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My Little Chrono

Triggers Are Magic

Author: Pav Feira

Editors: Magical Trevor, Dublio, RTStephens,

GaPJaxie, Masked Ferret

Cover Art: Inkwell Pony

Special Thanks:

Void Star and Silverwind

The entire /fic/ community

My family and friends

Hasbro, DHX Media, and Square-Enix

Hosted On: Equestria Daily, FimFiction.net, FanFiction.net


Table of Contents

        1        The Millennial Summer Sun Celebration        4

        2        Winding the Pendulum        10

        3        The Queen Returns        19

        4        At the Castle        26

        5        The Queen Is Gone        39

        6        I’m Back!        55

        7        The Trial        73

        8        Escaping the Inevitable        87

        9        Across the Ruins...        108

        10        Loss of Mind, Loss of Hope        124

        11        Endings and Beginnings        132

        12        A Sky of Fire and Rainbows        147

        13        Making a New Friend        154

        14        The Factory Ruins        166

        15        What Friends Are For        177

        16        The End of Time        188

        17        Fiendish Folk        206

        18        Faithful Family        218

        19        Pushing Forward        231

        20        The Hero Appears        256

        21        The Hero Is Chosen        269

        22        The Rare, Red Rock        290

        23        Yee-haw! Hoedown!        303

        24        Footsteps! Follow!        323

        25        Ambush! Hurry!        345

        26        To Reforge Legends        361

        27        The Hero is Reborn        396


Chapter 1: The Millennial Summer Sun Celebration

1000 AD

Rainbow Dash’s House

*clang*

“Dash...”

*clang*

“Rainbow Dash!”

*clang*

“Good morning, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow Dash groaned as light flooded her room. She rolled over in her bed and used her wing to push her comforter up over her face, shielding herself from the unmerciful daylight. “Mmgph,” she proclaimed.

“Ahh, Diane’s Bell sounds so beautiful in the morning!” Aurora Glow walked over from the window to her daughter’s bed, smiling patiently. “Come on, Dash. Rise and shine!”

“Yeah, yeah,” escaped a muffled voice from underneath the comforter. “Just give me ten more minutes.”

Aurora Glow smirked as she walked to the staircase leading out of the bedroom. While she loved her daughter with all her heart, the daily routine of rousing her from bed was an exercise in perseverance. Most days, it could easily take an hour or more. But not today, she thought. Today, I have a once-in-a-lifetime, super ultimate weapon. “Oh,” she said matter-of-factly, starting to head downstairs. “I thought you’d been looking forward to the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration.” Behind her, a frantic rustling noise came from the bed. “I guess I’ll let Twilight know that you won’t be able to make it. I’m sure she can find somepony else to give your ticket to.” With a muffled thump, a tangled-up pegasus and her bedsheets fell onto the hardwood floor.

Aurora Glow grinned widely as she reached the bottom of the staircase. Thirty nine seconds! I haven’t gotten her out of bed that fast since she was a filly! She headed over to the kitchen to finish preparing breakfast as she listened to the beautiful melody of her daughter getting ready on time: hooves stomping noisily on the wood floor, drawers scraping opened and slamming shut, an occasional muffled curse. She sighed. If only we celebrated the thousandth anniversary of the founding of Sugardia more often. Maybe Dash would be awake in time for lunch more often than not!

From upstairs came the shrill creak of a opening window, followed by a slam that lightly shook the wooden house. Aurora Glow’s head jolted; a confused look on her face quickly turned into a scowl. “Rainbow Dash!” she yelled at the ceiling. “What have I told you about coming and going through the windows?! You use the front door like a civilized pony, young lady.” Her shout trailed off, giving way to a light chuckle. She shook her head. “Oh, let her have her fun. Today’s going to be an exciting day, after all.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Equus

Over the town of Equus, a teenage cyan pegasus with a lightning bolt cutie mark flew at breakneck speed. In her wake, she left a rainbow streak and a high-pitched fangirl squeal. “Eee! Omigosh-omigosh-omigosh! The Wonderbolts—the actual Wonderbolts—are going to be right here in Equus for the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration. This is it! Today’s the day! Living the dream! Yeah!” She flipped and rolled across the sky, giddy from the prospect of years of training finally paying off.

She firmly smacked her face with her hooves. “Focus, Rainbow. This thing isn’t a done deal. Yet.” She sped through the air above her hometown. In the distance, Rainbow Dash could see Diane’s Square rapidly approaching. “The Wonderbolts’ show doesn’t start for another hour. I need to track down Twi and get my ticket, but that’ll be a snap. Me and her can kill some time at the lame filly carnival crap until the show begins.”

Over the rushing wind, she could hear firecrackers popping as dozens of balloons rose into the air. Equus’s fairgrounds were fully decorated for the Celebration. A number of festively colored tents had been set up on the grounds, decorated with ornate banners bearing Sugardia’s royal crest. She could make out dozens—no, hundreds—of ponies roaming the fair, no doubt visiting from all across the kingdom. They wandered about the many booths of Diane’s Square, sampling freshly-baked treats, dancing to live music, and playing carnival games.

“The show will be awesome and all, but after the show is when the real excitement begins,” Rainbow Dash said, smirking confidently. “That’s when I’ll take to the skies, introduce myself to the Wonderbolts, and prove to them that I am Wonderbolt material. My unmatchable speed. My insane acrobatic maneuvers. And of course,” she said, glancing behind herself, looking at the worn katana strapped snugly to her back, “my unstoppable sword techniques. They’ll have to let me join. They’ll just have to!”

Rainbow Dash reached the airspace above Diane’s Square. About a hundred meters below her, she could see the pedestal where Diane’s Bell hung—a relic from centuries ago. “Right! Twilight said she’d meet up with me just north of Diane’s Bell. Better start looking!” She dove down sharply, racing to the ground. She zipped underneath the bell, flying toward the courtyard to—

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Diane’s Square

*clang*

“Owww ow-ow-ow...”

*clang*

“Ouch...”

*clang*

“Ow.”

Rainbow Dash winced sharply. She reached a hoof up, brushing it through her spiky, rainbow-striped mane, and applied pressure over her white bandana, trying to make her head stop throbbing. She was lying flat on her back, but could feel something uncomfortable poking into her back. It doesn’t really hurt though, so I don’t think anything’s broken, she thought. Please let nothing be broken. She could hear a growing number of onlookers coming closer, murmuring questions in a concerned tone. Great. Just great. I just had to crash, today of all days. I swear, if one of the Wonderbolts saw that, my life is as good as—

“Ouchie doodles...”

Rainbow Dash’s blood froze. No-no-no. It’s fine if I crashed by myself, but if somepony else got hurt because of me... She struggled to open her eyes, but all she could see was a fuzzy pink blur. She rubbed her foreleg across her eyes, trying to clear her vision. When she reopened her eyes, the pink blur snapped into focus. It was the upside down head of a pink earth pony, looking down at her with a worried expression.

“Are you okay? You took a really nasty tumble,” said the pink pony. Rainbow Dash tried to utter a reply, but was still too woozy from the crash and couldn’t get her voice to work. It wouldn’t have mattered; the pink pony’s expression quickly turned to a tooth-filled grin as she continued. “I sure did, too! I was walking along like ‘la la la’ and then you flew down here like ‘nyyyyeeeeh’ and then I was like ‘wh-wh-WHOA!’ and then we were like ‘ker-PLOWIE!’ and then I was like ‘ouchie doodles...’ and then I was like ‘are you okay?’ and then you were like—” she inhaled, “and then I was like ‘I sure did, too!’ and then—” She gasped sharply, pupils dilating. She ran out of Rainbow Dash’s field of vision. “No, no-no, no-no-no-no-no!”

Rainbow Dash struggled back onto her hooves. Her legs were a bit wobbly, but at least her pain was starting to subside. Looking across the courtyard, she saw the pink pony was frantically bouncing around, digging through bushes and looking under tables. Her tightly curled pink mane and tail, both bound into ponytails with metallic clasps, were swaying back and forth in reaction to her erratic movements. Rainbow Dash caught a glance at her cutie mark: a set of three balloons. She also noticed what appeared to be a strange, elaborate metal leg-guard on her front right leg, but at this distance she couldn’t tell what exactly it was.

The crowd of onlookers, after seeing that both mares were back on their hooves, began to disperse. Rainbow Dash stretched and flexed her wings, double-checking that she hadn’t injured anything during the crash. A little sore, but I’ve had way worse. Turning her head, she bit down on the hilt of her katana, pulled it out of its sheath, and rested it on the ground. While the practice katana was somewhat flimsy and not intended for serious combat, it appeared undamaged from the fall. She let out a sigh of relief. Thank the Sun. Looks like it’s still ‘game on’ for the Wonderbolts show.

Something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. Turning her head, she saw a of necklace lying on the ground where she had fallen after the crash. Its wide golden band was embroidered with swooping arcs that resembled puffy clouds. Hanging from the center of the necklace was a large blue sapphire, cut in the shape of a balloon. It looked quite ornate and valuable. Rainbow Dash scooped it up with her hoof, looking quizzically at it. Focusing her eyes beyond the necklace, she saw that the pink pony was still panicking in the background. Rainbow Dash picked up and sheathed her katana, draped the necklace over her hoof, and flew over to the pink pony.

“Hey.”

The pink pony let out another gasp, leaping a meter into the air, reaching eye-to-eye with the hovering Rainbow Dash. “My necklace! Oh, thank goodness! I must’ve lost it when we crashed! I was starting to worry that it was gone forever.”

“Yeah, looks like I landed on top of it. Sorry. I noticed that the stone looked like your cutie mark, so I kinda figured—”

Her face fell. “Oh, yeah. I guess you could say that I was destined to have it.”

“Here.” Rainbow Dash hovered down to her, hung the necklace around her neck, and fastened the clasp. The blue balloon gleamed in the morning sun.

“Thanks.” The pony’s eyes were fixated on the ground in front of Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her neck with her hoof. She glanced toward the north, where Twilight Sparkle was supposed to be waiting for her. “Yeah, so anyway, I gotta get going. Sorry again. See ya!” She started to fly off in the direction of her friend.

“Hey!” The pink pony’s tone snapped back to the perky demeanor that Rainbow Dash had heard shortly after the crash. She bounced merrily after the pegasus. “Do you live around here? This is my first Millennial Summer Sun Celebration. Well, duh, of course it’s my first millennial celebration, hahaha! What I meant was that this is my first celebration like this in Equus! And I don’t have any friends in this town.” She gasped, “But we could be friends! Bestest of best friends! Could you show me around? I’d love to see what kind of parties you Equustian girls have!”

Rainbow Dash winced. Not only did she not have time to be a tour guide, but the chatty, hyperactive pony was starting to grind on her nerves. “Look, I...” she said, looking over her shoulder.

The pink pony’s face was frozen in a wide-mouthed, excited grin. She was looking up at Rainbow Dash with expectant, glistening eyes.

“I...” Rainbow Dash slowly felt her resolve melt. Ugh. I guess I DO owe her for crashing into her. She sighed. “Okay okay, fine! You can tag along, but I’ve got important plans today. So when I say I gotta jet, then that’s it. Alright?”

Her mouth pursed into a catlike grin. “Allll right! Let’s go!” She joyfully pranced several meters ahead of Rainbow Dash. She stopped abruptly, hopping in place. Without dropping a beat, she pranced backwards, stopping next to Rainbow Dash. “Say, bestest of best friends? I forgot to ask what your name is.”

Rainbow Dash paused, dumbstruck. Recovering with a shake of her head, she puffed out her chest and flashed a smug grin. “I’m Rainbow Dash! Fastest pegasus in Sugardia and, by tonight, newest member of the Wonderbolts!”

She smiled. “Allll right, Dashie! Let’s go!” She began moving forward again.

“And you are?”

She froze in midair, turning to look back at Rainbow Dash. “Oh, uh, you can call me Pinkie Pie! That’s what all my friends call me, anyway!” Dropping to the ground, she resumed her bouncing, heading toward the festivities in the south.

Rainbow Dash rubbed her temple with a hoof. “Ugh, of all possible days—H-Hey, Pinkie Pie! Stop! Twilight is... the other way.” She looked apprehensively to the north before flying after Pinkie Pie.


Chapter 2: Winding the Pendulum

1000 AD

Diane’s Square

Rainbow Dash bucked the striking pad of the strength test game with all her might. Its projectile flew up and struck the bell, delivering a satisfying ring.

“Yay!” Pinkie Pie hopped excitedly from hoof to hoof, cheering her new friend. “Way to go, Dashie!”

“Very impressive!” said the unicorn working the game. Using his horn’s magic, he drew another Silver Point on Rainbow Dash’s festival activities card.

Rainbow Dash grinned smugly, posing with one leg triumphantly raised. Damn straight.

“Ooo! Ooo! I wanna try! I wanna try!” Pinkie Pie charged at the game. She leapt into the air, tilting her head straight up. With a violent flourish, she smashed her head face-first into the striking pad. The game’s bell rang out, signaling her victory. She shook her head rapidly to recover from the impact, then smiled. “Woohoo!”

The game operator struggled to find a complement as he presented Pinkie Pie with a Silver Point. “That was very, uh, impressive as well. Most ponies opt to buck with their hooves, though.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, and in doing so, she noticed the clock tower in the center of the square. “Gyah!” She leapt into the air and started flying north. “We wasted too much time! I’m going to be late!”

Pinkie Pie bounced after her friend. “Hey Rainbow Dash! Hey Rainbow Dash! Where should we go next? How about I watch you fight Gaito again?”

“No.”

“Ooo, we could see the show at Horstein Buckler’s lab—”

No.

“Orrr, there’s that apple cider guzzling competition! I bet you could—”

No!”

“Mmm, yeah, I guess you’re right. If you don’t have a turbo controller, then—”

“Pinkie Pie, I’m—wait, what?” Rainbow Dash gave Pinkie Pie a baffled look, but shook her head clear. “Whatever. Look. I’m supposed to be meeting up with a friend right now. It’s really important.”

Pinkie Pie’s eyes lit up. “One of your friends?! Oh boy, can I meet them, too? I just love making new friends, and making two new friends in the same day would be CANDY!” She froze in front of a candy stall. Her mouth watered over as her eyes rapidly hopped across the rows of sugary treats.

Rainbow Dash scrunched up her face. “Look, we’re meeting right over that way. I’ll go on ahead and you can—”

“Hold on! Hold on! This’ll only take a second!”

“Ugh.” Rainbow Dash floated over to the stand and crossed her hooves in front of her chest, glaring at Pinkie Pie impatiently.

“Oh wow! There’s lollipops and pop rocks and chocolate bars and gummy bears and berry-filled pastries and barely-filled pastries and—”

“Nope, time’s up.” Rainbow Dash swooped behind Pinkie Pie, bit down on her tail, and dragged her away from the candy cart. “Come on. Move it. Let’s go!”

Eep! Hey! Stop! Let go of me! Stop dragging me like some foalnapper! Nooo...” She flailed helplessly at the candy cart, trying in vain to grab something tasty.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?!”

In shock, Rainbow Dash released her bite on Pinkie Pie’s tail, the latter of whom fell flat on her belly with a squeak. Before Rainbow Dash could look around, she felt a familiar tingling sensation envelop her body. Suddenly, she was pulled sharply through the air to the left. “Yah!” she yelped. Just as suddenly, the tugging stopped. Off-balance, Rainbow Dash collapsed awkwardly on the ground. She quickly leapt back up to her hooves, and was met nose-to-nose with an irate lavender unicorn.

Where have you been?” scolded Twilight Sparkle. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“Sorry, Twilight, I’d been trying to...” Looking up, Rainbow Dash noticed that Twilight Sparkle’s horn was glowing with a magenta light. Rainbow Dash had just been the target of telekinesis magic, but this came as no surprise to her. What did surprise her was Twilight Sparkle’s new hat. It was a green dome with a gold riveted border, covering a large section of her purple, highlight-streaked mane. Her right ear was completely hidden by a gold plated shell, which had both a microphone and an antenna protruding from it.

The thing that stood out most to Rainbow Dash about this helmet was how incredibly lame Twilight Sparkle looked in it. “I like your hat,” she said, failing to keep a straight face.

Twilight Sparkle scowled, ignoring her friend’s attempt to change the topic. “You were supposed to help me demonstrate my new invention today, remember?”

“I was?” Rainbow Dash asked, raising an eyebrow.

“The invention I’ve been working on for the past year? The one you yourself volunteered to help me demonstrate? We went over all of this yesterday at lunch?”

Rainbow Dash stared blankly.

Twilight Sparkle buried her face in her hoof. “It’s fine. I expected you to be like this today. And besides, we still have time. We’ve still got a big crowd waiting up ahead. C’mon.” She nudged Rainbow Dash in the direction of her invention.

“H-Hey, wait! Twi, I’m sorry. I know you said I promised, and I probably did promise and then forgot, but the Wonderbolts are—”

“—are not going to perform for another few minutes,” she said, smiling gently. “And you weren’t planning to perform your routine for them until after their show was finished, anyway. Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time. I know that you’ve been dreaming of joining the Wonderbolts ever since you first saw their show a decade ago. I’d never ask you to jeopardize your own dreams in order to help me with mine.”

Rainbow Dash smiled back meekly. “Okay, okay. Sheesh, no need to get all mushy, you big doofus. Let’s hurry up and show off your, uh, Super Intentional Derp Turtle-Frog.”

“Super Dimensional Warp Telepod.”

“Right.” Grinning, they trotted off together towards the invention’s display.

“Chocolate covered daffodils, marshmallows covered in cinnamon sugar... ooo! Deep fried hay!”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Diane’s SquareTelepod

As Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle approached the crowd of ponies gathered in front of the Telepod, they heard a voice drifting above the commotion. “—of the century! No, of the millennium! Just imagine! Instead of having to walk or fly, you could warp across the world in the blink of an eye! Rather than wait for a shipment of apples to arrive in town, get them instantly delivered farm-fresh to your house, on demand! History will remember the year 1000 AD, my friends! I guarantee you, my beautiful daughter’s invention will change the future forever!”

“Don’t bother,” scoffed a pegasus in the crowd. “Every one of Twilight Sparkle’s inventions ends up on fire. Every last one.”

“Pfft, enough stalling! Teleport something, already!” yelled another pony.

The dissenters in the crowd grew louder and more insistent. As Rainbow Dash approached, she saw that the deep blue unicorn at the front of the pack was trying to keep everypony from leaving.

“Yes! Yes, of course! The show will begin shortly. We’re just waiting for—” Night Light gasped. “Twilight Sparkle! Fillies and gentlecolts, my daughter has returned and... yes! Yes, she tracked down our assistant pony. Who’s ready to see the fireworks?”

The crowd cheered and stomped a round of applause. Twilight Sparkle quickly led Rainbow Dash up to the device, and nudged her forward. The pegasus looked the machine over in confusion. It was primarily composed of a pair of metallic pedestals with matching awnings. The floor and ceiling of each platform were covered with an array of pale blue glowing lights, one of which was starting to burn out. Each platform was connected to a nearby terminal with a myriad of wires and tubes. There was a small puddle of oil underneath the left platform. The air was permeated with the smell of burning ozone.

Yep, Twilight definitely made this, Rainbow Dash thought, sizing up the machine. At least it looks slightly less... explodey than normal. “So, uh, Twi?” she asked as she was being shoved onto the left platform. “What exactly do I need to do?”

“Just stand right here, on the transfer pad.”

“Okaaay?”

“All systems on!” Using her horn, Twilight Sparkle activated the controls on the right console.

“Begin energy transfer!” Her father followed suit on the left console.

The Telepod came to life with a pervasively loud humming. The lights on the platform glowed brightly, fluctuating in time with the humming. Rainbow Dash felt a tingling sensation. It felt similar to earlier, when Twilight Sparkle’s magic had grabbed her, yet inexplicably different. A few arcs of electricity danced around in the air around her.

Suddenly, the audience exploded with cheering. “Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes! It worked! IT WORKED!” Twilight Sparkle bounced excitedly in front of Rainbow Dash. She glanced nervously at her friend, then back at the crowd. “Ahaha... Yes, of course it worked, exactly as intended.” She grinned sheepishly.

Rainbow Dash was thoroughly confused. “So, is it over? Nothing happened. Wait, I thought you were standing over by the other platform. Why are you over here now?”

From behind, Pinkie Pie threw her foreleg around Rainbow Dash’s back, causing the latter pony to jump in surprise. “Oh, Rainbow Dash, don’t be silly! She didn’t move; you did! See? First, you were over there,” she pointed to the left pad, “and then zip, now you’re here!” She giggled, fishing out another piece of licorice from the bag in her hooves.

“Wha—Pinkie Pie? When did you get here?”

“Yes indeed, fillies and gentlecolts!” said Night Light. “Our assistant’s molecular structure was torn down, digitally encoded, wirelessly transmitted, and programatically reassembled at the other end. In layman’s terms: teleportation! Let’s hear another round of applause for Miss Twilight Sparkle!” The crowd was happy to oblige.

Pinkie Pie’s eyes lit up. “Hey, can I try it too? Can-I-can-I-can-I?” She raced over to the left platform, looking expectantly at Twilight Sparkle.

“Huh? Rainbow, is she a friend of yours?” Twilight Sparkle smirked mischievously, nudging her friend in the ribs. “Hey, how did you pick up a cutie like her?”

Rainbow Dash glared daggers at her friend. “For the last time, I’m not—”

“I’ll be right back, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie danced energetically on the platform. “Woo! Yeah!”

Rainbow Dash stepped down from the Telepod and trotted out into the crowd to watch. Twilight Sparkle and her father returned to their posts, initializing the device for a second run.

“All systems on!”

“Begin energy transfer!”

The machine whirled back to life, complete with its humming, flashing, and smoke. As before, lightning bolts tore through the air around the platform. Pinkie Pie looked down expectantly at herself, awaiting her teleportation. Her expression shifted to confusion when the electricity coursed through her necklace. “Huh? What’s happening with my necklace? It’s—”

“Yah!” Night Light yelped as the electricity formed a circuit between Pinkie Pie’s necklace and the two Telepod consoles. Warning klaxons sounded as the Telepod’s lights and readouts flashed erratically. He screamed over the din, “Shut it down! Twi, we need to shut it down!”

Before father or daughter could react, Pinkie Pie disappeared. Her necklace clattering to the ground. With a forceful explosion of air and energy, an oscillating black and violet sphere materialized between the Telepod’s two platforms. Several spectating ponies screamed and braced themselves against the wind emanating from the sphere.

Rainbow Dash’s and Twilight Sparkle’s eyes went wide with horror as Pinkie Pie reappeared, not on the Telepod’s second platform, but within the swirling vortex before them. Pinkie Pie reached out a hoof toward Rainbow Dash and opened her mouth as the sphere collapsed around her. The pony and sphere both vanished. Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash turned to look at each other, mortified. A few ponies in the crowd stood up, murmuring to each other, trying to make sense of what they had just seen.

Night Light, quickly regaining his composure, locked a forced grin on his face. “Ah, s-she’s vanished! Quite a magic show, eh folks! Thanks you so much for attending! Please enjoy the rest of your day at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration!” Confused yet sufficiently satisfied, the crowds began to disperse. When enough of them had left earshot, he dropped the facade and turned back around. “Twi, what just happened? Where is she?!”

She frantically flipped through her notebooks and a research manual that she had brought along in her saddlebags. “I don’t know. I don’t know! Obviously, the electromagnetic phase distortion reacted to the positronic quotient of that necklace, which amplified the flux multiplier. But that bizarre energy reaction... I’ve never seen anything like that!”

A distant voice rose from the trees behind them. “Ponies of Sugardia, without any further ado, we present to you: the Wonderbolts!” Rainbow Dash jerked her head and turned to look. The show was starting. Her show. Her one chance to grasp her dreams.

“Well, can we get her back? What do to do?” Night Light asked his daughter.

“I just need to figure out what that vortex was. Oh, horse apples! I didn’t pack any books on spatial irregularities in my saddlebags!” She furrowed her brow, tapping her forehead with her hoof. “And I know that I’ve seen that pony before, somewhere. But where? Ugh, we just need more time.”

Rainbow Dash could hear wild cheering from the distance as the Wonderbolts started their performance. She closed her eyes. I only met that pony an hour ago. I have no idea what just happened to her. I have no idea if she’s even alive still! I need to get over there and prove myself to the Wonderbolts. I need to stick to my plan. She looked up into the sky. Right?

“I’ll try to hold down the stables here, in case anypony starts asking questions,” said Night Light. “That should give you enough time to run back home and grab your books.”

“Okay, I’ll hurry. I’ll grab a few reference guides and some materials to—Rainbow?”

Slowly and deliberated, Rainbow Dash leaned down and picked the necklace up with her teeth. Stepping onto the Telepod’s platform, she turned around and stared at her friend.

Twilight Sparkle was awestruck; she had never seen Rainbow Dash look so determined in her life, not even with Wonderbolt-related matters. “You... you’re serious, aren’t you?”

“I only met that pony an hour ago. She’s kinda annoying, she screwed up my plans, and I have no idea what just happened to her. But, she’s my friend,” Rainbow Dash said, teeth tightly clamped down on the necklace. “And I never abandon my friends. Pinkie Pie is all alone, trapped in that weird purple portal thingy, and I’m gonna save her. Even if...” Her voice faltered as she looked to the treeline.

Twilight Sparkle smiled warmly. “Rainbow...”

“This is insane,” groaned Night Light. He shifted his gaze rapidly the two teenaged ponies. “We don’t know what happened to her. Frankly, we don’t even know if she’s still alive.” He winced at his own bluntness.

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes. “I know it’s incredibly risky, but right now, it’s our only hope of saving her. If we can get the Telepod to react to that necklace once more, then Rainbow should be able to follow after her friend. Then, once I’ve figured out what the hay is going on here, I can bring everypony back. In theory.”

Rainbow Dash stomped her hoof on the platform. “You heard Twilight! We’re gonna save Pinkie Pie, whether you help us or not!”

Night Light looked back and forth between his daughter and her friend. Their eyes burned with passion; their faces were cold and determined. He closed his eyes and chuckled. “There’s no chance of talking you two out of this, is there?” Opening his eyes, he smiled and nodded. They enthusiastically nodded back.

“All systems on!” Twilight Sparkle raced back to her console.

“Begin energy transfer!” Night Light’s eyes met Rainbow Dash’s one last time before focusing on his console.

The lights underneath the Telepod’s platforms grew dim as the system was strained once more. The humming, once even and soothing, took on a pained and irregular rhythm. Thick smoke billowed from the right console. Most worrying of all, Rainbow Dash didn’t feel the telltale tingling sensation that she had felt the first time she had been teleported.

“More power!” commanded Twilight Sparkle, adjusting several levers as her father did likewise. “Release all inhibitors! Give her everything she’s got!”

The Telepod groaned in agony. A small fire erupted on Twilight Sparkle’s console, which she frantically tried to blow out with her breath. A few of the light bulbs in the floor shorted and burnt out. The oil puddle beneath the device grew rapidly. Rainbow Dash looked at the failing machine underneath her with trepidation. As if in response to her doubts, a familiar tingle overtook her body. A bolt of electricity shot between the consoles. It danced wildly in the air around her before leaping into Pinkie Pie’s necklace. The space between the Telepod’s platforms tore apart, once again revealing the swirling mass of purple and black.

“We did it!” Twilight Sparkle cheered from the sidelines. “Hang on, Dash!”

The pegasus vanished, then reappeared within the mass. The waves of distorted space-time rippled around her, pulling her deeper into the void. As she looked out, the hole leading to the outside world slowly started to seal itself up. Her friend’s voice drifted to Rainbow Dash as if from inside a seashell. “Find Pinkie Pie and stay put! I’ll try to find you as soon as I know what went wrong. Good luck, Rainbow Dash!” With that, the outside world disappeared from view.

The waves of purple energy fluctuated around Rainbow Dash. A loud rushing noise engulfed her, like storm winds racing through a large cavern. She felt herself being pulled forward by some unseen force. Or was it sideways? Downward, perhaps? For the first time since she was a filly in Junior Speedster Flight Camp, she felt an overwhelming sense of vertigo. She felt as though her vision was falling to the back of her brain, as her depth perception skewed wildly. She closed her eyes tightly and curled into a ball, wishing for the sensation to stop. And then it did.


Chapter 3: The Queen Returns

???

Unknown Clearing

Rainbow Dash opened her eyes. She was curled up in a grassy clearing. She could hear a river gurgling nearby. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves and blew gently through her mane. A few birds chirped from the trees around her. There was no trace of Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle, the fairgrounds, or even the strange portal.

Becoming self-aware, she realized that her jaw was still locked tightly. Pinkie Pie’s necklace dangled from her mouth. Looking behind her, she saw that the rest of her possessions were still on her ponyself. She flipped open her saddlebags and tucked the necklace securely inside. She got back to her hooves and started to trot out of the clearing. Pinkie Pie only disappeared a few minutes ago, so she couldn’t have gone far. I’ll just need to hurry up and find her.

Instinctively, she froze in her tracks and ripped her katana out of its sheath. Something’s wrong, she thought. The birds had stopped chirping. An eerie silence overtook the forest. The bushes surrounding the clearing rustled noisily as a trio of creatures leapt out at her.

Rainbow Dash flared her wings in surprise. “Imps?” she gasped. “Here?”

The monsters grinned, exposing their sharp fangs. Half of their height was their bulbous green head, supported by a tiny shriveled body. The creatures were able to balance eerily well on their two legs. They slowly encircled her with clawed hands outstretched. Gripping her sword’s hilt in her mouth, Rainbow Dash stood her ground, closing her eyes and lowering her head. The imps cackled gleefully as they closed around her. One of the imps reached his paw up to grab her rainbow-striped tail.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes snapped open. She leapt to the air, flying around her foes in a tight spiral. With each lap, she gashed the imps with her katana. The imps cried out in pain with each repeated slash. Her Cyclone attack spun faster and faster, ravaging her foes. One by one, the imps’ screams fell silent.

She slowed herself out of the spiral, coming to a stop above the clearing. She hovered in place, inspecting the carnage below her. The taste of bile rose up in her mouth. Well, cool. Now I’m a murderer. She sighed. I mean, at least it was in self-defense. Besides, Wonderbolts aren’t allowed to be squeamish. I wasn’t going to stick to fighting practice dummies forever. She frowned as she studied the three corpses below her. Still though, imps? I thought they only lived in Palomedina, across the ocean. I mean, they haven’t been seen in Sugardia since, uh, like... Bah, where’s Twilight when you need her?

Rainbow Dash flew higher above the clearing, gaining a larger view of her surroundings. The woods were located in a small canyon. The tree cover here wasn’t that thick; she could clearly make out a river—the one she had heard earlier—coursing its path through the canyon’s floor. No signs of a pink pony, and more worrisome to Rainbow Dash, no signs of Diane’s Square. Where did the Celebration go? Where am I? Wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute. She tapped her hoof thoughtfully against her temple. That Turtle-Frog invention of Twilight’s could move me from place to place, right? So, maybe I’m in a different town?

She looked to the south. Her visibility was poor due to a dense fog that blanketed the landscape, but the view was quite familiar to her. She could make out the outlines of the shops and houses of Equus, just where she expected them. Looking to the west, she could clearly see the silhouette of Sugardia Castle, perched atop a small hill surrounded by forest. Nope, this is Equus alright. So what the hay is going on? She shook her head. First thing’s first. I need to track down Pinkie Pie. Maybe she headed into town? I’ll check by home first, see if Mom knows if anypony has seen her. She flew off in the direction of her house.

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???

Equus?

Rainbow Dash’s mouth was agape. Her wings hung limply by her side. She stood in her front yard. At least, she stood on what should have been her front yard. Her house was completely absent. The grassy field that she was standing on was flat and undisturbed, as if the house had never existed. But that can’t—This is—My house should be right here! There’s my neighbor’s house, here’s where mine should be, there’s the coastline, down the coastline is... She did a double-take. Where the heck did the ferry docks go? She remembered those docks being built when she was a filly. It had taken most of the townsponies the better part of two years to construct. Now, they were gone.

“Well, fine,” Rainbow Dash said aloud, frustration and uncertainty creeping into her voice. She took to the air again. “Next stop is Twi’s house. Even if she and her dad are still at the fairgrounds—wherever the hell that went—her mom should still be around, so I can ask her wha—ahhh!” she screamed. Twilight Sparkle’s house was also missing. The island upon which it was supposed to be built was completely barren. Even the bridge which should have connected the island to the mainland was nowhere to be seen.

She glared off into the distance and snorted. “Enough is enough. Somepony is going to tell me what’s going on here.” Looking around, she saw that the town’s inn was nearby. “I don’t care who tells me. I don’t care how many ponies I have to bug. I’m getting some answers.” She landed with a muffled thud on the grass in front of the building. She bumped the inn’s door open with her snout and stepped inside.

The inn looked much dingier than she remembered it. The decor was wooden and rough, not painted and polished. Most of the furnishings were haphazardly constructed out of irregularly shaped boards, instead of the fine craftsponyship she was used to seeing in town. It was a far cry from the cheery quaint town that Rainbow Dash remembered growing up in.

“What’ll it be, stranger?” asked the middle-aged mustachioed stallion behind the bar.

“I, well, I just...” her voice cracked. She felt a hard lump in her throat. Who is that guy? He doesn’t look familiar. She quickly scanned the bar’s patrons, feeling her determination drain away. Nopony looks familiar! She cleared her throat and asked the first question that came to mind. “Where am I?” She immediately cringed at how dim the question must have sounded.

Confirming her fear, the bartender laughed. It was a good-natured laugh, but this was of little consolation to Rainbow Dash. “So, I was right; you’re not from around here. Didn’t think I recognized the face. This here is the town of Equus, located in the heart of Sugardia.”

I knew it! I knew this had to be my hometown, but... “So, uh, where’s the Celebration then? It was right here.”

A mare at the bar scoffed. “Celebration. Aye, we’ve got plenty to celebrate. A toast, everypony!” She sarcastically raised her glass using her horn’s magic. “In celebration of Nightmare Moon’s army destroying our homes and enslaving us all!”

Her husband tapped her gently yet sternly with his hind leg. “Hush. Everypony’s morale is low enough without all the theatrics. Besides,” he quickly added, a look of relief overcoming him, “it’s not all bad news. The Queen was finally found! Ain’t that right, Lady Firefly?”

A pink pegasus with a curly teal mane, clad in heavy plate armor, nodded solemnly. Rainbow Dash noticed how odd her outfit was; the pony looked like she belonged in a Renaissance faire, not an inn in the middle of her hometown. But right now, Rainbow Dash’s head was swimming with so many questions that the other pegasus’s medieval armor was the least of her worries.

“Yeah,” Firefly answered, looking up from her drink. “Found her wandering around up in the canyon, not more than ten minutes ago. My troops are taking her back to the castle straightaway, safe and sound.” A few ponies at the bar stomped their hooves in applause.

Rainbow Dash scratched her head. “No, that doesn’t make any sense at all. That canyon isn’t even supposed to be there! Just this morning, there were fairgrounds there instead. It was all decorated for the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration.”

The dour mare scoffed again. “I just told you. It may be the longest day of the year today, but the town is in no mood to hold a Cele—” She paused. “Did you say... Millennial Summer Sun Celebration?” The bar patrons’ conversations ground to a halt. Their attention turned to the rainbow-striped pony who was spouting nonsense.

Firefly gave her a sideways glance, arching an eyebrow. “‘Millennial’ as in the thousandth year of Sugardia? That won’t come about for a few more centuries, hun.”

Rainbow Dash’s heart stopped. “C-centuries?” Her eyes twitched around the room. Several of the ponies were staring intently at her, whispering amongst themselves. “T-that can’t be right. It’s the year 1000.” She turned to the bartender. “Right?” Please tell me I’m right.

The bartender remained silent for a moment. Forcing a smile, he shook his head. “Come now, dear. You mustn’t be such a prankster. You know full well it’s only the year 600.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes lost focus on the bartender. They wandered down the wall behind him, coming to a stop at the bar’s surface. After a moment of awkward silence, she became vaguely aware that everypony in the bar was waiting for her response. “Yeah. Sorry,” she managed to hoarsely reply. She rested her head on the bar and closed her eyes.

Sympathetically, the bartender drew her a mug of apple cider and placed it next to her on the bar. He wandered down the bar to where Firefly stood, and they exchanged a worried glance. Firefly whispered to the bartender; she was trying not to be overheard, but the room was still so quiet that Rainbow Dash could clearly make out what she was saying. “Poor girl. Must’ve been caught up in the fighting with Nightmare Moon’s forces. Not the first pony I’ve seen who’s lost their marbles in all this chaos.” The bartender nodded solemnly.

Rainbow Dash clamped her eyes tightly shut, trapping the hot tears behind her eyelids. I’m not crazy! You are! All of you! I know it was the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration. Millennial as in 1000 AD! That’s why the Wonderbolts were there. And Twilight. And Pinkie. And... everything... She leaned against the bar, waiting to wake up from the nightmare.

Mercifully, the bar patrons gradually started talking amongst themselves again. Only a few talked about the cuckoo rainbow pony who had just wandered into the inn, while most returned to their original conversations. Rainbow Dash let herself get lost in the ambient white noise, trying to shut her brain off and forget everything that was happening. Some time had passed before she was snapped back to reality by the sound of hoofsteps walking up to her, and stopping next to her at the bar.

No. Leave me alone.

“Begging your pardon, miss. I noticed you don’t seem to be around from these here parts. Me neither. No ma’am. Reckon I’m what you might call an adventuring type. Name’s Braeburn. If I could be so bold, what do they call a pretty lil’ thing like yourself?”

Shut up. Go away.

“I, uh, I do hate to be imposing so, on account of we just having met and all, but I don’t suppose you could help a fellow traveler out? Spare a few bits for a drink? I’d be mighty grateful.”

If he’s drinking, then he’s not talking. Without lifting her head, Rainbow Dash reached up and nudged her cider toward Braeburn.

“Aaaapple cider, my favorite! Mighty kind of you, Miss...” He paused, waiting for her to offer her name. She didn’t. “Yes ma’am, it’s a rare breed that’ll show kindness to a wanderer like me, nowadays. Most ponyfolk wouldn’t give me the time of day at all.”

He slurped loudly from the mug of cider. The straw. Of course. So much for keeping him quiet.

Braeburn sighed deeply. “Nothing like an aaaapple cider to quench the thirst and lift the spirits. And of course, I do so intend to repay you for your generosity. Not with bits, mind,” he chuckled nervously, “on account that I’m, ah, currently between jobs, you might say. But hey, you can’t put a price on good information!” He lowered his voice. “S’about the missing Queen, bless her soul. Rumor has it that she was last seen round the abbey, west of the castle. Foul tales of some shady types, hidden deep within. If you were so inclined, us adventuring types could go look for her together. Reckon the reward for a pair of heroes would be quite handsome.”

Rainbow Dash opened an eye and looked up from the surface of the bar. The yellow pony gave her a wide, earnest smile. His large cowboy hat was tipped back gently, letting his breezy amber mane slightly cover his eyes and forehead. “You’re too late,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing down the bar at Firefly. “That one already found her in the canyon.”

“Wha—Already found? In the canyon, you said? Shoot, I checked there twice, top to bottom...” He shook his head, replacing his look of disappointment with a wide smile. “Still, this is reason to celebrate! Our Queen is safe and sound at last.” Standing back, he kicked up on his hind legs and let out a cheer. “Long live Queen Diane!” Several of the ponies in the bar cheered back, and raised their glasses in a toast. Braeburn returned to noisily nursing his free cider.

Rainbow Dash closed her eyes again and sighed. So much for the “good information.” Some lousy rumor about where Queen Diane was, after she had already—She slammed her hooves onto the counter, lifting her chin up. “Diane’s Square!” A few patrons glanced back at her outburst, but most had already moved on.

Braeburn choked on his drink. “Well good morning, miss!” he said after clearing his throat. “Or, reckon I should say good afternoon. Good to see you’re back with us.”

Smiling widely, she turned toward Braeburn. “Diane’s Bell!” This can’t just be a coincidence!

“Bell?” Braeburn’s brow furrowed. “Come to think on it, I did hear something ‘bout a bell. There’s a few ponies here in Equus, working on a bell for the King. Word is, he was gonna give it as a gift to his Queen Diane.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes glowed brightly. “That’s gotta be it! If Queen Diane is still alive, then there’s no Diane Square yet, but there will be! It’s not much, but at this point I’ll take it.”

Braeburn laughed at the sudden shift in her attitude. “Lansakes! So there is a fire in your belly after all! What’s got you chomping at the bit?”

“I’ve got to rescue my friend! I don’t know where she is, but right now, my best bet is to head to Sugaria Castle. Time to get an audience with the Queen!” Rainbow Dash turned and stepped toward the door, but stopped and turned back. She held out her hoof and smiled. “I never did tell you my name. I’m Rainbow Dash. Thanks, Braeburn... for everything.”

Grinning even wider than Rainbow Dash thought possible, Braeburn shook her hoof with one leg, tipping his hat politely with the other. “Shoot, it ain’t nothing at all, Miss Rainbow. Glad I could get you back on your hooves. Lady Luck be with you!”

Rainbow Dash nodded and took to the air. “You too!” She zipped under the open doorway and out into the misty air.


Chapter 4: At The Castle

600 AD

Sugardia Castle

As she approached Sugardia Castle from the air, Rainbow Dash was taken slightly by the sheer scale.  She had lived in Equus her whole life, and seen the castle dominating the horizon every day.  But she had never before had any business at the castle, so this was the first time she had gotten this close.  She weaved her descent between the two looming stone towers dotting the top of the castle.  Encircling the structure, the two towers widened, tier by tier, eventually merging into the massive central structure.  Lesser tower spires dotted each tier of the castle, adding an impressive touch to the already awe-inspiring architecture.  She touched down in the courtyard, which was contained by a massive perimeter wall, lined with yet more spires and guard stations.

As she trotted into the castle’s entrance chamber, she looked about in awe.  The interior was quite spacious and impressive.  Lit torches lined the walls, giving a flickering ambient glow to the room.  The stone walls were dressed with painstakingly-crafted tapestries embroidered with Sugardia’s royal crest, while the floors were lined with strips of elegant weaved carpeting.  While the style was certainly medieval — more proof that I’m really in 600 AD, she thought to herself — it was substantially more posh and regal than the inn she had just left.  Even the two broadswords in front of her looked elegant, as torchlight danced playfully along their blades.

“Whoa!” she leapt in surprise.  While admiring the interior, she had failed to notice the two large, armored earth ponies approaching her, weapons drawn.  They sheathed their weapons in order to converse.

“Halt!  Civilians are not permitted to enter the castle without special authorization!”

“The country is at war!  You cannot be flying around the castle grounds willy-nilly.  State your business!”

Rainbow Dash was initially shaken by the harsh commands, but quickly regained her resolve from earlier.  “I’m Rainbow Dash, and I’m here to see the Queen!”

One of the guards snorted.  “The Queen was just rescued this morning.  She will not be holding any audiences... Certainly not with any pegasus who just wandered into her castle unannounced!”

The other guard leaned closer to his partner, eyeing Rainbow Dash suspiciously.  “Hey... what’s the deal with her mane?  Such bizarre colors... think she’s part of Nightmare Moon’s forces?”

His partner snorted again.  “A scrawny little filly like her?  Hardly.”  Turning to Rainbow Dash, he snidely asked her, “Hey little girl, made any pretty rainbows today?”  The guards shared a hearty laugh at her expense.

The veins above her eye started twitching.  Suffice it to say, today had not been a good day so far.  She had lost a friend, missed the Wonderbolts’ show, and had somehow been trapped centuries in the past.  The last thing she was going to put up with was a couple of bullies.  Puffing out her chest, she walked strongly up to the guards, glaring them straight in the eyes.  “Why don’t you say that again, and see what happens?!”

The guards were taken aback at this sudden display of courage, but quickly regained themselves.  They were not simply going to forget their duty to protect this castle from all intruders.  They tilted their heads back, reaching for their weapons.

“Stooop this at once!”

The guards pivoted sharply, turning to the staircase in the center of the hall and bowing their heads to the ground.  From the top of the staircase emerged an elegantly dressed pony.  Her sparkling, flowing white dress clashed sharply with the dirty interior of the castle.  Her poise was haughty and elegant, clearly demonstrating an upbringing of class, although Rainbow Dash thought she was acting a bit hammy.  Her pink mane was done up in an ornate beehive.

“My Queen!  This pegasus was intruding on the castle grounds...”  one of the guards started.

Queen Diane silenced the soldier with a grandiose sweeping gesture of her hoof.   “Nooot another word, good Sir Knight.  I hereby declaaare this pegasus to be my distiiinguished guest.  See to it that she receives a maaarvalous feast.  Thereafter, I shall see her in my rrroyal chambers for a private audience.”

“B-but Your Highness, she...”

The Queen looked down her muzzle at the guard.  “You refuse to obey my orders?”

The guard sweated nervously.  “N-not at all, Your Highness!  We shall see to it at once!”

Queen Diane gazed upon Rainbow Dash.  Acknowledging the pegasus, she gave a slow, regal nod.  Somewhat confused by the whole affair, the pegasus meekly nodded in return.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, Queen Diane stuck her tongue out and quietly blew a raspberry at Rainbow Dash.  What the...?  Just as quickly, she withdrew her tongue, regaining her regal expression. She promptly turned and trotted deeper into the castle, leaving Rainbow Dash even further confused.

The soldiers stood up, apparently not having seen the Queen’s exchange.  One returned to its original post, while the other started to walk down one of the carpeted hallways.  “Come,” he bitterly ordered.  “The mess hall is this way.”

Rainbow Dash looked at the staircase, confused, as she followed the guard down the hallway.  What gives?  Why would a queen like that be goofing around?  That doesn’t sound...  Her eyes widened.  A goofy... pink... pony?  She shook her head rapidly.  No, it couldn’t be.  That doesn’t make a lick of sense.  “Oof!”  She was shaken from her thoughts as she bumped into the guard.  He had abruptly stopped and was bowing deeply again, this time in the direction of the mess hall.

Two ponies approached from the hallway, deep in conversation.  One was a regal-looking brown stallion draped in a gem-studded red robe.  A large golden crown rested atop his graying mane.  It wasn’t much of a logic jump for Rainbow Dash to guess that this was King Sugardia — the King of this era, at least.  Following two steps behind the King was a light gray mare.  She was clad in a less ornate, yet still quite expensive, brown silk cloak.  A matching brown muffin hat rested on her darker gray mane.

“Oh dear... it should seem that the resolve of our prized Bolt Knights still wavers.  I had hoped that the safe return of our Queen would bolster spirits for longer...”  the King said to his advisor.

“Indeed, Your Majesty,” the gray pony replied.  “The... recovery of our Queen was a bright glimmer of hope in these otherwise dreary times.”

The King stopped, looking quizzically at the rainbow pony.  “Pardon me, young lady... Would you happen to be Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow Dash quickly snapped to her senses and remembered her manners, bowing low.  “Yes! Yes, Your Majesty!  Sorry for intruding...”

King Sugardia the 21st laughed and placed a leg gently on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder, causing her to look up in surprise.  “Please, you are our welcomed guest!  My beloved wife, the Queen, has talked so highly of you since she returned to us this morning.  She has eagerly been awaiting your arrival.”

“...She has?”

“I am most grateful for her safe return.  Although...”  The King looked worryingly at Rainbow Dash.  “My dear, perhaps you may be able to assist.  My wife has been acting... quite unlike herself, since her return.  More worrisome, She appears to have lost her coral manepin, which she treasured so dearly.  Tell me... know you anything of these matters?”

Before Rainbow Dash could reply, she caught a particularly nasty look from the pony in brown robes.  The robed pony leaned closely to the King.  “Your Highness, I beseech your discretion.  In these times, it can be... quite difficult to choose who to trust.”  She glared darkly at Rainbow Dash, who felt disconcerted.  She had been receiving stares all day — from the skeptical inn patrons, or the rude guards — but this pony’s stare was different somehow.  Rainbow Dash couldn’t put her hoof on what it was.

The King smiled warmly at his advisor.  “As always, Chancellor Octavia, your counsel is most appreciated.”  He turned to address Rainbow Dash.  “I apologize, my dear, do not be troubled by my questions.  Please forgive me.  Feel free to make use of all our accommodations during your stay.”

Chancellor Octavia bowed to the King.  “By your leave, Your Majesty... If our affairs are in order here, I would return to the abbey...”

“Ah, but of course!  Always giving back to the community... you are a shining example to us all.”

The Chancellor got up and walked for the castle’s entrance, glaring again at Rainbow Dash as she passed.  Unsure of why she deserved the hostility, Rainbow Dash returned the stare, flicking her rainbow-striped tail in discontent.  The King followed thereafter, and she quickly bowed in respect as he passed.

“...If you’re not too busy being best friends with the Queen and King, perhaps you could follow me?”  The guard from earlier tapped his hoof impatiently and glared at Rainbow Dash.  Unlike the Chancellor’s cryptic stare, she understood the motivation behind this one: jealousy.

Rainbow Dash’s stomach rumbled.  She realized that in all of the excitement, she had skipped breakfast in order to rush to the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration, hadn’t eaten any food at the Celebration because of meeting Pinkie Pie, and had been too depressed to eat lunch at Equus Inn.  She giggled, embarrassed.  “Eh heh heh... yes, please.  Lunch would be awesome.”

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle  Mess Hall

Rainbow Dash walked downstairs to the mess hall.  The front room was lined with wooden tables, each overcrowded with plated soldier ponies.  They frantically competed with each other to grab scraps of food from a few central platters on each table.  A few maids were rushing frantically about the room, clearing plates and bringing out beverages.  A noisy din filled the air; Rainbow Dash could make out bits and pieces of a tumultuous conversation.

“...weird, don’t you think so?  She’s been slipping out of the castle night after night!”

“Don’t be so rude!  Chancellor Octavia is a kind, sweet pony.  She’s spending her evenings volunteering at the abbey.”

“Pfft... you wanna talk about suspicious, what about that monstrous creature, then?  The one that acts like it’s a personal knight of the Queen?  Heard she used to be a pony, but then a powerful hex was placed on her.  I’d wager she’s one of Nightmare Moon’s spies!”

One of the soldiers groaned, “If only Sir Spike were still here, to lead us Bolt Knights into battle.  He was as brave and fierce a Captain as this country has ever seen...”

“Come off it.  Nopony’s seen scale nor spine of Sir Spike in nearly a decade.  He’s either dead or a traitor.  Besides, Lady Firefly has done admirably as Captain of the Bolt Knights in his stead!”

“How dare you speak ill of him!  Sir Spike is best Captain!

The room grew louder as tempers flared and the arguing escalated.  Rainbow Dash slinked around the perimeter of the room, not wanting to get pulled into any of the fighting.  I just want some freakin’ daffodils...

“What in the Queen’s name is going on here?!”

The room fell silent immediately.  Rainbow Dash looked back to the entrance and saw that a few soldiers had arrived at the stairs, wearing armor that was more decorated than that of the other soldiers in the mess hall.  Cursing quietly, she realized that the pony in front was the soldier she had met back in Equus Inn.  Not wanting to be recognized as “that crazy pegasus from earlier”, she quickly ducked out of view, behind one of the tables.  Luckily, considering her vibrant coloring, she wasn’t noticed.

Firefly glared around the room, surveying her discontent troops and the empty benches before them.  She continued to bellow.  “We’re fighting a war out there!  Can’t you even keep us fed?”

A frustrated turquoise pegasus flew out of the back room, landing next to Firefly.  “We’re trying our best here!  I’m not even a trained chef, but everypony is trying to help all they can!  Stop acting like you’re the only ponies fighting this war!”

“Medley, our soldiers can’t fend off Nightmare Moon’s monsters on an empty stomach!  We need our meals to be prepared on time!”

Medley stomped her hooves.  “And we need supplies to cook those meals!  We’ve been running low on food ever since we lost contact with Doreino and Pommel.  Everypony’s making sacrifices!”

Firefly turned her back to Medley.  “Just feed my little ponies.  I don’t have time to waste, arguing with a coward.”  Without another word, she ascended the staircase.

Medley didn’t move from her spot, trembling slightly.  She turned and stomped her way back to the kitchen.  As she passed by Rainbow Dash, she could see that her eyes were still enraged, yet moist.  Rainbow Dash felt a pang of guilt, and wished she could help these feuding pegasi, but had no idea how.  More immediately — if a bit selfishly — she also realized that she probably wasn’t going to get any food right now.

“...even though we’re trying to keep as many ponies fed as possible.”  She could hear Medley confiding with somepony else, back in the kitchen.  “And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Queen, bless Her soul, is requesting the most bizarre dishes... Eyes Cream?  Pop Rocks?  Liquor Rice?  Cotton Candy?”

A light pink earth pony trotted over and poked her head into the kitchen.  “Yes, Medley?”

Cotton Candy, have you ever heard of Liquor Rice before?  Can you even make drinks out of rice?  So absurd...”

A look of confusion spread over Rainbow Dash’s face.  First the Queen is making faces at me... now she’s asking for sweets like ice cream and licorice... It’s totally crazy, but there’s only one possible explanation for all this!  She turned and raced up the stairs.

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle  Queen Diane’s Chamber

Rainbow Dash was led into the Queen’s chamber by her personal guards.  While this room had some rough edges, like the standard torches and stone walls, it still managed to feel quite cozy.  A roaring fireplace in the corner provided a comforting warmth and light to the room.  The Queen’s bed was made with smooth silken sheets, underneath a swooping lace canopy.  A few handmaidens bustled about the room, clearing lunch plates off the table in the center of the room and dusting the room.  The chamber was situated at the top of the western tower, and a few tall windows in the back of the room let in some warm afternoon sunlight, as well as providing a terrific view of the Sugardian countryside.  In front of the windows, Queen Diane was conversing with one of the handmaidens.  Turning, she saw that the rainbow-striped pegasus had arrived.

She smiled warmly.  “Aaahh, my distinguished guest has arrived.  Quite spleeendid, yes indeed...”  She turned back to her handmaiden.  “Please excuse us.  We have muuuch to discuss.”  The handmaidens curtsied and exited the room.  The Royal Guards saluted before sealing Rainbow Dash in the chamber, alone with the Queen.  She elegantly gestured toward Rainbow Dash.  “Please, come cloooser, Miss Dash.”

Rainbow Dash slowly walked closer, a skeptic look on her face.  “Queen Diane... is it?”

“Eheh.”  Queen Diane’s smile twitched.

“Or actually...”

Mmhmhm.”  Her cheeks puffed out as she lost control of her composure.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes narrowed, a bland expression covering her face.  “Pinkie Pie.”

Pffttt ahahahaha heeheeheehee *snort* gyahaha!”  Pinkie Pie fell and rolled on the ground, laughing uncontrollably and flailing her legs about.

Rainbow Dash sighed, annoyed yet concerned.  “What do you think you’re doing? I’d been looking all over for you...”

Pinkie Pie stood up, giggling and wiping a tear from her eye.  A black smudge ran along the back of her otherwise-pristine white dress, picked up from the dirty floor she had just been rolling on.  “Oh Dashie, I’m sorry for tricking you.  It’s just that, after I fell through that scary purple portal thingy, a couple of these knights found me and took me back here to the castle.  They kept calling me Queen Diane, and would do anything I asked!”  She smiled weakly and looked at the ground.  “It was... kinda fun, y’know?  Not like back home... with my father...

She shook her head.  “But even so...” she squirmed a bit, embarrassed.  “That portal... this strange, different version of Sugardia... everypony calling me Queen Diane instead of Pinkie Pie... It was an itty bitty, teensy weensy bit scary.”  She smiled sheepishly.  “I’m happy that you chased after me.”

Rainbow Dash smirked, embarrassed by the sudden mushiness.  She casually threw a leg over Pinkie Pie’s shoulder.  “Aww, c’mon, don’t make a huge deal out of it.  I’m just glad you’re alright.  We just needa chill here a little bit longer.  Twilight should be...  Hey, you okay?”

Pinkie Pie was wincing and breathing heavily.  She forced a smile.  “Uh huh.  I just have a bit of a tummy-ache.  Guess I shouldn’t have eaten so many sweets, heehee... But can you blame me? I mean, every time I finished a snack, they’d bring out two more, and before I knew it... AHHHHH!”  She screamed in pain, collapsing to the floor.

“Pinkie Pie!  What is it? What’s wrong?!”

Her face was twisted in pain, as tears rolled down her face. “I-I don’t know... I feel like I’m being torn apart from the inside... Dash, I’m scared...”  But Rainbow Dash could do nothing but stand by helplessly.  

Pinkie Pie started to glow with a white pale light.  Her eyes opened wide in terror, as she reached a hoof out toward Rainbow Dash.  “I’m scared!  I don’t want to disappear!  Please help me!  RAINBOW DASH!!!”

The room reverberated with a crystalline smash, as Pinkie Pie suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.  Horrified, Rainbow Dash realized that she was alone in the room, and that for the second time today, her new friend had vanished before her eyes.

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle

“Ah, miss, has Her Highness concluded her business with you?  Miss?  Where are you...”

Rainbow Dash flew.  She flew out of the Queen’s chamber, down the hallway, and dove into the staircase.  She was scared senseless.  She wasn’t even scared of what the guards would do to her when they realized that their “Queen” had disappeared while she had been alone with her.  That thought wasn’t even crossing her mind.  She was more focused on the fact that her friend had disappeared in front of her eyes, again.  But this time was different.  Before, at the Telepod, it had been confusing and a little surprising, but in the end, Pinkie Pie turned out to be safe and sound.  This time... she had been crying.  In pain.  Terrified.  Pleading not to disappear.  This was far beyond anything that Rainbow Dash could comprehend right now.

She reached the bottom of the tower’s staircase, and raced along the corridor leading to the castle’s entrance.  She couldn’t face this alone now.  She couldn’t think straight.  Right now, she needed a friend.  She needed...

It was at this moment that a familiar voice drifted down the corridor.  The voice was faint, as it drifted from far off, but the pony in question was projecting her voice quite forcefully.

“...NAMED.  RAINBOW.  DASH.  HAVE.  YOU.  SEEN.  HER?”

Her eyes opening wide, Rainbow Dash raced to the exit — no longer fleeing the earlier scene in the tower, but now to confirm the source of the voice.  Sure enough, a familiar purple unicorn was conversing with the two guards at the entrance.  She was using an exceedingly loud and deliberate voice, and was providing elaborate pantomimes with each word.

“SHE.  IS.  A.  PEGASUS.  WITH.  A.  SPIKY.  RAINBOW.  MANE.”

The guards exchanged a silent glance.  Terrific, they thought.  Another wierdo.

Rainbow Dash smiled in relief as she raced ahead.  “Twi!”

Twilight Sparkle turned and gasped.  “Rainbow Dash!  You were here!  I just knew it!”

The two old friends rushed together and hugged, each thoroughly relieved to see the other.  Breaking the embrace, they both grinned at each other.  

One of the guards sighed and placed a hoof to his forehead.  “Of course the two of you know each other...”

Twilight Sparkle turned to face the guard and bellowed.  “I.  FOUND.  HER.  THIS.  IS.  MY.  FRIEND.

Rainbow Dash kicked her friend in the flank.  “Stop acting like such a doofus,” she said through gritted teeth.  “He can understand you just fine.”

He stared blankly ahead.  “Yes.  Yes we can.”

The unicorn blushed and grinned sheepishly.  “Oh... heh heh... sorry.”  Looking around, she beckoned for her friend to follow her, away from the guards’ earshot.

“This is incredible!”  Twilight Sparkle beamed to her friend, once they had reached a sufficient distance.  “That Gate — that strange purple vortex that appeared at my Telepod — it didn’t send us to a different location.  It send us to a complete different time period!  Rainbow, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re actually in the past!  We’re in the year 600 AD!”

“Yeah.  I managed to figure that much out on my own...”

Twilight Sparkle looked excitedly around the chambers.  “Wow!  7th century Sugardia Castle!  The layout and structure looks just like it does in our time (which I know from my regular visits, of course), but seeing it with this old-fashioned decor is just so... so... unbelievable!  I’ll have to spend some time here taking extensive notes, maybe a few rough sketches... of course, not until we save...”  She gasped suddenly, and turned to Rainbow Dash, eyes shining brightly.  “Did you find her? Is she here?!”

Rainbow Dash’s mind was filled with Pinkie Pie’s terrified scream.  “Yeah... I found her... but...”

Eeee!!!”  Twilight Sparkle giddily hopped back and forth between her front and hind legs.  “Rainbow Dash, you are. NOT. Going to believe this.  The name she told you was just an alias!  You’ll never guess who she actually is!”  She grinned widely at Rainbow Dash, leaning in face-to-face.

“Uhh... was that rhetorical? Or...”

EEEE SHE’S PRINCESS PINKAMENA!”  She exploded, unable to contain her fangirl joy any longer, hugging herself tightly.

“Uwa?  Pinkie Pie is... a princess?”  Something clicked in Rainbow Dash’s head.  “Waitwaitwait... Princess Pinkamena?  The one you’re always stalking, and obsessing over, and blabbing on and on about?  That Princess Pinkamena?!”

“I know, I know!”  She pulled on her face with her hooves, devastated.  “I was within leg’s reach of her and I didn’t even realize it!  And what was up with that ‘disguise’?  I mean, ‘Pinkie Pie’?  Curling her mane?  How was that supposed to fool aaahahaha...”  She giggled nervously as her face turned bright fuchsia.  “I-I mean, even I, her most faithful fan, could not ascertain her true identity... Heh.

“Never mind that now!” she continued, glancing around rapidly.  “Is she here?  Will I actually get to meet her?  And rescue her?  Will she like me?  Oh, I hope she’ll like me...”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes fell to the floor.  “Twi, she’s not here anymore.  She... She’s gone.”

“Gone.”  Twilight Sparkle echoed, emotionlessly.  For a moment, the word had no meaning to her.  Suddenly, she lunged at Rainbow Dash, pinning her against the stone wall.  “GONE?!”

Shhh! Keep your voice down!”  Rainbow Dash whispered tersely, glancing nervously down the hall to the guards.  Luckily, the guards were actively trying with all of their might to ignore the two ponies.

What. Do. You. Mean. Gone?”  Twilight Sparkle whispered back through gritted teeth.

Rainbow Dash explained what had transpired in Twilight Sparkle’s absence: how Pinkie Pie had been found, mistaken for Queen Diane, taken to Sugardia Castle, and then... how she had vanished.  Twilight Sparkle slowly calmed down and listened contemplatively, but by the end of the tale, she was wide-eyed and pale.

“No... no, no... nonononono!”  She hopped around on her hooves as if the floor was made of lava, before rubbing her eyes with a hoof.  “This is bad!  I was worried when I found out that we were in the past, but to think that she could have diverted the time stream so much as to disappear...”

“What? I don’t get it! Why did she disappear?  Twilight, what happened?!”

Twilight Sparkle used her magic to retrieve a quill and scroll from her saddlebags.  She quickly drew a stick figure of a pony on the right end of the scroll.  “Okay, look.  Pinkie Pie — or rather, Princess Pinkamena — is the Princess of Sugardia in our time.  Therefore, that would mean Queen Diane was Princess Pinkamena’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother.”  Twilight Sparkle continued, drawing some more stick figures towards the left, covering the scroll.  “...four, five, six... yes.”

“Wait,”  Rainbow Dash stopped her.  Twilight Sparkle paused and waited to answer her question.  “So, Pinkamena is the Princess of Sugardia?”

“...”

“...what? I assumed she was Princess of Chorse, or...”

“Now, Queen Diane, as you’ve found out, went missing in this era.  In actuality, according to my history books, she was foalnapped by one of Nightmare Moon’s minions!  But she was later rescued by one of her personal guards.”

Rainbow Dash was confused.  “But... they didn’t find the real Queen Diane.  They found Pinkie Pie up in Equus Canyon after she appeared here.”

“Exactly!  We changed history by traveling back in time.  Her search party was called off when they suddenly found the Princess (presumably, they look quite similar, being related and all).  Which means, the real Queen Diane is still being held hostage.  And... if something terrible were to happen to her...”  She crossed Queen Diane’s stick figure out, slowly working her way down the row of ponies.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes went wide as she caught Twilight Sparkle’s meaning.  “...Pinkie will never be born!  Does... does that mean we’re already too late?”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head slowly.  “I don’t know... I’ve never witnessed a Grandmother’s Paradox before.  It could be instant, there might be a ripple effect... or maybe I’m completely wrong about this.  But right now, I can only think of one possible option to save the Princess.”

“Rescuing Queen Diane!  The real one!”

“Right!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any other information about Queen Diane’s capture in my books...  You’ve been here in the past longer than I have.  Do you have any ideas?”

Okay... Think, Dash, think.  She racked her brain, stepping backwards through her day.  Pinkie vanishing... trying to get some food... ugh, I’m still hungry... that fighting captain and chef... meeting the King, and his...

She gasped.  “There was this assistant!  This... Chancellor pony!  She was acting all weird, and kept glaring at me!”

“Oookay,” Twilight Sparkle winced, trying to stay encouraging.  “That’s not a whole lot to go on, though.  What was so strange about her?”

“She... well...”  Rainbow Dash paused.  Like before, she couldn’t easily define what was odd about the Chancellor.  “I dunno, she just... really seemed pissed that I was here.  I guess it doesn’t matter though.  She already left the castle.  Said she was heading off to the...”  She suddenly remembered a yellow pony in a large cowboy hat.  “Braeburn!”

“The Braeburn?  I haven’t heard of that place before... Is it the name of a tavern?”  She began flipping through one of the books she had brought with her.

Braeburn’s not a tavern, he’s a pony!  Well, I met him in a tavern... Anyway!  He told me this rumor!  He said that the Queen might be held captive in this abbey west of here.  But that didn’t make any sense, because the Queen had already been found in Equus Canyon...”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes lit up.  “They didn’t find the Queen there!  They found our Princess Pinkamena!  That rumor might be true after all!”

Rainbow Dash’s face drained.  “And that creepy Chancellor mare said she was heading to the abbey!  She left a little while ago!”

“Then there’s not much time!  We need to hurry to that abbey and save the Queen!”  Nodding, the two ponies raced out of the castle’s front gate.  After they had travelled out of sight, the two guard ponies sighed.

“I miss fighting endless hoards of monsters.”

“Yep.”


Chapter 5: The Queen Is Gone

600 AD

Manerial Abbey

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash cautiously entered the abbey.  While not as regal or awe-inspiring as the interior of Sugaria Castle, the abbey was quite a spectacle in its own rights.  Luscious red carpeting covered the stone floor, leading to the front of the room, flanked on both sides by wooden pews.  Rainbow Dash noted that, unlike the furnishings of Equus Inn, these pews had been stained and finished, looking much more refined.  A few nuns were resting on the pews, quietly meditating.  At the front of the room, another nun was making preparations at an altar, basked in light from an ornate stained-glass mural.

The two ponies walked up to the altar.  Twilight Sparkle nervously coughed, and whispered lightly, not wishing to disturb the quiet serenity of the chamber.  “Uh... excuse me, Miss?  May we have a word with you?”

The nun turned toward the ponies and smiled.  “Oh, what delish... delightful guests!  Welcome to our humble abbey.  May you be blessed with peace and good fortune.”  She bowed politely.  “How may we help you?”

Rainbow Dash frowned, as the nun smiled at her.  While her demeanor and expression were gentle, there was still something off-putting.  Something in the look of her eyes... It almost reminded Rainbow Dash of...

“We are looking for Queen Diane,” continued Twilight Sparkle.  “Apparently, she went missing earlier and nopony has seen her since.  By any chance, have you seen her here at the abbey?”

The nun gently shook her head.  “I am truly sorry.  As we told the Bolt Knights earlier, Her Highness The Queen has not visited our abbey in quite some time.  I am sorry we could not be of more help to you.  Please, do not trouble yourselves.  You should make yourself comfortable, and rest, in peace.”

Rainbow Dash looked around behind her.  The rest of the nuns were looking up at the ponies, disrupted from their meditations.  Rainbow Dash felt a growing sense of unease.  “H-Hey, Twi?  It sounds like that rumor was no good after all.  Maybe we should look some place el...”  She suddenly stopped as something on the ground glittered and caught her attention.  Quizzically, she walked over to it and took a look.

“Dash?  What’s up? ...Hmm, what are you looking at?”  The unicorn lifted the object using her magic, and took a closer look.  “Looks like some kind of coral manepin.”

Rainbow Dash gasped.  “The King said that the Queen had a coral manepin!  If it’s here...”  She suddenly pushed Twilight behind her, drawing her katana.  The four nuns had begun encircling the ponies, eyes glowing red.  She called out a challenge to them.  “We’re onto you, ya creepy nuns!  Give us back the Queen!”

The nuns suddenly exploded in a red blinding light.  Rainbow Dash had to shake her head clear to regain her vision.  When she looked back, at first it seemed that nothing had changed; she still saw four ponies.  In horror, she realized that while each of them still had the front half of a pony, their hindquarters had been replaced with the body of a snake.  Rearing upright, the naga slithered closer, baring their fangs and screeching.

“SNAKES!”  Twilight Sparkle screamed in terror, diving into the corner and covering her head.  “SNAAAKES!”

The pegasus dashed between the naga and her friend, flaring her wings wide.  She knew that, ever since Twilight Sparkle was a filly, she had been terribly afraid of “icky, creepy, and/or disgusting” animals.  And unfortunately, snakes ranked fairly high on that list, meaning that she wouldn’t be of much assistance in this fight.  Even though Rainbow Dash wasn’t afraid of snakes, the half-pony half-snake monstrosities before her were still quite unsettling.  Nevertheless, there was one of Rainbow Dash, and only four of the naga; this was going to be a snap.

Leaping, she air-dashed straight into the closest naga, gashing it deeply.  Caught off-guard from the sudden burst of speed, it fell with a cry.  Rainbow Dash’s attack had left Twilight Sparkle unguarded, however.  Two of the naga slithered toward her, hooves outstretched.  Facing them from a distance, Rainbow Dash fiercely slashed in their direction.  A blade of wind emanated from her katana, flying toward the naga.  One of them managed to leap back in time, exposing its companion to the full blast of her Wind Slash attack.  It let out a terrifying screech, but remained upright.

Rainbow Dash charged the injured naga, blade first, and ran it through.   It scratched futilely at the pegasus’s face with its hooves, but soon expired.  Seeing another opening, another naga tried to slip behind her, heading for the cowering unicorn.  Catching sight of the enemy, Rainbow Dash pushed off the corpse with her front legs, catching the naga squarely in the jaw with a well-timed kick.  Landing squarely on the ground, she twisted sharply and ended the creature with an uppercut slash.

Panting, Rainbow Dash turned to her friend, sheathing her blade.  “You okay, Twi?”  The unicorn looked up, wiping her eyes, and nodded meekly.  However, her expression quickly changed to one of silent horror, and she pointed behind Rainbow Dash.

She turned quickly to see a naga in mid-pounce.  Another one!  Did I miscount?!  The naga was nearly on top of her, and her katana was sheathed.  She wouldn’t have time to react!  She braced herself to take the full impact of the hit.  Just as the naga was about to strike, it let out a blood-curdling shriek and collapsed in a heap on the floor in front of her.  Confused, she instinctively looked down at the corpse, trying to determine what had happened.  As she looked up, she gasped at the new creature before her.

The creature walked on four legs, much like a pony.  It even had a unicorn’s horn, which was levitating the broadsword that had slain the naga.  The face of the creature, however, strongly appeared to be that of a pony-sized frog.  Unlike a pony’s soft-haired body, this creature had green skin, hairless and moist.  Instead of hooves, its legs ended in webbed feet.  On its torso, it wore a gem-studded golden vest over a white silken blouse, partially obscured by a heavy, dark green cape across its back.  After carefully cleaning the broadsword with a rag from its saddlebags, and sheathing the broadsword with its horn, the creature turned to Rainbow Dash and spoke.  “My dear, you simply must be more cautious.  Stay ever vigilant until the ‘bitter end’, as ‘twere.”

Confused by the juxtaposition of creature’s bizarre appearance, yet fashionable armor and sophisticated speech, Rainbow Dash glanced back at Twilight Sparkle for guidance.  However, the unicorn was still cowering in fear in the corner.  Rainbow Dash sighed and rolled her eyes.  She’s scared of frogs too, isn’t she...  Turning back, she cautious replied.  “Erm... yeah, thanks... I guess I owe you one, for the save.”

“Think nothing of it,” the creature beamed, eyes contently closed.  “I simply did what anypony would have done.”  It walked past Rainbow Dash and approached the curled-up Twilight Sparkle, placing a webbed pad on her shoulder.  “Are you all right?”

Caught by surprise, Twilight Sparkle leapt up onto the tips of her hooves, shivering against the wall.  “A f-f-frog!  A gross, slimy frog just touched me! Eww eww eww!”  She frantically scratched at her own shoulder with a hoof, desperately trying to remove whatever cooties were contaminating her.

It smiled back cheerily at the unicorn, though its eyes told a different story.  “Y-yes, I do so apologize for my... dreary appearance.  I realize that it can be quite burdensome for some ponies to handle.  I shan’t impose on you any further.”  Bowing politely, the creature turned and began to walk toward the altar.

Twilight Sparkle recovered from her initial fear reaction and, realizing what she had just said, her face turned beet red.  “Wait!  Stop, please!  I’m so, so, so sorry.  That was a horrible thing for me to say!  Especially after you had just saved us...”  She hesitantly approached the creature, torn between her phobia and her strong desire to make amends for her words.  “Pl... Please forgive me.  My friend and I are truly in your debt...”  she bit her lip nervously.

The creature smiled back.  While its smile had remained almost completely unchanged during this encounter, the earnest apology had been well-received, and its high spirits returned.  “Thank you, dearie.  Though, truly, do not worry yourself over it.  You and I are quite alright.”

Twilight Sparkle returned the smile, relieved.  However, as she was still uneasy at its appearance, she was at a loss of words.  The two stood smiling silently, as an awkward pause filled the room.  Rainbow Dash quickly jumped in to fill the void.  “So... what are you doing here in the abbey, anyway?”

Its expression turned serious.  “It would seem that Her Royal Majesty, Queen Diane, is being held against her will, hidden deep within this lair.  As a sworn protector of Her Majesty, it is my solemn duty to rescue her.”

The two friends exchanged a glance.  So the Queen was here in the abbey, after all!  Concerned, Twilight Sparkle turned back.  “But... you were going to go in here... all by yourself?”

It struck a pose with its head held high, radiating confidence and elegance.  “But of course!  Just because I'm a lady doesn't mean I cannot handle myself in a sticky situation.”

“A... lady?”  Twilight Sparkle hadn’t really thought of the creature as a lady, let alone as a fellow pony.  Realizing how her question sounded out loud, she blushed fiercely again and stammered. “I mean!  Yes!  You really don’t seem like a... bad lady... pony... frog-thing...”  She turned pleadingly to Rainbow Dash with a look that screamed, Bail me out!

Rainbow Dash raised a hoof upwards, shrugging, with a look that replied, What, you want ME to smooth-talk this out?

Twilight Sparkle sighed and closed her eyes.  After a short pause, she turned back to the creature.  “Please, Miss, let us join you.”

The pegasus was genuinely surprised.  “Twi, are you sure?  I mean, with your fear of...”

She nodded solemnly.  “We owe her so much already — both for saving us from those snake-ponies, and for forgiving me for my hurtful words.  I want to repay her for all of her generosity.  If that means putting up with a phobia or two, I’ll just have to put up with her.  I mean...”  she blushed again, scrunching up her face in frustration.

“Thank you.  I humbly accept your offer.  This will be much safer with the three of us together.  Not to mention, journeying is much more enjoyable with company!”

Rainbow Dash grinned.  “Sweet!  It’ll be great to have another swordspony with us.  You pulled a pretty decent move on that naga, back there.”

She returned the grin, as pegasus and frog sized each other up.  “You were demonstrating some impressive blade maneuvers, yourself...”  She blinked.  “Heavens, I was so caught up that I never introduced myself!  My name...  Well, I won’t bore you with a long and uninteresting story.  For now, it will suffice to refer to me as ‘Frog’.”

“Uh, okay... Frog... If you say so... My name’s Rainbow Dash, and the scaredy-pony over there...”

Suddenly, a deafening noise filled the air.  Covering both ears with her hooves,  Rainbow Dash looked first to Frog, then to Twili... there was nopony there.  Looking frantically around the room, she finally spotted Twilight Sparkle.  She had wandered over to a large organ sitting in the corner, and was currently pressing on some of the keys with her horn’s magic, filling the room and their brains with vibrations from the large pipes.

“Oh what the hay... Twi!  Knock it off!

She released the keys, granting a momentary relief.  “I think this sheet music is a clue!” she shouted about the ringing of her own ears.  Rainbow Dash flicked annoyedly at her own ears, trying to regain her hearing.  “I’m trying to play it!  Luckily I was reading up on beginner’s musical theory just a few months ago!  I think I remember...”  She studied the sheet music intently.  “Let’s see... E-flat... G-flat... B-flat... D-flat... F-natural!”  Locating all of the keys on the organ, she pressed the chord.

The haunting chord filled the chamber again, reverberating off the walls.  Over the din, a low rumbling could be heard, followed by a loud thud.

The ponies shook their heads, trying to recover their senses.  “My, what a dreary sound,” Frog said.  “It doesn’t fit with the gentle beauty of this cathedral at all.”

“After the welcome party those nuns threw for us, I doubt there’s anything ‘gentle’ about this place,”  Rainbow Dash tersely added.

Twilight Sparkle gasped.  “Girls, look!”  On the opposite end of the room, a carved wooden relief had disappeared, leaving a black gaping hole in the wall.  “The resonation of the harmonics must have served as the ‘key’ to this entrance.  We can go deeper into the abbey now!”  She smiled at her two companions.  “I wonder what we’ll find inside!”

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600 AD

Manerial Abbey  Interior Halls

“BATS!”  Twilight Sparkle answered her own question.  “BAAATS!”

The swordsponies were leaping about, slashing in the air, trying to scare off the winged creatures.  “We know,” growled Rainbow Dash, teeth clenched to her katana’s hilt.

The bats flittered down the hall, sufficiently spooked by the two flying blades.  As their flapping leathery wings grew quieter, Twilight Sparkle shakily rose to her hooves.  “Thanks...” she said quietly.

Rainbow Dash gave a sigh of annoyance.  “We need to move faster.  The Queen could be in real danger!”

“Right... Sorry...”

The companions looked around.  They were in yet another dimly lit corridor.  Despite the dim lighting and restricted access to this section of the abbey, the beautiful furnishing and decorations from the main chamber were present here too.  However, in the dim candlelight, surrounded by monsters and vermin, the appearance of the corridors chilled them with icy, ominous dread.

In the dim lighting, Frog made something out.  “There appears to be... hmm... some type of notice written here, it would seem.”

Rainbow Dash approached Frog, who was standing in front of a piece of parchment nailed hastily to one of the walls. “‘No Entry’,” she read.  Confused, she looked up and down the hallway, then back at the note.  “‘No Entry’ to where?  There’s no doors here...”

Somewhat confused, they pressed further on, following the dimly lit hallways.  As they walked, Frog tried to lighten the mood with some conversation.  “I must say, it’s quite a rare sight to see a pair of adventurers like yourselves.  Most of the brave ponies have already enlisted in the Royal Guard or the Bolt Knights or the like, to do battle with Nightmare Moon’s forces.  If I may be so bold, what land do the two of you hail from?”

“Us?” Twilight Sparkle nervously replied.  “Oh, haha, nowhere special...  Born and raised right here in the town of Equus!”

“Uh huh. ‘Cept we’re from the future.  1000 AD to be exact.”

Rainbow Dash!”

“What?  She asked...”

“You can’t just go around telling everypony that!  Who knows what kind of ramifications that could have to our time stream!”

“Huh?  What’s the big deal?  I’ve already told that to lots of ponies, and nothing bad’s happened...”

Twilight Sparkle was mortified.  “What? Who?!”

“Like, everypony in Equus Inn?  I guess none of them believed me, though...”

“Oh my, the future?”  Frog jumped back into the conversation.  “That must be a dream come true.  My, to think of the fashion and luxury that could be invented over the course of four long centuries...” She gasped in excitement, “Oh, please tell me that emeralds are back in vogue?”

“I... err... I don’t really follow the fashion trends all that closely.”  Twilight Sparkle gave Frog a quizzical look.  “You don’t seem all that surprised.  Isn’t it odd for ponies to be claiming to be time travelers?”

“Well, somewhat, I suppose.  After all, you’re the first ponies I’ve met who have claimed to be from the future.  But my dear, we live in magical times, and I’ve seen more than my fair share of mysteries and sorcery.  It’s not all that unthinkable that somepony could manage to traverse the flow of time.  And besides, the two of you seem to be kind, honest ponies.  I see no reason that you would be lying to me about something such as this.”

“Wow... that’s so open-minded of you.  It’s really impressive, Frog!”

Frog turned to Rainbow Dash.  “What about you, darling?  You simply must tell me all about the latest trends with hats in the year you’re from!  With that gorgeous — ehh, if somewhat messy — mane of yours, I’m sure that you’re always dressing in style!”

“No.”

“Hmm? Hey girls, look.”  Twilight Sparkle had stopped a few paces back, next to a small wooden door.  Giving it a gentle nudge, it slowly swung inwards with a soft creak.  “Check out what’s inside?”

“Might as well...”  Tugging her blade out halfway, just in case,  Rainbow Dash kicked the door open and walked inside.

“Ah, you have arrived!”  Queen Diane smiled warmly.  “I am relieved that you made it here safely.”

The three companions gaped.  True to their expectations, Queen Diane was a beautiful pink pony in a regal, flowing white dress.  Indeed, she bore an uncanny resemblance to Pinkie Pie — at least, the dolled-up 600 AD version, not the spunky free spirit that Rainbow Dash had met at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration.  Unlike Pinkie Pie, though, her poise was soft and elegant.  It was clear that they were in the presence of true royalty.  And yet, there were no guards, no chains, no cell.  The Queen hardly appeared to be a prisoner.  Indeed, behind her, a table appeared to be set for afternoon tea.

“My Queen!”  Frog hopped forward to Queen Diane, kneeling respectfully before her.  “You are in great peril!  Come, we must depart at once!”

“Ah, Frog, my faithful protector.  I am so happy that you have come to save me,” she giggled softly, “but this is simply a misunderstanding.  I am an honored guest, not a prisoner.”

“What?” Rainbow Dash stepped forward.  “What do you mean ‘guest’?  I thought Nightmare Moon’s goons were trying to kill you!”

“Kill?  Dear pegasus, far from it.”  From the side of the room, King Sugardia the 21st stepped forward.  “Yakra, the master of this abbey, is a kind and peaceful creature.  He summoned my wife and myself here in order to meet with Nightmare Moon, that we might negotiate a peace treaty.  At last, we will be able to put this dreadful war behind us!”

“Peace treaty?”  Twilight Sparkle pulled a book from her saddlebags and began flipping furiously through it.

“W-with Nightmare Moon?  My Lord and Lady, with the utmost of respect, Nightmare Moon has been leading the fiends of the world in a crusade to purge the world of all ponykind!  How could such a demon be reasoned with?!”

Queen Diane shook her head.  “My loyal Frog, you mustn’t be too hasty.  Nightmare Moon has been our enemy in the past, but all creatures large and small crave friendship.”  She motioned behind her to a large golden statue.  “Wonderful Nightmare Moon has agreed to live in harmony with the ponyfolk, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity!”

Hesitantly, Frog and Rainbow Dash approached the statue.  It depicted a towering, armor-clad alicorn.  A long glistening mane flowed from her helmet, with a matching tail sweeping wispily around its hooves in a most artistic way.  Rainbow Dash was both awe-struck and terrified of the golden alicorn depicted in the statue.  “This... this is Nightmare Moon?”

Frog glared coldly at the statue, unblinking.  “This is she.  A cruel, monstrous deity of hatred.  Our kingdom, our very lives will never be safe as long as her black heart still beats.  I cannot for the life of me fathom why dearest Queen Diane would believe...”

Dash!”  Twilight Sparkle cried out.

Rainbow Dash collapsed as the full weight of the naga crashed down on her.  She let out a cry of pain as its fangs dug deep into her back near the root of her wing.  Frog swiftly raised her broadsword with her telekinesis, but before she could assist, the other naga charged her, forcing her to engage.  She sparred the creature, moving hardly at all, focusing the brunt of her might into the flurry of telekinetic swings of her blade.  Exploiting an opening, she gashed the creature’s neck, felling it.

Rainbow Dash tried weakly to buck the naga off her, but with its weight pinned her close to the ground, and the sharp pain in her back, she couldn’t get the proper leverage.  Nevertheless, the creature released its bite and flew off.  Looking up, Rainbow Dash saw that Frog’s stretchy, elastic tongue had wrapped around the creature, pulling it off the pegasus and rapidly in Frog’s direction.  With a mighty upward thrust, she ran the creature through, and it collapsed beside its partner.

Rainbow Dash winced, applying pressure to her bleeding wound.  “Grrr... lemme guess... that King and Queen... they were impostors, weren’t they?  Just like the nuns...”

“It would seem so,” Frog approached her companion.  “Oh, I feel so foolish that I was deceived by such rudimentary magics.  As the Queen’s protector, I ought to be able to see through the parlor tricks of mere pawns...”  Leaning down, she began gently licking Rainbow Dash’s wound with her stretchy tongue.  Rainbow Dash looked up at her, bewildered, with her mouth agape.  “Trust me,” she quickly added, blushing, “nopony finds this more revolting than I, but over the years I have learnt that my... ugh... spit has healing properties that will help with your recovery.  Just... just sit still and we’ll get this over with... quickly.”  She resumed her rather unusual treatment of the wound.

After she had finished, Rainbow Dash rose to her hooves, tentatively stretching and flapping her wings.  “Huh... I guess it is starting to feel a lot better.  Thanks, Frog.”  She looked around the room for the third pony.  Unsurprisingly, Twilight Sparkle was curled in the corner, not moving.  “Twi!  That Queen was a big ol’ fake.  We need to keep looking, c’mon.”  There was no reply.

“Twilight?  Dearie?  Are you hurt?   I can try to treat your wounds before we press onward.”

Her reply was soft and monotone.  “Go on without me.”

“What?”

Hot tears fell from Twilight Sparkle’s face.  Unlike earlier, these were not tears of fear and panic; these tears were borne of hatred of her own weaknesses.  “I’ve done nothing but slow you down.  Every time we’ve been attacked, I’ve been such a...” she said as she clenched her eyes tightly shut,  “...such a coward.  I’ve been too scared to help anypony.  Even when I saw that snake-pony charging at Rainbow, I wanted to help... to protect her... but I couldn’t... I couldn’t.”

Rainbow Dash felt her stomach knot up with guilt.  All this time, she’d been growing frustrated with the unicorn’s hesitation and fear, and had been pushing her harder, without fully empathizing with her fear or frustration.  “Twilight... I’m so sorry. I was just...”

Frog looked down upon Twilight Sparkle.  “If you didn’t want to help anypony, you could have stayed back at the castle.”

Frog!”  Rainbow Dash was appalled.  “Leave Twi alone!”

Twilight Sparkle’s head jerked up.  “What?  Stayed... behind?”  Her eyes glassed over as she mulled the thought over for a second.  “No... no!  I couldn’t just... Rainbow Dash was...” she shook her head, trying to clear it.  “I wanted to help...!”

“To help your friend, yes?”  Frog smiled, lying down in front of Twilight Sparkle so that they were eye-to-eye.  “And Queen Diane.  So you came here, ignoring the dangers that might befall you.  And when you got here, you encountered snakes, and bats, and fr... and all manner of creepy critters.  But still you pressed onward, because you did not want to abandon your friends.  Is that your idea of a coward?”  She reached out with a webbed foot and gently held her hoof.  “That sounds like a brave little pony to me.”

She sniffed wetly, “B-brave?”

“Yeah!  Frog’s right!  And you haven’t been useless!”  Rainbow Dash stepped forward energetically, cheering her friend on.  “We couldn’t have even gotten inside here without you, remember?  You were the one who opened up the door by playing an organ, like that one.”

“Y-yeah.  I guess I... that one?”

Rainbow Dash was pointing to the near corner.  Next to the door stood another organ keyboard, identical in design to the first.

Twilight Sparkle rose excitedly to her hooves.  “Another organ!  That must be why we haven’t been able to find our way deeper.  If I play the same chord here, it should open up another hidden passageway!”

Frog followed behind her.  “That sounds like a marvelous idea.  Give it a go!”

The roaring, dissonant notes filled the abbey once again.  As Twilight Sparkle released the keys, the chord echoed until it faded softly into the bowels of the structure.  She excitedly looked around the room, trying to locate a new opening in the wall.  Slowly, the smile faded from her face.  Bowing her head and staring at the floor, she quietly murmured, “It didn’t work.”

“No way!”  Rainbow Dash took to the air.  “That plan had to have worked.  The new hole must be in a different room!”  She immediately raced out of the room and turned down the corridor.  There just has to be a new path!  Rainbow Dash thought to herself.  I know there is!  Because... because I believe in Twi!  

Her face lit up.  “Twi!  Come quick!”  As her companions raced to catch up,  Rainbow Dash excitedly pointed to the wall.  She had flown back to the note that was nailed to the wall.  Next to the note now stood an open door leading deeper into the abbey.  “Another door!  You did it!”

Twilight Sparkle looked at the door, then back at her companions.  “Frog... Rainbow Dash...”  Drying her eyes, she smiled wholeheartedly.  “Thank you.”

As they entered the new passageway, they failed to notice that the paper’s wording had completely changed.  It now read: Those who have decided a path in their hearts will find a way through.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Manerial Abbey  Inner Sanctum

The party raced down another corridor, running and flying at breakneck speed.  They were still progressing deeper into the catacombs, but there was no sign of Queen Diane.  In their guts, an overwhelming sense of dread was warning them that they were running out of time.

Rainbow Dash flew ahead of the pack, pausing briefly at each door they found, listening for any sounds of movement inside, before racing to the next.  They didn’t have any time to waste with empty rooms or packs of enemies.  The abbey was sprawling and full of dead ends.  Where could she be?

“Prepare yourself, Queen Diane!”

Rainbow Dash screeched to a halt.  Who said that?  It sounded like it came from the last room.  Turning sharply, she raced back and bucked the door open.

Queen Diane looked at Rainbow Dash from the back of the room, horrified.  She was being backed into a corner by somepony dressed in brown robes.  The Queen’s appearance looked spot-on compared to the impostor naga from before, but there was no question in Rainbow Dash’s mind; this Queen was the real deal, at long last!  “Queen Diane!  We’re here to save you!”

The Queen’s captor turned around.  Rainbow Dash quickly recognized her.  Judging by the feral, rageful glare, it appeared that she also remembered Rainbow Dash.  “You!”  Chancellor Octavia’s voice was dripping with venom.

Twilight Sparkle and Frog raced into the room, having finally caught up with the pegasus.  “My Queen!”  Frog bounded across the room, sliding into position between the Queen and the Chancellor, broadsword held at the ready.

Queen Diane’s eyes lit up.  “Lady Frog!  You came for me!”

“And she brought a team!”  Rainbow Dash drew her katana and floating on Chancellor Octavia’s far side.

The Chancellor sneered.  “Well, well... the infamous Lady Froggy-Pony.  Now this is a treat.  I was expecting only to murder Her Royal Highness today, but your slimy corpse will make a fine trophy as well!”

Frog tilted her head back slightly.  “Milady!  Please retreat to safety, and allow us the pleasure of subduing this traitor!”

She nodded.  “Please, all of you, be careful!”  She ran toward the opposite end of the room, allowing them enough space for the inevitable battle.

Rainbow Dash gripped her hilt tightly.  “I don’t get it!  You’re a good pony who works for the King and Queen!  How could you betray them?  It doesn’t make any sense!”

Chancellor Octavia chuckled darkly.  “A pony?  Pathetic little foal, you clearly don’t understand what you’re dealing with.”  Dark bolts of energy coursed around her body, causing it to glow with a malevolent aura.  She slowly lifted into the air, as the evil aura caused her mane to levitate.  “Allow me to show you my true form!”  The energy overtook her form, before exploding in a burst of darkness.  Where the gray pony in brown once stood, there was now a monstrous yellow bulbous creature.  She stood upon rows of bony spiked claws.  She bared her sharp fangs and grinned wickedly at Rainbow Dash.

“Yakra!” Frog gasped.  “Be wary, ponies!  This foul creature is in legion with Nightmare Moon, and she will not give in without a fight.”

“Bring it!”  Rainbow Dash tensed up her muscles, preparing to dive at the foe.

“You...”

Everypony turned.  Twilight Sparkle was still standing at the entrance to the room, having not moved since entering.  Her eyes were locked onto Yakra, burning with determination and anger.  “You’re the one who foalnapped Queen Diane.  You’re the one who’s responsible for Princess Pinkamena being erased.  You’re the one who filled this abbey with those terrifying monsters.”  She began boldly striding towards Yakra, ignoring her angry hissing and disturbing appearance.  “You’re not a snake.  You’re not a frog.  You’re not a bat.”  Her horn ignited with magic as a myriad of tools, devices, and contraptions burst out of her saddlebags and slowly began orbiting around her.  She screamed at the creature, “Quod erat demonstrandum, your flank is mine!

Rainbow Dash cheered on her friend and her sudden burst of confidence.  “Yeah!  You tell her, girl!”

Yakra cackled gleefully.  “Be my guest!”  She quickly scurried on her claws, racing toward Twilight Sparkle.

She stared Yakra down, without so much as tensing a muscle.  The orbit of tools spun wildly around her, before suddenly coming to a complete stop.  A strange emitter now floated between her and her oncoming assailant.  It began to produce a high-pitched, fluctuating sound.  Without warning, Yakra lost her balance, falling off her claws and sliding to a stop at Twilight Sparkle’s hooves.  Yakra snored lightly, having been forced to sleep.

Turning off her Hypno Wave device, she rotated her ring of tools again to select her next instrument.  This time, the ring stopped on an oversized metal mallet.  Winding it back, she swung a mighty golf swing as hard as her magic allowed, connecting squarely with Yakra’s jaw and sending her flying into the air.

Before she could land, Rainbow Dash rushed the creature, slashing her with a trio of rapid air dashes.  The pair slid to the ground together.  Infuriated, Yakra charged at the pegasus, connecting with a full-body tackle and sending Rainbow Dash flying into the wall.  Rebounding, the monster immediately changed directions and aimed for Twilight Sparkle again.  The unicorn was caught off guard by the creature’s erratic movements, and she too was hit.  Going for the trifecta, Yakra turned and raced at Frog, but the element of surprise had been lost.  Frog flicked her tongue at the far wall and pulled herself, lifting herself out of harm’s way, slashing at Yakra as she flew through the air.

Yakra turned to chase after the escaping Frog, but reared her head sharply, as a trio of darts embedded themselves in her backside.  Turning, she saw that Twilight Sparkle had pulled out a dart gun and was firing at her from the far side of the room.  “Two can play at that game, pony!”  Arching her back, a pair of extrusions grew and shot a wave of spines into the air.  They arched across the room before raining down upon Twilight Sparkle, slicing into her.

“Twi!”  Rainbow Dash called out.  She turned to Frog, who nodded from across the room.  Charging in unison, they flew at Yakra together, slashing the creature simultaneously with a devastating X Strike.  Weakly, Yakra arched its back again, preparing another round of her needle attack.

Wincing in pain, Twilight Sparkle lifted herself off the ground with one hoof.  With another spin in its orbit, a Flamethrower hovered before her.  Taking careful aim, she let loose as a trail of flame arced across the room, engulfing Yakra.  “KYAAARRGH!”  It howled in pain as flames covered its body.  The flames were joined with bolts of dark energy, similar to those of its transformation.  The energy overtook her form, causing her to glow with a myriad of rainbow colors, before at last disappearing.

Rainbow Dash did a somersault in excitement.  “We did it!  Yeah!  Who’s awesome?  We’re awesome!”

“Twilight Sparkle!  Are you alright?  You took a nasty hit from those needles.  Hold still...”  Frog immediately began licking the unicorn, treating her wounds.

She winced in pain slightly.  “Thanks, Frog.  Don’t worry, they only grazed me.  I’ll be okay.”

Rainbow Dash looked in amazement as Twilight Sparkle rose to her hooves.  She’s totally getting slimed by Frog’s tongue, and she’s not freaking out at all...

“Lady Frog!”  Queen Diane trotted up to the ponies.  “I am so relieved!  Once again, I am eternally indebted to you... and your heroic new friends, as well!”

Frog kneeled before the Queen.  “Your words are most generous, my Queen.  Come, let us return you to the castle.  Your King and your subjects will be most delighted to see your return.”

“Whoa, whoa!  Hold your horses!”  Rainbow Dash landed in the front of the room, where a large ornate treasure chest stood.  “Looks like Yakra was holding onto some sweet loots.  Now that she’s not here, I doubt she’ll mind if I just help myself GYAAAH!”  She leapt back in fright as a fully-grown pony rolled out of the treasure chest, bound and gagged.  Twilight Sparkle raced over to help free the pony from its ropes.

The pony stood, smoothing out her brown robes and brushing her gray mane into place.  “You have my thanks, dear ponies.  That infernal Yakra had foalnapped me and stashed me in that crude box like a pile of dirty linens.”

Queen Diane trotted forward to them.  “Chancellor Octavia!  You’re alive!”

Chancellor Octavia gasped and bowed deeply.  “Queen Diane!  My prayers for your safety have been answered.  When Yakra imprisoned me, and I learnt of her plans, I feared for the worst.”

Queen Diane smiled.  “Come, everypony.  Let us return to Sugardia Castle.  We have much to celebrate.”


Chapter 6: I’m Back!

600 AD

Sugardia Castle

King Sugardia the 21st affectionately nuzzled his Queen.  “My love, it is so good to have you back, safe and sound.  I was so worried for you.”  They smiled, gazing adoringly into each others eyes.

The group had returned to Sugardia Castle without incident.  They were gathered in the throne room, where King and Queen were reuniting, as Rainbow Dash and company looked on.

Chancellor Octavia scowled, unable to enjoy the happy mood of the occasion.  “Confound that Yakra!  She nearly drove this country to ruin!  It is unacceptable that she impersonated me and sought to overthrow the Crown.  We must put a system of justice in place, in order to convict these fiends and make them pay for their crimes.  Please excuse me, Your Majesties...”  Bowing respectfully, she left the chamber to begin putting her plan into motion.

Queen Diane smiled at the group.  “On behalf of the Kingdom of Sugardia, you have our eternal thanks.  The three of you will always be welcome guests within our castle.”  The three companions kneeled respectfully.

“You are most generous, Your Highness.”  Frog stated.  “But I must respectfully decline your praise.  Your life was put in danger because I was not strong enough to protect you.  Thus, I shall depart, before I dishonor you with my presence any further.”  Bowing once more, she turned sharply and hopped toward the exit.

“Frog!  Wait!”  Rainbow Dash called out.

Queen Diane held out a hoof.  “Lady Rainbow Dash, let her go.”

Rainbow Dash turned back, confused.  “Wha... But?!”

The Queen shook her head sadly.  “Lady Frog has protected me and served this country for several years.  But despite her talent and devotion, she has always been overly critical of herself.  She never considers her best to be good enough, and always strives for perfection.”  She smiled, “I am sure that once she has had some time to calm down, she will return to us.”

The King nodded in respect.  “Lady Rainbow Dash... Lady Twilight Sparkle...  This kingdom is truly indebted to you.  This is truly a joyous occasion.  There is one mystery remaining, however.”

Twilight Sparkle took a step forward.  “What might that be, Your Majesty?”

He frowned.  “It is the matter of the, ahh... the doppelganger.  The mysterious pony that my guards mistook for my wife.  We never did discover who she was...”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash collectively gasped.  They turned to look at each other, wide eyed.  Pinkie Pie!  They had been so caught up in breaking into the abbey and rescuing Queen Diane, that they completely forgotten their real reason for being here.  “I’m very sorry, Your Highness, but my friend and I really must be going now.  We have to leave and uh...”

“Drink at the tavern,”  Rainbow Dash jumped in.  “Use the toilet,”  Twilight Sparkle finished her alibi at the same time.

The two friends shared a look.

“Use the toilet,”  Rainbow Dash corrected herself.  “Drink at the tavern,” said Twilight Sparkle.

They glared at each other.

Queen Diane laughed gently, interrupting them.  “Please, do not inconvenience yourselves for my sake.  Feel free to go about your business.”  Relieved, the two ponies bowed and left the chamber, turning down a corridor.

“Rainbow, which way is the Queen’s chamber?”

“We’re already headed that way!  Since Pinkie Pie disappeared there, that’s where she’s most likely to reappear, right?”  she said as she stuck out her tongue.  “One step ahead of ya, egghead.”

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes and smirked.  “Alright, alright, don’t let it go to your head.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Sugardia Castle  Queen Diane’s Chamber

When they reached the Queen’s chamber, they spent a few minutes convincing the Royal Guards that, given their recent hero status, they should be allowed to enter, so long as it was only for a minute, and they didn’t touch anything, and they promised not to tell anypony, particularly the guard’s superior officer.  As they slipped inside, they were surprised to see the room was glistening with a soft pale light.  As the two ponies approached the center of the room, the intensity of the light bloomed.  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle were forced to cover their eyes to protect themselves from the blinding light.  As the light of the room died down, Rainbow Dash was about to lower her leg and chance a look, but before she could react, she was tackled and landed on her back.  As she opened her eyes, she saw a mass of curly pink mane, actively in the process of glomping her.

“Dashie!”  Pinkie Pie let out a cry of joy.  “Oh my goodness, I’m so glad to see you!  It was so scary!  I was in this empty dark room where there was no sound and no light and no ponies, and I felt so alone and cold and sad and lonely!  I was so worried that I’d be stuck there forever and ever, and then I thought to myself, ‘Myself! Don’t give up hope!  Your friend Rainbow Dash came to save you once already.  She won’t let you down.’  And then I thought to myself, ‘Myself, you’re right!  We’ve got to believe!’  And then y’know what happened next?  I tackle-hugged you because you were here!  And I was here!”

During this, Rainbow Dash’s expression was initially one of pure shock, as she was pinned to the ground by a friend whom she feared had disappeared forever.  As Pinkie Pie’s verbal tirade proceeded, her shocked expression gradually was overtaken by a heart-warmed smile.  We did it, she thought to herself.  We saved Pinkie Pie.

Pinkie Pie caught a glimpse of purple in the corner of her eye.  Turning, she gasped, then turned back to Rainbow Dash.  “And your friend is here, too!  What’d you say her name was?  Twilight Sparkle, right?  Gollie, I can’t wait to introduce myself!”  Standing up, releasing Rainbow Dash from the glomp, she coughed over-dramatically, then turned to Twilight Sparkle, grinning and holding out a hoof.  “Hiya, Twilight Sparkle!  I guess we already met at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration, but we never got a chance to properly introduce ourselves, huh?  My name... is...”  Her voice trailed off into nothingness, as she was stopped cold.

Twilight Sparkle had prostrated herself in front of the pink pony.  Looking up from the ground, she saw Pinkie Pie’s hoof — which had been held out with the intention of a hoofshake — and she began to tremble.  Hyperventilating, she lifted her own hooves up to gently cup Pinkie Pie’s, as if she were holding a delicate porcelain sculpture that would shatter if the slightest pressure were applied to it.  Staring incredulously at the hoof, her eyes slowly travelled upwards, eventually making contact with Pinkie Pie’s eyes.  She grinned toothily, looking for a smile in return, or an approving nod, or any form of recognition.

The light left Pinkie Pie’s eyes, which fell slowly to the floor.  She knew this look.  Admittedly, it was one of the most eager looks she had ever encountered, but after a while, every look of adoration had a nauseating sameness to it.  “You figured it out... huh?”  she quietly asked.

Twilight Sparkle giggled gleefully, oblivious to Pinkie Pie’s change in demeanor.  “I did, Princess Pinkamena!  I felt like such a silly-filly, having seen you at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration... and I didn’t even recognize you?!  Oh... to think that the magnificent Princess Pinkamena was the first pony to use my Telepod!  I mean, ignoring Rainbow Dash, of course...”

She continued to prattle on, entranced at the royalty before her.  Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie’s eyes remained glued to the floor.  It seemed like she wasn’t even listening or aware of Twilight Sparkle.  Rather, to Rainbow Dash, she looked like she was about to cry...

“H-hey, Twilight,” she cut her friend off.  “Ease up, will ya?”

Twilight Sparkle’s cheeks turned hot pink.  She bowed so deeply and quickly that her nose smooshed against the floor, but she was too embarrassed to acknowledge the pain.  “Omigosh, please forgive me, Princess Pinkamena!  You just rematerialized into our timeline and I haven’t given you a moment’s breath before chatting away at you!  I beseech you!  Please forgive my impudence!”

“No...” Pinkie Pie responded quietly.  “I should be the one apologizing to you.”  She turned to the pegasus, “And especially to you, Rainbow Dash.  I knew it was wrong to deceive you, and I knew I would eventually need to reveal the truth to you, but... I should have confessed to you so much soon.  Please, forgive me.”  She bowed deeply.

Rainbow Dash was severely creeped out.  Pinkie Pie’s personality had completely shifted.  This was nothing like the hyperactive pink pony from the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration, or indeed, from a minute ago.  Her words, rather than a flurry of incomprehensibility, were now chosen slowly and deliberately.  Her demeanor was stoic and quiet.  The reality of the situation dawned on her.  It’s as if... as if she’s royalty.

Pinkie Pie turned and walked to the window, gazing outside.  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle approached — the former with a look of concern, the latter with a starstruck euphoria.  “I suppose I should introduce myself... for real, this time.  Like you guessed, I’m Princess Pinkamena of Sugardia, daughter of King Sugardia the 33rd and Queen Susannah.  I had never attended a Summer Sun Celebration before... I was always too busy with royal obligations.  So, I pretended to be a commoner so that I could attend, without any stupid fanfare or formalities.”

Rainbow Dash winced.  “So... that hyperactive personality of yours... was that just an act?”

Pinkie Pie looked mortified.  “No!  That wasn’t an act!  It was the real me... The me I wish I could be all the time...”  she sighed and looked away.  “But you can’t act like a child when when you’re a princess...  This me — the one right now — is the fake me.  Besides, if you had known I was a princess, you would have treated me...”  She avoided making eye contact with Twilight Sparkle.  “...differently.  You probably wouldn’t have even hung around with me at all.”

Rainbow Dash walked up and put a hoof on her shoulder, to her surprise.  “Of course I would have!  The friend I met today was a completely crazy pony named Pinkie Pie.  If you’re her, then you’re my friend!”

Pinkie Pie looked up, shocked.  “You still mean that?  After everything?”

The pegasus smiled earnestly.  “Of course!”

A smile started on Pinkie Pie’s face.  It grew in size, stretching its way across her face.  Her jaw lowered, her cheeks scrunched under her eyes, her eyes shimmered and dilated.  It was as if every single muscle in her face was committed to make the largest smile physically possible.  Rainbow Dash found it touching, if ever-so-slightly disturbing.

“Friends!” she cheered, leaping into the air, fluttering her hooves excitedly.  “Woo hoo!  Oh Rainbow, I’m so relieved... But that’s why I liked you in the first place!  You’re so... so chill!”  

She stopped mid-cheer and turned.  Twilight Sparkle was looking on, grinning.  She was sweating, and her lips were quivering, as she said, “Oh, this is wonderful news!  I’m so glad that the two of you are going to remain great friends.”

Pinkie Pie hesitated.  “Um... Twilight?  You and Dashie have been best friends for, like... forever, right?”

“y-Yes!” her voice cracked nervously.  “Ahaha, yes, Princess Pinkamena.  We’ve known each other pretty much our entire lives.”  She grinned again, swallowing dryly.  Rainbow Dash nodded in confirmation.

Her hesitation gone, she offered Twilight Sparkle a hoofshake once again.  “Well then, a friend of Rainbow Dash’s is a friend of mine.  Just, call me Pinkie Pie, okay?”

Twilight Sparkle looked down at the offered hoof, and her eyes dilated.  With a squeak, she promptly fainted.  Pinkie Pie looked to Rainbow Dash and shrugged.  Rainbow Dash sighed and buried her face in her hoof.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Sugardia Castle

The ponies headed downstairs after another awkward conversation with the Royal Guards, this time explaining why one of the three ponies had fainted, and moreover why a third pony had mysteriously appeared in a sealed room, and that the third pony was in fact the doppelganger and not the real Queen Diane, so could everypony involved just please pretend that this had never happened.  Rainbow Dash was really starting to appreciate the leeway that rescuing the Queen was affording her.  

As they reached the castle entrance, they saw a number of familiar faces.  The two entrance guards were still at their post.  In front of them, a queen and a frog were saying goodbyes.

“Do take care of yourself, Lady Frog.  Please know that your presence is always heralded here, no matter what you or anypony else may say.”  Frog kneeled as Queen Diane turned, coming face-to-face with the three friends.  “Oh, Lady Rainbow Dash, Lady Twilight Sparkle.  Are you leaving us so soon?”

The ponies bowed respectfully.  “Yes, Your Highness, we would love to stay longer, but unfortunately, we really must return to our homes now,” said Twilight Sparkle.

Queen Diane nodded in acknowledgement.  “Then I wish you two a safe travel.  Oh?”  She noticed the pink pony who had rejoined the group.  “Is this the pony who was mistaken for me?  My, the resemblance is... uncanny.”

“Hi!  My name’s Pinkie Pie!” she smiled widely.  “It’s so nice to meetcha!  Sorry that everything got all confused because of me... but I’m so grateful for everypony taking such good care of me.  I sure owe you ponies!  Owe you ponies big time!”

The Queen returned a gentle smile.  “You certainly are an energetic spirit.  I hope that you are able to visit us once again.  I’m sure we would have much to discuss.”

“Okie dokie lokie!”

She bowed politely.  “Pardon me, but I must return to my duties... It would seem much has transpired in my absence.  Safe travels, my little ponies.”  The three ponies bowed respectfully in return as Queen Diane left for the throne room.

“My my my... you really could pass for Queen Diane’s twin.”  Frog look curiously at Pinkie Pie.

“Heehee, yep!  I guess so!”

Rainbow Dash looked at Pinkie Pie, puzzled.  A pony-shaped frog talks to her and she doesn’t even bat an eyelash?  Typical Pinkie Pie.  “So, Frog... you’re really leaving?”

Frog nodded, her face determined, with a dash of sadness.  “Yes, darling, t’would seem that I still need much training before I can properly... defend the Queen.  I shall return to my residence, to the south near Pommel.”

“Are you kidding?  You were amazing in that abbey!  Heck, you probably coulda saved the Queen all by yourself!  Why leave now?”

“Huh?”  Twilight Sparkle looked to Rainbow Dash, thoroughly confused.

Frog smiled at Rainbow Dash.  “It was fortuitous that we rescued the Queen, but as her sworn protector, I should have been able to protect her from being captured in the first place.  A task such as this demands perfection, and I shall train tirelessly until I am fit to take on that mantle.  Should you ever be in the area, I would certainly welcome you for some sword practice.”

Shaking the confusion from her face, Twilight Sparkle smiled and threw her hoof over Frog’s back.  “Of course!  We’ll definitely make time to visit with our friends.”

Frog was caught by surprise.  “F-friends?  Do you mean that, Twilight Sparkle?”

“Yeah, what happened?”  Rainbow Dash arched an eyebrow.  “Earlier this afternoon, you couldn’t even look at her without totally wigging out.”

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes and shook her head.  “I know.  I was quite rude and immature.  But Frog taught me an important lesson about the magic of friendship.  Everypony has many different sides to them, and you might like some of these sides better than other sides.  But the most important facet of a pony is their heart.  If you look into another pony’s heart, and you like their true inner nature, you’ll realize how little the other details matter.”  She opened her eyes and looked at Frog.  “When I looked into your heart, I saw kindness and compassion.  You treated me so well despite how horrible I was to you at first, and you even encouraged me to try my best.  I’d love to be friends with a pony as generous as you!”

Pinkie Pie looked at Rainbow Dash out of the corner of her eye, smiling embarrassedly.

Frog smiled heartwarmingly at the unicorn.  “And I would be honored to call you my friend as well, Twilight Sparkle.  And you, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie.”

Rainbow Dash grinned, thoroughly impressed.  Way to go, Twi!

“In that case, my friends, let us part ways for now, until we meet again soon!”  After striking one last triumphant pose, Frog turned and bounded out of the castle gate and into the distance.  The three ponies waved farewell.

“Ah, there you are!”  A turquoise pegasus flew up to them rapidly, whom Rainbow Dash recognized as the pegasus who was working in the mess hall earlier.  “We’ve finished the preparations on your food.  Would you care to eat now?”

Rainbow Dash’s stomach gurgled loudly.  “By the Sun, yes please...  It’s already evening and I haven’t eaten anything all day.  I’d love something to eat...”  she drooled with anticipation.

“Great!” Medley said, relieved.  “Cotton Candy!  Bring out those special dishes, please!”  She turned to Pinkie Pie.  “You certainly gave us some oddball requests, Miss Lookalike Queen.  And quite a lot of them!  I knew the real Queen didn’t eat this much... But!  We gave it our all, and put together a few dishes that we think you’re going to love!”

Cotton Candy pushed out a cart laden with a number of dishes.  Rainbow Dash hungrily eyed the plates, but her expression soon turned to one of confusion.  The drink cups appeared to contain a clear liquid, but they were mostly filled with a heaping scoop of rice.  There was a large serving platter that held a large mound of pebbles.  There was also a bowl holding some type of lumpy white pudding.  Rainbow Dash wasn’t certain, but it almost looked like somepony had mashed up a bunch of...

Rainbow Dash shoved her friends in the direction of the exit.  “Oops! Hey, look at the time! It is late and we really need to be getting back home!”

“Hey!  Dashie, wait!  I wanna try those little rock things!”  Pinkie Pie called out in despair as she was saved from the disastrous entrees.

“Wait, come back!”  Medley called out as the ponies disappeared from view.  “Aww, we can’t let this all go to waste...”   She turned to the entrance guards, asking “Hey, would either of you two care for...”  The guards shook their heads solemnly.

“If those ponies were the ones who ordered this food...”

“...then we’d rather starve.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Outer Limits of Equus

Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie walked through the quiet streets of Equus, on their way back to the canyon.  Rainbow Dash flew above them, gliding through the quiet night air.  The town had gone mostly quiet, as everypony was starting to turn in for the evening.  Aside from the friends, the only other ponies that were out and about were a trio of mares.  They seemed to be having a heated debate, but at her altitude, Rainbow Dash could only make out bits and pieces.

“...told ya we wouldn’t...  Crusader Bell Makers.”

“...making a bell?”

“Aww... never find our...”

“Don’t give up now!  I’ve got... idea we can... offered us jobs as...”

“Whoa!  I like that plan, Sweetie...”

“CUTIE MARK... YAY!”

As the friends left the edge of town and entered the canyon, Rainbow Dash drifted down to her friends.  “Hey, so, what exactly is the plan, anyway?”

No reply.

“Hellooo?  Calling Twilight Sparkle, is anyone home?”  She floated above her friend and playfully tapped on her head, who jolted in surprise.

“Eh?! What... Oh, Rainbow.  What is it?”

“Heh.  Thinking hard, or hardly thinking?”  Rainbow Dash’s teasing earned a giggle from Pinkie Pie.

Twilight Sparkle frowned and contemplated for another moment before speaking slowly.  “Rainbow... when we said goodbye to Frog, something jumped out at me.”

Pinkie Pie gasped.  “Oh no!  What was it?  Spiders?”

“SPI...!  Ahem.  No, not spiders, or any other critter.  It was a contradiction.”  She looked upward at her friend.  “Something you said.  You told Frog that she was strong enough to save the Queen by herself.”

“Hmm?  Well, yeah, don’tcha think so?  I mean, it’s not like she was a better swordspony than me or anything.  But did ya see the way she was swinging that broadsword around with her horn?  She hardly raised a sweat, or anything!  I’d totally like to challenge her to a practice match... That would be epic!”

“So... Why did Princess Pinkamena disappear?

“Ooo, I know this one!  Dashie explained everything to me.  Everypony thought I was Queen Diane, so nopony saved her, so she didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have a filly, who didn’t have... me!”

“Right!  Something about... bran muffins? Oh, and a pair of socks!”

“Grandmother’s Paradox,” sighed Twilight Sparkle.  “And anyway, the Queen is alive.  She’ll still have a chance to carry on her bloodline.”

“Right.  You, me, and Frog went to the abbey and saved Queen Diane.”

“Which Frog could have done by herself.”

“Uhh, probably.”

“So if the Queen was going to be saved regardless, why did Princess Pinkamena disappear?”

“Because she... wait...”  Rainbow Dash’s face contorted as she lapsed deep into thought.  “I’m getting confused.”

“You and me both,” said Twilight Sparkle, rubbing her temple.  “It doesn’t seem to make any sense, under basic causality.”

“Well,” said Pinkie Pie as she rubbed her chin, “maybe it was just really really close?  Like, Frog might’ve had trouble by herself, so I went poof, and then everypony teamed up, so I unpoofed?”

“Hmm... so it was strictly based on probabilities?  I have a hard time believing somepony would be completely erased from existence based on a dice roll... No, I’m starting to wonder if you disappeared because of something else...”

Pinkie Pie gasped.  “Imps!  Heads up, gals!”

Rainbow Dash looked ahead.  Sure enough, a trio of imps had spotted the ponies and were rapidly approaching.  She cursed under her breath and landed, unsheathing her katana.  “Sorry!  I got distracted and wasn’t scouting ahead.”

Twilight Sparkle smirked, levitating her dart gun out her saddlebags.  “Allow me.”  Taking aim, she fired two darts at the center imp, who immediately dropped to the ground.  The deceased imp’s companions froze in their tracks.

“Ooo ooo! Me next, me next!”  Pinkie Pie frantically waved a hoof to get the attention of her friends.  Rainbow Dash was initially confused when she noticed that Pinkie Pie’s hoof was wrapped in a large metallic leg-guard covering a large amount of her foreleg below the knee.  Oh, right, she remembered.  I noticed that earlier, back when I first met Pinkie... What the heck is that thing?

As if answering the pegasus’s question, Pinkie Pie gave her hook a rapid shake.  With a metallic sproing, the leg-guard unfurled two curved metallic braces.  Each end was connected by a taut cord, running inside a groove that ran along the length of the leg-guard.  Pulling against a lever with her left hoof, she pulled the cord back in the groove, locking it into place.

Twilight Sparkle gasped in appreciation.  “A compact leg-mounted repeater crossbow with built-in ammo chamber!  That’s amazing!”

“Hee hee, yeah!  Plus, it can do this!”  Tipping up onto her back legs, she took careful aim with her right hoof, stabilizing it with her left.  She looked down the length of her arm, closing one eye.  “Pew pew!”  Pressing in with her left hoof, the crossbow fired, sending an arrow speeding through the second imp, who also fell.  The last imp, sufficiently terrified by their deadly ranged attacks, began to flee in the opposite direction.

“Wow, nice shot!  Now it’s my turn.”  Rainbow Dash arched her back low, pawing at the ground, preparing to charge after the imp.

Pinkie Pie gasped and leapt in front of Rainbow Dash.  “WAIT!”

Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle looked at their friend in confusion.  Even the imp looked back to see what the commotion was all about.

She closed her eyes.  “Dashie... Twi... Do you know how to use Double Techs?”

“Huh?”

She stared straight into Rainbow Dash’s eyes, unblinking.  “When the Battle Gauge of two or more ponies in your party has filled, the Tech command will change into the Combo command.  After selecting the Combo command, scroll down underneath your Single Techs, and you will see a list of all available Double and Triple Techs.  For example, try combining Rainbow Dash’s Cyclone and Twilight Sparkle’s Flamethrower attacks.  When both ponies’ Battle Gauges are full, select the Combo command for either pony.  Scroll to the bottom, and in the Double Techs section, select Fire Whirl.”

What.

Shaking her head clear, Rainbow Dash took to the air, speeding towards the imp.  “Fine, you want a Cyclone? I’ll give you a Cyclone!”  She spun circles around the imp, slashing it repeatedly, as a vortex of air built up around them.

Pinkie Pie stared blankly at Twilight Sparkle, waiting.  “Err... right, then.”  Pulling out her Flamethrower, she fired a blast of flames at the imp, which were promptly pulled into the Cyclone.  The ensuing funnel of flames, combined with Rainbow Dash’s swordsplay, made short work of the remaining enemy.

“Wow...” Rainbow Dash landed near her friends, shocked at the maneuver that she and her friend had just pulled off.  “That was... crazy. That’s for the tip, Pinkie Pie!”

Blinking at last, she giggled and bounced ahead of the pack.  “Hee hee!  No problemo.  Oh, and by the way, if you ever need me to repeat any of that, you can hear it all again by selecting the Tutorial option in the Main Menu!”

Rainbow Dash turn to her friend, and opened her mouth to ask a question.

“Nope.”  Twilight Sparkle moved onward, cutting her off.  “Don’t even ask.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Equus Canyon

“Hey, gals, is this the place?”  Pinkie Pie arrived first at the clearing where they had arrived in 600 AD.  It was exactly as Rainbow Dash remembered it.  The field was serene, with light ambient noise providing a soothing overtone.

In contrast, Twilight Sparkle trotted up to a patch of tall grass and immediately began stamping it flat with her hoof.  “Hmm... where was... I know it was somewhere around... aha!  Ladies, behold!  A Gate!”

Rainbow Dash lowered her head to the ground and squinted at the patch of flattened grass.  At first, she didn’t really see anything peculiar.  Gradually, she notices there was a small irregularity above the grass: a point where light was bending and twisting, with a slight violet hue.  “This little thing? I don’t see how...”

“Stand back, please.”  Twilight Sparkle gently nudged her friend until they were all a safe distance away.  From her saddlebags emerged a strange electronic wand.  It had an arrangement of six glass orbs on the end, giving the tip an almost star-like appearance.  She waved the wand in the direction of the disturbance.  On cue, the disturbance grew as the fabric of spacetime was torn asunder.  Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie gasped as the tear’s form stabilized into a black and purple sphere.  It was the same vortex that they had fallen into this morning, by which they had travelled into the past.

Twilight Sparkle turned to face her friends, eyes closed, a self-important grin on her face.  “Volia!  Our portal back home is open again, thanks to this invention of mine!”  She quickly blushed as her modesty kicked back.  “Uh!  I mean... Sorry, I didn’t mean to boast like that...”

Pinkie Pie looked on in awe at the vortex, then back at Twilight Sparkle.  “Didn’t want to boast?  Are you loco in the coco?!  Check that thing out, it’s bananas!  And you’re able to just summon those things at will?  That’s an amazing talent!  I could never figure out something like that...”

Twilight Sparkle bowed deeply.  “Oh, no no no, your words are too kind, Princess Pikam...”

“GRR!  Pinkie Pie!  PIN!  KIE!  PIE!  We’re friends, Twilight.  You don’t need to be treating me any differently than any other pony...”  she said, looking pleadingly at the unicorn.

“O-okay... sorry.  Pinkie... Pie...”  She felt lightheaded from the informal tone she was taking with her idol.  Coughing, she continued, “Anyway, this phenomenon appears to be some type of temporal wormhole connecting two identical positions (identical with respect to the planet’s frame of reference) in two different points in time.  In this case, connecting a region just north of the town of Equus in the years 600 AD and 1000 AD.  So, I’m not actually able to create them anywhere; it has to be at a specific, chosen location.  For simplicity’s sake, we can just refer to this phenomenon as a Gate.”

“But, you were able to create it here,” said Rainbow Dash.  “When I first traveled here from the present, I didn’t see the Gate anywhere.  It just materialized here now.”

She nodded, “Yes and no.  That small irregularity I showed you, buried in the tall grass... that’s a Gate in its natural state.  There’s one of those irregularities back in the present too, at my Telepod.  Naturally, when they’re in this state, it’s not stable enough for us to use to travel through time.  We need it to be opened up wide, like it is now.”  She held the strange star wand in front of her.  “That’s where this baby comes in.  Since the first Gate appeared when my Telepod activated, I tried replicating some of its phase distortion components in a portable format.  Sure enough, activating it near an irregularity causes a stabilized Gate to form!  With this... Gate Key, let’s call it, we can stabilize Gates and travel through them at will!”

Pinkie Pie clopped her hooves together appreciatively.  “Twilight Sparkle to the rescue!  Now we can get back home!”  She blinked, “So you said we can only use this in certain spots, right?  What created the spot then?  Was it your invention?”

“That’s what I’m still unsure of...” she said, frowning.  “The Telepod and Gate Key are both able to stabilize Gates, so there’s certainly some type of connection.  But I didn’t anticipate any type of temporal impact of my spacetime waveform alteration... I had specifically aligned it to only the spacial dimensions!  But then again, if my Telepod didn’t create this, then who did?”

Rainbow Dash shook her head, causing her mane to flap about.  “Whatevs.  The important thing is that we can get back home.  I say, let’s get moving while we still have the chance.”

Her friends nodded.  “Sounds like a plan to me!” chimed Twilight Sparkle.  Tentatively, they took a few cautious steps into the Gate, which immediately closed around them.  They began falling in several directions at once as the violet waves of the Gate swept around them.  After what felt like only a few seconds, they reappeared in a familiar setting.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Diane’s Square  Telepod

“Woo hoo! Way to go, Twi!”  Pinkie Pie danced around the Telepod.

Rainbow Dash looked around herself.  She saw the Telepod, the tents, the colorful decorations, even a few ponies still wandering about.  Everything looked a bit different now in the darkness, as the sun had set over an hour ago, but there was no mistaking it.  “We’re home...”

A couple of ponies were heading home for the evening, and conversing loudly with each other.  “Oh, WOW!  Was that show incredible, or what?”

“I KNOW!  Omigosh, seeing the Wonderbolts perform live was everything I dreamed it would be.”

“Dash...”  Twilight Sparkle stepped toward her friend, who was looking out toward the distance.  Because of their prolonged adventure, they had missed the Wonderbolts’ performance today, thus ruining her plans to try to impress them and join their team.  This was a lifelong dream of Rainbow Dash’s, and Twilight Sparkle was very worried about how her friend would handle this.  “Are you... going to be okay?”

Turning back to face her friend, Rainbow Dash smiled broadly.  “Of course!  We made new friends, travelled through time, and rescued both a queen and a princess.  Today was epic!”  She paused hesitantly, before puffing out her chest.  “A... And besides, we already messed with history once today.  If a second historic thing happened on the same day, like the amazing Rainbow Dash joining the Wonderbolts, the universe wouldn’t be able to take it!”

Twilight Sparkle smiled warmly at her friend, admiring her maturity, even if she was hiding behind bravado.  Then, she raised an eyebrow.  “Err, technically, that wasn’t today; that was 400 years in the past.  It only seems that way because, due to our personal perceptions of timeflow...”

“It HAS been a crazy day!”  Pinkie Pie inadvertently cut off Twilight Sparkle’s technobabble.  “And I don’t know about you girls, but I’m not ready for it to end!”  Her eyes slowly dilated to the size of dinner plates.  “Do... do you know... what we should do? We... should have...” she gasped loudly, “a PARTY!  Oh man, it’ll be amazing I can get us some balloons and cake and games and drinks oh dear I am pretty hungry heehee I guess none of us got a chance to eat dinner but we can have dinner now at my PAR-TAY!”  She smiled at her friends, awaiting their reactions.

“A party thrown by Pinkie Pie?”  Rainbow Dash chuckled.  “Sounds wild.  I’m in!”

“A p-p-party with the P-P-Prin... I mean, with P-P-Pinkie Pie?”  Twilight Sparkle was trembling violently.  Coming to her senses, she dashed off.  “Rainbow!  Could you escort Pinkie Pie home?  I just need to take a bath and pick out some formal attire and grab my camera and put together a makeover kit and pack...”  The rest of her sentence faded off as she ran off toward her home.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, laughing.  “Oh man, did you see the look on her face?  I thought she was gonna have a heart attack.”

Pinkie Pie was facing away from Rainbow Dash.  She forcefully kicked a piece of gravel in front of her.  It careened through the air before hitting a tree with a soft thwap.

“Pinkie Pie!  I... she...”  Rainbow Dash inhaled sharply.  “I’m sorry, please don’t be upset at Twilight.  We’ll still have a good time tonight.  At your awesome party, right?”

“I don’t want to be treated differently,” she spoke barely above a whisper.  “I just want to have a normal life, with normal friends.  Ponies who like the ‘real me’, not some perception of me.”

Rainbow Dash winced sharply.  Horse apples... Twi was JUST telling Frog she’d learnt a lesson... One that sounded exactly like that... And then she turns around to Pinkie and... “Twilight means well, I promise!  She just gets overly excited.  Once she calms down a bit, she’ll be cool, really!  Please don’t hate her...”

Pinkie Pie turned to face Rainbow Dash with a confused look on her face.  “Hate her...?”  she gasped, horrified.  “Oh, no no no!  I didn’t mean... No, of course I like Twilight!  She’s so smart and resourceful and brave.  And she’s your best friend, so I know she’s gotta be a nice pony at heart.”  She looked down at the ground.  “It’s not really her fault. It’s...”

The conversation lapsed into silence.  Rainbow Dash bit her lip.  She knew she was supposed to say something at this point, but she was drawing a complete blank.  This kind of situation wasn’t really her strong point.

“Hey, Dash...”  Pinkie Pie turned her head to the side, looking at the three balloons in her cutie mark.  “Do you believe in destiny?

“D-destiny?”  Rainbow Dash was taken aback by the seriousness and gravity of the question.  “You mean, like...”

Pinkie Pie quickly shook her head.  “Sorry, never mind.  It’s not important now.  Besides!”  She regrouped herself, and a big grin returned to her face.  “We still needa get the party started!  I don’t wanna keep Twilight waiting, after all!”

“Pinkie... are you sure that...”

She shook her head again, more insistent this time.  “I’m fine, I promise.  Sorry that I got all mopey-dopey for a second.”  She smiled as the two of them started to walk towards the castle together.  “We traveled back in time, then made it back home!  This is a happy occasion, so we should be celebrating!  Besides, I’ve been gone from the castle all day, and I kinda snuck out without telling anypony.  So, I’m sure everypony will be happy to see us!”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle

“SEIZE HER!”

“Dashie!”

Rainbow Dash was tackled flat by a squad of soldiers.  Luckily for her, soldiers in the modern era wore lightweight protective vests, not the full-body metallic armor of the medieval era.  If she had still been in 600 AD, a pony pileup of this proportion would have been perilous.  As it was, she was uninjured but completely unable to move her body.

“Princess Pinkamena!  We had guards looking all over the place for you!  Nopony knew where you had gone.”

Rainbow Dash stretched and strained, trying to get a view of what was happening.  At the top of the entrance staircase, Pinkie Pie was being held and comforted by a unicorn.  This pony was wearing ornate, pale green robes with a matching muffin hat.  She astutely guessed that, given the similarities to Chancellor Octavia’s outfit, this must be the Chancellor of the present era.  Aside from the outfit, however, the mare appeared quite different from her predecessor.  Whereas Chancellor Octavia was poised and calm, this Chancellor seemed much more animated and informal.  She had a white coat and deep blue mane, with electric blue highlights streaked through her mane.  

As she turned to face Rainbow Dash, she noticed the Chancellor’s piercing red eyes.  Rainbow Dash was initially apprehensive.  After all, the last time she met a Chancellor, she had been disturbed by her eyes.  But no, this time Rainbow Dash wasn’t getting the same sense of “offness”.  These were simply natural, captivating red irises.  While they weren’t conveying “offness”, however, they were certainly conveying many other emotions — none of them good.

She walked towards the ponypile.  “So!  This is the creep who foalnapped you, isn’t it?!  This punk thought she could just waltz right into the castle and demand a ransom?  Not gonna happen.”

“No!”  Pinkie Pie followed closely behind.  “Chancellor Scratch, you’ve got it all wrong!  Rainbow Dash wasn’t...”

She pointed an accusing hoof at the pegasus.  “Admit it, you terrorist!  You confused the poor Princess, foalnapped her, and attempted to overthrow the royal family.”  She glared directly into Rainbow Dash’s eyes.  “Are you a spy?”

Rainbow Dash was speechless.  “Wha... spy?  No, I...”

Chancellor Scratch waved her hoof dismissively.  “Whatever.  Save the excuses for your trial.”

Pinkie Pie stomped her hooves angrily, and yelled at the soldiers lying on top of Rainbow Dash.  “Stop this at once!  That’s an order!”

The Chancellor shook her head.  “Scratch that order.   The Princess has just been rescued and isn’t in her right mind.  Take the prisoner to a holding cell.  Her trial will begin first thing tomorrow morning.”

The guards unpiled off Rainbow Dash.  Ignoring Pinkie Pie’s pleas, they shackled Rainbow Dash and led her off to spend the evening in the dungeon.


Chapter 7: The Trial

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle Courthouse

Morning came quickly for Rainbow Dash.  She was being led from the dungeon by two armed guards.  Thick bindings firmly secured her wings to her sides, preventing any chance of escape by air.  Their final destination was the royal courthouse within one of the towers of the castle, where her fate would be decided.  Rainbow Dash wept silently as she was marched forward.

One of the guards scoffed in disgust, “Already in tears?  Pathetic.  If you didn’t have the nerves for it, perhaps you should have thought twice before foalnapping our Princess!”

Rainbow Dash looked up at the guard with moist eyes.  “I... am so... hungry.  I haven’t eaten anything since two days ago.  Can’t I get a quick breakfast before the trial?”

The guard did a double-take.  That was hardly the confession he expected.  He turned his gaze back ahead.  “The trial cannot be delayed.  You may eat after your judgment has been decided.”  Rainbow Dash whimpered and hung her head low.

Her guards opened a pair of tall chamber doors, leading her into the courtroom.  She was led up to a small stand in the center of a large circular amphitheater.  A sweeping galley of commonponies sat in the rows encircling the courtroom floor.  Based on their jeers and cheering as Rainbow Dash was led into the chamber, they seemed quite biased for a guilty verdict.  In a special booth above the galley seating, seven elderly ponies sat, quietly murmuring to each other.

On the courtroom floor, two desks stood on each side.  Chancellor Scratch was behind one of the desks, pushing around papers and memos with her horn’s magic, reviewing for the case.  The other desk was currently empty.  Between the two desks, in the front of the chamber stood a towering, elegant wooden bench.  A very elderly pony with a long white beard sat behind the bench, patiently waiting for the trial to begin.  As Rainbow Dash looked up above the judge, she saw a massive stained-glass mural depicting Lady Justice, a blindfolded alicorn holding a sword with one raised hoof, and a set of scales with the other hoof.  The morning sunlight shone through the mural, igniting the room with a kaleidoscope of color.

“Good, the defendant’s here,” said Chancellor Scratch, turning to the judge.  “Let’s get this thing started?”

The judge shook his head.  “We are still waiting for the defense.  Ms. Dash, do you have an attorney who will be representing you?”

Rainbow Dash blinked.  This was the first that anyone had mentioned this to her.  “Wha... attorney?”

The judge frowned and replied, “If you do not have representation, the court can appoint one for you.”

“Unacceptable,” chided Chancellor Scratch.  “We don’t have time to brief an attorney!  This should have been dealt with last night.”

Rainbow Dash was sweating profusely.  Her trial hadn’t even started, and it was already falling apart!  No one had told her to secure an attorney for the trial — Actually, how was I supposed to do that?  I was being held in prison... — and now the Chancellor was pushing for a rushed replacement.  “I... well, I guess...”

The courtroom doors slammed open.  “Gah!  Sorry!  So very sorry!”  Rainbow Dash heard a pony charge into the room, shuffling a stack of papers and other legal materials.  “Sorry, Your Honor!  I was trying to prepare all of my materials for the case, and I ran late.  With your blessing, I am ready to begin with the proceedings.”

Chancellor Scratch arched an eyebrow.  “You’re the defense?”

“That’s correct. I will be representing Miss Rainbow Dash in the case of Kingdom of Sugardia v. Rainbow Dash, defending against the indictment of one count foalnapping, one count treason, one count blackmailing for ransom, and three counts of crimes committed against the royal family.”  The speaker walked up beside the defendant's stand and bowed to the judge.  

Rainbow Dash turned her head to look at the pony who would be representing her.  Her jaw dropped to the floor in shock and alarm.  Beside her was a lavender unicorn, suspending a massive pile of books and paperwork in midair with her horn.  “Twi?!

“Morning, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight Sparkle smiled cheerily.  “I’m here to be your defense attorney!”

Rainbow Dash leaned in close to her friend, whispering through gritted teeth.  “What the hay are you doing?  You aren’t a lawyer!  You’re an inventor!

Winking, Twilight Sparkle opened her saddlebags.  She jumped slightly as a book and a few papers dropped from midair in the process; she was near her limit of items she could magically manipulate at once.  Turning back to her friend, she edged a book out of her saddlebag, and tipped the binding toward Rainbow Dash so that she could read the title: The Egghead’s Guide to Defending Kingdom-Level Court Cases.

Rainbow Dash felt nauseated.  “No.  Absolutely not.

She looked hurt.  “You know, when I showed up for the party last night and found out that you’d been arrested, I pulled an all-nighter, studying law and putting together your case.”  She turned her nose up in mock haughtiness and added, “Buuut, if you’re sooo against the idea, I don’t have to represent you.  I’m sure you could find some other lawyer who knows your case inside and out.”

Rainbow Dash’s ears drooped, and she lowered her head.  She was still not sold on the idea, but she knew that her friend was far-and-away her best hope at this point.  “Fine.  You’re my lawyer.  ...Sorry for misjudging you.

Grinning cutely with her eyes closed, Twilight Sparkle picked up most of the materials off the ground and dropped them haphazardly on the defense attorney’s desk.  “I, Twilight Sparkle, am ready as the defense, Your Honor,” she said as she frantically began organizing and shuffling her papers.

You certainly don’t look ready...  Rainbow Dash already felt clammy from her perspiration.

“Prosecution’s ready, Your Honor.”

Nodding, the judge banged his gavel, quieting down the chamber.  “The court shall now come to order.  We will begin the trial at this time.  Ms. Dash, you are hereby ordered to answer all questions completely and truthfully.”

She bowed her head solemnly, and gave a hoarse reply.  “I understand, Your Honor.”

Chancellor Scratch walked out from behind her desk, and addressed the booth of elder ponies.  “Juryponies, the defendant is accused of the charges that the unicorn listed, mostly foalnapping Princess Pinkamena.  You guys are here to pick how we’re going to punish her.  Tickle torture?  Hang her upside down for a few years?”  She walked up to Rainbow Dash, leaning in uncomfortably close to her.  “Maybe... the guillotine?”  Looking back to the jury, she concluded, “It’s your choice.”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head from behind the desk.  “This case is open-and-shut.  Miss Rainbow Dash is charged with foalnapping Princess Pinkamena.  Did she?  No, she did not.”  She leaned forward over the desk, adding emphasis.  “It was completely the opposite, in fact.  Princess Pinkamena asked Rainbow Dash if she could accompany her during the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration.”

The judge eyed Rainbow Dash.  “Is this true, Ms. Dash?  Who approached whom?”

Rainbow Dash looked over to Twilight Sparkle, who silently mouthed the words “SHE DID”.  Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and tried to remember back to yesterday morning.  Actually, Twilight Sparkle was right.  She remembered being initially annoyed because Pinkie Pie had basically invited herself to tag along.  Right after...  She sighed, “No, Your Honor.  I was the one who started it.”

Twilight Sparkle moaned in dismay, “Rainbow, weren’t you reading my lips?!”

She shook her head.  “Pinkie Pie did ask...”

“Who?”

“Oh... right.  Princess Pinkamena did ask if she could hang out with me.  But that was only after I had crashed into her.  I was flying low in Diane’s Square, and...”

“Ha!” cried Chancellor Scratch.  “So you admit that you intentionally approached the Princess.”

“It was an accident!” wailed Rainbow Dash.  “I didn’t mean to crash into anypony.  I didn’t mean to crash at all.”

“After forcing Princess Pinkamena to follow you, a bunch of ponies spotted you two wandering among the Celebration, for about an hour.  After then, nopony reported seeing you for the rest of the day.  Sure sounds like abduction to me.”

The audience began murmuring loudly in response to the clear accusation.  The judge pounded his gavel to restore order.

“Also, several ponies have come forward with testimony that damns the defendant's character.”

“My... character?” asked a confused Rainbow Dash.

Twilight Sparkle banged on her desk with a hoof.  “Objection!  Relevance!”

Chancellor Scratch raised an eyebrow at Twilight Sparkle.  “Relevance... of her character?  It’s the core of the case.  I can prove that Rainbow Dash is a pony of sketchy morality.  Certainly devious enough to commit treason.”

The judge pounded his gavel.  “While a judgment of morality is not sufficient for a conviction, I’m inclined to agree with the Chancellor that it bears relevance to the case.  Objection overruled.”

Twilight Sparkle frowned.  “Miss Rainbow Dash is one of the most loyal ponies in all of Sugardia.  We have nothing to hide.”  She pounded the desk with her hoof.  “Besides, I still contest that character has no bearing on this case.  The chancellor has failed to establish a motive for why my client would commit treason.”

Rainbow Dash was thoroughly impressed.  The Chancellor seemed to have the upper hoof so far, but Twilight Sparkle was fighting back with all her might, and pulling off a surprising amount of courtroom knowledge for somepony who earned their “law degree” over one sleep-deprived night.

“Motive?”  Chancellor Scratch raised her lip in contempt.  “How about, oh I don’t know... money?  The royal family is loaded, after all.  Clearly, she was planning to blackmail them for a ton of cash.”  She moved in front of the defendant's stand, staring face-to-face with Rainbow Dash.  “Ain’t that right?”

“No!  I’d never do something that horrible.  Princess Pinkamena and I hung out together because we’re friends.”

“Oh?  Are you sure?”  She feigned surprise, leaning in close.  “You weren’t tempted by the coinage?  Not... one... bit?”

“No!”  Rainbow Dash angrily pounded her hoof on the stand.  “I didn’t give a crap about her money, and I’m certainly not a foalnapper!  Say that one more time and I’ll...”

Her voice trailed off.  Chancellor Scratch was smiling, and Rainbow Dash didn’t like the looks of that smile one bit.  “Gotcha,” she whispered.  Rainbow Dash threw a furtive look to Twilight Sparkle for confirmation, but the unicorn was flipping through one of her reference books, and failed to catch her eye.  The Chancellor turned and confidently walked back to her desk.  “So, the defendant just said — under oath, I remind you — she didn’t care about money.”  Reaching the desk, she turned back to grin smugly at Rainbow Dash.  “Witness.”

The chamber doors opened, and a gray unicorn with midnight-blue mane was led into the chamber.  Immediately, he turned to face the booth of jurors.  “I saw it all!  That rainbow-striped pegasus there, she just crashed into the Princess.  Bam.  Collision knocked her necklace clean off.  She was looking everywhere for it!  And wouldn’t you know it?  That pegasus grabbed the necklace.  Didn’t even check if the Princess was okay.  Probably intended to sell it.  Go figure.  We’re done here.”  He turned to leave.

“What?”  Rainbow Dash panicked.  “I picked it up ‘cuz I fell on top of it!  And I gave it right back...”

“Objection!”  Twilight Sparkle interrupted, ruffling through a stack of papers.  “Speculation!  The witness shall refrain from speculating that the defendant wanted to sell the necklace, or that she grabbed the necklace, or that anypony had a necklace.”

Chancellor Scratch was still smiling.  “Next witness.”

The grey unicorn left the chamber, and was exchanged with a pale yellow pegasus with a fiery red mane.  He had dark circles under his eyes, and wasn’t quite walking straight.  He yawned, “Issat... yeah, that’s her!  I think!  I was at the Celebration, working,” another yawn, “at one of the shops!  Late in the afternoon, that rainbow earth pony came to my shop, and,” yawning again, “tried to sell me a silver necklace!  But I recognized it was the... the Queen’s, I think!  So I didn’t buy it!  I’ll tell you more... after... the... break...”  He fell asleep on the spot.

“Oh come on!” screamed Rainbow Dash.  “That’s complete nonsense, there’s so many things...  Look at him, he’s totally sleep-deprived!”

“Objection!  Lying!  My client says the witness is lying, so you have to strike that testimony from the records!”

Chancellor Scratch’s grin widened as she went in for the kill.  “Next witness.”

The guards woke up the unicorn and escorted him out of the courtroom.  As they left, a white pegasus with a hot pink mane flew in.  “I saw her together with the Princess.  The Princess was innocently trying to buy some candy, when this one fiendishly pounces on her, dragging her away by force.  The Princess was all screaming, ‘Nooo, let gooo, don’t foalnap me!’, but she was unrelenting.  She led the Princess up to Twilight Sparkle’s invention, and from what I hear, nopony saw either of them after that.”

Rainbow Dash’s blood froze.  Oh no... I did drag Pinkie Pie around at that candy stand... and she did yell out... “No!  I mean... yeah, some of that did... you’ve got it all wrong!  It’s a huge misunderstanding!”

Twilight Sparkle’s desk was a maelstrom of reference guides.  They were flying by at such a speed that it was incredibly unlikely they were actually being read.  “Objection!  Freedom of speech!  The Princess has the freedom to scream that she’s being foalnapped, even when she isn’t!  Which she wasn’t!”

The final witness was lead out of the courtroom.  As she passed by, she smiled widely at Rainbow Dash.  “Such a naughty mare.  You probably had to tie the Princess up after you foalnapped her, huh?  Didja use nylon cord or natural fiber?

“I didn’t... wait, huh?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t get a chance to process the question, as Chancellor Scratch’s triumphant voice filled the chamber.  “And there you have it.  Motivated by greed, she stole the necklace, pawned it, tied up the Princess, dragged her to Twilight Sparkle’s thing, after which they...”  She stopped cold in her tirade.  Slowly, she turned her head to look at Twilight Sparkle.  The lavender unicorn froze.  Forgetting about her books, they all fell at once with a thunderous crash.  She began sweating profusely, and offered a shaky, tooth-filled grin.  The Chancellor addressed her, “You, temp lawyer.  What did you say your name was?”

“W-w-who, m-m-me?”  She swallowed dryly, twitching nervously.  “Oh, ahahaHAHAha, silly me, I think I forgot to mention it.”

Chancellor Scratch’s eyes narrowed.  “I think you did mention it.  But whatever.  Tell us your name.”

“...Chocolate Milk?”

She slammed her hoof on the desk.  “Name.  Now.”

Twilight Sparkle squeaked, barely audible.  “...Twilight Sparkle.”

At once, the galley exploded with rageful shouts.  “Mistrial!” “She was in on the whole thing!” “Subverting the law of the land!” “Hang them both!” “Have they no shame?” “I knew that pegasus was up to no good!”

Chancellor Scratch turned to the judge.  “There you have it.  Rainbow Dash planted an accomplice as her lawyer, and tried to fool you, me, and all the jurors, in order to get away with the crime of the century.”

With tremendous force, Twilight Sparkle brought both of her front hooves down on the desk, knocking several parchments onto the floor with a resounding slam.   She reared up on her hind legs and pointed a hoof dramatically and accusingly at the Chancellor.  “OBJECTION!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

The courtroom was deathly silent.  The judge, the Chancellor, Rainbow Dash, the jurors, galley, and guards... everypony’s eyes were fixated on the unicorn, awaiting her next words.  Rainbow Dash felt an eerie chill run down her spine.  Her friend, standing before her, was no mere dorky inventor.  This was a Goddess of Law, sweeping in with a dramatic Deus Ex Machina to turn the court case around and save her from an untimely fate.

After a few seconds of perching, she wobbled slightly and dropped to all fours.  Coughing lightly, she spoke thusly: “I was hoping to come up with something while objecting, Your Honor.”  She blushed.  “I didn’t.”

The judge nodded, contemplative.  “Yes, I see.”

Rainbow Dash slammed her head into the podium.  You’ve.  Gotta.  Be.  Kidding.  Me.

“Objection!”

“Ms. Sparkle, you had better have an objection in mind this time.  The court’s time is not to be wasted.”

“Y-yes, Your Honor!”  She swallowed nervously, stalling for time.  “Indeed!  Verily, I say...  Ergo!

“Grr!  Twilight, what gives?!”  Rainbow Dash yelled, unable to hold back.  “If you can’t think of something, just reuse one of the ones you already used!  Like...” she suddenly gasped, “helldance!  Subjective helldance!”

Twilight Sparkle’s face contorted as she tried to translate from Dashese.  “Objection... relevance?”

“That one!”  She nodded vigorously, then turned to the Chancellor.  “Twilight was a big help with objectiving, and using her books, and all that brainy stuff... But she never actually answered any questions!  That was all me, and those three ponies you brought in.  She wasn’t able to change anything we said.  I told the truth, regardless!  So why does it matter if she’s my friend?”

Chancellor Scratch stared at Rainbow Dash blankly.  “Relevance.  Really?  The two of you are caught red-hooved trying to scam first the royal family, then the courts, and you think it’s irrelevant.”

The judge nodded solemnly.  “I am inclined to agree.  Objection sustained.”

“SERIOUSLY?”  Chancellor Scratch, Twilight Sparkle, and Rainbow Dash yelled in unison, incredulous.

“I can think of no way in which Ms. Sparkle has negatively interfered with the proceedings thus far.  She has not influenced the testimony of her client in any significant way, nor has she tampered with any of the witnesses.  And I did not sustain any objections of hers that were of a questionable nature.  I agree with Ms. Dash that, even under the worst of assumptions, Ms. Sparkle has not violated the integrity of this hearing.”

“I don’t believe this!”  Chancellor Scratch wailed in rage.

“That said,” the judge continued.  “We will move forward on two conditions.  As a conflict of interests has been raised, we will move directly to the verdict at this time, so that there are no further opportunities for contamination.  Secondly, Ms. Sparkle, since you were with Ms. Dash at the time of the Princess’s disappearance, by your own admission, you are hereby considered an accomplice and will therefore receive identical judgment to that which we decide for Ms. Dash.  Do you understand?”

Twilight Sparkle bowed her head in defeat.  “I understand, Your Honor.  I will abide by the court’s decision.”

“...Eh, fine by me,” scoffed Chancellor Scratch.  “In the end, the only thing that gets changed is that we have two executions now instead of one.”

The judge banged his gavel.  “Fillies and gentlecolts of the jury, at this time we are ready to hear your verdict.”  The seven ponies in the raised box slowly made their way down to the courtroom floor.

Twilight Sparkle left her desk and went to stand next to her friend in the middle of the room.  “Don’t worry, Rainbow.  Despite a few setbacks, and a few pieces of condemning testimony, and a few courtroom violations, I’d say we made a pretty compelling case!”

Rainbow Dash stared at her.  “If you weren’t trembling, I’d almost believe that.”

“Speak for yourself,” she teased back.  They shared a quick glance, then huddled together, comforting each other and praying for a miracle.

“Guilty,” said the first juror.  The audience burst into cheers.

Rainbow Dash gasped, “That’s it?  We’re guilty, just like that?”

“Hush.  It’s best of seven,” sighed Twilight Sparkle.

“Not guilty,” said the second juror.

“Oh... okay, phew.”  Rainbow Dash relaxed slightly, but was still on edge.  The five remaining jurors would be deciding their fates.

“Guilty.”

“Guilty.”

The two ponies’ hearts sank as the crowd’s cheers grew, calling for blood.  The testimony of the witnesses, while exaggerated and outright mistaken, was killing their case and preventing the truth of their version from being seen.  If any of the last three jurors called for a guilty verdict, it would be all over.  They held each other closer, and closed their eyes.

“Not guilty.”  Rainbow Dash twitched slightly, but let it pass.  Doesn’t matter.  One of the other two will vote guilty for sure.

“Not guilty.”  They both looked up, then at each other.  Could it be... Will we actually make it?

The last juror walked to the center of the room, and cleared his throat.  A hush fell over the room as everypony strained to hear his tie-breaking decision.  While he did not project very strongly, everypony in the room was able to hear him clear as day.  “Not guilty.”

“We did it!”  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, locked in embrace, leapt into the air in celebration.  Landing clumsily, they fell into a pile.  They began to laugh as all of the stress and tension of the situation released and drained out of their bodies.

Chancellor Scratch had no words.  Turning silently back to her desk, she flung her papers off her desk with her magic.  She bucked the desk repeatedly, venting her anger and frustration.

The crowd of spectators began booing lowly, apparently disagreeing strongly with the decision.  Many of them were screaming angrily about a “travesty of justice” this, and a “trial was a sham” that.

The judge pounded his gavel forcefully, trying to quiet down the crowd.  “Order!  Order!  I will have order!”  After a minute, the room had grown quiet enough for him to proceed.  “While Ms. Dash has not been found guilty of her various charges, the fact remains that she and Ms. Sparkle ran away with the Princess, causing the Crown and the Royal Guards severe duress as they searched for Her Highness.  Therefore, the two of you shall serve three days of jail time as punishment.  Court is dismissed.”  With one last pound of the gavel, he stood to leave.

“Hey!  Just one minute, mister!” yelled somepony in the galley.

Rainbow Dash turned in confusion, trying to look for the source, but she didn’t need to search for long.  A pony with a curly pink mane was bouncing from row to row, awkwardly pushing and landing on top of the other ponies in attendance.

“Pinkie Pie!  You were watching the trial?”

“Whoa!”  She tripped as she attempted to jump from the bottom row to the courtroom floor, landing with a squeak.  Quickly bouncing back up to her hooves, she implored the judge.  “That’s right!  And my friends are innocent.  You said so yourself!  If they didn’t do anything wrong, then you have to let them go.”

The courtroom doors flew open once again with a resounding slam.  “That is enough, Pinkamena.”

Pinkie Pie did not need to look in order to recognize the voice; instead, she opted to glare angrily at the floor.  “Father...” she spoke just above a whisper.

Rainbow Dash needed to do a double-take.  Having seen the royal family of this era and the past era, she had certainly noticed a family resemblance running through all of its members.  In the case of King Sugardia the 33rd, however, he was the spitting image of his ancestor: from the crimson royal robes to his brown coat and light grey sideburns.

“My only request was that today, you behave as a proper princess should.  Was this too much to ask?”

Pinkie Pie snapped her head around, glaring hatefully at her father, the King.  “You’re just going to stand there and let this happen?!  They didn’t do anything wrong!”

King Sugardia shook his head thoughtfully.  “All ponies of the realm are subject to its laws, from the meekest filly to the mightiest of kings.  The courts have cast their decision on these two mares, and that decision shall be carried forth.  Allow Chancellor Scratch to carry out her duties, and forget about the yesterday’s nonsense.”

“N-nonsense?!”  A lump formed in Pinkie Pie’s throat.  Unable to form the words, she could do nothing but grit her teeth.

“Let’s go,” Chancellor Scratch said to the guards.  They approached Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, shoving them towards the chamber doors.

Pinkie Pie snapped back to her senses, and reached out a hoof in vain to her friends as they were led away.  “Dashie!  Twi!”

Rainbow Dash twisted her head around to look back as she was forced ahead.  “Don’t worry, Pinkie Pie, we’ll...!”  The courtroom doors slammed behind her, separating Princess Pinkamena from her newfound friends once again.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle Dungeons  Processing Room

The guards led the two friends into the processing room for the dungeon.  Rainbow Dash was still equipped with her belt shackle from the morning, holding her wings tightly against her body.  Similarly, Twilight Sparkle had been fitted with a magic-dampening horn sheath, preventing her from using any of her magical abilities.  Hampered as they were, stripped of their saddlebags and equipment, and surrounded by armed guards at every turn, they had no choice but to march onward to their punishment.

In the processing room, an aging purple pegasus sat behind a desk, filtering through stacks of forms and bureaucracy.  Looking up, she snapped to attention and crisply saluted.  “Ah, Chancellor!  What a wonderful surprise.  What marks the occasion for this visit?”

Chancellor Sparkle motioned toward the two captive ponies with an indifferent lean of her head.  “Bringing in the terrorists who ran off with the Princess.”

The warden glared at the two friends.  “Those scum.  Excellent.  It’s such a satisfying feeling to lock away a couple of true villains.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled disarmingly.  “Oh, no, far from it.  This has all been a terrible misunderstanding.  In fact, even the courts found...”

“They were found guilty of high treason, and have been sentenced to execution by beheading.”

WHAT?!”  The friends screamed in unified horror.

“The execution is scheduled for sunset tonight.  Do not let them out of your sight until then.”

“That’s a lie!  She’s lying!”  Rainbow Dash yelled in a panic.  “We’re innocent!”

The warden snorted in contempt.  “Of course you’re innocent.  You and everypony who’s ever been held here.”

“Your records!”  Twilight Sparkle jumped in.  “Surely if you check your records, you’ll see that we’re not scheduled to be executed at all.”

The warden rolled her eyes, and started flipping through her memos.  “That’s an even bigger laugh.  I’ve prided myself in avoiding a single clerical error in the last ninety-two months.  Now you’re going to tell me...”  Her voice trailed off as she scrutinized the stack of paperwork.  “Well, this is peculiar.  Chancellor, it doesn’t appear that I received the authorization forms to carry out this sentencing.  Do you know what became of them?”

Chancellor Scratch strode up, getting so close that her chest leaned uncomfortably against the warden’s.  Panicking, the warden could do nothing but stare into the Chancellor’s captivating red eyes.  “Lemme get this straight.  After years of perfection, you manage to lose the paperwork for snuffing out the worst terrorists this country has seen in years.  Are you prepared to let them walk free because you royally screwed up?”

The warden swallowed nervously.  “N-no, ma’am!  We’ll begin making preparations right away.”

Twilight Sparkle stomped angrily toward the Chancellor.  “You monster.  You’ll never get away wi... AHH!”  Telekinetically, the Chancellor grabbed ahold of her and threw her roughly against the stone walls of the room.  She crumpled awkwardly and fell in a heap.

Twilight!”

“Pft, never?  What’s it look like I’m doing right now?”

Rainbow Dash glared murderously at the unicorn with the electric blue mane, and prepared to charge at her.  “You’ll pay for that, you lousy piece of...”  But Rainbow Dash was unable to finish her threat.  Her consciousness fell out from under her as the guard’s nightstick connected firmly with the back of her skull.


Chapter 8: Escaping the Inevitable

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle Dungeon Cell

Rainbow Dash awoke to an overwhelming sense of pain.  The sensation was so all-encompassing that for a moment, she couldn’t focus on anything else in the room.  She held a hoof tightly to the spot, trying to dull the sensation with pressure, but it didn’t help much.  She lied in place for a few minutes, trying to regain her senses.

Once she felt slightly better, she gingerly sat herself up, still feeling somewhat woozy.  She was lying on a hard stone slab in a dank, chilly cell.  Peering out in the dim lighting, she looked to the other side of the room and saw the silhouette of another pony lying on a similar slab.  At the far end of the room, flickering torchlight spilled into the room, playfully dancing along several vertical metal bars that imprisoned the ponies within their cell.  It began to dawn on Rainbow Dash that she and Twilight Sparkle were trapped in this dungeon, with a looming sense of dread hanging in the air.

She winced sharply as the pain returned in full force.  Underneath her hoof, her stomach gurgled loudly.  “Gahhh... I’m gonna die of hunger!  Don’t I get a last meal or something?”

From behind the bars and around the corner, a guard’s voice replied.  “It’s still being prepared, and it’s a fine lot more than villains like you deserve.  Now pipe down!”

Scowling, Rainbow Dash slid off the stone slab and carefully balanced on her four hooves again.  Absentmindedly, she rubbed the back of her head.  Great, and now my head’s kinda sore, too.  She walked up to the pony silhouette and spoke quietly.  “Hey.  Twi?  That you?”

Twilight Sparkle sighed, staring blankly at the ceiling.  “We’re in a tight spot, aren’t we.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled, softly yet cavalierly, “Yep.  This is some pickle, all right.  Omigosh, a pickle sounds so amazing right now...”

“A tumultuous trial, a victorious verdict, a cheating Chancellor, an improper incarceration, all leading to a... painful punishment.”

“Heh... you could say that,” said Rainbow Dash, rubbing her stomach and reflecting.

“And of course... repugnant royalty.”

“Yeah... Uh... I’m not quite sure what that means.”

“The Princess.  She hates me.”

Rainbow Dash sighed, sympathetic yet slightly strained.  Looks like we’re having this talk now.  “Pinkie Pie doesn’t hate you...”

“She does too.  I saw how she acts around me.  I was too giddy and excited around her to care at first, but now it’s so obvious to me.  I was obnoxious and overbearing, and she doesn’t want me around.  She’d rather just spend time with you.”

She shook her head.  “I’m tellin’ ya, she doesn’t hate you.  She told me so herself.”

“She did?”  Twilight Sparkle’s eyes went wide with shock.

“Yes!  She knows you’re cool and super friendly, deep down.  You just needa... dial it back a little.  Stop treating her like a goddess.  Just ignore the fact that she’s a princess.  Be friends with the pony on the inside, y’know?”

“So basically, exactly what I said about Frog.  In front of the Princess.”

Rainbow Dash winced.  Drat... she noticed that too, huh?  “Y-yeah... listen... it’s not the end of the world.  I’m sure if you apologize, this whole thing will blow over before you know it.”

She rolled over on the slab, looking up at Rainbow Dash.  “I can’t!  Don’t you get it?”

“Sure you can.  Pinkie Pie really wants to just be your friend.  If you show her that you’re sincere...”

“Not the apology!  The execution!” wailed Twilight Sparkle.

“Oh... you’re still going on about that?”

She blinked a few times, incredulously.  “Wh... YES, I am still ‘going on’ about that.  Rainbow, in a few short hours... we’re going to...” she said with a nervous gulp, “die.”

“Pfft, fuck that.”

In a brief flash, Twilight Sparkle’s eyes were restored with a glimmer of hope.  The brash, recklessly confident pony in front of her made her believe that they really had a chance, after all.  As the moment passed, the glimmer was replaced with a scowl.  “Hey.  Language.

Rainbow Dash chuckled, and in teasing condescendence, she playfully patted her friend on the head.  “Awww, nice to see you’re back with us, Miss Frumpy Flank.”

She swatted her friend’s hoof away, absentmindedly.  “What, so do you have a plan or something?”

“Course!” she smirked confidently.  “You ready?”

“Absolutely!  What’s the plan?”

Winking deliberately, Rainbow Dash turned toward the bars and yelled in a loud and enunciated voice.  “This whole mess is your fault, dweeb!  If it wasn’t for your dumb invention, none of this would’ve happened!”

“Huh? Why are... oh. Ohhhh.”  Twilight Sparkle’s confusion was replaced with dawning understanding, and she too yelled toward the bars.  “Me?  What kind of ignoramus doesn’t even recognize their own Princess?  It’s your fault that you brought her to use my invention!”

“Hey!” the guard yelled from around the corner.  “I thought I told you two to shut your traps!”

The two friends shared a quick grin.  The plan was working!  Rainbow Dash belted out again in the guard’s direction.  “Whatever!  At least she likes hanging out with me!  You were too busy geeking out to notice that you were giving her the creeps!”

Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth to yell a reply, but closed it curtly.  “Hey... too soon,” she whispered tersely.  “Well, we’ll see if she still thinks you’re sooo cool once the Wonderbolts reject you!”

The guard poked his armored head around the corner.  “I’m not telling you again.  Shut up, or I’ll come in there and make you shut up!”

Neither of the ponies heard him.  They were too busy locking eyes, attempting to inflict physical harm with their glares.  “You wanna know why none of the colts in school ever asked you out?!  They were afraid you’d set them on fire, just like one of your lame-ass, death-trap inventions!”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes started to well up, and her face turned a deep shade of crimson.  Inhaling deeply, she screamed at the top of her lungs straight into Rainbow Dash’s face.  “PINKIE PIE IS OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE!”

Rainbow Dash snapped.  “Why you little...!”  She tackled Twilight Sparkle to the floor, landing on top of her.  On her back, Twilight Sparkle flailed her hooves wildly, hitting her repeatedly in the face.

“That’s enough!”  The fully armored guard began fumbling with his keys, working on the lock to their cell door.  

Twilight Sparkle kicked one of Rainbow Dash’s legs out from under her, causing her to lose balance.  Rolling over, she flipped on top of the pegasus.  Pinning down both of her forelegs with her hooves,  Twilight Sparkle leaned forward, chomped down on her rainbow striped mane, and tugged hard.  Rainbow Dash cried out sharply in pain, struggling and flailing wildly with her hind legs.  However, by leaning forward, Twilight Sparkle’s own mane was sloping off her shoulder, falling just in front of the pegasus.  Rainbow Dash bit down on the purple mane and tugged hard in return.  Both mares let out shrill cries as they yanked and pulled on each other’s manes.

During this time, the armored guard had managed to unlock the cell door, and was approaching the two fighting mares.  “I’ll put a stop to your racket once and for all!”

As soon as he was within reach, both ponies immediately released each other’s manes.  “Now!” shouted Twilight Sparkle.  She jumped up into the air, leaping over the soldier’s head and landing behind him.  From the ground, Rainbow Dash swept with her leg, kicking both of his forelegs out from underneath him.  His front half fell to the ground as she quickly rolled out of the way.  Twilight Sparkle took advantage of the opening, and bucked the soldier as hard as she could in his armored hindquarters.  He went flying, flank over head, and crashed onto the cold stone floor, loudly and unceremoniously.  Both of the mares made a break for the cell door, racing outside before the guard could recover.  Once they were out of the cell, Rainbow Dash quickly bucked the door shut, and the pair ran off down the hallway.

“Phew!” gasped Twilight Sparkle.  “Making that... look convincing was... harder than I... thought it would be!  It’s a good thing that.... we know each other so well.... huh, Dash?”

“...”

“Dash?”  Twilight Sparkle turned to look at her friend as they continued to race along.  She was still glaring venomously.  Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but grin, and switch to baby talk.  “Awww wut’s da maddur?  Can’t take da hits as guud as yuu gib dem?”

“I.  Like.  Stallions,” she replied tersely.  “Not mares.  Stallions.”

Twilight Sparkle giggled lightly.  “I know, Rainbow Dash, I know.  I was just trying to get a rise out of you, so that the guard would fall for our trap and open our cell.  But I took things a little too far, and... well, I’m sorry.  That was mean of me.”

Rainbow Dash sighed.  After a moment, she replied, “Yeah.  I’m sorry, too, Twi...”  The two friends smiled at each other as they ran down the hallway, putting their brief feud to rest.  At least, until she stuck out her tongue and added, “...that you had to go to prom without a date.”

“Wh... Hey!”  Twilight Sparkle playfully bumped into Rainbow Dash as they ran, giggling.  “Truce, already!”

The two ponies’ laughter slowly faded away, replaced with determination.  They shared a resolute nod.  “Right!  Let’s blow this joint!”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle Dungeons

The two friends crept slowly and methodically down the halls of the dungeon.  The emotion and energy of the initial escape had cooled, leaving behind jittery levels of adrenaline.  They were still deep within the bowels of the dungeon, which were patrolled by dozens of armed guards.  More importantly, they were both still wearing shackles over their wings and horn, respectively, and all of their equipment had been confiscated.  Even Rainbow Dash was level-headed enough to realized that, at least for now, discretion was the better part of valor.

Luckily, there were a few things going their way.  First, the guards had not seen fit to bind the ponies’ legs at all, permitting them to walk and run unhindered.  Second, the dungeon halls were relatively safe, considering the circumstances.  They were dimly lit by a few sparse torches, providing ample cover of darkness.  While their halls resonated with a soft clack each time they set a hoof on the stone floor, the noise of their hoofsteps was lost amongst scurrying rodents, dripping water, and a cold hollow wind.  Last, and possibly most important, the guards had not yet been alerted to the escaped prisoners.  As long as the ponies could remain unnoticed, they stood a chance of escaping to the outside world.

Rainbow Dash stopped abruptly, causing Twilight Sparkle to bump lightly into her in the darkness.  Squinting ahead, they saw a lone guard patrolling the halls.  Like the guard who had been watching over their cell, this pony was covered from head to tail in a heavy plate mail.  Undoubtedly, this offered him superior protection, but it also left him slow, and vulnerable to surprise attacks from behind.

Rainbow Dash was already creeping up slowly behind the armored pony, preparing just such an attack.  She stepped gingerly down the hall, trying desperately to remain unheard.  Stupid hooves... this would be so much easier if I could just fly up to him...  As if she had jinxed herself, the guard stopped suddenly and straightened, alerted to some noise behind him.  He slowly began to turn himself around to examine the source of the sounds.  Realizing that she was about to be discovered, she dropped all pretenses of stealth and charged at full-speed.  Leaping at her foe, she delivered a fierce kick with both of her forelegs, directly to the back of the guard’s helmet.

With a noisy series of metallic clangs, the helmet flew off the guard, striking against the hallway wall before bouncing thrice down the hall.  The guard teetered briefly before collapsing in a heap, sending a loud crash echoing into the dark distance.

Rainbow!” gasped Twilight Sparkle, mortified.  “You... Why did you...  You knocked his head clean off!”

“No way!  I did not!  He probably just passed out, that’s all,” replied Rainbow Dash defensively.  A hint of worry in her voice betrayed some lingering doubt, however.  The pair leaned in closer to examine the downed guard in the dim lighting.

When they leaned down to look inside the suit, they froze, turning to each other.  “Empty?! How?”  Rainbow Dash was floored.  “We both just saw it walking around!  Some kind of unicorn magic?

Twilight Sparkle struggled to comprehend her observations.  “I... I don’t think so... I mean, it’s hard to tell in this light, but I don’t think I saw a glow...  And if it wasn’t unicorn magic, then what...”  Her concentration broke, and she threw a furtive glance up and down the hall.  “We need to move.  That made tons of noise.  More guards’ll be coming soon.

Rainbow Dash shot one last hesitant glance at the pile of armor. What in Sugardia is going on here?  How can an empty suit of armor move on its own, aside from unicorn magic?  But she realized that her friend was correct;  right now, time was not on their side.  They turned and proceeded further down the hallway.

Sure enough, as Twilight Sparkle had predicted, it wasn’t long before the light tapping of their hoofsteps was mirrored in the distance by slower, metal steps.  Some guards — perhaps two or three — were heading in their direction, coming to investigate the sounds of the earlier attack.  Sharing a glance, the two ponies realized that further fighting would simply draw more important attention to themselves, and run the risk of  raising an alarm.  Motioning quickly, Rainbow Dash pointed to a small wooden door, just ahead of them.  Bolting, the pair quickly but quietly pushed the door open, and slid out of the hallway.  They closed the door behind them, causing the approaching metal footsteps to become muffled behind the wooden protection.  For now, the pair felt that they would be safe.

“A-ah!  You there!” yelled an unknown voice from behind them, inside the room.

They leapt in surprise, quickly turning to look at the source of the voice.  In shock, they realized that the voice was that of a slate blue unicorn.  The unicorn didn’t have any particularly remarkable features — at least none that the friends could make out in the dim lighting.  Rather, the most noticeable feature about the unicorn was that his neck was exposed and restrained near the ground, with a menacing blade perched precariously a few feet above him.  “P-please!  You have to save me!”

Shh!  Keep your voice down!”  Rainbow Dash hissed.  She leaned her head against the door, listening outside to see if the guards had reacted.

Twilight Sparkle ran over and began to free the unicorn from the restraints of the guillotine.  “Hold still.  Let’s get you out of this thing.”

“Oh, Sun bless you,” he moaned.  “Y-you’re Twilight Sparkle, right?  The inventor?  I-it’s me, Pokey Pierce!  Remember me?  My dad owns the market in Equus.”

Oh, right,”  Twilight Sparkle replied somewhat absentmindedly, as she clumsily grappled at the restraints with her hooves.   “Grr, this stupid thing...  How’d you end up here?

He shook his head lightly.  “It was awful.  I was helping my dad run some of the stalls at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration, when I... well... accidentally ruined some of the fair’s decorations.  All of a sudden, some guards drag me away and throw me in this dungeon.  They were going to execute me over a few popped balloons!  I wasn’t even given a trial!”

Rainbow Dash scowled from the doorway.  “Same thing with us!  We got proven innocent, and that Chancellor tried to off us, too.  What gives?”

Proven not guilty,” corrected Twilight Sparkle.  “Anyway, nopony’s getting beheaded over silly misunderstandings like these.  Let’s get out of here, and then we’ll... well, we’ll figure something out.

Rainbow Dash cracked the door open and poked her head outside.  The sounds of hoofsteps could faintly be heard from the far end of the hallway; the guards had passed by them without incident.  She motioned for them to follow.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Sugardia Castle Dungeons  Upper Levels

The three ponies continued their escape as they climbed their way out of the deepest levels of the dungeon.  They had acquired another companion — a terrified pacifist at that — and they were encountering guards with increasing frequencies.   In spite of these setbacks, the shadows were facilitating their escape quite nicely.  The ponies were able to slip past patrols that were no further than a cart’s-length away, thanks to the darkness.  Twilight Sparkle was actually rather perturbed by this.  If the three of us are able to slip out of here unnoticed, what does that mean for the evil ponies who actually deserve to be here?

At the end of the hall, the ponies reached yet another staircase, and began to quietly ascend the steps.  Rainbow Dash sighed loudly in frustration, ignoring the reprimanding “Shhh!” from Twilight Sparkle.  This is taking forever!  If I didn’t have this stupid metal belt over my wings, I coulda flown outta here and be eating dinner by now!  Though... I guess that wouldn’t do Twilight or that other unicorn any good, huh?  Crud...

“Halt!”

“Crud.”

Lost in her thoughts, Rainbow Dash had reached the top of the staircase and had pushed on into the next room.  In doing so, she had missed a few important details.  First, the lighting of this room had sharply increased.  It was still lit sporadically by torches, but unlike in the lower dungeons, the torchlight here managed to cover the entire room.  In fact, as she stopped to look around, she realized that they had made their way back up to the entrance, where this morning the warden and the Chancellor had sent them to their fate.  Second, and more urgently, she had failed to notice that she had walked straight between two guards standing post at the doorway.  As the trio of escapees entered the room, the guards charged in front of them, blocking their path.

“Stop right there!  Where you do think you’re going?”

“Us?  Oh, we’re the, uhh...”  Rainbow Dash quickly threw together the first alibi that popped into her head.  “Blacksmiths!”

“R-right!  Somepony needs to maintain all of those cell doors, shackles, guillotines...”  added Twilight Sparkle.  Pokey Pierce nodded enthusiastically.

“Funny.  The two of you look a bit like the Princess’s foalnappers... the very ones I tossed in jail just this morning.”

Rainbow Dash winced, “Oh.  Heh heh.  I guess that means you’re not buying it?”

“Don’t just stand there!” yelped Twilight Sparkle.  “Run!”

She immediately leapt across the room, diving into cover behind the warden’s desk.  Rainbow Dash started to run to the opposite side of the room, hoping that with three escapees and two guards, they would be able to draw them apart.  Unfortunately, the guards didn’t fall for the ruse, instead focusing their attention on the third, least battle-hardened of the ponies.  Pokey Pierce shook with fright as the guards closed in on him.

Rainbow Dash reached the wall and turned, realizing that nopony was following her.  Without a second thought, she charged back at full steam, delivering a full-body tackle directly into the sides of one of the guards.  She gasped for breath as the wind was knocked out of her.  In hindsight, she realized that running chest-first into a heavy slab of metal was probably not a very effective attack.  The guard didn’t seem very phased either, reinforcing that idea.  But, at least it had served to draw their attention.  The two guards turned away from Pokey, who fled to the far side of the room.  As the guards started to back Rainbow Dash into the corner, she realized that she hadn’t really thought this next part through before jumping into the fray.

“Rainbow!”

In the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of metal.  On pure instinct, she leapt into the air, twisting and flipping herself over.  As the flash flew underneath her, she stretched her neck and bit down onto the object.  Finishing her flip, she landed squarely on the ground in front of the guards, brandishing her katana.

“Nice catch!” cheered Twilight Sparkle from behind the desk.  “I found all of our stuff!  Hang on, let me find mm mmfrg ff fhf.”  Her sentence trailed off as she dove headfirst into her saddlebags, trying to extract a weapon without the help of her horn.

I appreciate the offer, Rainbow Dash thought to herself, but there’s no need.  I got this.  She leapt backwards, blasting a Wind Slash in the direction of one guard.  Landing on the wall with all four hooves, she jumped off toward his partner.  As she passed overhead, she curled and did a tight somersault, slicing neatly through the empty helmet.  She slid to a stop in the center of the room, as the two suits of armor crumpled behind her.

Fao!” exclaimed Twilight Sparkle, with her mouth clumsily biting down on her Flamethrower.  “Luff li’ you di’in mee mah hel’ affu all!

Rainbow Dash arched an eyebrow.  “What you tryin’ to say?”

AH FED, lufkk l’k you dih-dint...

“For pony’s sake!  What’s wrong with you?  I’ve got a freakin’ sword in my mouth and I can talk just fine.  It’s not that hard.”

It was difficult to tell with the large metallic device covering up most of her face, but she appeared to be scowling.  “Weh EFFUF meh! Ahf euph to euphin mah HUH, fo...

Rainbow Dash rubbed her temple with her hoof.  “Stop.  Just stop.”

Pokey Pierce emerged from his hiding spot, and approached the pair.  “Oh, thank goodness.  If you hadn’t have stopped those guards, it would have been straight back to the guillotine for me...  Say, we’re almost free, aren’t we?  This is the warden’s room?”

“Yeah, that’s the thing... Where’s the warden? Shouldn’t she be here?”

Twilight Sparkle blinked in surprise, and turned her head to look about the room.  Sure enough, there was no sign of the warden pegasus.  She shrugged.  “Duh-nuh. Ah heff...

Stop.

“W-well, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  I say we get while the gettin’s good!”  With that, Pokey Pierce made a break for the entrance, ascending the staircase.

Rainbow Dash hurriedly strapped on her saddlebags using her teeth, then picked her sword back up.  “Sounds good to me.  Hey, stick together!”  She and Twilight Sparkle raced up the stairs in pursuit.

The trio stepped out into the open air.  The dungeon’s tower was connected to the castle proper with a somewhat precarious metal beam bridge.  Looking down, they saw that they were more than a hundred meters up in the air.  A strong gust of wind pushed the ponies about, adding to the sense of vertigo.  Normally, Rainbow Dash would be unfazed at this altitude.  However, considering that her wings were still bound, she felt an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability.  Still, there was hardly any other option at this point; if they wanted to escape, they’d have to cross.

The ponies carefully walked across the bridge, trying to cross as quickly as possible and get back inside.  As they got about halfway across, the bridge started to vibrate and rumble, causing them to nervously screech to a halt.  “W-what’s that noise?  What’s happening?” Pokey Pierce nervously looked to the other ponies for reassurance.

Twilight Sparkle had none to offer.  She pointed ahead, horrified.  “If ah bwagom!

Rainbow Dash faced forward.  A monstrous metallic contraption, several times larger than herself, was slowly rumbling its way onto the bridge, making its way to intercept the ponies.  Two spiked wheels slowly lurched the machine forward, as exhaust belched from various pipes along the creature’s back.  At front, the beast’s neck was crowned with a horrific draconian visage, with glowing red eyes and rows of metallic teeth.

“You like?” shouted Chancellor Scratch from the far end of the bridge.  She was flanked by the warden pegasus, who had notified the Chancellor of the prison breach.  “The fillies down in R&D whipped this bad boy together.  Scum like you will be no match for the Dragon Tank.”

Rainbow Dash flared her wings defensively, and turned her head slightly to yell at Pokey Pierce.  “Hey!  You’re not gonna stand a chance on this thing.  Make a break for it!  We’ll cover you.”

“W-what? But, I...”  Pokey Pierce looked nervously between his two armed companions, and the menacing tank that was slowly approaching them.  It slowly dawned on him that the rainbow pegasus was right, and he needed to escape before he became a liability.  “Thank you... thank you so much!  I’ll never forget this!”  He began his terrified charge at the tank, attempting to pass it.

EEE HEF-FIA!”  Twilight Sparkle leapt forward to provide some literal cover-fire, biting down on the controls of the Flamethrower in her mouth.  A bombardment of flames spewed forth, searing across the tank.  Pokey Pierce took the opportunity and raced past the tank, across the bridge, and down the stairs into the castle.

The warden was dumbstruck as the unicorn ran past the Chancellor and herself.  “Wh... Chancellor?  We can’t just let him escape!  We have to stop that fugitive!”

“Scratch that.  He’s just a small fry.”  Her eyes were fixated on the tank within the whirlwind of flames.  “We’re here to stop these terrorists, at all costs.”

Slowly, the flames surrounding the Dragon Tank died down.  As the smoke cleared, the ponies realized in horror that the tank was in pristine condition.  Rainbow Dash’s was dumbfounded.  “Wha... it’s not damaged?!”

Chancellor Scratch grinned wickedly.  “Oh, did I fail to mention?  Completely impervious to the elements.  Fire, lightning, you name it.  You’ll have to try harder than that.”

Twilight Sparkle’s face fell.  “Oo huuf abbuf... Ah mee uh bihfih foo fum...

Rainbow Dash snapped, turning toward her friend.  “Spit it out!”

She dropped the Flamethrower clumsily on the ground, liberating her jaw.  “Rainbow Dash, it’s impervious to my Flamethrower!  I need a different tool from my saddlebags.  I’ll need to get to it manually... Buy me some time!”  She ran back several paces, dropped her saddlebags, and began riffling inside them.

Great.  Rainbow Dash turned back to see what the Dragon Tank was up to, just in time to catch a faceful of burning.  Returning the favor, the Dragon Tank was spewing a blast of flame from its mouth, directly toward the pegasus.  She quickly leapt back before she got singed any further.  Scowling, she glanced behind her.  Can’t keep backing up... I need to keep it away from Twi.  Guess that means up and over! 

She rushed forward at the tank, jumping onto its back.  As she approached, an array of ports on the tank opened and began shooting energy beams at the pony.  However, the tank’s defenses were no match for Rainbow Dash’s agility and reflexes.  Dodge, dodge, one grazed her back leg, dodge, counterattack!  She left a deep gash on the tank’s back, exposing wires and circuitry.  She leapt off the backside of the tank, and slid to a stop on the bridge behind it.

Stiffly, with clockwork jittering, the tank’s head rotated to look at the fresh wound.  The glowing eyes lit up with intensity before firing twin heat beams at the gash.  As the beams heated the metal, it slowly began to solder the wound shut.

Chancellor Scratch nonchalantly picked at her hoof with her teeth.  “Oh, also?  It can repair itself.  You’re basically screwed.”

Rainbow Dash backed up nervously.  The tank’s wheels spun, slowly turning itself around to face its attacker.  Completing its spin, it emitted a dark burst of smog, then began slowly lumbering toward her.  She braced herself low, preparing to leap over the tank once again.

Unexpectedly, a shower of sparks exploded from its neck.  It let out a mighty bellow, as if in pain, as a rain of light continued to shower down upon Rainbow Dash.  With one final groan, the neck snapped completely, causing the head to smash onto the bridge in front of itself.  Where the neck was once attached, now stood Twilight Sparkle.  She stood defiantly, miniature chainsaw gripped firmly in her mouth, her face scorched from the sparks that had burst so close to her.

“Y-you...”  For a moment, Chancellor Scratch was dumbfounded.  The moment was brief, as she quickly found the appropriate emotion to express herself: rage.  “You demon!  You wrecked my Dragon Tank!”

The Dragon Tank had its own way of expressing itself, as it shot an energy blast straight into Twilight Sparkle’s gut.  Grunting heavily, she slid off the the tank’s back, landing beside the tank.  Winded, she propped herself up slightly off the ground, and focused her energy into one last effort.  “Webaih dif!”  she yelled as she tossed her chainsaw into the spokes of the wheel beside her.  The whirring blades of the chainsaw sliced neatly into the hide of the Dragon Tank.  The handle  jutted out between the spokes, preventing the wheel from rotating any further, and the tank ground to a stop.  Spent, she collapsed, panting for breath.

Rainbow Dash leapt into action.  Decapitated and immobilized, the Dragon Tank was now a sitting duck.  Spinning through the air, she dove head-first at the tank, driving her sword down to the hilt into the beast, slicing through layers of circuitry and components.  As she withdrew the katana, the tank began to shake violently, as electric current arced across its surface, and smoke bellowed from deep within.

“Hurry!”  Chancellor Scratch and the warden charged toward the Dragon Tank.  “We need to repair the damage!”

Rainbow Dash didn’t need any more of an invitation.  She flung her katana at the stairwell.  It noisily clattered and slid down the steps.  Leaping off the Dragon Tank, she bit down on Twilight Sparkle’s tail and quickly dragged her toward the staircase.  Her instinctual reaction came not a moment too soon.  Before the pair could reach the stairwell, an explosion erupted from the belly of the Dragon Tank, sending all four ponies flying.

“No!” gasped Twilight Sparkle.  She and her friend looked on in horror as the blast sent the Chancellor and the warden careening off the side of the bridge.  They raced to the edge of the bridge and looked over the side.

Fortunately, though the warden pegasus was getting on in years, she had still remembered her years of training.  On instinct, she had caught the Chancellor and was now frantically flapping her wings, trying to keep them both airborne.  The Chancellor, on the other hand, was largely oblivious to her predicament.  She was devoting herself to glaring murderously up at the two ponies.  Her crimson eyes flashed brightly in the afternoon sunlight.  “Don’t you DARE think this is over!  You’ll both suffer dearly for this.”

Rainbow Dash tugged on Twilight Sparkle’s shoulder.  “Yeah, okay, they’re both fine.  Now let’s move before they sic another freakin’ tank on us!”  She ran to the staircase and recovered her katana, while her friend shakily rose to her hooves again.  Together, they raced down the stairs, leading toward the castle’s exit.

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1000 AD

Sugardia Castle

The two ponies fled as fast as they could still muster.  The steps circled tightly, causing them to dizzily twist their way down.  With each passing floor of the tower, they were a few meters closer to the ground, and freedom.  Thanks to the Dragon Tank’s attack and the Chancellor’s involvement, they knew that security would soon be on full alert.  Their window of opportunity was quickly closing.

The staircase abruptly ended as they reached the bottom level.  The ponies were dumped into a large living quarters.  A plethora of beds and tables were arranged at the far end of the room, where a few guard ponies were resting and enjoying some off-duty time.  Rainbow Dash’s eyes were quickly drawn to a table directly in front of her.  Encircling the table, a group of ponies were holding a quiet discussion.  Her eyes bulged as she immediately recognized their distinctive uniforms: blue full-bodied jumpsuits with a jagged yellow lightning bolt running along the underbelly.

She squealed, “The Wonderbolts!”

The Wonderbolts turned from their discussion and looked at Rainbow Dash.  Smiling, they waved with a friendly, open welcome.  “It’s the terrorists!  They’ve escaped from the dungeons!”

Rainbow Dash gasped loudly, “They... they know who we are!  Twilight, did you hear that?  They’ve heard of me!”

Twilight Sparkle giggled, and waved back at the Wonderbolts.  “Oh no!  We must’ve gone down too far!  We’re in the barracks!”

The Wonderbolts collectively approached the ponies, grinning cheerfully.  “Quickly!  Don’t let them escape!”

“Escape? Me?”  Rainbow Dash snickered lightheartedly.  “No way!  I’m not goin’ anywhere.  I mean, I’ve been trying to meet you guys for, like, forever.  In fact, now that I’ve got your attention, I was thinking that maybe I could audition...”

*SLAP* Rainbow Dash staggered as Twilight Sparkle’s hoof flew across her face.  “Snap out of it, and run!” she screamed.

Rubbing her face, Rainbow Dash turned back to look at the Wonderbolts.  Snapped from her delusion, she realized with a panic that their reception was far from jovial.  The Wonderbolts were approaching with swords drawn, slowly encircling the two friends.  Sugardia’s special forces were not going to allow a pair of treasonists to break out of jail on their watch.  “The blue one has a sword!” called out one of the soldiers.  “Use force if necessary!”  With a sinking heart, Rainbow Dash realized that for the time being, she was a hostile target, not a potential applicant.  She turned and fled, partially due to survival instincts, partly out of despair.

The two friends bolted up the staircase with the Wonderbolts hot on their hooves.  Jumping out on the next floor up, they recognized it as the ground floor, thanks to their recent 7th century visit.  They fled down the hallways, back on the correct path toward the exit.

“The prisoners are escaping!” yelled a guard from a side hallway, giving chase.

“Don’t let them get away!” shouted one of the Wonderbolts, emerging from the stairway.

“Block off the entrance!” came a voice from the hall ahead.

Twilight Sparkle turned back in dismay to her friend as they ran.  “We’re surrounded!”

“We can’t give up now, not when we’re so close!  We’re going to have to force our way through!”

As the two ponies rushed into the entrance hall, they were met by a platoon of guards, poised at the ready to stop the escape.  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle jumped and evaded, trying to weave their way through the masses, but the numbers were simply against them.  The guards shoved, grabbed, and tackled, forcing the two ponies to the ground.  More troops swarmed into the room, as the Wonderbolts and other soldiers whom had given chase began to catch up.  The escape attempt had come to a bitter end.

“Stop this, right now!”

From underneath the pile of soldiers, the two ponies looked up in surprise.  Rainbow Dash was struck with déjà vu.  This was not the first time, over the past few days, that a regally dressed pink pony had suddenly appeared before her.  Indeed, this wasn’t even the first time that Pinkie Pie had addressed her from the top of this hall’s central staircase.  However, her present demeanor was a far cry from her Queen Diane impersonation.  Her hair had been brushed straight, meticulously and rotely.  Her royal dress hung awkwardly on her frame.  She even looked uncomfortable inside her own skin.  Everything about her appearance screamed discomfort to Rainbow Dash.

“Those two ponies are my friends.  I want you to let them go right now!  That... That’s an order!”

Nopony moved, as a tense silence filled the air.  Two of the Wonderbolts awkwardly glanced at each other, before speaking.  “Princess Pinkamena, a thousand pardons, but you don’t understand... These two fugitives need to be brought to justice.”

Pinkie Pie stomped angrily, glaring down at the Wonderbolt.  “No!  I said I want you to let them go!  Why isn’t anypony listening to me?”  The Wonderbolt turned back to his fellow soldier, looking for guidance.

Before anypony could reply, the doors behind Pinkie Pie burst open.  Panting for breath, the Chancellor and warden dashed into the room.  “Not so... fast,” gasped Chancellor Scratch.  “Do what... King Sugardia says.”

The mass of soldiers turned sharply, dropping to their knees in respect.  Following behind the Chancellor and warden, King Sugardia the 33rd entered the chamber.  He solemnly walked up to the edge of the stairs, standing beside his daughter.  They shared a silent glance out of the corners of their eyes.  They both knew what was about to happen next; this type of confrontation had become all too familiar.

“Escort the prisoners back to their cell, to carry out the remainder of their sentence,” ordered the King.

“Father!”

“Silence!” he snapped, turning to face her.  “You are Princess of this Kingdom, and you will start acting as such, immediately.  Your personal wishes must come second to your royal obligations.”

“I’m not just some... some word,” pleaded Pinkie Pie.  “I’m so much more than just a Princess... I’m also a pony!”

The King scoffed.  “More than just... What a bizarre thing to say.  Is this the sort of frivolous nonsense you’re picking up from the outside?”

“Grr, it’s not nonsense!  Why don’t you ever stop and think about how I feel?!”

“And why do you not act as you should?!  Know your place, Pinkamena!”

Angrily, Pinkie Pie reared up onto her front legs, and loudly slammed her back hooves to the ground, landing on top of the hem of her gown.  Leaning forward sharply, her dress tore at its seams, ripping across her chest and along her sides.  The shreds of fabric fell to the ground as she liberated herself from the garment, leaving herself with nothing on but her saddlebags and leg guard.

“Pinkamena!  What in the name of the Sun are you doing?”

With a vigorous shake of her head, her mane snapped about, springing back to its natural curly state.  Turning her back on the King, she fumed.  “I hate this castle.  I hate this title.  And most of all... I hate you!”  She bounded down the steps, toward the kneeling guards.  Uncertainly, the soldiers awkwardly rose to their hooves, bumping and pushing into each other as they tried to make room for the advancing Princess.  She approached her friends.  “C’mon, gals.  We’re leaving.”

Instinctively, Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle chased after the Princess, not wanting to turn down an opportunity to escape.  The guards stood dumbfounded, watching the trio leave, whispering quietly to each other.

“WHAT THE HELL are you gawking at?” screeched Chancellor Scratch.  “The terrorists are running off with the Princess AGAIN!  Get them, you idiots!”  Snapping sharply back to the present, the soldiers raced outside, giving chase.

King Sugardia the 33rd closed his eyes.  “Pinkamena...”

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1000 AD

Sugardia Forest

The three friends rushed out of the castle grounds, down into the lush forests that surrounded Sugardia Castle.  After soaking in the fresh air and bright afternoon sunlight, Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle shared a look.  While they were certainly glad to be free once more, they were realizing that it probably wasn’t in their best interest to commit the exact crime that they had, just this very morning, been accused of.

“H-hey, Pinkie?”  Rainbow Dash was unsure of how to broach the topic, aside from directly.  “Are you really sure that we should be... y’know... foalnapping you like this?”

Pinkie Pie scowled, leading the group along the forest path.  “I don’t ever want to go back there.  Ever again.”  Wincing, she turned back to her friends and added, “But... you’re right, I don’t want you two getting in trouble because of me.  Once we get through the forest here, we can split up, and I’ll...”

“No way!” chimed Twilight Sparkle.  “We’re not going to abandon you!  Not when you need our help more than ever.  We’re all in this together, and that’s that!”

Pinkie Pie winced an embarrassed smile back at the two ponies.  When she saw their earnest, enthused faces smiling back at her, her expression gradually softened.  “Twilight... And Rainbow!  Thanks, you guys!”

“Stop right there, criminal scum!”  A squad of soldiers was leaving the castle gates, racing along the path leading to the forest.

“W-w-whoa!”

“Grr!  Don’t those ponies know when to give up?”  Rainbow Dash mused.  “C’mon, follow me!  We’ll lose them in the woods.”

The friends charged down a path leading deeper into the woods, as the guards ran after in pursuit.  The narrow path twisted between trees, around underbrush, and over fallen logs.  The trio passed through these obstacles with ease, but the soldiers were slowly gaining ground — a testament to their rigorous training.  All too soon, the trio found themselves in a small circular clearing.  The dense forest tightly enclosed them.  There were no other paths to travel, no gaps through the treeline that they could squeeze through, no rocks or logs that they could hide behind.  In short...

“We’re trapped!” wailed Pinkie Pie.

Twilight Sparkle turned to Rainbow Dash.  “We were following you!” she said, exasperated.  “Didn’t you know that this way led to a dead end?”

“Nope.  I’ve always flown over these woods.”

“Wh... But... Then why did you have us follow you?!”

“Well, somepony needed to lead the way!  ...Why?  Do either of you know the right way?”

“Yes!” replied a cheery Pinkie Pie and an enraged Twilight Sparkle.

“Oh.  Cool.”

“Ugh...” Twilight Sparkle massaged her forehead, staring at the ground dejectedly.  As something caught her eye, her face shifted first to confusion and then to elation.  “Girls!  Look there!”

The other two ponies followed Twilight Sparkle’s hoof.  In the center of a small ring of flowers, the air lightly crinkled and bent with a violet hue.  “A Gate!” cheered Rainbow Dash.

“EEP!”  Twilight Sparkle yelped in surprise as Pinkie Pie invited herself into the unicorn’s saddlebags, face first.  Pulling back, she extracted the Gate Key gently between her teeth.  “Pinkie Pie, what are you doing?”

“Opening the Gate, silly!”

“We can’t just jump into a random Gate!” gasped Twilight Sparkle.  “We have no idea where this will take us.  That’s completely irrational!”

“So what?  Any place is better than here!  This place stinks!”

“Hmm...”  Rainbow Dash was lost in thought.

“Rainbow?  You can’t actually be considering jumping into that Gate?  Think this through!”

“Dashie, c’mon!  This is the time for doing, not thinking, y’know?”

After a brief pause, Rainbow Dash opened her mouth.  “How come Pinkie can talk totally fine with the Gate Key in her mouth, while Twi sounded like her mouth was full of peanut butter?”

Twilight Sparkle stared blankly at her friend, as she felt a small headache coming.  She had no words.

“Princess Pinkamena!”

The friends jumped in shock.  The soldiers who had been giving chase had finally reached the clearing, and proceeded to block the last remaining exit with weapons drawn.  Following closely behind, Chancellor Scratch pushed her way to the front of the pack.

“Enough...” panted Chancellor Scratch, “is enough.  Step away... from Rainbow Ass... and Twilight Shittle... and get back in the castle... you stupid, spoiled brat.  Last time that I’ll ask politely.”

Hey!”  Rainbow Dash stomped defiantly toward the Chancellor.  “Say what you want to me, but you do not talk to my friends like that and get away with it!”  She reached behind to brandish her katana.

Chancellor Scratch grinned smugly.  Her guards spread away from her, slowly beginning to encircle the three ponies.

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes went wide.  Oh no!  Rainbow is playing right into the Chancellor’s hooves!  We won’t stand a chance against these many soldiers... Urggh!  No other choice!  “Pinkie!  Do it!”  Charging up to her friend, she bit Rainbow Dash’s tail and pulled sharply.  Caught off-guard, Rainbow Dash flew off her hooves, landing on her belly with a thud.

Excitedly, Pinkie Pie hopped up onto her rear hooves.  With a spin and a flourish, she waved the Gate Key in front of the distortion.  On cue, the air of the clearing tore apart, engulfed by an oscillating Gate.  Pinkie Pie giddily leapt into the swirling portal, quickly followed by Twilight Sparkle, and lastly Rainbow Dash, being roughly dragged along the ground.  With all three friends safely within the Gate, it twisted and sealed behind them, whisking them out of the present.

The soldiers were spooked, and began murmuring to each other.  Nervously, they turned to Chancellor Scratch for guidance.  The unicorn’s red eyes dilated in bewilderment, and her jaw dropped.  “What in the world...” she quietly uttered.

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???

Unknown Room

“Yeowch!”

The three friends landed painfully in a pile, as they fell out of the other end of the Gate.  With a loud ripping sound, the wormhole sealed behind them, reverting back to its natural subdued state.

Pinkie Pie sproinged to her hooves, shaking the dust from her back.   “Whee!  Those Gate rides are so fun.  Feels like you’re falling and tumbling and zooming!”

“More importantly,” Rainbow Dash shook her head, recovering from the landing, “that jerk of a Chancellor won’t be able to follow us here.”

“That’s just it, though.  Where is this place?”  Twilight Sparkle walked forward to a large door, prominently centered along the far wall of the room they had arrived in.  The door was emblazoned with a large golden icon that the trio didn’t recognize, surrounded by fluctuating blue lights.  “And when is this?  The civilization here seems so... advanced.”

Pinkie Pie approached the door, solemnly taking in its mystery.  “Like we’re in another world...”


Chapter 9: Across the Ruins...

???

Barngor Dome

Twilight Sparkle inhaled and exhaled quickly, bracing herself.  “Okay... ready.”

Rainbow Dash bit down on the rotary tool in her mouth.  The small buzzsaw on the end whirred to life, spinning thousands of times per minute.  Carefully, she leaned close to Twilight Sparkle’s face, preparing to cut into the enchanted horn sheath.

Wait!” She flinched and pulled back. “Wait, wait. That’s just... really loud. And close. Whew.”

The friends were still in the small room where the Gate had dropped them.  In front of them loomed the mysterious door.  Its blue incandescent lights were providing the only illumination in the room, casting an eerie chill over the ponies.  Opposite this door was a narrow staircase leading downward to another, simpler door leading outside.  The ponies were standing upon a small metal platform that dropped off at its edges, surrounded by a moat of rubbish, metal scraps, wires, and dust.  Between the blue lighting, the lack of cleaning or furnishings, and the cold stale air, the room left them feeling very unsettled.

But the ponies needed to regroup, so for now the room would have to suffice.  Pinkie Pie, bored, was wandering the room looking for a way to entertain herself.  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, still trapped in their restraints from Sugardia’s dungeon, were attempting to liberate themselves using one of the unicorn’s tools.

Ahhh ow ow ow!”  Twilight Sparkle screamed.  “You’re cutting my horn!  I’ll never be able to use my magic again!  I’m a disfigured freak!  Yahhh!

Rainbow Dash growled in frustration.  The tool was several centimeters away from the unicorn’s head.  “I’m not even touching you.  Quit being such a baby and just hold still.  This would’ve been over already...”  After sufficiently calming down her friend, Rainbow Dash reactivated the rotary tool and carefully sliced the sheath along its length.  “Aaand there.  Give that a shot.”

Focusing, Twilight Sparkle attempted to activate her magic.  The sheath began to twitch and slide slightly, as more and more of her power escaped through the slice.  Eventually, she managed to completely slide the sheath off, tossing it off the side of the platform.  She inhaled deeply, with a superbly pleased look on her face.  “Ahhh...  It feels so good to have my magic back.  I bet you can’t imagine, not being a unicorn and all, but I feel so powerless without it!”

Rainbow Dash arched an eyebrow.  “Yeah... I may not be a unicorn, but...”  She nudged her head backwards, indicating the belt that was still restraining her wings.

“Hmm?  Oh sure,” Twilight Sparkle said, absentmindedly.  With her magic, the rotary tool came to life and whizzed around Rainbow Dash’s belt, making a flurry of deep cuts in the metal.  It moved with such speed that the pegasus didn’t even have time to react until it was over.

Gyaaah!  Careful with that thing!  You could’ve sliced me in half!”

“You’re fine, you’re fine...” she absentmindedly replied.  Nudging the belt lightly, it fractured and fell to pieces on the floor.

Rainbow Dash spread her wings to their full span, and stretched deeply.  “Ugh... I am so cramped up.”  She tentatively flapped her wings a few times before hopping into the air and hovering.  A similar look of contentment overtook her face, as she attained her ideal amount of contact with the ground  none.

“Hey Pinkie, any luck with that door?”  Twilight Sparkle walked up to her friend.  “You’ve been looking at it for quite a while now.”

Sadly, she shook her head.  “I’ve tried everything!  I tried pushing it, pulling it, digging under it, telling it a password, challenging it to a hoof-wrestling challenge, singing it a song, offering to bake it some muffins, licking it...”  She sat down and pouted, “Who would put a door here, if it can’t be opened?”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head.  “Dunno.  But I guess it can’t be helped.”  She pointed to the stairs.  “It looks like those stairs might lead outside.  Since this place is a dead-end, we might as well take a look outside, and see if we can figure out when we are.”

“And where.”

She shook her head.  “Based on my theories, Gates should always send us to the same location.  So, this should still be Sugardia.  We just need to see how much has changed in this new era.”

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Post-Apocalypse

Wastelands

The ponies stepped out of their domed building, and were immediately buffeted with freezing, dusty winds.  Squinting, they braced themselves against the bluster.  As it died down, they opened their eyes, and went slack-jawed.

“It’s...”

The forest was gone.  The castle was gone.  The kingdom of Sugardia was gone.  The normally lush green hills had been replaced with sickly, scorched brown earth.  The sun was completely blotted out of the sky by heavy storm clouds, neglected by their pegasus caretakers.  A howling, restless wind blew across the decrepit countryside, carrying dust and bits of debris.  In front of their building, a ruined concrete roadway led from north to south, weaving its way between deep impact craters, before it faded into nothingness.  A bolt of lightning seared the sky, illuminating the sickly purple waters of the nearby ocean.  As the low rumble of thunder shook the ground, the three friends finished their thoughts.

“...freezing,” finished Rainbow Dash, ruffling her wings’ feathers and shivering.

“...destroyed!”  Twilight Sparkle gasped in dismay.

“...lonely...” said Pinkie Pie as light faded from her eyes.

Squinting, Rainbow Dash pointed in the distance.  “What’s that big, round  thingy over there?”  The ponies followed the direction of her hoof.

“Is that some kind of building?”  Twilight Sparkle asked rhetorically.  She turned behind her.  “Looks pretty similar in design to the dome we just came out of.  A lot bigger though.”

Pinkie Pie leaned in, a look of worry on her face.  “Do you think there’s anypony in there?”

She winced.  “I hope so, Pinkie. I sure hope so.”

“Only one way to find out!”  Rainbow Dash began flying over the road toward the large dome in the distance, followed closely by her friends on hoof.

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Post-Apocalypse

Trott Dome

The dome’s exterior door sealed behind them after they entered.  This provided some shelter from the elements, but not much.  While there were no fierce winds or electrical storms inside, the air was just as frigid as it was outside.  It even had a foul taste to it.  Unbeknownst to the ponies, this air had been recycled for centuries on failing climate-control systems; the best thing that could be said about the air was that it was breathable.  As they had judged from the exterior, this dome was substantially larger than the first dome that they had arrived in.  However, this just allowed more space for the “decor” of brushed steel and unidentifiable debris.  It was difficult to make out any details in the dusky room, but a telltale blue aura from the back of the room betrayed the presence of another sealed door.

A filthy pile of linens rustled next to Twilight Sparkle, causing her to spook.  “What do you want?” spoke a voice from underneath the pile.  Thanks to the lighting and filth, it took her a few seconds to realize that a scrawny unicorn colt was poking his head out of the fabric.  His face was gaunt and weary, showing clear signs of malnourishment.

Beyond them, the friends noticed a few other piles of filth come to life.  Several ponies were lounging about, wrapped tightly in bits and pieces of cloth.  One or two were motivated enough to give their attention to the strange visitors, but most were too consumed by their apathy.  They laid in place, full of melancholy, waiting for destiny to claim them.

“Well?”  The unicorn lifted his head lethargically, and shivered.  He didn’t make direct eye contact with his half-opened, lifeless eyes.

Twilight Sparkle was secretly glad that he wasn’t making eye contact, as she wasn’t certain that she would be able to return it.  She opened her mouth to ask a question, but in this eerie silent room, she couldn’t find her voice.

Luckily, Rainbow Dash filled the void for her.  “Is... is this Equus?”

“Never heard of Equus Dome.  This is Trott Dome.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t really know how to make heads or tails of that reply.  “Well... we’re still in the Kingdom of Sugardia, right?”

“Dunno where Kingdom Dome is, neither.” The unicorn sighed.  The sigh was not loud or forced, nor one intended to rudely show impatience.  Rather, it was as if a small hole had been poked into his lungs, and air was trickling slowly across his vocal chords.  His sigh betrayed his lack of energy to care about anything: the visitors, their questions, his own life.  “Just use our Enertron and go.”

“Enertron?”

He gave a barely-perceptible nod to the right.  Just before the blue light of the sealed door stood a large mechanical enclosure.  The box was covered with a series of rubber tubes, pumping an unknown liquid.  A control panel on the side of the device housed an array of glowing buttons and indicator lights, displaying some form of status.  

An aging pegasus slowly rose to her hooves and attended to the station.  “C’mon, in you go.”  A gate made of three thin metal bars rose in the front of the Enertron, permitting entrance.  Hesitantly, Rainbow Dash walked inside the device.  The mare motioned to the other two friends.  “Everypony.  No sense spending more than one charge.”  Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie reluctantly followed Rainbow Dash into the Enertron.  The enclosure was only about one pony deep, so they had to squeeze uncomfortably next to each other, side by side.  There wasn’t enough room to move about, or even to turn around.  The barred gate curtly shut behind them, as the old mare adjusted some controls on the panel.  

Before any of the ponies could ask what was supposed to happen, they passed out.  At least, Rainbow Dash was pretty sure she lost consciousness for a second or two  like nodding off in class.  The mare outside triggered the metal gate to raise, apparently indicating they were done already.  Yet, as Rainbow Dash slowly walked backwards out of the Enertron, she felt a surge of recovery.  Her mind felt sharp and focused.  Even her muscles were energized and well-rested.

“Wow!” exclaimed Twilight Sparkle.  “Talk about a power nap!  I feel completely rested.”

“Well, that is what the Enertron is for, after all,” said the Enertron operator, eyeing Twilight Sparkle suspiciously.  “How d’you think you’ve stayed alive as long as you have?”

A loud gurgling sound reverberating and echoed across the dome.  “Ugh... but I’m still totally starving,” Rainbow Dash lamented, holding her stomach.  “Guess this Inner Sean machine doesn’t fill you up... Any chance we could have something to eat?”

The colt at the entrance made a croaking sound in the back of his throat.  It had probably been intended to be a laugh, but he had never properly learned how.  “Eat?  As in food?  Would you listen to this one...  The last thing I stuck in my gullet was a ball of lint, back a few... feh, who knows how long ago it was.  Left me dreadfully sick, though.”

The Enertron operator continued to look them up and down.  “Like I just said.  The Enertron keeps us alive.  Hungry, but alive.  But of course you knew that... yeah?”

An older stallion in the back of the room let out a deep, sickly cough before speaking.  “They say that Carrij Dome still has food.  To the northeast, past the #16 Ruins.”

“That’s an old pony’s tale,” snapped the colt by the entrance.  “Stop riling everypony up over food that doesn’t exist.”

Rainbow Dash started to speak.  “But... if there’s food there...”

The colt rested his head on his hooves, closing his eyes again.  “If you want to fight your way past terrifying mutants, that’s your business.  We’re staying here.”

“But...!”

“We let you use our Enertron.  Now, you should go.  Where you go is your own business.  Just go.”

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Post-Apocalypse

Wastelands

The three friends reluctantly left Trott Dome, stepping back out into the forsaken world.

“Well,” scoffed Twilight Sparkle, “not exactly the cheeriest bunch of ponies that I’ve met.  Not that I can blame them, I suppose...”

“They really pissed me off!” fumed Rainbow Dash.  “They know someplace where they can find food and save themselves, but they’d rather just lay there until they die?  I hate that kind of attitude!”

Twilight Sparkle tried to calm her friend down.  “Yes, but at least they let us use their device... the Enertron?  That was a big help.”  She then turned to her other friend.  “How you holding up, Pinkie?  You’ve been awfully quiet since we arrived here.”

The earth pony’s gaze slowly rose from the ground.  “I just...  It’s like Rainbow said, y’know?  Everypony’s given up.  There’s no sunlight here, or happiness, or hope.”  She bit her lip pensively.  “I just wish there was something we could do, to help everypony.”

The friends reflected quietly on this, as the storm overhead raged on.  After a moment, Rainbow Dash leapt into the air.  “So let’s go, then.”

“Go?” asked Twilight Sparkle, raising an eyebrow.  “You mean...?”

“They said there’s food in that other dome, right?  And the ponies in this dome are hungry... so...”

A smile returned to Pinkie Pie’s face.  “If we find some food for them, they’ll be so happy.  Oh, that’s such a great idea, Dashie.  If there’s any way that we can help everypony, then we gotta!  We just gotta!”  She turned pleadingly to Twilight Sparkle.  “C’mon Twilight, please?”

“W-well sure, okay,” she stammered, mildly flustered by such a direct plea.  “It’s not like I’m against that idea.  It’s just that, well, didn’t those ponies warn us about the ruins leading to Carrij Dome?”

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Post-Apocalypse

#16 Ruins

“Jeez laweez!” yelped Pinkie Pie, back-flipping just in time as a pair of tendrils flew underneath her.  “What in the world is that thing?!”

“That would be a mutant, exactly as advertised.”  Gritting her teeth, Twilight Sparkle drew her dart gun and strafed around the creature, firing rapidly.

The mutant could be described as equestrian-shaped, roughly.  But the differences between its physique and that of a pony were numerous.  It was as if a young filly had been playing with modeling clay and crafted a crude pony figure.  The young filly had then proceeded to distort every dimension of their art project: stretching the legs, compacting the torso, rounding and enlarging the head, extending the mane along the back and around to the underbelly, and adding two snakelike tentacles to the base of the neck.  The young filly then grew her abomination to thrice the size of a normal pony, and put it into a bloodthirsty rage.  Hypothetically, at this point the parents should have revoked their young filly’s modeling clay privileges.

Unfortunately, the three ponies weren’t being attacked by a metaphorical arts and crafts projects.  The enraged mutant was all too real, and as Twilight Sparkle was noticing, not very susceptible to darts.  Scowling, she placed the dart gun back into her saddlebags, rummaging for another tool.  “Just great, another ineffectual weapon... Uh oh.”  She rummaged faster as she realized that she had drawn the creature’s attention.  It slowly lumbered toward her, emitting an unholy screech from its throat.

Pinkie Pie leapt to her friend’s rescue, drawing the creature’s attention.  Much to her friend’s dismay, Pinkie Pie did this by Provoking the creature.  She performed all manner of face-making, tongue-waggling, and fanny-shaking at the creature, all while taunting it verbally.  “Nyeeeh!  Pbbbt!  Hey, Stretch!  Betcha can’t hit me!”

The mutant appeared to disagree with this boast.  Shrieking, it flailed its neck-tentacles at Pinkie Pie.  With a giggle, she bounced into the air, hopping over each lash of the attack.  Landing once more, she crouched down low and tensed her muscles before leaping straight into the air, flying over the creature’s head.  The mutant attempted to follow after the pony with its whip attacks, but in its taunting-enduced rage, it accidentally struck itself with its own tentacle.  The attack gashed the monster’s face, causing it to bellow in pain.

Pinkie Pie landed next to Twilight Sparkle.  The latter pony smiled appreciatively at her friend.  “Thanks for the save, Pinkie.  Course, now it’s just even more pissed off...”

“Oh... yeah,” she replied with a sheepish grin.  “I hope I bought you enough time to find something in your bag?”

“Nah, change of plan.  You ready, Dash?!” she hollered.

Ready!” came a faint reply from a hundred meters away.  A small pegasus in the distance took to the air and started flying back toward the battle at full-speed.

Focusing, Twilight Sparkle reached out with her magic and grabbed the creature telekinetically.  The mutant, feeling the constraint of the unicorn’s magic, attempted to struggle and flail in the hopes of breaking free.  Straining her mind, she lifted the creature up into the air, then flung the creature horizontally with all her might.  The mutant careened through the air toward Rainbow Dash, who slashed straight through the monster.  The Telekinetic Slash attack was enough to finish the monster for good.

“Phew!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash.  “That thing went down quick enough... Good thing he was easier than he looked, huh?”

“Eh,” replied Twilight Sparkle absentmindedly, who had pulled out her dart gun again.  She inspected the inner mechanics of the gun, checking if there was any way she could squeeze some more firepower out of it.  “It’ll only get tougher from here.  We’ll need to look into upgrading our weapons, pretty soon...”

“Aww, but you gals are doing awesome,” reassured Pinkie Pie, as the trio resumed their journey through the #16 Ruins.  “We could totally handle an Initial Equipment challenge, no sweat.”

The three friends couldn’t fully comprehend the ruins that they were walking though.  The concrete road in front of Barngor Dome had resumed here.  The road had the occasional pothole or gap of dirt, and it was haphazardly covered with pieces of twisted metal and fused machinery.  That said, it was a relatively intact path for them to follow.  It was clear to Twilight Sparkle that whatever once stood here had been destroyed in some type of explosion  one large enough to demolish the several square kilometers of these ruins, at minimum.  Perhaps this explosion was responsible for more than these few ruins...  She kept this theory to herself for now, so as not to needlessly upset her friends.

A few of the ruined objects were intact enough to be recognizable, if cryptic.  They saw a few melted vehicles that appeared to be futuristic metal carriages.  There was no visible harnesses attached to the carriages, so it was unclear how somepony was supposed to pull it.  They also saw what appeared to be the top section of a building.  The remnant itself was about ten floors tall, which was fairly absurd; in 1000 AD, the only structure with close to ten floors was Sugardia Castle.  Even more mystifying, the remnant’s base ended with fractured girders and shattered walls.  This building top had obviously been severed from the rest of the tower, making it unclear how tall the complete structure had been.  Despite all the destruction and ruin, it was apparent that this era had been quite advanced before it was destroyed.

Still, this destruction and ruin was dampening the mood for the three friends.  Twilight Sparkle attempted to stir up some conversation.

“Sooo... anypony have a story they can tell?”  Silence.  “I figure if we’ve got such a long way to go, we might as well keep ourselves entertained, rather than just trudging along without a word, y’know?”  More silence.

“Oh!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash.  “Wanna hear how I earned my cutie mark?  It’s an awesome story!”

Twilight Sparkle smirked and teasingly rolled her eyes.  “Ugh...  Sure, I’ve only heard you tell me that story every day for the past decade.  What’s one more time?”

Pinkie Pie’s eyes lit up.  “Ooo!  Sure, Rainbow!  I wanna hear it!  Tell me how you became the radical pony you are today,” she appreciatively giggled.

Grinning, Rainbow Dash turned to admire the rainbow-striped lightning bolt on her flank.  “It was like, ten years ago.  The Wonderbolts were putting on a demonstration in Equus, just like they did this week at the Celebration.  Those guys are absolutely amazing.  They’re the Kingdom of Sugardia’s elite squadron of soldiers!  The fastest fliers!  The fiercest fighters!  The finest forces!  Oh... heh.  I’m sure you know all that, right Pinkie Pie?  I mean, they basically work for you.”

“Oh, no no no,” replied Pinkie Pie, smiling embarrassed.  “The Wonderbolts serve the ponies of Sugardia, not the Royal Family.  I can’t order them around, or anything like that... But yeah!  Those pegasi really know how to fly!”

“Absolutely!  They’re the best of the best!  And that’s why I had to see them,” continued Rainbow Dash.  “See, I’ve been a bit of a speed demon, ever since I first learned how to flap my wings.  So when I heard that the fastest ponies in the entire Kingdom were going to be putting on a show right in my hometown, I needed to see that show.  I needed to see for myself just how fast they really were.  Well, except...”

“...Except that, on the day of the big show, Ms. Van Winkle here slept in,” giggled Twilight Sparkle.

“It was awful,” moaned Rainbow Dash.  “My mom thought she had gotten me up on time, but apparently I had sleepwalked downstairs to the breakfast table, ate, went back upstairs and went straight to bed again!  By the time I woke up for real, the show was already getting started.”

“Oh no,” gasped Pinkie Pie.  “So, what did you do next?”

“What else?  I flew!  I raced across Equus, flying to Diane’s Square as fast as my wings could carry me.  And lemme tell ya: I was fast.  Like, faster than I’ve ever flown, even today!  I was so fast, I broke the sound barrier!”

“Whoa!  Really?”

“You did not break the sound barrier,” Twilight Sparkle repeated rotely, “because that’s physically impossible.”  This was an argument that Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle had gotten into innumerous times since the alleged event occurred.

Rainbow Dash played her usual part in the argument.  “I told you how many seconds it took for me to fly from my home to the show!   I was counting!  You did the math, and said that if I was flying that fast, I must’ve broken the sound barrier.”

“Exactly.  I also said that doing so would’ve produced a Sonic Rainboom that would’ve shaken the whole town.  Since nopony felt that  and indeed, since nopony has ever flown fast enough to create a Sonic Rainboom  clearly it took you longer to fly to the show than the numbers you gave me.”

“Nuh uh!  I’ve flown that path hundreds of times.  I know how long it takes me nowadays, and I’m tellin’ ya, that day ten years ago, I was about twenty percent faster!”

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes.  “Maybe, maybe, you were close to breaking the speed of sound.  I’m just saying that you definitely didn’t break it.”

“Err, sorry,” apologized Pinkie Pie.  “I didn’t mean for you two to get carried away on a tangent like that.  Anyway!  What happened next, Dashie?”

“Oh!  Right, so, after I broke the sound barrier,” resumed Rainbow Dash, while Twilight Sparkle sighed, “I arrived at the Wonderbolts’ show, just in time to watch their main act.  And they were incredible!  The acrobatics... the swordplay... the speed... it was better than I could’ve imagined.  But best of all,” she said with a decisive smirk, “I knew that I could beat ‘em.  Maybe not right then, but I knew that if I focused and trained and gave it my all, I could be better than any of them.  And I knew that if I joined them,  and became their captain, then everypony would recognize that I, Rainbow Dash, am the best of the best!

“Right after I had that thought, I looked down and... guess what?  This bad boy had already appeared!”  She turned proudly, showing off her cutie mark to her friends.  “A rainbow-striped lightning bolt!  Cementing the fact that Rainbow Dash is destined to become the leader of the Wonderbolts!  It doesn’t get much clearer than that.”

“Wow!” Pinkie Pie cheered excitedly.  “What a cutie mark!  And what a destiny!”

“Heh.  Yeah, I s’pose,” said Rainbow Dash as she attempted to show some modesty.  “It hasn’t been all easy going.  I’ve been training for years: Junior Speedster Flight Camp, personal sword-fighting lessons, coming up with signature moves, you name it.  Not to mention a few setbacks, like being wanted for foalnapping Princess Pinkamena... twice... heh heh.  But!  I’ve been training most of my life with that goal in mind.  Nothing’s gonna stand in my way!”

“Yeah!  You tell ‘em!”  exclaimed Pinkie Pie.  “I just know that you’ll make an excellent Captain of the Wonderbolts one day.”  She shared a smile with Rainbow Dash for a moment before turning to the other pony.  “What about you, Twilight?  Tell us how you got your cutie mark!”

“Oh man,” snickered Rainbow Dash, “if I’da known you wanted to hear her story too, I would’ve let her go first.  It’s way lame.  She doesn’t even remember half the details anymore!”

Twilight Sparkle smirked and rolled her eyes.  “I remember the important parts.  If I don’t remember a detail here or there, it obviously wasn’t that important.”  She turned to Pinkie Pie.  “I also earned my cutie mark about a decade ago.  I was working with my dad for the first time, helping him with one of his inventions.  I fell in love with all of it: gathering information from books, applying your imagination, then building something brand new with your own hooves and horn!  It’s all so very exhilarating!  Well, on the day that we completed that invention, my cutie mark appeared.”  She looked down on her cutie mark.  It was a pink six-pointed star, surrounded by five smaller white stars.  “It’s there to always remind me of the inventor’s ‘spark’.  With knowledge and creativity, there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome!”

“Cool!” cheered Pinkie Pie.  “But slow down a sec!  I wanna hear more about that invention.  What did you make?”

“Oh, I don’t remember anymore.  It was so long ago, and I’ve worked on so many different projects.”

“Pfft, laaame,” heckled Rainbow Dash.  “If the invention was so great that you earned your cutie mark making it, you figure it’d be important enough to remember.  But no.  You never even told me what it was!”

“Awww, that does stink.  Ooo, I know!  Couldn’t you ask your mom and dad?” asked Pinkie Pie.  “I’m sure they’d remember how it happened!”

“Oh.  Yeah, maybe...” she quietly replied. “Anyway, that’s my story.  Did you want to go next?”

“Oh.”  It was Pinkie Pie’s turn to be quiet.  “Y-yeah, I guess it’s my turn...”

Twilight Sparkle went pale, and frantically waved her hooves.  “No no, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot!  You don’t have to go, if you don’t want to...”

She smiled weakly.  “It’s okay.  You and Dashie both told me your stories, so it’s only fair.”  She sighed, “My story’s pretty boring too.  I got it when I was given my necklace.”

Blinking, Rainbow Dash realized she was referring the necklace that had flown off when they had first met and collided.  More importantly, she remembered that she had failed to return it to its rightful owner.  She quickly fished it out of her saddlebags, holding it aloft with an outstretched hoof.  Once again, she noticed that the necklace’s blue sapphire gem bore an uncanny resemblance to the three balloons of Pinkie Pie’s cutie mark.

The pink pony nodded at Rainbow Dash’s offering.  “Turns out, that necklace has been a family heirloom forever.  Like, since before Sugardia was even founded.  My father gave it to me long ago.  He told me all about how the necklace had been passed down through our family for generations.  How it was my destiny, as the future Queen of Sugardia, to be its caretaker.  How, pretty soon, I’d be taking on more and more royal responsibilities, and how my life would be devoted to serving everypony.”  Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle shared a look, as she continued, “Later that week, the Queen... my mother... passed away.”

“Oh no...” gasped Rainbow Dash.

Twilight Sparkle’s face contorted in pain.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!  Why do you keep doing this to Pinkie?!  “Pinkie, I’m... I’m so sorry.  I had no idea...”

Pinkie Pie smiled faintly and shook her head.  “It’s okay.  I was really young at the time, so I didn’t get to know her that well...  Anyway, when I got the necklace, it appeared as my cutie mark, too.  That pretty much sealed the deal.  Ever since then, Father keeps pestering me about duty and obligation.  We... don’t get along that well...”

An awkward silence took over once again as the three ponies marched onward.  Sensing that Pinkie Pie didn’t want to look at her keepsake right now, Rainbow Dash quietly slipped the necklace back into her own saddlebags.  The seconds dragged into minutes.

Finally, Twilight Sparkle cleared her throat.  “Hey, Rainbow.  Would you mind scouting ahead for a bit?  We need to figure out how far away this Carrij Dome is.”

“Huh?  I dunno, we’ve been travelling for a while now.  I figure we can’t be that much farther...”

“Please.  Can you check for us?”  Twilight Sparkle looked pleadingly at the pegasus.

Rainbow Dash was taken aback by her friend’s sudden insistence.  “Uh... sure, sure,” she replied, confused.  “Back in a flash!”  She took to the air, leaving her two friends behind.

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Post-Apocalypse

Skies above the ruined world

Rainbow Dash gasped as the freezing winds tore away at her.  As usual, the upper air current was much stronger than the winds of ground level.  However, in this hellscape, Rainbow Dash had already been uncomfortably cold while on the ground.  Here, several hundred feet in the air, the winds were violent and freezing.  She had to struggle to fly on course without getting buffeted about.  She quickly took to her scouting mission, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to stay up here for very long.

As she gained altitude, she circled south, catching a view of the two domes they had already visited.  According to what Twilight Sparkle had said, Gates should map to the same geographic location.  So that dome where we arrived, she thought to herself, that’s where Sugardia Forest is.  That means... She tried to get her bearings in this new era, but to no avail.  The coastlines were completely changed.  She couldn’t even recognize which continent she was on.  Was Twi wrong?  Are we on a different continent?  Or are the coasts completely different in this time period, somehow?

As she swooped around, she passed back over the ruins.  Looking down below, she could see Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle, standing where she had left them.  She was too high above to overhear them, but they were clearly in the middle of a engaging conversation.  Huh, mused Rainbow Dash, what’re those two talking about?  I hope Twi isn’t going overboard again...

To the southeast, Rainbow Dash could make out the rough outline of a new continent, with a towering mountain crowning the skyline.  She flew out over the ocean in order to get a better look.  As she flew closer, minute by minute, the jagged peak grew, consuming the other landmass.  The mountain was comprised of sharp cliffs and snow-swept slopes, interspersed with small caves along its face.  The summit was easily a few thousand meters high.

The staggering mountain wasn’t the only point of interest on the continent, however.  Near the base of the mountain sat a large dome, about as large as Trott Dome.  Hmm... any chance that’s Carrij Dome?  How the heck are the other two going to walk here...  As her eyes ran along the coastline to the north, she saw a small access hatch leading underground.  Here, the wide ocean narrowed to a thin straight, and on the far bank stood a matching access hatch.  Following this new coastline east to west, she realized that this coastline actually connected back to the #16 Ruins, where her friends were waiting.  Oh, she realized, I think I’ve got it now.  We leave the #16 Ruins and head east along the coast to that access hatch.  Hopefully, that connects the other continent.  From there, we walk to the large dome at the base of the mountain.  Bleh, sounds like a pain.

Another biting blast of wind tore across the sky.  Shivering violently, Rainbow Dash realized that her wings were starting to go numb from the cold.  She’d been airborne far too long in this weather, and was going to need to land soon.  She quickly circled back to the west to meet up with her friends again.

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Post-Apocalypse

#16 Ruins

Rainbow Dash touched down roughly next to her friends.  She puffs out her wings’ feathers, shivering.  “Jeez, this weather is brutal.  Anyway, I think I found Carrij Dome.  It’ll be kinda a hassle to get there, but... Twi?”

Her friends were in the middle of their own conversation, and had failed to notice the pegasus’s arrival.  “But then the next batch was too strong!  I was able to pick up one of my textbooks, but it was stuck to my hoof for good!  I ended up tearing the cover trying to remove it.”

“Haha, oh man!  Who knew that inventing hoof adhesive would be so impossible?” laughed Pinkie Pie.  She eagerly leaned in.  “What about the next batch?  Huh?”

Twilight Sparkle chuckled, rubbing the back of her neck.  “Ugh, haha, my last attempt at making Adhoofsive was even worse!  It didn’t have any stick at all, plus it tasted just awful.  Can’t use a bad-tasting Adhoofsive when you’re eating, right?”

“Hee hee, nope!”  They both broke into a fit of giggling.

“Hellooo?  Twi?  Pinkie?” pestered Rainbow Dash, waving her hoof between her friends’ faces.

Twilight Sparkle’s face was glowing.  “Rainbow Dash!  Oh good, you’re back.”  She welcomed her back with a friendly hug.  “Thanks, Rainbow,” she whispered.

“Wha?  For the scouting?  Nah, no biggie.”

She smirked.  “No, I mean...  I followed to your advice from before.  About being the real me, and liking the real her.

“My advice?”

“Oh, never mind,” she laughed and released Rainbow Dash.  Turning to Pinkie Pie, she cheered, “C’mon, gals!  We’ve still got a mission to accomplish.  Let’s find that food!”


Chapter 10: Loss of Mind, Loss of Hope

Post-Apocalypse

Wastelands

“Thank the Sun,” moaned Twilight Sparkle as the ponies emerged from the sewer access hatch.  “That was not what I signed up for.”

“Phew!” panted Pinkie Pie.  “Plenty of perilous platforms, multitudes of malevolent mutants, loads of locked latches...”

“...and it reeked like shit,” deadpanned Rainbow Dash.

Language,” came Twilight Sparkle’s stern reprimand.

“What? It did!  Freakin’ sewer was practically flooded with sh... with uh, rivers of poopie.”  She frowned, muttering, “Seriously, that just sounds grosser than the S-word...  Anyway, I hope we don’t need to pass through there again anytime soon.”

Twilight Sparkle bit her lip.  “I do worry that nopony was down there working the controls.  We’ve been in this era for almost an entire day, and we’ve only seen a few ponies back in Trott Dome.”

“I hope everypony is alright,” worried Pinkie Pie, staring at the ground.

Rainbow Dash stared blankly ahead.  “The good news is, I lost my appetite.”

The three ponies trotted down another concrete road leading toward the sky-piercing mountain.  Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie, who were seeing this sight for the first time, were sufficiently awe-struck.  Rainbow Dash had seen it from the skies just a few hours ago, but even she was impressed with how grand the mountain appeared at ground-level.  The largest comparable mountains she could think of were the Puripony Mountains, just north of Pommel back in her own era.  While the Puripony Mountains might be broader, the mountain before her towered well above the peaks in that mountain range.

The concrete road led south to the base of the peak.  Just across the road stood the large dome that Rainbow Dash had spotted. It was as if the dome had been placed as close to the mountain as possible, but whether out of reverence or fear, it had been built across the roadway instead.

“Great, that must be Carrij Dome!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie.  “Let’s get moving, girls.  The sooner we find some food, the sooner we can help everypony.”

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Post-Apocalypse

Not Carrij Dome

Shh! Get down!”  Rainbow Dash shoved her companions behind a terminal inside the dome’s entrance.  “I see another mutant.”

“Oh heavens.  Oh goodness,” lamented the creature in the room ahead of them.  “Still so much to do, ooo hoo hoo.”

Twilight Sparkle squinted into the darkness.  “No, that’s not a mutant.  Looks like it’s a... sea serpent?”

As the ponies slowly entered the room, they confirmed that the creature was in fact a large purple sea serpent, towering several meters tall.  Royal blue robes were draped along his slender snaking form.  A matching pointed hat rested gently atop his orange mane.  He was also sporting a meticulously groomed, orange mustache.  The sea serpent was scampering frantically about his room, making some kind of preparations.

“Um... hello, sir.  My name is Twilight Sparkle.  Could we have a moment of your time?”

“Visitors!  Oh my, oh my,” exclaimed the sea serpent without fully turning from his work.  “It’s most rare to see guests.  Yes indeed, hoo hoo.  You must forgive me, but time is of the essence, and I have much work to do.  Oh, what a world...”

“Then we’ll get to the point,” said Rainbow Dash.  “Can we...”

“Oh, but in the meantime, you simply must see the Ocean Palace,” the sea serpent gasped, “and the Phoenix too.  Just a few of my fantastic inventions.  You could certainly say that I have the spark of genius.  Ooo hoo hoo!”

Rainbow Dash shared a look with Twilight Sparkle.  “Twi?” she whispered.  “Uh, does this fella seem a bit, I don’t know... odd to you?”

Well, I don’t see anypony else in this dome,” replied the unicorn.  “If he’s been living in a dismal place like this by himself, that’s enough to drive anypony a little batty.

“Oh, he’s not alone,” laughed Pinkie Pie.  “See?  He’s got a little pet there!”

She pointed to a small animal near the sea serpent’s feet, illuminated by the blue light of the room’s sealed door.  It was a tiny green alligator with large purple eyes.  The gator staring straight at Rainbow Dash, motionless and unblinking.  “Jeez, that thing is creepin’ me out!” shuddered Rainbow Dash.

“What?!” protested Pinkie Pie.  “No way, I think he’s cute!”

“I know, I know!” chimed in the sea serpent.  “These Gummies are so fabulous.  This Gummy, in particular, is the apple of my eye.  I’m programming him for a mission, you see.  Ooo, a most important mission.”

Twilight Sparkle arched an eyebrow suspiciously.  “You’re programming... an alligator?”

“A creepy alligator,” added Rainbow Dash as she occupied herself by staring down the Gummy.  The creature had not yet blinked, and Rainbow Dash was not one to lose a staring contest so easily.

The sea serpent turned to a console, apparently oblivious to the ponies’ comments.  He quietly murmured to himself, “Alas, my dear Princess of Zeal.  So graceful, so shy.  How I’ve missed you so...”

Twilight Sparkle frowned in frustration.  “Please, sir, we came here hoping you had some food to spare.”

The sea serpent did not turn from his work, but at least this time he appeared to acknowledge the ponies’ comments.  “Oh, but you must be looking for Carrij Dome.  Yes, that would make more sense, at this time, hoo hoo.”

The ponies were crestfallen.  “This isn’t Carrij?” lamented Pinkie Pie.

“It’s not much farther now, my little ponies.  Just a quick dash through a nearby sewer access.  Easy as pie!”

“Urgh!” yelled Twilight Sparkle as she buried her face in her hoof.  “We just came from the sewers.  Carrij Dome is seriously back on the other side?”

“Well, maybe someplace else has food?” tried Pinkie Pie.  “Maybe we could look around in this dome? Oh, or there was that mountain nearby, maybe...”

“No!  You mustn’t climb Death Peak!” yelled the sea serpent frantically, causing all three of the ponies to jump, and causing Rainbow Dash to lose her staring contest.  The sea serpent quickly regained his jovial, eccentric demeanor.  “Or I suppose, you can’t, can you?  Ooo hoo hoo, no, not yet.  Attempting a climb now would be quite the nightmare.  Someday, they might show you the way.”

“Pfft, whatever then,” muttered Rainbow Dash.  “C’mon, we’re leaving.”

“Ah yes,” agreed the sea serpent, turning back to his Gummy as the ponies quietly exited the dome. “You have much to do.  As do I.  What a world, what a world...”

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Post-Apocalypse

Wastelands

“Ugh, what a waste of time,” moaned Rainbow Dash as they reemerged into the storm.  “We wasted hours traveling to a completely different continent, just to meet a couple of goofy lizards.  And the only thing we learn is that we gotta head right back the way we came.”

“Aww, chin up, Rainbow Dash,” comforted Pinkie Pie.  “This wasn’t a waste of time!  It was foreshadowing.  I’m sure this little side-trip will pay off at some point in the future.”  She solemnly nodded.  “I’d say about thirty-two chapters.”

I’m just wondering how somepony convinced herself that Carrij Dome was on a completely different continent,” teased Twilight Sparkle, ribbing her friend.  “From the sound of it, that pony must’ve flown right over Carrij Dome.”

Rainbow Dash scowled.  “Hey, I didn’t hear you volunteer earlier.  Next time you can freeze your wings off.”

Twilight Sparkle sighed.  They had reached the sewer access hatch again, leading back to the mainland.  “Well, back into the sewers we go, I guess.”

“Screw that noise,” scoffed Rainbow Dash as she took to the air.  “You can take the sewers.  I will be flying over the water.”

“Rainbow!  Hey, get back here!”

Pinkie Pie rested her hoof on Twilight Sparkle’s shoulder, getting her attention.  She grinned and winked.  “Aww, but Dashie,” she whined, “there’s probably gonna be more mutants down there.  I was hoping you’d take them out again with more of your awesome moves!”

Rainbow Dash’s ears perked.  She looped around, hovering back in front of her friends.  “Oh!  Heh, yeah, I suppose I did pull a sweet maneuver or three on our way here.  I guess that’s bound to happen, given all the training I’ve undergone,” she boasted, swelling with pride.

Against her better judgment, Twilight Sparkle chimed in too.  “Oh, umm... yes, absolutely!  I’ve never seen swordsplay that, umm... splendiferous before.”  She grinned toothily.

“Show us more!  Please, Dashie?”

Rainbow Dash landed with a self-righteous grin on her face.  She opened the access hatch and entered, boasting, “Well, I suppose I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve.  Y’know, without wasting any of the really amazing stuff on these small fries.”

Pinkie Pie turned toward Twilight Sparkle, grinning.  “See? I knew we could convince her to come with us.”

Twilight Sparkle buried her face in her hooves.  “Oh, what were we thinking, stroking her ego like that... You do realize she’s not going to shut up about this for days now, right?”

“Aww, but it’s worth it, though!  It’s much more fun to travel together, don’t you think?”

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Post-Apocalypse

The Real Carrij Dome

“And when that mutant seapony popped out of the water, I was like... Yah!  Swoosh!  Take that!”  Rainbow Dash pantomimed her swordplay from the recent encounters of the sewer as the trio entered a dome that was hopefully the real Carrij Dome.

We know.  We were there.”  The veins in Twilight Sparkle’s forehead had started twitching around fifteen minutes ago, and she was starting to feel an oncoming headache.  Rainbow Dash was a dear childhood friend, but she could only tolerate so much of her friend’s bravado.  “Hello?” she called out.  “Anypony in here?”

“Eep!”  A shocked cry came from the corner as a very young filly dived out of view.

“Wait, don’t run away!” pleaded Pinkie Pie.  “We’re not here to hurt anypony.  We just wanted to talk...”

Some ponyfolk rustled about in the inner chamber.  “Who’s there?” a stallion called out.  “Don’t recognize the lot of you.  Where are you from?”

“Please, everypony back in Trott Dome is starving.  Do you have any...”  The rest of Pinkie Pie’s request was drowned out as several lethargic ponies were roused from their stupor, and began talking at once.

“Impossible!  Nopony can survive that journey.”

“How under the Sun did they get past those mutants?”

“Those mares came from Trott Dome?”

“Actually,” corrected Rainbow Dash, “we’re not originally from Trott Dome.  We time travelled here from 1000 AD.”

Rainbow!” yelped an exasperated Twilight Sparkle.  “We’ve been over this!  You can’t be telling everypony that...”

Luckily for Rainbow Dash, nopony appeared to have heard her amongst the outcry.   Carrij Dome had been without visitors since before several of its residents were born, so the arrival of three strange ponies from across the perilous ruins sent the entire dome into an uproar. As the onlookers drew near, an elderly pony shakily made her way to the front of the pack.  She bore a wrinkled, sickly green coat, topped with a white mane that was done up into a bun.  Her joints shook and creaked as she edged closer to the three friends.

“Now, now, what in tarnation y’all going on about?” she squeaked.

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Post-Apocalypse

Carrij Dome – Living Chamber

“Oof,” sighed Twilight Sparkle contently as she emerged from the Enertron.  “I feel much more relaxed.”

Rainbow Dash’s head was hanging low.  “I feel much more hungry.  I’d kill to get my hooves on some apple turnovers... guhhh...”

“Rainbow’s right!  Please, can’t you help us?” Pinkie Pie asked the elder mare.  “You see, we’re trying to help the ponies in Trott Dome...”

“Issat so?  Trott Dome...” mused the elder mare.  “Why, we haven’t heard a peep from them since the mutants overran the ruins, decades ago.  Course, my granpappy would tell me, even before the mutants came, it was far too dangerous outside.  A filly would catch her death out in them storms, he said.  Not without the pegasi tending...”

“Erm, I’m sorry, Miss,” interrupted Twilight Sparkle.  “I don’t mean to interrupt your story, but...”

“Oh sweetie, you kin call me Granny Smith,” she said with an earnest smile.  “Least, that’s what all the ponyfolk here call me.  My family was descended from the director of this here information center, y’see, so everypony treats me ‘n my grandson like we’re still in charge of the place.  But we don’t like everypony acting that way, no ma’am.  In fact I was just telling everypony a few days ago...”

Granny Smith was interrupted by Rainbow Dash’s gurgling stomach, then by the pegasus herself.  “C’mon, c’mon!  Do you gals have food, or not?”

“Rainbow, don’t be rude,” chided Twilight Sparkle.

“Wha?  Food, y’say?  Well, golly, how to say it...  Y’see, we do have a foodstore in our basement, along with them confangled supercomputers.”

“You do?” asked the three ponies in unison.

She shook her head solemnly.  “But the basement hasn’t been safe since the guard robots went on the fritz.  My grandson, Big Macintosh, went down there a few days back.  Said he’d try to fight his way to the storeroom, but... we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him.”  She looked worryingly at the ground.  “Oh, I’m mighty worried for him.”

“Don’t worry, Granny Smith!” said Pinkie Pie with a smile.  “We’re not scared of some spooky old basement.  We’ll find your grandson, and we’ll find the food too!  Then everypony here and at Trott Dome will be happy again!”

Granny Smith went wide-eyed.  “Oh, no dearie, you mustn’t go down there.  It’s far too dangerous.”

Rainbow Dash stepped forward.  “No way!  We’re not turning back now, just because some dumb guards are in the way.  We’re goin’ down there, like Pinkie Pie said.”

Granny Smith looked hesitantly at the three strange ponies.  While she certainly wanted to protect them from the dangers below, there was something different about these ponies.  It was passion, and bravery, and sincerity.  Granny Smith could tell that these ponies were something special, the likes of which she had not seen in her lifetime.  She wasn’t about to stand in their way, especially in her time of need.

“The ladder to the basement is this way.  Do be careful, dears.  Come back safe, y’hear?”

“Don’t you worry!” cheered Rainbow Dash as the friends descended to the basement.  “We’ll be back in a flash!”


Chapter 11: Endings and Beginnings

Post-Apocalypse

Carrij Dome — Basement

The air hung much thicker in Carrij Dome’s basement.  For years, this section of the dome had remained largely unexplored by ponies.  This fact was only partially apparent to the ponies;  since the upper levels were barely maintained, these lower levels were only slightly dustier.  Otherwise, the halls here looked identical to all of the other domes that the ponies had explored: brushed metal, debris, dim blue lighting, monotony.

“This era is just so fascinating!” crooned Twilight Sparkle cheerfully.  A quill and notepad hovered slightly behind her, furiously scribbling notes about their travels.  “Self-sufficient enclosed villages, instantaneous revitalization machines, advanced computing technology, and security robotics?  Absolutely incredible.”

“Oh, right, I was gonna ask you about that,” Rainbow Dash asked as she turned back toward Twilight Sparkle.  “What’s the deal with the guards down here?  That old mare said that they were rowboats?”

Twilight Sparkle sighed impatiently at her childhood friend.  “Robots, Dash.  Please try to focus.  They’re robots, like Gaito.”

“Gaito?”

“Ooo, I remember him!” Pinkie Pie cheered excitedly.  “Remember, Dashie?  We fought with him at the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration.”

“I fight lots of things.  You’re going to have to be way more specific.”

“He even sang that catchy song before and after we fought.  Remember?”  Pinkie Pie coughed dramatically before imitating the battle robot’s song.

My name is Gaito.

I am a metal horse.

Try to fight me, and

You will lose, of course.

But if you’re real strong,

And if your hits are true,

I might give fifteen

Silver Points to you.

That was quite a show!

This battle’s at an end.

Here’s your Silver Points.

Go tell all your friends!

Twilight Sparkle smiled appreciatively.  “Not bad, Pinkie!  You’ve got quite a singing voice.”

Rainbow Dash closed her eyes.  “Hey, yeah, that does sorta sound familiar, now that you mention it.”

“Yes?”  Twilight Sparkle leaned in attentively.

“Oh yeah!  Isn’t that one of your inventions, Twi?”

“You remembered!” cheered Twilight Sparkle, genuinely impressed.  “That’s right, Gaito was one of my more ambitious projects to date: an autonomous, combat-capable android with limited artificial intelligence.”  She blushed slightly.  “It had a few bugs, and I ended up cutting back a few features from the design spec, but for a first version, I was quite happy with it.”

“That’s neato, Twilight,” smiled Pinkie Pie.  “So, do you think the robots down here will be like yours?”

“No no, I’m sure that...”

Without warning, the ponies were deafened as a klaxon sounded overhead.  They cowered and covered their ears, trying to protect themselves from the noise, but to no avail.  The shrill siren was piercing directly into their skulls.

Come on!” shouted Rainbow Dash, drowned out by the noise.  She shoved her friends, beckoning for them to follow.  “Move, move!”

The ponies galloped at full speed down the corridor, trying to outrun the noise.  The hallway eventually ended into a large chamber, where the sound reverberated even louder.  They dashed toward the door at the far end of the room, desperate to find any place that was quieter.

Without warning, Pinkie Pie gasped and tackled her friends.  The three-pony pileup slid to a halt in the center of the room.  Before either tackle victim had a chance to object, the chamber was rocked by a massive steel monument crashing down from the ceiling.  It landed just in front the ponies, blocking off the exit to the room.  The klaxon mercifully shut itself off, perhaps in response to the falling device.

“Are you gals alright?” Pinkie Pie asked in a concerned voice.  “I barely had time to react to my twitchy-twitcha-twitcha-twitch.”

Twilight Sparkle blinked.  “Your what?”

“EXECUTING PROGRAM.”  A booming synthesized voice filled the room, emanating from the fallen robotic device.  The guardian robot dwarfed the ponies in size, towering six meters or so.  The robot’s egg-shaped upper body bore a single glass eye in its center.  It rested on a narrow pillar base that by any rights should have been precarious, yet the sheer weight of the upper body seemed to keep it firmly planted in place.  Two rigid fins jutted from the sides of the torso, giving it a wide, intimidating presence in the room. From behind the security robot emerged two helper pods, gently wobbling through the air as they flanked the intruding ponies.

“Like I was saying,” deadpanned Twilight Sparkle, “I’m sure that the robots of this era will be much more formidable.”

“We’ve come too far to turn back now!  Everypony in Carrij and Trott is counting on us.”  Pinkie Pie armed her crossbow while she psyched up her friends.

“You said it!” rooted Rainbow Dash, as she and Twilight Sparkle drew their weapons in turn.  “This hunka junk messed with the wrong ponies!”  She took to the air, charging directly at the guard robot.  She slashed repeatedly against the thick shell of the guardian, shooting sparks as the katana glanced harmlessly off.

In swift retaliation, the guardbot shot out a laser beam from its central lens.  Rainbow Dash was able to dodge the laser in midair, but she failed to realize that she was not the primary target.  The beam connected squarely with one of the floating bits, who immediately redirected the beam to its partner.  The second bit redirected the laser in turn, aiming it back to the main guardian.  As the circuit completed, the field between the three machines radiated with high-charged energy.  The ponies shrieked in pain as the laser counterattack raked across their bodies.

Twilight Sparkle winced as the lasers seared her fur, rocking spasms of pain into her muscles.  She wobbled on her hooves, trying to regain her focus.  “The bits!” she yelled, taking aim with her dart gun.  “Take out those flying bits!  We can’t take more laser blasts like that!”  Following her own advice, she opened fire on one of the pods, chasing after it with a unsteady limp.

Rainbow Dash had fallen to the ground during the laser blast.  Shaking her head, she leapt back up into the air.  “On it!” she replied, charging at the same bit that Twilight Sparkle had weakened.  The bit proved to be made of much softer metal than the main guardian, as her nosedive slashed the bit directly in half.

“Rainbow!  Over here, over here,” called out Pinkie Pie, drawing her friend’s attention.  “Spin a Cyclone around me.  Right here!”

“Wha? But, the other pod...”

“Trust me, this’ll be great!  Please please please?”

“O-okay, if you say so...”

Rainbow Dash spun in a tight spiral around her friend.  Currents of air whirled faster and faster until a stable vortex encircled the pink earth pony.  Grinning, Pinkie Pie burst into a short, upbeat tune.

Hey gals, don’t give up hope right now.

Smile wide!  Here, lemme show ya how!

Laughter makes ev’rything worthwhile.

Don’t pout, mope, or be sad; just smile!

True to her song, Pinkie Pie flashed a big grin at her friends, asking, “How’s that?”

Rainbow Dash, noticing that the song had apparently ended, stopped spinning her Cyclone.  She threw Pinkie Pie a confused look, unsure of what exactly they had just accomplished.

“Well, it’s catchy and all, but now is really not...”  Twilight Sparkle dropped her train of thought as the second bit fired at her.  She quickly dove out of the way of the incoming laser bolt.  She turned to return fire, but paused suddenly, a confused look on her face.  She tentatively bobbed up and down, testing her legs.  “What?  My muscles had felt all out-of-sorts from that big laser attack.  But now my legs feel completely better!”

Rainbow Dash blinked, adding, “Hey, yeah, my wings feel a lot stronger too.  Pinkie Pie, did you do that?”

“Haha!  No, silly, I didn’t do it.  We did it, Dashie!  I sang a song to boost everypony’s spirits, and your whirlwind carried my voice even further than normal.  Whoa!”  She bounced into the air, barely clearing a laser attack from the roaming pod.  “It was like a... ooo, it was like an Aria Whirl!  That’s what we’ll call that move.”

Twilight Sparkle stared at the pink pony incredulously.  “And what, your singing mended our wounds, just like that?!”

“Oh c’mon, Twilight.  It’s not like I’m able to cast magical healing spells, or anything like that,” she replied with a giggle.  “You just gotta keep a positive attitude, y’know?  Now, c’mon everypony!”  She took aim with her hoof-mounted crossbow.  “Let’s finish this thing!”

A salvo of fire from the earth pony and the unicorn, followed by a Wind Slash from the pegasus, quickly ended the remaining bit.  Only the guardian robot remained.  The ponies turned their attacks toward this massive robot, but as Rainbow Dash had discovered earlier, the guardian’s thick steel body was proving to be impervious to their attacks.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rainbow Dash noticed movement.  She gave a panicked gasp as a third hovering pod emerged from behind the guardian.  “Another pod!  Stop shooting!”

The warning came too late, as Pinkie Pie fired another ineffectual round of bolts at the robot.  Retaliating, the floating bit fired its laser into the guardian’s glass lens.  The latter robot amplified the attack, emitting a wide blast that connected squarely on Pinkie Pie’s muzzle.  With a squeaky “yow”, she flew backwards, landing on her back.

“Pinkie Pie!”

“Dash, there’s another one!”  Twilight Sparkle drew attention to the emergence of yet another new pod.  The two pods resumed their behavior of dodging and firing lasers upon the ponies.

Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth.  They hadn’t managed to put a dent in the guardian yet, the supply of helper pods could potentially be limitless, and worst of all, Pinkie Pie had been knocked out of the fight.  Things were certainly looking bleak, but Rainbow Dash wasn’t ready to give up the race just yet.  “Twi!  Line it up.”

Years of friendship allowed Twilight Sparkle to understand exactly what Rainbow Dash was planning, even from such a vague command.  “Got it!” she barked in reply.  Telekinetically, she restrained one of the bits, turning it upward so that its lasers would not present a threat.  Struggling against the bit’s whirling propulsion, she slowly dragged it across the room, holding it still in front of the guardian’s eye.

In kind, Rainbow Dash snuck up on the other bit and clumsily grappled it from behind with a full-body tackle.  The bit spun and shook, trying to free itself, and her hooves slipped on the bit’s smooth metal surface.  However, the bit was impeded enough that it could not escape from the pegasus’s grapple hold.

Wasting no time, Rainbow Dash flew straight toward the guardian with her bit in tow.  She stopped suddenly in midair, releasing her bit.  It flew through the air by its own momentum, before violently colliding with the bit that Twilight Sparkle was magically holding in place.  The resulting explosion shook the room, tearing off a large chunk of the guardian’s metal carapace.

“Ha, what now?!” Rainbow Dash cheered triumphantly.

“STRUCTURAL FAILURE.  SELF-DESTRUCT IN FIVE... ”

“Oh, son of a...!”  Rainbow Dash dove into the guardian’s gaping wound.  She flailed wildly within the robot, slashing wires and bucking control circuits.  She knew that the fate of her and her friends would be decided in a matter of seconds, and she’d be damned if she was going to die without giving it her all.  She destroyed as much componentry inside the guardian as possible, hoping against all hope that she’d make it in time.

“FOUR... THREE... TWOOOooo...”

The bodiless electronic voice faded.  The hum and buzz of the electronic circuits fell quiet.  The room, which had just served host to a full-forced brawl, was once again invaded by silence.

Spent, Rainbow Dash fell limp, landing uncomfortably upon the robotic internals that she had just shredded.  Right now, she didn’t care about comfort; she was intent on taking a well-deserved power nap.  “We won,” she sighed contently, closing her eyes.

Twilight Sparkle helped Pinkie Pie back up onto her hooves.  “You okay, Pinkie?”

She wiggled her jaw from side to side, trying to shake away the numbness induced by the laser hit.  “Yowie!  That big bad ‘bot wasn’t bothering to be benevolent, huh?”  Returning quickly to high spirits, she bounced into the air, asking “You okay in there, Dashie?”

“Mmm hmm,” came a drowsy, echoing reply from within the metallic shell.

Inquisitively, Twilight Sparkle trotted around the guardian, examining the door behind it.  She found it odd that the sirens had started sounding as soon as the ponies had neared this room.  Moreover, this robot appeared to have been guarding this room, preventing the ponies from getting past.  Stranger still, the door was thick and latched shut.  Possibly to preserve specific conditions within?  She vocalized her assumptions, musing, “Hey girls, we might’ve just found the food store.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes snapped open.  She considered herself to be a straight-forward pony.  She knew what she wanted, and when she wanted it.  While activities like napping or showponyship frequently made the list, right now her list was dominated by one directive: “Food!”  A rainbow-striped blur streaked out of the guardian’s body as Rainbow Dash began madly tugging on the door’s latches with her mouth.  “Gimme gimme gimme!”

After fiddling with the seals, the door slid open with a soft hiss.  Rainbow Dash rushed into the food storeroom with a look of glee on her face, but her face slowly fell as she assessed the room.  The air was warm and stagnant, infested with a foul odor.  A few fans in the ceiling strained and slid on their gears, failing to circulate the room’s air.  The room was lined with rows of storage containers, most of which were damaged and spilling out their contents.

Twilight Sparkle slowly approached the storage bins, confirming Rainbow Dash’s fears.  “These roses are wilted...  the oats are covered in mold... yuck, this bin of corn has maggots...”  She slowly lowered her head.  “I don’t think any of this is edible.”

“Nothing?” asked Pinkie Pie from outside, crestfallen.  “But... but everypony was counting on us.  Everypony...”  She started to enter the room behind her friends.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes dilated in panic.  She turned sharply and started pushing Pinkie Pie out of the doorway.  “Yep, total bummer.  C’mon, Pinkie Pie, we better look for food someplace else.”

“Wait, what’s... Hey, look in the corner!  There’s somepony in there!”  She bounced past her friend and approached the pony at the far end of the room, huddled under some cloth scraps.

“Pinkie Pie, wait!”

“Hiya, my name’s Pinkie Pie!” she said, introducing herself with a wide smile.  “These are my friends, Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle!  You must be Big Macintosh.  We met your grandmother upstairs; she’s such a sweet old lady.  She was super-duper worried about you, so she sent us down here to look for you.”

The huddled stallion didn’t move to acknowledge Pinkie Pie’s introduction.

“Looks like there’s no food in here after all, huh?  That’s a huuuge bummer, I know... But don’t give up!  It’s like Dashie just said, we’ll find food somewhere!  Enough for you, and your Granny Smith, and all your friends, and that silly sea serpent, and everypony over in Trott Dome.  Nopony will have to be hungry, and they won’t have to be so sad anymore!”

The huddled stallion didn’t reply.

Pinkie Pie’s smile started to tremble.  “So c’mon... we gotta get you back to your family, so... get up...”

Rainbow Dash slowly walked up to her friend, biting her lip.  “Pinkie Pie...”

“Get up...”

Rainbow Dash put her hoof around her friend’s back and gently tugged, trying to lead her away from the sight before her, but she wouldn’t budge.  Pinkie Pie’s eyes were transfixed on the motionless stallion before her.  She stared, not blinking, not crying, not knowing how to react.

Twilight Sparkle approached slowly, partially attempting to change the topic, partially to satisfy her own curiosity.  “Hey, what’s he holding between his hooves there?  Folded-up fabric?”  She delicately tugged the cloth from the stallion’s hooves, lifting it up for inspection.  She unfolded the cloth, staring curiously at the contents.  “Are these apple seeds?”  She cast a sideways glance at the opened containers in the room.  “I wonder if he was able to salvage some good seeds out of all this bad fruit.”

“Dunno... I sure hope so,” Rainbow Dash replied softly.  “C’mon.  We ought to go back upstairs and tell everypony the news.”

“Not just yet,” frowned Twilight Sparkle, who promptly turned and left the storeroom.  “There’s something else I want to investigate.”

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Post-Apocalypse

Carrij Dome — Information Center

“Granny Smith mentioned that this dome also served as an information center,” Twilight Sparkle explained as she walked down another hallway in the basement.  She pushed open a side door and poked her head inside.  “That means that one of the rooms down here is bound to contain a library of some kind.”

“Yeah, I dunno about that, Twi,” replied Rainbow Dash as she emerged from another side room she had just explored.  “The only stuff in these rooms is trash and dust.”

Pinkie Pie was following a few paces behind her friends.  She had not spoken a word since leaving the storeroom.

“Hmm, I think I just found our library.”  Twilight Sparkle entered one of the side rooms.  It was a small room that contained only two objects, but both seemed noteworthy.  The first was an electronic console, similar to the one that the sea serpent on the other continent had been using.  This console was covered with buttons, each slightly larger than the size of a hoof.  Hanging on the wall above the console was a darkened screen.

Rainbow Dash entered the room, looking about quizzically.  “Uh, Twilight, this isn’t a library.  Libraries are places that have lots of books.”

She smiled patiently.  “Yes Rainbow, but remember, we’re surrounded by advanced technology.  No doubt they’ve replaced all of their paper-based records with a more technologically-advanced medium.  And I’d wager that this console is exactly what we’re looking for.”

Tentatively, Twilight Sparkle reared up on her hind legs, gently bracing herself against the room’s console, and tentatively pressed a few buttons with her hooves.  Responding to her inputs, the screen on the wall burst into grey static before finally stabilizing into a backlit display.  Before long, some words appeared at the top of the screen.

> Please enter a command.

$

Frowning in concentration, she carefully stepped on a few specific buttons.  To her delight, the screen updated in kind.

> Please enter a command.

$ date

> Today’s date in June 18th, 2300

> Please enter a command.

$

“2300?!” yelped Rainbow Dash as her eyes bugged out.  “We travelled over a thousand years into the future?  I mean sure, we’ve already travelled four hundred years into the past before, and sure, this future has all these kooky domes and robots and stuff, but still...”

“This is extraordinary!”  Twilight Sparkle grinned widely, her eyes glistening in amazement.  “It’s some type of advanced information-fetching device!  Why, with something like this, I could replace all of the technical manuals in my library back home!”

“Yeah, you could definitely get rid of your Almanac of What Day Is Today,” Rainbow Dash retorted, rolling her eyes.

“Hush.  I’m sure it knows way more than that.  Here, I’ll prove it.”  She eagerly mashed on the console’s buttons with her hooves.

> Please enter a command.

$ tem,porasl diswtortioms

> Invalid command.  Did you mean “temporal distortions”?

$ yes

> Searching for nearby temporal distortions...

> Match: Distortion found inside Barngor Dome.  Continuing search...

> Match: Distortion found inside Magno Dome.  Continuing search...

Twilight Sparkle cast a perplexed look at the screen’s output.  “Barngor was where we arrived, when traveling from 1000 AD.  What’s this Magno Dome, I wonder...”  She pressed on the console, digging for more answers.  The screen sated her curiosity by switching itself to a map display.  The display first outlined Carrij Dome on the map before scrolling gently to the east, highlighting a second dome.  “I see... So if we head east, through what looks like another set of ruins, then down the east coast of this continent, that should lead us to another dome, and another Gate!”

“Okay okay, you win this one,” Rainbow Dash muttered, scratching the back of her neck, embarrassed.  “Nice job finding a new Gate, Twi.”

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes and grinned.  “Thanks!  I’m starting to think you could find out anything with this machine!”

“Why?”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash silently turned to their friend.  This was the first that Pinkie Pie had spoken since the storeroom incident.

“Why is everything destroyed?” Pinkie Pie quietly asked.  “Why are there so few ponies left in the future?  Why doesn’t everypony have food to eat?  Why is everypony suffering?”  She looked pleadingly at her friends.  “What happened?”

“I... I don’t know, Pinkie,” stammered Twilight Sparkle.  With a determined nod, she added, “But we’re going to find out.”  She dropped down to all fours, and continued to type on the console using her telekinesis.        

> Please enter a command.

$ major historical events, sorted descending by date

> Available audiovisual recordings:

> 1) Day of Lavos [recording damaged]        July 2nd, 1999

> 2) Carrij Dome Directorial Inauguration        June 29th, 1999

> 3) Summer Sun Celebration        June 21st, 1999

> 4) More...

> 5) Exit

> Please enter a sub-command.

$

“1999 AD?”  Twilight Sparkle scratched her head.  “That’s over three hundred years ago (relative to now, that is).  Don’t they have anything more recent?”

“Why is their Summer Sun Celebration so late?” asked Rainbow Dash.  “I thought it was supposed to happen on the longest day of the year.  Wasn’t that a couple of days ago?”

“Ah!  You see, Rainbow, our planet’s orbit takes slightly longer than 365 days to complete a revolution.  Due to rounding errors introduced by the calendar system...”

“Already bored.”

“Day of Lavos...”  Pinkie Pie slowly walked forward, eyes transfixed by the display.  “Just what is that?”

“I have no idea,” shrugged Twilight Sparkle.  “We should probably just look at this record and find out.”  She pressed on the console.

 The screen flared to live with a fresh green landscape set against a crystal blue summer sky.  A few brightly-colored tents were set up, honoring the recent festivities of the summer.  A trio of pegasi playfully flitted about the sky, laughing and enjoying the warm afternoon.  A large domed village, quite similar to the ones that the three friends had been exploring in 2300 AD, could be seen along the horizon.

Without warning, the recording’s video began to shake vigorously.  A stampede of ponies rushed out of the tent, screaming in terror.  Sirens sounded in the distance as everypony reacted to the rocking of the ground.  The three pegasi made a beeline for the safety of the dome in the distance as the sky turned pitch black.

The ground in front of the viewport violently tore apart, hurling chunks of earth into the air and exposing molten layers of the planet below.  The chasm slowly enlarged, as more and more of the grass-covered plains were launched skyward.  The glowing-red hole stabilized itself at around twenty meters wide, though the earthquake continued to shake the ground and the camera that was recording these events.

From within the depths of the earth, a mighty spiked dome emerged, filling the twenty-meter hole as suddenly as it had appeared.  Unlike the ponymade, inhabitable domes of the era, this was a living monster  an eldritch terror of unspeakable horror.  It opened a tiny trisected beak at its base, uttering a terrifying screech that resonated at multiple frequencies.  Even though the friends were merely watching a recording from hundreds of years ago, the monster’s scream froze their blood and twisted their stomachs into knots.

“What... what the hell is that thing?” asked an aghast Rainbow Dash, her wings drooping in shock.  “Is that Lavos?”

From its spiny shell, a myriad of energy bolts launched out into the sky, flying out in all directions.  As they fell back to the ground, they burst into fiery explosions that tore apart domes, cratered the earth, and maimed those ponies unfortunate enough to be outside.  The feed died into static, as the camera itself was caught in an explosion.  The recording switched to a map view of the world, pinpointing the site of Lavos’s emergence, and marking the locations where destruction had rained down from the heavens.

“No... No!” wailed Twilight Sparkle, tears streaming down her face as she watched the apocalypse unfold on the screen before her.  The few symbols of damage on the map began to multiply, hitting a dome, then a farm, then a forest, then two more domes, then a mountain range.  In a matter of seconds, entire continents were covered in Lavos’s devastation.  “This is how the world ends?”  As the video ended and cut away to static, she hung her head low, meekly whispering.  “It can’t end like this...  It just can’t.”

Rainbow Dash was too overwhelmed to reply.  She numbly walked toward her friend, contemplating what to say or do.  However, her own mind was not in a good place either, after what they had just witnessed; she wasn’t in much of a position to help.  But before Rainbow Dash could speak, the room filled with boisterous laughter.  Turning in alarm, she saw her other friend cranking her neck back, howling in delight at the ceiling.  “Pinkie Pie?” she addressed her friend in disbelief.

Pinkie Pie calmed herself enough to address her friends.  “Oh girls, don’t you see?  This is amazing!  Lavos will destroy the world in the year 1999!”

The blood quickly drained from Rainbow Dash’s face, as she beheld her friend in horror.  “Oh shit... Pinkie snapped.”

“Huh?”  Pinkie Pie recoiled in confusion.  “No no no, I mean, we know that the world ends in 1999 AD!”  She was still met with incredulous looks.  To drive the point home, she reared up on her hind legs, waving her hooves about wildly.  “Hellooo?  We’re time travellers!

A light went off in Rainbow Dash’s head.  “When Pinkie Pie travelled back to 600 AD, she messed up Queen Diane’s rescue...”

“And I disappeared!” Pinkie Pie chimed in excitedly.  “But then you and Twilight and Froggy saved the queen...”

“And we changed history again!  If we go back in time, before 1999 AD...”

“And if we find a way to stop this big bad meanie turtle...”

“We could save everypony!”  Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie concluded in unison.  They excitedly turned to Twilight Sparkle for approval.

The unicorn stared dumbfounded at her friends.  “I... This... You... But... Huh?  The two of you want to warp through countless Gates, travel to who-knows-when, risk corrupting history as we know it, just so that we can come face-to-face with an unknown demon that nopony has ever seen before, who has the power to obliterate the planet and all living things on it,” she gasped for breath before finishing incredulously, “and you think you can stop it?!”

“Basically!”  Pinkie Pie chirped with a smile.

“That’s right!” yelled Rainbow Dash.  “We can’t just stand by and do nothing.

Twilight Sparkle paused silently, contemplating her own words, and what she had just seen on the video.  After a moment, she met their eyes and smirked, answering, “Well, heck.  Count me in!”

Her friends cheered in delight, giddy over their new-found mission of saving ponykind.

“It was a remarkable stroke of luck that we found this recording.  None of it would have transpired without that accident at the Telepod.  But Dash is right; we have got to do something about it.  The three of us have the power to travel through time and change history, and we mustn’t waste that gift.  We must put a stop to Lavos!”

“And save everypony!” cheered Pinkie Pie.

“And save the world!” shouted Rainbow Dash.

Thus decided, the three friends raced out of the room.  Using the magic of the Gates, they would travel through time and find a way to prevent this ruined future from occurring.  While the details of their plan were still up in the air, they were determined to stop the Day of Lavos, no matter the cost.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

2300 AD

Carrij Dome — Living Quarters

“Good gracious, yer back!” gasped Granny Smith.  “What did you find?”

The three friends awkwardly glanced at each other.  They had been rocked by their discovery of the Day of Lavos, and energized by their resolve to stop it.  In the midst of this, they had momentarily forgotten their reason for entering the basement in the first place, and the heartbreaking news that they needed to deliver.

“Uh, Mrs. Smith...” Rainbow Dash stepped forward apprehensively, addressing the elder mare.  “We found your grandson in the basement.  He... he was...”  She lowered her gaze to the floor, unable to meet Granny Smith’s eyes.

Granny Smith sighed gently.  “I see.  I was afraid of that.  When he didn’t come back after a few days, well... he’s not the first pony to go down in the basement and not come back.”

“I’m sorry...”

A stallion approached from the back of the room.  “Never mind that.  What about the food?”

Twilight Sparkle meekly pulled out the bundle of seeds.  “I’m sorry, everypony.  All we were able to save were these apple seeds.”

“Apple seeds?” spat the stallion.  “Those’ll take decades to grow.  Assuming they’re any good, or that growing trees is even possible anymore.  What’s the use?” he sighed.  “The food is gone.  There’s no point anymore...”

The attitude of the room collectively deflated.  Even Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle were at a loss.  How were they supposed to save the world from being destroyed, when they couldn’t even help the ponies of this one villiage?

Pinkie Pie bounded up in front of the gathered ponies, beaming.  “C’mon, everypony, don’t be all mopey-dopey.  We should be celebrating!”

“Celebrating?” he asked flatly.  “What’s there to celebrate?”

“You’ve got the seeds now!  Sure, they’ll need time and care and love to grow, but then you’ll finally have food.”  She looked emphatically around the crowd.  “You can’t give up now!  Big Macintosh wouldn’t want everypony acting this way.  So even if everything isn’t perfect, we should still celebrate the good things in life, right?”

Granny Smith blinked slowly.  “Who are y’all?  Yer so different from us...”

“We’re not!”  Pinkie Pie grinned.  “We’re all the same, you and us.  We just haven’t given up hope.  And neither should you!”

“Hope?  Hope...”  Granny Smith quietly contemplated the three friends.  “Ya don’t say... Alright then, we’ll try planting those seeds.  And if you think that a celebration will help, well, we can try that too.”

With a cheer, Pinkie Pie and her friends set about throwing a party for the ponies of Carrij Dome.  There were no cakes or decorations, but nevertheless the three friends sang and laughed and spread good cheer as best they could.  While the whole process of a party was strange and foreign to the ponies of Carrij Dome, they felt something special that day.  They felt that perhaps they shouldn’t throw in the towel just yet.  They felt that these three strange ponies might just be able to help make their desolate world into a better place.  They felt that salvation might be found, even in something as small and innocuous as a seed.

They felt hope.


Chapter 12: A Sky of Fire and Rainbows

2300 AD

#32 Ruins

After parting ways with the ponies of Carrij Dome, the three friends headed east.  Following the information center’s map, they solemnly walked through the ruins of the old civilization, working their way to the next Gate.

“That thing is responsible for all of this, isn’t it?” murmured Rainbow Dash tersely.  She had seen the answer a few hours ago, but the full implications of that video were only starting to sink in, and it was bringing her blood to a slow boil.  “It was the one who screwed up the planet.  Killed millions of ponies.  Made everypony else give up on living.  Lavos...”

“But it’s okay!  We can fix everything!” Pinkie Pie cheerily reminded her friend.  “We just need to hop back in time, stop the big old baddy from popping out of his hole and shooting its death-rays all willy-nilly, and then the future will be safe and happy again!”

“Oh, we’ll stop that monster, all right,” Rainbow Dash growled.  “I’ll buck it right in its stupid face if I have to.  There’s no way I’m gonna let the future get messed up like this.”

Twilight Sparkle playfully bumped into her brooding friend.  “You’re not in this alone, Rainbow.  Pinkie Pie and I will be right alongside you, every step of the way.”

“Thanks, you guys,” she replied with an embarrassed grin.  “I’ll be counting on the two of y– look out!”  She shoved her companions behind a mound of twisted iron, barely dodging the incoming laser bolt.  Responding quickly, the three ponies leapt out of cover, weapons drawn to the ready.

A squad of sentry bots was approaching from around the bend.  The rudimentary robots appeared equestrian-inspired in their design, yet largely simplified.  They roughly resembled a parade of tennis balls, with their spherical lime-green bodies.  They bounced roughly across the coarse terrain of the torn-up road, as there were no shock absorbers on their trio of stubby wheel braces.  Their oblong heads jerked back and forth violently, as the prominently mounted optical sensor desperately tried to fix onto the intruding ponies.  The sentries rolled out in an arc before the ponies, blocking their progress deeper into the ruins.  “Entry into this sector is forbidden,” announced a synthesized voice.

Rainbow Dash flashed a cocky grin, teeth clamping tight on her katana’s hilt.  She did appreciate her friends’ words of emotional support, but at heart she was a mare of action.  And right now, she was aching to get her hooves dirty again.  “Didn’t you chumps just hear me?  I am going to kick the destroyer of worlds in its face.  You tin cans aren’t even in the same league as me!” she hollered, leaping through the air toward her foes.

A blur of yellow and orange whizzed between the pegasus and her prey, forcing her to screech to a halt in midair.  As the object slowed and began lazily circling the air around them, Rainbow Dash was shocked to realize this was yet another mechanical guard.  However, this particular model was more advanced than its green tripod brethren.  The robot’s head was clearly shaped like a pony’s, down to her amber eye sensors and fiery orange mane.  Her neck connected down to a elongated trunk, but at this point the similarities with a pony ended.  Instead of a pair of soft feathered pegasi wings, a pair of sturdy fixed wings ran along the length of her golden sides.  Jet engines on the tip of each wing rotated themselves skyward, allowing her to hover steadily in the air, perched between the ponies and sentries.

“Whoa, hey, c’mon now,” emanated a feminine voice from the jet-pony.  “Everypony cool their jets.”

The guardbots reeled back in surprise, letting out a rusty creak that nearly sounded like a gasp of awe.  “It’s... the MARE!” they crooned in unison.

“That’s enough, you bolt-heads,” the jet-pony teased.  “Stop embarrassing me in front of the trespassers.”

“The Mare?” questioned Rainbow Dash, stepping forward skeptically.  “Who the heck are you supposed to be?”

The flying robot chuckled.  “Oh, don’t mind them.  I’ve just got a bit of a fan club.”  Her thrusters softened slightly, causing her to drift gently toward the ground.  “I’m a Bolt Series Aerial Assault Unit, serial number S-P7F-R3.  Just call me Spitfire.  That’s easier.”  She stopped her descent, gently hovering eye-to-sensor with Rainbow Dash.  “So.  The three of you are trying to get through these ruins, huh?”

“Yeah! Why?” shouted Rainbow Dash as she smashed her nose against Spitfire’s.  “You and your goonies planning to stop us?”

“Chill, chill...” she placated, slowly drifting back away from the hostile pegasus.  “Yeah, technically we’re under orders to prevent anypony from getting through here.  It’s kinda dumb though; there’s never any ponies coming this way...”

“Not in decades,” chimed in one of the guardbots.

“Terribly boring guard detail,” lamented another.

“...Spitfire, I love you,” whispered a third.

“So I’ll tell you what: why don’t we make things more interesting?”  Spitfire spun around in the air, pointing herself toward a toboggan-shaped vehicle resting just off the pathway.  “That jet-bike over there should still be operational.  Think the three of you can keep up with me in a race?”

Twilight Sparkle gasped as her eyes lit up with glee.  She bounded excitedly over to the jet-bike.  “Incredible!  I’ve never seen propulsion engines like this on a land craft before.  Jeez, this puppy could probably reach top speeds of over–”

Pffft!” Rainbow Dash objected loudly.  “You may be a machine, but you obviously don’t have history records like the ones in Carrij Dome.  Otherwise, you’d recognize that you’re talking to Rainbow Dash, fastest pegasus in the history of ever.”

Spitfire stared at Rainbow Dash as her circuits rushed to catch up.  “Wait... you actually want to fly against me?  As in, fly with your wings?  Hun, these are jet thrusters,” she said, spinning the propulsion engines on her wings.  “A biological pony like you isn’t even in the same league as me.  I was trying to give you a sporting chance with the jet-bike...”

The pegasus angrily charged up to Spitfire again, jabbing her in the chestplate with a hoof.  “How about I give you a sporting chance?  How does a five-second head sound?”

“Haha, c’mon girl, watch the personal space,” laughed Spitfire.

“I don’t get it,” quietly questioned Pinkie Pie.  “Wouldn’t this bike make the race heaps easier?  Why is Dashie acting that way?”

Twilight Sparkle chuckled knowingly.  “Because, Pinkie, that’s who Rainbow Dash is.  She’s always seeing insults and challenges where none exist.  It’s a matter of pride, I suppose.  Lucky for her, she usually has the skill to put the bits where her bite is.”

“I bet!”  Pinkie Pie’s eyes glistened excitedly.  “All those years of training and dedication and–”

“And besides,” she deadpanned, climbing into the cockpit of the jet-bike, “when she inevitably gets in over her head, we’ll be there to bail her out.”

“So, how about it?” Rainbow Dash continued her challenge.  “Are you tough enough to race me?  Or are you just yellow?”

“Heh, you’ve awfully confident.  I like that.”  With a laugh, Spitfire’s thrusters launched her skyward.  “C’mere, I’ll show you the course.”

 Rainbow Dash flew after the jet-pony into the sky.  From their high vantage point, Spitfire outlined the race course.  The first leg dived and weaved through melted steel girders, turning the ruins into an impromptu obstacle course.  The second leg of the course climbed up the side of a destroyed skyscraper.  The building had been knocked over, and now rested at a slight incline.  Once reaching the top of the sloped building, both racers would dive back down to ground level, where they would reach the third and final leg: a straight shot to the edge of the ruins.

“And that’s the course,” concluded Spitfire.  “So, how about this: if you win, you and your friends get to pass through the ruins.  If you lose...”

“I. Don’t. Lose,” responded Rainbow Dash with a smirk as large as her confidence.

Below, her friends had loaded into the jet-bike and fired up its engines.  “Good luck, Rainbow Dash!” cheered Twilight Sparkle.  

Pinkie Pie waved her hooves excitedly.  “We’ll meet you at the finish line!”

Rainbow Dash grinned and flexed her muscles.  Thanks, Twi and Pinkie, she thought.  Don’t you worry; this race is as good as won!

“Aww, c’mon Twilight,” pleaded Pinkie Pie from the backseat.  “Can’t I drive this thing? Please? Please? Can I? Pretty please with gumdrops on top?”

Twilight Sparkle winced sharply.  “Err, Pinkie, you should really let me–”

“Hey!  What’s this thingy do?!”  Leaning over her friend’s seat, Pinkie Pie jammed the throttle control to full power.  With a lurch, the jet-bike flew across the ground, racing toward the finish line.

Piiink-iiie!” screeched the terrified unicorn.

Taking this cue, Spitfire ignited her own thrusters, diving below into the twisted wreckage of the race course.  Immediately, Rainbow Dash felt her stomach sink.  Crap, she’s fast... I shouldn’t have given her that head-start!  One Sonic Rainboom, two Sonic Rainboom, three Sonic Rainboom, four Sonic Rainboom, five Sonic Rainboom!  She dove into the course, bent on catching her opponent.

Myriads of girders and wreckage raced toward her.  Foal’s play.  Her body ran on instinct, as years of training took control.  Finely-tuned muscles adjusted her course, twisting and bending through the pathway.  A dead end!  No, just a sharp turn downward.  She spread her wings to slow her descent.  Slow enough.  This is a race.  She carried her dive’s momentum into the tunnel’s new direction.  Gravity is upward.  That’s fine.  I’ll rotate soon enough.

She blew through a straightaway.  Incoming dive.  Gravity is upward.  Spin then climb.  She stretched and tilted a wing, causing herself to spiral.  There, now it’s a climb.  Shallow climb.  Don’t flap.  Got enough speed.  Her wing muscles strained against the air currents whizzing past her.  Too optimistic!  Shit!  The debris scraped along her tender underside, digging into her flesh and destabilizing her flight.  Flapping her wings fiercely, she managed to lift herself over the wall without getting torn to shreds any further.  Deal with the pain.  This is a race.  Risks must be taken.  I don’t lose.

Sharp turn.  She angled her wings.  Girder!  Take the outside path.  She slacked her wings, and touched off the wall with her hooves.  Easy, but too many turns.  Losing speed.  Can’t lose.  She flapped with all her strength, propelling herself faster.  Must catch up to Spitfire.

Speak of the devil.  First, plumes of the robot’s exhaust.  Then, the jet-pony’s flank.  Then, the back of her mane.  Each twist and turn of the course revealed a better glimpse of the leader.  She flashed a wicked smirk.  Amateur.  All speed.  No agility.  This leg is all sharp turns.  Advantage: Rainbow Dash.

Suddenly, the tunnel opened up.  The fallen building came into view.  Second leg.  Dammit.  Spitfire glided up the side of the inclined structure with ease.  She’s gaining.  Thirty meters back.  Three legs in the course.  No more sharp turns.  Advantage: Spitfire.  I don’t lose.  Gaining altitude; losing speed.  Jet thrusters are cheating; she’s pulling ahead.  Can’t lose.  Must find a way.

Something caught her eye.  Open window.  It’s a building.  It’s hollow.  Gotta risk the shortcut.  She flared her wings to their max wingspan, causing her muscles to burn in protest.  Slow enough.  Dive inside.  Sun dammit!  Not hollow.  It’s caved in!  No, flash of light.  There’s a path!  Gravity pulled her closer to the onslaught of obstacles.  Wall.  Twisted desk.  Future carriage thingy.  She didn’t have to think; instinct took over.  Every limb, every muscle, every feather fell back onto years of training and twitch reactions.  Spin and flap.  Dodge and weave.  Can’t crash.  Can’t lose.  The window.

Outside.  Spitfire gasped in amazement, and called out to the pegasus.  Talking can wait.  Must win.  In the lead.  Second leg over.

Third leg: the straightaway.  Advantage: Spitfire.  No.  Spitfire’s pulling ahead.  NO!  Fucking cheater with those fucking jets.  I don’t lose.  Excuses can wait.  Hold nothing back.  She flapped with all her strength.  Can’t lose.  Losing distance.  Not good enough.  Screw that, I am good enough.  Finish line on the horizon.  Give it your all.

I don’t lose.  Wind racing past me.  Vision blurring with tears.  Sight is irrelevant.  Trust your other senses.  Flap harder.  Wings burning.  Faster.  I don’t lose.  Fatigue setting in.  No, I can sleep any day.  Today, I must not lose.  Faster.  A lifetime of training.  This feeling feeling...  Nirvana...  I can taste it.  Faster.  Air currents spiraling around me.  I don’t lose.  Wind tearing my body.  Twilight.  Faster.  Must go faster than ten years ago.  I’m almost there.  Faster.  Faster.  Ocean.

The ocean? thought Rainbow Dash to herself.  She chanced a glance downward.  Kilometers of ocean waves stretched before her.  What the hey?  Spitfire didn’t mention any oceans!  She flared her wings sharply, screeching to a halt in midair.  Shit, where am I?  I went off-course?  I lost?!  Where am I?  In a panic, she whipped her head around, desperately trying to regain her bearings.

A faint cry drifted across the breeze.  “Dash!”  It was Twilight Sparkle’s voice.

Rainbow Dash turned around.  Before her, the coastline stretched from horizon to horizon.  Squinting, she could make out a few specks: purple and pink on the ground, yellow in the air.  Reality dawned on her.  Jeez... I completely flew past the finish line!  Great, looks like I totally “got in the zone” and blacked out there.  Why does that keep happening... She circled back, curious to learn the results of the race.

As she neared the finish line, she grinned from ear to ear.  The race’s outcome was crystal clear.  And entirely expected.  And completely awesome.  Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie were beside themselves, leaping ecstatically into the air and cheering wildly.  Spitfire hovered solemnly near the finish line.

“Rainbow, that was incredible!” crooned Twilight Sparkle.  “I’ve never seen you fly so fast in all the years we’ve–”

“Holy Swiss cheese!  You really could be Captain of the Wonderbolts!” jabbered Pinkie Pie as she shook with excitement.   “Those moves were cuh-razy!  You were flipping and flapping and flying and fwooshing and–”

“–speedometer clearly showed we were traveling over eight hundred kilometers per hour, but you and Spitfire blurred right past us–”

“–had no idea you were that fast.  You were a force of nature!  A bolt of lightning!  A musical yak!  A–”

“–called out to you when you hit the finish line, but you didn’t listen!  Just kept racing away with your head in the clouds, like usual–”

“–super-duper inspirational, you know?  I mean, it’s like, after watching you go all out, I wanna give it a hundred and ten percent too!  We should all reach for our dreams!  Thanks to you–”

Rainbow Dash felt electricity coursing through her veins.  Praise and adoration were the motivation for her life’s work.  She already knew that she trained hard, and had the makings of a champion.  But nothing topped the euphoria of a cheering crowd, be it two ponies or two thousand.  It might be a bit egotistical and vain – she was the first to admit this – but no other feeling in the world came close.

“Rainbow Dash, was it?”  Spitfire hovered up to the race’s victor.  “I guess you didn’t need to use that jet-bike after all.”

“Told ya, didn’t I?” she triumphantly reminded the jet-pony.  “Fastest pegasus in the history of ever.”

“Heh, that you did.  You sure had some smooth moves out there, for an organic pony.  Maybe next time I won’t need to hold back so much.”

“Heck yeah, Spitfire!  You better bring your A-game,” she boasted with a smirk.  “This race was just the practice round.  Next time, I won’t be flying on an empty stomach.  It’ll be a true contest of skill.”

The two speedsters laughed, determined yet good-natured, as they sized each other up.  They both knew a proper rival when they saw one.  As they parted ways for now, they pined for the next chance to race against one another.  For them, the next contest would not come soon enough.


Chapter 13: Making a New Friend

2300 AD

Magno Dome

After parting ways with Spitfire, the trio had resumed their journey to the east. While they did reach Magno Dome as planned, they had also encountered an unexpected complication.

“That’s not funny, Twi.”

“It wasn’t a joke, Rainbow,” she said with a frown. “I don’t see a Gate anywhere in this room. Do you?”

“Come on!” Rainbow Dash fell onto her back, flailing her legs in frustration. “We were this close to getting back to a year that had food in it!”

“But I thought there was supposed to be a Gate here. I mean, that’s what the big bright screen in Carrij Dome told us, right?” asked Pinkie Pie.

Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, nodding solemnly. “Right, and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information center’s records. Which means,” she declared while pointing behind herself, “it must be in there!”

She was motioning toward the large silver door that stood predominantly on the back wall of the room. Instinctively, the three friends knew that she must be right, if only by process of elimination. Like the other domes of this era, Magno Dome featured only basic furnishings: an Enertron, a few control panels of unknown use, and copious amounts of scrap and refuse. The large door was unique to all the domes they had visited thus far, which directly implied its importance. It was also locked tight, making it doubly important. It was as if fate itself were taunting the ponies, holding the Gate just out of hoof’s reach.

This didn’t deter them from giving one last futile attempt. Rainbow Dash gripped the door’s latch with her hooves, and flapped her wings with all her strength. “Why does this stupid future have so many locked doors?” she grunted. “First, all those blue glowing ones; now, this big silver one.”

“Oh yeah, those glowy ones with the weird logo? I wonder...” said Pinkie Pie, raising her eyebrows. Her moist tongue slowly emerged from between her lips. Shivering gently, she closed her eyes and leaned forward. Her pink tongue gently caressed the door, running delicately along its steel surface and leaving a light trail of saliva in its wake. She turned back to her friends and beamed. “Nope! I guarantee that this is a different type of door.”

“Pinkie, that’s gross! Cut it out,” chided Rainbow Dash.

“Okay,” she obliged with a disappointed sigh. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. I mean, we couldn’t get those tastier doors to open, either.”

“So what are we supposed to do? The stupid thing won’t budge,” complained Rainbow Dash. “There’s nopony here who we could ask for help. Twilight, can’t you use your tools, or magic, or whatever? Twi?" She turned to locate her friend. Behind her, Twilight Sparkle was standing motionlessly at the edge of the floor, staring down into the gap that ran along the room’s perimeter.

“Twilight? Twiiilight?" Pinkie Pie bounced across the room. “Whacha looking at over there? Did you find a different way inside? A cake? A pair of trousers? A mid-tonic? A—" She reached the edge and peered down into the gap alongside her friend. She gasped, promptly dropping her train of thought.

“What? What is it, you guys?"

Twilight Sparkle’s horn ignited with a magenta hue. The object that was captivating her attention slowly levitated out of the pit and into the air. She stared upward, transfixed by her discovery. “It’s a pony.”

This was not the first equestrian-shaped automaton that the three ponies had encountered in the future. After all, Rainbow Dash had just won a race against a jet-pony earlier that afternoon. But the robots that they had seen before were simplified and abstract; they only captured the basic essence of a pony. By contrast, the machine in front of them had been meticulously crafted to resemble the race of her creators. At a sufficient distance, one might easily mistake her for a living pegasus.

However, from Twilight Sparkle’s close vantage point, it was easier to spot the robotic elements of the mare. Her wings were molded like normal pegasi wings, but supported with hydraulic pistons and tiny thruster engines. The steel plates that composed her body were lined with rivets at most points, or with hinges at the occasional access hatch. A steam compression tank sat lengthwise on her back between her wings, with an exhaust vent that ran up the back of her head and ended just behind her left ear. Her large eye panels were currently black and empty, confirming that she was inactive. Even her paint job emphasized her derelict state, as her once-vibrant yellow coat and pink mane had become worn and faded with centuries of abandonment.

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes glistened. “This is amazing,” she whispered in a reverent tone. “I had no idea that the ponies of this era could make such a realistic robopony.”

“She sure is something,” Pinkie Pie said. “It looks like she’s broken though.”

Twilight Sparkle gently set the mechanical pegasus down in front of her. She slowly reached out toward its sculpted mane. She nervously pulled back at the last second, before steeling her resolve and resting her hoof on its sculpted pink mane. With a gentle hiss, a section of the mane lifted along its hinges, revealing her internal circuitry. “Sun’s rays, these electronics are advanced,” muttered Twilight Sparkle. “Though I suppose there were bound to be a few innovations in robotics in the past millennium." Puzzled, she stuck her face inside the hatch to examine the futuristic circuitry. “Still, some of these parts are obviously damaged. If we could salvage some replacements from the scrap in this dome—”

“Whoa-whoa-whoa, hold it right there, Doctor Frankenmare,” objected Rainbow Dash, landing beside her friends. “You want to repair a broken-down robot, just so it can go berserk and attack us?”

Twilight Sparkle threw her friend a look. “Right, because all robots are homicidal maniacs. Like your racing pal from earlier today." She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, she’s a machine made by ponies, Rainbow. I can make her incapable of attacking us. It should be completely possible to program her personality to be—” Her voice trailed off as she stared into the robot’s darkened eyes. Her own reflection stared back at her. “Anything we want.”

Her friends’ eyes lit up. “Anything?” gasped Pinkie Pie excitedly.

Rainbow Dash rubbed her chin, grinning broadly. “Aww yeah, now you’re talking. Just think: our very own robot servant! She can do all our chores, cook us food, give us massages—”

“She could be the best play buddy ever,” rambled Pinkie Pie. “Golly, we could program her to play tag, and hide-and-go-seek, and house, and cops and robbers, and doctor, and TV courtroom drama, and,” she added with a squeal, “oh my gosh, the parties! With a party planning assistant, I could throw a party every single day.”

Rainbow Dash playfully jabbed her friend in the ribs. “Hey, look on the bright side, Twilight. If we can really make her do anything, we could even program her to be friends with somepony as lame as you." She snickered, waiting for her friend to lash back with a barb of her own. None came; Twilight Sparkle stared silently at the machine in front of her. Rainbow Dash flinched. “C’mon Twi, you know I was just busting your chops. Like we usually do, y’know? I didn’t really mean it.”

Twilight Sparkle blinked, turning away from the robot. “Hmm? Oh sorry, I zoned out there for a bit. I know you didn’t mean it. Really, it’s fine!" She smiled reassuringly as she pulled out a quill and parchment. “Anyway, you and Pinkie Pie should get comfy. This could take a while.”

Hours rolled by as Twilight Sparkle toiled away on the damaged pegasus. She happened to have packed a reference manual about electronics in her saddlebags, but it quickly proved to be inadequate. The book was written several centuries before this robot had been built, and it didn’t cover any of her futuristic circuitry. Even so, Twilight Sparkle was determined to reverse-engineer the robopony. The floor of the dome quickly became littered with notes, schematics, theories, and checklists.

In the front of the dome, Rainbow Dash was curled up in a corner, peacefully napping. Pinkie Pie contently hopped about the room, humming absentmindedly to herself. They had both offered to help Twilight Sparkle at first. Unfortunately, they were unable to assist with the schematics or theorycrafting; Twilight Sparkle was already struggling in this area, and her friends lacked her level of technical knowledge. Instead, she had sent her friends to scavenge for the replacement parts she needed. This too proved to be counterproductive, as their energetic behaviors resulted in more parts being crushed than rescued. She eventually suggested that the two of them relax for a while, and let her take care of the repair efforts by herself.

Piece by piece, the pegasus was restored to its original condition. The master checklist began to dwindle as each subsystem was tested and confirmed. A few tests failed spectacularly due to a misunderstanding of resistor labels, or soldering a circuit board incorrectly. However, with each mistake came learning. She marched tirelessly toward the correct solution, one hoof at a time.

At long last, Twilight Sparkle wiped her brow with her hoof. She walked toward her waiting friends. “Okay girls, time for the moment of truth.”

“Sweet!” cheered Pinkie Pie. “So you’re ready to flip the switch?” She eyed the robot from across the room.

The mechanical pegasus was laying down on her belly, with her hooves tucked underneath her torso. Her head drooped slightly under its own weight, with a single access panel in her mane still resting open.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Twilight Sparkle sighed. “Besides, if this didn’t work, we’ll find out pretty quickly." Her horn lit up as she prepared to activate the robot from across the room.

“Wait,” interrupted Rainbow Dash, “you remembered to change her personality, right? A maid robot that won’t murder us in our sleep?”

Twilight Sparkle paused, closing her eyes. “No, Rainbow. I’m not programming her to be our servant. I want to be friends with her.”

“Aww, seriously?” whined Rainbow Dash. Her disappointment quickly turned into ambivalence. “Well, okay. Setting her to friendly mode is fine too, I guess.”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. I want to earn her friendship. I’m not going to alter her personality at all.”

“What? Why not?”

Twilight Sparkle averted her gaze awkwardly. “Well, the truth of the matter is, I’m not that great at making friends—”

Rainbow Dash’s face went pale. “Aww jeez, you’re still stuck on what I said earlier? I was just giving you a hard time. I’m sorry, seriously!”

“It’s true, though,” she replied with a weak smile. “You and I have been best friends since we were little fillies, but with all my inventing and studying, I never really had time to make any other friends. I mean, heck, when I met Frog and Pinkie Pie, you saw how smoothly things went.”

Pinkie Pie smiled and dismissively waived her hoof. “Oh Twilight, don’t even worry about that. You and I are totally peachy now! All that princess stuff is yesterday’s news." She frowned, rolling her eyes upward to think. “Or was it two days ago? It’s tough keeping track of time with these Enertron naps and no sunlight.”

“Thanks, Pinkie. All the same, I want to start things off on the right hoof for once. I’m sorry. I realize that I’m being really selfish,” she lamented, casting a glance at the inactive robot in the distance, “but this means a lot to me. I want to earn her friendship. I... I want to be a better friend.”

Rainbow Dash threw a hoof around her friend’s shoulder. “Aww, stop apologizing already. It’s a sappy reason, but not a bad one. I guess I can live without a robot maid, if it means that much to you. Let’s at least flip that one switch so it doesn’t attack us—”

“Okay! Flipping the power switch,” Twilight Sparkle excitedly replied, activating the robopony with her telekinesis.

“You moron!” groaned Rainbow Dash. She shoved her friend backward, out of harm’s way. She leapt between the robot and her companions with her katana held in a defensive stance, waiting for the robot to make the biggest mistake of her synthetic life.

Seconds ticked by. Nopony moved a muscle, waiting for something to happen. The robotic pegasus laid motionless in front of them. Pinkie Pie coughed quietly.

Scowling, Twilight Sparkle walked up past Rainbow Dash. “Great, just great. False alarm, girls. Something must still be wrong with the circuitry. I bet you ten bits it’s the voltage on the optics circuit. I couldn’t find an exact replacement part so I had to get a little creative." She poked her head into the robot’s access hatch. “This should only take a second.”

“Um.”

Gyah! screamed Twilight Sparkle, leaping backwards.

“Eep!” the robotic pegasus meekly exclaimed. She rapidly kicked out with her hooves, scraping her metal body across the ground. A light puff of steam escaped from the vent behind her ear.

Twilight Sparkle held up a hoof against her racing heart. “Oh my goodness, you startled me!” she gasped, looked over at the robot. “I thought you were still deactivated.”

The robot’s eyes, once dark and inactive, were now illuminated with a tiny emerald circle that was rapidly darting back and forth. Her wings rattled rapidly against her flank. “Oh my, I’m sorry,” came her quiet response. A faint, steady trail of steam billowed above her. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Twilight Sparkle frantically waved her hooves. “No, you didn’t, I am! Sorry, I mean. Because I startled you. Because you startled me." She scrunched up her face as she realized just how flustered and nonsensical she was sounding. Taking a deep breath, she offered her hoof to the robot. “Let me start over. My name is Twilight Sparkle.”

“Um, hi—”

“Hiya! I’m Pinkie Pie!” she barked energetically, bouncing up and down in front of Twilight Sparkle. “I’m Twilight and Dashie’s friend, and I’m super-duper delighted to meet you. We’re gonna have loads of fun; I just know it! Wanna play Simon Says?!”

Her emerald eyes shrank to a single pixel. “Okay,” she squeaked submissively.

“I’m Rainbow Dash, leader of this group! It’s a pleasure to meet me,” she announced, puffing out her chest. “I’m happy to inform you that you will have the distinct pleasure of serving as our team’s maid.”

“O-okay,” whimpered the robot pegasus. “W-what would you like me to do for you first, M-Master Dash?”

Rainbow Dash squealed. “Master Dash? Oh, I am liking the sound of that! First thing’s first: you got anything to eat? How about you fix us up some ow-ow-ow!”

Twilight Sparkle tugged roughly on her friend’s ear with magic. “We agreed no maids, remember?” she growled through gritted teeth.

“Oh. Heh, right,” she said with a blush. “Sorry.”

Turning from one pegasus to the other, Twilight Sparkle offered a warm smile. “Rainbow was just teasing you. You’re not going to be our maid. We just want you to be our friend.”

“U-understood,” the robot replied. Shaking lightly, she rose to her hooves. “I shall be your friend. Command acknowledged.”

“Wh—no no. Not a command. I didn’t command anything.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“But we still want to be your friends,” chimed in Pinkie Pie.

“Um, okay.”

“Oh shoot, I’m sorry!” gasped Twilight Sparkle.

“All this apologizing is getting on my nerves,” grumbled Rainbow Dash.

“I completely forgot to ask,” said Twilight Sparkle. “What’s your name?”

“My name?” asked the robot. Her emerald eye lights enlarged slightly and stopped bouncing across their panels. However, her wings continued to shake noisily against her sides. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have one.”

“Whaaat?” said Pinkie Pie. “Don’t be silly! Of course you have a name. We can’t walk around saying ‘Hey you’, or ‘robot’, or ‘yellow pegasus’ all the time, can we? That’d be totally rude of us.”

“Um... Oh, I know. I do have a serial number. You could call me by that, if that’s okay with you. My serial number is T-R33.”

“Ooo, T-R33! I like it!” laughed Pinkie Pie. “It’s so totally sci-fi to call a robot by their serial number!”

No, no, no,” Twilight Sparkle interrupted sourly. “We’re not doing that. She deserves a real name, just like the rest of us." She squinted, intently studying the robot in front of her. Now let’s see, she thought. She’s incredibly shy. Yellow coat, pink hair... We already have a Pinkie Pie though. Emerald eyes. Super apologetic. Umm, she’s a pegasus. Hard to forget that one; I keep hearing the sound of her wings fluttering against her body. She must still be really scared of us. Hmm. She contemplated for a moment. “How does ‘Fluttershy’ sound?”

“Ooo, that’s even better,” agreed Pinkie Pie with a nod.

Rainbow Dash stretched her forelegs behind her head apathetically. “S’alright.”

“I—That’s my new name?” the robot quietly asked. Her shaking wings came to a peaceful stop, and her eyes finally enlarged to their normal size. “Yes, I think I like it very much. T-thank you, Twilight Sparkle.”

She beamed. “My pleasure!”

“So Fluttershy, tell us about yourself!” Pinkie Pie excitedly bombarded her with questions. “What kind of things do you like? What do you do for fun around here? What’s your favorite food? Wait, do robots even eat food? Ooo, can you rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time?”

“What about the door?” muttered Rainbow Dash.

“Oh my,” gasped Fluttershy. Her eye lights expanded beyond their normal size. “Um, there seems to be a problem. I can’t access a large portion of my personal data.”

It was Twilight Sparkle’s turn to gasp. “Can you access your memory banks? Are they damaged? What about the data transfer cables?”

“Oh, no, thank you Twilight Sparkle,” she sweetly replied. “My memory appears to be undamaged, and the cabling seems fine. However, some of my databases appear to be missing." She paused briefly, as calculations whirred through her circuits. “Ah, one moment please. I can confirm my job another way... by... checking... um..." Fluttershy spun around in place, trying to swing her flank out in front of herself. However, her head, neck, and torso were all rigidly constructed without any joints that could flex in that direction. Thus, it was physically impossible for her to examine her own flank. Not realizing this fact, she continued to spin in futility. “Err... I... wait... one moment...”

As Fluttershy spun around, Twilight Sparkle caught a glimpse of what the pegasus was trying to see. “You have a cutie mark! Gosh, I was so busy working on your circuits that I didn’t even notice. I really should’ve checked that first before naming you, huh?”

Rainbow Dash sighed, rubbing her temples.

“Ah yes, I do have a cutie mark. Although, I didn’t earn it like a pony does. It was just painted on at the factory, to represent the job that was assigned to me." Her eyes twitched. “Um, d-did you say you were... working on my circuits?”

“Totally!” said Pinkie Pie. “When we found you, you were all broken down and in the trash. Twilight here popped you open and swapped out your doodads and got you working again, good as new!”

“I was not functional? And Twilight Sparkle repaired me? And she even gave me a name. Oh my goodness." She bowed as best as her rigid frame would allow. “Miss Twilight Sparkle, I... I am deeply in your debt. Thank you so very, very much.”

Twilight Sparkle bore a grin so wide that it was nearly impossible to see her burning cheeks. “Hey, think nothing of it! I mean, after all, what are good friends for? You’d do the same for me, right?" She laughed giddily.

Rainbow Dash blew her mane out of her eyes. Great, now Twi’s getting an over-inflated ego, she thought. That’s the last thing this team needs.

“Anyway, your cutie mark!” said Twilight Sparkle, getting back to the previous topic. “It’s a set of three butterflies: teal bodies with pink wings. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Butterflies? Hmm." She quietly reflected for a moment, before her eyes lit up in recognition. “Oh, of course! You see, I’ve always held a deep love for all living things. The flowers and trees, the critters big and small—oh, and of course, I love all ponies as well." She flapped her wings. “I’m sure that’s what my cutie mark represents. I must be an animal caretaker, or a veterinarian, or—”

Urrrggghhh!” Rainbow Dash groaned loudly. “Enough with the namby-pamby introductions already! Can we please ask her about the door? If I don’t get something to eat now, I’ll lose my freaking mind!”

“The door?” echoed Fluttershy. She turned around, looking at the large silver door in the back of the dome. “Do you mean this door, Master Dash?”

“Yes! Please! Thank you! You look nice! Pass the mustard!

“One moment, please." With a gentle hiss from her hydraulics, she trotted up to the door and lightly tapped it with her hoof. “Hmm." She turned, trotted up to a nearby control panel and tapped it instead. “Um, there does not appear to be any power. I’ll contact my supervisor." She turned around and began looking around the dome. Her eyes slowly shrank as she discovered what the other ponies had already known. “Wait, where is everypony? There used to be several ponies who worked here, and some robots like myself. W-why is there just the four of us?”

“Department-wide vacation. Tropical island. They’ll send you a postcard. So, we just need to turn the power back on?”

“Rainbow Dash, she deserves to know the truth,” scolded Twilight Sparkle.

“It’s a super-long story!” Rainbow Dash whined, throwing her hooves in the air. “We’ve already been talking for forever!”

“Honestly! Just take another nap or something,” Twilight Sparkle snapped. She turned back to Fluttershy. “Sorry about my friend. She can be a little impatient,” she growled. “For her sake, I’ll give you the short version. You see, we’re actually time travelers who arrived here from the year 1000 AD.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Oh sure! You’re allowed to tell everypony that we’re time travelers. I see how it is.”

“Shh. While we were in Carrij Dome, we learned that... something really terrible happened in 1999 AD. A lot of ponies died, and the survivors are struggling to stay alive.”

Fluttershy gasped in alarm. “D-d-died? Oh no! That... that’s just awful!”

“It’s okay, though! We’re gonna travel back in time and stop everything bad from ever happening,” said Pinkie Pie. “Except we’re stuck. The next Gate is locked behind that dumb old door.”

“Oh! I can help with that,” Fluttershy happily replied. “You see, there’s a large factory north of here. It has its own power supply, which should still be working. I could let us inside, and then we could borrow some power to open the door.”

Rainbow Dash stomped her hooves on the ground. “Oh hell yeah! We’re back in action.”

“Language, Rainbow. Fluttershy, that would be a huge help!” Twilight Sparkle said. “Are you sure that’s alright? We wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

“Not at all, Twilight Sparkle! You’ve already done so much for me. I want to help in any way that I can. Although, there is one teeny problem. I won’t be able to redirect the power for very long." She lowered her head meekly. “If it’s not too much to ask, could somepony wait here to open the door?”

Rainbow Dash chuckled smugly. “Sounds like this calls for some decisive leadership. That’s where I come in!" She paced back and forth, eyeing her companions. “Obviously, Fluttershy needs to go so that she can let us inside the factory. That means either Twi or Pinkie needs to stay behind.”

Pinkie Pie turned to Twilight Sparkle, beaming. The latter met her gaze, slightly confused. When the meaning of the smile dawned on her, she eagerly returned a smile of her own.

Rainbow Dash continued her monologue, oblivious to the grin exchange. “Now, Twilight knows a ton about all this future machinery stuff. In a place like a factory, that could really come in handy. Plus, she’s a unicorn, and she’s loaded up with all those inventions of hers. On the other hoof, Pinkie Pie offers better tactical support, with her singing and taunting and hyperactivity. That could really make me more efficient when I’m slicing up all the security. Besides, she’s the wild card, and you should never underestimate the wild card—”

“Thanks, Dashie! We’ll be right back!”

“Huh?" Rainbow Dash snapped back to the present. Everypony else was standing in the dome’s entrance, waving farewell. “What? No. Very much no. You’re not allowed to leave me behind. I’m supposed to be the leader!”

“You are,” Twilight Sparkle assured her with a huge grin, “and that’s why you’re getting the most important job of all. Besides, it’s crucial for a leader to know how to delegate.”

Rainbow Dash slumped over in defeat. “But...”

“Don’t worry, Master Dash,” Fluttershy called out as they left the dome. “We’ll have the power back on before you know it.”

Alone in the dome, Rainbow Dash growled, “Twi, I hate you so much right now." She curled up into a ball, muttering to herself.


Chapter 14: The Factory Ruins

2300 AD

Northern Factory—Entrance Chamber

“Ooo! This place sure is flashy!” said Pinkie Pie.

The entrance of the factory was aglow with flashing indicators and ambient lighting. Humming motors and buzzing electronics provided a steady level of white noise. Patches of grime and rust dotted the brushed metal walls, indicating both a lack of maintenance and a sign of productivity. Up until this point, the ponies has only seen gloomy domes running on minimal power; the contrast of this factory was somewhat unnerving.

Their new robotic companion, however, did not show any signs of unfamiliarity. She rotely tapped onto a console with her hoof, intently reading its output display. “Oh, how wonderful. It appears that this factory still has plenty of power.”

“That’s great, Fluttershy!” Twilight Sparkle’s smile fell as she added, “Though I don’t suppose we can redirect the power from here, can we?”

“Oh, no, I’m afraid not, Twilight Sparkle. We will need to travel down to the basement, where the primary generator is located. Don’t worry though; it’s not that far. Please, follow me. We can take a shortcut through the assembly line.”

“Wowwie! Get a load of this place, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie excitedly hopped along behind Fluttershy, taking in the futuristic ambience of the factory. “Now this is more like it. This is totally what the future is supposed to be like: with robots, and blinking lights, and all kinds of high-tech gizmos. Not like everywhere else we’ve seen: with nap boxes, and programmable alligators, and weird-tasting doors. No-no-no, this is a cool future-y place. It’s just a shame that Rainbow had to miss out on this.”

Fluttershy turned to look behind herself as she led the way. “Oh, I’ve been worrying about Master Dash,” she lamented. “She seemed so upset. I think perhaps we shouldn’t have left her alone.”

Twilight Sparkle groaned. “First off, please stop referring to her as Master Dash, for all of our sakes.” She smiled reassuringly, continuing, “And secondly, you don’t need to worry about Rainbow Dash. I know that you and her became friends only five minutes ago, but you’ll learn that she’s able to handle things just fine on her own.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

2300 AD

Magno Dome

So booored!” Rainbow Dash screamed at the ceiling. She was flying laps around the perimeter of the confined chamber in a desperate attempt to keep herself entertained. “What the hay is taking them so long? They’ve been gone for like five hours!” She landed roughly on the ground and pouted. “There’s nothing to do in this stupid dome! What am I supposed to do here, all by myself?” Her eyes wandered around the room, before pausing on an object at the far end of the dome. She arched an eyebrow in consideration.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

2300 AD

Northern Factory—Robotics Assembly Floor

Twilight Sparkle stood slack-jawed at the edge of the catwalk. Her eyes glazed over lightly as she absorbed the sights before her. The factory’s entrance had raised her expectations of this era’s level of technology, yet she wasn’t prepared for this. Lights and info panels were present in dizzying quantities, covering the walls, machinery, and even underlying the grated floors. The majority of the room was devoted to a massive assembly line. A wide conveyor belt snaked its way around the room, doubling back on itself, ducking into an enclosure, inclining up to the second floor, hugging the perimeter of the room, before finally disappearing into a large passageway in the wall. The conveyor was lined with oversized robotic arms, each designed with an express purpose in mind; there were grippers, assemblers, welders, bolters, scanners, and several more that Twilight Sparkle wasn’t sure about. Partially-assembled robots were drifting along the line, slowly taking form as each assembly arm performed its sole duty. By the time that the robots were exiting the room, they were readily identifiable as the model of robot that had accompanied Spitfire.

“This is amazing,” she squeaked. “Just look at that precision! Dozens of machines operating in synchronization, all working toward a singular goal to produce a machine that’s beyond anything we’ve seen in our home era. Isn’t this factory just magical?”

“You said it, sister!” said Pinkie Pie. “The lights are all like blink-blink-blink and those arms are like bzzz-bzzz-bzzz and that moving floor is like whrr-whrr-whrr! This room looks like oodles of fun!”

“Oh, why thank you, Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie. I’m glad you like this factory so much. In addition to Magno Dome, I spend a good amount of time here at the factory, caring for my... animal friends?” Fluttershy hung her head sadly. “No no, that doesn’t sound right at all. Maybe I’m not an animal caretaker after all. Oh, it’s so frustrating, not being able to remember my purpose.” She jerked her head upright. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful.”

“Don’t worry about it,” reassured Twilight Sparkle. “I can’t imagine how confused you must feel right now. But hey, if you used to work here, maybe something will trigger your memory. Where should we head next?”

“Next, we should head—Oh dear.” Fluttershy was pointing a hoof to the far corner of the factory floor, where a looming pyramid of oil drums had been carefully stacked. “There’s supposed to be an access hatch there, but it seems that somepony has blocked the way.”

“Well that’s inconvenient, and probably a safety violation to boot,” Pinkie Pie mused. “Is there any other way downstairs?”

Before Pinkie Pie could finish her question, Fluttershy had the factory’s floorplan loaded and analyzed in her cybernetic mind. “Well, there’s an elevator in the supervisor’s office.” She repositioned her hoof, pointing to a row of glass windows lining the upper floor. “The elevator could take us down to the generator. But I don’t have the proper security clearance to enter that office, so I’m not sure how we—”

“You heard her! Geronimo!” Pinkie Pie tossed herself off the side of the catwalk.

“Pinkie!” exclaimed Twilight Sparkle. She ran to the edge of the catwalk and leaned over, and was met by Pinkie Pie’s grinning face. The earth pony gleefully waved goodbye as the conveyor belt swept her along its course. Frantically, Twilight Sparkle traced the catwalk’s path, before coming to the same conclusion that her friend had reached. “Great thinking, Pinkie Pie! That conveyor belt will lead us right up to the office windows. We should be able to find a way inside from there. C’mon Fluttershy, let’s go!” She carefully hopped off the edge, landing slightly off-balance on the moving conveyor.

“Oh no, you mustn’t! Oh dear.” Fluttershy stood petrified on the catwalk. “P-Please, come back! It’s against regulations to be on the assembly line right now. It isn’t safe!”

Twilight Sparkle galloped against the flow of the conveyor belt, keeping herself stationary underneath the catwalk. “It’s okay, Fluttershy! We’re your friends; you can trust us! You can make the jump, too.”

“N-No, that’s not what I—T-T-Twilight, look out!”

Twilight Sparkle’s gaze was fixed up at the catwalk, so she failed to notice the partially-assembled robot rolling down the conveyor belt. As she smashed face-first into the robot, the room was saturated with shrill sirens. Twilight Sparkle’s eyes rolled around inside her head as the conveyor belt pulled her along. “Great. Let me guess.” On cue, grates along the assembly line opened up, unleashing a small squadron of robots.

Pinkie Pie’s section of the moving platform had already doubled back underneath Fluttershy’s catwalk. “Aww yeah,” she cheered as she rolled past. “Looks like it’s time to show these guards that we’re not playing around. Well, not right now, anyways. Whee!”

Twilight Sparkle was next to drift past the catwalk. “Fluttershy, you have to jump! It’s not safe to stay—vah!” She scowled as a pair of roboponies dropped in from a platform above her. Arming herself with her trusty dart gun and Flamethrower, she crouched defensively and waiting for them to make the first move.

Pinkie Pie started to bounce upstream to assist her friend, but was intercepted by her own pair of guards. Without losing a beat, she hopped up from the belt onto the head of a partially-assembled bot, then leapt onto a nearby assembly arm, before flipping head-over-hooves above her foes. With a nimble flick of her hoof, a trio of crossbow bolts rained down on one of the robots below her, tearing apart its circuitry. The guard fell silent as Pinkie Pie landed nimbly behind it.

“Oh, please be careful! Resisting the security is much too dangerous. W-Wait... Meep!” Gathering her courage, Fluttershy leapt off the catwalk with a timid squeak. Her heavy steel body landed with a thunderous crash, rattling the conveyor belt from start to finish. Turning downstream, she raced along at an ungainly trot, trying to catch up with the others.

Pinkie Pie was keeping her remaining attacker thoroughly off-balance by leaping over its head repeatedly. The guard’s whirring servos could not spin fast enough to keep itself pointed in the same direction as the energetic bouncing pony. Spotting an opening, Pinkie Pie turned sharply and bucked the robot in its spherical body, launching it off the catwalk onto the ground below. She grinned, waving to her friends. “See, girls? Nothing to it. These roboguards are a piece of cake.”

Without warning, Pinkie Pie’s teeth chattered vigorously, and then she hiccuped. “Uh oh, that means—” She quickly turned around, just in time for the incoming missile to explode in her face. The blast knocked her off her hooves, sending her skidding violently across the conveyor belt. From further down the belt, a new pair of robot guards were slowly approaching her.

“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight Sparkle yelled in concern, momentarily turning her attention from her own attackers.

“Please hold on, Pinkie Pie! I’m coming!” Fluttershy called out. She raced past Twilight Sparkle as fast as her hooves would carry her.

Twilight Sparkle turned her attention back to her own robot assailants, barely ducking an incoming laser bolt in time. She returned fire with her dart gun, but as she had sadly come to expect, the darts grazed harmlessly off the robot’s metal shell. Undeterred, she followed up with a spray of flames from her Flamethrower. The fire penetrated some of the gaps in the robot’s outer frame, cooking its circuitry and stopping it in its tracks.

The robots who assaulted Pinkie Pie from range were drawing closer, whereas she was slow to get back onto her hooves. Fluttershy ran up the inclined conveyor belt to the prone Pinkie Pie. Her emerald eye sensors glowed with a warm light as she stood protectively over her injured teammate. A beam of glowing green energy emanated from her eyes, washing over Pinkie Pie.

The latter pony blinked in surprise, then energetically hopped back up to her hooves. “Neato! Thanks, Fluttershy.” She turned her attention back to the incoming robots. “Hey uglies! Betcha can’t hit me again!” She leapt over the robots, intent to draw them away from her friends.

The ruse succeeded, but only partially. One of the robots turned to follow Pinkie Pie, but the other remained fixated on its previous target: the robot who was healing the intruders with her Cure Beam. The guard rolled closer to Fluttershy, locking onto her with its laser turrets. Fluttershy’s response was somewhat less intimidating; her body shook uncontrollably as she slowly tried to shy away from her attacker.

Twilight Sparkle caught this scene playing out in the corner of her eye. She telekinetically tossed her remaining attacker off the edge of the belt, and turned to look up at the second floor. “Fluttershy, don’t just stand there! You have to fight back.”

“I know, b-b-but...” She cowered in fear as the guard closed in on her.

Twilight Sparkle quickly looked about the room. I’m too far behind them on the belt. I won’t make it in time if I gallop. There’s got to be something that I can—Oh, yes. Grinning maliciously, her horn exploded with magical energy. She magically reached out to a large assembly arm above her, which responded by lighting up with her magenta aura. Focusing her mind, she pulled as hard as she could on the arm, bending its joints inward toward the conveyor belt. The guard robot had no time to react as the arm’s activated plasma cutter sliced through its body like butter. The cleanly sliced halves fell harmlessly off the side of the belt. “Now’s your chance. Run for it, Fluttershy!”

Further down the line, Pinkie Pie was frantically beckoning to her friends. “Girls! The office is right here. C’mon! We can jump across.” She dashed upstream in order to stay next to the office.

Fluttershy was racing along the conveyor belt, but faltered slightly when she heard this last remark. “Jump? But the windows are covered with glass. How are we—” She leapt back as the plasma cutter arm flew through the windows, showering the inside of the booth with glass shards. Without warning, Twilight Sparkle next grabbed Fluttershy with her magic, and gently tossed her inside as well. Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle hopped through the broken window quickly thereafter.

Fluttershy struggled back up to her hooves and lunged at a nearby control panel, pressing an oversized red button. The console mercifully killed the overhead siren, leaving behind the relatively peaceful sounds of cranking machinery and buzzing electronics. The remaining guard robots lost interest; due to the cancelling of the alarm, they dropped their current objectives and slowly returned to their staging areas. Everypony heaved a sigh of relief.

“Goodness, is everypony alright?” asked Fluttershy. “That was scary.”

Pinkie Pie flashed a reassuring smile. “Yepper doodles! It’s a good thing that there was an oversized red button here; that’s exactly what we needed.”

“How about you?” inquired Twilight Sparkle. “You’re not injured at all, are you, Fluttershy?”

Oh, n-no, I am uninjured,” stammered Fluttershy.

“I’m glad to hear it, but we’d better keep moving,” said Twilight Sparkle as she looked around the room. “You mentioned there’s an elevator that leads to the power generator, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct, Twilight Sparkle, but there may be additional security in place. One minute, please. I should be able to access the central security systems from here.”

Twilight Sparkle’s face glowed. “Perfect! That would be a huge help, Fluttershy. Say, while you’re working on that...” She walked over to the wrecked assembly arm, studying it intently.

“Whacha doing, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie asked curiously.

“Well, I was thinking. The technology in this device appears to be capable of creating thermal plasma. Basically, it’s matter that’s extremely hot,” she clarified in response to Pinkie Pie’s confused look. “If I can extract those components out of this arm, I might be able to use it to enhance some of my weapons.”

“Ah, yes, that reminds me,” interjected Fluttershy as she continued scanning the security systems. “You mentioned earlier that you were an ‘inventor’, but I wasn’t familiar with what that is. So if I understand correctly, an inventor is somepony who scavenges the technology of others, and uses it for her own purposes?”

“Oh no-no-no, it’s nothing like that,” Twilight Sparkle explained. “There’s much more to it than that. I’m creating something that’s entirely unique and novel. Besides, I also need to understand how to reverse-engineer this plasma torch, then figure out how to integrate it properly with my dart gun—”

“I see. So, you created the dart gun?”

She hesitated. “W-well no, my dad helped me put together this dart gun together, years ago.”

“Ah. So you take two products, neither of which you created, combine them, and the result is your original creation? Is this inventing?”

“I... But...” Twilight Sparkle’s face darkened. “We should probably get moving.”

Fluttershy nervously turned to her other companion. “I don’t understand. Did I say something wrong? I’m sorry.”

Pinkie Pie winked playfully. “You probably just hit a nerve, that’s all.”

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2300 AD

Magno Dome

“Why, Spring Sproing, this dinner party has been an absolute delight. Thank you so much for hosting us!”

“Think nothing of it, Mrs. Board!” Spring Sproing cheerily replied. She bounced about the room, flexing her coils. “I’m just glad that you and Steelchunk were able to make it on such short notice.”

“Beep. Beep boop whrr,” said Steelchunk.

“And might I add, Mrs. Board, that you’re looking quite radiant tonight! Your, um... your little chip thingies sure do complement all those, uh, silver lines you have.”

Mrs. Board laughed good-naturedly. “Oh please, Spring Sproing, you’re such a flatterer.” She let out a whimsical sigh. “I just wish that Rocket Booster had been able to attend. She’s always the life of the party.”

“Oh, I know!” agreed Spring Sproing. “Rocket Booster is just about the coolest friend anypony could have.”

“Beep!” confirmed Steelchunk.

“Right?” gushed Mrs. Board. “She’s so fast! So awesome! So—”

From across the room came a loud rolling crash, which caused Rainbow Dash to leap up in shock. She jerked her head around to spot the source of the sound; the garbage heap that she rummaged through earlier had collapsed. When she realized that she was still alone in the dome, she slowly turned back around. Her cheeks turned a bright shade of crimson as she looked at the items strewn on the floor by her hooves: a motherboard, a loose spring, and a small block of steel. She angrily kicked the objects away, and folded her hooves across her chest. “What’s taking those jerks so long?” she muttered.

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2300 AD

Northern Factory—Maintenance Levels

“Huh. Just how close are we, anyway?” Pinkie Pie inquired. “Poor Dashie is probably bored out of her mind by now.”

“Don’t worry, Pinkie Pie,” Fluttershy assured her. “We should reach the power generator shortly.”

“Great! It definitely helps that you were able to turn off the security down here. We’ll be in and out in a jiffy!”

“Y-Yes, I am glad too. After that incident on the conveyor belt, well, I think I’ve had about as much... excitement as I can take.”

Twilight Sparkle drew up alongside Fluttershy as they continued down the gently humming corridor. “You’re scared of fighting, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am!” Fluttershy proclaimed with an unprecedented level of assertiveness. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of hurting anypony else. I know that robots are unable to feel pain, and I am grateful that we’ve only fought with robots thus far, but... It’s just too cruel to cause harm to another. I don’t think I could bring myself to fight like you.” She jolted and began stammering apologetically. “Oh! I-I’m sorry! I d-didn’t mean to sound so judgmental. It’s j-just that, for me, well—”

“Did you know,” Twilight Sparkle interrupted her with a sheepish grin, “that I used to be too afraid to fight, too? Just a matter of days ago, in fact.”

Fluttershy stopped in her tracks. Her voice jumped up in pitch. “Really? You were?” She paused, turning away. “I don’t understand. Just earlier, you were so b-brave and powerful. What changed?”

Twilight Sparkle shared a quick smile with Pinkie Pie before replying. “I believed. I believed in my friends, both old and new, because I knew they’d always believe in me. I believed in our mission to use our time-traveling gift to save the world, because each of us was determined to give it our all. And most of all, I believed in myself.”

Fluttershy’s eyes grew wide in awe, emitting a gentle glow. “That sounds very wonderful, Twilight Sparkle.”

They resumed their trot down the hallway. “Hopefully someday soon, you’ll find something you can believe in, too. And when that day comes, you’ll know what you need to do.”

“Thank you,” she replied, deep in thought. “I will keep this in mind.”

Ahead of them, Pinkie Pie stopped abruptly, pointing to a large bolted door affixed with a tiny placard. “Hey look, ‘Generator Room’! We found it! We found it!”

“Great!” cheered Twilight Sparkle. She rushed up to a console next to the door. “Hmm,” she mused after fidgeting with the panel, “I guess this door is locked. It’s saying that we need a clearance code.”

“Oh, yes, that’s correct. I looked up today’s code while we were in the supervisor’s office. Let me see. First try ‘A’ and ‘E’, followed by ‘I’, then ‘O’, and lastly ‘U’.”

“A-E-I-O-U!” Pinkie Pie gleefully parroted.

In response to Twilight Sparkle’s inputs, the security door surged to life, pulling itself up into the ceiling and permitting entry into the heart of the factory. A narrow suspended catwalk led the ponies to a massive cylindrical generator, which sat suspended above a sea of cooling fluid. Pinkie Pie felt the hair of her coat stand on end, thanks to the electric aura that was charging the very air around them. The machine hummed a low deep chord, reverberating in a way that the light whine of the factory equipment above could not hope to match.

“Excellent. Please wait one minute. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.” Fluttershy walked across the catwalk to the electric generator. She tapped repeatedly on the nearby computer terminal, accessing specific subsystems and entering the necessary clearance codes. After a succinct round of inputs, she happily turned back to the ponies. “Perfect. Magno Dome should now be receiv—”

A deafening alarm flooded the room, causing everypony to double over in agony. “Seriously! What’s up with all these super-loud sirens?” complained Pinkie Pie as she pinned her ears closed with her hooves.

Fluttershy was visibly rattled. “T-T-This isn’t possible. No, I was sure that I disabled all of the security systems. How c-can this be?” She gasped loudly, and bolted for the exit. “Run!”

The other two ponies turned, and quickly noticed the newest source of Fluttershy’s panic. The security bulkhead that they had opened with a passcode just minutes earlier was now closing itself in response to the alarm. “Oh no!” yelled Pinkie Pie. “We’ll be trapped inside! Run for it!”

Fluttershy reached the closing doorway first. Rearing up on her hind legs, she planted her forehooves squarely against the lowering bulkhead and locked her joints in place. The lowering door’s gear shafts screeched in mighty protest against the robotic pegasus’s hydraulic supports. “Please! Hurry!” she screamed.

Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie bolted toward the exit at a full gallop. They squeezed out between the rigid door frame and their selfless friend, escaping out into the hallway. Fluttershy dropped the bulkhead behind her, which forcefully slammed shut as the gear shafts released their pent-up tension. She limped up behind the two of them, shoving them forcefully along the hallway before they could say anything. “I’m still functional. Please, we must get you out of here!”

As they ran down the hallway, Twilight Sparkle could make out yet another drove of robot guards approaching from the far end. She snarled, drawing her weapons to the ready. “Okay, Rainbow Dash,” she muttered. “We did our part. The rest is up to you.”

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2300 AD

Magno Dome

Power was temporarily restored to the dome, causing it to hum with new life. The fans of the climate control system whirred, circulating the stale air. Overhead lighting loudly buzzed as the gases inside the bulbs heated up. Computers and terminals—including the access panel for the door that held their Gate hostage—beeped in acknowledgement as their systems reinitialized. The symphony of new noises joined one solo that had been playing for the last ten minutes: the gentle snores of a peacefully dreaming pegasus.


Chapter 15: What Friends Are For

2300 AD

Northern Factory—Entrance Chamber

“These guys just don’t know when to give it a rest,” said Pinkie Pie. As she ran alongside her friends, she blindly fired her crossbow behind her at the swarm of security robots.

“Just keep running! We’re almost to the exit,” reassured Twilight Sparkle. She telekinetically grabbed some robotic components from the nearby conveyor belt, flinging them at her pursuers to slow them down.

The three ponies dashed out of the assembly room and reentered the entrance chamber. Only a few dozen meters stood between them and the freedom of the desolate wastelands outside. Unfortunately, the security system seemed to have other plans. The door to the inner factory slammed shut, sealing away the guards who had been giving chase. The overhead klaxon died. Without the sirens, factory lines, or attack bots, the room dropped into an eerie silence. The ponies looked about, apprehensively awaiting the security system’s next move. A doorway near the ponies snapped open with a hiss, accompanied by a light burst of wind. From the doorway trotted a half-dozen roboponies. They lined up along the width of the room, forming a wall to block the ponies’ escape from the factory.

Fluttershy gasped. “Sisters! How nice to see you all again.”

“Your sisters?” asked Pinkie Pie. “Haha, I guess I do see the family resemblance.”

Indeed, the new roboponies had frames that were exactly identical to Fluttershy’s, from their manes to their access panels. The only notable difference was in their color palette; these robots bore crimson manes with a deep bronze coat. The row of twelve navy-blue eye panels stared unblinking at Fluttershy as she approached.

“Yes,” continued Fluttershy, “we were all manufactured in the same batch. Please, allow me to introduce them to you. This here is T-R30. Over there is T-R34. Next to her is—”

“What do you think you are doing?” curtly asked one of the robots.

 

Fluttershy flinched at the harshness of her sister’s tone. “S-Sorry, we were just… you see, I met these two ponies, and they needed my help to—”

 

“Negative,” interrupted one of her sisters.

 

“Your assignment does not entail bringing biologicals into this factory,” said another.

 

“Unit T-R33, confirm your primary assignment,” ordered a third.

 

Fluttershy lowered her gaze. “I… I’m sorry. I was damaged and, well, I don’t remember anymore.”

 

The eyes of the six sisters flared in unison. “Unit T-R33 does not recall her primary assignment.”

 

“Unit T-R33 is defective.”

 

“Unit T-R33 must be dismantled.”

 

What?” yelled Pinkie Pie. “But Fluttershy’s your sister, isn’t she? You’ve got to help her, not hurt her.”

 

Twilight Sparkle marched forward, glaring down the row of robots. “Oh no, you don’t. We’re her friends, and there’s no way we’re going to let you—”

 

“I understand,” said Fluttershy. “I am defective, and shall be dismantled immediately.”

 

In a flash, the six roboponies descended upon Fluttershy. They bucked into her flank, leaving a swarm of hoof-shaped dents along her frame. Each attack set off a shower of sparks, as metal hooves smashed against her steel body. Fluttershy staggered with each blow, but she managed to stay upright, stoically receiving her punishment.

 

“Fluttershy, what are you doing?” wailed Pinkie Pie. “They’re hurting you. You have to protect yourself!”

 

“Forget that,” growled Twilight Sparkle, pulling her weapons from her saddlebags. “If they want a fight, that’s exactly what—”

 

“No! Twilight Sparkle, please, don’t attack my sisters,” said Fluttershy. “After all, they’re just following instructions.”

 

“But we—”

 

“It’s quite alright,” Fluttershy cheerfully continued as a stray kick snapped one of her ears off, sending it flying across the room. “It is standard procedure to dismantle a robopony whose memory has become corrupted. I was aware that it might come to this, as soon as I detected my problem. However, when I saw that the three of you were stuck, I knew that I just had to do something to help. After all, isn’t this what friends are for?”

 

Twilight Sparkle’s heart dropped into her stomach. “No! This wasn’t supposed to happen. I never meant for you to—”

 

“And besides, we did it,” Fluttershy added. “We turned the power back on. Now you can leave and—Oh,” she gasped, turning to one of her sisters. “They are free to go, right? I mean, they didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

Her sister answered by delivering a sharp blow to the side of Fluttershy’s head, causing one of her eye panels to go dim. “The biologicals are inconsequential. They will be removed from the premises.”

 

“See?” Fluttershy turned back to Twilight Sparkle. “Everything is alright. Now you can continue on your mission to save everypony.”

 

“But we want to save you,” Pinkie Pie said. Her voice cracked as tears welled up in her eyes.

“Thank you, Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle. I am happy that I was able to call you my fr—”

With a final blow to the face, Fluttershy went limp, collapsing in a heap. One sister gave her a shove, sending her sliding across the floor. Fluttershy’s broken body crashed into the wall, where it quietly came to rest.

Fluttershy!” wailed Twilight Sparkle.

“Unit T-R33 has been deactivated,” one of the roboponies said matter-of-factly. “Next, we shall eliminate the intruders.”

“Wait, eliminate?” Pinkie Pie nervously huddled against the catatonic Twilight Sparkle. “I thought you said that we could leave.”

“Unit T-R33 was misled in order to assist with her deactivation. Biological intruders are to be executed, then removed from the premises.”

Pinkie Pie’s face contorted. “You lied to her? It wasn’t enough to bust her up? You had to lie to her too?!”

Twilight Sparkle stared at Fluttershy’s motionless body. A puddle of tears slowly grew on the floor beneath her muzzle. “This is all my fault,” she whispered, half to herself and half to the broken robot.

Pinkie Pie nudged her friend sharply, trying to draw her back to the present. “Twilight? This doesn’t look good.” She crouched defensively, priming her crossbow.

The squad of roboponies drew closer to the pair of ponies, slowly encircling them. Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle stood flank-to-flank, watching in fear as their escape routes were cut off.

One of the sisters leapt at Pinkie Pie. She countered with a salvo of crossbow bolts, which tore into the attacker’s frame, but the bolts were not enough to stop her attacker’s pounce. The robopony landed on top of Pinkie Pie, pinning her to the ground. Pinkie Pie flinched instinctively as the robot raised a metal hoof, ready to stomp down upon her.

A bolt of plasma crashed into the robot’s face sending it reeling. Pinkie Pie took advantage of the opening and kicked upward, tossing the robopony off her. Twilight Sparkle trotted up to Pinkie Pie’s defense, as she fired more blasts from her plasma-enhanced dart gun at the prone sister. The superheated bolts tore into her frame, one by one, until her systems finally failed.

“One down,” Twilight Sparkle said in a raspy voice, choking back her emotions.

She grunted heavily as another sister blindsided her with a kick, sending her flying. As she careened across the room, another of the sisters moved into position beneath her. A well-timed kick sent the falling Twilight Sparkle back into the air. The sisters continued to juggle the helpless Twilight Sparkle, bruising and battering her with their steel legs. At last, one of the machines showed a sadistic form of mercy, volleying Twilight Sparkle horizontally. Pinkie Pie had no time to react; her friend collided face-first into her, smashing both of them into the far bulkhead.

 

“Owwie,” groaned Pinkie Pie. She struggled back to her hooves, holding one against her throbbing forehead. “They’re not fighting fair. Not fair at all! Oh no, Twilight?”

 

Twilight Sparkle planted a hoof and tried to lift herself off the floor. Her muscles shuddered weakly before giving out. She didn’t move any further.

 

“T-Twilight?” stammered Pinkie Pie. “Twi, you gotta get up. Please, they’re getting closer. Here, I’ll sing another song. That’ll make you better again, right? Right?

 

Come on, Twilight, on your hooves.

Get up fast; you’ve g-got to move!

Let’s keep fighting; we’ve got to try.

If we d-don’t win, we’re g-going—

 

“Eep!” She dropped to the floor, narrowly dodging an incoming laser. She frantically looked at the five remaining robots closing in on her. “Twilight, please get up! Please! We need to save everypony. We can’t lose here.” She cowered, huddling up next to her motionless friend. Her eyes blurred with tears as she awaited the next attack. “I can’t do this on my own. I need your help. Please, help me.”

 

“You said...”

 

Both ponies’ heads snapped up, turning to the source of the voice. “Fluttershy?” gasped Pinkie Pie.

 

Sparks of electricity crackled out of the wounded robopony’s frame. Dark, thick smoke billowed above her as her circuitry came back to life. Fluttershy slowly rose onto her hooves. Her movements were rough and jerky; her damaged gears let out shrill whines as they slipped and tore against each other. Fluttershy’s remaining eye panel shone with an intense emerald light, focusing on her nearest sister. “You said,” she struggled to speak, “that my friends were free to go.”

 

“Negative,” curtly replied the sister. “The biologicals will be terminated.”

 

“Fluttershy, please,” said Twilight Sparkle, gasping for breath, “you need to run. It’s not safe.”

 

Her emerald eye turned to the wounded ponies. She stared silently at them for a moment before commenting. “You hurt my friends.”

 

“This is irrelevant. You will comply with your deactivation.”

 

Fluttershy turned back. Jerkily, she lifted a hoof, pointing it accusingly at her sister. “Nopony hurts my friends,” she said, speaking barely above an icy whisper. With a hiss, a trio of panels snapped open around her outstretched hoof. Rocket engines flared from the gaps, launching her hoof clear from her foreleg. The Rocket Hoof flew though the robotic sister’s head, exploding it in a shower of bolts and circuitry. “Nopony hurts my friends!” she roared.

 

The four remaining sisters turned to face Fluttershy, ignoring their original targets. “Unit T-R33 has become aggressive. Terminate immediately.”

 

“No!” protested Twilight Sparkle. “Fluttershy, get out of here!”

 

Fluttershy’s launched hoof was tethered back to her foreleg with a telescoping cylinder. She attempted to pull her hoof back, but it creaked and refused to retract; the leg had become too damaged during the previous fight. Seizing this opportunity, a sister ran up and stomped down on the pole, snapping it near the foreleg.

 

Fluttershy wobbled, trying to regain her balance on her three remaining hooves. She flared her wings and crouched low. The thruster jets lining the undersides of her wings roared to life, propelling her forward at breakneck speeds. She glided across the floor, smashing into one of the robots. Her Flutter Tackle sent the pair flying into the wall, crushing the sisterbot.

 

“Three left!” called Pinkie Pie, excitedly turning to Twilight Sparkle. “We can do this. C’mon!” She leapt back into the fray, attempting to Provoke some of the remaining robots away from Fluttershy. “Hey, you meanies, quit picking on Fluttershy! We’re the ones you want, remember?”

 

Twilight Sparkle struggled to stand upright, fighting through her injuries. “You’re right, Pinkie,” she said, gasping for air. “We have to save her.”

 

The remaining robots turned back from Fluttershy to the ponies, reacting to their distractions.

 

“No!” shouted Fluttershy. With a large puff of dark smoke, her body’s hatches all opened at once. “I told you to LEAVE MY FRIENDS ALONE!” From her body’s core flew a pair of dark purple laser beams which carved into the walls beside her. Her wings’ rockets came to life again, spinning her around in a circle. The Laser Spin attack danced about the room, nimbly dodging around Twilight Sparkle, slicing through one of the sisters, passing over Pinkie Pie’s head, and tearing through another of the robots.

 

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes flashed. “Watch out!” She reached for her gun, trying to provide some cover fire.

 

She was too late. The final robosister took advantage of the opening provided by her sisters’ demises. She rushed Fluttershy from behind, delivering one final kick. Fluttershy’s battered frame could take no more punishment; her trunk shattered, sending her broken halves tumbling to the ground. Her face and chest clattered against the floor. Her emerald eye went dark once more.

In a flash, Twilight Sparkle was atop the remaining attacker. Her core-shaking scream tore away at her own vocal cords, and her bruised muscles throbbed in agony, but these pains were the furthest thing from her mind. Her plasma gun leapt up magically, planting its barrel firmly against the robot’s body. The last sister’s head casing burst into a cascade of molten steel, sending her permanently offline.

Pinkie Pie held a hoof to her mouth, stifling a gasp. “That’s the last of the robots. We survived, but... Poor Fluttershy.” She bit her lip.

“Don’t worry! I’ve got this! I’ve got this!” Twilight Sparkle dashed to the remains of their robotic friend. Her horn radiated with magic, and she began scooping up fragments of Fluttershy’s broken shell. A constellation of loose circuits and body parts danced lightly in the air above them. “They didn’t do too much damage. I mean, her eye is busted, and her frame is riddled with hoof-shaped dents, and we’ll need to reattach her front leg,” she continued as hot tears started to overtake her vision, “and most of her coolant fluid has leaked out, and judging from all of this smoke, most of her processors must’ve burnt out, and we’ll need to completely remould her torso, but it’s no problem! No problem at all. It’s not...”

The magical aura flickered, then vanished. Cut loose from their suspension, the array of robotic parts were reclaimed by gravity, tumbling to the ground below. Twilight Sparkle hit the ground shortly thereafter, sobbing hysterically.

“No! Twilight, you’re right,” pleaded Pinkie Pie, rushing toward her distraught friend. “You repaired her once before, remember? That was you! You can’t give up now—not before you’ve even tried. Right?”

“I can’t! Just look at this,” wailed Twilight Sparkle. “She’s ten times worse than when we found her. I’ll never be able to fix all of this. It’s hopeless.”

Pinkie Pie grabbed Twilight Sparkle’s face with both her hooves, pulling her close until they were eye-to-eye. “Please, don’t say that! It’s not hopeless!”

“But this is—”

“It’s not!” Pinkie Pie gave her friend a gentle yet stern shake. “Please, won’t you try? For Fluttershy’s sake?”

Twilight Sparkle looked into her friend’s eyes. Pinkie Pie stared back, overflowing with determination. In her fragile emotional state, it was not a gaze that Twilight Sparkle could match. She averted her gaze, looking instead at the pile of broken parts strewn across the floor.

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2300 AD

Magno Dome

“About time!” said Rainbow Dash. “I was wondering when you girls would finally get back here. As you can see, your talented and fearless leader carried out her mission with flying colors. Yep, not only did I get that big door open, but there’s a Gate inside, just like Twilight said there’d be. Now can we get out of this stupid future already? I mean, it’s not like I would’ve gone ahead without you, even if I had the Gate Key, but I—Twi? Twilight, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Twilight Sparkle ran toward her friend, meeting in the center of the dome. The fur underneath her eyes was wet and matted. Her voice warbled as she began to speak. “Oh Rainbow Dash, it’s all my fault. Fluttershy’s dead and it’s all my fault! We went to the factory, and I forced her to be our friend. Then when we were attacked, she fought, but she didn’t want to fight. She hated fighting. But we got surrounded, and her sisters broke her into a million pieces, and I can’t fix her! It’s just not possible; she’s—”

“Whoa! Hey, hey.” Rainbow Dash pulled her childhood friend in, hugging her tightly. She felt her chest grow damp from Twilight Sparkle’s flowing tear ducts. “You’re, like, the smartest pony I know. Besides, you’ve already fixed Fluttershy up once. What d’ya mean you can’t fix her?”

“That’s what I said,” chimed in Pinkie Pie. She tipped to the side, causing the large bundle containing Fluttershy’s parts to gently slide off her back. Twilight Sparkle, in her current emotional state, had been unable to maintain her telekinesis in order to carry Fluttershy back to Magno Dome, so Pinkie Pie had immediately volunteered to help out. “Even if it seems impossible, you can’t know it’s impossible until you’ve tried.”

Twilight Sparkle shook her head rapidly, smearing a light trail of mucus across Rainbow Dash’s coat. “But it is impossible,” she spoke into her friend’s chest. “I used up all of the good parts in this dome when I repaired Fluttershy the first time. Now I’ll need just as many replacement parts, and then some! There’s no way we’ll be able to scavenge that much. She’s too far gone.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “Well, I mean, you guys just came from a factory. Doesn’t that place make robot parts?”

Twilight Sparkle stared up at her friend, awestruck. “I—”

“That’s right!” said Pinkie Pie. “They had tons of robot bits there. I mean, most of ‘em were for robots that looked different than Fluttershy, but Fluttershy’s sisters looked like Fluttershy. And if her sisters lived there, they probably had their own spare parts, right?”

“Leave it to us,” said Rainbow Dash. “Me and Pinkie can run over and grab all the parts you need. Just give us a list. You can stay here and focus on putting her back together.”

“We’ll be extra careful this time. We promise we won’t break any of the parts. You can trust us.”

Twilight Sparkle looked back and forth between the gentle smiles of her two friends. She rubbed the back of her foreleg across her eyes, before pulling her friends close for a group hug. “Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash... Thank you. I couldn’t make it without you.”

“Aww,” grinned Pinkie Pie. “I couldn’t do it alone either. Friends need ‘ta stick together.”

“Yeah,” Twilight Sparkle said, sniffling. “We need to stay optimistic, just like you said.” She turned to address her other friend. “And Rainbow Dash, thanks for offering to get the replacement parts. I really need your help right now.” Her gaze fell. “A-and, I’m sorry that we left you behind here. It was mean of us, and I—”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Alright, already. You know how I feel about apologizing.” She playfully poked her friend’s forehead. “C’mon, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded resolutely. “Right! Let’s get to it!”

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Twilight Sparkle waved farewell to her friends as they left for their fifth trip to the factory. She turned to look at the floor, where they had dropped off their recent payload. “Okay,” she muttered aloud, “let’s see. That should be enough copper wiring. Wow, they even found a replacement processor for her coordination circuits. Nice!” She gently scattered the pile of replacement parts across the floor, frowning. “Rats. I guess they couldn’t find a new battery for her flight controls.”

“Oh, that’s alright.”

It was all Twilight Sparkle could do to stop herself from jumping out of her skin. She snapped her head behind her, whipping her mane around in the process. Behind her, she saw a gentle emerald light emanating from beneath Fluttershy’s mane.

“My flight circuits don’t normally use much power anyway,” continued Fluttershy. “You could probably borrow a small amount from my primary systems.”

Twilight Sparkle quickly turned forward again. “Y-you shouldn’t talk right now. You’re too injured. Just try to rest.”

“Oh.” Several seconds of silence elapsed before Fluttershy spoke again. “I must be putting the three of you through an awful lot of trouble. I’m sorry for becoming so damaged.”

“But it’s my fault!” yelled Twilight Sparkle. She spun back around, facing Fluttershy with a piteous look. “I’m the one who told you to be our friend—who took you to the factory, even though you knew you’d get in trouble—who stood by helplessly while your sisters attacked all of us. Because of me, you had to destroy your own sisters, and you were nearly destroyed as a result!” She looked pleadingly into Fluttershy’s remaining eye, awaiting some form of judgment or rebuke.

“But you told me that it wasn’t an order. You just wanted to be my friend. I was never forced to act this way.” After a moment of contemplation, Fluttershy added, “I didn’t want to hurt my own sisters, but when I saw that they had attacked you,” she said, staring at the ground, “I-I just couldn’t take it. More than anything, I wanted to keep my friends safe.” She looked back at Twilight Sparkle. “Isn’t that normal, for somepony to want to protect her friends?”

“Yeah,” said Twilight Sparkle, biting her lip, “you’re right. You’re right.” Her eyes flashed with recollection. “But that was my point exactly! I just stood by while your sisters were tearing you apart! I wanted to protect you too, but you told me not to help! I just stood there, watching you throw your life away. It was horrible! As your friend, I want to keep you safe, too.”

An awkward silence hung in the air for a few seconds. Eventually, Fluttershy let out a light giggle. “I guess we both have a few things to learn about friendship, don’t we?”

Twilight Sparkle rubbed the back of her head with her hoof, chuckling. “I guess we do!”

The two ponies shared a heartfelt laugh. The lighthearted moment melted away the stress and emotion that had built up over the course of the day. With this one moment, normality had nearly returned to their lives. There was just one more thing left to do.

“Right, then,” said Twilight Sparkle as she walked up behind Fluttershy, resuming her repairs. “Let’s see what we can do about that flight circuit.”

“Thank you, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Actually, I meant to say something about that. Y’know, you don’t have to use our full names all the time. Just call me ‘Twilight’ for short. All my friends do.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

“Twilight...”

Twilight Sparkle inhaled deeply, stretching out her sore muscles. Jeez, I still feel exhausted, she thought. Maybe I can sleep a bit longer; just ten more minutes.

“Twilight!”

Wait, sleep? Her eyes snapped open. Looking about, she realized that she had passed out on the cold steel floor of the dome. She was buried under a small pile of shredded cloth fragments, which formed a makeshift blanket. As she sat upright, she saw the beaming faces of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. Standing between them was Fluttershy, completely restored to her original condition.

“Good morning, Twilight!” said Fluttershy.

“Fluttershy, you’re alright!” said Twilight Sparkle. She leapt onto her hooves and rushed to hug the robopony.

“Well of course she’s alright,” giggled Pinkie Pie. “I mean, you’re the one who put her back together after all.”

“And apparently, you passed out as soon as you finished,” snickered Rainbow Dash. “I have no idea why you didn’t just use the Enertron. I mean, that is what it’s there for.”

“Best of all, now that the door is unlocked,” said Fluttershy, “we’ll be able to use the Gate inside.”

“‘We’? So you made up your mind?”

“Yes, Twilight. I thought for a long time about what you told me. I don’t want to see anypony get hurt. That monster, Lavos, is the...” said Fluttershy, as she struggled to find the right words, “the biggest, meanest, jerky-jerkiest creature that ever lived! It caused so much pain and suffering a few centuries ago. The three of you are being so brave, trying to stop it.” She looked around the room of smiling faces. “But I can be strong, too. I think I understand now, what you said about finding something to believe in. I want to protect other ponies. I want to go with you, and do anything I can to help others.” Her resolve wavered slightly at the end of her emotional speech. “I mean, if there’s room for me.”

“Of course!” said Rainbow Dash. “The more the merrier!” She offered Fluttershy a hoof bump, who timidly returned one.

“It’s settled then,” said Twilight Sparkle as they entered the small room on the other side of the door. The telltale signs of a Gate’s distortion glowed lightly in the musty room. “We’ll travel together—”

“—stop that huge jerky-jerk—” cheered Pinkie Pie.

“—protect everypony from harm—” added Fluttershy.

“—and get something to eat, for feather’s sake!” Rainbow Dash snatched the Gate Key from Twilight Sparkle’s saddlebags. As she approached the distortion, the Gate tore open, pulling the four friends inside. Electric bolts tore across the deep purple void as it closed around them. They left the post-apocalyptic future behind, hurtling through time to an unanticipated destination.


Chapter 16: The End of Time

The End of Time

Rainbow Dash fell slowly through a column of pure white light that shone up from the ground below. To her, it felt as if the light column were made of molasses and that she were slowly sinking to the bottom of its depths. Her hooves gently touched down on the cobblestone platform. The hooves of her friends landed shortly behind hers.

As soon as Fluttershy touched the ground, she collapsed into the fetal position. “I-changed-my-mind-let’s-go-back.”

“Oh, c’mon Fluttershy,” encouraged Twilight Sparkle. “This place doesn’t look that bad. I mean, it’s certainly... spacious?”

The four ponies stood on a cobblestone platform, enclosed in a steel picket fence. A trio of light columns—one of which they had arrived in—shone resolutely up into the air. A small pathway lead a short distance away to a second platform. Beyond these two platforms was nothing. There were no supports, no ground, no surrounding structures, no light, and no darkness. Reality itself seemed to terminate beyond the simple picket fence.

“Looks kinda boring, really,” lamented Pinkie Pie. “Where are we, anyway? When, I mean. When are we?”

“Well, you see,” said Fluttershy, “I’m equipped with a number of sensors. Some of my sensors can detect the current date, while others can detect our location.”

“Nice,” said Rainbow Dash with a smile. “That sounds crazy-useful for a bunch of time travelers like us. So, when are we?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wait, what?”

Fluttershy shivered her wings, producing a vibrating metallic sound that the friends were quickly becoming accustomed to. “My sensors stopped working the second we entered the Gate. It’s like this place doesn’t exist at all.” She looked up at Twilight Sparkle. “Can we go back? Please?”

“We’ve come so far,” said Twilight Sparkle, wincing. “I know that this place is a bit freaky-looking, but I’d hate to turn tail and run before we even figure out when we are.”

“Hello!”

The ponies turned and looked down the lonely path. A solitary lamp post rested on the only other platform in existence. Underneath this lamp post stood a brown pony with a moppy manecut and an hourglass-shaped cutie mark. He waved energetically, wearing a broad, disarming smile.

“Rainbow Dash!” called out Fluttershy. “Where are you going?”

Rainbow Dash hovered above the pathway, looking back in confusion. “Uh, to talk with him? He’s kinda the only thing here, besides the lamp post.”

“Yeah! C’mon, Fluttershy,” said Pinkie Pie as she helped the robot to her hooves. “We’re all together. It’ll be safe, I promise.”

The three mares followed after Rainbow Dash, trotting down the pathway to the second platform. The brown stallion waved them along, eagerly waiting for everypony to draw close enough for comfortable conversation.

“Yes, yes, come along now,” he said. “Your pink friend there is quite right; no dangers here. None from myself, leastways. Come a bit closer, and we can talk proper about—goodness, have you picked up another companion? I suppose it was only a matter of time. It usually is, haha. Oh, and a robotic pony at that! Quite impressive. Quite impressive, indeed. Right then. I suppose we should get properly acquainted at last. Might I inquire about your names?”

“Heya! I’m Pinkie Pie,” she said, firmly shaking his hoof. “Nice to meetcha!”

“And you as well, Pinkie! My, what an energetic one you are.”

“My name is Twilight Sparkle.”

“And I’m Rainbow Dash. The three of us are time travelers from the year—” With a sharp gasp, she firmly lodged her hooves into her own mouth. She shifted her gaze towards her friend. Twilight Sparkle was glaring back with murderous intent.

“Oh, it’s fine, it’s fine!” reassured the stallion. “We’re all time travelers. It’s not like anypony grew up here, after all. So, there’s no reason to keep it a secret.”

Rainbow Dash removed her hooves. “—time travelers from the year 1000 AD.”

“Very good, very good. And you, my dear?” the stallion asked Fluttershy.

Fluttershy shifted her eyes away and murmured inaudibly.

“This is Fluttershy,” said Twilight Sparkle, graciously intervening. “We met up with her in the year 2300 AD, shortly before traveling here.”

“So that’s us,” said Rainbow Dash. “What about you? What’s your name?”

“My name?” The stallion looked skyward, rubbing his chin. He contemplated the question as deeply as if he had been asked to speculate on the origins of the cosmos. He smiled upon reaching an answer that seemed sufficient. “Well, you can call me The Doctor.”

“The Doctor?” asked Twilight Sparkle, arching an eyebrow. “Doctor who?”

“Hooves.”

“Huh?”

“Your hooves, Pinkie.” He hurried in front of Pinkie Pie, who was poking a small bucket in the corner. He nudged her back toward her friends, saying, “Watch your hooves. We don’t want you messing with anything so dangerous.”

“D-dangerous?” Fluttershy’s eyes shrank. “But you just said there wasn’t anything dangerous here.”

“Ah, indeed I did. Mostly true. I certainly won’t harm you. No, the danger is mostly in places that are not here. Like there,” said The Doctor, pointing to the bucket that he saved Pinkie Pie from. “Or probably there,” he said, nodding to a wooden door along the fence, which appeared to lead nowhere. “Or really, any of those,” he said, looking over to the first platform’s light columns. “But right here? Perfectly safe, I assure you.”

“And ‘here’ is—” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Why, the End of Time, of course!”

Twilight Sparkle’s mind boggled at the notion. She couldn’t help but drop her jaw in shock. “T-the end?”

“Yes. No. Bit of a misnomer, that,” mused The Doctor. “Might want to come up with something better. Bend? Brink? Precipice?” He shook his head. “It’s not the ‘end’ in a strictly linear sense, like as in ‘tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow.’ It’s the ‘end’ in the sense of a void. That is to say, the space-time coordinates of least resistance, yet also outside your normal dimensions of space-time. It’s the ‘end’ as in the end of tea time, not because it is 4:30, and not because we ran out of tea, but because tea is not here. Do you follow?”

“No,” said Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy simultaneously. They turned, looking expectantly at Twilight Sparkle.

“I think... Sorry, I’m lost too.”

“Err, right,” said The Doctor as he ran a hoof through his mane. “The point is, this lamp post is a bit of a crossroads. Those pillars of light, like the one you arrived on? Those are connected to the various time-traveling Gates dotted throughout history. From here, you can access different eras with ease, rather than be encumbered with strict point-to-point travel.”

“Oh, wow! That should make our time traveling a lot easier,” said Twilight Sparkle. She furrowed her eyebrows. “But wait, why did we get sent here this time? We’ve traveled through a few Gates, but this is the only time we’ve arrived at the End of Time.”

“Indeed it is,” said The Doctor with a nod. “I confess, I’ve been keeping a bit of an eye on you lot. You see, from the End of Time, I’m able to keep tabs on a few of the going-ons in space-time. Nothing too detailed, mind you, but enough to see the broad picture. When I saw that the three of you—ah, that is, the four of you—were whipping back-and-forth willy-nilly across time, I figured that you just might be the ones.”

Rainbow Dash cocked her head. “The ones?”

“Precisely! The ones to watch! The girls on the go! The type of ponies everypony, everypony should...” He buried his face in his hoof. “I was quoting Becoming Popular again, wasn’t I? Really must break that habit. But that’s beside the point. You four have no doubt learned about Lavos, yes?”

“Lavos!” growled Rainbow Dash. “Of course we heard about that monster! That’s why the four of us are traveling through time: to put a stop to it!”

“Splendid! That saves us plenty of exposition.” He motioned over to the bucket in the far corner, which Pinkie Pie had been investigating earlier. “It’s in the bucket.”

“What? Lavos?”

“Yes.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes narrowed in bemusement. “Lavos, the gigantic monster which destroys all of ponykind, is in that bucket.

“Yes.”

Pinkie Pie folded her forelegs across her chest and nodded sagely. “Mmm, yes, I see.”

“Oh,” said The Doctor with a slight blush. “I think I see the point of confusion. The Gate leading to Lavos is in that bucket.”

“Ohhh,” said Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie in unison.

“Well,” continued Rainbow Dash, “what are we waiting for? Let’s go kick its face in.”

The Doctor shook his head. “I’m loving the gumption, Rainbow, but it’s simply not possible. Not then; not now. First, you must prepare.”

“Prepare?” asked Fluttershy. “How can we possibly prepare to fight a world-destroying abomination?”

The Doctor winked at Fluttershy, causing her to release a small puff of steam. “I’m glad you asked, dear Fluttershy. I would start in there.” He pointed behind him to the small wooden door along the back fence.

Twilight Sparkle frowned as she approached the door. “Oh, come on. I suppose I can understand the ‘bucket’ confusion, but this is ridiculous. There clearly isn’t anything on the other side of this—whoa!” Opening the door, Twilight Sparkle could see another room through the doorway. She leaned to the left, looking through the fence next to the door, but she could only see the lightless, darkless void. She leaned back through the doorway, and the new room reappeared before her.

The Doctor chuckled. “Ah, but Twilight, as the saying goes, things aren’t always as they seem. Now, hurry along, all of you. We mustn’t keep her waiting. Oh!” he called out. Once he had the ponies’ attention, he looked downward, pondering how to phrase his advice. “Be very respectful,” he eventually offered. “Very.”

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The End of Time—Unknown Room

The ponies walked into the back room and closed the door behind them. Like the other platforms in the End of Time, it was a cobblestone floor with a picket fence. This room, however, was otherwise empty. There were no ponies and no buckets. The Doctor and his lamp post were no longer visible; even though they ought to have been visible through the picket fence, they had vanished as soon as the doorway closed.

“I don’t get it. How is standing alone in an empty room supposed to prepare us to save the world?” asked Pinkie Pie.

The disembodied laughter of a mare floated overhead, causing the four friends to jump in alarm. The room, though it lacked any visible source of lighting, plunged into darkness. Fluttershy let out a timid squeak.

“Oh, my little ponies, you aren’t alone,” said the voice. “In fact, you’re just in time for the show.”

Trumpets blared from the edges of the void, showering the four ponies with a bold fanfare. The brass chorus was nearly drowned out as an array of fireworks exploded overhead. The bursts lit up the dimmed room with a soft red glow.

“Prepare yourself, ignorant foals, to behold spectacles beyond comprehension. Prepare to be graced by a veritable Goddess of War, for whom there is no equal. Prepare to be amazed by none other than—”

A bright spotlight shone down from the sky, falling onto the center of the room. A burst of wispy smoke puffed up from the ground, from which emerged an azure unicorn draped in violet, star-stitched robes.

“—the Great and Powerful Trixie!” she exclaimed, rearing back on her hind legs as the fanfare and fireworks reached their finales.

Rainbow Dash pivoted and walked toward the exit.

“And just where you do you think you’re going?” demanded Trixie.

“The show’s boring. You’re loud. I’m outta here.”

Trixie chuckled softly. “Suit yourself, pegasus. If you are not interested in tapping into your true potential, The Great and Powerful Trixie won’t force your hoof.”

Rainbow Dash stopped cold in her tracks. She whipped her head around, raising her eyebrows. Her expression quickly darkened as she marched back to Trixie. “What, you think you can teach me something?”

“Dash...” warned Twilight Sparkle.

“She looks like she’s performing at some filly’s birthday party!” protested Rainbow Dash. “What could she possibly know about getting stronger?”

“How fascinating,” said Trixie with a sly grin. “You know, Trixie finds that her worthy adversaries never make such rash judgments. It’s only weak, clueless amateurs who choose to disparage The Great and Powerful Trixie’s name.”

“Why, you little—hey!” Rainbow Dash’s attack was cut short as she was grappled by Twilight Sparkle’s magic. “Twi! Lemme go!”

“You could help us unlock our p-potential?” asked Fluttershy as she hugged against the back wall of the room.

“Do not misinterpret Trixie,” scoffed Trixie. “She is not motivated by altruism. The Great and Powerful Trixie will unlock your potential, solely to prove that even at your grandest, you are inferior to Trixie in every, conceivable, way.” With each punctuated word, Fluttershy slumped deeper and deeper into the far corner.

“But what d’ya mean by ‘potential’? What are you going to unlock?” asked Pinkie Pie. “Is it some kinda ancient treasure chest with legendary artifacts? Why is the chest named Potential, anyway? That’s a silly name for a treasure chest. Though, I suppose I’ve never actually met—”

 “Naturally, the Great and Powerful Trixie is referring to the most elusive and powerful force in the universe—” she paused dramatically, flipping her luxurious silvery mane, “—magic!

Twilight Sparkle raised her hoof.

“You see, little foals,” continued Trixie, “magic is the foundation upon which every single piece of the universe is constructed. It is comprised of the balance of four fundamental elements: fire and water, light and shadow.”

Twilight Sparkle rapidly waved her hoof back and forth.

“Several millennia before your time, a kingdom existed wherein nearly everypony was capable of calling forth the power of the elements. Due to their hubris and ineptitude, the kingdom was destroyed and the art was forgotten.”

Her raised foreleg was starting to fatigue. Twilight Sparkle braced her left foreleg behind her head, keeping her right foreleg propped up.

“Forgotten, but not lost. The gift of magic lies dormant in the descendants of that ancient civilization. With proper guidance from an omnipotent and magnanimous being, it might even be possible for the likes of you to reclaim your—what?! What is it?” Trixie snapped at Twilight Sparkle. “What could possibly be so important that you see fit to interrupt The Great and Powerful Trixie’s lecture?”

Twilight Sparkle dropped her foreleg. She felt a wave of relief flow over her fatigued muscles. “I already know magic,” she said.

Trixie blinked, cocking her head back. “You? You’re telling Trixie that you already know magic?”

“Of course! See?” Her horn surged with magical waves, lifting a particularly thick textbook out of her saddlebags.

Twilight Sparkle was interrupted by a particularly unflattering snort. “Telekinesis? Please,” said Trixie. “An amateur ability available to even the simplest of unicorns. Do not sully the name of your ancestors and betters by claiming that this meager parlor trick is ‘magic.’”

“Huh?” Twilight Sparkle tilted her head. “But if that’s not magic, then what—” Her eyes lit up with excitement. “Oh, of course! That’s what you mean! Let me try something.”

Twilight Sparkle widened her stance to lower her center of gravity. Her horn glowed once more with a radiant aura. She licked her lips as a surge of magical energies whirled in the air around her. Her mane and tail floated gently along her own energy waves. Her horn’s energy exploded in a radiant shockwave, flooding the room with light and forcing everypony to shield their eyes. As the room returned to its normal brightness, the ponies could finally see the result of the conjuration spell; a thick-bristled, silvery mustache now adorned the face of The Great and Powerful Trixie.

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie collapsed on top of each other, howling in laughter at the dapper adornment. Even Fluttershy, curled up tightly in the corner of the room, couldn’t help but giggle.

“Excellent!” crowed Twilight Sparkle. “I was a little worried there. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried casting a spell that complex. But yeah, I already know how to—yah!” She dropped straight to the ground, landing roughly on her underside. The incoming ball of flame whizzed overhead, singeing the top of her hat before bursting against the picket fence.

Trixie gnashed her teeth. Her chest rose and fell with each forced breath. A metaphorical fire burned in her eyes as she stared down the offending unicorn, while a literal fire burned underneath her hooves. She summoned forth a column of flame, which propelled her into the air and cleanly burnt away the grievously offensive mustache. “Insolent peons!” she roared down at the four ponies below her. “You would dare to mock The Great and Powerful Trixie with such a pathetic and insulting display?”

Fluttershy wailed, covering her eye sensors with her hooves. Secretly, she hoped that by doing so, she would render herself invisible to Trixie.

Twilight Sparkle’s reaction was not much better; she laid on the ground before the burning pillar, enraptured by the display of magical prowess.

“Whoa!” shouted Rainbow Dash, flaring her wings. “That is awesome! You can seriously teach us how to make giant fireballs and crazy stuff like that?”

“Right? That is crazy,” said Pinkie Pie, bouncing up alongside Rainbow Dash. “I’ve never seen anypony who could do a trick like that. You must’ve really practiced a lot, Trixie!”

Trixie coldly examined the ponies beneath her hooves. In time, her breathing slowed and her muscles unclenched. The flames below her dissipated, and she gently drifted back to the ground. “Hmph. Yes, well, at least some ponies can recognize their superiors.” She lifted her nose at the ponies, closing her eyes. “Very well! Trixie shall agree to unlock your magical potential,” she said, raising a limp hoof toward Rainbow Dash, “if you apologize for insulting The Great and Powerful Trixie.”

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Uh, we’re sorry?”

Trixie opened an eye and smirked. She shook her head, wiggling the hoof closer to Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash heard a squeal behind her. Turning, she saw Twilight Sparkle attempting and failing to cover a mile-wide toothy grin with her hooves. As Rainbow Dash processed her friend’s reaction, the meaning of Trixie’s request slowly dawned on her. Her jaw dropped as she squeaked in protest.

What?” she wailed. “No! C’mon! Okay, first off: you!” she yelled, pointing accusingly at the giddy Twilight Sparkle. “Cut it out. That thing you’re doing? Stop it. Second? This is your fault, so you oughta be the one up here. Third?” She turned back to Trixie, stretching her forelegs wide. “Come on!

Trixie leaned forward, gently bopping Rainbow Dash in the snout with her hoof. “Trixie is waaaiting,” she said in a singsong voice.

Rainbow Dash locked eyes with Twilight Sparkle, sneering with the dirtiest look she could muster. She leaned in toward the hoof and grazed it with her lips as lightly as possible. Rainbow Dash immediately slouched away, folded her hooves, and muttered impolite things about her so-called best friend. Twilight Sparkle responded by sticking out her tongue.

“And just like that,” announced Trixie in a needlessly booming voice, “all is forgiven! Is not The Great and Powerful Trixie gracious and benevolent?”

“So does that mean you’ll teach us? Hooray!” cheered Pinkie Pie, unphased by her squabbling friends. “Can we learn right now? What’s the first step?”

Trixie nonchalantly examined her hooficure. “Trot three laps clockwise around this room, while chanting the word ‘magic.’”

“Oh wow! I had no idea that learning magic was so easy!” Pinkie Pie trotted to the edge of the room, slowly working her way around the perimeter. “Magic... magic...”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash pivoted and walked toward the exit.

“Giving up so soon?” taunted Trixie. “Is walking in a circle too hard?”

“You’re just jerking our chains,” snapped Rainbow Dash, redirecting her anger from her friend to where it belonged.

Twilight Sparkle frowned sourly. “If you don’t want to help us, just say so.”

“Magic... magic...” chanted Fluttershy as she shambled around the edge of the room.

“Need Trixie remind you once again of her awe-inspiring prowess? She is clearly more than capable of training the likes of you, so you would do well to just shut up and do as The Great and Powerful Trixie says.”

Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle shared a bemused glance. With a dejected sigh, they joined their friends in encircling the room. “Magic... magic...”

“Congratulations, students,” said Trixie in a monotone as the last of the ponies completed their third lap. “You passed. You can use magic now.”

Twilight Sparkle glared at Trixie. “Are you serious?”

“Sah-weet!” yelled Pinkie Pie. “I know magic! I know magic! Hey Trixie, what spells can we use?”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Well let’s see, then.” She stared curiously at Twilight Sparkle’s saddlebags before smirking. “Ooo. You’ll get fire.”

Twilight Sparkle nervously examined her saddlebags as well. She noted the copious number of dry books and brittle scrolls. “Fire?” she said with a gulp. “I mean, not that I actually believe that you taught us anything, but... fire? It’s bad enough that I’ve got a flamethrower buried somewhere in here.”

Trixie looked Rainbow Dash over, noticing her lightning bolt cutie mark. “Sure. Light for you.”

Rainbow Dash moaned, “Light? That sounds so frou-frou. Can’t I get something cooler?”

Trixie waved her hoof noncommittally at Pinkie Pie. “And that means water for you. Rounds out the trio.”

“Water?” said Pinkie Pie with a wince, trying to hide her disappointment. “Isn’t that a little bit plain? I was hoping for something with a bit more pop and pizzaz.”

“How about fire?” asked Twilight Sparkle. “Water sounds nice. Gentle. Nonflammable.”

“What?” snapped Trixie. “You’re not allowed to—”

“Aww, Twi,” whined Rainbow Dash. “Trade with me! Fire looked pretty sick, the way Trixie was using it.”

“Actually, light sounds neat,” said Pinkie Pie. “It sounds cheery, and sunny, and a great way to brighten someone’s day!”

Twilight Sparkle smiled, nodding eagerly. “That works! So I’ll get water, Pinkie gets light, and Rainbow gets fire?”

Trixie stomped her hooves repeatedly on the cobblestone floor. “No, no, no! You can’t just ‘trade’ elements! Your element is an intrinsic trait determined by your heritage.”

“Oh, shaddap,” sneered Rainbow Dash. “You obviously picked them at random just now. What do you care if we swap ‘em?”

“Um, I’m sorry to interrupt—”

Rainbow Dash gasped, wincing at her newest friend. “Oh cripes! Sorry Fluttershy, I almost forgot you for a minute there.” She turned back to Trixie. “So yeah. What about Fluttershy?”

“What about her?” sneered Trixie.

“Good point. Sorry to bother you,” said Fluttershy. She hung her head low, obscuring her face behind her metallic mane.

“Hey!” snapped Rainbow Dash. “She did your stupid little exercise, just like the rest of us. Why doesn’t she get magic powers?”

“Oh, Trixie doesn’t know. Maybe it’s because robots can’t use magic. Maybe it’s because this robot is weak and not worthy of Trixie’s time. Or maybe,” she said, grinning smugly at an increasingly-aggravated Rainbow Dash, “Trixie just doesn’t feel like it.”

“That’s it!” yelled Rainbow Dash, taking flight above her friends. “I have had enough with your—” She pointed an accusing hoof at Trixie. Trixie calmly leaned to her left as the bolt of lightning grazed harmlessly past her.

The other ponies gasped loudly. “Rainbow?” whispered Twilight Sparkle. “What did you do? Was that...”

Rainbow Dash stared at her own hoof, slack-jawed. Slowly, the corners of her mouth turned upward, first into an elated gasp, then into an eager grin, then finally a devilish smirk. “Oh,” she told Trixie, “it’s game on.”

Hovering in place, Rainbow Dash curled up into a small cyan ball, tightening her muscles. As she focused her mind, the room began to tingle with the buzz of static electricity. The air of the room ebbed and flowed with magical energies, synchronized with Rainbow Dash’s relaxed breathing. With a sudden roar, she unfurled herself, rocketing her magic upward. The magic fell quickly back to earth, striking as a ferocious bolt of lightning.

 

Without so much as a blink, Trixie summoned magic of her own. A blue, static-laden orb surrounded her form, absorbing the incoming attack. “Well, well,” she stated dryly. “Looks like somepony is a quick study.”

“Oh my,” gasped Fluttershy as she watched the sparring match unfold. “Everypony, please be careful. We don’t want anypony to hurt themselves right now.”

 

As Rainbow Dash prepared to unleash another attack, Pinkie Pie eagerly raised her hoof up to her own eyeball, studying it intently. She gave it a few rapid shakes, then held it up to her ear. She muttered, “How’re you supposed to…”

 

Not to be outdone, Twilight Sparkle meditated on this new form of magic within her. With a smile, she called forth a thin stream of fire which playfully danced around her hooves and behind her torso. She focused the flame near her horn, flowing her power into it before unleashing it at Trixie.

 

The Great and Powerful Trixie leapt to the side, dodging another of Rainbow Dash’s lightning bolts. As she landed with a rough stomp, a wall of flames rose up in front of her, swallowing up Twilight Sparkle’s fireball. “Impressive. Upgrading from facial hair to fireballs in a matter of minutes. There just might be hope for the three—” A chunk of ice slammed into the side of her head, interrupting her snide taunt. Trixie staggered sideways, trying to regain her balance.

 

“Ice! How nice!” giggled Pinkie Pie. “See, I was just thinking about how boring water sounded, and I was like, ‘How can I make this cooler?’ And it was like ‘Of course! Ice is cooler!’ Get it? Cooler? It’s almost twen—

 

A cascading flow of ice crashed over Pinkie Pie, sending her careening into the side of the fence. The ice flow solidified over her torso, pinning her to the wall. She flailed her exposed hooves helplessly. “Hey! No fair!”

 

“The Great and Powerful Trixie has no patience for your terrible puns!” screamed Trixie.

 

“My puns? Terrible?” squeaked Pinkie Pie. Her jaw clenched tightly. Spasms rocked through her eye muscles. “Dashie!” she screeched at her friend. “Demolish that she-witch!”

 

“Heh, you got it, Pinkie!” called out Rainbow Dash. She raised her hoof skyward, preparing to send down another wave of lightning.

 

Trixie snarled. “Trixie is through playing nicely. It is time to show you who is in charge.” Swirling her hoof in a circle, she summoned forth a storm cloud which flew up to Rainbow Dash. The storm cloud shook and rumbled, shooting its own lightning bolts back at Rainbow Dash.

 

“Yeowch!” she cried after taking a zap to the flank. “Quit it!” She kicked out at the cloud, trying to move or dissipate it, but the barrage of electricity prevented her from getting close. After taking a few more licks, she was forced to turn and flee. The magical cloud chased her around the room, causing her to yelp with each strike.

 

“Rainbow Dash!” called out Fluttershy in worry. She stood up from her hiding place in the corner. “Watch out!”

 

“Nopony asked you,” scoffed Trixie. She grinned widely as she performed another incantation.

 

Fluttershy’s shadow began to solidify and take shape. It formed into an amorphous blob in front of Fluttershy. The mere sight of the shadow was enough to send her cowering back into her corner.

 

“Pathetic!” snickered Trixie. “How can all of you crumple so easily?”

 

“It’s not over yet, Trixie.” Twilight Sparkle stood defiantly in front of Trixie. “You may be stronger than us, and more versed in magic, but you’ll never be able to crush our spirits. Ack!” Twilight Sparkle leapt sideways, dodging the fireball which Trixie threw at her. “Ha! See that? I can already dodge your attacks.”

 

Trixie laughed, “Trixie would check again, if Trixie were you.”

 

“Double ack!” yelped Twilight Sparkle. The fireball had grazed along her tail, setting it asmoulder. She rapidly swished her tail to and fro, attempting to put out the embers. In response to the extra oxygen, the hair fully ignited, leaving a trail of flames along her tail. “Triple ack!” She kicked and stomped on her tail, futilely trying to extinguish the flames.

 

Trixie fell onto her back, squealing with laughter. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she tried and failed to regain her composure. “T-this is so sad! The lot of you can’t even stand up to your own elements? Ahaha! What was that imbecile Doctor thinking?” Trixie bit her lip, stifling her laughter for a second as she surveyed the damage. Fluttershy was cowering from her own shadow. Pinkie Pie was frozen against the fence, completely helpless. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle were both busy screaming and running circles around the room, desperately trying to outrun her magic. “Pfft, gya ha ha!” Trixie howled. “Hooves down, you four are the most pathetic opponents that Trixie has ever faced!”

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

The End of Time

 

“Well,” scowled Twilight Sparkle, “that was a complete disaster.” Dark smoke billowed from her tail as she and her friends left Trixie’s room. The air around her hung with the foul odor of burnt hair.

 

“I-i-it wasn’t all that b-b-bad,” chattered Pinkie Pie as she rubbed her forelegs against her body. “We p-p-picked up these amazing new powers.”

 

“Well, I think that everypony did a great job,” said Fluttershy cheerily. “You all tried your very best. You should be proud of how well you did your first time.”

“Yeah, not really,” said Rainbow Dash. She rubbed a hoof over her flank, massaging her sore muscles. “That was pretty much disgraceful. The four of us are going to have to train non-stop if we ever want to wipe that smug grin off her face.”

 

“Oh come now, Rainbow!” said The Doctor as he welcomed the ponies back to his lamp post. “The lot of you don’t look too much worse for wear. I’d say you four did better than most who’ve passed through that door. And really, those new magical abilities of yours are quite a blessing.” He chuckled, adding, “It’s always nice to see the legacy of that ancient kingdom passed along, such as it were.”

 

“What’s her s-story, anyway?” asked Pinkie Pie, warming herself under the lamp’s glow. “She called herself a Goddess of War? And she knows magic? How’d you pick up an assistant like that?”

 

“Assistant? Her?” laughed The Doctor. “No-no-no, it’s nothing like that. The Great and Powerful Trixie—”

 

“Please don’t call her that,” deadpanned Rainbow Dash.

 

“It’s a small price to pay, my dear. Trust me on that. Anywho, she simply arrived here one day—if there can really be a concept of ‘days’ in a place like this—from another time period. Said something about wanting to prove herself as the strongest pony in history, and boy did she have the skills to back it up. Since I had plenty of extra space around here—if there can really be a concept of ‘space’ in a time like this—we sort of decided to peacefully cohabitate.

 

“Right then!” he continued. “We’ve got you a new centralized hub of time travel and a suite of unlocked powers. No sense in dilly-dallying any further. We should get the three of you back to your home era,” he said, motioning to Rainbow Dash and her companions.

 

“I understand,” said Fluttershy. The sound of her metallic hooves echoed loudly in the empty void as she walked to a corner of the platform. She parked her hindquarters on the ground, staring vacantly at the fenced corner. “I shall wait here. You can come visit me here, whenever it’s convenient for you.”

 

“Oh dear,” stammered The Doctor. “I didn’t—”

 

“No way!” objected Twilight Sparkle. “There’s no way we’re going to abandon you here. I mean, no offense to The Doctor or… her… but this place is so cold and lonely.” She nodded resolutely. “You go with Dash and Pinkie. I’ll take the first shift here.”

 

Pinkie Pie’s chest heaved. “I don’t want to leave any of my friends behind. It’s not fair.” She turned to The Doctor, giving her best puppy-dog eyes. “Can’t all four of us go? Please? Pretty please with lots and lots of sugar on top?”

 

“I’m terribly sorry,” said The Doctor with a blush. “I’ve given you all the wrong impression. Of course the four of you are free to travel together.”

 

“We are? Oh, how wonderful,” said Fluttershy in a breathy cheer.

 

“I mean, really now,” added The Doctor. “It’s not like there’s some artificial limit on the number of ponies that can travel through time with one another. Wouldn’t that be daft?

 

Pinkie Pie rubbed her chin. “Now that you mention it, that does sound a little contrived.”

 

“Right! 1000 AD,” said The Doctor. “Just take that pillar of light on the right there. Piece of cake.”

 

Rainbow Dash leapt forward. “You heard him, girls. Time to head back home.”

 

The four ponies crossed the small bridge, approaching the pillar of light. As soon as they stepped into the column, it pulled them upward, sending them out into the void and back into the time stream.


Chapter 17: Fiendish Folk

1000 AD

Unknown Residence

Rainbow Dash and her friends tumbled out of the closet, crashing in an unceremonious heap on the floor.

Ouch,” Rainbow Dash groaned emphatically from the bottom of the ponypile.

Behind them, the swirling Gate weakened and reverted to its dormant state. The Gate condensed within the confines of the closet, creating a vacuum which pulled the closet’s wooden doors shut. The four friends slowly unpiled from atop one another.

“Oh my,” said Fluttershy. “Is time travel always this unpleasant?”

Twilight Sparkle squirmed and twisted, trying to adjust her saddlebags into a more comfortable position. “Not usually. The first couple of trips were relatively peaceful, but these last few...” She arched her back, accompanied by a few stiff cracks.

Pinkie Pie cocked her head to the side. “Really, though, who would put their Gate in a closet? It’s so easy to trip and hurt yourself. Gates should really be placed someplace safe.”

“Ah! Twilight, good news,” said Fluttershy. “My sensors are working again. It seems that we’re back in 1000 AD, just like The Doctor said.”

“Great! We can head back to my house and start doing some research.” Twilight Sparkle frowned as she looked around the room. “Speaking of which, whose house are we in? We should probably get out of here before anypony notices.”

“Well, my sensors—”

“Rainbow Dash? Are you alright?” Pinkie Pie rapidly waved her hoof in front of her friend’s face. “Hello?”

Rainbow Dash’s muscles were paralyzed. Her eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking. Her wings were flared skyward. Her tongue hung lazily out the side of her mouth, with a single bead of saliva running down it. Her mind began to lose focus, as the room, its furnishings, and her friends slowly blurred away. In the end, only one object remained sharply in focus.

The white ceramic plate was free of dirt or smudges, yet it was marred by a violent wave of raspberry glaze that spiraled around its surface. The preservative trail drew the eyes inward toward the decadent tower that arose from the alabaster platter. The tower’s foundation was a generous wedge of chocolate cake. Dense and egg-free, it served as a solid base to build upon. The chocolate was adorned with a smooth layer of blackberry jam; this served as a securing buffer which allowed the confectionery to rise skyward. The next level was cake of the finest red velvet, spongy and flavorful. It served as a perfect middle layer, smoothing out the transition between the disparate top and bottom levels. Adhered with rich cream cheese, the topmost level of cake was strawberry sponge cake, airy and delicate. Its gentle sweetness served as the perfect foil for the base’s power and presence. The entire affair was blanketed in rich, sweet buttermilk frosting, which provided a creamy consistency that properly summarized this tribute to sugar. As a sign of flair and elegance, the cake was topped with a trio of blueberries and a single leaf of mint.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes made love to the dish before her. She felt a singular muscle spasm in her abdomen, signalling her hunger—no, her yearning—for the baked good. Her legs moved of their own free will, carrying her closer and closer, hoof by hoof. Her exposed tongue extended, stretching itself toward the luxurious buttermilk frosting.

Twilight Sparkle tugged sharply on her friend’s tail. “No. That’s not your cake.”

Rainbow Dash’s rose-colored eyes flashed brightly back at Twilight Sparkle. “Traitor!” She flailed her hooves wildly in the direction of the cake. “Let go of me!”

“What part of ‘it’s not yours’ are you missing? We’re not even supposed to be in here. If—”

“Who the heck are you?”

The ponies turned to the doorway, where stood a pair of diminutive imps, one with green skin and the other with blue. While they were glaring quite angrily at the intruders, they did not otherwise appear hostile, much to the ponies’ surprise.

The blue imp waddled toward Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle, who were still wrestling near the dessert. She pointed an accusing, stubby claw at Rainbow Dash. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes twitched, hopping between the imp and her cake. Her hooves remained perched just out of reach of the dessert. “You gonna eat that?” she asked.

“My birthday cake? I was planning on it.”

“We’re very sorry to be bothering you, Mrs. Imp,” said Fluttershy. “It’s just that we seem to have gotten turned around, and—”

The green imp buried his face into his hand, as best as one could with an oversized head and diminutive claws. “No, no, don’t tell me. You came out of our closet, didn’t you?”

“Oh, well, um—”

The green imp threw a dirty look at his companion. “What did I tell you? Last time this happened, what did I say?”

The blue imp rolled her eyes. “You said we should get rid of—”

“Get rid of the closet,” he finished. “Yep, that’s exactly what I said. Told ya we didn’t need any more freaky ponies showing up out of nowhere. But did you listen? Oh no. ‘It won’t happen again,’ you said. ‘Let’s not overreact,’ you said.”

The blue imp folded her arms, turning away from her friend. “Why yes, I am having a nice birthday. Thank you so much for asking.”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash shared a glance. The former released her magical grapple; the latter calmly dropped to her hooves. The four ponies quietly slid along the edge of the room, sneaking out the front door while the two imps bickered.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

1000 AD

Palomedina—Town Square

“So, Palomedina, huh?” asked Rainbow Dash as she glided above her friends. “This is that ‘city of demons’ on the eastern continent?” She raised her eyebrow as a pair of gargoyles walked past the ponies. The gargoyles, who were carrying bags of groceries, glared back menacingly.

Twilight Sparkle scoffed. “Really now, Rainbow. They’re not demons. They’re—”

They passed an outdoor restaurant, where a troll and goblin were gorging themselves on raw legs of mutton. Their sharp fangs ripped into the legs, tearing flesh from bone in a grizzly, carnivorous display.

“They’re more like monsters,” said Fluttershy in a hushed tone.

“Actually,” said Pinkie Pie, “they prefer to be called Mystics. These are the grandkids of Nightmare Moon’s forces. Nightmare Moon was this super-duper, meanie-weenie, evil enchantress who got all the Mystics together. She and the Mystics tried to destroy Sugardia in the Great War. Don’t worry, though. We won! Sugardia was saved, and the Mystic army was stopped for good. They all went back to their homes, here in Palomedina. Sugardia and Palomedina aren’t great friends, but we at least try to get along.”

Twilight Sparkle blinked at Pinkie Pie, slack-jawed. “I... That’s exactly right! I gotta say, Pinkie, I’m really impressed. How do you know so much about Mystics?”

Pinkie Pie blushed, shyly turning her gaze away. “Well, you have to know these things when you’re a princess, you know.”

“Oh! That’s right, you—” Twilight Sparkle snapped her mouth closed. “Shutting up now.”

Pinkie Pie chuckled. She pointed her hoof to a small gathering of Mystics, performing a type of observance around a large golden statue in the town square. “That’s a statue of their old leader: the alicorn named—”

“Nightmare Moon!” shouted Rainbow Dash.

Twilight Sparkle smiled up at her friend. “So, you were paying attention. Very good, Dash!”

Very good, Dash,” she mimicked back in a nasally falsetto. “Not that, doofus. We’ve seen that statue before!”

The ponies approached the statue, trotting and flying respectively. Twilight Sparkle squinted as the statue came into focus. “Well, you got me there. That’s the statue from Manerial Abbey, sure enough.”

“There’s actually real-live alicorns in this era?” asked Fluttershy, looking over the fearsome visage of the statue. “I’d never heard of a real one, back home. Everypony talked like they were part of a fairy tale.”

“Right?” agreed Pinkie Pie. “It’s really tough to believe, even if she was alive a few hundred years ago for us. Makes you wonder if she didn’t just crazy-glue those wings on her back. But nope, the Mystics are quite insistent she was an alicorn. The only one ever in all of history!” She shrugged. “At least, that’s what my teachers say.”

Rainbow Dash shivered. “Okay, fine, so she was a crazy pega-corn mutant. Cool. Whatever.” She gestured at the Mystics surrounding the base of the statue. “But what’s the deal with that freaky chanting?” she hissed.

A small gathering of Mystics danced in a large circle around the golden statue of Nightmare Moon. At least, the ponies assumed that it was a form of dance. The Mystics threw their bodies vigorously against the droning rhythms of the chanting, flailing and contorting in a way that the ponies found to be alien and unnerving. As the friends neared the gathering, they finally managed to make out the words of the chant.

...Moon! Our Nightmare Moon

Your coat of black: ponies’ despair

Your starry mane: oblivion

Your bloody scythe: their cities fall

Our loyalty: the sky burns red

Your fearsome pow’r: nothing remains

Except the Moon! Our Nightmare Moon

Your coat of black...

“‘Freaky’ is right,” whispered Twilight Sparkle under her breath.

A muscled, bipedal creature turned to look at Twilight Sparkle. Its ripped form was covered in thick plated armor, which itself was coated in dried blood. Its helm obscured its face under an impenetrable shade, exposing naught but a large unblinking eye. The Mystic looked down upon the ponies, towering over them at twice their height. His massive hand tightened its grip on a painful-looking spiked mace.

Twilight Sparkle locked every muscle in her body, paralyzed by fright and the sinking suspicion that her snarky remark had been overheard.

“Well, well,” chuckled the beast in a deep, smoky voice. “It seems that we have a handful of horsies in our midst. Have you come to pay homage to the mother of your destruction?” A few of the bystanders cackled, taking delight in the ponies’ visible fear.

“Destruction? What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Pinkie Pie. “Wasn’t Nightmare Moon defeated centuries ago?”

The creature tilted its head, leaning in closer to the pink pony. “You look... familiar,” he hissed.

Pinkie Pie coughed vigorously, covering her face with her hoof. “Nope,” she said in a rich baritone voice, “don’t think we’ve met before. I just have a familiar-looking face.”

“Well, little horsie, allow me to turn your world on its head. Nightmare Moon may have been defeated, but her legacy—and your destiny—lives on.” He pointed a stubby finger toward the ground. “Deep beneath the earth sleeps her greatest creation.”

The laughter of the crowd came to a slow boil. It was not everyday that they had a chance to strike fear into the hearts of their mortal enemies, and they were intent to make the most of it.

“The harbinger of the your doom!”

“A monster which no one but the great Nightmare Moon herself could hope to control!”

“When Nightmare Moon’s vengeance arises, the era of ponies will fall!”

“The greatest hope of the Mystics! Lavos, the destroyer of ponykind!”

What?!” screamed Rainbow Dash. She charged up to the armored Mystic, glaring into its singular eye. “Nightmare Moon created Lavos?”

The creature let out a low, gravelly laugh. “Yes... Lavos... Know the name well, little horsie. Once Lavos awakens, Nightmare Moon’s revenge will be complete.”

“No.”

The Mystic turned its gaze away from Rainbow Dash. “No?”

Fluttershy slowly stepped toward the creature. “No. Lavos won’t destroy this planet, and Nightmare Moon won’t have her revenge. I’m sorry, but the fact of the matter is, your leader has lost.”

The Mystic inhaled sharply before erupting, roaring directly into Fluttershy’s face. Her courage evaporated in a matter of nanoseconds. With a wail, she turned and flew at a full gallop, racing out of the town center and off into the distance.

“Fluttershy!” called out Rainbow Dash. “Wait, come back!”

The friends chased after Fluttershy, taunted by the maniacal laughter of the Mystics. The fiends resumed their ceremony, worshipping the creature who would destroy friend and foe alike in nine hundred and ninety nine years.

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1000 AD

Palomedina—Outskirts

“What the hell?” growled Rainbow Dash as she and her friends chased after the runaway robopony. “Lavos wasn’t just some random monster buried in the ground? Nightmare Moon created it?”

“Language. Correct. Excellent,” replied Twilight Sparkle, breathing heavily from her full-strided gallop.

“Excellent? What’s excellent? The fact that we know Lavos’s birthday?”

“Basically, yes. Don’t forget, Rainbow, we’ve been to Nightmare Moon’s era before. We can still use that Gate at Diane Square to travel back to 600 AD.”

“Awesome!” cheered Pinkie Pie as she bounced along beside her friends. “We can travel back in time and stop Nightmare Moon.” She blinked. “Wait, but Nightmare Moon already lost.”

Twilight Sparkle tilted her head from side to side as she ran. “Well, she was defeated, yes, but she still managed to create Lavos. If we can travel back in time, we might be able to change history such that she’s defeated and that she fails to summon Lavos.”

“Ooo, I just thought of something!” said Pinkie Pie. “Maybe the ponies who defeated Nightmare Moon in the past—get this—were us! We already defeated her, but now we need to go back in time so that we can actually do the defeating!”

Twilight Sparkle’s jaw tightened. “I sure hope that time travel doesn’t work that way, Pinkie. If we’re predestined to fight Nightmare Moon like that, yet the future is still destroyed, that means...

The trio of ponies caught up to Fluttershy. They flopped to the ground and gasped for breath, while she stood motionless and stared off into the distance.

 

“Hey, Fluttershy,” said Rainbow Dash between pants, “what gives? Why’d you stop?”

 

Fluttershy pointed a hoof straight ahead. The grassy plains of the continent eventually gave way to a crystal-blue ocean. Where land met water, a sizable mountain reached its way into the clear skies. “Do you see that small house?” Fluttershy asked. Indeed, there was a small stucco house seated near the base of the mountain. “I believe that there is an equine inside.”

 

“An equine? You mean a pony?” asked Twilight Sparkle.

 

“I’m not certain.”

 

“Well, I’m certain that I’d like to see another friendly face, at this point,” said Pinkie Pie. “C’mon, everypony, let’s check it out.”

 

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1000 AD

Palomedina—Isolated Hut

 

Rainbow Dash opened the front door, poking her head inside. “Hello? Anypony in here?”

 

“Visitors?” replied a voice. Rainbow Dash turned, looking down a nearby staircase. The sound appeared to be coming from the basement. “My manners are lacking. Make yourselves comfy while I finish unpacking.”

 

The four ponies let themselves into the home. It had the basic furnishing of this era, for homes of ponies and Mystics alike: wooden bookcases, cushioned chairs, tables with glossy finish, and so forth. The ponies nearly failed to notice these rote details. The house was also decorated with objects that were decidedly more exotic and unique. Shelves running the length of the wall were covered with potions, lumber, and alloys. Decorative tribal masks hung above the shelves, giving the room a foreign yet strangely welcoming glow. The back wall of the room was affixed with an array of wall mounts, whereupon a collection of blades, maces, shields, and armor were on display.

 

The sound of hooves echoed in the room, causing the ponies to turn back toward the staircase. A zebra with an impressive mohawk emerged from the basement, balancing a broadsword and polishing cloth across her back. Her neck and right foreleg were bound with multiple golden rings. She wore an elegant blue robe across her back, bound in place with a brilliant red sash. “What’s this? I almost cannot believe my eyes. Ponies in Palomedina—what a surprise!”

 

“I’m a bit surprised to see a zebra in Palomedina, for that matter,” said Twilight Sparkle. “The Mystics aren’t exactly known for their hospitality.”

 

“What you say, dear unicorn, is true. But due to fate, it will have to do. Now ponies—yellow, pink, and blue—tell Zecora what she can do for you.”

 

“Hey, Zecora.” Pinkie Pie grabbed her hoof and vigorously shook it. “My name’s Pinkie Pie. This here is Fluttershy, Twilight Sparkle, and Rainbow Dash. We accidentally got stranded here—kinda like you, from the sound of it.”

 

“We’re actually trying to make our way back home, to Equus,” said Twilight Sparkle. “Is there maybe a ferry, or…”

 

“Crossing the sea is quite easy,” Zecora said with a nod, looking out her window. The view from here was dominated by the base of the nearby mountain. “In this mountain, within the Cave of Heckran, there’s a whirlpool which can take you back where you began.”

 

Fluttershy attempted to bow respectfully, as best as her stiff joints would allow. “Thank you, Miss Zecora. This is extremely helpful.”

 

Rainbow Dash floated in front of the back wall, eyeing the weapons and armor with rapt interest. “So what’s the deal with all these swords? You some kind of merchant?”

 

“A weaponsmith, Rainbow; a forger of blades. But you are correct; these wares are for trade.”

 

“Oh my,” said Fluttershy as she drew back. “You make weapons? I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but many ponies could get hurt with these.”

 

Zecora hung her head, her eyes filled with emotions that the ponies could only guess at. “Your words burn, yet ring true, Fluttershy. This profession makes me want to cry. Weapons are meant for protecting life, but these Mystics use them for death and strife. But it is a task for which I am able. It shames me, but it puts bread on my table.”

 

“I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy, hanging her head in turn. “I didn’t mean to jump to conclusions. That’s quite a sad predicament you’re in. I wish there was—“

 

Dude! Twi!” shouted Rainbow Dash. “Check out this sweet-flank sword!” Rainbow Dash’s jaw chomped firmly on the hilt of a red-steel katana, which had been cast and tempered with utmost skill. She flailed the sword around so recklessly and rapidly that Twilight Sparkle was surprised the pegasus’s head didn’t pop off. “How much is it?”

 

“Ah yes, my alloyed katana with blade of red,” said Zecora with a nod. “It’s yours for eight thousand and five hundred.”

 

Rainbow Dash’s neck locked in place, causing the blade to vibrate as its inertia nearly tore it free from her mouth. She set the sword back onto its wall mount delicately, as if to prevent the sword from shattering into thousands of pieces. Pulling off her bandana, she gently wiped every last trace of her saliva from the grip. “Yeah, uh, my allowance is only two hundred gold a week. Sorry. Guess I’m gonna have to start saving up.”

 

“No problemo!” cheered Pinkie Pie. From her saddlebags, she pulled out a large leather pouch, which she flung onto the nearby table. It landed with a heavy slosh of metallic jingling. The bag tipped, causing a trickle of Sugardian gold coins to roll out.

 

Holy shhh-eep,” Rainbow Dash corrected herself, glancing nervously at Twilight Sparkle. She turned back toward the money purse. “Pinkie, where in Sugardia did you get all this cash? Is this, like, from the royal treasury or something?”

 

“Oh, no-no-no, nothing like that,” said Pinkie Pie, dismissively waving her hoof. “This money is all of ours. I’ve been collecting it for us.”

 

Twilight Sparkle arched an eyebrow. “Collecting it? From where?”

 

“After all our battles, duh. Y’know, all of the mobs we’ve fought have been dropping gold, tonics, experience points, tech points—”

 

“I… experience points?”

 

Pinkie Pie huffed at Twilight Sparkle. “All of this stuff is covered in the Tutorial menu. You really need to check that out sometime.”

 

“Whatever. I don’t care about asparagus points,” said Rainbow Dash. “What about the gold? Do we have the nine thousand for my sword?”

 

“Absolutely!” said Pinkie Pie, diving her face into the leather pouch and rapidly estimating its contents. “Our wallet has over… over…” She pulled her face out of the bag, smiling at her friends. “Over forty thousand gold!”

 

The ponies went on a short buying binge. Rainbow Dash got her red katana, Pinkie Pie picked up some improved ammo for her crossbow, and everypony picked up protective armored vests.

 

“Thanks for your business, ponies of the realm,” said Zecora with a respectful bow. “But are you certain that nopony needs a fine helm?”

 

Rainbow Dash laughed brashly. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll have to pass. Twilight might be okay with wearing a dorky-looking hat,” she said, running a hoof through her rainbow-striped mane, “but I’d rather look stylish while I fight. Image is important for some ponies.”

 

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes. “Avoiding skull fractures is important for other ponies,” she muttered under her breath.

 

“Anyway, we better get moving,” said Rainbow Dash, leading her friends toward the front door. “Thanks for the gear, Zecora! We’ll see you around!”

 

Zecora waved farewell, smiling at her new friends. “Indeed, meeting again would be perfect! I hope my wares help in your mission to protect.


Chapter 18: Faithful Family

1000 AD

Equus

The coastline of Equus boasted a clear-blue oceanic view. Foamy waves crested and crashed upon the shoreline. A few restless seagulls soared through the skies above, their calls drifting peacefully through the sun-filled skies. The salty ocean breeze wafted through the town, offering its nostalgic scent to anypony who might care to enjoy it.

The tranquil midday view was violently disrupted when a pair of cyan hooves erupted from the water’s surface, about a hundred meters from shore. The hooves were followed by a muzzle that was coughing up seawater and spouting vulgarities. The mouth was followed by a rainbow-hued mane, hanging damply from the waterlogged pegasus’s head.

“Freaking—cough cough—shortcut!” Rainbow Dash screamed, gasping for breath. “Why the heck did we listen to Zecora?”

“I’m sorry,” said Fluttershy. The weighted robopony clung tightly to Rainbow Dash as the pair kicked their way toward the shoreline. “I did find it odd when she mentioned the shortcut involved a whirlpool, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.”

“I just want to know,” sputtered Twilight Sparkle as her mouth bobbed over and under the water level, “how we managed to cross an entire ocean while underwater.” She weakly doggy-paddled behind Rainbow Dash.

Pinkie Pie slid past everypony, gliding through the water with a graceful sidestroke. “You guys really need to lighten up! That whirlpool was fun! I want to ride it again.”

The four arrived on the coasts of Equus after a few minutes of swimming. Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash sprawled out on the sandy coasts, coughing the last bits of saltwater out of their lungs. Fluttershy graciously stood above the prone pair, attempting to dry them with the heat of her exhaust vents. Pinkie Pie hopped up and down on one hoof, desperately trying to shake water out of her ear.

“Okay,” said Twilight Sparkle, her breath slowly returning to a normal rate. “In any case, we’re back in Equus. We can head to the fairgrounds, use the Gate, and—” A hoof jabbed itself roughly into her chest, causing her to stagger.

“No, Twilight,” said Rainbow Dash, who continued to jab her friend, “we are not heading to the fairgrounds now. Would you like to know why? I’ll give you a hint. What special event, documented in all of your stupid history books, took place three days, nineteen hours, and fifty seven minutes ago?” Her voice quivering with fury as she slowly advanced toward Twilight Sparkle; the latter pony instinctively backpedaled. “Give up? That was when I ate dinner. A thick stew with carrots, beets, potatoes, and celery. Garden salad on the side. Ice-cold strawberry-orange punch to drink. ‘What was so special about this dinner,’ you ask? I have not eaten since! Oh sure, maybe you’re fine with fasting for a measly three-and-a-half days, but I’m not! I feel like I haven’t eaten in eight months! So no, Twilight, I will not travel through time. I am getting something to eat, and not you, or anypony else, is getting in my way!”

Twilight Sparkle buried her face in her forehooves. “We get it. You are hungry. For Pete’s sake, sometimes you can act like such a newborn.” Leaving one hoof covering her face, she angrily gestured toward the town with her other hoof. “That’s your house right there. Go. Eat. Shaddap.” She looked up just in time to see a rainbow-streaked blur and feel a light gust of wind ruffle her mane.

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1000 AD

Rainbow Dash’s House

As Pinkie Pie and the friends entered Rainbow Dash’s home, they were greeted by a unholy ruckus. In the kitchen, a cyan rump and rainbow tail were sticking out of one of the cupboards, swaying rhythmically as the front half of the pony gathered up anything remotely edible. Rainbow Dash dumped the stockpile of sundries on the counter, scowling. “Ugh, where the heck does she... Mom! Where do you keep the pasta?!

The ponies heard the sound of shattering glass above them, causing them to instinctively look upward. This sound was promptly followed by the pounding of hooves across the ceiling and down the staircase. A middle-aged pegasus with a faint pink coat crashed onto the staircase landing. Her cutie mark was of a glass prism which was refracting a beam of rainbow light. Her eyes were puffy, and her long-flowing, rainbow-streaked mane was bedraggled. Aurora Glow gasped, “Dash?”

Rainbow Dash looked over her shoulder, giving a nonchalant nod. “Sup. I think we’re out of pasta. Do we have any rolls, or maybe some—whoa!” She was knocked off her hooves as her mother flew straight into her, pinning her against the cupboards. Rainbow Dash felt her coat grow damp from a cascade of tears and kisses.

“D-don’t you ever do that to me again! You hear me, Rainbow Dash?” said Aurora Glow, heaving between sobs. “They told me you had b-been executed. My sweet, little filly...” Aurora Glow tightened her grip around her daughter’s torso. “I couldn’t bear to lose you, too. Not after... after...”

For the first time in three days and twenty hours, Rainbow Dash forgot her hunger. The gnawing feeling in her gut was replaced by a sharp pang in her chest. “Mom...” Hesitating slightly, Rainbow Dash reached up and gently returned her mother’s hug. Mother and daughter held this embrace in silence, as the other ponies in the room looked on.

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The kitchen erupted in laughter. Aurora Glow held her aching sides as she doubled over in a fit of giggles. “Oh, Pinkie Pie,” she said between gasps for air, “you are an absolute riot. I’m sure that these two Serious Sallies are much better off with you in the group, livening things up.”

Aurora Glow was in the process of putting together an impressive lunchtime feast in short order. The small kitchen table was piling up high with sandwiches, soup bowls, flower bouquets, fruit salad, potato salad, garden salad, pasta salad (“The pasta was behind the flour, silly.”), wheat fries, whole-grain toast, hay bacon, zucchini bread, and last but certainly not least of all, her infamous peach cobbler. In the meanwhile, Rainbow Dash was putting forth her best effort to devour the dishes as fast as they arrived. Her plate was loaded to capacity with samples of every entree, plus an unfortunate napkin which had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Foregoing fork and hoof, she buried her face into the food pile, emerging every thirty seconds or so for a quick breath. Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle, while more civilized and self-moderated, had also been fasting for the past few days, so they were more than delighted to take part in the loads of fresh home-cooking.

Aurora Glow walked over from the oven, carrying a fresh tray of piping-hot chocolate chip muffins. “How is everything, girls? Fluttershy, I didn’t steam those veggies for too long, did I?”

Fluttershy quickly set her plate down when Aurora Glow turned toward her. She had been secretly scraping the contents of her plate onto Rainbow Dash’s when the motherly mare wasn’t looking. “Oh, no no, everything looks wonderful. Thank you so much for working so hard.”

“You really did outdo yourself, Mrs. Glow,” agreed Twilight Sparkle with a friendly smile. “You didn’t need to go through so much trouble just for our sake. Still, everything you’ve made is just heavenly.” She reached a hoof out to grab a slice from the loaf of zucchini bread, but quickly withdrew it to avoid getting bitten by Rainbow Dash. The latter pony gave her a deadly glare and a feral growl before inhaling the loaf in a single bite. “Well, everything I’ve been able to try, anyway,” Twilight Sparkle added bitterly.

“Oh please, Twilight, you know full well that friends of Rainbow Dash’s are as good as family in this house.” Aurora Glow gave an understanding chuckle. “And besides, with an appetite like this one’s in the family, you learn to buy groceries in bulk.” She returned to the stove top and stirred a tomato soup that was coming to a low boil. “So, Rainbow Dash?”

Taking a rare break, Rainbow Dash swallowed all of the food in her mouth and lifted her head fully out of her makeshift trough. She reached for a nearby glass of lemonade. “Yeah, Mom?”

Aurora Glow nonchalantly added some herbs and seasonings to the soup. “You never did tell me what the future was like. Anything exciting? Flying carriages and lasers, that sort of thing?”

Rainbow Dash pinched the glass between her hooves, carefully lifting it towards her mouth. “Eh, not really. It was actually kinda—ow!” The blow to the back of her head caused her to drop the glass, spilling lemonade down her front side.

“What is your problem?” scolded Twilight Sparkle. “Do you seriously not understand the possible ramifications of telling every single pony in the world that we’ve been—”

Aurora Glow laughed good-naturedly at the feuding friends. She glanced over her shoulder. “Oh, go easy on her, Twilight. She didn’t tell me anything.”

“What? But then, how did you—”

She returned to the kitchen table, grinning slyly at each of the four ponies in turn. “She didn’t have to. I mean, after all, when she came back home, she was accompanying the lovely Princess Pinkamena,” she said with a respectful curtsey to Pinkie Pie.

Once again, Pinkie Pie coughed and covered her face, dropping her voice an octave. “Princess? Me? I’m just a normal, tax-paying, law-abiding citizen.”

Aurora Glow turned her mischievous grin toward Rainbow Dash. “The very same Princess, I might add, whom my daughter was charged with foalnapping.”

“Hey! Not guilty! I had a trial and everything.”

“This foalnapping took place on the first day of the Celebration,” she continued, winking at Twilight Sparkle. “Your father mentioned there was a minor incident involving mysterious portals.”

Twilight Sparkle scrunched up her face and massaged her temples. “Blabbermouths. I’m surrounded by blabbermouths.”

“When the trial ended, the lot of you—with your mysterious portal, I might add—disappeared for a few days. Lo and behold, by the time you reappeared, you had made friends with a futuristic-looking robot.”

Fluttershy’s body went rigid at the mention of her identity. “Oh, that’s—that is to say, I’m not—you see, this is actually a suit of armor, and—Twilight didn’t... Yes, ma’am,” she said, lowering her gaze.

Aurora Glow leaned her elbows onto the kitchen table, resting her head on her hooves. “So like I was saying, Dash, how was the future?”

“Oh right, that future,” said Rainbow Dash, rubbing her hoof on the back of her head. “It was, uh, pretty cool. Lots of machinery and cool futury stuff. Oh, and ponies! Tons of ponies. Everypony’s happy. World peace, y’know?”

Aurora Glow’s gaze turned sullen and drifted out the kitchen window. “That bad, huh?”

Rainbow Dash gave a nervous glance to Pinkie Pie, who met her with a reassuring nod. “Mom, look, I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here. The four of us have something really important that needs to be taken care of, and I’m not gonna sit here and argue with you about—”

Aurora Glow leaned across the table and closed her daughter’s mouth with a hoof. She smiled gently. “Heh. Listen to you, getting all fired up. Airy would be so proud of you right now.”

“Airy?” asked Pinkie Pie.

“Sweet Air,” explained Rainbow Dash. “She was my mom.”

Pinkie Pie frowned. She pointed at Aurora Glow and opened her mouth.

“My other mom.”

“Oh.”

Aurora Glow motioned to a framed portrait that hung prominently on the living room wall. In the photograph, a younger Aurora Glow was sitting upright in a bed, cuddling a tiny foal in her forelegs. Standing beside them was a blue pegasus with a blonde mane, short and unkempt. She had a jetlike wisp of cloud for a cutie mark. She was flashing a smug grin at the camera while resting her head lovingly against Aurora Glow’s. One of her eyes was blackened, and her coat was speckled with cuts and scrapes.

“Airy was such a loose cannon,” mused Aurora Glow. “Always picking fights, or getting herself hurt, or disappearing for days on end. Despite it all, that mare stole my heart. Curse my youthfulness, I suppose.” She chuckled lightly, but the glistening in her eyes told a different story. “She left this world behind several years ago, but not before leaving me a beautiful daughter. Well, the beauty she inherited from me,” she said with a wink. “Rainbow certainly inherited her mother’s reckless spirit though. No questions there.”

“Oh, um, this always confused me, ever so slightly,” said Fluttershy. “I had thought that a stallion and a mare were required for ponies to produce offspring. Yet I always see young ponies who have two fathers or two mothers, and—oh!” She partially hid her face under the lip of the table. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I was just curious, is all.”

Aurora Glow smirked at Rainbow Dash, as the latter blushed and fidgeted awkwardly. “Well, I guess I can spare you the intimate details for now, but both Airy and I are her biological parents. Suffice it to say, there’s unicorn magic involved.”

“I see.”

“And that’s my point, Rainbow,” she continued, resting a hoof on her daughter’s shoulder. “You’ll always be my little filly, but at the same time, you’ve got Airy’s blood running in your veins, too. If you’ve got your mind set on some grand adventure, I know that there’s nothing I can do or say to stop you. Just, please, watch out for each other.”

Rainbow Dash nuzzled her mother, then flashed her a bold smile. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Mom! The four of us are going to save the world. Just you watch!”

Aurora Glow gave her a peck on the cheek. “That’s my girl. Soup!” She raced back to the stove top, where the tomato soup was starting to burn to the bottom of the pot. “We’ve been blabbing too long. Eat your food before it gets cold.” She snickered. “My little warriors will need all the nourishment they can get.”

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1000 AD

Equus

“Whew! Dashie, can your mom cook, or can your mom cook?” said Pinkie Pie, massaging her bulging belly as she left Rainbow Dash’s house. “That sure hit the spot!”

“I’ll say,” agreed Twilight Sparkle. She gave Rainbow Dash an askew glance. “So how about it? Are you done griping about how hungry you are?”

Rainbow Dash strolled a few paces behind her friends. The corners of her mouth were upturned in a subtle, blissful smile. She closed her eyes and inhaled the ocean breeze. “Yeah,” she sighed. “I am completely stuffed. Mom’s great.”

“She did seem very lovely,” said Fluttershy. “Sweet Air also sounded like she was quite a special pony, the way that your mother talked about her.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, rubbing the back of neck. “Mom’s told me just about every story there is to tell. Sweet Air sounded like one rocking mare. She got into all sorts of crazy stuff. Truth is, I probably set my sights on joining the Wonderbolts because I wanted to have awesome adventures, just like her. It sucks that I never really got a chance to meet her.”

“I was so surprised, though!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie. “I mean, I had no idea that Rainbow Dash had two—”

“Anyway, we should be all set here,” said Rainbow Dash. “Ready to hit that Gate, Twi?”

“Oh, but don’t all three of you live here?” asked Fluttershy. “We only got to visit Rainbow’s family. Pinkie Pie, would you—”

“No.”

“Oh, I-I’m sorry,” stuttered Fluttershy. “Well, um, Twilight, what about your family?”

She contemplated for a moment. “Actually, yeah, could we stop by for a second? I’d just like to check in on them, make sure that everypony is doing alright.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Of course, Twilight! Family is always worth making time for.”

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1000 AD

Twilight Sparkle’s House

“I’m home!” called out Twilight Sparkle.

Night Light looked up from his workbench. “Oh, you’re just in time.” With his horn’s magic, he picked up the helmet he had been working on.

Twilight Sparkle smirked and rolled her eyes. “Good to see you too, Dad.”

Grinning sheepishly, Night Light walked up to his daughter and gave her a kiss. “Welcome home, sweetie. Now here, try it on! I just know you’ll love this model.”

She removed her own hat, replacing it with her father’s newer model. She fidgeted and adjusted the helm, nodding approvingly. “Not bad. The fit’s good.”

Night Light puffed out his chest. “Not bad? I’ll have you know that I dropped the weight by fourteen percent, while simultaneously raising the defensive integrity by thirty seven percent.”

“Whoa, seriously? How’d you manage that?”

“Well, you see, I started with a new alloy, consisting mostly of—”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “So yeah,” she said to Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie. “This here is Egghead Central.”

“Nice place!” said Pinkie Pie.

Twilight Sparkle’s house was a cluttered mess of knowledge and research. Bookshelves ran along every wall of the living room, holding a vast store of books, tomes, and scrolls. The floor was littered with open notebooks, loose cabling, and a few primitive electronic components. The room served as a workshop and study for both father and daughter.

“Oh, that reminds me,” continued Night Light. “Your mother tried your latest batch of Adhoofsive. The tests, ah, didn’t go so well.”

Twilight Sparkle slapped her forehead and laughed. “Oh no... It wasn’t Batch #52, was it? That one wasn’t ready for her to test yet.”

“Hmm, let’s see here.” Night Light scooped a notebook off the ground and flipped through its pages. Finding the notes he was looking for, he quickly skimmed the page. “Oh dear, sure enough. Well, that explains the poor tests results, doesn’t it?”

“Poor Mom, always stuck being our guinea pig,” said Twilight Sparkle with a giggle. “I’m gonna go check on her. Mom? Mom, I’m home!” She trotted into a nearby doorway and vanished up a staircase.

Her friends instinctively started to follow her. When they reached the doorway, Rainbow Dash stopped suddenly and held out her forelegs, blocking the other ponies. “Whoa, hold up a sec. Listen.” She pulled her friends closer, checking to ensure that Night Light was out of earshot. “Just wanted to warn you before we head up there. Twilight’s mom is... sick. She’s been stuck in bed, like, ever since the two of us were fillies.”

“Oh no,” gasped Fluttershy. “How horrible!”

“She’s still super-upbeat and friendly,” Rainbow Dash said with a hesitant smile, “so, y’know, just try to act natural.”

With a nod, the three ponies walked up the staircase. Above them, Twilight Sparkle was having a warm reunion with Twilight Wish, her mother. The mare was seated upright in her bed, with her forehooves folded neatly across her lap. An oversized sun hat rested on top of her violet-and-white striped mane. She also wore a simple green sundress over her soft white coat. Pinkie Pie noted with some sadness that Twilight Wish was fully dressed up for a warm summer day, yet was cooped up in her bedroom.

“Well, that explains the awful taste,” laughed Twilight Wish.

“Sorry, Mom,” said Twilight Sparkle with a blush. “I don’t know how that batch ended up in the testing queue. Don’t worry, though! I have a few new ideas to try, and—”

“Twilie, you really should relax. You don’t need to run at a hundred and ten percent all of the time. Oh, Rainbow! What a pleasant surprise.”

Rainbow Dash smiled broadly. “Hey, Mrs. Wish. What’s up?”

“Oh, you know me.” Twilight Wish smiled peacefully. “Getting plenty of rest.”

Rainbow Dash laughed good-naturedly at the joke. “I sure envy that!”

“Mom, let me introduce you to some new friends of mine. This is Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.”

“Friends?” Twilight Wish smiled at her daughter before addressing the other ponies. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please, do take care of Twilie for me, won’t you?”

“Of course!” said Pinkie Pie. “Twilight’s a great friend of ours.”

Twilight Sparkle’s face lit up. “Stop it, both of you. You’re embarrassing me. Oh! Mom, let me help you with that.”

Twilight Wish’s hooves were grasped around a glass of juice on her nightstand. Her limbs trembled, but the glass remained in place. Twilight Sparkle’s aura surrounded the glass, lifting it toward her mother, who took a small sip from its straw. “Thank you, honey.”

Rainbow Dash stepped forward. “About that, Mrs. Wish. The four of us were actually going to be taking a trip, kinda.”

“A vacation?” said Twilight Wish. “Oh, that sounds lovely. This summer weather is just perfect for traveling.”

Twilight Sparkle walked back toward her friends. “We’ll probably be gone for a few days or so. We’ll be sure to be extra careful, though.”

Twilight Wish gently waved farewell. “I know you will, Twilie. Have a fun time!” She looked to her nightstand, where a bright red apple was perched next to her juice glass. “Oh, before you go, could—nevermind, I can reach it.” She leaned out of the bed, reaching toward the apple, but slipped and lost her balance. Her front hooves landed on the ground first, but instantly crumpled under her own weight, causing her to spill out onto the hardwood floor.

“Mom!” Twilight Sparkle raced back to the bedside.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said reassuringly. “Just got a bit overeager there. I didn’t mean to give you a scare like that.”

Pinkie Pie let out a sharp gasp. Realizing her mistake too late, she tried in vain to cover her mouth. Twilight Wish’s sun hat had fallen off her head during the fall. Now that Twilight Wish’s head was exposed, Pinkie Pie could see that her horn had been roughly snapped in half. The jagged horn stub had healed over in time, but its core was still visible to everypony in the room.

Twilight Sparkle gently lifted her mother back into the bed. She perched the sun hat back onto her head, and tucked her bedsheets in. Planting a soft kiss on her mother’s cheek, she said, “We need to be heading out. Be sure to get some rest.”

“Okay, sweetie. Stay safe,” said Twilight Wish. Twilight Sparkle turned toward the staircase and walked briskly past her friends, avoiding their gazes. When she reached the top of the stairs, her mother called out to her. “Twilie? I’ll always love you. You know that, right?” Without turning back or answering, Twilight Sparkle fled down the staircase.

Rainbow Dash rapidly looked between the vacant staircase and the bedridden unicorn. “Twilight! Wait! Um, Mrs. Wish, are you—”

Twilight Wish smiled weakly and motioned them towards the staircase. “I’m fine, Rainbow. Please, go after her. She needs her friends right now.”

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1000 AD

Equus

Twilight Sparkle walked slowly through the streets of Equus. Her friends walked several paces behind her, unsure of what to do or what to say. The only sounds came from nearby Diane Square, where the Millenium Summer Sun Celebration was still running at high capacity.

 

“Twilight?” said Pinkie Pie, finally breaking the silence. “I’m really sorry. I mean, I’m sorry for what happened to your mom, but also I’m sorry for gasping like that.”

 

Twilight Sparkle’s gait slowed. Each hoofstep became more and more labored, until she finally came to a standstill in front of the fairground entrance.

 

“Please don’t be mad at me.” Tears welled up in the corners of Pinkie Pie’s eyes. “It was an accident. Really! I promise, I’ll be on extra-good behavior from now on, so please—”

 

“Recycling,” said Twilight Sparkle.

 

“What?”

 

“A device for use in collecting, shredding, and repurposing matter. In short, a recycling machine. That was the first invention I ever worked on, with my father’s help.”

 

Rainbow Dash tilted her head. “Your first invention? Wait, but you always told me that you didn’t remember.”

 

Twilight Sparkle remained motionless, facing away from her friends. “We ran out of parts at one point, so Dad ran out to the markets. It was just Mom and I in the house. I wanted to show off how much work we’d done so far. I was so proud.”

 

“Oh no,” whispered Pinkie Pie.

 

“Mom got caught in the machine’s thrasher. It snapped both of her forelegs… and her horn. Her legs have regained a bit of strength over time, thanks to the doctors’ help. Her horn, though… you can’t heal damage like that.”

 

“Twilight,” whimpered Fluttershy.

 

“The best part?” said Twilight Sparkle with a hollow laugh. “When the whole ordeal was over, we realized that this had appeared during all of the chaos.” She reached back and tapped her flank with a hoof. “As if I didn’t feel responsible enough for failing to stop the machine, fate decided that I had earned my cutie mark for my stellar understanding of technology.” She wiped a hoof across her eyes before turning to face her friends. Her face was darkened and determined. “That’s when I swore to myself that it would never happen again. I refused to ever find myself again in a situation where my own ineptitude caused another pony to get hurt. So, that’s why I study everything. Why I invent. Why I don’t give up in the face of impossible odds. Because if knowing Sugardia law will help save one of my friends… If a hoof adhesive will make somepony’s life easier… If a crazy time travelling mission will save countless lives in the future…”

 

Fluttershy stepped forward, reaching out to hug her, but Twilight Sparkle turned away at the last moment. “Sorry, I… I’m fine,” Twilight Sparkle said. “I just needed to get that off my chest. Anyway, time travelling or no, Nightmare Moon won’t wait forever. Time to head back in time.” She galloped forward into the fairgrounds.

 

Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy made to follow her, but stopped when they realized they were missing somepony. “Rainbow Dash?” asked Pinkie Pie. “What’s up? Aren’t you coming?”

 

Rainbow Dash’s mouth hung agape. Her eyes bore shrunken irises which stared vacantly at her fleeing friend. “She… she never told me. We’ve known each other our whole lives, and she never told me.


Chapter 19: Pushing Forward

1000 AD

Diane’s Square—Telepod

“Wowwie, I can’t believe the Celebration is still this busy!” said Pinkie Pie. She eagerly bounced about the different displays of the fairgrounds as they tickled each of her senses. She stepped up to one of the vendors, purchased a bag of kettle corn, and munched away at it. Having a mouthful of food didn’t deter her from vocalizing her exuberance. “I mean, I’m not surprised it’s still going on, or anything. After all, I was helping Scratchy plan the whole thing, so I know that it’s supposed to last for another couple of weeks. ‘The thousandth anniversary of the founding of such a grand kingdom comes only once,’ I told her, ‘so we better throw one crazy, over-the-top, knock-your-socks-off party-ganza-bration!’ And lemme tell ya, this turned out...” Her voice faded out of range as she continued her “royal assessment” of the festivities.

“Oh dear. Pinkie Pie? Come back, please,” said Fluttershy. “We’re just about ready to leave.” She quickly trotted after the bouncing mare.

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash stepped up to the Telepod’s display. While the device was inactive—neglected since its earlier demonstration—its new primary function was still intact. A small, fluctuating anomaly sat in the center of the display, guarding a pathway to four hundred years into the past. Twilight Sparkle slowly fished around in her saddlebags for the Gate Key. Rainbow Dash stood a few paces behind her, stone-faced.

After stalling for what she deemed to be an unreasonable amount of time, Twilight Sparkle closed her saddlebags. “You’re awfully quiet,” she said tersely. “Is there anything you’d like to say to me?”

Rainbow Dash grunted.

Twilight Sparkle rubbed one foreleg across the back of her other. “Anything at all?”

“I was thinking about it,” said Rainbow Dash after a pause, “and your mom is right. Maybe we should take a vacation. Maybe we should, I don’t know, go mountain climbing?”

Twilight Sparkle whirled around, glaring daggers at Rainbow Dash. The pegasus returned an equally hostile look. “I—You—That—” Twilight Sparkle stuttered, too enraged to form a cohesive thought.

“How dare you!” Rainbow Dash yelled in her face. “Keeping secrets from me this whole time... I deserved to know the truth!” She stomped her hooves.

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes teared up. “What?” she shouted. “You think I owed you the truth?”

“Didn’t you?” she snapped.

“Oh, well forgive me,” yelled Twilight Sparkle. “Next time my life falls apart, I’ll be sure to focus on how that affects you first!”

“Sorry, girls,” said Fluttershy. She and Pinkie Pie trotted up to the Telepod’s exhibit. “Pinkie Pie got a bit ahead of me, but now we can—” She glanced between the two rage-filled faces before her. “Oh my goodness, what’s wrong?”

Twilight Sparkle spun around, facing the closed Gate. “Nothing,” she said. Her voice rang hollow. “Nothing is wrong. Let’s go.” She swung the Gate Key in front of her, tearing apart the fabric of space-time. She quickly trotted into the purple portal.

“Oh, I s-see,” stuttered Fluttershy. She slowly followed after Twilight Sparkle.

Pinkie Pie held out a plate. “Hey Rainbow Dash, I found a funnel cake vendor! You want some?”

“I’m not hungry.” Rainbow Dash stepped into the Gate and disappeared.

“Oh. Alrighty then! More for me.” Pinkie Pie inhaled the rest of the fried treat before following her friends through the gateway. With all four ponies safely inside, the Gate sealed behind them.

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The End of Time

Hello!” From down the pathway, underneath his lamp post, The Doctor waved energetically to the four ponies, wearing his usual smile.

Pinkie Pie gasped sharply. “Oh no! Now we’ve really gone and done it.” She clutched her head and trembled. “We were trying to travel back in time, but we didn’t travel back to 600 AD; we traveled back in our own timeline, back to when we first arrived in the End of Time and met The Doctor!”

Without a word, Twilight Sparkle turned and stepped into a column of light on the opposite corner of the platform. The white beam shot her skyward, hurling her into a different point in the space-time continuum.

“Twilight!” Fluttershy called out. “W-wait for us, please.” She quickly trotted over to the same column and hopped inside, traveling after her friend.

“Wait!” Pinkie Pie protested. “You’ll just keep going further and further back into our own past! First Magno Dome, then the trial, then Manerial Abbey. If you keep going, you’ll end up traveling back to before we met each other!”

Rainbow Dash snorted and glared out into the abyss. “Fine by me. Let ‘em go.”

The door behind the lamp post swung open. Trixie poked her head through the doorway, cackling with glee. “Oh, this is too rich. The Great and Powerful Trixie sets you on your way with all of the tools you could ever need, and a few hours later, your little rag-tag group is already falling apart. How utterly tragic.”

The Doctor gave Trixie an admonishing look. “Now, Trixie, let’s try to stay civil when we have guests.” Trixie turned her nose skyward, while The Doctor trotted to Pinkie Pie’s platform. “No, my dear, it’s nothing as far-fetched as you’re theorizing there. I just saw fit to detour you momentarily.”

“Oh whew,” sighed Pinkie Pie. “So we can still get back to 600 AD?”

“Weren’t you listening to a thing that foolish stallion told you?” said Trixie. With a burst of silvery light, she disappeared from her doorway, reappearing mere centimeters from Pinkie Pie’s face. “This is the hub for your time travels. Now that you’ve used that Gate, you can travel from here to any other Gate you’ve visited.”

“Ah, yes, quite right, Ms. Great and Powerful,” said The Doctor as he gently nudged her to the side. “All of your Gates will lead here now. Much more convenient, I’d say. Plus, I’d be more than happy to offer my advice and expertise, where I can.”

“Oh. Neat!” cheered Pinkie Pie. “Well, let’s see... Ooo, we figured out who made Lavos. It was Nightmare Moon!”

The Doctor’s eyes bulged. “Made Lavos? Heavens, I had no idea. And you said it was Nightmare Moon, was it? That was that, ahm,” he said, tapping his hoof against his chin, “that crazy one. Middle Ages. Led a whole country of Mystics against ponykind.” He shrugged. “Afraid I can’t tell you much more than that. Far as I can tell, she just appeared one day, out of nowhere. Still, that’s quite odd. I mean, if Lavos was created in the Middle Ages...” He shook his head. “Ah well. It’ll all make sense in the end, I’m sure. Always does.”

Pinkie Pie grinned. “Sounds good! We’ll be sure to come back and visit soon. C’mon, Dashie!” With that, the two friends stepped into the column of light and drifted up into the air.

“Best of luck to you!” said The Doctor as he waved farewell.

“Try not to lose in too humiliating a fashion.”

“Trixie! Honestly now, we ought to be helping them.”

“What? The Great and Powerful Trixie simply wanted them to keep their dignity intact when they inevitably fail.”

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle

The pair of guards at the castle’s front entrance snapped to attention. “Ah, milady,” said one, “what an honor to see you once again.”

“I am so sick of that self-centered little brat!” Twilight Sparkle yelled as she trotted past the guards.

“You don’t say,” muttered the guard under his breath.

“Twilight!” gasped a mortified Fluttershy. “You can’t possibly mean that. Rainbow Dash is your very best friend.”

“Oh yes, my best friend,” she said with a derisive laugh. “I sure know how to pick ‘em. That arrogant, ostentatious—”

“Lady Twilight Sparkle?”

—narcissistic braggart!

Chancellor Octavia huffed. “Well.”

Twilight Sparkle gasped, racing toward the verbally-wounded Chancellor. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, Madam Chancellor, I didn’t see you there, and I definitely wasn’t directing that name-calling at you, it’s just that I was—”

She held up a hoof, silencing Twilight Sparkle. “Time, Lady Twilight, is a precious commodity which we have nearly exhausted. You are to have an audience with the Queen and King immediately. This way.” She trotted into the castle proper, passing through the throne room.

“We will?” asked Fluttershy. “Wonderful. After all, that’s why we’re here.”

The two ponies followed after the Chancellor at a respectable distance. Once out of earshot, Twilight Sparkle leaned in and hissed a continuation of her rant. “I mean, do you have any idea how hard that was? Nopony knew the truth about what happened that day, aside from my family and the doctors. When anypony asked, Dad would just give a hoof-waving story about some terrible fall while mountain-climbing. So a decade later, when I’m finally ready to tell the complete truth, in the company of my closest friends, what happens? That fricking egotist makes it all about herself! Sure, she’s hardly the most empathetic pony, but even for her, that was just... just... urgh! She bolted ahead, following the Chancellor up the staircase to the Queen’s chamber.

Fluttershy held a hoof to her face. “Oh dear,” she said to herself. “This is even worse than I thought.”

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600 AD

Equus

Oh no,” said Pinkie Pie. “What happened here? Everypony is so... flat.”

The villagers of Equus slumped on the lawns in front of their homes, staring vacantly at one another. The lawns themselves were trimmed down to the soil; nary a blade of grass remained in sight. A heavy sense of dread and hopelessness hung in the air. The scene looked all too familiar to the two ponies.

“This is just like the future, isn’t it?” Rainbow Dash muttered rhetorically. She strode up to one of the townsponies. “Hey. What’s wrong with everypony?”

Groaning lightly, the unicorn stallion replied, “No food... Those demonic Mystics destroyed all of our food. There’s no hope left for us.”

“Ack!” cried Pinkie Pie. She leapt to Rainbow Dash’s side, quickly covering her friend’s ears with her hooves. “Don’t listen to them, Dashie. Plenty of food here! We definitely did not just travel back into an era with no food.”

“Wait, is that her? Lady Rainbow Dash? Is it really you?!”

Ignoring Pinkie Pie’s antics, Rainbow Dash turned to the pony who addressed her. “What do you want?”

The Sugardian knight grinned. “It is! It is you, Lady Rainbow Dash! Oh, fortune clearly smiles on us. Please, for the sake of all of Sugardia, I beg of you: help us in our hour of need!”

“I said, what do you want?”

He gulped. “F-forgive me, milady. I’ll get right to the point. Nightmare Moon’s forces are on the offensive. The Zebran Bridge is about to fall. It’s our last line of defense; if it falls, Sugardia Castle itself is next.” He motioned to the despondent townsponies. “I had returned to Equus to gather any able-bodied ponies to bolster our defense. Instead, I find the heroic Lady Rainbow Dash herself! The mare who saved our—”

“You need me to chop up some bad guys. Got it.” With a crack of her neck, Rainbow Dash marched past the knight.

From overhead, Pinkie Pie bounced into view, blocking Rainbow Dash’s path. She frowned at her friend. “What’s gotten into you, Rainbow Dash? You don’t sound like yourself at all.”

“What’s gotten into me?” Rainbow Dash shot her a venomous glare, causing her to cringe. “In case you didn’t notice, I just found out that my lifelong friend didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth about how her mom got hurt. I just found out this so-called friend has been lying to me for ten years. I just found out that, apparently, out friendship isn’t as important as I thought.” Rainbow Dash took to the air, racing ahead toward the battle at Zebran Bridge. “So excuse me for being pissy!”

Pinkie Pie wilted as she watched her friend disappear into the distance. “Rainbow Dash...”

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle—Queen Diane’s Chamber

Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy opened the door to Queen Diane’s private chamber, pushing their way past the bustling chambermaids and frantic nurses. Chancellor Octavia led them in, working her way to the center of the room where the 21st King of Sugardia was pacing back and forth. After a brief whispered exchange, the King turned toward the two ponies, wearing a warm smile.

“Lady Twilight! Your arrival in such a dark hour is a most fortuitous omen.”

The two ponies bowed respectfully to the King. “Your Majesty,” said Twilight Sparkle, “please forgive our sudden disappearance and reappearance. We’ve come seeking your assistance with putting a stop to Nightmare Moon.”

The King relaxed his shoulders. “Oh, most fortuitous indeed. Once more, the kingdom will forever be in your debt. Alas, we cannot be of much assistance.” He gestured to the south with a dramatic sweep of his hoof. “Even as we speak, Nightmare Moon’s forces threaten to breach our last line of defense. Our country’s foodstores have been ravaged. Truly, our fighting forces are nearing their breaking point.”

“Your Majesty, Sir?” said Fluttershy. “You said that your food was ‘ravaged’?”

King Sugardia closed his eyes. “Over the course of the war, our food supplies had been dwindling at an alarming rate. We always assumed it was natural attrition due to our war efforts. However, we recently discovered the truth: parasprites.”

“Oh dear,” Fluttershy said. “Parasprites are certainly known for their voracious appetites. Getting an infestation now, of all times, is quite misfortunate.”

“I’m afraid you misunderstand, miss,” said Chancellor Octavia. “It is no mere coincidence. We have evidence that the parasprites were intentionally sent to us by Nightmare Moon in an attempt to starve us out.”

Fluttershy reeled backwards, clutching her chest as if struck. “She what? That’s horrible... No, it’s downright evil. Without food, everypony will starve to death. Not just the knights, but the innocent townsponies and their little foals. How could anypony do something as despicable as destroying food?”

From the back of the room, a quiet voice replied, “Such is the extent of Nightmare Moon’s evil ways.”

King Sugardia’s regal facade cracked as soon as the voice spoke. He turned quickly and strode in the direction of the voice. As Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle followed behind, they were shocked to find Queen Diane resting in her bed. Bandages were wrapped tightly around her torso and left foreleg. A small team of doctors bustled above her bedside, attending to her injuries and conferencing amongst themselves.

“Oh no!” gasped Fluttershy. “Your Highness, what has happened to you?”

Queen Diane smiled weakly. “I thank you for your concern, companion of Lady Twilight. I will be fine.” Her expression hardened as she looked out of her window to the open countryside. “When the defenses at the Zebran Bridge began to falter, I took up my blade and joined the front lines.”

“What?!” shouted Twilight Sparkle. “But Queen Diane, that’s so reckless. You could have been seriously—” Her jaw snapped shut as a pair of purple eyes glared at her, centimeters from her face.

Chancellor Octavia’s voice was colder than ice. “You will do well,” she hissed, “to watch your tone when addressing Her Majesty The Queen.”

The Queen rested a hoof gently on the Chancellor’s side. “It is alright, Octavia. Lady Twilight is correct, after all. I was injured due to my own carelessness. While I would gladly lay down my life to protect the country I love, it would not be prudent for Sugardia to lose her ruler in a time such as this.”

King Sugardia stepped forward. “Please, Lady Twilight, I must call upon your heroism once more. Will you drive back the forces at Zebran Bridge, and put a stop to Nightmare Moon?”

Twilight Sparkle saluted. “We’ll do our best. After all, the fate of the future is at stake.”

The King nodded. “Well said. Before you leave, I would ask that you check in with the kitchen staff. They should be working on putting together what little food remains for the knights on the front lines.”

“Got it!”

“Oh, and Lady Twilight? One other task for you,” said Queen Diane. “Should you reach the other side of the bridge, it would be prudent of you to seek out the legendary hero.”

Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle shared a look. “The legendary hero, Your Highness?”

The Queen nodded. “Yes. The bearer of the Hero’s Medal!

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600 AD

Zebran Bridge

Firefly landed heavily on the bridge, dropping her broadsword beside herself. Her wing muscles burned from the strain of one too many acrobatic maneuvers. “Fall back!” she yelled to some nearby knights. “Don’t let them draw you out of position. We must hold this bridge at all costs.” She panted for breath. Ponyfeathers... Even barking orders is leaving me winded. Though, this scratch isn’t doing me any favors, either. Firefly held a hoof against her bleeding side, where an unlucky arrow had found a gap in her armor.

“Oh no! You’re hurt?” Pinkie Pie quickly leapt to the pegasus’s side, holding her hooves against the injury. “Don’t worry, Firefly. You’ll be fit as a fiddle in a flash!”

“My thanks, Pinkie,” said Firefly. She winced lightly as Pinkie Pie pressed against the injury, but she still managed an appreciative smile. “You and Lady Rainbow arrived not a moment too soon. My troops are nearing exhaustion. With the two of you breathing new life into the fight, we just might make it through.” She blinked, and looked down at her side. “What in Sugardia? My wound is healed! What manner of sorcery was that, Pinkie Pie?”

She giggled and rolled her eyes. “Aww c’mon, we’ve been over this already! Like I said last time, it’s not like I’m able to cast magical healing spells or anything like that.” She looked down at her hooves. Sparkles of crystal-blue magic spun around them, casting a gentle warming glow onto Firefly’s hide. “Oh. I guess I can, now. My bad!”

Firefly stared at the magical glow. “That’s amazing,” she whispered. “I had thought only Mystics were capable of these types of magic. Yet here you are: an earth pony who is able to rival their powers. I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t seeing with my own two eyes.” She and Pinkie Pie turned their gazes further down the bridge. “And of course, this is saying nothing about your companion.”

At the center of the bridge, wave after wave of Mystic soldiers crashed helplessly against the unstoppable fury of Rainbow Dash’s attacks. She leapt over a charging ogre, gashing its backside. She landed in front of a pair of gargoyles, who spread out in a feeble attempt to flank her. As they flew toward her with a flurry of spinning kicks, she retaliated with a spin of her own. Her Cyclone strike ended the gargoyles before they could cry out. Seizing the opportunity, a half-dozen imps rushed the pegasus. They were met by a wave of Rainbow Dash’s electrical currents, which sent them flying off the side of the bridge and into the ocean below.

Pinkie Pie bit her lip. “Poor Rainbow Dash.”

“Poor her? More like poor demons,” laughed Firefly. “Pardon the pun, but she’s downright electric out there. The soddy monsters don’t stand a chance.” Her eyes turned upward as she lost herself in thought. With a smirk, she added, “Y’know, between your magic, and the legendary hero’s blade, the three of you just might be able to stop Nightmare Moon on your own!”

Pinkie Pie’s eyes dilated. She grabbed ahold of Firefly, assaulting her with words. “Great galloping gumdrops! There’s another hero? That’s totally awesome! I mean, we’ve got the four of us already, but you can never have too many heroes, and you can never ever have too many friends. You gotta tell me everything about her. What’s her name? What’s she like? What’s her favorite jelly bean flavor? Oops, I mean, is she even a she, or is she a he? Totally made an assumption there, my bad. But seriously! I’ve only just heard about this legendary hero and I already can’t wait to meet her!”

Firefly laughed, gently prying herself out of Pinkie Pie’s grip. “Easy, milady. Save that energy for fighting Nightmare Moon. Anyway, yes, a legendary hero. You know how these things go: an ancient legend about a hero saving Sugardia in its darkest hour. He’ll wear a medal representing his courage, wield an ancient blade with no equal, and such. Just some silly fairy tale you tell the foals at bedtime.”

Pinkie Pie nodded energetically. “Yep! Sounds pretty standard to me.”

Firefly trotted over and retrieved her discarded broadsword. “Except, as fate would have it, this fairy tale just might come true. A colt arrived at Sugardia Castle yesterday. Not only does he possess the Hero’s Medal, but he claims that he will find the legendary blade and strike down Nightmare Moon!”

“Hmm.” Pinkie Pie rubbed her chin. “That does sound like it would fulfill the prophecy. So where is this hero now?”

“Well, he wanted to head back to South Zebran in order to search for the blade.” A clap of thunder rolled out from the center of the bridge, where Rainbow Dash was single-hoofedly keeping the advancing army at bay. Firefly grimaced. “That was right about the time when this battle broke out. It was all we could do to sneak the hero and his friend across the bridge. We took a fair number of injuries for our efforts.” She sighed. “It burns me that my Bolt Knights can’t do more to protect the country, but it looks like we have no other choice but to rely on heroes like you and him.”

“Hey! Don’t sell yourself short!” Pinkie Pie smiled at Firefly. “I’m sure your knights have sacrificed so much, just to keep everypony safe. If it wasn’t for you gals, Sugardia would’ve fallen way before now. Just because you’re getting a little bit of help doesn’t mean that everything you’ve done up until now is meaningless! You should be proud of all that you’ve done.”

Firefly weakly returned Pinkie Pie’s smile. “You’re far too kind, Pinkie.” Her smile vanished when she turned to look at her recovering knights. “Still, even with you and Lady Rainbow, my troops are beyond their limits. They will not survive much longer without being fed. Where in the blazes is Medley with those rations?”

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600 AD

Sugardia Castle—Mess Hall

Medley glared at the two ponies who had intruded into her kitchen. “So, let me guess,” she said, staring down at a cowering Fluttershy. “That dumb jerk, Firefly, sent you, demanding more rations.”

Fluttershy squeaked. “N-n-no, you see, we were actually sent here by—”

“Because let me tell you something: that idiot thinks of nopony except herself!”

Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes. Seems to be a lot of that going around today.

Medley turned toward the kitchen, where a small team of chefs were hard at work with the last of the ingredients. She addressed a mare who was attending to a stew on the stovetop. “Cotton Candy, that’s still too thick. Water it down some more.”

“It’s practically just water at this point,” said Cotton Candy, shrugging in protest. “There’s no way that this will fill anypony up.”

“We don’t have a choice,” retorted Medley. She partially turned to Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, addressing them as much as she was addressing her cook. “With the parasprites in full effect, there’s simply not enough food to go around. We’ve got knights, civilians, patients, and foals to feed. Some ponies are going to be hungry; there’s no avoiding that. We just need to keep everypony from starving to death for as long as we can. Certain ponies need to understand that they are not the center of the universe, and that sometimes the needs of others are more important.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled and nodded. “You’re quite right, miss. Sorry to have disturbed you. Best of luck to you.” Medley and Twilight Sparkle turned away, respectively heading to the kitchen and the exit.

Fluttershy rose to her hooves and chased after Twilight Sparkle. “Please, Twilight, won’t you give Rainbow Dash a second chance?”

Twilight Sparkle locked her jaw. “I’ve been giving her second chances ever since we met. She’s somewhere near her twenty thousandth chance. And this wasn’t something silly like an overdue loan or a forgotten birthday; I revealed a secret that I’ve kept bottled up for a decade, and yet Rainbow completely disregarded my feelings! Sorry, but I’m going to need a halfway-decent apology from her before I’ll even consider forgiving her this time.”

“I don’t think that she did disregard your feelings, though. I think that, in her own way, Rainbow Dash is showing you just how much she cares about you.”

Twilight Sparkle froze in her tracks at the base of the stairwell leading up to the ground floor. She cocked her head back. “I’m sorry, but... what? She’s caring about herself. How does that translate into caring about me?”

“I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the situation.” Fluttershy shifted her weight from hoof to hoof. “It’s just that, well, Rainbow Dash clearly seemed so angry. Could it be that she was angry, not because she felt entitled to know the truth, but because she had wanted to be there for you at a difficult time in your life?” Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth to interject, but Fluttershy took a step forward and quickly continued her theory. “She may have a different way of showing her feelings, but she definitely feels just as strongly about your friendship as you do. At least, that’s what I believe.

“I dunno, Fluttershy. It seems like you’re giving her too much credit. I mean, if you think about this week alone, she... well...” Twilight Sparkle turned away. As she closed her eyes, a slideshow of memories played against her eyelids.

The day before the Millennial Summer Sun Celebration. Rainbow and I are eating at a cafe. She just agreed to help with the demonstration of my invention. She’ll probably end up oversleeping or forgetting. Still, it’s the same day as her plans to audition with—or at least field-rush—the Wonderbolts. That was awfully generous of her...

Magno Dome. Fluttershy is in pieces, strewn all over the floor. I want to repair her so badly, but I can’t; it’s just not possible. And yet, there’s Rainbow Dash. Hugging me. Telling me not to give up. She has no clue how feasible or infeasible the task actually is, and yet I trust her when she tells me to believe in myself...

Our prison cell in Sugardia Castle. We’re scheduled to never see another sunrise. Rainbow Dash couldn’t care less. Not only is she plotting our escape plan, but she’s taking the time to assure me that I haven’t ruined my chances of being Pinkie’s friend. It’s totally not the time for a conversation like that, but regardless she’s keeping me from giving up...

A slow sigh escaped from deep within Twilight Sparkle’s chest. “Okay, okay. She really does care about our friendship.” Her head jerked upright. “But that still doesn’t justify her attitude from today! If she does care, then why was she acting like a Grade A jerk?”

“Hey, wait up.”

Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy turned around in time to see Medley flying over from the kitchen. She landed in front of the two ponies, dropping a small package at their hooves. She silently glared at the wall.

Twilight Sparkle lifted the package and peeked inside. “Wait. Medley, are these apple turnovers? I thought that we were in the middle of a famine. How did you—”

“You tell that idiot,” said Medley, continuing to avoid eye contact, “that everypony is counting on her. So, she better not do something stupid, like die on me. You got that?” Before either pony could reply, Medley raced back into the kitchen.

Twilight Sparkle held her hoof against her closed eyes. “Yes. Yes, I get it.” Raising her head, she motioned to Fluttershy. “C’mon. Let’s go find Dash.”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Zebran Bridge

Come on!” yelled Rainbow Dash.

She dived down from the cloud cover into the fray on the bridge. Her blade sliced through the row of naga with almost no resistance.

“Is that the best you’ve got?”

She raised her hoof overhead. It crackled and surged with magically-summoned voltage. As she brought her hoof down, the bolt of lightning leapt from foe to foe, causing the rest of the enemy squadron to collapse into a fit of spasms.

“I thought you guys were supposed to be tough!” she screamed. “Well, news flash: you’re not! Why don’t you send a real competitor down here to fight me? Ack!” She yelped as a creature tackled her from behind.

“I don’t care what you say, Dashie,” said Pinkie Pie as she tightly clung to the pegasus. “I’m gonna keep hugging ya until you’re your old self again!”

“Pinkie, let go!” rebuked Rainbow Dash. She futilely attempted to shake herself free from Pinkie Pie’s grip. “There’ll be more monsters here any minute.”

“No! You’re clearly not okay, Dashie.” Pinkie Pie’s eyes misted over. She swung around Rainbow Dash’s neck, hanging underneath the other mare and looked up imploringly at her. “I just can’t stand by and watch you suffer by yourself like this!”

“Suffer? What, you mean that thing with Twi?” Rainbow Dash snorted. “Whatever. I’m totally over that already.”

Pinkie Pie frowned. “Are not! You’re getting meaner and meaner by the minute! Can’t you find it in your heart to forgive her?”

“Forgive her?!” yelled Rainbow Dash. “After she threw our friendship in the garbage? That is so not going to happen.”

“You’ve got it all wrong. She does too care about you. I mean, why do you think you were one of the first ponies she told that story to?”

“Yeah, ten years later.”

“Dashieee, c’mooon,” groaned Pinkie Pie, throwing her head back. “Can you please give her a break? She’s had a really rough week.”

“All of us have!” Rainbow Dash shouted. She flailed her hooves, nearly losing her balance due to Pinkie Pie’s added weight. “It’s not like she’s had more of a—”

Manerial Abbey. Twilight collapses into a fit of bitter tears. She’s talking about how she wishes she could be more helpful, but she’s too terrified of all the creepy-crawlies in the abbey. Idiot. Doesn’t she know that just being here is enough...

“Well, okay, maybe she’s had it slightly worse than the rest of us, but it’s not like I was treating her—”

My trial in Sugardia Castle. She’s all bleary-eyed, and scatterbrained, and talking about being my laywer. Why is she even here? When did she even have time to learn about law? It’s a dumb plan, and I tell her so. She smiles at me...

“Y-yeah, well... but I didn’t...”

Barngor Dome. We just escaped from prison. I’m trying to use Twi’s tools to free us from the shackles. I’m standing over her, ready to cut her shackle, and she’s completely losing her shit, screaming like a little foal. What’s her problem, anyway? I’m not a klutz. Why’s she crying that I’m going to accidentally cut her horn off...

The contents of Rainbow Dash’s stomach did a somersault. She hung her head low, staring unfocused at the wood beneath her hooves. A low groan vibrated from the back of her throat. “I really screwed up, huh? Guess I needa go find Twi and say I’m sorry.”

Pinkie Pie smiled gently. She lifted Rainbow Dash’s head and pointed it toward the end of the bridge. “Why don’t you tell her now?”

At the knight’s camp, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy were conversing with Firefly. Firefly peered into a box that had been set at her hooves. She looked off toward Sugardia Castle on the horizon and smiled, before grabbing the box in her mouth and carrying it toward her resting troops. Fluttershy noticed the two friends in the middle of the bridge. She nudged Twilight Sparkle, who quickly spun to face Rainbow Dash. They trotted toward each other, slowly coming to a standstill on the near end of the bridge.

“Hi,” said Twilight Sparkle. Her cheeks were glowing a light hue of pink.

“Sup,” replied Rainbow Dash. Her eyes drifted to the Sugardian camp behind her friends. “Is that a package of food? I thought they were all out.”

Yeah. Long story.” Twilight Sparkle leaned to her side, curiously examining her friends. “Is Pinkie Pie sitting on your back and hugging you?”

“Long story.”

The battlefield fell silent. The fighting on the bridge had stopped.

“I should start by—”

“Look, Twi, about—”

The two friends paused, awkwardly motioning for each other to go first.

“I should start by apologizing,” Twilight Sparkle eventually said. “I had been feeding you a bogus story about a mountain climbing accident for the past ten years. You had every right to be mad at me for keeping such a big secret.”

“No way!” Rainbow Dash rushed up to her side. “I was being a huge jerk. That must’ve been super-hard for you to tell me, and I wasn’t empa... empath...” She rapidly shook her head. “I wasn’t sensitive enough to how you felt.” She stared down at the bridge, tapping her hoof lightly against it. “I’m real sorry, Twi.”

Pinkie Pie gave Rainbow Dash an extra squeeze for good measure, then leapt off her back and trotted to the side of the bridge, watching the scene unfold with Fluttershy.

Twilight Sparkle grinned sheepishly. “So, still friends?”

Rainbow Dash tried to mask her emotions with her traditional cavalier grin. “Duh.”

The two childhood friends embraced. In an instant, their anger and resentment melted away. Deep in their hearts, they knew that nothing could ever destroy the bonds of their friendship.

Aww. What a tender moment,” said a voice from the far end of the bridge.

“Not!” added a second.

“If y’all two are done bein’ sappy now,” said a third, “maybe we could git back to the matter at hoof.”

The friends turned toward the unfamiliar voices. Standing boldly in the middle of the bridge were a trio of young mares, wearing menacing grins and long, crimson capes. They were spread out across the bridge, preventing anypony from passing them. The four friends trotted up to meet the three peculiar ponies.

“Hi there!” said Pinkie Pie. She waved to the new faces. “My name’s Pinkie Pie. Who’re you?” She gasped as an idea struck her. “Hey, wait a minute. Are the three of you friends with the legendary hero?”

The three young mares howled with laughter. “Heroes? Us?” said a yellow earth pony with a bright red mane. “‘Fraid you’re mistaken.”

“We’re the total opposite of heroes,” squeaked a white unicorn with a two-tone mane. “For you see—”

An orange pegasus with a purple mane charged to the front of the group. “You’re looking at Nightmare Moon’s newest generals.”

Twilight Sparkle did a double-take. “You three are working for Nightmare Moon?” Triple-take. “Generals?! But you’re so young. And why would ponies like you be working for the bad guys?”

“Scootaloo,” scolded the earth pony, “we’re not all generals. Only Sweetie Belle gits to be one.”

“Whaaat?” whined Scootaloo. “No fair. Why is Sweetie Belle a general if we’re not?”

“Because,” said the unicorn, “Nightmare Moon said so. Besides, I’m the one who came up with the idea a few days ago, remember? So it’s only fair that I get to be the leader.”

Quadruple-take. “They became generals in the war against Sugardia just a few days ago?” Twilight Sparkle hissed to Rainbow Dash. “This doesn’t add up.

“You two can get ranks too, though,” continued Sweetie Belle. “Nightmare Moon didn’t say that I couldn’t promote anypony, anyway.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Apple Bloom, you can be... oh! You can be my captain!”

“Captain Apple Bloom?” She grinned. “Ha! That’s got a ring to it.”

“And Scootaloo, you can be my... my, um...” Sweetie Belle stared vacantly out across the ocean. “What other ranks are there, anyway?” Her two friends joined her in racking their brains.

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Okay. Seriously? Do we need to be here for this? We kinda need to get across, so if you three could just—”

Ooo!” shouted Sweetie Belle, her voice cracking into an upper octave. “I know. Scootaloo, you can be my private!”

Scootaloo’s face turned dark red. She snapped her hooves upward to cover her open mouth. “Sweetie Belle!” she gasped.

“Huh?”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t mean like that, you nincompoop. A ‘private’ is a kind of military rank.”

“Right,” said Sweetie Belle with a nod. “Why? What did Scootaloo think I meant?”

“It’s too low of a rank, though,” mused Apple Bloom. “Maybe she could be a sergeant?”

“Sergeant Scootaloo? Nice,” she cheered. “Thanks, Apple Bloom.”

“No problem!”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Right.” She motioned for her friends to follow. “C’mon. Let’s just slip past while they’re busy doing whatever it is that they’re—”

The three young mares leapt back into their original positions, blockading the bridge. They reared up on their hind legs and excitedly flailed their forelegs.

“Sergeant Scootaloo!”

“Cap’n Apple Bloom!”

“And General Sweetie Belle! Together, the three of us are—”

“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER LEADERS OF THE MYSTIC ARMY! YAY!”

Pinkie Pie massaged her ears, trying to get them to stop ringing. “Ow,” she groaned.

Rainbow Dash tilted her head. “Wait, what exactly is that supposed to mean? Cutie Mark Crusaders?”

“The three of us ’re on a mission,” said Apple Bloom.

“We’re traveling the world, trying our hooves at everything,” said Scootaloo, flaring her wings. “Including serving the almighty Nightmare Moon, of course.”

“And we’re going to keep at it until we all discover our special talents,” Sweetie Belle said, puffing out her chest, “and earn our cutie marks!”

Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie exchanged confused glances with each other. Their eyes shifted from one another, to the three young mares, and back again.

Fluttershy’s servos hummed lightly as she stepped toward her friends. “Um, I’m sorry, everypony. I think I’m missing something. Did they say something odd?”

Rainbow Dash leaned to the side, trying to get a better look at the Cutie Mark Crusaders. “Meh, no good,” she muttered. “Their capes are too long. I can’t tell.”

“You see, Fluttershy,” explained Twilight Sparkle, “ponies typically earn their cutie marks when they’re fillies or colts. There isn’t a set age, per se; it can happen somewhere in a three-year span or thereabouts. But—”

Pinkie Pie hopped to the front of the pack. “You girls are, like, only a few years younger than us, right? Shouldn’t you have earned your cutie marks years ago?”

The faces of the three mares darkened in unison. “Why don’t you mind your own business, lady?” growled Sweetie Belle.

“I don’t go around asking you invasive questions about your cutie mark, you little... little... balloon butt!” yelled Scootaloo, hopping into the air for added emphasis.

Pinkie Pie giggled. “Balloon butt? Heehee, good one!”

“Hey now, cut it out, you two,” snapped Apple Bloom. “Just cuz we’re the bad guys doesn’t mean we gotta resort to name-callin’ and other nasty business. Let’s just stick to the plan and release them parasprites.”

The four friends stiffened in unison. “Parasprites?” gasped Twilight Sparkle. “The King was right. You’re releasing them intentionally!”

Scootaloo grinned sadistically. “Yep! That one was my idea. Nopony wants to fight with a grumbly tummy, right?”

“So if we used parasprites to eat all of the food,” said Apple Bloom with an equally dark grin, “everypony would be too hungry to fight back, and Nightmare Moon could take over, nice and easy-like.”

“Yeah!” cheered Sweetie Belle with a smirk of her own. “Nightmare Moon loved our plan so much, that’s probably why she agreed to make us the leaders of her troops.”

Rainbow Dash gnashed her teeth. “Now look, you little punks. Messing with somepony’s food is—”

Fluttershy rushed past Rainbow Dash, bumping her out of the way. She towered about the Cutie Mark Crusaders, glaring down at them. “That’s horrible. You’re worried about hurting other ponies’ feelings with name-calling, yet you’re proud at unleashing famine on tens of thousands of ponies? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders instinctively curled into the fetal position, trying to hide themselves from Fluttershy’s intimidating stare. Their eyes began to water over from the harsh rebuke. “W-we’re sorry, ma’am,” Apple Bloom eventually replied, “but we—”

“Don’t you ‘but we’ me, young lady!” scolded Fluttershy. “It’s not me you need to be apologizing to. I want the three of you to go to Sugardia Castle and apologize to everypony this instant.”

Twilight Sparkle buried her face in her hoof. “These are the leaders of the Mystic Army? A couple of kids who burst into tears the second somepony points out they’re evil?”

“Dude, whatever,” said Rainbow Dash. She stared, unblinking and pale, at the robopony in front of her. “Fluttershy is scary.”

Fall back!” yelled Sweetie Belle. “They’re too strong! Run for it!”

Apple Bloom shakily rose to her hooves. “Let’s jus’ summon the parasprites and run, while we still can!”

“Eh? Oh, r-right,” said Scootaloo. “Leave it to me!” The pegasus leapt into the air, buzzing her small wings rapidly to hover in the air. The four friends looked up and watched as she floated in the air above them. Scootaloo’s entire body shimmered with a pale blue light, as above her, a magical circle drew itself onto the low cloud cover. From inside the circle, a flood of hundreds of parasprites spilled forth, blotting out the sun.

The four ponies’ jaws collectively dropped, save Fluttershy’s as it was welded shut. “This is gonna be a problem, isn’t it?” quipped Rainbow Dash.

The swarm of parasprites landed on the bridge’s center, providing cover as the Cutie Mark Crusaders and their army fled to the south. The small creatures crawled on top of each other in a writhing blob. Under the midday sun, they warmed their tiny gossamer wings, which were attached to either side of their tiny spherical bodies. Periodically, one of the many creatures would hack and cough, and spit out a gnarled, soggy cocoon. Mere seconds after each cocoon was created in this manner, it hatched into yet another parasprite. The writhing mass of parasprites quickly grew in size, and began to take on a roughly equestrian-shaped form. The “head” of the towering “ponysprite” glared down at the smaller pony friends.

Rainbow Dash drew her katana and crouched low into her ready pose.

“What?” asked Twilight Sparkle, raising her hoof. “You’re just gonna fly in there and start whacking it with your sword?”

“Well, yeah. Did you have a better idea?”

“Run away?” whimpered Fluttershy. “Those Crusaders seemed to think it was a good plan.”

Twilight Sparkle pulled open her saddlebags. “I should have an entomology book somewhere in here.”

Ahem!” Pinkie Pie cleared her throat noisily. “Ladies?” She held her hoof aloft, which was radiating with an arctic chill.

“Oh. Heh.” Twilight Sparkle rubbed the back of her head. “Magic. Right. Good call, Pinkie.”

No longer content to watch them strategize, the ponysprite leapt to the offensive. It swiped at Rainbow Dash with its massive front hooves, trying to knock the tiny pegasus off the bridge. Rainbow Dash parried each blow as best as she could with her katana, but this just resulted in the “hoof” shattering into a rain of parasprites. The small insects covered her body, scratching her with their tiny claws.

“Hey!” yelled Fluttershy. Twin panels ejected from her withers, exposing a pair of laser cannons. “Quit hurting Rainbow Dash!” The cannons fired, sending bolts of dark energy tearing into the ponysprite. Each blast dropped a small cluster of the winged insects, leaving a gaping hole in the large pony’s side. The holes didn’t last for long, as the terrifying reproductive rate of the parasprites soon provided replacements to repair the damage.

Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie leapt to opposite edges of the bridge. Crouching and concentrating, they called forth focused orbs of magical energy. The two ponies flung the magical bursts toward the ponysprite, where they respectively exploded into torrents of flame and blocks of ice. The ponysprite bucked and whinnied as each magic attack tore into it, yet the parasprite colony remained resilient.

“Keep up the pressure!” yelled Rainbow Dash. “They can’t keep making more of themselves forever.”

“Gee, Dash, I hope you’re right,” said Fluttershy. “Parasprites are very rapid breeders. I’m not certain that we’re having any effect.” She bucked one of the ponysprite’s hind legs, causing it to explode in a shower of insects. The swarm, missing one of its limbs, fell off-balance.

“Careful! Our spells are going to miss!” called out Twilight Sparkle. Their magic whizzed over the head of the staggered ponysprite. Without a proper target, the bolts continued along their courses until they collided with each other. The resulting explosion rocked the bridge, fragmenting the ponysprite completely. The shockwaves sent everypony flying as well. Due to her poor position, Twilight Sparkle careened off the side of the bridge, crashing into the ocean waters below.

“Twi!” Rainbow Dash called out.

“Holy cow, did you see that!” screamed Pinkie Pie. She clung to the railings on her side of the bridge, having narrowly avoided the same fate as Twilight Sparkle. “That thing was intense!

The hundreds of parasprite flew back toward the bridge from all directions. The massive ponysprite slowly took form once more, though the mass remained immobile as it rebuilt itself.

“Pinkie, make sure that Twi is okay.” Rainbow Dash flew over to the overturned Fluttershy, helping to upright her. “In the meantime, I think they had the right idea. Time to team up, Fluttershy!”

“Eep? R-Rainbow, what are you doing back there?”

Rainbow Dash straddled herself over Fluttershy’s back, giving a kick to her ribs. “Giddy up, robopony!”

“...Pardon me?”

“C’mon!” She pointed eagerly at the swarm in front of them. “Y’know, use your rockets, and your lasers, and all that nifty stuff!”

“O-okay, I’ll try. Whoa!” Fluttershy’s wing-mounted jets surged to life with unexpected force, sending the pair hurtling through the air toward the reforming ponysprite. Due to Rainbow Dash’s extra, unbalanced weight, she spiraled wildly out of control. “Heeelp!”

Rainbow Dash laughed and flapping her wings as hard as she could muster. “Faster! Lasers! Go nuts!” She held her katana at the ready, while Fluttershy’s laser cannons came to life. As the spinning pair hurtled through the mass of parasprites, their Supersonic Spin ravaged the swarm with slicing and searing.

The pair landing on the other side of the wounded swarm. Fluttershy staggered on the ground as her balance sensors attempted to recalibrate. Rainbow Dash giggled. “Fluttershy, that attack was wicked! You’re pretty tough, y’know that?”

“Oh! T-thanks,” Fluttershy tittered.

“Dashie!” Pinkie Pie waved her hooves to gain attention. “Up high! Let’s finish this!” She launched a wave of ice magic up into the air above the ponysprite.

Rainbow Dash grinned. “I’m on it!” She raced through the air, catching the magic directly onto her katana. The mystical energy absorbed into the steel, vibrating with potential. She somersaulted in midair before taking a nosedive directly into the swarm. The magic within the Ice Sword attack exploded on contact, encasing the majority of the parasprites within a solid ice block. The few remaining insects scattered, flying off into the distance.

A tumultuous cheer rose up from the knight’s camp. “They did it! Lady Rainbow Dash defeated their forces. Zebran Bridge is ours once more! Huzzah!”

Rainbow Dash flipped through the air. “Aww yeah! Those lousy flies didn’t stand a chance. With these new powers, we’re basically unstoppable!”

Twilight Sparkle trudged her way back onto the bridge. Her mane hung damply against her side. Each hoofstep left a small puddle of water behind. “Well, that was a refreshing swim. Second one today,” she muttered.

“Right, Dashie?” said Pinkie Pie. “Me and Twilight made that insane explosion thing, and then you and Fluttershy did that crazy spinny move, and then you and me did that awesome sword attack!”

“So intense!” agreed Rainbow Dash. “Honestly, I had no clue if that was gonna work, but man, that did some serious damage!”

“Oh!” Twilight Sparkle shifted her attention away from drying herself. “I think I understand why Pinkie’s and my magic exploded like that. You see, fire and water are opposing forces in the magical domain; they’re antipodes, in a sense. Combining their attack spells forms a sort of Antipode Bomb, which...” Her voice trailed off as she realized that nopony was listening. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were heavily engaged in recounting the last battle, and pantomiming their newest attacks.

Fluttershy staggered up to her, still recovering from her aerial spins. “Oh, Twilight, thank goodness. I was so worried.” She paused. Twilight Sparkle continued to stare at her other friends as they conversed. “Twilight? Are you feeling okay?”

Twilight Sparkle gave her a weak smile. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.


Chapter 20: The Hero Appears

600 AD

Pommel Inn

“Seriously, RD?” said Twilight Sparkle, teasingly rolling her eyes as she stepped inside the inn. “Hungry already?”

After a few hours of trekking across the arid fields of South Zebran, the four ponies arrived in the coastal town of Pommel. While separated from the castle by a fair distance, Pommel played a pivotal role in the health of Sugardia. In Rainbow Dash’s time, Pommel was a hotbed of commerce and naval construction. This earlier era’s Pommel wasn’t nearly as industrialized, yet still it bustled with activity. Thus, it was the ponies’ first destination on the new continent.

“I could go for something,” said Pinkie Pie. “Anypony wanna split some nachos?”

Rainbow Dash playfully bumped into Twilight Sparkle. “We’re not here for food, doofus. We’re here for something more important. How about you trust my leadership skills for once?”

She stuck out her tongue. “I still don’t remember nominating you as leader.”

Fluttershy tilted her head. “So, why are we here then?”

“Because honestly,” Rainbow Dash said, running her hoof through her mane, “I have no clue what’s going on.” She rolled her eyes, trying to ignore Twilight Sparkle’s smirk. “We know there’s a legendary hero, but we don’t know a thing about him. We know he’s looking for this legendary sword, but we don’t know a thing about that. We know that he’s gonna go mess up Nightmare Moon with the sword, but we don’t—well, we know some stuff about her, I guess? We don’t know useful stuff, though. Like, where the heck do we find her? How do we stop her?” She frowned and crossed her hooves. “So, we need somepony to tell us what the hay is happening, right? Well, there’s tons of ponies at the inn. Let’s ask around ‘til we find somepony with the answers.

Twilight Sparkle’s eyebrows raised in unison. “Oh. Actually, that’s a—

Yeah! Head to the tavern and search for rumors, just like a true adventuring party,” Pinkie Pie cheered. She smiled broadly at the pegasus. “Great idea, Rainbow Dash!

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Thanks, Pinkie. Now let’s see.” She hopped into the air and hovered over the heads of her friends. She quickly glanced over the various patrons of the inn. Her grin widened when she spotted a suitable candidate. Rainbow Dash flew over the heads of the townsponies and landed at the front of the bar. A loud clack rang out as her hooves touched down, sending vibrations through the wood flooring around her.

Next to her, a stallion was resting his head against the counter. He didn’t move a muscle in response to Rainbow Dash’s approach. His cowboy hat was pulled low over his eyes.

“Hey there, handsome,” cooed Rainbow Dash.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said in a low monotone. “I ain’t rightly in a mood for socializin’.”

“Aww.” Rainbow Dash put on a fake hurt expression. “You won’t buy me a drink?”

“’Fraid I can’t right now. Please, just leave me be.”

“I figured you’d say that,” she chuckled. She reached into her saddlebags and threw a few coins onto the counter. “Yo, barkeep! Two apple ciders for me and my friend here.”

His eyes snapped open. “Cider? Friend?” Braeburn lifted his head and was met with a friendly, confident grin. “Well put me in a basket and call me a bushel! If it isn’t Miss Rainbow Dash!”

“Sup, Braeburn?” said Rainbow Dash. She lifted her hoof to Braeburn, offering him a hoof bump. “Long time no see.”

“You’re a— His mouth hung open mid-sentence as he carefully studied her hoof. He eventually decided to politely shake it. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, believe me. Things are right terrible now.”

Rainbow Dash grimaced. “Yeah. The whole war and famine business. Sounds pretty rough.”

The bartender trotted over to the pair of ponies, balancing two frothy mugs of cider on his back. With a single deft movement, he swept the bits off the bar and exchanged them for the cider.

“Yeah, that too,” sighed Braeburn. He reached out for his mug and took a long swig. “Anyway, I don’t intend to drag you down with my sob story. What can I do ya for?”

“Hi there, Rainbow’s friend!” Pinkie Pie hopped into view, pushing her way through the crowd. A few of the patrons scowled and complained as she bumped past them. “Nice to meetcha. I’m Pinkie Pie.”

Braeburn politely tipped his hat. “Well howdy, Miss Pinkie. Name’s Braeburn, adventurer extraordinaire.”

She motioned behind her. “These are my other friends, Twilight and Fluttershy. We were actually hoping you could help us. We’re looking for rumors!”

A wide smile crossed Braeburn’s face. The smile instantly reminded Rainbow Dash of the day she first met him. “Rumors? I’m your stallion! I always try to keep one ear to the ground. Best way to stay ahead in the adventurin’ business, y’see. What do ya want to know?”

“Hi, Braeburn,” said Twilight Sparkle as she finally pushed her way through the crowded room. “Do you happen to know—”

“Say,” interrupted Pinkie Pie, “have you heard of the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”

A few of the patrons overheard Pinkie Pie and groaned in unison. Braeburn winced until his eyes were completely shut. “The CMC? Heard of ‘em. Believe me.”

“Those three brats told me they wanted to be merchants,” spat one stallion at the bar. “Offered to help run my store one afternoon, free of charge. Like a foal, I agreed to it. When I closed up shop that evening, I discovered that I was fifty thousand in the hole! After one afternoon!”

A unicorn at the bar snorted. “Last year, they promised to help Miss Cheerilee with replanting trees out in the wastelands.” He shook his head. “Those plains look worse now more than ever.”

A mare wearing a fancy blouse rolled her eyes. “My husband told me that they somehow secured the commission to craft Her Majesty's commemorative bell.”

Braeburn spat out a mouthful of cider, wiping the trickling drops off his chin. “That was them?! Shoot, I heard somepony was workin’ on it, but I never dreamed it would be those three.” He fidgeted with his mug. “The damage?”

She gave him a bland look. “As much as one would expect.”

“Great,” he sighed. “Last I had heard, they was trekkin’ ‘round the Puripony Mountains, plannin’ to become the heroes of legend. I’d hoped that would’ve kept ‘em busy for longer than that.”

“Wait, wait,” moaned Twilight Sparkle. She gently rubbed her hoof against her closed eyelids. “The Cutie Mark Crusaders are the legendary heroes?”

“Nah,” Braeburn said. He nursed his cider. “Every filly and colt in Pommel hears about that legend growin’ up. So, ‘s only natural that most of ‘em get ideas and try to fulfill the legend, at one point or another.” He gave a curious look to another pony at the bar. “Actually, ain’t South Lake’s boy up in the mountains now? Him and his best friend?” The other pony shrugged.

“Maybe that’s who we’re looking for?” Rainbow Dash asked rhetorically. “Somepony was claiming to have some medal. Apparently that’s a big deal?”

“The Hero’s Medal?” Braeburn raised an eyebrow. “Well sure, that’s the first part of the legend. If he found the actual Hero’s Medal, then he’s probably trying to get his hooves on the Lyrabon.”

She blinked. “What?”

Braeburn sipped his cider calmly. “The Lyrabon? The legendary blade? Supposed to be hidden away at the top of the Puripony Mountains, but nopony’s ever found it. Shoot, even the old Bolt Knight Captain, Sir Spike, went a-lookin’ for it, and nopony’s heard from him since.”

“Huh.” Rainbow Dash stared at her mug of cider, as if noticing its arrival for the first time. She chugged the contents and slammed the mug back onto the counter top. “Well, guess we’re headed to the mountains.”

“The mountains?” said Fluttershy. “We’re going to look for the Lyrabon?”

Rainbow Dash gave her a brash smile. “Sure, why not? It’s a sword. I use swords.”

Twilight Sparkle clicked her tongue. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Rainbow. I mean—” she paused and looked about the bar before lowering her voice, “—we’re not from around here. I’m not sure we should be messing with legends like that.”

“Are you kidding? That’d be awesome!” cheered Pinkie Pie. “We could be best friends with the legendary hero. How often does a chance like that come up?” She nodded at Rainbow Dash. “I believe in you, Dashie!”

Twilight Sparkle inhaled sharply. “I didn’t mean—”

Braeburn reared up on his hind legs. “Well sure! I’m sure you ladies stand a better chance than most!” His smile slowly evaporated, leaving behind a tight-lipped frown. “Just please, be careful up there, won’t ‘cha? These parts ain’t as safe as they used t’ be. Most of the kiddos run home with their tails between their legs before they even reach the base of the mountain, but the more serious types are bound to run into danger. ‘Specially since Nightmare Moon’s got all sorts of monsters runnin’ amok: ogres, frogs, falcons, roundillos—”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes lit up. “Wait, did you say frogs?”

“Yes, ma’am. Supposed to be a giant one, big as you or me, living in the woods west of town. Nopony ventures in there, on account of them woods being cursed.”

Rainbow Dash shared a knowing look with her. They nodded in unison. “Sounds like we’re making a detour.”

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600 AD

Cursed Woods

Fluttershy stepped through the shady forest clearing. Each hoofstep left a deep imprint in the grassy meadow. A soft breeze blew across her cold frame and swirled up into the treetops. She looked up at the canopy, taking in the sounds of rustling leaves and chirping songbirds.

Frog!” bellowed Rainbow Dash, snapping Fluttershy out of her reverie. “You in here, Frog?!

“Oh, come on.” Twilight Sparkle sighed and shook her head. “That’s your plan? Stand in the middle of the forest and shout?”

“Why not?” Rainbow Dash pointed into the thicker sections of the woods. “It’ll take forever to search through here by ourselves. Why not just holler and let her come to us?”

“Because it’s loud?” Fluttershy watched the songbirds fly up through the tree canopy and out of sight.

“Makes sense to me,” said Pinkie Pie. “I mean, we don’t have all day to—” Her sentence was cut short by her teeth chattering, followed by a hiccup. She flipped around, her eyes filled with horror. “Dash! Behind—

Rainbow Dash’s katana was already drawn. She spun on a back hoof, deftly deflecting an incoming rock. The stone harmlessly dropped to the forest floor. Rainbow Dash’s mind had already moved past the rock. Her eyes rapidly twitched across the shrubbery, searching for any signs of movement. A soft snap. Her ears whipped around, locating the source. With a burst of energy, she back-flipped into the air. Hovering on her back, she braced her neck and jaw for impact. From overhead, a heavy broadsword came hurtling down. It crashed against Rainbow Dash’s katana, letting ring the loud twang of steel on steel. The broadsword, which radiated with a soft blue aura, pressed down on her.

“My, my, my. Somepony has been improving.”

The broadsword lifted up. Rainbow Dash flipped herself upright, smirking past the floating weapon. “Likewise.”

Fluttershy whirled around, confronting the creature who emerged from the trees. “S-stop! Don’t hurt my friends. I’m w-warning you!”

Frog’s smile temporarily dropped, as she blinked at Fluttershy. She raised a webbed pad to her mouth. “Oh! No, you have it all wrong, my dear. I promise, I won’t harm a feather on your friend.” Her smile returned as she turned to Rainbow Dash. “It’s just that she and I had promised to hold a bit of a sparring match, and I have been so eagerly awaiting—” Her smile dropped again as she reexamined Fluttershy. “This is quite the sophisticated suit of armor you’re wearing. All those lights, and hinges, and—by the Sun, is that smoke coming out of your ear? Oh wait.” She turned back to Rainbow Dash. “She’s from the future too, isn’t she?”

“Yup, future. More future-y than us, actually.”

Twilight Sparkle groaned.

“Ah yes, that would explain it.” Frog returned her gaze to Fluttershy, lightly running a foot along the robopony’s mane. “It’s quite the statement! It just screams ‘industry’ and ‘progress.’

“Um, thank you. I think.” Fluttershy’s wings rattled lightly.

“But I digress. Shouldn’t we—Rainbow Dash?” Frog turned back to where Rainbow Dash had once stood, staring instead at a circle of stomped grass. Her unicorn-like horn flared with blue magic, whipping her broadsword behind her, just in time to meet the katana with a loud clash. “Rainbow Dash! How dishonorable! You should never attack a lady from behind whilst she is unprepared.”

“What? You did the same thing to me!” Rainbow Dash lashed forward in a series of blows, blocked each time by the enchanted broadsword.

That was entirely different,” huffed Frog, clutching her chest with a webbed pad. Meanwhile, her sword danced through the air in wide, sweeping arcs. “I was merely getting your attention with that tiny pebble, before beginning the duel properly.”

“Doesn’t sound different to me.” Rainbow Dash leapt to the side, looking for an opening. “Hey! You’re not even paying attention anymore!” she yelled, gritting her teeth.

“But I am, Rainbow, truly.” Frog fidgeted with her gem-studded vest and smoothed the wrinkles out of her cloak, while attacking Rainbow Dash with her levitating weapon. She held her foot up and calmly inspected her pedicure. “I’m simply multitasking, that’s all.”

“Oh yeah? Two can play at that game.” Rainbow Dash took flight, barrelling straight up through the tree canopies.

Frog looked up to the trees, shielding her eyes from the few beams of sunlight that poked their way through the leaves. Her eyes circled around the canopy as she searched for the spot where the airborne pegasus would descend. With a smirk, she whirled her blade above her, easily deflecting the falling katana. The katana landed harmlessly next to her, embedding itself into the ground. Her opponent was nowhere to be seen. “What?” she asked herself aloud.

The bushes behind her exploded. Rainbow Dash tackled Frog at full speed, wrestling her to the ground. Rainbow Dash kicked her opponent repeatedly, in spite of the high-pitched objections. She leapt back to her hooves and tried to dash to her discarded weapon. Before she could reach it, she felt a constriction around her chest. Frog’s tongue lassoed around her and pulled her away from the katana. Rainbow Dash suddenly found herself nose-to-tip with a broadsword.

She fidgeted against her restraints for a moment before giving a gravelly sigh. “Fine,” she pouted, “you win.”

“Doh fee bah, Waybo—” Frog blushed heavily when she realized her tongue was in a particularly unladylike position. She quickly unwound it from Rainbow Dash’s torso and returned it to her mouth. “Don’t feel bad, Rainbow Dash. That was actually quite close. Your diversion was most ingenious.”

“Whatever.” Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves and glared at the treeline. Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie stepped up toward the bristling pegasus and offered her some mild reassurances.

“Oh, just look at this!” moaned Frog. She took off her thick green cloak and floated it in front of herself. “During that whole tussle, I went and got—” she paused for emphasis, “—grass stains on my pèlerine.”

“It’s alright,” said Fluttershy. “Your cloak is already green. You can barely see the stains.”

“No, no, I must take care of this before they set in.” She blinked. “And besides, where are my manners? You come all this way to visit me, and here we are, fighting in the middle of a mucky old forest. My residence is not far from here. We shall catch up on old times over a hot cup of herbal tea. Please, follow me.”

The four travellers fell in step behind their old friend. As they followed behind her, Rainbow Dash got a better look at the frog-unicorn hybrid. She was finally able to see Frog’s cutie mark—or what Rainbow Dash presumed was a cutie mark, given its shape and location—now that she had removed her cloak. It appeared to be a trio of slender, blue diamonds. However, printed against her green, slimy body, the gemstones appeared discolored and wavy. They were distorted.

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600 AD

Frog’s Residence

“Wow!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie. “Nice place you’ve got, Frog! It’s pretty fancy, for an out-of-the-way hole-in-the-ground.”

The entrance to Frog’s home was quite literally a hole in the forest floor, covered by an inconspicuous bush. It was a simple cavern, about eight meters by five, dug out of the soft earth. Once inside, however, one could easily forget that this was a mere pit in the middle of a forest. Cloth drapings hung around the perimeter, partially hiding the soil and tree roots which formed the hollow’s walls. Carpeted rugs covered most of the dirt floor, giving the room a much more homely feel.

“I do try to keep things presentable,” Frog said with a laugh. “I may not get many visitors, but that doesn’t mean I need to wallow in the mud like some vagabond.” She paused, looking hesitantly at a patch of ground-in mud on the carpet. “You’ll have to forgive me, though. I do my best to keep my accommodations chic, but in a location like this, and on a strict budget, well—”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Nah, don’t worry about it. So what if it’s a little dirty? I think the whole ‘secret hideout’ thing is pretty cool.”

“Frog, those clothes look so lovely,” said Fluttershy. By Frog’s bed, an equestrian dress form was displaying a yellow, billowing dress. While the garment was simple and unadorned, it seemed to radiate with an inner glow as the overhead lamplight danced across it.

“Why thank you, darling.” Frog nudged Rainbow Dash in front of a full-length mirror that was standing next to the dress form. She grabbed an orange silk scarf off the mannequin and draped it around Rainbow Dash’s neck, staring at her reflection in the mirror. “It’s so nice to have guests with a taste for fashion.”

Rainbow Dash tasted a light hint of bile rising up in the back of her mouth.

“Did you make this?” Fluttershy asked. “I didn’t know you were a clothing designer.”

“Oh.” Frog’s face wavered slightly in the mirror. She pulled the scarf off Rainbow Dash’s neck and returned it to the dress form. “No. I would hardly call myself a designer. This is... just an idle little hobby of mine.” She unsheathed her broadsword and polished it with a nearby cloth, all while floating a kettle off the stove top. “Anyway!” She grinned at Rainbow Dash while pouring a few cups of tea. “You were going to tell me all about your recent adventures. How are things going?”

Rainbow Dash cringed. “Right! Ha ha! Things! Things are, uh, definitely going! Yep! Ain’t that right, guys?” She turned around, looking to her friends for assistance.

“Rainbow.” Pinkie Pie looked down at her hooves as she dragged them lightly across the surface of the carpeting. “I kinda think we should tell her, y’know?”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes danced about, looking at nothing in particular, as she stewed over the decision. Eventually, her eyelids fell closed. “Yeah. Pinkie’s right. Frog deserves the truth.”

Frog looked from pony to pony. “I don’t understand. Is something wrong?”

“It’s the future,” Fluttershy quietly said from the back of the room.

Twilight Sparkle sighed and stared down at the carpet. “In the year 1999 AD, a horrible monster named Lavos is going to destroy the entire world, killing nearly everypony in the process.”

Frog covered her mouth with a foot. “Everypony? By the Sun...”

“But it’s alright,” Pinkie Pie said, resting a hoof on Frog’s back. “We found out that that evil nasty witch, Nightmare Moon, created Lavos! We’re all gonna put a stop to her.”

Frog blinked. She raised her teacup to her mouth and took a drawn-out sip from it.

“Queen Diane sent us down here to Pommel,” continued Twilight Sparkle. “Unfortunately, she was injured during the recent fighting, but according to her, somepony on this continent has something called the Hero’s Medal. Apparently, he might be the pony who fulfills an ancient legend!”

“That’s not all!” Rainbow Dash bashed her hooves together and grinned at Frog, who continued to sip her tea. “You ever heard of the Lyrabon? It’s apparently this amazing sword that nopony’s been awesome enough to find.” She flicked her head, causing her mane to billow behind her. “Not until I arrived, anyway. I’m gonna find the Lyrabon, strike down Nightmare Moon, stop Lavos, and become the legendary hero! Uh,” she added with a embarrassed chuckle, “with my friends’ help, of course.”

“Frog?” asked Fluttershy.

Frog held her teacup in place. Her eyes had fallen half-closed as Rainbow Dash explained her plan.

“Are you alright?” Fluttershy continued. “This is a lot to take in, so I completely understand if you—”

“Quite alright, dear Fluttershy.” Frog set her teacup down gently on its coaster and gave a wide smile. “I think that’s a terrific plan, Rainbow Dash. You’re truly an unrivaled swordpony. I can think of no other better suited for the task than you.”

Rainbow Dash grinned and blushed.

“Well, except for you. Right, Frog?” Pinkie Pie quickly added. “I mean, you did just beat Dashie in a duel just now.”

Rainbow Dash glared at her at first, then sighed. “Actually, I hate to admit it, but that’s a good point. Why don’t you join us, Frog? We make a pretty good team. You’d be a big help.”

“Oh, I...” Frog blinked once. “No, I couldn’t. Thank you, but I’m afraid that I would simply slow you down.”

Rainbow Dash jerked her head back. “Slow us down? What?”

Frog nodded. “Yes, what with my appearance and all. I still cause a bit of a stir when I visit town, you see.” She chuckled. “No, the four of you could move much faster without me. Besides, you’re more than capable of handling the Puripony Mountains by yourself.” She smiled warmly at Rainbow Dash. “I believe in you.”

“Awesome! Thanks, Frog.” Rainbow Dash tossed her head back, draining her teacup in a single gulp. She stuck her tongue out in response to the bitter aftertaste. “Speaking of which, we oughta get a move on.” She and her friends stood and made their way to the steps leading up and out. “See ya, Frog. I’ll be back later to show off my totally radical sword.”

Frog returned to her dress form. “Of course, my friends,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll be here.” She examined the garment closely. Some of the stitching on the gown had started to come loose. She grabbed a needle and thread to reinforce it.

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600 AD

Puripony Mountains

“Did Frog seem strange to anypony else?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well of course she’s a little strange, Fluttershy.” Pinkie Pie hopped between rocky outcroppings, working her way up the slope of the mountain pass. “I mean, duh, she’s half-frog and half-unicorn. She’s uncommon. Still, she was born that way, so you really shouldn’t call attention to it like that.”

“No, that wasn’t what I meant.”

Rainbow Dash flew casually up to the top of the slope and landed next to Pinkie Pie. “I didn’t notice anything wrong. Seemed just like I remember her, really. I mean, if anything,” she huffed, “I’m the one who’s acting strange. Seriously, how did she beat me? I must be coming down with something.”

Pinkie Pie turned to Rainbow Dash and felt her forehead. She gasped, “Woah! Dashie, look behind you.”

“Huh? Oh wow, that’s crazy.”

Twilight Sparkle’s hooves slipped against the rocks. She skidded down the slope a meter. “What?” she said between weighty breaths. “What’s up there?”

Fluttershy slowly floated down from the sky. Her under-wing rockets produced a wisp of dark smoke which floated up into the afternoon sky. She landed next to Twilight Sparkle and laid flat beside her.

Twilight Sparkle climbed aboard, and the robopony took off again. “Thanks, Fluttershy. I really appreciate the lift.” As the pair lifted into the sky, she caught sight of what her friends were looking at. “Huh. Would you look at that.”

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie stood at the edge of a mountain cliff overlooking Southern Zebran. While the land was still covered by a thick fog, the ponies had climbed high enough to see over it. The high afternoon sun shone down upon the fog and refracted on its water droplets, casting the entire vista in a light chromatic glow.

“It’s lovely,” Fluttershy said as she landed next to Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie.

“You can say that again,” Twilight Sparkle added reverently.

“It’s lovely,” said Pinkie Pie.

Rainbow Dash shook her head clear. “Anyway! We’re not here on a sight-seeing trip.” She stomped a hoof down on the grassy hilltop. “Don’t forget, we’re up here looking for that colt who thinks he’s the legendary hero.”

“You’re looking for the legendary hero?” said a high-pitched voice that was punctuated with pubescent cracks. “Didja hear that? We’re already famous.”

The four friends turned around. The speaker was a pudgy unicorn colt, green coat with auburn mane. His flank sported a pair of scissors.

“You?” scoffed Rainbow Dash. “Don’t tell me that a runt like you is the legendary hero.”

“Nope!” said the pudgy colt. He motioned to his side, where stood another unicorn colt, taller and scrawnier with a snail-shaped cutie mark. The taller colt’s orange chest was emblazoned with a dull golden medal, which hung around his neck with a thick red ribbon. The pudgy colt continued, “Here’s the legendary hero: my best friend, Snails!”

“Huh huh,” laughed Snails. “I’m a legend!


Chapter 21: The Hero Is Chosen

600 AD

Puripony Mountains

“Isn’t this great, Snails?” Snips looked upward and beamed at his best friend. “Now that Rainbow Dash and her friends joined us, we have a true adventuring group!”

“Yeah!” Snails’s face was plastered with a blissful, dopey smile. “Now we can go on adventures! And fight Nightmare Moon! And save the world!”

Rainbow Dash trotted alongside the two young colts as the pack of ponies traversed the foliage-covered mountainside. “You bet! I’m just glad that me and my friends are lucky enough—no, honored enough—to be helping out the legendary hero.”

Snips nodded, puffing out his chest. “Of course! The legendary hero is more than happy to have brave warriors like you fighting for him. Ain’t that right, Snails?”

“Yeah!”

From the back of the group, somepony cleared their throat loudly and distinctly. Rainbow Dash faltered slightly in her trot. “Oh. Uh, ‘scuse me, fellas.” She stopped in her tracks and allowed the rest of the herd to move past her, resuming her gait when Twilight Sparkle caught up.

“Okay,” Twilight Sparkle muttered under her breath. “You didn’t exactly run the plan by us, but it’s pretty obvious that you’re planning to backstab them.”

Rainbow Dash reeled forward, losing her hoofing. A quick flap of her wings saved her from face-planting into the gravel. “Twi!” she hissed. “They’re just a couple of young colts. I’m not gonna attack them.”

Twilight Sparkle gave her a bemused stare. “I meant that you’re planning to trick them.”

“Oh. Yeah, totally,” said Rainbow Dash. Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth to protest, but Rainbow Dash quickly raised her hooves defensively. “C’mon, you don’t honestly think that these runts are cut out for the job, do you? I’m just gonna play some little pranks, scare ‘em a little, and then we grab the medal. Just harmless pranks!”

Twilight Sparkle’s mouth hung open for a moment. Eventually, she chose her words with care. “Okay, Rainbow. We’ll go with your plan.”

“C’mon, just give me a... Wait, really?” Rainbow Dash cocked her head and stared at her friend with an arched eyebrow. “Just like that, you’re giving me permission to prank? I thought you had me on lock-down ever since that one time with the cabbage and the drum set.”

“I know, but...” Her tail swished lightly through the air behind her. “This isn’t a half-bad plan. And you promised that it’ll be harmless. So,” she said, giving Rainbow Dash a faint smile, “I figure we can do things your way this time, right?”

Rainbow Dash grinned and bumped playfully into Twilight Sparkle; the latter’s grin widened in return. “Awesome! Thanks, Twi, don’t you worry. This’ll be over before you know it.” She raced back toward the hero and his companion. “Hey, Snails! Snips! Wait up! I know a shortcut.”

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Fluttershy gently floated through the air, suspended by the currents of Twilight Sparkle’s magical aura. She touched down next to her friends on the jagged, rocky outcropping on the far side of the ravine.

“Okay, hero!” cheered Rainbow Dash. “Your turn.”

“Gee, Rainbow Dash, uh...” Snails cautiously scooted up to the edge of the cliff and peered down. Dozens of meters below, the arid plains of South Zebran waited to claim anypony so foalish as to challenge gravity. The dizzying heights pulled a clammy sweat out of the young colt’s pores.

Following suit, Snips peered down into the abyss. He squeaked and clutched his friend’s hooves. “Are you sure this is safe, Rainbow Dash? That sure looks like a long way down.”

“Of course it’s safe!” said Pinkie Pie. “It’s not very far. Just move your little rumps! You can—”

Twilight Sparkle set a hoof on her shoulder. “Pinkie, we don’t have time for that.”

“W-well, hey,” said Snips, pointing at Twilight Sparkle with an accusatory hoof. “She used magic to lift your friend across. Can’t she carry us across, too?”

Snails nodded. “Yeah, carry us! With your magic.”

“Oh, uh!” Rainbow Dash winced. Her eyes turned skyward, unable to meet the colts’ gazes. “I-I mean, we could, but... Oh!” With a smirk, she beckoned for the colts to cross to her side. “You’re the legendary hero, right? Surely, you can jump across a tiny, little gap like this on your own.”

Snails frowned and methodically shook his head. “I’m Snails. Not Shirley.”

Snips tried to swallow, but choked on the lump in his throat. He looked up at Snails. “Whadaya say, buddy? Together?”

“Yeah!” Snails pawed at the loose gravel under his hooves. “We can do this!”

With a running start, Snips and Snails leapt toward the other edge of the chasm with forehooves extended. Their faces dropped when they fell short of the edge, plummeting toward the ground below. Their screams echoed against the face of the mountainside, and the wind tore away at their coats. After a few seconds of free-fall, a rainbow-streaked blur swooped underneath them, slowing their descent.

“Whoa, that was a close one! You guys almost made it.” Rainbow Dash tilted her head back and cackled. With a broad push of her wings, she glided back up the face of the mountainside, colts in tow.

Snips and Snails looked at each other and winced, before quietly joining Rainbow Dash with a half-hearted chuckle.

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Rainbow Dash scowled. “What’s taking you two so long?”

Snips’s legs shook violently as he strained to remain on his hooves. He shuffled his legs forward one at a time, slowly climbing the steep, rocky incline. “I’m,” he grunted, “trying!”

“Oh dear,” said Fluttershy from atop the two colts’ backs. “I’m being a terrible bother to both of you. Please, you can just set me down here. I can walk on my own.” She started to climb down.

The veins in Snails’s neck bulged as he struggled to compensate for her sudden movement. “Heavy!”

“Suck it up!” ordered Rainbow Dash as she hovered above the colts. “This is a strength conditioning drill. The two of you are gonna need to bulk up fast if you want to have any hopes of defeating Nightmare Moon.”

With a pair of loud whines, the two colts continued to trudge along the path, hoisting Fluttershy up the mountain.

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After a long and strenuous trek, the herd reached a clearing near the summit. Snips and Snails collapsed, panting and sweating profusely. The canopies of tall ash trees provided a cool refuge from the hot afternoon sun. “Who knew,” panted Snips, “being heroes would be such hard work?”

“My everything hurts,” said Snails.

“Whoa!” gasped Rainbow Dash. “Hang in there, hero! We’re not out of the woods yet!” She alertly pointed in front of them.

A hulking, muscular goblin stood in their path, snarling menacingly. Reaching behind himself, he grasped the handle of an oversized wooden hammer. He swung the mighty weapon in the direction of the ponies, giving his best effort to win via intimidation.

Rainbow Dash turned back and pumped her hooves toward Snips and Snails. “An opponent! Now we can see the legendary hero in action.”

The blood quickly drained from Snails’s face. His voice drawled into a drawn-out, monotone, “Uhhh...”

“T-The hero needs his rest,” Snips interjected. “Rainbow Dash, you’ll fight on the hero’s behalf.” He pointed a stubby foreleg at the foe. “Go! Vanquish that goblin.”

Snails giggled. “Yeah! Vanquish it!”

Rainbow Dash blinked for a moment, then grinned. She delivered a crisp salute. “Sure thing, boss. You can count on me.” Drawing her katana, she crouched at the ready. “You messed with the wrong party, bub. The legendary hero says that you’ve gotta go. And now I, Rainbow Dash, will knock you down!”

She promptly fell sideways, landing awkwardly on her side. Rainbow Dash rushed a hoof to her crumpled side. “Zounds, my wing! It is most certainly broken. Oh, the equinity!” She turned to the young colts and reached out a hoof towards them. “Forgive me, hero! It’s all up to you now.”

The goblin coldly regarded the fallen pegasus before turning its attention to Snips and Snails. He approached the two young ponies and brandished its warhammer. His lips curled upward to reveal rows of jagged, meat-shredding teeth.

An unadorned butter knife wobbled in the air, suspended by telekinesis just above Snips’s head. He crouched in front of his friend, glaring down the advancing Mystic. “Don’t take another s-step, ugly! You d-don’t know who you’re up against.”

Snails’s breathing came quick and raspy. His eyes darted between Snips and the approaching mallet. “Snips! Get back!”

With a snort, the goblin flexed his arms and lifted the warhammer high into the air. His eyes glinted and his mouth curled into a sadistic grin. He tensed his muscles, preparing to make the pudgy unicorn in front of him much wider and shorter. He howled in rage, then, when the Hero’s Medal unexpectedly flew into his eye. He dropped the hammer, clutching tenderly at his bruised eye.

Snails hurled his saddlebags and cloak at the incapacitated Mystic, causing the screams to grow more inflamed. “We needa go, Snips! It’s dangerous!” Without another word, he turned and fled, magically dragging his friend by the tail.

“But Snails!” Snips flailed his hooves as he scraped across the trail, trying to slow his friend’s retreat. “What about becoming a hero?” Before Snails could reply, the pair disappeared down the trail, safely out of harm’s way.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes gleamed. The discarded Hero’s Medal laid before her, just out of hoof’s reach. She beamed at Twilight Sparkle, ears bristling with excitement. “Ha! What now? Didn’t I tell you? Now, I can just grab th—ghck!” The goblin’s warhammer slammed underneath her jaw, lifting her a meter into the air.

“Dashie!” called out Pinkie Pie. She snapped her hoof forward, causing her crossbow to spring to life. “Watch out!”

“I noticed,” Rainbow Dash grumbled as she tried to relocate her jaw with a hoof. “I guess tha—oof!” The goblin’s strike hit her in the gut, knocking the wind from her.

“Rainbow, please be careful.” Fluttershy hopped from hoof to hoof, torn between getting closer to assist her friend and staying as far away from the fighting as possible.

“Don’t worry, RD, I’ve got this covered.” Twilight Sparkle leapt in front of the rampaging foe. A small serpentine trail of fire snaked its way around each of her hooves. “This goblin may be acting all tough with his large wooden hammer, but let’s see how tough he is when it’s on fire!” The tongue of fire sprang forth. As the flames came in contact with the goblin’s warhammer, they spread rapidly across its surface.

 

The goblin recoiled at first, nearly tossing the weapon away from him. As he watched the weapon burn, his grin grew more sinister and malicious. He pivoted on his heels, swung his flaming hammer, and connected a blow squarely on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder.

 

Rainbow Dash skid across the clearing, kicking up dust and gravel with her hooves. She grunted and shifted her balance, favoring her injured foreleg. “Apparently,” she said, panting heavily, “he’s still pretty tough when it’s on fire.”

Twilight Sparkle swallowed. “Oops?”

 

After wounding one of his opponents, the goblin turned his attention to the next closest pony. Twilight Sparkle yelped, curled up into a ball, and summoned a shell of magic from her horn. The goblin assaulted the Protect spell with a rain of enflamed hammer blows. The dual threat of blunt and fire damage fractured the spell, causing hairline cracks to grow across its surface.

 

The goblin reached overhead, readying one final strike to destroy the spell. As his muscles tensed in anticipation, he cried out and tipped backwards. Looking behind himself, he saw that the head of his mallet had become enshrined in a block of ice.

 

“No need to be such a hothead!” yelled Pinkie Pie. “It’s high time we put this meanie on ice.”

 

Fluttershy tackled the creature, knocking him off-balance and separating him from his weapon. She broke off her attack just as quickly as she started, instead rushing to Rainbow Dash’s aid.

 

Pinkie Pie hurled more chunks of ice in the goblin’s direction, intentionally aiming wide. The goblin whined, looking between the magical earth pony and his discarded weapon. With a loud curse in the goblin tongue, he turned and fled down the mountain path, as fast as his stout, clawed feet would carry him.

 

“Yeah, that’s right! You’d better just ski right down that mountain.” Pinkie Pie galloped over to Twilight Sparkle, helping her up to her hooves. “It’s cool, Twilight; the meanie’s gone. Are you okay?”

 

“Thanks, I’m okay.” Twilight Sparkle dusted herself off. “Luckily that Protect spell was enough to keep him at bay.”

 

Rainbow Dash inhaled sharply as Fluttershy’s Cure Beam set about healing her wounds. “Thanks, Fluttershy. That stupid mallet really did a number on my shoulder.” She hesitantly rotated her shoulder, testing its soreness.

 

“Never mind that,” said Fluttershy. “We need to take care of your poor wing.” She gently lifted Rainbow Dash’s wing with a hoof and inspected it.

 

Rainbow Dash tilted her head. “My wing? What’s wrong with it?”

 

“You broke it in that terrible fall!”

 

Rainbow Dash scrunched up her mouth as she pondered what Fluttershy was referring to. With a start, her ears snapped upright. “Oh yeah!” She crumpled her wing off Fluttershy’s hoof, while flailing her own hooves about in an overly-dramatic fashion. “Ow! The pain! The unbearable pain!” She paused, looking up at Fluttershy to see if she was buying the act.

 

She was not. “Your wing isn’t broken.”

 

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her neck. “Heh. Surprise?”

 

Fluttershy stared down at Rainbow Dash with unblinking eye lights. “I don’t understand,” she said in a flat tone. “Why would you lie about being hurt?”

 

“I’m glad you asked!” Smirking, Rainbow Dash hopped up onto her hooves and walked over to the battle’s spoils. With a flip of her hoof, the Hero’s Medal spun up into the air and landed around her neck. “With the runts out of the way, the legendary hero of Sugardia is now none other than yours truly: Rainbow Dash!” She puffed out her chest and lifted her leg in a triumphant pose.

 

“That’s what this was about?” Fluttershy marched up to her until the two were nose-to-nose. “You pretended to be injured so that you wouldn’t have to fight? So that those poor, helpless colts would do all the work for you? So that they would be scared half to death?”

 

Rainbow Dash held her out at foreleg’s length. “Whoa! C’mon, Fluttershy! Those foals weren’t cut out for serious hero stuff. I was just helping them to figure that out.”

 

“How?” Fluttershy knocked Rainbow Dash’s hooves away. “By nearly getting them killed?”

 

“Fluttershy,” said Twilight Sparkle, meekly raising her hoof, “she wasn’t going to let them get hurt. The plan was just—”

 

Fluttershy reeled around. “You knew?” The rebuke caused Twilight Sparkle to flinch instinctively. “She made a plan to put a couple of helpless children in harm’s way, and you didn’t do a thing to stop her?” The lights of her eyes narrowed. “I’m disappointed in you. Both of you.”

 

“But, I just...” Twilight Sparkle bit her lip and gently lowered her hoof. Her tail curled up between her legs.

 

“Well...” said Pinkie Pie, letting the words slowly roll off her tongue, “you weren’t going to let the goblin hurt them, right, Dashie?”

 

Rainbow Dash emphatically shook her head. “No, of course not!”

 

“And when they fell off that cliff, you were there to catch them.” A weak smile crossed her lips. “You weren’t really trying to put them in danger, right? You were just trying to give them a little scare?”

 

“Right!” Rainbow Dash nodded at Fluttershy while pointing a hoof at Pinkie Pie. “Pranks! Harmless pranks.”

 

“I guess pranks and scares can be fun sometimes. And after all, Dashie just wanted to protect them from the really scary stuff, so I guess her heart was in the right place.” Pinkie Pie turned to Fluttershy, broadening her smile. “Nopony got hurt, and Dashie seems really sorry, so we can let her off with a warning this time. Right, Fluttershy?”

 

Fluttershy trotted ahead of the group. “She’d better not put innocent creatures in harm’s way again.”

 

Rainbow Dash sighed and wiped her brow. “Thanks for the save, Pinkie. Fluttershy sure can be scary when she’s mad.” She followed Fluttershy along the mountain path. “Looks like there’s some sorta cave opening ahead. C’mon, Twi.”

 

“Okay.”

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Puripony Mountains—Sacred Cave 

The party entered the cave in silence. Each pony was trapped within her own thoughts, reflecting on the recent argument and their journey as a whole. Nopony knew what to say or do in order to maintain the peace. Upon stepping inside of the cavern, however, their thoughts immediately unified upon one issue.

“Why would—” Fluttershy started.

“How is she—” asked Twilight Sparkle.

Pinkie Pie blinked. “Well, she certainly, uh—”

“What,” Rainbow Dash said flatly.

The cave itself was dark and comprised on damp stone walls, much like any other cavern. It was not the cavern itself that the ponies were reacting to, but rather its occupant. A mint-colored unicorn was balancing on her hind legs, slowly walking her way around the perimeter of the cave. When she noticed her guests, she gave a disarming smile and carefully stepped toward them, windmilling her forelegs to keep balance. “Heya! How’s it going?”

Rainbow Dash leaned away, raising a foreleg apprehensively. “Good. We’re good,” she said slowly. “How are you?”

She closed her eyes and grinned. “Awesome! It’s great to have guests. We’re gonna have loads of fun together—I can tell!” She held up a foreleg for a hoof bump. “High five!”

Rainbow Dash stared at the hoof. “Five?”

“Lyra?” A second mare, cream colored with a pink and navy blue mane, approached from the rear of the cave. “Is somepony there? I heard—oh for the love of the Sun!”

“Bon Bon!” Lyra waved to her friend with both forelegs. “Lookit, lookit! We’ve got visitors!”

Bon Bon gritted her teeth. “Exactly. Visitors. So could you please try to act like a normal unicorn for a change?”

Lyra frowned and rubbed her chin with a hoof. After a few seconds of contemplation, she grinned from ear to ear. “Nah. I’d rather be a human. Whoosh!” She ran forward a few meters, teetered, and fell roughly on her rump. “Yowie!”

“A human?” Fluttershy turned to Pinkie Pie. “Those creatures are real?”

“Uh-uh,” said Pinkie Pie, shaking their head. “They’re just mythological creatures, like the koala.”

“Lyra and Bon Bon?” Twilight Sparkle asked rhetorically, arching an eyebrow. “You don’t say.”

Bon Bon trotted to the side, blocking the ponies’ view of Lyra with her body. “Please ignore my chronically enfeebled friend. So...” She arched her own eyebrow as she stared at the Hero’s Medal hanging prominently around Rainbow Dash’s neck. “Mmm.”

The two groups sized each other up in silence, save the howling wind that was sucked in through the cavern’s entrance.

“So wait, they have the Lyrabon?” Rainbow Dash asked Twilight Sparkle.

“Are they here for the sword?” asked Lyra at the same time, seated behind Bon Bon.

“Yes,” growled Twilight Sparkle and Bon Bon in unison.

“Great!” Rainbow Dash flared her wings and wiggled the Hero’s Medal with a hoof. “Name’s Rainbow Dash. As you can clearly see, I’m the legendary hero of Sugardia. Got the Hero’s Medal and everything.”

Lyra flopped onto her back. “Ugh, this again?”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes up toward the cavern’s stalactites and shook her head. “I’m not sure why you sound surprised. It’s always this.”

“No, this is important!” Pinkie Pie appeared by Rainbow Dash’s side. “We need the sword in order to stop Nightmare Moon.”

Fluttershy looked down at her hooves. “Everypony is counting on us.”

Bon Bon’s ears twitched lightly. “Well, hero? Is this true?”

“Hell yeah!” Rainbow Dash pumped her hoof. “We’re gonna kick Nightmare Moon’s teeth in. That’s why we need the Lyrabon.”

Standing back up on her hind legs, Lyra planted an elbow on the small of Bon Bon’s back and propped herself up, much to Bon Bon’s bemusement. “Why does everypony always screw that part up?” asked Lyra. “A hero is defined by their soul, not their weapon or their own abilities. Giving the Lyrabon to somepony like you won’t accomplish anything.”

Rainbow Dash hovered in front of Lyra’s face. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Bon Bon shook her head. “You’ll see. Let’s just get this started already.”

“Start?” Pinkie Pie tilted her head. “What are we starting?”

“The test.” The two guardians’ eyes glowed in unison with a hot, white light. Currents of magic lifted them up into the air, rustling their manes and tails with each ebb and flow of power. They smirked at the four ponies below them.

Rainbow Dash barely unsheathed her katana before Bon Bon assaulted her with a series of flying bucks. She deflected as many of the hooves as she could, but couldn’t prevent a few well-timed attacks from pelting her in the face.

Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle fired their weapons into the air, trying to lead their aim in front of the other airborne pony. Lyra laughed off their attacks, weaving effortlessly between each shot. “Is this all you’ve got? You can’t even hit me.”

Bon Bon scowled at Rainbow Dash. “And you’re not trying to hit me. What gives?” She continued to rain kicks down onto her.

Rainbow Dash weaved and deflected as many of the attacks as she could. “You’re a pony! Or at least, you look like one.” A particularly fierce kick sent vibrations along the length of the blade, rattling her teeth. “Killing Mystics is one thing. But I can’t—I won’t—kill other ponies.”

Bon Bon grinned. “Admirable! But unless you strike back, you won’t—” Her sentence was interrupted as the flat edge of the katana connected with the side of her face, knocking her toward the ground.

Rainbow Dash chuckled as she flapped her wings above her opponent. “Who said I wouldn’t strike back?”

Lyra yelped and raised a Protect spell in the nick of time. Fluttershy’s jet thrusters blasted her into the bubble with full force, sending Lyra spinning head over hooves into the side of the cavern. “No lethal attacks,” Fluttershy said, “but we will defend ourselves.” She stared down her opponent. “For our sake, and for everypony’s sake.”

Lyra propped herself off the wall with a hoof and shook her head, trying to rebalance herself in the air. Before she could fully recover, her hoof was frozen to the wall, pinning her in place. “Seriously!” yelled Pinkie Pie from below. “Both of you crazy, floaty ponies need to chill out.”

Bon Bon looked up from her prone position in time to see a pair of ponies closing in on her. Twilight Sparkle slowly rotated her workbench hammer above her head and eyed Bon Bon coolly. From above, Rainbow Dash’s hooves crackled with a surge of electricity. “So,” said Bon Bon, “you can use magic.”

Lyra’s horn glowed with a teal light; the ice encasing her hoof shattered. She looked down at Bon Bon. “Guess we should take these girls seriously, eh, Bon Bon? Y’know, we could use that move.” She wiggled her eyebrows playfully.

Bon Bon sighed. “Of course you want to use that. Still,” she said, smiling at her approaching opponents, “we haven’t needed that technique since Sir Spike challenged us. Heck, why not?” She looked back up at Lyra and smiled. “Ready, hun?” She leapt over Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash’s heads and drifted toward the roof of the cave.

Lyra pumped her hooves. “Aww yeah! Let’s do this!” With a light twirl, she dove from the roof of the cave, plummeting toward Bon Bon in midair. The two guardians collided in a burst of magic that flooded the room with teal light.

Rainbow Dash instinctively shielded her eyes. As she lowered her hooves and looked once more, her wings froze and she crashed to the ground. The two ponies had vanished, and in their place stood a towering creature of radiant energy. The beast’s lower half closely resembled one of the guardians—right down to her pink-and-navy-blue tail—except that Rainbow Dash’s head only came up to her withers. The similarities with a pony ended at that exact point; in place of a neck, a humanoid torso jutted out of the equestrian form. Silky, mint-colored hair flowed down the creature’s flesh-colored chest. A flat, human face sneered at Rainbow Dash. With an extended index finger, the luminescent centaur beckoned the ponies closer.

Rainbow Dash backpedalled, bumping her hindquarters against a rocky outcropping. She tried to swallow, but her tongue felt as if it took up all of the free space in her mouth. “T-This is their secret technique? Lyrabon...”

Twilight Sparkle leapt to her friend’s side and brandished her plasma gun at Lyrabon. “Stay strong, girls! Together, we can do this.”

Fluttershy hovered overhead, spilling dark exhaust onto the damp stone floor. “Don’t forget why we’re here!”

“I believe in all of you!” Rainbow Dash saw Pinkie Pie bounce up out of the corner of her eye. “S’no way we can lose.”

Rainbow Dash looked between the faces of her three friends, each smiling and brimming with determination. She inhaled slowly, then let out a sharp snort. “Right! Time to take what’s mine!” Tightening her bite on the katana’s handle, Rainbow Dash blasted off the ground. She hurtled at full speed toward Lyrabon.

Faster than anypony could blink, the centaur swung her fist in a crescent arc, slamming the pegasus sideways into the stone wall. The cavern reverberated with a sickening crunch as Rainbow Dash crumpled to the ground below.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy jetted to her friend’s side at full speed. Her eyes radiated with the emerald light of her Cure Beam, undoing Rainbow Dash’s severe trauma. Lyrabon trotted toward the pegasi; each of her towering hoofsteps brought her a meter closer to the pair.

“Freeze, you mean meanie-pants!” A sheet of ice shot out from Pinkie Pie’s hooves, creating a transparent wall between her friends and enemy. Unfazed, Lyrabon turned and bucked the ice wall. Each sharp kick sent a new wave of fractures into the barrier.

Rainbow Dash gasped for breath as she rose back to her hooves, blinking back tears as her injuries were undone. “Look out!” she croaked. She grabbed Fluttershy and leapt backwards just in time to avoid a shower of razor-sharp ice shards. Lyrabon crumbled the remains of the wall with a kick, only to stagger as a trio of plasma bolts raked across her flank.

“Stay back!” Twilight Sparkle sharply waved Fluttershy back as she provided cover fire. “She’s way too strong. Stick to ranged attacks!”

Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth. “No! We can’t just give up like that.” She beat her wings once more and took to the air. “I’m taking this she-beast down my way.”

Lyrabon smirked with malice at Rainbow Dash’s approach. Her palms glowed with green magic even more intensely than the rest of her body. A whirling vortex appeared in the center of the cave, turning the howling wind in the cavern into a deafening roar. Rainbow Dash thrashed her wings with all of her strength, until the muscles at the base of her wings burned with unbearable pain. Her struggling was for naught; the cyclone pulled her in, sending her on an uncontrolled tumble before tossing her unceremoniously into a heap on the floor.

I see you, Rainbow Dash! Hang on!” Blue waves of healing energy billowed from Pinkie Pie’s body and drifted over Rainbow Dash’s limp form. The latter coughed and spat until the taste of iron left her mouth.

“Fluttershy, we’ve got to get on the offensive!” Twilight Sparkle shouted above the roar of the tornado. She tossed a stream of magical flames at her friend. “Catch!”

“Catch?!” Fluttershy screamed incredulously. “Eep!” She instinctively raised a hoof to block the incoming magic. To her amazement, the magical heat absorbed into her foreleg, turning its metal an iridescent red. “Oh, um, I see. T-Take this!” Streams of rocket flame erupted from behind her hoof, propelling the Burning Hoof at Lyrabon. The tornado’s gusts pushed against the projectile, yet it mostly found its mark, catching Lyrabon on the shoulder. She roared in pain, clutching a hand against the seared green hair covering the wound.

“How?” said Rainbow Dash between coughs. “How are we supposed to win? She’s way too strong.” Her tail curled up between her shaking hind legs. “It—It’s just not possible! I can’t get anywhere near her!”

Twilight Sparkle grit her teeth as her plasma shots were blown off-target. “I can’t hit her with that cyclone in the way!”

Pinkie Pie tugged at her mane with both hooves. “I’m running out of ice-related puns!” Her mane whipped about with increasing violence, and she suddenly found herself lifting off the ground. “Yipes!”

Lyrabon pushed the whirlwind forward with her magic aura. The tornado sucked Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle up off the ground, tossing them about violently, ignoring their screams of protest. Their crumpled forms skidded roughly across the stone floor of the cavern, sliding to rest at Rainbow Dash’s hooves.

Pinkie Pie stood back up, swaying lightly from side to side. Rainbow Dash initially presumed that she was dizzy from spinning in the cyclone or from her injuries, until she started to sing.

Don’t quit now! We can’t lose this fight.

Just push back with all of your might! Believe in you—

Lyrabon’s our toughest foe yet.

Stand as one, and tackle this threat! Believe in me—

Even though faced with these doubt, crippled by fear,

Still we must carry on.

Don’t give up hope. Trust your heart. Keep your friends near.

If you are hurt, this song will heal all your wounds!

If you lose faith, this song will motivate you!

If you’re afraid, your friends are all by your side!

If you should fall, then I’ll just lift you back up!

Don’t give up, don’t give in, fight ‘til the very end!

As she sang, Fluttershy shone her Cure Beam at Pinkie Pie. Defying the laws of physics, the beam swirled around her, pulsing out waves of healing in rhythm to her song. One by one, the ponies felt the Aria Beam washing over them, invigorating them with new strength.

Rainbow Dash extended her wings and snorted. “Die, dammit!” she screamed at Lyrabon, pouncing at her once more. “I don’t lose!” Her wings beat mercilessly against the cyclone’s currents, each feather and muscle finely-tuned toward keeping herself moving forward. Yet still, she felt herself succumbing to the wind. “I can’t lose!” As she felt herself slipping away once more, she twisted in a quick contortion. A Wind Slash tore out from her katana, heading straight in Lyrabon’s direction. As the sharp shockwave of air ripped through the cavern, it collided with the whirlwind before it could reach Lyrabon. The tornado bucked and swayed before slowly dissipating into nothingness.

“I did it?” Rainbow Dash asked aloud to nopony in particular. Even without a tornado, the flapping of her wings generated enough of a breeze to cool the sweat beneath her fur. “I can attack her now?”

The corners of Lyrabon’s lips curled upwards as she wagged a finger at Rainbow Dash. With a swift leap off her back hooves, she landed next to Fluttershy. Before the robot could protest, Lyrabon scooped her up and chucked her straight at Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy collided with her in midair, sent both of them plummeting to the ground, and crushed Rainbow Dash underneath the weight of so much steel.

“Oh-my-goodness, oh-my-goodness, Rainbow, I am so-so-so sorry!” Fluttershy removed herself as quickly as she could, bathing Rainbow Dash in more healing light.

Rainbow Dash’s face contorted in pain that was far more than physical. She squeezed her eyes shut, preventing tears that would not come. “Fall back! Everypony run for it! This is impossible.” She covered her head with her hooves. “She’s too damn strong! I c-can’t do this!”

Yes, you can.” Rainbow Dash slowly lifted her chin off the ground to look up at Fluttershy. Her muscles were too fatigued to flinch as an explosion rocked behind Fluttershy, bathing everything in the cavern with light and casting a strong backlight onto the robopony. “You’re strong, Rainbow.”

Behind them, Lyrabon meekly held out her arms to shield herself, but the steady stream of Antipode rained down on her with explosive force. She roared in pain as the stream of magic pushed her back, preventing her from moving.

“Strong?” replied Rainbow Dash, her voice ringing hollow.

“Yeppers! It’s not just your muscles, either! It’s your heart.” Pinkie Pie sat back on her haunches, channeling a constant stream of ice from her hooves. She turned her head back toward Rainbow Dash and smiled. “I know, I know, it sounds cheesy, but it’s true! It’s what’s on the inside that matters most!”

“Dash!” shouted Twilight Sparkle. Her horn was alight with a torrent of flames. Every muscle in her body was visibly tensed, from her snout to her hooves. She stole a glance at Rainbow Dash. “We made it this far because we all believe in each other. Don’t give up on us. Don’t give up on yourself!” With a shudder, her contribution to the Antipode gave out, as did Pinkie Pie’s.

Rainbow Dash’s eyes unfocused. “Don’t give up on...” she murmured. With a flash, her eyes focused once more on Lyrabon. The centaur shrugged off the wounds from the magical onslaught and returned Rainbow Dash’s gaze. Lyrabon gave her a bemused look and arched an eyebrow.

Rainbow Dash furrowed her brow and flattened her ears. “Right. Even if this is totally hopeless, I can’t give up. Not yet. Not when other ponies are counting on me.”

Lyrabon grinned.

“Fluttershy!” snapped Rainbow Dash. “We need a distraction. Can you buy us a few seconds?”

For a moment, Fluttershy stood perfectly still. With a curt nod, she turned to face Lyrabon. “Okay, I’ll t-try!” She leapt forward and opened the panels on her flank. Twin lasers blasted into Lyrabon, eliciting screams of rage.

“Twilight! Cover us.” Rainbow Dash tilted her head. “Me and Pinkie will take care of this.”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes darted between her two friends. “You and...” She set her jaw and nodded. “Okay. You can count on me.”

Lyrabon turned and bucked at Fluttershy. With a quick twist of her underwing jets, Fluttershy blasted herself sideways out of harm’s way, her metal hooves shooting sparks as she slid across the stone floor. Repointing her wing jets forward, she flew into Lyrabon, Flutter Tackling her directly in the torso. Lyrabon staggered and clutched her chest with a hand.

“You know what to do, Dashie!” Pinkie Pie tossed a glistening orb of sub-zero magic up toward the roof of the cave. Taking her cue, Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, approaching the ice at a blazing speed.

Lyrabon reached behind her to grab a small boulder from the floor of the cavern. With a quick spin, she hurled the stone in the direction of the pegasus. A mere instant before impact, a translucent purple bubble enclosed around Rainbow Dash; the rock shattered harmlessly against Twilight Sparkle’s Protect spell.

Upon touching the magical spark, Rainbow Dash’s katana hummed with frozen potential. “You can’t stop us here! You can’t!” She flipped through the air and nose-dived straight toward her foe. “We need to win this fight for her!” The Ice Sword technique slid effortlessly from forelock to barrel to ground.

Rainbow Dash hopped back, assessing her enemy. Lyrabon grinned at her. To Rainbow Dash’s horror, the centaur appeared to be completely undamaged by the attack. Rainbow Dash twisted her neck back, readying another slash, when a flash of green light momentarily blinded her.

Lyra and Bon Bon stood before her—Bon Bon on three hooves, Lyra on two—each holding one foreleg aloft. “That’s enough,” said Lyra.

Bon Bon nodded. “We yield.”

“Uwa?” replied Rainbow Dash. She lifted a foreleg and leaned away from the magical guardians.

“We will bestow the legendary blade unto you,” continued Bon Bon.

“Well, more or less.” Lyra winked at Rainbow Dash. “It’s cool, though. You know exactly what to do. Anywho,” she said, patting Bon Bon gently on the head, “I better get going. See ya soon!” With that, Lyra’s form glowed an intense shade of teal before diffusing into the stone wall.

Bon Bon smiled once more at Rainbow Dash before glowing herself. She also disappeared, but unlike her friend, she left something behind. Where she once stood, a small silver object reappeared on the cavern floor.

In stark silence, the four ponies circled around the object. It was the steel blade of a broadsword: immaculately polished, sharpened to the finest edge, and roughly severed at its base. The sword’s hilt was nowhere to be found.

In light of everything—the epic battle, the thunderous tornado, and now the hollow victory—the deafening silence lasted for what felt like hours, or even days. Eventually, Pinkie Pie was the first to speak up. “That’s it?” she whispered.

“I don’t understand,” said Twilight Sparkle, shaking her head. “The sword is broken. How can we defeat Nightmare Moon with just a blade?”

“We can’t even repair it without the hilt,” said Fluttershy. She rubbed her foreleg against the back of the other. “Assuming that anypony can even fix a legendary sword.”

The cave lapsed back into silence. After another pause of indeterminate length, Rainbow Dash reached down. Carefully biting down on the blade, she lifted it up and placed it gently into her saddlebags. “Right,” she said, smiling back at her friends. “Ready to go?”

“Go?” Twilight Sparkle shared confused glances with her other friends before finally settling her gaze on Rainbow Dash. “Go where?”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

600 AD

Frog’s Residence

“Rainbow Dash!” Frog welcomed her with a hug, and proceeded to hug the rest of the visitors in turn. “My, my, my, but this is a surprise! You’ve only been gone for the afternoon. I didn’t expect to see you for at least a full day. Come in, please; I want to hear absolutely everything.”

“It was actually a pretty crazy ordeal,” laughed Twilight Sparkle. She seated herself on one of the pillows that Frog had set out for her guests. “A pair of colts, a pair of mares—”

“Oh dear, Frog.” Fluttershy hovered gently above everypony else in the room. She pointed a hoof at the cloth draping hanging along the wall. “This decoration has mud stains all over it.”

Frog chuckled. “Oh, Fluttershy, of course it has a little grime on it. I do everything in my power to keep my accommodations immaculate, but when the drapings are literally touching a dirt wall, well, sometimes things can’t be avoided.” Her cheeks turned a light hue of red.

Fluttershy stared down at Frog for a moment. “But, um,” she said, turning back to the draping, “I don’t think that’s it. It almost looks like some sort of critter was stomping on this, even though it’s hanging on the wall.” Her attention was drawn to another section of the decoration. “Oh my, it also looks like the fabric was torn here, and then somepony stitched it back together.”

Frog laughed harder, waving her hoof dismissively. “Fluttershy, honestly, it’s all right! These kind of accidents are bound to happen in a base d'opération such as this one. That draping was probably damaged and repaired who knows how many years prior. You simply aren’t remembering every little detail from your last visit, I’m sure. Anyway!” She clapped her webbed pads together in glee. “Dish, dish, dish. You were about to tell me all about your adventure today.”

“Right,” continued Twilight Sparkle. “So we—RD? You too?” She turned fully to face her friend. “Why is everypony picking through Frog’s stuff?”

Rainbow Dash had a deep frown stuck to her face. Her eyes danced about the inside of the pit, searching for something. She smiled as her gaze settled upon Frog’s dress form, still displaying the same gown from before. She glided over and landed beside the dress form.

A giddy squeal escaped Frog’s lips. “I knew it! I knew it. You made quite a show of feigning disinterest in my work earlier, but I knew it. A mare of your elegance simply cannot resist the allure of high fashion.” She moved closer to Rainbow Dash, half-trotting and half-skipping. “That piece there should be close enough to your measurements, so if you’d like to try it on, I could resize—” Her jaw locked open in mid-sentence.

Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy gasped collectively. “Rainbow Dash, what are you doing?” Twilight Sparkle was barely audible, as both of her hooves were nearly completely covering her own face. “You can’t just destroy other... ponies’...”

Rainbow Dash held her hoof against the snapped neck of the dress form; its head hung limply against its own withers. Rainbow Dash buried her muzzle inside the neck of the plastic pony. After a second, she pulled back, clutching a severed, golden sword hilt in her mouth. A single blue sapphire was embedded into the pommel. A few inches of fractured steel blade jutted out above the golden crossguard.

Rainbow Dash turned to Frog, whose eyes had grown to the size of dinner plates. “See, when we only found half of the sword up on top of Puripony, I knew we’d find the other half somewhere in here.”

Frog frowned and swallowed noisily. “You knew? In here? I’m afraid I don’t follow.” She shook her head rapidly. “Why would you expect for me to be holding onto half of the Lyrabon?”

Rainbow Dash lowered her head to the ground. She stuck a hoof underneath the ribbon of the Hero’s Medal and gently slid it off her neck. As she raised her head back up, she smiled at Frog and hoofed the Hero’s Medal to her.

Because it’s yours.


Chapter 22: The Rare, Red Rock

600 AD

Frog’s Residence

I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”

Rainbow Dash’s mouth flapped open and shut as she stared incredulously at Frog and continued to wave the Hero’s Medal in the latter’s face. “Mistak... But I... You’re...”

Frog turned and closed her eyes, nodding at nopony in particular. “The hero is, in fact, Sir Spike of Sugardia. I had merely been holding onto his possessions—the Lyrabon’s hilt and the Hero’s Medal—until he returns to us. They are his, and not mine.”

Twilight Sparkle raised her hoof, but Frog continued. “I noticed that I had... misplaced the Hero’s Medal during a recent excursion into town. When you mentioned that one of the local urchins from town had found it, my first instinct was to reclaim it once more, on Sir Spike’s behalf.” She turned to Rainbow Dash and smiled. “But as Rainbow described herself taking up the legendary blade and doing battle against Nightmare Moon, I came to realize that, truly, she had what it takes. Why wait for the future to change when somepony has the power to change it, after all? And that is why I gave her my blessing.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Rainbow Dash said. Her brow had furrowed and her lips had curled into a sneer while Frog had been explaining herself. “Why didn’t you just become the hero yourself?”

“Because I’m not the hero. Spike was. And besides,” Frog added quickly, pointing a webbed foot at the hilt, “if you hadn’t noticed, it’s broken.”

“Oh yes, I was wondering about the sword,” said Fluttershy. She stepped forward and lifted a hoof off the ground. “Is there anypony who can repair it? I mean, I wouldn’t mind taking it to a blacksmith for you.”

“Who cares?” Rainbow Dash tossed her hooves into the air. “Why does it even matter what sword you’re using, or whether you’ve got some shiny medal? This is so stupid. You’re still you, aren’t you? And you’re pretty awesome, so let’s go take down Nightmare Moon together! I know you can, so don’t—”

“Rainbow Dash.” Frog’s icy tone caused Rainbow Dash’s voice to stick in her throat. “I already told you. I am not a hero. I do not possess the weapon of legend, and even if I did, I am not fit to wield it.” Her eyes narrowed. “Do not make me repeat myself.”

Rainbow Dash glared back at Frog, her ears flattening behind her. They locked eyes in silence for a few moments before turning sharply, each marching away from the other.

“Fine!” yelled Rainbow Dash. She clumsily jammed the hilt into her saddlebags. “We’ll go get your stupid sword fixed for you, and when we get back, you better be ready to come fight with us!” She jetted out of the hollow, up into the forest above them. Her companions silently looked to one another before following after her.

“Thank you!” Frog screamed at her departing guests. “And it’s not my sword!” In a huff, she stomped her way over to the dress form. She gently held a foot against the snapped head, closed her eyes, and sighed into the empty room, feeling the tension slowly evaporate from her body. “It’s Spikey-Wikey’s,” she whispered.

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600 AD

Cursed Woods 

“What’s her damn problem?” hissed Rainbow Dash. She flinched and quickly cast a glance in Twilight Sparkle’s direction. Her friend was plodding along through the well-shaded meadows, staring intently at the blades of grass as she stepped over them. Rainbow Dash let out a quiet sigh of relief before continuing, “Seriously, though. She’s strong enough to join us. I know it. She knows it. So why is she being so fussy about legends, and medals, and this Spike guy that everypony keeps yammering on about?”

“I’m kinda worried.” Pinkie Pie’s face was frozen in a wince. “I feel like there’s something she’s not telling us.”

Bon Bon sighed and shook her head. “Her heart is in the right place. Just give her some time, and I’m sure she’ll come around.”

Twilight Sparkle bit her lip. “I guess you’re right. Anyway, it’ll take us a while to—yah!” She leapt sideways and fell onto a plush, green shrub. She stared wide-eyed at Bon Bon and pointed a hoof at her. “W-Where’d you come from?”

“Duh!” Lyra poked her head out of Rainbow Dash’s saddlebags. Rainbow Dash jolted; Lyra simply laughed. “I mean, you did sorta take us with you.”

“Goodness.” Fluttershy raised a hoof to her mouth as the rest of the herd came to a standstill around them. “I just assumed that you were guarding the sword. I didn’t realize that you were actually—”

“Sword spirits! Yup!” Lyra hopped out of the saddlebag and landed on the grass. She threw a foreleg around Fluttershy’s shoulder, eliciting a metallic rattling from her. “Spiritual manifestation of the weapon, embodiment of the dreams of our creator, the whole nine yards.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head clear, then returned to scowling. “I’m right, though, aren’t I? She’s the hero, so she’s the one who should wield you.” She shook her head again. “Your sword.” Again. “Whatever.”

Bon Bon stared past Rainbow Dash, a faint curl of a smile appearing on her lips. “Possibly. Possibly. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Right,” said Twilight Sparkle, dusting herself off and rejoining the group. “First thing’s first. We need to get you—I mean, the sword—repaired. So,” she said, motioning with a hoof for Bon Bon to continue, “where do we start?”

“Well, that’s the thing. Our creator could repair us, but...” Bon Bon shared a grimace with Lyra.

“Getting in touch with her will be slightly impossible.” With a frown, Lyra hopped up onto her back hooves and leaned against Fluttershy’s side. “And then there’s the problem of finding some Dreamstone.”

“Dreamstone?” Pinkie Pie’s face lit up, and she hopped from hoof to hoof. “Ooo! Is that where a poor little pony has a rock fall on their head, and then they’re off to Dream Land?”

“No,” Bon Bon said as she held a hoof to her temples, “but if you find one of those, let me know.” She shook her head. “Anyways, the Dreamstone we’re looking for is the material that our blade is made of. It’s a brilliant red mineral that could hold the energy of emotions.”

“Say wha’?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“It’s true,” Lyra said with a laugh. “Our sword is able to channel emotions. It’s charged up with the hopes and wishes of our creator, and we’re the embodiment of her dreams.” She blinked and looked down at Fluttershy. “I already said that, didn’t I?”

Fluttershy fidgeted underneath Lyra’s weight. “Um, I know that my history records aren’t really that large, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Dreamstone. Also, could you please—”

“That’s the problem,” said Bon Bon. “It was already a rare mineral long ago. Anymore, it’s practically unknown.”

Lyra shrugged and shook her head. “Yep. Finding some Dreamstone now is gonna be a huge pain in the flank.” She chuckled. “I mean, it’s too bad you girls aren’t, like, time travelers. We could totally hop back in time and grab loads of the stuff.”

Rainbow Dash smirked at Lyra. Twilight Sparkle buried her face in her hooves.

“...What?”

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

End of Time 

“Yo, Doc!” Rainbow Dash called out upon landing on the cobblestone platform.

“Ah, Rainbow! How good to see you.” The Doctor stood beneath his lamppost, welcoming the four ponies as they descended along the column of light.

Trixie scowled. She was reclined on a cloud of silvery, glistening ma