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  3. Applejack was concerned.
  5. It wasn’t a new feeling, of course. As an aged looper, and especially as Equestria’s Second, there was plenty to be concerned about, ranging from the important to the inane.
  7. On one end, just as a recent example, you had the Umbridge Crisis, and all the necessary horrors that had come with that. Slaughtering all the undesirable potentials in the branch had been… awful, but the heart-warming counterpoint of the light at the end of that tunnel, first with Starlight’s activation, then slightly later with Thorax and Flash, had balanced the tables a little.
  9. AJ was still trying to process that one. It’d been so long.
  11. On the other end, you had something that, quite frankly, was kind of silly, such as her brother somehow managing to avoid even touching his marriage to Sugar Belle in a recent expansion. Silly because no-one actually expected him to follow through with it, with how he’d framed his stance on the relationship previously, so why’d he even need to go to the extra lengths to--
  13. Actually, that wasn’t important right now. Telling Mac to stop being a dummy could come later.
  15. For now, their resident Anchor was the worry.
  17. The Loop had started normally, to begin with. The initial Awakened had consisted of all the baseline Element bearers aside from Twi herself, so everyone agreed to go with the flow, assuming there was either a visiting or stealth Anchor.
  19. More accurately, it’d been a late waking on Twilight’s part.
  21. It had come not long after her moving into the Golden Oaks, around the time in baseline where a certain ill-fated sleepover would’ve seen AJ and Rarity stop butting heads, when the purple future princess had suddenly stumbled mid stride, movements abruptly becoming a little more subdued.
  23. Within the space of only a few seconds, Twilight had sent out a ping to acknowledge her presence, then, with a shaky voice and vaguely stunned expression, stated she needed some air, before teleporting out. Normally, Applejack wouldn’t have thought much of this. Everyone had bad loops now and then, but Twilight more often than not said when that was the case, and where she’d be in an emergency, but not this time, apparently.
  25. The rest of the gang had spread out to search for their leader, each taking an area of the world. Applejack, for her part, had taken the central Equestrian regions, scouring the various locales.
  27. Or she would have, at least. It hadn’t really occurred to any of them that Twilight might not actually be hiding, instead being, rather obviously, back in her tower in Canterlot.
  29. “Bit for ya thoughts, sugarcube?”
  31. The local Anchor seemed to pause mid-step, several books levitating lazily around her, amongst other objects, likely to be sorted or resorted, a menial distraction if AJ had ever seen one. Sighing, though not turning toward her friend, Twilight Sparkle managed a faint, if slightly melancholy laugh.
  33. “Heh.” She breathed, “I wasn’t exactly very subtle, was I?”
  35. “Like a brick through a window.” Applejack rolled her eyes, smiling good-naturedly. “Still, offer stands. Wanna talk?”
  37. “I- Of course.” Twilight shook slightly, still not facing the visitor. “Just… Sorry. I- I guess I panicked a little.”
  39. “Really? Could’ve fooled me.” The apple mare chuckled, before her expression softened. “Bad loop, then?”
  41. “N- not as such…” the Anchor of Equestria, tilted their head downward. “I- It’s over, AJ.”
  43. “The Umbridge thing? Well, uh, yeah. I already knew--” the farmer froze midsentence as Twi finally turned, and the full visage of her situation became clear.
  45. Tears ran down her face in streams, but despite that, she was smiling shakily, happy and sad in equal measure. As several of the more generic books were set down, two objects remained. The first was also a book, open on a page displaying moving images that AJ recognized as moments from their baseline, compiled into a tome she’d expect more from the Wizarding World branch. The other object was a crown, styled similarly to Celestia’s and Luna’s, albeit plated with gold, a familiar purple star adorning the front.
  47. “N- not Umbridge…” Twilight stepped forward, stammering still. “I- It’s over.”
  49. “Fewmets…” AJ muttered, as stunned as Twilight had been. “I thought we had one more before…”
  51. “S- Sleipnir said they just seemed to naturally flow together, so we got both as one.”
  53. “…Huh.” The orange pony slumped back onto her haunches, taking that in. “Thought we’d be able to mentally prep for it, y’know.”
  55. “Same here.” Twilight looked at the floor. “It was… a lot to take in.”
  57. “Ya want to wait for the others to get here, or…?”
  59. “No, I’ll…” the unicorn looked up, still smiling loosely. “I- I need to get this out, so I don’t mind telling it a second time.”
  61. “Whenever you’re ready then, Twi.”
  63. “W- well…” Twilight drew in a deep breath. “It was a null loop, and only Spike was Awake aside from me, so we took it as it came until we realised things were progressing. Since we didn’t know the details yet beyond it being my coronation day, we went with it.”
  65. “At this point I guess ya’ll both thought this was just a prelude or something?”
  67. “A little, yes. It didn’t take us long to realise things were wrapping up, though, so we acted as we’d expect to in Baseline, to feel things out.” The bookworm paused, then looked Applejack dead in the eyes. “Discord is Grogar.”
  69. “Uh…” AJ’s mouth opened and closed several times, before they suddenly withdrew a bottle of apple cider from their pocket in preparation. “Run that one by me again?”
  71. “I mean…” the royal corrected course. “The trio recovering the bell, as Chrysalis reported, is all true. That is the real Grogar’s bell, with all his magic in it. But the Grogar we’ve been seeing isn’t the real one. I don’t know where the real Grogar is.” Her eye twitched a little. “Baseline Discord decided to try and boost my confidence as a ruler by taking on the guise, resurrecting Sombra, freeing Tirek and Cozy Glow, rallying Chrysalis, then forming the alliance we’ve been seeing up til now, for us to defeat at my coronation.”
  73. “Sad thing is, I’m fairly sure our Discord would still do the exact same thing.” Her Second frowned, already a third of the way through her drink. “From your tone, I’m sensing that didn’t go too well for him. What with them hiding the bell and all those hints about breaking our support.”
  75. “They empowered themselves with Grogar’s magic, making them nigh unstoppable, drained Discord’s magic, even if they couldn’t use it properly because of its chaotic aspect, then set about attacking Equestria.”
  77. “Not good, then.”
  79. “And we all collectively lost faith in Discord when he revealed this.”
  81. “That’s worse.”
  83. “He did earn back our trust later, but still.” Twilight continued. “Tirek went after the Starswirl and the Pillars, who were defending at my request, then drained their magic. Chrysalis went after Starlight, who just managed to get the staff and students at the school to safety before she got captured.” She grinned. “I think she’ll be happy to know she put up a decent fight, actually. If Chryssy hadn’t been powered up, she’d probably have won.”
  85. “And, uh… Cozy?” AJ asked hesitantly.
  87. “Went straight for Canterlot, zapped me before I could react, drained Celestia and Luna’s magic into the bell when they tried to defend, tanked almost everything we threw at her, then blew most of the castle into a smoking ruin once the other two caught up. Pretty much everyone was captured, but you all bought enough time for me to teleport away and retreat to the Crystal Empire.”
  89. “Doesn’t sound like you, really.”
  91. “I wanted to turn around and blast the three of them into oblivion.” Twilight grumbled. “But I was playing to my baseline self, null loop aside. And honestly?” she shivered. “She’d have been terrified. If Spike hadn’t insisted on seeing it through, I might’ve upped the ante right then and there.”
  93. “Well, high stakes and all that.” Applejack mumbled, finishing her bottle and very nearly producing a second one. “Given the way these things go, either we escaped, or you rescued us after concocting a hairbrained plan.”
  95. “The former, even if my brother’s plan with the pieces of Chrysalis’ magic-nullifying throne worked against the castle, rather than for it.” Twilight mused. “Discord and Starlight managed to free everyone because the trio were idiots about everything, couldn’t stop arguing and were on a hair trigger. You and other girls escaped with Spike, eventually finding me hiding in a back room in the Crystal Palace. It…” she frowned. “wasn’t good. Going purely by Baseline me’s knowledge sphere, I basically hit a brick wall. I… really expected to experience a bad end, what with the Windigos.”
  97. The indigo maned mare paused as her looping right hoof very nearly double-taked.
  99. “I… mentioned that Chrysalis was spreading distrust between the pony races. We knew this might happen.”
  101. “Well… yeah, but… Windigos. Damn.” AJ immediately retrieved that second round she’d been considering. “For those frosty fellas to have turned up…”
  103. “Bad. Yes, I know.” Twilight shook her head, before perking up a little. “The students really pulled it together, though. Got everyone trusting one another again right when we needed them to.”
  105. “So…”
  107. “Biggest bucking rainbow laser I’ve ever seen. Powered down the trio completely. Everyone got their magic back.”
  109. “And I’m guessin’ prison in Tartaros for our dynamic trio?” Applejack took another swig.
  111. “Actually, uh…” Twilight looked almost uncomfortable. “It was a prison of a sort, and they deserved it, but…” she coughed. “Celestia, Luna and Discord turned them to stone at the latter’s suggestion.”
  113. There was a sound not unlike a small tsunami as the earth pony in front of her managed an incredibly impressive spit-take.
  115. “W- well…” AJ looked awkwardly at the cider stain on Twilight’s wall, eyes still wide. “Chryssy’s not gonna like Discord for that.” The now mildly inebriated looper glanced idly at a particularly interesting spot on the floor, humming with awkward intent. “I’m also gonna guess this was more or less where you thought things would stop for the expansion.”
  117. “Practically, at least.” The new ruler of Equestria affirmed. “They didn’t, though, with the coronation being postponed and all. My choice, as it happened.”
  119. “With the castle a pile of birch-damned rubble, can’t say I’m surprised.” Applejack shrugged. “How long’d ya have to wait for the loop to end?”
  121. “About 20 years.”
  123. There was a second spit-take in as many minutes.
  125. “20 YEA--” AJ almost exclaimed, Twilight flinching backward a little at her outburst. She coughed, blushing in slight embarrassment. “R- right. So, it’s one of those expansions.”
  127. “After the comedy of errors that was my coronation, where we formed the Council of Friendship to meet once a moon to stay in touch due to my moving to Canterlot, among other things, nothing much happened for a long time, so yes, it was one of those expansions.” Twilight sighed again. “I’m not even certain the 20 years is fully baseline either. Kind of got the impression we might see some variance in that time period in future loops, and Sleipnir said we won’t experience the decades after the coronation every single loop anyway. Something about all that empty variable time being a drain on resources if run constantly without an apparent need.”
  129. “Well, regardless of that…” Applejack smiled, a spark of curiosity in her eyes. “Mind telling me where I ended up.”
  131. “I will, don’t worry.” Twilight, despite that hint of sadness starting to seep back in, Applejack noted, continued. “For starters, Pinkie has a daughter--”
  133. “I DO?!”
  135. Both ponies eeped loudly as a bright pink, enthusiastic blur barrelled into the room, bowling Twilight over in an instant. Shaking from the daze of being on her back, the Anchor stared up into the eyes of a brightly beaming Pinkie Pie.
  137. “U- uh…”
  141. “Oh, come now, darling. Be patient.” Another familiar voice, this one more elegant, chimed in. Stepping into the room, two other loopers on her hooves, Rarity rolled her eyes. “We have as long as we need to talk this over.”
  143. “Ugh. Fine.” Pinkie mock huffed, before bouncing backward off Twilight, who was graciously able to rise once more, coming to stand next to Applejack. “But I wanna hear everything.” She narrowed her eyes, whispering creepily. “Eeeeverythiiiing…”
  145. “You say that like I wasn’t going to anyway.” Twilight giggled, glancing around her five gathered friends, several still bearing concerned expressions. “I’m fine, by the way. Just needed to think things through.” She paused. “Do you want me to start over?”
  147. “Nah.” Rainbow Dash shrugged, getting similar responses from the others. “I think we all already got the idea that we’re at the end earlier than we thought, so that’s cool.”
  149. “Personally, I’d definitely prefer hearing about the future before the final battle, if you wouldn’t mind?” Fluttershy smiled. “It certainly sounds as if it might be interesting.”
  151. “Okay, then.” Twilight cleared her through, then began from where she’d left off. “Pinkie, you got married to Cheese Sandwich, and had a daughter called Lil’ Cheese.” To sate a Pinkie that was quite obviously going to start squeeing loudly, the Anchor produced a photograph of a butter coloured filly, handing it off to the party planner. “It was a null loop, but Sleipnir managed to get this for me.”
  153. “She…” Pinkie took the photo, staring at it for a long moment with an uncharacteristic calmness, before she broke out in a massive grin, tearing up a little, as if there was some part of her she’d recovered but until now hadn’t realised she’d been missing. “She’s beautiful...”
  155. Seeing the chaos god was otherwise distracted, Twilight decided to put off mentioning the grown-up Cake Twins, moving onto the next person.
  157. “Applejack, you still ran the farm. Mac and Sugar had a son, who, in the 8 bucking years after they were born, I somehow didn’t ever manage to catch the name of.”
  159. “Might finally get him to work on that, then.” AJ chuckled, before sighing, her mood dropping slightly. “I hate to bring the mood down, but… Granny Smith?”
  161. “I… I’m sorry, AJ” the way Twilight’s face fell was pretty telling. “You started wearing her neckerchief after she passed. Apple Bloom too, with Goldie’s shawl.”
  163. “It’s fine, hon.” The farm-pony smiled sadly. “After 20 odd years, I guess it was inevitable.”
  165. “Still, though.” The Anchor grimaced, before turning to a certain fashionista. “Rarity, you spread your empire to a lot of other nations and races. Sandbar and Yona took over the Carousel Boutique from you. At the end of the loop, you’d just returned from Yakyakistan.”
  167. “Well, that’s absolutely marvellous--” Rarity began, the beginning of a pleasant smile forming, before she was cut off.
  169. “You were beginning to show some grey hairs…”
  171. Rarity’s eye twitched.
  173. “…b- but, you were making it work.” Twilight added hastily, seeing the beginnings of a meltdown in progress. Rarity paused, seeming to consider that for a moment, before shrugging, actually somewhat nonplussed.
  175. “Eh. I suppose they would make me seem somewhat dignified and wise.” She surmised. “I can live with it.”
  177. “Fluttershy.” The butter pegasus in question blinked, leaning forward lightly as Twilight addressed her. “You kept on running the sanctuary, with Discord’s help.”
  179. “That sounds just wonderful. I can’t think of anything Baseline me would want more.” Fluttershy beamed, before she tilted her head, noting Twilight’s flat expression. “Is something that matter?”
  181. “Well, not as such, but…” the indigo mare hummed. “Do you remember that thing Angel blurted out a few expansions ago when he was swapped into your body?”
  183. “Of course. How could I forget someone claiming I wanted to marry Disc--” the animal specialist stopped dead. “O- oh. Oh my.” She blushed a little. “Did we…?”
  185. “It was unclear.” Twilight clarified. “Not in the loop I experienced, at least, but I feel like that was just because Yggdrasil couldn’t make up its mind. Not enough data points on it, I’d imagine.” She nodded. “Just a warning for future loops.”
  187. “N- noted…”
  189. “And Rainbow Dash?” Twilight glanced across at their resident one pony air show, who grinned with a mix of nerves and excitement. “You became the leader of the Wonderbolts, training a new generation of fliers.”
  191. “Alright!” the spectrum mare laughed. “Totally awesome. Gonna have some real fun with them down the line, I can tell.”
  193. “Of course, that just leaves you, dear.” Rarity mused idly, frowning as Twilight seemed to emotionally deflate again. “Oh my, this is why you wanted some time alone, wasn’t it?”
  195. “Y- yes…” Twilight curled in on herself a little. “But it’s okay. It just came as a shock. R- really…”
  197. “Well, we’re here for ya no matter what.” Applejack smiled warmly. “You know ya’ll can tell us anything.”
  199. “Thank you…” the princess nodded, before taking a deep breath, which she promptly let out again. “I got big.”
  201. There was a moment’s silence, all present silently sharing assorted and mixed looks, before Dash managed to break the ice.
  203. “Like… Celestia big?”
  205. “Y- yes.” Twilight confirmed, her voice beginning to sound slightly hollow. “Girls, I…” she teared up, lip trembling. “I think I’m immortal.” She visibly shook as emotion poured out of her. “A- and I know that shouldn’t bother me, but it’s Baseline and came out of nowhere and I still looked young when the rest of you had clearly aged and--”
  207. Equestria’s First was cut off by a sudden and entirely needed group hug. She paused for a moment, whimpering, before she accepted it, embracing her best friends tightly.
  209. “I- I’m sorry. I wanted to work through all of this s- so I could tell you everything without c- crying…” she laughed solemnly. “I guess that was kind of stupid of me, huh?”
  211. “Eh, everyone has their moments.” Pinkie smirked dryly as the hug concluded, everyone taking a step back. “Not like we’re gonna be a bunch of big, fat meanie-pants and not hug you.”
  213. “And you really looked like you needed it.” Fluttershy added. “You’d do the same for us.”
  215. “In an instant.” Twilight beamed, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Thank you. All of you. For everything.” She glanced back at the desk behind her, where a certain moving picture book was now sat open next to a bespoke magic crown. “It’s still hard to believe we won’t be getting regular expansions anymore, but…” she reached out with her magic, lifting the book for a moment, before folding it shut. “We’re going to be okay. Just because Baseline’s over doesn’t mean we’re done.”
  217. “Ain’t that the truth.” Applejack laughed. “Ya’ll feeling better, then?”
  219. “A little, yeah.”
  221. “Good. Now, we really ought to sit down for the rest of this, so…” Equestria’s Second looked at each of the five loopers before her, then smirked. “Whaddaya all say to a round of donuts. On me.”
  223. “Why that’d just be marvellous, dear.”
  225. “Oooh! Can I have sprinkles? I think Donut Joe’s not so good with those this loop!”
  227. “I’d like chocolate on mine, if that’s, um, not too much trouble?”
  229. “Last one there’s a rotten apple!”
  231. Applejack raised an eyebrow briefly at Dash’s comment as the group began moving, but found her attention drawn elsewhere, to Twilight chuckling softly.
  233. “Something funny, sugarcube?”
  235. “Oh, nothing.” The Anchor of Equestria smiled. “Just parallels, really.”
  237. With that, the room fell silent, all occupants departing for some friendly snacking.
  239. On the desk, the book and crown remained, closed and unworn, respectively. Though their owner would return to retrieve them later, here and now they sat abandoned and as yet unused, almost symbolic of this not truly being the end, and of the future that was yet to be written, both in Baseline and the Loops.
  241. Of the many adventures to come, they would stay together. A combined unit of not just six, but of all.
  243. That’s what friends were for, after all.
  246. “Hey, Twi?”
  248. “Yes, Dash?”
  250. “I guess with all that size, you must not have been very aerodynamic, huh?”
  252. “…”
  254. “Uh… T- Twi…? C- could you stop making that fa--”
  256. “You and AJ were a couple in the future.”
  258. “…c- come again?”
  260. “You heard me.”
  262. “Y- you can’t just leave it on that! Get back here!”
  264. “Y- ya’ll made the fat joke and I snickered, D- Dashie. We canned t- those worms, now we gotta live with ‘em…”
  266. Twenty metres away, Twilight couldn’t help but giggle at Applejack and Rainbow’s bright red complexions.
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