the apparent source.

        “I don’t need your lies! You can’t be my friend! I saw you, in the orchard with Applejack, and making contact with Fluttershy! All while also spending time with Pinkie Pie. Too much time! You can’t keep your hooves to yourself. I’ll make you!”

        “What in the tarnation is this here?” Applejack’s voice was lost to the winds, her eyes struggling to remain open as she looked at the scene.

        “No! No! It’s not true! I love Applejack!” The words carried on the screaming wind, reaching ever ear in the square. Especially Applejack’s. “I just… I just never told her because the last time… Didn’t work out so well.”



        “T-twilight, I don’t mean to be a bother…” Fluttershy’s voice never rose above the scream of the wind, her frail yellow body barely making it through the cutting currents. She tried to make herself noticed, to beg for respite so she could leave. She was only buffeted away by the force of the air. “Help!”

        “Really! I mean it! I love her!” Rainbow Dash cowered on the ground, holding her place on the stones with difficulty. Tears ran out of her eyes and were whipped away by the winds. “I do, I do I do… PLEASE!”

        “Twilight! Stop this foolishness!” Applejack dashed through the wind with all her might, to reach Rainbow Dash. “She’s tellin’ yew the truth! She has ta be, ‘cause ah love her tew! And ah know when she’s tellin’ lies! Come on, stop this!”

        “R-really? Wait, was that what you were trying to tell me? That was a month ago! Why didn’t you say anything before now?”

        “Well, ah had some problems with… An annoyin’ critter that wouldn’t leave me be. But she’s not a problem right now.”

        “Help!” Fluttershy was in no better position that before. She was still at the mercy of the wind, with no hope of controlling herself. She stumbled to and fro as the whirlwinds formed and dissipated, and the general storm went on. Her wings were weak and opened slightly, sending her stumbling even more powerfully as she was buffeted.

        “Lies, lies, lies, LIES, LIES, LIES! LIAAAAR!” Twilight Sparkle’s eyes flashed brighter, glowing purely white. Her horn shone almost as brilliantly as her blank eyes, while a wavering field of pure magic seemed to radiate from her body. “You drew Applejack into your deceit! How did you? How could you? You corrupted honesty, and betrayed your own loyalty! You deserve this, Rainbow Dash! This fear, and the final payment for your deception. Accept your doom.” The voice that emerged from Twilight Sparkle was deep and heavily reverberated, almost sounding like someone else entirely.

        Fluttershy trembled in fear, completely surrounded by objects of terror. From the swirling wind to the madness of Twilight Sparkle. She was losing energy rapidly. She didn’t have the strength to keep fighting. She kept on trying, however; she knew that as soon as she let go, she would be at the mercy of the wind, and be crushed against a building.

        It happened at last, her wings giving out and flapping open suddenly, catching a current and tossing her into their air. Not a sound could emerge from her tight throat, eyes wide and pleading, staring at nothing as she prepared to be dashed against unforgiving stone. She stopped suddenly, painlessly. So, the shock was immediate. It must have snapped her spinal cord and killed her feeling right away. But, she found herself moving down, in defiance of the wind. That made her look around. She hadn’t hit a wall; she was in the air but slowly moving towards the ground.

        Another look showed her Rarity. She was straining hard, holding her own position with some force, body quivering. But most of her concentration was pouring into her horn, which glowed and crackled with magical force, holding Fluttershy in a protective grip, drawing her slowly down to the ground against the wind.

        “Twilight! Y’all gotta stop this! She’s not lyin’ and ah ain’t either! Twilight! Listen to me! Twilight!” Applejack stayed with Rainbow Dash, standing tall with one leg over her shoulders while she huddled on the ground.

        “I! I can’t! I can’t control it!” The reverberating voice boomed out loudly before moving into a wordless rumbling, horn glowing just as brightly, eyes practically emitting beams of light.

        “R-rarity…” Fluttershy blushed brightly, as she usually did, as she reached the ground, right beside Rarity. She looked at the glorious unicorn, her mane and tail rapidly being turned into a puffy mess by the howling wind. She was panting and shivering, keeping her place with all her might. “Your… Your mane. Oh… Thank you for this. I’m sorry for… For making you do this.”

        Rarity got a strange, small smile on her face, looking at Fluttershy with a tiny blush on her own cheeks, the pink tinge looking like aptly applied makeup. “I’m sorry…” She spoke softly, but close enough to Fluttershy’s ears to be heard in the wind. “I’m sorry I didn’t see what you were saying. I’m so… Well, my mind goes a mile a minute, when I’m in the zone. But darling… I understand when I finally stop to look.”

        Fluttershy’s eyes quavered, her mouth hanging agape, not sure what she ought to do, or what it even meant. “Umm… I don’t… I didn’t say anything…”

        Rarity leaned down to kiss Fluttershy on the forehead, pressing neck-to-neck with her and pressing her body to hers. “You said it all. And now I understand.”

        “T-twilight! I’m sorry for whatever you thought was happening! I didn’t think anything was weird about what I was doing! I hung out with Pinkie Pie to plan pranks, I hung out with Fluttershy because we’re both from Cloudsdale, and with Applejack because… I love her! I told you, I love her!”

        “She ain’t…” Applejack looked over at Twilight Sparkle, her horn and eyes still glowing brightly, her body lifted into the air.

        “O what can ail thee, knight at arms,/ Alone and palely loitering?/ The sedge has wither'd from the lake,/ And no birds sing./ O What can ail thee, knight at arms,/ So haggard and so woe-begone?/ The squirrel's granary is full,/ And the harvest's done./ I see a lily on thy brow/ With anguish moist and fever dew,/ And on thy cheeks a fading rose/ Fast withereth too./ I met a lady in the meads,/ Full beautiful, a fairy's child;/ Her hair was long, her foot was light,/ And her eyes were wild… The tremulous voice stopped a moment then went on. She found me roots of relish sweet,/ And honey wild, and manna dew,/ And sure in language strange she said— Another pause, a longer pause that was finally broken by a huge, unearthly shriek, born of anguish and speaking of pain. And this is why I sojourn here,/ Alone and palely loitering,/ Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,/ And no birds sing.

        “Twi… Light?” Pinkie Pie clopped along the cobblestones, moving with the wind despite its mad patterns. “Twilight? What happened to you? What’s wrong?” Pinkie Pie’s normally cheery face was lined with concern. She approached without fear, though the swirling wind seemed to almost follow her and try to push her away. “This isn’t you. You’re the smart one.”

        “Pinkie? Get back! Stay away!” Twilight Sparkle turned her glowing eyes on Pinkie Pie and the wind seemed to waver in strength. “You’re not supposed to see this! You can’t see this, how I’m protecting you from deception and heartbreak.”

        “Protecting me? From who? Dashie? She’s just a friend I do pranks with. Besides, she likes Applejack. And I like you.”

        “Wh-what?” The wind died, in an instant. Twilight dropped like a stone, horn and eyes back to normal, body barely moving as she lay on her side, panting. “You… What?”

        Pinkie Pie hopped to Twilight Sparkle, leaning over her face, staring into her half-open eye. “You didn’t know? The visits, the parties, the cupcakes?”

        Twilight Sparkle lay on the ground, softly groaning. Her body was feeling the effects of embracing her wild magic release. But her mind was still able to call back. She got more parties than any of the others. Pinkie Pie was always right there with her. Even when they didn’t agree, they always ended up coming to an understanding. And the cupcakes. Great, ridiculous numbers of cupcakes. And she never refused to eat them. Never refused to… “You thought… I knew. Because I acted like I knew.”

        “You were always so nice, and you always ate the cupcakes, even when I knew you didn’t want to, because of your teeth and nutrition and stuff. I thought you were shy. You’re really shy when it comes to saying things. I was just waiting for you to tell me…”

        “I love you, Pinkie Pie…” Twilight Sparkle had tears in her eyes, and spoke with a shuddering, pained, thick-throated voice. She collapsed into sobs afterwards, pulling closer to Pinkie Pie’s legs.

        As the cloudy sky began to clear, there was a flapping of wings and a rush of air. It was Princess Celestia, who regarded the scene with wide eyes, looking down at Twilight Sparkle with a slight shake of her head. She trotted slowly towards the sobbing unicorn, leaning her head down. “Oh my faithful student… What have you done?”

        Hooves clopped down a long stone corridor, echoing along the cavern that punched deep into a mountain. The walls were rough-hewn, and lined with torches that were touched by one carried by the traveler, lighting the dreary passage.

        The corridor terminated at a huge, heavy iron gate, which rose slowly with the whine of metal on metal, drawn up by chains worked by pulleys located elsewhere in the mountain. Behind the iron gate was a double gate of heavy wood banded with iron. The two sides slowly slid open to reveal a sturdy iron door with torches on either side. They were lit, mirrors placed above and before them shining the light onto the door. At last, the figure worked a bolt on the door and opened it wide.

        The reflected light from the torches flooded the dark chamber beyond the door, falling upon a figure on the far wall. A purple unicorn, secured to the wall and floor with heavy chains. A heavy yoke kept her head bowed to the ground, while an iron cap covered her horn and was secured to the yoke by stout chains. She opened up her eyes and looked to the door, light falling on her pained face. “Professor… No… Don’t look at me. Please. I’m a monster. I deserve to be buried here and forgotten.”

        Crescent Sliver regarded Twilight Sparkle for a long while. He then shook his head and stared hard at her. “This is my prison, not yours. You’re no more a monster than any of the other love-mad ponies that come to my presence and beg to learn how to destroy with a thought. In fact, you are better. Despite slipping into a wild magical state, you still did not harm anyone, though I understand it was a near thing. I don’t believe for a moment you’re anywhere near half the monster you believe yourself to be. In point of fact, my former student, I doubt that you TRULY believe yourself to be a monster at all.”

        “But… But I was…”

        “Tell me, Twilight, if you were so determined to murder your rival, why didn’t you? Collateral destruction matters little to monsters. You denied her the air, and had her at your mercy. Harsher winds, lightning, even your own hooves could have reduced her to little more than a memory. But you did nothing. You lost control of your powers because you could not go on.”

        “I didn’t… I couldn’t do that with an audience. I made sure everyone was inside, I got Rainbow Dash alone. I was going to make her feel fear. Make her see the shine of my poison apple, grown from my smile and my tears. And then see her outstretched under the tree. But Fluttershy was in the background. And Applejack showed up. I couldn’t do it. Not with witnesses. Not with all their eyes…”

        “Lies do not suit you, any more than a maudlin bearing. These amateur dramatics should be left to the weeping high schoolers thinking the world is over because they have nothing new to wear. I heard what happened. You could not have known that your flying friend was in the background until she was saved, and at that point you were lost to the world. You couldn’t do it at all. Had you meant it, you could have done it immediately. And I applaud you for not.”

        “I’m still a monster for thinking it. For even doing what I did. Why do you think I’m in this cave, locked away from Equestria?”

        “Because you led Celestia’s royal guards to the deepest recesses of this place, had them chain you up like that and made them seal all the doors. You asked for all this. This place was built for genuinely dangerous ponies, not for fillies who got a little jealous and made a mess with a windstorm. If that were the case there would be any number of pegasi in there with you.”

        “I’m here like you. I deserve this. It’s my decision. I’m a danger to others and I deserve to be locked inside this prison where I can’t hurt anyone again.”

        “In the first place, you are not like me. Do not exaggerate. Your powers are nothing like what I have taken in. First-order destruction is a terrible thing because it is far more direct and willful than anything done by another object. In the second place, and I would say far more important place, whatever else you may do, keeping yourself her will cause more pain and suffering than you may wish. It will, in fact, make one life unbearable.”

        “Ha! No one would miss a monster like me. Not even Princess Celestia.” Twilight Sparkle looked down, scratching at the stone with a hoof.

        Small, soft hoof beats moved slowly into the cavern, definitely not the steps of an adult stallion. “I would.”

        “What?” Twilight Sparkle snapped her head up, moving quickly even despite the heavy yoke around her neck. Standing there in the light of the doorway was Pinkie Pie. Her color was washed out, a wan pink at best, and her hair had fallen into the long, limp strings. She was Pinkamena Diane Pie again, the lonely little rock farmer. “Pinkie…” She turned away, a hoof up over her face, rattling the chain attached to it. “No! Get away from me! I don’t want you seeing me like this.”

        Pinkie Pie trotted across the stone room and embraced Twilight Sparkle, not caring how awkwardly her limbs were arrayed to deal with the chains that wound all over. “I don’t care. You’re still Twilight. I still love you! Besides, this was all my fault…”

        “No! No, d-don’t blame yourself for my stupid mistakes. It was never on you. It was always me. I was the one that did this.” Twilight Sparkle kissed the mare embracing her, tears falling freely from both their eyes. “I should have seen that you were always in love with me. Always trying to show me how much you cared.”

        “Mistakes. Trivial little mistakes that mean nothing the first time they happen take on all new form and character with time and more errors. They all compound on one another, like the growth of a stalactite. We never know just what can happen by the steady growth of the tiny missteps.  At least this did not end in tragedy, though I suppose it has ended in tears. I hope you learned from this.” Crescent Sliver entered the room as well, looking down at the two embracing mares.

        “I shouldn’t have thought of Pinkie Pie like that. She would never hurt me. And Rainbow Dash… She was my friend. I should have trusted her loyalty, no matter what.” Twilight Sparkle kissed Pinkie Pie’s cheek, wiping her eyes against her straight hair.

        “Very well. You’ve learned your lesson I think.” Crescent Sliver leaned his head down and touched certain points on the chains and yoke. Hidden springs and latches disengaged, soon enough leaving Twilight Sparkle completely free.

        “What? How did you do that?”

        “Who do you think built this place? I have a lot of time on my hands and I know well that those that come after me will not be so genial or willing. I designed this cell for the most dangerous of those who will come later. Come on, now. I don’t need you here when your place is in Ponyville with your new love and your friends.”

        “Will you come back, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie looked to Twilight Sparkle with huge, wavering eyes, the look only enhanced by her pale color and fallen hair.

        Twilight Sparkle had to smile. Someone needed to. If Pinkie Pie was around the room should never be filled with sorrow and frowning. “Of course I will! I want you to smile and laugh. And I’ll need you there to throw me the biggest welcome home party Ponyville has ever seen!”

        At the word ‘party’ Pinkie Pie’s hair popped back into shape, and her eyes grew bright, her color warming considerably. “Did you say ‘party?! Of course I can do that! I’ll throw the biggest shindig ever! Stand back, Grand Galloping Gala! Pinkie Pie’s gonna make you cry!”

        The Grand Galloping Gala was in no danger of losing its prominence as the most vaunted party in all of Equestria, but Pinkie Pie’s multi-purpose ‘Welcome Home, Twilight/ We’re Officially Dating/ Gummy’s Possibly Birthday’ party was certainly well-enjoyed. The entire town was invited, along with anyone who chose to show up, which included many members of the royal court along with Princesses Celestia and Luna.

        The spread was catered by Sweet Apple Acres, and the music was provided by local wunderkind DJ Pon-3. The entirety of the town was turned into a giant party space. Streets were clogged with singing, dancing and cavorting ponies. Everyone was in the spirit of things and they did their best to party as hard as the party deserved. Even normally-dour Princess Luna got her groove on when the beat thumped hard enough.

        Though it was well attended, not everypony in town was there. Applejack was at Sweet Apple Acres. Having finished composing a letter to her cousin Braeburn, congratulating him on his wedding and wishing him well, she set out to walk the orchard, her usual means of relaxation and meditation. She didn’t know it, but her orchard was, for her, like the bamboo groves in Neighpon.

        The peaceful solitude of the setting was broken in the usual way, a rush of wind, the flap of wings and a subtle thud that told of a landing. “You think you’re so damn smart, don’t you? Big windstorm, nothing’s going to be in the sky. So I made a mistake. You were too busy dealing with your psycho killer friend to do anything about where you were. And now that she’s back from whatever nuthatch she had been in, you’re not going to dare do anything. She might fly off the handle again if anything changes around here.”

        “Ah knows only one thing, critter. Yew didn’t fly off to be Rainbow Dash’s knight in angry armor. Ah was there at least. Ah did what ah could. An’ no matter what, ah did what ah had tew dew fer her. Yew jes flew off and kept flyin’. Didn’t have the decency to admit you was a coward, jes waiting until now tew show up.”

        “Don’t you sass me, hayseed. I told you, I made a mistake. One of many, really. I should never have eased up on you. I should have kept grinding away at your emotions until you snapped like a twig. I still can. Dash isn’t going to give a damn about you; you’ve been out of the loop for too long. Time for me to get in on things and finally give it a shot. You’re not as pacified as I’d like, but once Dash is with me, you’ll crumble up and blow away.”

        “Sorry, Gilda. I don’t think that’s gonna happen.” From the cover of a low bush emerged Rainbow Dash, her eyes somewhat misty as she regarded her former friend. “I can’t believe it. I mean… You disappointed me when you went off on Pinkie Pie, and everyone else. It hurt and I was sad. But I think maybe I could have forgiven you, remembering what we used to have together. But now, hearing that… I don’t even know what to think of you anymore.”

        “You… Dash…” Gilda looked quickly over to where Rainbow Dash stood. Her features were hard but her eyes were soft. She looked angry, and yet… Genuinely disappointed. It had never been her intention for Rainbow Dash to know any of this. “You! You did this!”

        “Couldn’t jes let yew get away with it. An‘, much as it hurt, an’ it did, ah told Dash what yew’d been a-doin’ tew me. ‘Tweren’t easy, lemmee tell ya. It all still hurt. But ah figgered yew might be back. An’ ah wanted her here tew see wut sorta critter yew really was.”

        “I didn’t believe her, you know. I didn’t want to think she was lying, not being that she’s the element of honesty and all that, but I figured maybe she was exaggerating. She can tell some tall tales, you know, being a farmer and all. So I wanted to make sure she was saying how things were. And… Well… I guess I should have seen it. You were… I was different back then. I just ignored it.”

        “C-come on, Dash…I mean… You’re… You’re loyalty! Shouldn’t you be, you know, LOYAL to me? We’ve been friends for a long time. Better than friends. Way better than friends. I thought that meant something to you. You always said it did.”

        “It did mean something to me, Gilda. You meant something to me. But I changed. I saw how ponies got hurt when you didn’t care about them. And if there’s one thing I can say about Applejack, she cares. I’m sorry. But you showed me what kinda friend you really are. Twice.”

        “Dash… Come on, you know I’m just… I had a tough life.”

        “I know, Gilda. And I didn’t have as hard of one. So maybe I can’t know why you’re like that. But you’re like that. And it affects how you treat people. I can’t just ignore it. I’m sorry Gilda.”

        “Do you still..?”
        “You know the answer to that.” Rainbow Dash flitted over to Applejack’s side, and placed a leg around her shoulders.

        Gilda ground her beak and trembled through her whole body. “I never thought…”

        “You always knew it would be this way, Gilda. The closed door confrontation.  But… We’re not still friends. At least… It won’t be awkward after it’s all done.”

        “It’s done.” With a glare of injured hate for Rainbow Dash and Applejack, Gilda launched herself into the air, using her impressive speed and power to propel herself away from Ponyville.

        Applejack watched Gilda go, feeling a tremendous weight lifted off her shoulders. “Y’all thing she’s really..?”

        The question was interrupted by Rainbow Dash’s lips, a hoof moving Applejack’s head into position for a kiss. After a long moment they pulled apart, and Rainbow Dash whispered, “Even if she comes back, we’re together. And nothing’s going to change that.”

        Back at the party, Rarity walked the streets in a shimmering gown made of fine silk with jewels sewn all over. She tossed her hair and moved her body to the beat of the thumping tunes. “Come along, dear. This is your first lesson in maneuvering through a party. You wish to do this, don’t you?”

        Following very close behind her, in a bright yellow dress with ruffles and lace, was Fluttershy, a little blush tinting her cheeks. This time, it wasn’t the crowd that did it. It was her company. She was with her… Girlfriend. She could hardly believe it. But, it had to be true. She had already pinched herself and splashed her face with water. She was really with Rarity. “I’m just not meant for it. I-is that ok? I prefer to be with the little critters and in my home.”

        “Oh my darling. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I understand that this is not your world. But I MUST move in circles such as these. For my business, you understand. Networking and contacts are important to me. And I want you there because, well, you are the mare I love.”

        “Oh Rarity… Of COURSE I’ll be there for you. Don’t worry, I just need more time. But maybe not today. We can go back to the house, and I can make us some popcorn and we can listen to the birds.”

        “For you, anything you wish.”

        In the town square, Twilight Sparkle was the center of attention. She was being welcomed back by citizens who were well aware of her connection to Princess Celestia. Though some were unsure about her mental stability, no one would dare refuse her presence with the princess so nearby. It worked out well for her, giving her many well-wishers. As well, she was able to enjoy the company of her new love. Despite being the hostess of the party, whenever Twilight Sparkle felt the need to kiss or hug her, Pinkie Pie was always suddenly there.

        “My dear former student, you certainly know how to throw a party.” There beside her suddenly was Crescent Sliver, a smile on his face and an iron cap over his horn. All magic in his area faded down to almost nothing, as a group of unicorns surrounded him, horns glowing brightly.

        “It’s all Pinkie Pie’s doing! She’s the real expert. It’s just one of those things I love about her.” Twilight Sparkle looked lovingly over at Pinkie Pie, who was glad-hoofing several guests near one of the snack tables.

        “I am so happy to see that things have worked out well for you. You deserve your happiness. You should not fret about like someone too afraid to eat a peach. Now you have what you always wished. Love, friends, a place to be both the studious autodidact and the cheery soul.”

        “I know, professor, it’s just wonderful. I’m so glad it all worked out in the end.” With that, Twilight Sparkle walked off, to be with Pinkie Pie.

        “’In the end’? Nothing ever ends, my former student…” Crescent Sliver looked over with a smile, then took a sip of some punch.

The Unexpected Epilogue and the Unctuous Explanations

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        “Mommy! Mommy, we’re going to late!” Dinky Doo called out into the depths of her home, the little purplish unicorn tapping her hooves impatiently.

        “Now, now little one, we’re not going to be late. We have plenty of time.” Carrot Top trotted in a leisurely manner to the young filly.

        “Not you, mommy. My other mommy.” Dinky Doo looked around Carrot Top into the house once again.

        “Oh, yes!  Dear! We need to hurry.”

        From the back of the house, soon enough, emerged the light purplish form of Ditzy Doo, the mail mare. She was looking fine, freshly-groomed and with both her eyes focused properly. “Coming! Just wanted to make sure I looked my best.”

        “Oh honey, you always look perfect to me.” Carrot Top pressed her neck to the side of Ditzy Doo’s neck, eyes closing briefly as she leaned against her wife.

        “Eeeew, mushy mommies! Do you hafta do that?” Dinky Doo took on the face of a typical child overcome with typical childhood aversion to displays of affection.

        “Some day, little one, you’re going to find some colt or some filly that makes you want to be mushy too.” Carrot Top fondly ruffled the top of Dinky Doo’s head.

        Ditzy Doo got a look on her face, a smiling, but still look that usually heralded the slip of her eyes. After a long moment however, her eyes shut, she gave her daughter a hug and said, “Yup! Just wait, you’ll be mushily happy someday too!”

        Carrot Top sighed and smiled, opening the door for the two of them. “Come on, a couple of the other parents are saving us a seat.”

        “Yay! We get to see Sweetie Belle’s play!” Dinkie Doo was out the door, dashing like a wild filly for the center of Ponyville, which was quite brightly lit and had a stage set up.

        The two mothers trotted much more calmly into the town square, which was quite thickly populated with ponies of all ages. Dinky Doo was nearly loss in the shuffle, but her boundless enthusiasm, and loud voice, kept her in a noticeable state until she was reached. She was chatting with Berry Pinch the little carnation-pink filly, who was standing with her mothers, Berry Punch and Romana. “Ahh, there you are. Perfect timing, we have seats all staked out.” Berry Punch smiled and indicated a large blanket, folded over thickly and saving a space sufficient for four mares and two fillies.

        “Wonderful. And so convenient. We don’t need special accommodations.” The other five looked back after Carrot Top had spoken, to see Lyra and Bon Bon. Bon Bon was down on the ground like many others. But Lyra had a chair with her. And was sitting in it in a slouching, stomach-showing posture. “Well, she knows how to be comfortable, at least.”

        The ponies settled comfortably onto the provided blanket to watch the stage. Though constructed quite quickly, it was made very well. It was quite a professional job, with a small orchestra pit, wings, and a substantial backstage area, including standing spaces for special-effects unicorns. In the space provided for the primary special effects unicorn was Rarity, standing grandly, looking quite proud, and blowing kisses to Fluttershy, standing in the wings with a clipboard.

        The orchestra, in fact, was actually composed of certain royal players, including some veterans of the Grand Galloping Gala. Quite impressive for a performance of a play written by a little filly from a little town like Ponyville. Also, the costumes had been designed by Rarity herself. But as the writer and co-star was her sister, it made more sense.

        The playbill was passed around amongst the audience, which had nearly been seated. It was a fairly elaborate production. The main four were billed as Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Applebloom and Zecora. In smaller letters were others playing smaller roles, the biggest name in the bunch being Rainbow Dash.

        With the audience seated, the lights around the area dimmed and the orchestra began to play. Though using classical instruments there was some mixing and technological work done by DJ P0N-3. There was even a backup group of singers who were in soft light, while the main spotlight shone down on Sweetie Belle, in a beautiful dress, before a microphone. “It’s me and you, doing what we do (It takes a long, long time.) Gotta tell somebody, gotta move my body, gotta get out and go, oh my friend… Take my revelation…”

The Author’s notes and references

        Hello there, the author here. I hadn’t intended for there to be anything like this. But I got to thinking, it never hurts to have notes. I LIVE by the footnotes in my texts. But then, they generally involve archaic language. However, I think in general it is only decent of a writer to give notes for his work, if only because some people really do need them.

A general note on the accents: The written word is generally new in human experience, and consequently is an often imperfect indicator of the dizzying array of noises capable of being produced. As well, accents, being an acceptable standard audio variation on a language as opposed to a cant, argot or pidgin, can be difficult to render well as the difference stems from a deformation of the “normal” pronunciation by a small or large degree. It can be a subtle thing especially when representation can render two different accents the same way. The only way to make an accent truly clear and notable in text is broadening and exaggerating. I am sorry this caused problems. But it was an artistic necessity.

A general note on the plot of the story: I had at least one complaint that explicitly said that the story had no “plot” and was therefore bad. I’d like to point out that your life doesn’t have a plot. Neither do arc-less shows or any media that highlight ordinary lives. It’s called “Slice of life.” The characters exist with particular personalities within certain parameters. Elements are introduced to these characters, and their reactions are shown. That’s the story. A romantic drama slice of life with fantasy elements (Because the setting itself is fantasy.) Just wanted to get that noted.

Specific references and explanations for “First Blush”

Elements of Discord: Originally the story had a far more “straight-played” fantasy component, to the point that it involved all of the mane six invoking the inverse of their elements, or misusing them so badly that they rebelled. For example, Pinkie Pie would misuse laughter by not taking anything seriously, including the chaos she was sowing among her friends; and Applejack unable to be honest about her feelings for Rainbow Dash.

First Blush: The stories are numbered using typical English idioms that also had something to do with the events. In this case, first blush meaning both the first appearance of the plot (as in the phrase “On first blush”) and more literally as in, the romance between the mane six now comes to the point of a blushing, direct thing.

Azurite: Come on, it’s a fun name. And I happen to own a piece. It’s a fairly common mineral at rock fairs and other such things. It’s quite lovely and really dresses up the dull stone on which it crystallizes. All these tiny blue points across a small area.

Logistics: This, of course, would be Twilight Sparkle’s specialty, in any universe. The ability to organize and plan things into manageable units. Which would appear to be Twilight’s whole life.

Whispering Wind and Cinnamon Cider: Twilight Sparkle surely had a life before she was a super-scholar. She had to go to school in the normal sense. And these two are sort of an oblique reference to the kind of manipulative and insincere female characters in shoujo high school dramas. This is especially relevant because these types can be the plot-enhancers of yuri (lesbian) writers, as in the case of Kaname and Momomi in Strawberry Panic! Or Kisaragi from The Last Uniform.

“Medicine”: Surprisingly, I don’t think this would be standard corn whiskey, given that most refined grains probably go into making flour for all the sugary treats or other types of meal for cooking. In all likelihood, this would be especially hard apple cider, probably passed through a still or allowed to freeze in the winter, leaving only the portion with the highest alcohol content. And yes, it’s a bit of a stereotypical thing to have as a character element. But it’s funny.

Graftin’: In the technological mish-mash of Equestria, I’m pretty sure that agriculturists like the Apple clan would know about splicing branches from two different types of tree together to create new varieties. It’s certainly easier than waiting for normal variation.

Ship of Theseus: A classic thought experiment in Philosophy, based on the myth of Theseus. After he returned from the defeat of the minotaur his ship was put on display. However, over time weather and simple processes caused parts of it to wear out. So those pieces were replaced. Eventually, every part of the ship had been replaced, leaving no original pieces behind. Is it still his ship? That’s the thought experiment.

Griftin’: Grifting, conning, scamming. Same thing, really. But using that kind of word, it implies a sort of Old Timey conning, like someone in a bowler hat and seersucker suit with a small moustache selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. If you didn’t see, Uncle Bad Apple was shown in the short story, “Bad News Apple.” Not too bad of a stallion, all told.

“Do you know? Have you heard the news?”: This is the first (but CERTAINLY not the last) reference to the anime series (And manga, and movie) “Revolutionary Girl Utena” my earliest and most formative lesbian media influence. Specifically, this is typically the first line spoken by the shadow puppet girls each time they appear. The words represent both rumors, and prophecy. Gilda is using them in both senses, the rumor being Applejack’s relationship with Rainbow Dash, the prophecy being her impending psychological torture of Applejack.

Ditzy Doo (And Gilda): Ditzy Doo is, to be blunt, a kind of prophet. When her eyes go “off” her statement is meant to be interpreted in the context of the surrounding action. Her “Derp” is the end of the statement to be interpreted. Why? Because she is half of Applejack’s non-intangible Psychomachia. Psychomachia, from the title of a late Latin poem about the battle for a soul, is the technical term for that little Angel/Devil team on shoulders. It should be pretty clear who’s who in Applejack’s case.

Snood: An overly-decorated large-mesh hair net, mostly associated with Flappers in the 1920’s.

The giant dessert-making machine at Sugarcube Corner: I’ve been watching a LOT of “How it’s made” and “Factory Made” on Science Channel. I love watching all those computer-controlled, incredibly-efficient  machines at work. And I especially love watching the food-making ones. It’s quite fascinating. That’s why there’s one at the bakery.

Sugar and hot sauce: It’s the only possible explanation for how Pinkie Pie can do the weird things she does.

Tic-Tock: Another OC pony of mine. He’s the town clock worker, meaning everything from pocket watches to complex mechanical creations on a large scale. And he’s an Earth pony, so at something of a disadvantage, having to work with mouth-tools. Thus his magnification rig. Also, his name isn’t a typo. It’s ‘tic’ as in an uncontrollable action. It’s not TOO apparent in the text, but he will end some regular sentences by saying the name of a mechanical part, especially watch parts, like mainspring and faceplate.

Specific references and explanations for “Second Thoughts”

Cheap plastic watches: Swatch Watches, of course. The scourge of every 80’s parent and status symbol for every 80’s kid.

“I knew it! I’m going to get that joke all day!”: Tic-Tock is, of course, dressed as Doctor Emmit Brown for 80’s day. So, he fears he will get time machine jokes all day. At least he’ll be spared Time Warp jokes.

“Yea, nothing out of me, lately. I mean… Nothing.”: An obligatory Dr. Who/Dr. Whoof joke following a time machine gag.

Pinkie Pie’s fancy jacket: A Members Only jacket, naturally.

Big hair and lots of chains: From this statement it can be assumed that the Cakes were great fans of hair metal acts like Twisted Sister, KISS, Poison and the rest.

Rainbow Dash’s attire: The big suit is a reference to David Byrne of Talking Heads, while the red stair-step hat is a reference to Devo.

Fluttershy: The makeup and boots are a KISS reference.

Protruding metal spikes: Horses have their… Foal-feeding organs on their lower bellies. And Madonna once more metal cones… In an obvious location.

Spike: He just never seems to fit in. But his “Saturday Night Fever” attire and vague disco king feeling match up with his would-be lothario attempts.

Equestria Broadcasting Organization: A somewhat-mangled attempt to make reference to the BBC, a state-funded television network within a monarchy.  Which, in this story, is known for making tv movie dramas, as the real Beeb is.

The scenery in the CMC Club house: Another Utena reference, meant to be the dueling field, with lilies in place of roses (Lilies being a modern Japanese symbol for lesbian works.)

“Sword of Celestia, grant me the power to bring Cutie Mark location!”: A variation on Utena’s line when drawing the sword of Dios from Anthy. “Sword of Dios, grant me the power to bring world revolution.”

“Theos, Dieu, Deus, Abraxis… That one’s just a legend”: Names for god in Greek, French and Latin, respectively, alluding to the Sword of Dios (Which is Spanish for god). The Abraxis and legend portions are a reference to the music from the anime series, which includes a song whose title may be rendered “Legend: The god’s name is Abraxis.”

Gender Percentages: In horses, there are often many more mares than stallions, though I don’t have the numbers on me. For Equestria I’m running on a very loose assumption of about 3:1 Mare:Stallion proportion. I’ve heard as high as 7:1 in nature and could also work with 4:1 or 5:1 in Equestria.

Chocolate pudding, mud, oil, feathers, five kinds of noodles: See TVTropes under the headings “Noodle Incident” and “Noodle Implements.” Made all the worse as Twilight will cast these items in the worst light possible when combined with Pinkie and Dash.

Specific references and explanations for The Poison Apple Tree

Wall of shame: It’s fairly clear that Bad Apple is on the wall for being a grifter, despite all the good he does. Braeburn is on there because Granny Smith is old, regressive and racist. This is not at all uncommon for older generations in tightly-knit and large families, which can amplify the in-group/out-group bias by filling up their capacity to feel connection and concern for others. The irony, in our world, is that Granny Smith is perfectly fine with lesbians, because in Equestria, I suspect, that given the gender percentages, lesbianism represents traditional, conservative family values.

Mister Bradley X. Higgensbotham, Esq.: It should be no surprise that, as Applejack is technically not allowed to talk to Bad Apple (And as Bad Apple is probably being looked for by any number of savory and unsavory ponies)  that he has a number of aliases in various places, which allow him to get mail and send it off as well. Typically, the first names involve the letters B A D. And the Esq. is just for pretension.

Zecora and Applebloom: First of all, a note on my idea of Zecora- I am operating the world of this story on the general assumption that Zecora is relatively young. I imagine her particular tribe has a kind of post-puberty/post-Cutie-Mark coming of age ritual that involves a long journey to mature. And that Zecora just liked the Everfree Forest. After all, coming from a rather dry veldt environment, the lush fullness of the Everfree forest would be wonderful. As well, it’s an herbalist’s dream come true. Thus she might not be any older than the mane case, and might even be slightly younger than, say, Pinkie Pie. Thus she’s not that much older than Applebloom. Just more worldly. And even then, she recognizes the need to wait until Applebloom is a little older, at least until she has her Cutie Mark. Until then, she is only in a mentor role, teaching her valuable lessons, though Applebloom sees more.

Annoyin’ friend: In the context of Sweetie Belle’s play (In that it’s essentially a rewrite of Revolutionary Girl Utena) this means Sweetie Belle gave Applebloom the role of the Nanami expy.

Colt Role: In the “straight” sense, it’s a role for a male (And in context, she’s talking about the role of Akio, or possibly Touga if she hasn’t thought it out to the end.)  In a looser sense, it may be the equivalent of a “breeches” role, meaning a young male part that can be and is often played by a woman.

An afterthought for the plot: Not necessarily true of Anthy. She IS very important, but it’s not immediately apparent; she seems to be only a MacGuffin Device. This is just Sweetie Belle being conciliatory, and to make Scootaloo seem even more important.

Canterlot Academy of Advanced Studies: Again, I suspect Twilight Sparkle had real schooling of some sort, and did her time at some kind of advanced institution before going full-time private tutoring with Celestia.

Paddock 51 and Silo 13: Even sweet, happy worlds have odd conspiracy theories. Silo 13 is a reference to Warehouse 13. Note I’ve never watched it but the premise seems to say it all.

Lightning Statues: This seems random and it is. It’s a reference to the statues in one level of the SNES game SoulBlazer that can shoot lightning if you touch them while the lightning ring is equipped. I always liked that game even if I could never beat it.

Weird things that don’t look anything like anything in Equestria: Humans are just a rumor made up by ponies wearing tinfoil hats.

Early 30’s: Clearly, this was written before Cutie Mark Chronicles. I had assumed that Spike was a “baby” dragon in that he was under about 50 or so. He certainly talks and acts like a guy in his 30’s. Now I just exaggerate the age/lifespan difference between dragons and ponies and say that Dragons mature extremely rapidly early in life, for reasons that are entirely based on the fact that in very large predator species, young ones are most likely to be killed and eaten by stronger siblings, rival males or other predators.

Sir Doctor Professor Crescent Sliver, OY GKOE FNS PhD MD JD DVM Litt.D: Another OC, but with a much smaller scope as he is very well limited in where he may appear. His full alphabet soup of titles means he is a member of the Order of the Yoke (like the Order of the Garter), Grand Knight in the Order of Equestria (Order of the British Empire), Fellow of the Noble Society (The Royal Society), a doctor of several non-medical disciplines, a doctor of medicine, a doctor of laws, a doctor of veterinary medicine and a doctor of letters.

“I was angry with my friend:/  … My foe outstretched beneath the tree.”: “A Poison Tree” by William Blake.

A different object do these eyes require;/  … And weep the more because I weep in vain.: “Sonnet on the Death of Richard West” by Thomas Gray.

Sensibility: A poetry movement before Romanticism in England, born out of feeling and sensation, primarily maudlin, depressing types. Most poetry of sensibility was made from regret or the sadness of others. Incidentally, this is why “Sense and Sensibility” is not redundant; at the time they genuinely meant opposite things.

While here I stand, … life and food For future years.: "Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798" by William Wordsworth.

One did not simply trot into the Mountains of Madness: “One does not simply walk into Mordor” “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien. “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft.

Schadenfreude: In case anyone doesn’t know, this means taking pleasure in the misfortune of another. There’s a song about it in “Avenue Q.”

Specific references and explanations for Third Strike/Third Charm

Poor little bird that made the flowers bloom: This is a somewhat-confused reference to a short story by Oscar Wilde called “The Nightingale and the Rose.” To be most concise, a nightingale wants to produce red roses for a scholar who will give them to a girl. The nightingale is told by the rose that in order to produce red roses she must sing all night while impaling her chest on a thorn, resulting in her death. Fluttershy’s use is rather unfortunate, however, as the scholar is rejected, since his rival brought the girl jewels. The scholar gives up on love and the effort was useless. She might be internally acknowledging that she knows that Rarity might not reciprocate her feelings.

’But grief should be the instructor of the wise;/ … ,/ The Tree of Knowledge is not that of life.’: “Manfred” by George Gordon, Lord Byron. Crescent Sliver’s disdain is my own. Manfred is the height of egoism, unmatched until the rise of Ayn Rand’s moral-less monsters.

Four Acts, Variable lengths: A reference to the Utena TV series. It is seen in four “Sagas.” Red Rose, Black Rose, Akio and Apocalypse. Akio is very short, Apocalypse is somewhat as well, while most of it is concerned with Red Rose.

‘Rainbow- Revelation’ ‘Take my revelation’: Both are references to the opening song to the Utena TV series, called “Rinbu- Revolution.” That’s a variation on one of the English lines in the song, “Take my revolution.”

Neighpon: This word was first used by MST3KFan (aka servo_chann) on Equestria Daily as the MLP equivalent of Japan (Nippon.)

Pegasus warriors: A somewhat brief reference to “Simoun”, a manga and anime series that involves female warriors in flying battles.

Five about fillies in school: A bit of a jab about the large number of yuri series that involve schools, usually high school. Marimite, Kashimashi, Strawberry Panic!, The Last Uniform, First Love Sisters, maybe Hayate Cross Blade if you pick up the subtext. And those are just the ones that have made the jump to English. There are any number of others still being serialized in Yuri Hime, and given their own tankouban collections. Just from what I recall, Apocalypse, Yuru Yuri, and others whose names I haven’t yet puzzled out.

Big heavy books with lots of pictures: Monthly/Quarterly comics in Japan are pretty substantial, made with large size, rough paper. They look like small phone books.

Frog: The soft, fleshy part of a horse’s foot behind the hoof, which is, itself, just an especially thickened toenail. This is very significant, and odd. All the ponies have the same hooves, meaning the unicorns are not “true” unicorns. In classical myth and depictions, unicorns have split hooves like goats and cows.

“O what can ail thee, knight at arms, … And no birds sing.”: “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by John Keats.

Princess Celestia: It’s not explained in the story, but Celestia could sense Twilight Sparkle’s wild magic state. She knows the feel of it, from any distance. As soon as she felt her lose control, when her eyes started to shine, she set out at once, and arrived just in time for the end of it.

Bamboo Grove: Traditionally, bamboo groves were praised as sites for meditation and serious contemplation. Poetry was often done in them, as well as painting. Buddhists and Taoists often sought refuge from the world in quite groves of bamboo. Applejack does the same with her orchard.

The closed door confrontation: Spoiler Alert for Strawberry Panic! The anime series. There’s sort of a series-long  shipping battle between Tamao and Shizuma for the hand of Nagisa. It’s actually a very near thing, despite how much Shizuma’s personality makes her look like the obvious choice. In the end, Nagisa chooses Shizuma. But Nagisa still lives with Tamao. So after the end credits, which had shown Shizuma and Nagisa being happy together, Nagisa stands outside the door to her room, and is spoken to by Tamao, who is alone in the dark inside. Rainbow Dash means that she knew she’d fall in love with someone else and have a very painful and awkward conversation with Gilda, if they were still friends and destined to be around one another. But since they’re not, there’s nothing left to say.

Too afraid to eat a peach: A reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot

Nothing ever ends: A nearly word for word repetition of the true denouement of “Watchmen”, with Twilight Sparkle as Ozymandias and Crescent Sliver as Dr. Manhattan.

Specific references and explanations for The Unexpected Epilogue and the Unctuous Explanations

Sweetie Belle’s song: This is the opening lines to “Rainbow- Revelation” referenced earlier, which means it’s an English-language soundalike (with proper pacing and on-beat rhythm) of “Rinbu- Revolution.” The vowel sounds at the ends of the lines are spot-on, and the only thing changed from the English part from the original song was to replace “revolution” with “revelation.”