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My Little Persona Quest: Social Links Are Magic Parte 2

mojochan Dec 18th, 2014 (edited) 10,098 Never
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  1. Last Part -----------------------------------> http://pastebin.com/Etf0a4E6  
  2. >
  3. >Mini-episode by another anon: http://pastebin.com/wHZWUGj0
  4. >
  5. >  
  6. >After a few moments of silence, the gate unlocks on its own, sliding open to reveal the long paved path lined with carefully cut topiaries depicting a young filly wearing a tiara in a variety of poses.
  7.     >It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to put together that this is probably the girl you’re here to tutor.
  8.     >As you approach the door, it opens before you can even touch the doorknob.
  9.     >A decrepit lavender stallion stands in front of you with tufts of wispy white hair strewn about on his head.
  10.     >”Oh, thank Faust you’re finally here.” his voice creaks out.
  11.     >”I don’t see your reaper’s scythe, but I have some suitable hedge clippers round back if you need them. I’d like to get it over with quickly and painlessly if possible, but if not then quickly shall have to do.”
  12.     “Am I speaking to Mr. Rich?”
  13.     >”I’m afraid not, but please take me too.”
  14.     “Wait, do you also think I’m Death?”
  15.     >”Oh dear, are you not?”
  16.     “No! Why does everyone I meet over a certain age keep thinking that?”
  17.     >”Wishful thinking, I suppose. You must be the tutor then. Mr. Anonymous, I presume? I am Randolph, the head butler of this fine estate.”
  18.     >His ancient knees creak into a bow.
  19.     “Nice to meet you, Randolph. Is Mr. Rich home?”
  20.     >He shakes his head slowly. “I’m afraid you’ll find he is out on business. He has left the task to me to determine if you are suitable to tutor our young lady.”
  21.     “Well, I’m educated in the subjects she’s struggling with, and both Princess Twilight Sparkle and Miss Cheerilee have expressed their confidence in my ability to perform this task.”
  22.     >”Will you be stealing everything that isn’t nailed down when nopony is looking?”
  23.     “I will not.”
  24.     >”Congratulations, you may start immediately.”
  25.     “I may? I expected a lot more… rigorous hiring standards.”
  26.     >”Normally, yes. However the young lady has dismissed her previous five instructors for sleights such as being too smart, being too nice, not being smart enough, not being nice enough, and standing in her light. As such, the process has been expedited."
  27. “This looks bad, but I’m already here to help so…”
  28. >”I’ll show you to her bedchambers then. If you would please follow me, Sir.”
  29. >You walk with Randolph through the mansion, taking note of the many paintings lining the walls as you pass by them.
  30. >All of them portraits of the family members, judging by the gold nameplates.
  31. >Filthy Rich, Stinkin’ Rich, Crazy Rich, Richard Rich, Trophy Wife Rich, Gold Digger Rich, and of course, Diamond Tiara Rich.
  32. >”And here is her room.” Randolph announces as he clears his throat and gently knocks on the door.
  33. >”Mistress, the new Tutor has arrived. Shall I send him in?”
  34. >”UGH! Another one? Fine. Whatever. Just send him in.” says an annoyed sounding voice from beyond the door.
  35. >Randolph looks at you briefly. “Good luck.”
  36. >He bows and opens the door for you, allowing you to walk into the filly’s absolutely enormous room.
  37. >It’s one of those strange “modern” designed rooms filled with soft pastel colors, right angles, circles, and those stupid chairs with no legs that nobody actually likes sitting on.
  38. >There are bookshelves filled with books wrapped pleasant-looking covers which have most certainly never been read.
  39. >Every single toy or stuffed animal is perched neatly in a manner that no child would do themselves, with the possible exception of future serial killers.
  40. >Lying under the covers on a pink and white bed with a diamond studded frame and surrounded by bulky round pillows is the pink filly looking much like her picture with a diamond tiara perched neatly on the top of her head.
  41. >She looks you up and down. “What the heck are you?”
  42. >Randolph seems to have left already.
  43. >You wonder how you should talk to a girl like this…
  44.  
  45. “The grisly specter of Death, of course.”
  46. >”Death? Is that supposed to be a joke? Because it’s not very funny.”
  47. “You don’t believe me?”
  48. >”Hmpf. Don’t think you can try and trick me, because you can’t.”
  49. “Why would I want to trick you?”
  50. >She thinks for a moment. “Maybe you want to tell me that you’ll steal my soul if I don’t do my math homework.”
  51. “Hmm, that would have been a good idea.”
  52. >”Of course. It’s my idea after all.” she says proudly. “It still wouldn’t work though. I’m too smart for that.”
  53. “So you’re too smart to need a tutor is what you’re saying?”
  54. >”Exactly.”
  55. “Hmm… well if you’re that smart I guess I don’t need to be here, right? But I’d like to just make sure you’re that smart first…”
  56. >”What? You’re gonna make me take some kind of stupid test or something? If I know I don’t need you, I’ll just fire you.”
  57. “You could fire me, sure. But your dad is just going to keep hiring more tutors, and they’re just going to get worse and worse. But if you can do this for me then I’ll tell your father that you’re smart enough to not need any more tutors.”
  58. >Diamond Tiara thinks for a moment, quickly pulling out a jar of candy from under her covers and popping one in her mouth while she considers your offer.
  59. >”Let me hear your offer first. What do I have to do?”
  60. “Just say my name.”
  61. >”And if I can do it, you’ll leave and I won’t have to put up with any more tutors?”
  62. “I’ll pinky promise.”
  63. >”Deal. That’s so easy… you’re going to regret looking down on Diamond Tiara! All right then, tell me your name, I command you!”
  64. >You clear your throat and take a deep breath before beginning to speak.
  65. http://vocaroo.com/i/s0n3WiEFH7zo
  66. “寿限無寿限無五劫の擦り切れ海砂利水魚の水行末 雲来末 風来末食う寝る処に住む処やぶら小路の藪柑子パイポパイポ パイポのシューリンガンシューリンガンのグーリンダイグーリンダイのポンポコピーのポンポコナーの長久命の長助.“
  67. >Diamond Tiara’s eyes progressively widen as you continue speaking.
  68. >You look at her with a smug smile.
  69. >”J-Jugemu jugemu goto… no…”
  70. “Can’t do it?”
  71. >”Hah! Too bad for you, you didn’t say how many tries I get. Jugemu jugemu goto no sooree… wait...”
  72.     >”Jugem… hey, there’s no way that’s your real name! You’re cheating!”
  73.     “Did I ever say that was my name? Or did I just start talking to myself after you tried to make me tell you my name.”
  74.     >Diamond Tiara hides her face briefly before regaining her composure and laughing haughtily.
  75.     >“Ahahaha! I thought you’d try something like that, but I already had a plan in case you wouldn’t tell me your name.”
  76.     >She takes a deep breath and screams out, “RANDOOOOLPH!”
  77.     >Nigh instantaneously, the butler pony opens the door.
  78.     >”Yes, Mistress? Do you need this tutor ejected from the premises?”
  79.     >She shakes her head and holds up her hoof. “Not just yet, Randolph. First, tell me his name.”
  80.     >”I’m most terribly sorry, Mistress, but I don’t know his name. According to the Princess Twilight Sparkle, his memories were taken from him as he came from a far off land, and nopony in Equestria is yet aware of his true identity, himself included. Though it is said that if he discovers his true name, he may regain his identity and return to his home. Some refer to him as “Anonymous” or “Anon”. Does that help?”
  81.     >Diamond Tiara’s cheeks puff up as she glares at Randolph.
  82.     >You just cross your arms smugly.
  83.     >Randolph just sighs. “I shall go punish myself then.”
  84.     >He turns and leaves the room, closing the door on his way out.
  85.     >She directs her glare back to you. “I could just fire you right now and have you blackballed, and then you’d have to live on the streets and you’d never work in this town again!”
  86.     “Actually I’d live in a big fancy castle like I’ve been living in. Twi’s letting me stay there since I don’t have a job to be able to support myself.”
  87.     >”W-What? But you can’t just… that’s not fair! Why do you get to live in somewhere so fancy for doing nothing!”
  88.     “Yeah, it must be such a foreign concept to you.”
  89.     >”Wait a second… if you do have a job… then you have to move out?”
  90.     “That’s the deal.”
  91.     >”Aha! I knew I’d win in the end. I’ll show you. You’re not fired, you’re hired forever!"
  92. >And I’m going to tell daddy to pay you just enough so that you can afford a cheap, unfurnished, smelly hovel with only one bedroom and one bathroom with a shower only, no tub!”
  93. “In that case we’d better get started on your math homework.”
  94. >”Psh, yeah right. I’m not going to learn anything from you, I’m just going to hire you to keep you out of the castle. Just sit in my room and try not to make any noise, then I’ll send you home after a few hours.”
  95. “Sounds good, but if your grades don’t improve your dad is just going to fire me.”
  96. >”Hey… you’re right! You almost tricked me, idiot! I’ll show you what happens when you mess with Diamond Tiara… you’re never getting away for this. I’m going to have you come here week after week and teach me until I have straight A’s in every subject, and then everyone’s going to love me for being the perfect student who’s rich and beautiful and lives in a fancy mansion, while you’re just some loser who shows up and does all the work teaching me and then goes home to his smelly house.”
  97. >Everything according to keikaku.
  98. >... you think. Now you’re not actually so sure who’s getting the worse end of this deal.
  99. >Oh well. At least it looks like you’re keeping this job for a while.
  100. “All right, then I guess we’ll see who breaks first.”
  101. >Diamond Tiara brings out her homework and starts filling out the answers with a pencil in her mouth.
  102. >She gives it to you once she’s done, and you have a look at her answers to the equations.
  103. >It’s pretty simple stuff, but there’s still quite a few wrong answers.
  104. >She seems to mostly be struggling with division.
  105. “How did you get this one? You aren’t showing your work on them.”
  106. >”I don’t wanna show my work, it’s faster if I do it it in my head. Writing everything down is just a pain.”
  107. “I know, I hated it too.”
  108. >”Huh? You don’t like it either?”
  109. “I don’t think anybody does. It just takes up a lot of time when you just want to finish up and play video games or talk to your friends, right?"
  110.     >”Exactly! So why does everyone keep saying to do it? It shouldn’t matter how I got the answer, as long as it’s right, right?”
  111.     “Well… it’s only a pain if you really know the subject. But if it’s the kind of question you get wrong a lot, you should try to show your work. Or if it’s using a lot of big numbers, it can help to keep track of things.”
  112.     >”But it’s so boring…”
  113.     “Well, which is more boring, showing your work or having to do the problem over and over until you get it right? If you show your work, you can go back to it and fix the mistake more easily. So really, you’re saving time by showing your work on the tough problems. Try it with one. You’ll see what I mean.”
  114.     >She looks a bit suspicious as if you’ve got some ulterior motive, but tries it anyway. She writes out the equation and follows her steps.
  115.     >”There, how’s that?”
  116.     >It’s still incorrect… but you can see her mistake now.
  117.     “That’s why you’ve been getting the wrong answer. When you do this step, you have to move it over by one. So if you just move that number over, it’s correct.”
  118.     >She quickly crosses out the old number and replaces it with the right answer.
  119.     “Perfect. Just like that.”
  120.     >”So I just have to move it over by one when I get a problem like that?”
  121.     “Yeah, that’s the same mistake you made in the other problems. If you showed your work, you could just go back to the step you did wrong and do it from there. But now you have to do all the other ones over again.”
  122.     >”I have to do them all over?”
  123.     >Diamond Tiara looks frustrated…
  124.     “We can take a break if you need to.”
  125.     >”I don’t need a break. I can do it just fine.”
  126.     >With a determined look in her eyes, Diamond Tiara quickly writes down problem after problem, showing her work each time.
  127.     >You check them over quickly.
  128.     “Congrats. You got 100% on it.”
  129.     >”Hah! Told you I could do it. In your stupid blank face, Anon!”
  130. “Oh, thank you for calling me Anon.”
  131. >”Huh? What are you thanking me for?”
  132. “Well it’s just that where I come from, Anon is a word which shows a great deal of respect and deference.”
  133. >”Eww! No way, I’m not calling you that. What’s the worst insult where you come from?”
  134. “I’d say… Senpai.”
  135. >”Senpai, huh? Okay, then what’s the greatest term of ultimate respect?”
  136. “That would be Sensei.”
  137. >”Hah! I’m gonna call you Sensei then! I know you’re trying to trick me again, so I’m going to call you the opposite of what you think I want!”
  138. “Then I shall call you… DTR.”
  139. >”What? DTR?”
  140. “Diamond Tiara Rich. D.T.R.”
  141. >”I don’t go by Rich, just say DT or Diamond Tiara, or Diamond. But not Di or Dia. Wait, no. Uh, don’t… not call me… rrgh!”
  142. “I can’t tell if you’re trying to trick me or not so… DTR.”
  143. >”Fine, call me that if you want. I’m still gonna call you Sensei.”
  144. “Dee teee arrr.”
  145. >”Shut up and help me finish this homework.”
  146. >You spent a while getting her caught up.
  147. >She has a few stumbling blocks, but she picks up concepts fairly quickly when you explain them.
  148. >Somehow it’s actually pretty satisfying at the end when she’s finished the backlog of assignments with around a 90% average.
  149. >”Wow… I really got that much on all of them? I never do this well usually…”
  150. “It’s not too hard. You just need to put in the work, and ask someone to explain it to you when you don’t understand.”
  151. >She pouts. “I don’t need anyone’s help to understand them, I’m smart enough to do that on my own.”
  152. “I don’t doubt that. But it goes faster when someone explains it to you from a different point of view, right?”
  153. >”Well… yeah, I guess. But I still don’t need your help, okay?”
  154. >”... but I guess you’re not bad as a good luck charm.”
  155. >”So you better keep coming by, okay, Sensei? I deserve that perfect report card, and you’re going to help me get it.”
  156. >!
  157.  
  158.  
  159. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  160.  
  161. Thou hast established a new bond…
  162.  
  163. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  164.  
  165. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Devil Arcana.
  166.  
  167.  
  168. “Looks like you’re out of homework. Should I take this all to Miss Cheerilee?”
  169. >”Nah, Randolph will take care of it. You can go do what you want. We’ll send you your payment later. Now get out my house. And don’t touch anything on your way out.”
  170. >You shrug and head out.
  171. >It’s been a while since you got here… it’s already past the afternoon.
  172. >Time flies when you’re trolling children.
  173. >Still, it might be a good time to see if Pinkie is available.
  174. >You decide to head down to Sugarcube Corner.
  175.  
  176. Sugarcube Corner, late afternoon
  177.  
  178. >Pinkie Pie is sitting dutifully behind the counter as you enter.
  179. >”Hi, Anon! What’s up? Did you have fun at your party?”
  180. “Yeah, it was a blast. You really outdid yourself.”
  181. >”Glad you liked it. Here for something to eat?”
  182. “Actually, Pinkie, I wanted to know if you’d like to hang out. Are you free?”
  183. >”Would I like to hang out? Does Derpy like muffins?”
  184. “I… don’t know?”
  185. >”She does! A lot! And I do! A lot! My shift ends soon. Could you give me a second to talk to Mrs. Cake?”
  186. “Sure, I don’t mind waiting.”
  187. >You sit while Pinkie goes into the back room.
  188. >A minute later, she bounces back out. “She says I can leave early! Wanna go grab a hayburger?”
  189. “Sounds good to me.”
  190. >You start walking with her down to the restaurant. It’s not far, but you decide to make some conversation on the way.
  191. “So… I heard Twi got bodied by you.”
  192. >”Bodied?”
  193. “You beat her in a fight, right?”
  194. >”Oh yeah! I mean, it was just a friendly sparring match in Fantasia. I’m just as super surprised as she was that I won!”
  195. “You fought in Fantasia?”
  196. >”Yup! Spike figured out that he can bring us back into somepony’s Fantasia that we’ve already been through. It’s a lot less dangerous without the Shadow Self there, so it’s really useful if we need to practice with our powers or eat a bunch of super tasty dream candy in my brain!”
  197. “Good to know. But shouldn’t your fearless leader have been making that kind of choice?”
  198. >”That’s what I said, but once Twi gets herself worked up, she can get a little… overenthusiastic.”
  199. “You’re calling HER overenthusiastic?”
  200. >”I know, it’s scary, right?”
  201. “How exactly does she get overenthusiastic? She seems pretty rational about most things.”
  202. >Pinkie looks up in thought as she walks with you. “Well…”
  203. >”She destroyed half the town when she messed up that spell on the parasprite swarm even though I had everything under control, she hypnotized nearly everypony in town into chasing her old doll because she needed to create a problem to solve, she turned Fluttershy into a sexy fruit vampire batpony and nearly destroyed Applejack’s orchard…”
  204. “I want to hear more about that last one.”
  205. >”Well I mean Fluttershy’s already pretty cute, so I don’t know if it was the ears, or the wings, or the new manestyle, or maybe vampires are just naturally sexier! Do you think regular bats think vampire bats are sexier?”
  206. “This conversation is going weird places.”
  207. >”Places like the hayburger! We’re here!”
  208.  
  209. Hayburger, Evening
  210.  
  211. >She goes ahead of you and orders a hayburger meal with a large strawberry milkshake. You stick with one of their fish sandwiches.
  212. >They’re disgusting and greasy, but you need that animal protein.
  213. >Who says fast food isn’t healthy?
  214. >She gets her milkshake first and sits down at a table with two seats.
  215. >As you sit down across from her, she’s already slurping away at it.
  216. >”So yummy… want some, Anon?”
  217. “Yeah, I’ll try a bit.”
  218. >You reach over and take the straw, sipping at a bit of the shake and trying to get a little whipped cream with it.
  219. >Surprisingly, it’s not overly sweet. Rather it’s much more creamy and… strawberry-y.
  220. “Wow… that’s a lot better than I expected.”
  221. >”Really? They’re pretty good, but I still think my milkshakes are way better.“
  222. >That’s what I hear. Actually that reminds me, can I ask you a question?”
  223. >”You just did! But ask another anyway.”
  224. “Well it’s about looks. I’ve heard from certain sources that you’re considered pleasing to look at?”
  225.     >”Pleased as pie!”
  226.     “Indeed. So what I want to know is… what exactly do ponies consider attractive? Am I attractive?”
  227.     >”Well, you know… eye shape, lip poutyness, demeanor, consistency and quality of their mane, the silkiness of their coat, the color complementation of their mane and coat, and the size of their flanks!”
  228.     “... I don’t have any of those except for the last one. I think.”
  229.     >”Silly Anon, it’s not what you look like on the outside, it’s about what you’re like on the inside! I mean sure some ponies think that choosing a very special somepony begins and ends at their flank, but Twi likes you for your personality!”
  230.     “I- she told you about us already?”
  231.     >Pinkie giggles deviously “Nope! She’s just super bad at hiding it when she’s got a crush. Congratulations though! I can’t wait to plan your anniversary party next year November 7th.”
  232.     “I… think I should get through my first date with her before thinking about something like that.”
  233.     >”Don’t you worry about a thing, Anon. Even if you’re awkward and weird looking and strange and bad at public speaking and your small but-”
  234.     “Pinkie.”
  235.     >”Oh. Sorry. Well even though you’re all those things, I saw how hard you worked to save me. If you hadn’t helped me out like that, I never would have been able to accept that part of myself. And I wouldn’t be here right now. Somepony who’s hardworking, caring, and never gives up? To me, that’s something even the shapeliest rear in Equestria can’t compare to!”
  236.     “Heh, you sure know how to give compliments, Pinkie.”
  237.     >”Hee hee! I try my best.”
  238.     “Wait, in that case, are you saying that you think I’m-”
  239.     >”Your order is here!”
  240.     >A gray hoof interrupts you by slamming a piece of mail down on the table a bit too hard, knocking Pinkie’s milkshake into the air.
  241.     >It sails towards you, but just before it makes impact with your nice suit, Pinkie darts forward and catches it neatly in her hoof. “Safe!”
  242.     >You shake your head and try to puzzle out what just happened.
  243.     >It instantly becomes clear when you see the wall-eyed mailmare rubbing the back of her head nervously. “Whoops…”
  244.     “That was close… good save, Pinkie.”
  245.     >”Heh! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. You should see me do it with 10 milkshakes at once!”
  246.     >”Oh, that sounds fun!” Derpy exclaims. “Want me to go order 9 more?”
  247.     “Didn’t you have some mail for one of us?”
  248.     >”Oh, that’s right!” Derpy picks the letter up and hands it directly to Pinkie. You can see a large red stamp on it reading SPECIAL DELIVERY: EXPRESS MAIL. “I know it’s not something you “ordered” so it was kind of wrong the way I said it, but I just thought that since you were at a restaurant and you were waiting for an order, I could deliver it like it was your order!”
  249.     >”It was a good gag, and nopony got hurt! A+, Derpy!” Pinkie pats Derpy on the shoulder proudly and takes her mail.
  250.     >”Now let’s see here… oh! Oh it’s from my sister! It’s Maud Mail!”
  251.     >”She usually only sends you one big one at the end of the month, right? I wonder what kind of exciting thing she has to tell you about?” Derpy asks as she leans over Pinkie’s shoulder.
  252.     >”Who knows? Mail is such a wonderful surprise! I don’t know if it’s more surprising, or more wonderful!”
  253.     >”I love that feeling, Pinkie! You’ll let me read this time too, right?”
  254.     “Isn’t that against some kind of privacy law?”
  255.     >Derpy just smiles at you. “How do you think I know so much about everypony?”
  256.     >”You read too, Anon! Maud’s letters are the best! I mean, I love getting any kind of mail, but especially from Maud!”
  257.     “Is it that good? Usually mail is just bills or people telling you to turn the trains back on.”
  258.     >Pinkie gasps loudly and gets up close to your face. “Is it that good? Are PARTIES that good?”
  259.     >”Are muffins that good?” Derpy asks, leaning in towards you.
  260.     >”Is love that good?”
  261.     >”Is life that good?”
  262.     “Y-You’re a little close…”
  263.     >Pinkie shakes her head disappointed at you and pulls Derpy back into a two pony huddle.
  264. >“Derpy… I don’t think he knows.” says Pinkie sadly
  265. >”He doesn’t know?” she asks.
  266. >”He doesn’t know!” Pinkie replies.
  267. >”Somepony should tell him!” Derpy remarks
  268. >”Somepony should but who?”
  269. >Derpy freezes in place, thinking.
  270. >”Aha! What if… we both tell him together?”
  271. >”Derpy, you’re a genius! Why didn’t I think of that?”
  272. >”On your lead then, Pinkie?”
  273. >”You got it, Derpy! Lights!”
  274. >Pinkie and Derpy hop onto the table as the restaurant goes dark save for a spotlight pointed on the two of them.
  275. >”Music!” Pinkie calls out, and is answered by a rising succession of piano notes.
  276. >”And a one two three, Ohhh~!”
  277.  
  278. Pinkie: A Parcel or a package or a letter makes your day!
  279. Derpy: It carries love and friendship for a pony far away!
  280.  
  281. Pinkie: My sister Maud I love so dear! Without her I’m bereft!
  282. Derpy: But she reads her letters here, It’s like she’d never left!
  283.  
  284. Pinkie: With Maud the letters never bore! They’re sure to shock and wow!
  285. Derpy: So what are we all waiting for?
  286. Pinkie & Derpy: Let’s read togeeeeetheeeeeeer… now!
  287.  
  288. >The two ponies jump to your side and have a seat as the lights come back on.
  289. >The other ponies in the restaurant applaud cheerfully at their performance, to which Pinkie responds by waving and blowing kisses.
  290. “H-Huh…? Yeah, okay… mail is good… I think I get it.”
  291. >You begin to wonder what was in that milkshake.
  292. >”Did you not like our song?” Derpy asks, tilting her head curiously.
  293. “It was a good song and all, and you’ve got a really adorable singing voice, I just… wasn’t expecting that. But yeah. Song’s good… mail’s good… let’s read the letter. Sounds like fun.”
  294. >”Now you’re getting it!” Pinkie exclaims as she sits up next to you and places the letter in the middle of the three of you, opening it up.
  295. >Derpy watches curiously from the other side as Pinkie tears it open and pulls out a small notecard sized piece of parchment. “Smaller than usual… oh well.”
  296. >She places it on the table and the three of you lean in to read it.
  297.  
  298. Dear Pinkie,
  299.  
  300. Dad’s dead.
  301.  
  302. Love, Maud
  303.  
  304. >You all stare in silence at the letter.
  305. >Slowly you turn to Pinkie who seems to be frozen with a mixture of confusion and fear.
  306. “Pinkie, I-”
  307. >Before you can get another word out, Pinkie knocks the table over and charges out of the restaurant.
  308. “Pinkie wait!”
  309. >You jump out of your seat and take off after her.
  310. >Despite your best efforts, she handily outpaces you, but you manage to stay close enough to see her disappear into Sugarcube Corner.
  311. >You take a second to catch your breath before walking in after her through the door of the sweets shop.
  312. >As you climb the stairs up to her room, you see a blue mare with a bright pink mane standing at her door. “Pinkie? Pinkie Pie, what’s wrong? What happened?”
  313. >She looks over as you approach. “You’re that Anonymous fellow, right? What’s going on? What happened to Pinkie Pie?”
  314. “Mrs. Cake, right? Pinkie… just got some very bad news.”
  315. >”It must be very bad indeed for her to act this way… she locked her door and she won’t say a word... Oh, dearie, what should we do?”
  316. >You need to decide how to handle this…
  317. >What should you do?
  318.  
  319.  
  320.     >It’s hard to decide.
  321.     >You really don’t know Pinkie all that well.
  322.     >But you’re here now, and you need to do whatever you can.
  323.     “Mrs. Cake, could you let me see if I can talk to her? I was there when she got the news… I don’t know how much she wants other ponies to know yet though.”
  324.     >”Know what, dearie? Is Pinkie going to be okay?”
  325.     “It’s not what happened to Pinkie. It’s… it’s her father. He’s passed away.”
  326.     >Mrs. Cake puts her hoof over her mouth in shock. “Oh my goodness… oh, Pinkie…”
  327.     “Could you do me a favor and let Twilight and the others know? They’re her best friends. I’ll try to stay here and see if I can talk to her. Make sure she’s okay and everything.”
  328.     >”He… he wasn’t so old, you know. I’d never even heard that he was sick… did she say what happened?”
  329.     “The letter from her sister was… not very descriptive. But she made it very clear that Pinkie’s father died. Could you let them know, please?”
  330.     >Mrs. Cake nods quietly, blinking back her tears before turning and leaving you at the door to Pinkie’s room.
  331.     >You take a deep breath and knock on the door.
  332.     “Pinkie? Pinkie, it’s me, Anon. Could you please let me in?”
  333.     >You’re met with silence.
  334.     “Look, I know we haven’t known each other too long, but you’re still my friend. You don’t have to talk to me… I know I’ll probably just fuck up and say something insensitive anyway. But please, just let me in so I can make sure you’re okay.”
  335.     >No response. You’re starting to worry.
  336.     “Pinkie, please. I-I need you to say something, okay? Just let me know you’re okay, Pinkie!”
  337.     >You panic briefly, wondering if you can get the door open. The door opens inward as you recall. Maybe if you kicked at the lock…
  338.     >Before you can consider any further, you hear the door unlock as Pinkie pulls it open.
  339.     >She avoids looking at you, and her eyes look cold and tired.
  340.     “Is it okay if I come in?”
  341.     >She nods and makes a weak noise in the affirmative.
  342.     >You follow her in as she leads you to her big fluffy bed with bright pink sheets.
  343.     >She climbs onto the bed and lays down.
  344.     >You take a seat next to her and gently put your hand on her shoulder.
  345.     “Are you okay?”
  346.     >She nods silently.
  347.     >”Do you want to talk to me about it?”
  348.     >”... I don’t know.”
  349.     “Your friends will probably be here soon. Is that okay? Do you want to see them?”
  350.     >”Not really…”
  351.     “Why not?”
  352.     >”... because I don’t know.”
  353.     “I see… well, maybe if you talk about it a little bit… do you think maybe you’ll know?”
  354.     >”... I don’t know.”
  355.     >You just gently put your hand on the back of Pinkie’s neck to try to comfort her.
  356.     >It’s hard to figure out what else to say.
  357.     >”Anon… you don’t remember your parents, right?”
  358.     “Yeah, I don’t. I don’t remember who they are, what they looked like, or if I even had parents at all. When I try to think about it… sometimes it feels like I might have had them, sometimes it feels like they never existed.”
  359.     >She stays silent for nearly a minute before speaking again.
  360.     >”If you had them and they died, would you be sad?”
  361.     “I think so.”
  362.     >”What if they were really mean?”
  363.     “Then… I probably wouldn’t be as sad.”
  364.     >”What if they weren’t mean but… you just didn’t get along with them?”
  365.     “I’m… not sure, it’s hard to say. But I probably would be sad for a bit.”
  366.     >There’s another long period of quiet.
  367.     >This time, you decide to break the silence with a question.
  368.     “How do you feel, Pinkie?”
  369.     >”... Dad wasn’t a bad pony. He didn’t like the things I liked… and we got in fights a couple times, but he never hit me or treated me real bad…”
  370.     >”... So why don’t I even feel a little bit sad?”
  371.     “You looked pretty sad to me.”
  372.     >Pinkie shakes her head. “That was just… acting. Or something like that.”
  373.     “Acting?”
  374.     >”I ran away because I thought… shouldn’t I run away? When you get news like this, shouldn’t you start crying? Shouldn’t you run away and lock yourself in your room and not want to see anypony for a week if your dad dies?”
  375.     >”When Fluttershy’s parents died, she wasn’t able to leave the house for a month! But… but I just don’t feel anything!"
  376.     >I feel like I could just start smiling and be my regular old self like nothing’s changed! So what if dad’s dead? It’s been forever since we’ve even talked! He always liked Maud better than me! Why… why do I feel these things? Why can’t I just feel sad? I want to feel sad! He’s still the pony that raised me and my sisters… he worked hard to put food on our plates… but I don’t feel sad. I just feel guilty…”
  377.     >Pinkie looks up at you with wide eyes. “Anon, what’s wrong with me?”
  378.     >You put your arms around her tightly.
  379.     “Nothing’s wrong with you, Pinkie.
  380.     >”Yes it is…”
  381.     >”What kind of pony can’t feel sad when their dad dies…”
  382.     “Pinkie, you’re one of the most sensitive, caring ponies I’ve met. Whatever you’re feeling, I’m… sure it’s natural.”
  383.     >”Natural? You want to know the first thing I thought of when I read that letter?”
  384.     >”I thought to myself, ‘I hope this doesn’t mean they need me to go to the farm now.’ That’s where my mind went. I wasn’t thinking about how much I’m going to miss dad, because I’m not. I just didn’t want to go back to doing hard work because it’s no fun.”
  385.     “You’re being too hard on yourself, Pinkie.”
  386.     >”Remember when you fought my shadow?”
  387.     “Yeah…”
  388.     >”So you remember how much obvious symbolism it had? Surrounding itself in a big party armor? And then once you take that away, it’s that weak, brittle, fragile, hollow shell? That’s what I am. There’s just nothing inside me. I’m just an empty pinata.”
  389.     “You’re remembering it wrong, Pinkie.”
  390.     >She looks up at you curiously.
  391.     “When we broke it open, we didn’t find “nothing”. Something did come out. You did. The real you.”
  392.     >You place your hand on Pinkie’s chest, right over her heart.
  393.     “There is something in there, Pinkie. You’ve just spent so long trying to hide it that you’ve forgotten what it’s like. It's okay to be confused about how you feel. You just need to give yourself a little time to figure it out. Okay?"
  394.     >Pinkie snuggles up against your chest.
  395.     >"Thanks, Anon."
  396.     >You sit like that with her for a long time.
  397.     >You’re not sure how long you sit there quietly with Pinkie, but after some time you’re interrupted by the sound of someone coming through the door.
  398.     >Dash pokes her head into the room, looking at the two of you.
  399.     >”Hey, Pinkie… how are you holding up?”
  400.     >Pinkie pulls her head away from your chest finally. ”Oh… hey Rainbow. I’m all right I guess. Talking to Anon really helped. I guess you were the first to get here, huh?”
  401.     >Dash looks to the side nervously. “Not exactly.”
  402.     “What do you mean? Where’s everyone else?”
  403.     >Dash points her hoof out the door. “They’re downstairs. Arguing.”
  404.     “Arguing? About what?”
  405.     >”You know how Twi shut down the trains? Turns out AJ isn’t really a fan of that decision.”
  406.     “Why are they arguing about it now?”
  407.     >Dash looks at Pinkie. “Pinkie Pie… you understand why Twilight is REALLY doing this, right? It’s to stop SIHN from spreading, and to keep the victims in one place. We need to be able to scan the victims for Roots. If the Roots aren’t in Ponyville, by the time we figure out where they’ve gone, we might not make it to them in time.”
  408.     >Pinkie nods. “I know that. It’d be terrible…”
  409.     “But she can’t exactly go public with that information, can she?”
  410.     >”Yeah, and… she doesn’t want to make exceptions, even for us. So when AJ asked Twi if she’d be lifting it so that Pinkie could see her family… Twi said no, and now AJ is kind of flipping out, Fluttershy is trying to get them to stop, and Rarity’s just trying to hide and not get involved.”
  411.     >You rub your head impatiently. “Seriously, right now? Pinkie, do you mind if I go and take care of this? Dash can keep you company.”
  412.     >Pinkie looks between the two of you before shaking her head. “No, let me take care of this, please.”
  413.     “Are you sure?”
  414.     >”Trust me, I can handle it.”
  415.     >Pinkie hops off the bed and trots out the door with a look of determination on her face and heads downstairs.
  416.     >You and Dash follow behind her.
  417.     >From downstairs, you can hear Applejack yelling. “Twi, you’re doing more harm than good! There’s gonna be a lot more ponies stressed when they can’t visit their loved ones for a funeral an’ they’re goin’ bankrupt because they can’t support their businesses!”
  418.     >”Applejack, that’s not how it works! I’m trying to keep this epidemic from turning into a pandemic!”
  419.     >”I thought you said you don’t know how it works? Or were you lyin’ about that too?”
  420.     >”Applejack, please ju- Pinkie!”
  421.     >Pinkie bursts through the door to the main portion of the store. It’s after hours, so there aren’t any customers, but the other elements and Spike are crowded together arguing.
  422.     >Pinkie completely disregards all of them as she marches towards a table holding a large multi-layered white cake and a cream pie.
  423.     >She reaches out and holds the pie in her hoof for a second, then quickly tosses it straight at Twilight.
  424.     >It literally creams her in the face, slamming into her hard enough to embed the pie tin on her horn.
  425.     >While everyone is still in shock, Pinkie grabs the layer cake with both hooves, lifts it off the table, and drives it straight onto Applejack’s head, covering her entire face and mane with frosting and cake.
  426.     >”NO FIGHTING. The only kind of fight I want to see in here is a food fight, so you better cut this out right now! You got that? AJ, I know it’s not good for the town to be doing this, but Twi’s trying to save lives! If that means I have to wait to see my family, that’s my problem and I’m going to deal with it. And Twilight, don’t try too hard to control everything. If something goes wrong, you deal with it and try to fix it. And let the Mayor handle some of this for Pony’s sake! You’re already doing too much, you need to let her handle this kind of stuff! Now both of you apologize and help me remake this cake, okay?”
  427.     >Applejack wipes some of the cake off her face. “Sorry, everypony. I got upset an’ started thinkin’ about how I felt when I shoulda thought about how Pinkie Pie felt.”
  428.     >Twilight yanks the pie tin off of her horn and cleans off some of the cream with her horn. “I’m sorry I’ve caused so much trouble to everypony. I promise I’ll work with Mayor Mare to figure out a better solution.”
  429.     >Pinkie grabs each of them in a foreleg and brings them in for a very messy looking hug.
  430.     >Fluttershy walks over. “You seem like you’re taking things very well, Pinkie. I wish I could be as strong as you.”
  431.     >Pinkie shakes her head. “I still feel a bit mixed up… but Anon really helped. Applejack? Twilight? Could you follow me to the kitchen? Rest of you can go home. I’m really happy you all came for me but... you know what they say about Too Many Cooks.”
  432.     >”We understand.” says Fluttershy.
  433.     >”If there’s absolutely anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.” Rarity adds.
  434.     >Pinkie, AJ, and Twilight all vanish into the kitchen.
  435.     >”Well… I’m going home.” says Dash. “I feel like I’ve got some things I need to think about.”
  436.     >Rarity nods knowingly. “I believe I may need to write a letter to my parents. It is a bit frightening to know just how suddenly something like this can happen.”
  437.     >”Want any help? I’ve assisted Twilight in writing more than a few letters in my time.” Spike says proudly.
  438.     >”Thank you, Spike. I’d be delighted.” she replies.
  439.     >Fluttershy just looks at the floor. “I guess I’ll go home too.”
  440.     “Mind if I come with you, Fluttershy?”
  441.     >”H-Huh? Oh, sure… I don’t mind. Could you just… walk behind me though?”
  442.     “Yeah, sure.”
  443.     >You all split off in different directions, with you tailing fluttershy from a comfortable distance for her as she faces straight ahead, trying not to look back at all costs.
  444.     >”Discord’s at the beach today. He says he wants to get a nice tan. So we have the cottage to ourselves today if you’d like to join me for some tea. Well, ourselves and my little critter friends.”
  445. “Tea sounds good, Fluttershy. And I like animals, so I’m sure it’ll be great.”
  446. >”You do? Oh, that’s wonderful! Well then follow me!”
  447.  
  448. Fluttershy’s Cottage, Evening
  449.  
  450. “...”
  451. >”Is something the matter, Anon?”
  452. “You know, Fluttershy… when you invited me here just now…”
  453. “I’m pretty sure you said it would be ourselves and your little critter friends.”
  454. >”Yes, Anon. I did say that.”
  455. “And I know you have a blindfold on and all…”
  456. >”I-Is the blindfold bothering you? I could take it off and just try to avoid looking up if you like.”
  457. “The blindfold isn’t the issue here, Fluttershy. The issue is…”
  458. “By exactly WHAT definition is a 6 foot tall Grizzly Bear considered small?!”
  459. >After reaching her cottage, she’d asked you to wait outside while she got some things set up.
  460. >You figured she needed to have some sort of countermeasure against seeing your face, but you didn’t realize you’d be sharing the table with white bunny rabbit that constantly gives you the stink-eye, and this huge god damn brown bear.
  461. >Apparently the bear wanted tea too, and Fluttershy would have considered it rude not to have him join you.
  462. >”Oh, that’s where you’re mistaken. He’s not a 6 foot tall Grizzly Bear, or Ursus arctos horribilis. Sir Bearington here is a 6 foot tall Kodiak Bear, or Ursus arctos middendorffi. They can grow up to 8 feet tall at their full size, so by comparison, Sir Bearington is just a sweet little cub!”
  463. >Sir Bearington lets out a deep growling noise and leans down, licking Fluttershy’s cheek with his long tongue.
  464. >”Hee hee! Sir Bearington, that tickles!
  465. “You’re seriously not frightened by… Sir Bearington, even a little bit?”
  466. >”Well he’s certainly big and strong, and he has those sharp claws and teeth, but I know he doesn’t have any reason to hurt me, so I don’t have anything to be scared of.”
  467. “But I’m certainly not going to hurt you.”
  468. >"Oh, I'm certain you wouldn't. But your face is just... so... spooky."
  469. "I'm too spooky for you?"
  470. >"That's exactly it. I'm sorry."
  471. >You sigh and shake your head.
  472. “Well, there’s really not a lot I can do about it, beyond maybe wearing a mask or drawing a face on with sharpie.”
  473. >”It’s really no bother to me to have to do this. After all, I have my wonderful friends here. Sir Bearington, would you care to pour us all a cup?”
  474. >The bear gives a growl of agreement and picks up the teapot daintily, pouring a steaming golden-brown liquid into the cup.
  475. >He carefully does the same for Angel, Fluttershy, and himself, before sitting back down.
  476. “Thank you… Sir Bearington.”
  477. >”Grawrgh.”
  478. >”He says, ‘you’re welcome’.” Fluttershy comments.
  479. >You pick up your tea cup and sniff the contents, taking in the aroma.
  480. >It smells almost like freshly cooked brown rice.
  481. >”Oolong with Ginseng. Be careful, it’s still quite hot.”
  482. >To the side you see some cubes of sugar and a small carafe of cream.
  483. >You reach for the tray… but suddenly the little white rabbit hops on the table and grabs onto your fingers.
  484. “Uh…”
  485. >The rabbit stares at you with his black eyes, giving you a threatening look that says “Not in this house, Motherfucker.”
  486. “Well then why is it on the table?”
  487. >”Why is what on the table?”
  488. “Your rabbit is blocking the cream and sugar.”
  489. >”Oh, Angel Bunny, that’s not very polite! You need to be more understanding of our guests, and that they may choose to do things differently than we do. I’m sorry, Anon. But… I think what Angel Bunny is trying to tell you is that… perhaps you might like to consider tasting the tea as it is before adding anything else to it. If you don’t mind.”
  490. “But it’s hot…”
  491. >”Would you like me to blow on it for you?” Fluttershy asks innocently while Angel just gives you a condescending smirk.
  492. “... I’m fine, thank you.”
  493. >You gently blow on the tea, carefully testing its temperature with your lips. After deciding it’s cool enough, you take a sip.
  494. >!
  495. >An initial complex bitterness, followed by a smooth rich flavor, and a lingering dry taste at the end that leaves you craving more...
  496. "This is delicious..."
  497.     >”I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Anon! It’s quite different from how most take their tea here in Ponyville, or even in Canterlot. A lot of ponies are turned off by how bitter tea can be without anything added to it, but usually it’s just a bad experience caused by overbrewing it. Most ponies tend to drink herbal or floral teas where the timing isn’t as strict. Even overbrewed, those teas don’t taste too overpowering, but something like a black tea or an oolong tea can become too bitter to appreciate all of its flavors. Furthermore, many of them buy bags because of cost and convenience, thinking that it’s the same as loose leaf, but the quality of the leaves used is like night and day! And when serving tea for a guest, you should always serve your best.”
  498.     “You uh… you really know a lot about tea, Fluttershy.”
  499.     >She smiles and takes a sip from her own cup.
  500.     >”It’s something my mother taught me. In Cloudsdale it’s pretty easy to come by a lot of imported goods since they can’t grow much there locally. My mother really enjoyed high quality Chineighse tea… and she’d even serve it to me when I was a filly having tea parties with my dolls.”
  501.     “All this stuff gets you thinking about her, doesn’t it?”
  502.     >Fluttershy nods sadly. “I guess it’s one of the few things from them that stuck with me.”
  503.     “Do you want to talk about them? If you don’t, that’s fine too. We can change the subject.”
  504.     >”Well… usually I’d say no because I wouldn’t want to cause trouble by saying something sad… but I guess I should. Maybe if I talk to you a little bit more about something personal, I’ll feel comfortable enough to look at your face!”
  505.     “Might be worth a shot.”
  506.     >”Okay, well… when they died, it was pretty sudden too. It was a few years back… they both lost their lives during the worst storm in cloudsdale history. I was in Ponyville at the time… I’d just become an adult and decided to move out to here and pursue my dream. It wasn’t until the next day my dad’s assistant came to tell me the bad news.“
  507. “How did you feel?”
  508. >”At the time, I suppose I felt a lot of things. I was very sad… and also very scared. And I was very worried about my future. It meant some things were going to have to change, and I wasn’t ready for that. And as I’m sure you can imagine, I had a lot of feelings I felt guilty about as well.”
  509. “I know what you mean… I think Pinkie is having those same feelings.”
  510. >”Is she? I never would have guessed… but then again I suppose it’s not all too uncommon.”
  511. “Do you think about them often?”
  512. >Fluttershy looks down. “Not too often. Or at least, I try not to. It just makes me sad… and I don’t want that.”
  513. “But that’s all in the past now, right? And I guess I’m a little biased since I can’t remember anything… but it’s not that important what happened in your past, right? What matters is what you do now.”
  514. >Fluttershy smiles. “That’s a very positive outlook, Anon. But it isn’t always so easy. Sometimes… your past is full of mistakes you can’t take back. The kind of mistakes that follow you for the rest of your life. You’re kind of lucky like that. No matter what kind of mistakes you’ve made in the past… you've got a clean slate."
  515. “But it’s not like I can’t still make mistakes. Heck, I’ve made plenty. And… there’s even something I’m doing right now that I might be making a mistake in. If I don’t figure out what the right thing to do is… something very bad could happen. So even if your past is clean, that doesn’t mean you won’t make more mistakes. Hell, if anything I’m worried I might make more because I can’t learn from my past. But… I’m not perfect. Nobody is. So we’re all going to make mistakes. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t change something about their past if they could.”
  516. >It’s difficult to read Fluttershy’s silence without being able to see her eyes.
  517. >She merely pauses for a moment before saying, “Perhaps you’re right. But… what I wouldn’t give to be reborn like you.”
  518. “Why? What happened?”
  519. >”I-I’m sorry. I can’t tell you.”
  520. “Forget I asked then. You don’t have to tell me if you’re not ready.”
  521. >”It’s not about that, Anon. In fact, it’s because I think of you as a friend that I can’t tell you this. None of my friends know. I was worried Dash might, but I guess she hasn’t really put it together. We were… pretty different crowds, so she never really paid attention to me in school. At least, when I was there.”
  522. “Is it really that bad?”
  523. >”Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I did anything that would be a crime, or anything like that. It’s just… please, Anon. Could you drop this? I need this to be a secret.”
  524. “Yeah… all right. I won’t ask about it.”
  525. >”I appreciate your understanding… sorry to have brought the mood down a bit. Let’s talk about something else.”
  526. >Fluttershy seems to be hiding something from you…
  527. >It might be difficult to advance your relationship with this in the way.
  528. >You made a bit of small talk with Fluttershy until it was time to head home.
  529.  
  530. Twilight’s Castle Library, Night
  531.  
  532. >Twilight is sitting at the table, writing on a piece of parchment with a quill using her magic.
  533. “Hey, Twi.”
  534. >”Oh! Hey, Anon. I didn’t see you there.”
  535. “Seems like I’d be a hard guy to miss.”
  536. >She looks down at the paper. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind, I guess. SIHN, Pinkie’s Dad, the travel ban, our relationship, and right now I’m writing a letter to my parents.”
  537. “Your parents, huh?”
  538. >”Talking to everypony today really made me stop and think how lucky I am. I have an amazingly supportive and loving family… and I’ve really been taking that for granted. My parents aren’t very old, but neither was Pinkie’s dad. They’re not gonna be around forever… so I figure I should tell them I love them. Just ‘cause I don’t do it enough.”
  539. >You have a seat next to her.
  540. “It’d be hard not to be proud of a daughter like you.”
  541. >”Well I owe a lot of it to them, you know? So I’m telling them how grateful I am for everything they’ve done for me. And... it's okay if I tell them about you, right?"
  542. “Of course it is. Unless there’s some kind of crazy cultural rule where I have to pin the head of the household in order to date you.”
  543. >Twilight bursts out laughing. “Ahaha! Oh my gosh, could you imagine Shiny trying to pin Celestia?”
  544. “I’d need to see your Brother first. Do you have any pictures?”
  545. >Twilight’s smile fades instantly.
  546. >Her lower lip trembles and she stares blankly at the desk.
  547. “Twi? Twi, are you okay?”
  548. >”I don’t… not anymore.”
  549. >”Not since Tirek destroyed my home.”
  550. >You put your arm around her and pull her close to you.
  551. “I’m so sorry… do you want to talk about it?”
  552. >”I think you’ve heard about it before, right?”
  553. “Tirek stole magic from the princesses and rampaged around ponyville until you and your friends stopped him. Is that about it?”
  554. >”That’s right, but in that time he destroyed the Golden Oaks Library which Spike and I used to live in. It… it really hit me just now. I had pictures of my family I can’t take again! I had books filled with the memories of the times I spent with my friends! And they’re just… gone forever!
  555. “It’s okay, Twi…” You say as you start to stroke her mane to comfort her.
  556. >”In a thousand years, what if I don’t remember their faces? What if I don’t remember their names? My mother, my father, my brother, all my friends… am I really going to have to watch them all die before me, Anon?”
  557. “Shh… it’s okay, Twi. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re under a lot of stress right now. Just try to take a deep breath.”
  558. >Twilight tries to take a deep but unsteady breath as she buries her face in your chest.
  559. “I promise, Twi. I’ll stay with you as long as I can… and I’ll do my best to make our time together unforgettable.”
  560. >She sniffles a bit. “Th-Thanks…”
  561. >Twilight seems to be worried about “forgetting”.
  562. >Perhaps you should try to think of her gift with this in mind...
  563. >You sat there together comforting her until you both fell asleep.
  564.  
  565. Saturday, November 12th
  566.  
  567. >You’re not sure if Twilight is an early riser or you’re just a late sleeper.
  568. >Possibly both.
  569. >Either way she’s left you with a note again.
  570.  
  571. I’ll be busy today. I’m trying to see if I can work on a better solution for the Travel Ban with Mayor Mare. Thanks for being there for me last night.
  572.  
  573. Love,
  574. Twilight Sparkle
  575.  
  576. >One of these days you’re going to wake up before that book horse.
  577. >And when you do, you’re gonna do… something.
  578. >Probably fuck with her mane or some shit.
  579. >You’re not very creative.
  580. >But then you haven’t had breakfast.
  581. >You take a shower and decide to head down to the Hayburger for some uncreative breakfast.
  582.  
  583. Hayburger, Morning
  584.  
  585. >After getting a strawberry milkshake and a fish sandwich, you take your seat, trying to consider what kind of gift you should give Twilight.
  586. >Something personal… something that she won’t forget.
  587. >You space out for a bit trying to come up with a good idea as you eat your food.
  588. >You’re only broken out of your daze by a familiar sounding voice ordering food.
  589. >A smooth, matured, feminine voice.
  590. >”Four double hayburgers with cheese, please.”
  591. >You look up from your milkshake and see the unmistakable form of Princess Celestia, with her mane dancing in the sunlight leaking in through the windows.
  592. >”For here or to go?” the cashier asks in the same rehearsed voice she used with you.
  593. >The Princess turns her head to look at you. “For here, please.”
  594. >A handful of bits neatly float on to the counter as Celestia turns and walks through the restaurant towards your table.
  595. >Not a single pony in the place seems to be giving her a second glance.
  596. >If anything, you’re getting more looks than she is.
  597. >She reaches your table and has a seat across from you.
  598. >”Good morning, Anonymous.”
  599. “... is there something in these milkshakes?”
  600. >”Goat’s milk ice cream.” she replies. “You’re used to dairy from cows, aren’t you?”
  601. “Why are you here? Why is there no Glenn Buck asking loaded questions? Is this real life?”
  602.     >Celestia just smiles. “Sight is nothing more than the brain interpreting the light reflected off of objects into our eyes. Sunlight, for example. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I have somewhat of a talent when it comes to the Sun.”
  603.     “... huh?”
  604.     >”It’s an illusion spell. Right now, you are the only one who can see me for what I truly am. To others, I look like somepony else entirely. You tend to pick up a trick or two when you get to be my age.”
  605.     “Okay, that explains the how. So then… why? Why are you here?”
  606.     >”A vacation, of course. I had such a wonderful time last week that I decided to make my visits weekly. My sister has graciously agreed to take on my responsibilities for a single day out of the week and allow me to rest.”
  607.     “If you could do this the whole time, why didn’t you just do it last time?”
  608.     >”It was necessary to make a public appearance in ponyville to address the concerns of the citizens and let them know that their complaints are being listened to. To be quite honest, it was more of a political move than a personal vacation at the time.”
  609.     “Yeah, I can kinda see that. Makes sense why you’d want to walk around in disguise. Even without the press hounding you… it’s nice to be able to go places without getting stares sometimes.”
  610.     >You think about the amulet you haven’t worn for a while now. It really was quite convenient for day to day life before your existence was made public.
  611.     >But thanks to Pinkie, you’re more or less accepted by the town as one of their own.
  612.     >For Celestia… that might be a little bit more difficult.
  613.     “So why are you… here specifically. You don’t want to see Twi or Spike or anyone else?”
  614.     >”If you can believe it… I’m just here for breakfast.”
  615.     “Then why did you order four double hayburgers with cheese?”
  616.     >”To eat them, of course.”
  617.     “Uh, okay.”
  618.     >”Why yes, I am going to eat them all by myself, Anonymous. They are not for anypony else. Do you have a problem with that?”
  619.     “Nope.”
  620.     >”Very good then. Let us eat."
  621.     >Her order arrives, and she quickly floats one up to her mouth and begins scarfing it down.
  622.     >It’s almost… mesmerising watching her devour the hayburgers.
  623.     >You don’t even notice when she starts drinking your milkshake.
  624.     >But you feel as though if she catches you staring, she’d banish you to the sun.
  625.     >You decide to focus on your own food for now.
  626.     >Somehow you both finish eating at the same time.
  627.     >”Now then, let us eat cake. Sugarcube Corner is a favorite of mine for dessert. Unless you have other plans?”
  628.     “Uh, no, I was just looking for something to do actually… I’d love to join you for dessert.”
  629.     >”Wonderful. Let us be off then.”
  630.     >She holds a napkin up with her magic to carefully wipe her face before setting off with you to get some dessert.
  631.     >When you get there, Pinkie doesn’t seem to be working the counter today.
  632.     >Understandable, given what she went through yesterday.
  633.     >Celestia orders a slice of her favorite cakes and takes them with you to eat under the shade of a large tree.
  634.     >You sit across from her as she removes the cake boxes from the bag, laying them out neatly.
  635.     “So… I can’t call you by your real name if you’re in public, right? So what should I call you? Sunbottom?”
  636.     >”Not if you want any of this cake.”
  637.     “All right then… Tia?”
  638.     >”A marvelous job of guessing my sister’s more flattering nickname for me. Though some ponies might get confused that you’re calling a man Tia.”
  639.     “I… wait, you’re disguised as a dude? Everyone thinks I was sharing a milkshake with a dude?”
  640.     >”Are you saying you do not like dudes?”
  641.     “I’m saying I- wait, actually I don’t know. I’d have to think about that...”
  642.     >Celestia lets out a playful giggle. “I’m only joking. The spell bends light, remember? I haven’t altered my voice. Why would I disguise myself as a male?”
  643.     “To deceive others for the purposes of personal enjoyment?”
  644.     >Tia gives you a warm smile. "Well, aren't you a sharp one."
  645.     >She seems to be in a good mood.
  646.     >What should you try to talk to her about? Twilight? Herself? Or something else?
  647.     >You decide to try to ease into things.
  648.     “So… how have things been with you?”
  649.     >”Business as usual in the castle. The current climate of international politics is a peaceful one, so I find myself mostly occupied with minor domestic concerns. SIHN is the only major threat we have seen in Equestria since Lord Tirek’s return. But since it seems to be contained to Ponyville at the moment, the rest of Equestria isn’t very concerned about it.”
  650.     “And what do you think about it?”
  651.     >Tia puts down her cake for a moment and leans against the tree trunk.
  652.     >”I am deeply concerned. There is a great danger threatening my people… and my sister and I are powerless to help, no matter how much we want to.”
  653.     “You don’t need to worry. Twi’s been doing a great job with everything. Not everyone’s happy about it, but she’s been doing what she needs to in order to keep Equestria safe. She gets up early and works hard all day… she’s already practically mastered using that weapon of hers.”
  654.     >”You have no idea how good it feels to hear that she is thriving. But there is something you must understand. It is not that I doubt her ability, or her strength. I have the utmost confidence in Princess Twilight Sparkle to handle this situation without my help. I know that there is nopony in Equestria who could possibly do a better job than she. What I fear… is that there may come a moment where despite her greatest efforts, it will not be enough. I dread the day she learns the harshest lesson of all. One that she has yet to be taught.”
  655.     “What lesson?”
  656.     >Celestia looks straight at you with a piercing gaze. “You can not save everyone. Not always.”
  657.     >”We must never give up the hope that we can, but some things in this world are beyond anyone’s control.”
  658.     “Like your sister…”
  659.     >”Precisely. Twilight Sparkle has yet to truly experience loss. But SIHN is dangerous and unpredictable. It can turn a casual swim in the lake into a terrible tragedy. Accidents happen. And sometimes there is nothing that could have been done."
  660. “Yeah, I get what you’re saying… we’ve been pretty lucky. Gilda fell pretty far, but I heard she hit a tree that slowed her down. If she had hit the ground straight on… things would have been pretty different.”
  661. >”Then as long as you’re aware of the dangers you face, I’d like to ask something of you, Anonymous. I need you to do something for me.”
  662. “For you?”
  663. >”More specifically, for Twilight. I want you to promise me that if something happens… you’ll be there for her. I want you to make sure she doesn’t blame herself. Help her stay strong so that she can keep going. Help her through those troubling times. Can you do that for me?”
  664. “I promise. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does I’ll be there for her. But I can’t help wondering, why me? Can’t you tell her these things?”
  665. >Celestia puts her hoof under her chin as she attempts to find the words.
  666. >”To put it simply… I suppose I don’t want her to end up as a Momma’s girl.”
  667. “A momma’s girl?”
  668. >”I know that she has a mother… and I feel a bit guilty admitting it, but the feelings I have for Twilight are more than just a bond between student and teacher. I love her as if she were my own flesh and blood.”
  669. >Celestia touches her hoof to your chest. “Her love for you, on the other hoof, is a bit different.”
  670. “Oh. She told you about us?”
  671. >”She did indeed. And I couldn’t be happier for the two of you. A good relationship is one where you help each other grow. And I believe Twilight has shown a great deal of positive growth in the time you’ve spent with her.”
  672. “She’s helped me a lot too. I’ve been working hard to try to be responsible for her. I have to ask though, did she tell you last night?”
  673. >”As a matter of fact, she did.”
  674. “I guess she feels the same way about you then. She only told me she was writing to her “parents”.”
  675. >Celestia quickly turns her head away from you.
  676. >”... That is very… very kind of her.”
  677. >The bright morning sun makes it difficult to see.
  678. >But you could swear for a moment you saw a tear in her eye.
  679. “Tia, can I ask you something now?”
  680. >Celestia casually brushes her cheek with her hoof before turning back to face you.
  681. >”Of course you may. What’s on your mind, Anonymous?”
  682. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Twi. She’s been really torn up lately about her immortality and all that. So I want to get her a gift. Something really meaningful that she won’t forget.”
  683. >”I understand. What sort of gift did you have in mind?”
  684. “I’ve been thinking about maybe a photo album… or a scrapbook.
  685. >”A lovely idea. I’m sure she’d be thrilled if you gave her something like that.”
  686. “Yeah, it’d be nice, but… a lot can happen in a thousand years, right? I don’t know how long it might last. Especially if that Tirek guy comes back and decides to blow up her house again. I was wondering if you could offer me any kind of solution there.”
  687. >”If you’re wondering if I can make this scrapbook immune to the combined destructive power of 3 alicorns and most of the ponies in Equestria, I’m afraid my hooves are tied. As powerful as my magic is, I can not make anything indestructible. There is no such thing, I’m afraid.”
  688. “Well, I guess it was worth a shot.”
  689. >”What I can do is cast the same preservation spell I used on the journal my sister and I wrote in a thousand years ago. It should ward off the stains of time, as well as the stains of coffee spilled by clumsy unicorns.”
  690. “A preservation spell?”
  691. >”Invented by the aforementioned clumsy unicorn himself. Star Swirl the Bearded. Who, as it happens, also “invented” coffee.”
  692. “He invented coffee?”
  693. >”Really he just found it in an another world and brought it to ours, then claimed it as his own invention to hide the fact that he invented a portal to another world.”
  694. “Sounds complicated.”
  695. >”He was. But about that scrapbook, I’ll do my best to preserve it for you, but I really don’t think you need to worry too much. No matter what happens to that scrapbook, nothing can destroy the feelings you put into it.”
  696. "Thanks... I'll remember that."
  697.     >”Would you like some help picking one out?”
  698.     “You’d do that for me? I mean… it’s your day off after all.”
  699.     >”Actually, I enjoy spending time with you, Anonymous. As much as I love Twilight and her friends, they’ve grown up knowing me as their ruler, the Princess Celestia. But when I’m with you… I feel as though we can see each other as just good friends.”
  700.     “In that case, yeah. I’d love to shop for Twi’s gift with you, Tia.”
  701.     >”Splendid! But first, let us enjoy our dessert. Oh, Kibitz would be so furious if he heard I was eating like this!”
  702.     “Who?”
  703.     >”My royal scheduling advisor, Kibitz. He handles my schedule, plans my meals, and so forth. He’s always fussing about my “glucose levels” and my “cholesterol”. But then I suppose somepony ought to.”
  704.     >He might have a point if this is how she eats when nobody’s watching.
  705.     >But you decide to keep that to yourself.
  706.     >The two of you take your time chatting and eating cake.
  707.     >She’s gracious enough to at least let you try a bite of anything she’s bought, but overall she probably eats about 10 times more than you do.
  708.     >After dessert, you spent a long time walking around town with her and looking through all sorts of shops for a scrapbook.
  709.     >You’re eager to buy the first one you see, but Tia insists you shop around.
  710.     >It takes a while to find one that you both approve of, but eventually you come across one with a thick jade green binding and a purple Aster flower on the corner of the cover.
  711.     >It’s surprisingly expensive for an empty book… but Celestia pays for it before you can even think of objecting.
  712.     >”And… there. I cast the preservation spell on it for you.”
  713.     “I really appreciate you coming along like this. I had a great time, Tia.”
  714.     >”As did I, Anonymous. If you’d like to do this again, I’ll be back here next saturday. And if you ever need to contact me in the meantime, simply send a letter through Spike.”
  715.     “I will. Thanks again, Tia.”
  716.     >”Take care, Anonymous.”
  717.     >She walks off, smiling.
  718.     >Still some time left in the day.
  719.     >But who to visit?
  720.     >It’s been a while since you’ve checked on those kids.
  721.     >Might be a good chance to see them, since it’s a weekend and all.
  722.     >You decided to check out their clubhouse.
  723.  
  724.     Cutie Mark Crusader Clubhouse, Evening
  725.  
  726.     >You can hear a few voices from the little wooden treehouse.
  727.     >”Firefighters.”
  728.     >”Tried it.”
  729.     >”Night Watchponies?”
  730.     >”Tried it.”
  731.     >”Archeologists!”
  732.     >”Mah sister says if we dig another hole in the fields she’s buryin’ us in it.”
  733.     “Hey girls, you in there?”
  734.     >You see the purple haired pegasus stick her head out the window quickly.
  735.     >”Anonymous! We were just having a meeting. Want to come up?”
  736.     “I’d love to. But uh…”
  737.     >”I don’t reckon Mister Anonymous can fit like this. Ah might have to raise the ceiling just a hair.” Apple Bloom comments as she squeezes her head through the window next to Scootaloo.
  738.     “Nah, I got this.”
  739.     >You dig into your pocket and pull out the necklace Twi gave you.
  740.     >After brushing the lint off, you slip it on and shrink down to your pony form, letting you easily walk up the ramp and enter their little clubhouse.
  741.     “Neat trick, huh? Guess this thing can still come in handy sometimes.”
  742.     >Sweetie Belle looks at you with a half frown. “Yeah, but now you’ve got a cutie mark.”
  743.     “Oh, I guess I do. Is that a problem?”
  744.     >The three foals look at each other and “Hmm” in unison.
  745.     >”Well, I guess it’s all right. Bein’ yer only an honorary member an’ all.” says Apple Bloom.
  746.     >”Besides, it’s just a big question mark in a thought bubble. What kind of a talent is that? The talent of ‘not knowing your talent’?” Sweetie Belle asks.
  747.     >”If you could get your Cutie Mark in that, we’d all have them by now.” Scootaloo says, dejected.
  748.     “I’m sure you’ll find them if you keep trying. What do you want to try today?”
  749.     >”To be honest, we’re runnin’ on fumes here. Ah was hopin’ you could throw out an idea or two.”
  750.     “Ideas, eh? Well that list was pretty big, but give me a second to think.”
  751.     >You take a short moment to come up with some ideas.
  752.     “Butterfly catching.”
  753.     >”Tried it.” they respond in unison.
  754. “Ghost busting.”
  755. >”Tried it.”
  756. >”We never even saw a single ghost, unless you count the ghost that took our map and our lunch.” Sweetie Belle comments.
  757. “Underwater basket-weaving.” you suggest, getting more desperate.
  758. >”Tried it.”
  759. >”At least it didn’t go as poorly as above water basket-weaving.” Scootaloo adds.
  760. “Dolphin Taming.”
  761. >”Haven’t tried that!” Apple Bloom says, excited.
  762. >”I’ll veto that. Fluttershy told me some things about Dolphins… I don’t want anything to do with them now.” Sweetie Belle says, shuddering slightly.
  763.  
  764. Two hours later.
  765.  
  766. “What do you mean you’ve “tried” time travelling?”
  767. >”Yep. Discord helped us out on that one. I think we’d best find our cutie marks here in the present.” says Apple Bloom.
  768. >”Speaking of time, I think we should be going home soon…” Sweetie Belle says as she looks out the window.
  769. “Guess so. Mind if I walk you three girls home?”
  770. >”Only if you tell us how your date went!” Apple Bloom says with a sly grin.
  771. “Well it wasn’t a real date, but I’ll tell you about it, sure.”
  772. >You do some walking and talking, dropping Apple Bloom off at the farm first, then taking Sweetie Belle to Rarity’s place. After you drop her off, you find yourself alone with Scootaloo.
  773. “So… I’m actually not sure where you live. Is it up in the clouds, like Dash?”
  774. >She looks away nervously. “Nah, I couldn’t live somewhere like that… I can’t fly yet.”
  775. “Oh. Sorry, I didn’t know.”
  776. >”It’s fine. I live pretty close by. I’ll show you the way.”
  777. >You begin to walk closely with Scootaloo by your side.
  778. >”Thanks again for saving me like that, Mister Anonymous. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle both say you were super cool.”
  779. “It’s fine, I didn’t actually do that much. I just carried you fast as I could to the schoolhouse.”
  780. >”I know, but I feel like… when I was under, I thought I had a dream where you saved me and Twilight was there, and Dash was there… I can’t really remember anything else though.”
  781. “It’s just a dream, you don’t really have to remember it.”
  782. >You really really hope she doesn’t, given the way Dash’s home movie was a bit NC-17.
  783. >”Yeah, I guess. But thanks anyway. You’re pretty cool, y’know? I mean, not as cool as Dash or anything, but still. You’re up there.”
  784. “Haha, thanks, Scootaloo.”
  785. >The two of you chat idly until she stops you at her house.
  786. >She goes up to the door and tries opening the knob while you wait for her to get inside.
  787. >You watch her fumble with the door, but it seems to be locked. She begins banging loudly on the door with her hoof.
  788. >”AL! Al, open up!”
  789. “Everything allright, Scootaloo?”
  790. >She looks over her shoulder. “Yeah, this just happens sometimes… AL WAKE UP!” she knocks again loudly.
  791. >You wait a minute with her but there seems to be no response.
  792. >”Ugh… give me a break! Seriously, Al? The least you could do is leave the door unlocked!”
  793. “What’s going on?”
  794. >Scootaloo turns away from the door. “Well, either he’s out late or he’s out cold. Ugh… I’m so sorry, Mr. Anonymous.”
  795. “What are you apologizing to me for?”
  796. >”Nothing, it’s just… I’m so embarrassed right now. I can’t believe him!”
  797. “Scootaloo, I just care that you can get inside to sleep tonight.”
  798. >”Yeah, well I didn’t bring my key, so I’m stuck out here unless we want to break the window.”
  799. >Scootaloo smacks the door angrily with her hoof.
  800. “There’s not a spare under the floormat or anything?”
  801. >She rolls her eyes, “I’ve told him a billion times to get a new one made since he lost our old spare, but I’m just going to have to do it myself at this rate.”
  802. >You can’t just leave her like this...
  803. >Maybe you should offer to help somehow.
  804. >What should you say?
  805.  
  806.  
  807.     >You sit down next to Scootaloo on her front porch.
  808.     “I’ll wait with you out here.”
  809.     >”You sure? You don’t have to if it’s too much trouble…”
  810.     “Twi will understand if I’m late. She’s probably working late tonight anyway. So I don’t really have anyone waiting for me at home.”
  811.     >Scootaloo sits down. “Sorry for making you wait like this.”
  812.     “Don’t even worry about it. I’d rather be sitting here with you than being over at that castle alone.”
  813.     >You see her blushing a little bit in the light of the streetlamps. “Thanks… I guess it is nice to have somepony to talk to.”
  814.     “So… who’s Al?”
  815.     >”He’s my mother’s younger brother.”
  816.     “That makes him your uncle, right?”
  817.     >She shrugs. “I guess.”
  818.     “You don’t sound like you like him very much.”
  819.     >”He’s not that bad, he’s just… I wish I had a cool family like Apple Bloom or Sweetie Belle. They’ve both got really awesome siblings and amazing families, and all I’ve got is Al.”
  820.     “I’m… sorry to hear that.”
  821.     >She shakes her head and puts her hoof on your leg. “You don’t have to worry about upsetting me or anything. They both died when I was too young to remember. It’s just a little frustrating. But everypony always tells me about what a cool guy my Dad used to be.”
  822.     “What kind of guy was he?”
  823.     >“He was a Pegasus like me. Blaze Glory, Captain of the Royal Guard. Boy… you should see all the decorations he earned. I bet he looked pretty silly with all of them hanging on to his uniform.”
  824.     >”Everypony tells me he died a hero… giving his life for Equestria. They say I should be proud to have a father like that. And I guess I am… I mean, even though he’s gone, he’s still taking care of me. I don’t have to worry about money for school, or food, or anything like that. So I have it a lot better than some ponies.”
  825.     "That's very mature of you, Scootaloo. You're kind of cool yourself, you know that?"
  826.     >"You really think so?"
  827.     >You reach out and tousle her mane gently with your hand.
  828.     "Of course I do."
  829.     >The little filly giggles, "Hee hee, thanks, Mr. Anonymous."
  830.     >You sit a while longer until an earth pony guard carrying a lantern begins to walk down the street towards the house.
  831.     >Scootaloo looks up and waves to him.
  832.     >“Hey, Harry!” she calls out.
  833.     >”Evening, Scootaloo. I hope you weren’t out here too long. You’re not cold, are you?” Harry asks as he trots and sets down his lantern.
  834.     >”Nah, Anonymous kept me company. So what’s up?“
  835.     >”I’m afraid Al is going to be spending the night at the station until he feels better.”
  836.     >Scootaloo sighs. “Yeah… thought it might be that. Sorry he’s always causing so much trouble for you guys. He’s trying, y’know?”
  837.     >”He’s the grown-up here, Scootaloo. If anypony ought to apologize, it’s him.”
  838.     >She waves her hoof dismissively, “I should have known to bring my own key. Besides, I got to spend a little time with Mr. Anonymous. I just wish he didn’t end up making you come all the way down here just to let me in.”
  839.     >”Ah yes, that reminds me.”
  840.     >The guard extends his hoof for you to shake.
  841.     >”Sergeant Hairy Chest. Call me Harry. I’d like to thank you for looking out for the daughter of the great Captain Glory.”
  842.     >You return the shake, though it’s still a bit strange to do it with a hoof.
  843.     “It was no trouble. She’s a good kid.”
  844.     >”She sure is. Here’s the key.” he tosses the house key to Scootaloo. “Enjoy the rest of your evening. ”
  845.     >”Thanks, Harry. Have a good one!” Scootaloo says while waving goodbye.
  846.     >Harry takes his lantern and walks off.
  847.     “You gonna be okay from here then, Scootaloo?”
  848.     >”Yeah, I’ll be fine.” she says while she reaches up and unlocks the door. “I’m used to taking care of myself. Thanks for waiting with me though.”
  849.     “Any time. I’ll see you around.”
  850.     >”See ya, Anonymous!” she calls out before closing the door and locking it.
  851.     >It’s pretty late.
  852.     >By the time you get home, Twilight is already asleep.
  853.     >You decide to go straight to bed.
  854.  
  855. Sunday, November 13th
  856.  
  857. >...
  858. >... “AWAKEN FOR US!”
  859. “AAGH”
  860. >You panic and fall off the side of your bed, slamming into the ground as the sheets entangle you.
  861. “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”
  862. >”MIND THY TONGUE BEFORE US, PEASANT!”
  863. “STOP YELLING.”
  864. >”YOU SPEAK IN THE ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE AS WELL, DO YOU NOT?”
  865. >You struggle out of the sheets and rub your face to clear your vision.
  866. >Standing in front of you is a midnight blue alicorn wearing a crown and a black breastplate.
  867. “Wait, I think I’ve seen you before… you’re…”
  868. >”Luna, Princess of the Night!”
  869. “What time is it?”
  870. >”Tis the beautiful morn when our subjects rise to face the day!”
  871. “Well then excuse me, Princess, but what are you doing yelling in my room during the morning?”
  872. >”We are taking our duly earned vacation day! If our sister wishes to spend time among the peasants while she stuffs herself with confectionaries until her bottom threatens to rival the sun in size while we toil away performing her duties, then turnabout is fair play!”
  873. “Why are you doing it in MY room?”
  874. >”Your room? Thou art on royal property! It belongs more to us than thee. It is thou who art ejaculating with profanity in our room!”
  875. “First of all, what. Second of all, what.”
  876. >”Princess Luna!” You hear Twilight call out as she runs into the room.
  877. >The blue alicorn turns to greet her. “Good morrow to thee, Princess Twilight Sparkle! We and your beau were just engaging in a rousing discussion!”
  878. >”Good morning, Princess Luna. I don’t know if I told you this yet, but Anonymous… isn’t from a world with monarchy. So I know we’re in a castle and all, but maybe you could turn the royal canterlot voice and grammatical style down just a couple notches?” she smiles nervously.
  879. >Luna raises an eyebrow. “A world without monarchy? So they have overthrown them in an anarchist revolution. We should take care to be cautious of this one’s motives.”
  880. >Twilight sighs and looks over at you.
  881. "Twi, why is there a princess in my room yelling about ejaculating that isn't you?"
  882. >“Sorry, Anon. I was going to tell you last night, but I was in bed by the time you came home. Celestia was telling Luna all about her visit to ponyville yesterday, so Luna decided she wanted to start taking vacations the day after Celestia does hers.”
  883. “Yeah… I was out late helping Scootaloo. Which is why I didn’t exactly appreciate this… rude awakening. Things like this are why I need my own place.”
  884. >”Fear not!” Luna exclaims, “For we have the solution! GUARDS! BRING TO ME COFFEE BLACK AS THE NIGHT ITSELF!”
  885. >”Princess Luna… aren’t you forgetting something?” Twilight asks with a nervous smile.
  886. >”AND ONE FOR THE ANONYMOUS ONE.”
  887. >”Not that…” Twilight says rubbing her forehead with her hoof.
  888. >”AND… ONE FOR THE PRINCESS TWILIGHT SPARKLE?”
  889. “...”
  890. >”...”
  891. >”... please!” Luna adds at last.
  892. >”Much better.”
  893. >”We find your methods of regarding the servantry with such respect to be quite curious, Princess Twilight. In our own castle, we, that is to say I, Princess Luna, speak to all of our servants this way. Conversing with the peasantry is another matter, but royal servants should be spoken to in the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice!”
  894. >”Well they’re not exactly servants, they’re just staff. And I prefer to keep the atmosphere in this castle a lot more casual than the one in Canterlot. Just speak the way you learned to speak to the regular citizens of Ponyville when you’re in this castle.”
  895. >”Very well. We shall use our Untraditional Ponyville Peasant Voice with your royal subjects.”
  896. >”Thank you, Luna. Now then, I guess you’ve already met, but let me introduce you anyway. Anon, this is Princess Luna. She knows all about SIHN, and she’s been helping us out from the shadows for a while. She’s been getting us the weapons, corresponding with me over the progress of SIHN, and a bunch of other really helpful stuff. And Princess Luna, this is Anonymous."
  897. >"Pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Anonymous one."
  898. >Luna extends her hoof for you.
  899. >What should you do?
  900.  
  901.  
  902.     >You remember some of the “official royal etiquette” things Twilight touched on.
  903.     >Tia was casual enough to not bother with anything like that, but you figure Luna is expecting a “proper” greeting.
  904.     >Besides, you’re already down on the floor.
  905.     >You take the Princess’s hoof gently and give it a little kiss.
  906.     “It’s an honor to meet you.”
  907.     >She puts her hoof back on the floor and smiles. ”We are most pleased by your display of etiquette. Even canterlot nobility seems to prefer a simple bow. But alas, we do so enjoy the feeling of soft lips on our hooves!”
  908.     “Interesting.”
  909.     >The guards return with a tray of coffee, with cream and sugar cubes.
  910.     >The two alicorns float their cup over and take a sip.
  911.     >You look at your cup and recall what Fluttershy was trying to tell you the other day about not flavoring things before you taste them.
  912.     >Raising the cup to your lips, you take a nice big sip.
  913.     >!
  914.     >An initial complex bitterness, followed by more bitterness, followed by a lingering dry taste that makes you want to wash it out of your mouth immediately.
  915.     “This is… really strong...”
  916.     >Twilight looks over. “Well, yeah. Why didn’t you add anything to it? That’s why they brought cream and sugar too.”
  917.     “But… you didn’t put any in.”
  918.     >Twilight starts laughing, “Hahaha! Oh, Anon… these ponies are part of my staff! They know how I take my coffee, so it’s got cream and sugar in it already. And Luna didn’t put anything in because she likes it black. Heh, you really just drank it black because you were too shy to change it… that is just so you!”
  919.     >"Your awkwardness is most comical!' Luna exclaims joyfully.
  920.     "Haha, yeah..."
  921.     >That motherfucking rabbit is dead next time you see him.
  922.     >”Tell me, how does Ponyville fare, Princess Twilight?”
  923.     >Twi shakes her head and sets down her coffee cup. “Not so well… everypony’s still upset about the travel restrictions, but we can’t fully explain why we’re doing things like this without revealing the true nature of SIHN.”
  924. “You know, about that… I’ve kind of been wondering. Why can’t we just tell them? It’s not like one of those things where regular folk won’t believe in magic. They KNOW it exists. They use it. Can’t we just say SIHN is a magical disease that spreads through unknown methods and sucks ponies into a dream world where shadows try to attack them?”
  925. >”What a foolishly foolish idea.” Luna remarks. “Doing so would invite unthinkable disaster, Anonymous one.”
  926. “Well how so?”
  927. >”More aware one is of their situation, the more danger they are in. Why do you think shadows attack your team so heavily?”
  928. “I thought it had something to do with our personas.”
  929. >”Nay, it is because you do not belong, and you are aware of it. This causes you to bear your heart’s light brightly, which attracts the shadows residing in Fantasia like a beacon. If you were to inform a pony about the true nature of SIHN, and they fell under its effects, they would progress from Stage 3 to Stage 4 far more quickly, and in Stage 4, once they recognize that they are in a dream, shadows will be able to find them far more easily.”
  930. “Yeah… that sounds pretty bad.”
  931. >”And were you to attempt to inform a branch victim of the true nature of their affliction, they would soon find their memories of the events in Fantasia becoming more clear. If you recall, the shadow of Rainbow Dash had quite a bit of her intimate moments exposed to a great deal of ponies. Do you truly wish for them to regain those memories of Rainbow Dash’s exploits so badly?”
  932. “Of course not! I’m just… throwing ideas out there. How do you know all this?”
  933. >Luna flips her magically glimmering mane. “Just who do you think I am? I am Princess Luna, ruler of the night! Dreams are my domain! Even without the magical abilities of the young dragon, I know a great deal about how the world of Fantasia functions."
  934.     >Luna looks out the window mournfully. “But alas, I am powerless to assist you in your fight inside Fantasia, for the symptoms of SIHN are mirrored within myself. When a Fantasia has formed, I fall “asleep” as well… my mind is only able to observe the events which transpire within Fantasia, and I am otherwise powerless. Yet one more reason why we must not speak of SIHN’s true nature to anypony. Should an enemy wish to strike, I am utterly vulnerable during that period of time.”
  935.     >Twilight nods in agreement. “It’s not as though I enjoy keeping this information from everypony, but when telling the truth is going to bring about that kind of danger… we don’t have any choice but to keep it a secret until we’re sure that this is all over. It isn’t just about panic. If just knowing the truth puts them in more danger, I’ll have to do this even if AJ is kind of upset with me.”
  936.     >”My sister agrees fully. Our work may go unappreciated, but we must soldier on regardless for the good of the people of Equestria.”
  937.     “Makes sense. Also this coffee tastes better with cream and sugar in it.”
  938.     >”I have to agree with you on that, Anon.” Twi says with a smile.
  939.     >Luna tosses her head to the side indignantly. “Hmfph! But can you truly say that you are enjoying the coffee with cream and sugar in it? Or are you merely philistines enjoying the cream and sugar with coffee in it?”
  940.     “Beats me, miss Moonlight, but in this case I don’t really care that much.”
  941.     >”If you really wanted to enjoy the “Coffee” wouldn’t you just be eating the raw beans instead of trying to filter it down with water?” asks Twilight.
  942.     >”We have tried. It made us very ill. It was the second greatest mistake we have ever made.” Luna admits.
  943.     “What was the first?”
  944.     >Luna glares at you. “What do you think?”
  945.     >You avert your gaze and take another sip of coffee.
  946.     >”So what do you want to do on your vacation?” Twilight asks quickly in an attempt to change the subject.
  947. >”We wish to waste away the precious hours of the day by speaking about meaningless subjects and engaging in leisure activities with no constructive value as normal ponies do.” says Luna happily without a hint of irony.
  948. >”So basically, you just want to hang out?” Twi asks.
  949. >”Do you wish to join us?”
  950. >Twi looks away a bit nervously. “I’d really love to, Luna, but I’m a bit busy at the moment… you did kind of come here on short notice, and I’m trying to work on a solution with Mayor Mare to the Travel debacle. Ponies are starting to call it traingate…”
  951. >”Then perhaps you wish to join us, O’ Anonymous one. If nothing else, it will deliver us satisfaction for your earlier slight.
  952. >Do you want to spend the day with Luna?
  953. “Sure, I did the same for Tia after all. It should be fun.”
  954. >”Splendid! Let us depart posthaste!”
  955. “Uh, maybe not so hasty. There’s something I need you two to do first.”
  956. >”What’s that, Anon?”
  957. >”Yes, tell us what you require, Anonymous one.”
  958. “I need you to get out of my room so I can change out of my underwear!”
  959.  
  960. Morning, Ponyville
  961.  
  962. >”A beautiful day to mingle among the peasantry.”
  963. “Uh huh…”
  964. >You’ve been walking around town with Luna for a while now.
  965. >Unlike Princess Celestia’s grand reception, the two of you seem to be drawing cold suspicious stares from the townsponies.
  966. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be walking around in disguise?”
  967. >”And conceal our magnificent form? We hide from nothing! These ponies should consider themselves blessed to gaze upon my divine visage so closely.”
  968. “I get the feeling they don’t exactly see things the same way.”
  969. >”They are merely intimidated by our royal presence.” Luna says dismissively.
  970. “Are you sure that’s it? They almost look like they’re upset at you.”
  971. >”Is that so? Then we must address the concerns of our citizens.”
  972. >Luna looks around and spies a Griffon giving her the stink eye.
  973. >”You there! Peasant griffon! For what reason do you leer at us so?”
  974. >As she approaches the Griffon, you recognize him as that Gustave guy you bought meat from with Spike.
  975. >Pourqoi? I am stuck here in le petit village perdu because of zis catastrophe! You are ze princess of ze night, oui? Your magic has power over dreams and sleep! Matters like zis are your raison d'être no? Zen why have you done absolutely nothing to solve ze problem? You simply sleep ze day away and sit on your croupe in your tower during ze night while “les paysans” toil and suffer!
  976. >”We are putting forth our greatest efforts to resolve this problem at all times! You are here for the safety of yourself and others. It will be resolved as soon as it is possible, and no sooner! Be patient, and be thankful that you did not suffer a fate as terrible as the other griffon in town!”
  977. >Luna stares directly into the Griffon’s eyes as she looms over him, but the Griffon doesn’t seem to be so easily intimidated.
  978. >”Feh!” Gustave scoffs. “‘Qu'ils mangent de la brioche’ in so many words! You should see what we do to rulers who do nothing for their subjects in my homeland!”
  979. >Luna suddenly gets a wide smile on her face. “Oh, we are very familiar with the bloody history of your people. In fact we would welcome you to try something like that here. A little revolution once in a while keeps one on their hooves… and is a good opportunity to remind your subjects that the ones in charge have earned their place at the top. Do you wish to quarrel with us right here and now? An honorable duel, perhaps? We will even show mercy and forgo the use of our horn and wings!
  980. >The griffon’s cheeks puff up in anger. “I… I do not have time for zis!”
  981. >As he storms off, you hear him mutter. “Chienne…”
  982. >Luna watches with some amusement as she calls out after him, “Abandonner? Griffon typique.”
  983. >You see his feathers puffing up angrily, but he doesn’t seem keen on arguing with Luna any further.
  984. >”That went wonderfully!” she exclaims.
  985. “I don’t… think it went as wonderfully as you think.”
  986. >”But we did not slip back into our royal canterlot voice! Though we find it a bit harder to forgo the royal We.”
  987. “You weren’t yelling, but he still seems pretty ticked off. He feels like you’re not listening to him. He’s probably just going home to write Twi more hate mail.”
  988. >”So… I should have dueled him so that he would pen no more hateful words to Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
  989. “Haven’t you ever seen the way your sister talks to ponies?”
  990. >”I have yet to figure out what sort of sorcery she performs to appear so… likeable.”
  991. “You have to let them know you’re listening to the things they’re concerned about, and that you understand why they’re upset even if you don’t agree with them.”
  992.     >Luna looks up at the sky. “It is not so easy for me to understand the plights of others. My sister spent a thousand years learning to empathize with others while I spent a thousand years alone."
  993.     “I know… I don’t blame you for having some trouble adjusting. You’ve only been back for a little bit over a year, right?”
  994.     >”That is correct. One of the reasons I wished to take this vacation was to further understand how my subjects live, in hopes that I will be able to connect with them as my sister does. But they still do not see me as one of them… I do not understand their culture or customs, and no matter how hard I try, it is never enough. I always end up making a fool out of myself because I do not understand how to function in society today.”
  995.     “I know that feel. I’m an outsider too. Everyone has to deal with these problems that are completely alien to me. Immortality… cutie marks… speciesism… don’t even get me started on how the hell romance functions. It’s all new to me. It’s like that for you too, isn’t it?”
  996.     >The alicorn nods silently.
  997.     “Well then if we’re both lost in this world, at least we can be lost together, right?”
  998.     >You extend your hand out to her.
  999.     >She looks confused at first… but then reaches out and shakes your hand with her hoof.
  1000.     >”Your words bring me great comfort, Anonymous one. Thank you. I am glad to have finally found a kindred spirit who understands my pain.”
  1001.     >!
  1002.  
  1003.     ————————————————————
  1004.  
  1005.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  1006.  
  1007.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  1008.  
  1009.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  1010.  
  1011.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Aeon Arcana.
  1012.  
  1013.     ————————————————————
  1014.  
  1015.     “Come on then. Let’s go have some fun.”
  1016.     >”Yes, onward! The fun begins now!”
  1017.     >You spent a long day running around town with her until the sun goes down.
  1018.  
  1019.     >"Time does fly... I have other matters to attend to. I must be off."
  1020.     "All right. Did you have fun?"
  1021.     >"I did indeed. In fact..."
  1022.     >She suddenly floats up next to you and kisses you on the cheek.
  1023.     >"I believe I'm going to come again."
  1024.     >The alicorn flies off while you’re still too surprised and flustered to respond.
  1025.     >Maybe it’s best to not overthink this…
  1026.     >It’s just a kiss on the cheek, after all.
  1027.     >Not like she kissed you on the mouth.
  1028.     >Or the dick.
  1029.     >You spend about half an hour overthinking it anyway until you finally decide to go to Rarity’s house.
  1030.  
  1031.     Carousel Boutique, Evening
  1032.  
  1033.     >You knock on the door, but this time there’s no immediate response.
  1034.     >You wait for about 30 seconds before trying again.
  1035.     “Anyone in there?”
  1036.     >”Just one minute, Darling!” you hear Rarity’s voice call out.
  1037.     >You wait a while longer until the door finally opens.
  1038.     >”Good evening, Anonymous. How can I help you?”
  1039.     “Is this a bad time? I was just coming by to talk about some clothes.”
  1040.     >She looks back over her shoulder.
  1041.     >”It… should be fine. Come on in. I have your order ready.”
  1042.     >You walk in and find the boutique to be fairly tidy. As you’re looking around, a clothes rack on wheels slides directly in front of you with Rarity’s magic.
  1043.     >”Here you are, Darling. I made a few to your specifications… go on, tell me what you think.”
  1044.     >Taking the leftmost shirt and unfolding it reveals she did indeed make it exactly as you described.
  1045.     >A gray t-shirt with large text reading “Kawaii in the streets, Senpai in the sheets”.
  1046.     “Looks perfect. Mind if I try it on?”
  1047.     >”Be my guest, I need to be sure that I made it the right size… I’ll just turn around. I know you’ve got something against nudity…”
  1048.     ”Hey, I won’t be complaining if you take a look. Though… I’m probably not much to look at. So maybe you should just turn around, yeah.”
  1049.     >You face the mirror against the wall and remove your suit and undershirt before slipping on your new t-shirt.
  1050.     “Fits like a dream, Rares.”
  1051.     >”Wonderful! I made a few others with no design just so you’ve got something else to wear. Plus, I can put a design on them later if you like.”
  1052. “I’ll think about it. In the meantime… I don’t want to keep forcing you to do all this for me, but I got a job recently. Two jobs, in fact. I’m doing handy work for Cranky Doodle, and I’m tutoring DTR.”
  1053. >”DTR?” she asks curiously.
  1054. “Diamond Tiara Rich.”
  1055. >”Oh, that little filly? I’m sure you’ve got your hands full with her… so what did you need?”
  1056. “Just some work clothes for Cranky’s job might be nice. But since I’ve got a job now I really can’t justify not paying you something for what you’ve done.”
  1057. >”Oh, there’s really no need… but I suppose… if you really insist, I’ll give you a fair price for some work clothes. I’ve got your measurements anyway so you can go if you like. I have everything under control here.”
  1058. “I kind of thought I’d just like to see how you’re doing and all.”
  1059. >”Me? Why I’m perfectly fine. Never better, in fact. You know, I might even get started on your clothes right away. I wonder… flannel, perhaps? No no, you’re not a woodspony…” she mutters to herself.
  1060. >As you watch her look at fabrics, your vision catches a pair of cups on the table, both holding a bit of coffee in them, with one light brown and the other black.
  1061. “Oh, was someone else here?”
  1062. >”Just me and Sweetie Belle, Darling.”
  1063. “You let your sister drink coffee this late?”
  1064. >”Of course not! It’s from earlier in the day. Besides, plenty of cream and sugar…”
  1065. >Rarity seems a bit off tonight…
  1066. >But maybe she has her personal reasons.
  1067. >How should you react to her claims?
  1068.  
  1069. >This all seems a bit suspicious…
  1070. “Cream and Sugar, huh? Twi likes her coffee that way too.”
  1071. >”Yes, I know. We’ve had coffee many times before.”
  1072. “Are you really alright? You’ve been acting a bit strange.”
  1073. >”... strange?”
  1074. >”How am I acting strange?”
  1075. “Well it doesn’t seem like you to leave out coffee from earlier.”
  1076. >”And what makes you so sure you know what’s normal? Didn’t I just say everything is fine? Since when are you such a busybody?” Rarity snaps, looking at you with a bit of irritation.
  1077. “Calm down, I’m just trying to make sure everything’s okay.”
  1078. >”Well not that it’s any of your business, but yes, I am fine. And it’s certainly none of your business whom I have coffee with, and being called “strange” is the last thing I want to hear from you!”
  1079. >You feel a little guilty hearing that from her.
  1080. >She seems to understand your expression somehow, her look of anger fading as she quickly turns around.
  1081. >”I… I’m sorry. I think it’s best if you leave for now.”
  1082. “Yeah…. probably. I’m sorry I upset you.”
  1083. >You turn around and leave the boutique.
  1084. >Things have grown tense between you and Rarity…
  1085. >You must be very careful how you interact with her in the future.
  1086. >You decided to head back to the castle.
  1087.  
  1088. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  1089.  
  1090. >Twi is waiting for you with a nice pile of books.
  1091. >”Welcome back, Anon. Sorry I’ve been so busy lately, but we’re going to try to finish up your lessons before you have to move out.”
  1092. “That’s fine, how was your day?”
  1093. >”I think I might have a place for you soon, but we’ll have to wait and see. Oh, and I’m working on a solution to the travel issue… it might be a little difficult, but I think I may have a solution. I’ll let you know more when it’s ready. How was your day?”
  1094. >This might be a chance to ask Twi some questions about what happened.
  1095. >Should you bring up what happened with Rarity to her?
  1096.  
  1097. ”I had a great time with Luna, even if she’s having a little trouble with her diplomatic skills. And then… hmm. Hey, do you know how Rarity takes her coffee?”
  1098. >Twilight puts her hoof to her chin and thinks. “Rarity… yeah, she takes it with cream, but no sugar. She’s always trying to watch her weight after all. Why do you ask?”
  1099. >You explained what happened with Rarity to Twilight.
  1100. >She listens with a concerned expression.
  1101. >”Anon, I know you’re worried about her safety, but… you have to respect her privacy. I haven’t seen Rarity since we were all over at Sugarcube Corner. I’ve been busy with Mayor Mare and Spike trying to work things out. They can confirm my alibi for that time period.”
  1102. “Yeah, I believe you. I was just… I wonder why she lied about the coffee. If it wasn’t you, who was it?”
  1103. >”Well this is just one possibility, but… she could be seeing a special somepony. What if she’s having a relationship that she’s just not ready to talk about? Or maybe that other pony wants to keep it a secret. We wanted to keep our relationship a secret too… I don’t think I’d appreciate it if somepony was interrogating me about meeting you.”
  1104. “... when you say it like that I sound like kind of a jerk.”
  1105. >”You’re not a jerk, Anon, you were just concerned about her being vulnerable to SIHN, am I right? And I’m not saying we should assume it was a relationship either, I was just giving an example of why it may not have been appropriate to ask her those kinds of questions. I’m worried too, but we have to respect the privacy of others.”
  1106. "You're right... maybe I'm going too far here."
  1107. >Twi puts her hoof on your shoulder. "You're just trying to make sure nopony gets hurt. I don't blame you for being worried at all."
  1108. "Thanks, Twi."
  1109. >You put your arm around her and give the alicorn a thank you hug.
  1110. >"All right then, let's get back to your lessons."
  1111. >Twilight taught you more about Equestrian history until it was time to go to bed.
  1112. >A new week is starting tomorrow...
  1113. >Who do you plan on seeing?
  1114.  
  1115.     >Been a while since you’ve seen Applejack.
  1116.     >You’ll see if she feels like spending some time with you tomorrow after work.
  1117.     >For now you get some sleep.
  1118.  
  1119.     Monday, November 14th
  1120.  
  1121.     >Finally you have something to wear to work other than a suit.
  1122.     >You put on a plain t-shirt and jeans, then head out to see Cranky.
  1123.  
  1124.     Cranky’s House, Morning
  1125.  
  1126.     >Things look pretty much as you left them, except for a new pile of cut wood ready for you.
  1127.     >”Morning, kid. Hope you enjoyed your weekend, because it’s back to hell with you now.” Cranky says as you approach.
  1128.     “Won’t be so bad. You cut all that wood for me.”
  1129.     >”Feh! I gotta do something to keep myself from dying of boredom. But if you think it’s so easy, then that’s good, because you’re fired if you don’t finish the deck today. Now get to work.”
  1130.     “Yes, Master.”
  1131.     >Despite his threat, it’s not actually too stressful.
  1132.     >You’ve got plenty of time in the work day to finish it up, even when Derpy accidentally crashes into it and forces you to redo a section.
  1133.     >It all balances out. She destroyed some of the boards you needed to take out anyway.
  1134.     >You manage to get the last of the boards in around sunset, and call Cranky over to take a look.
  1135.  
  1136.     >”Looks terrible! Now part of the house looks new, which makes the old parts look even older! At least you managed to finish on time. Suppose that means I’m gonna be stuck with you a little while longer. Same time tomorrow then, kid.”
  1137.     ”Got it, Master.”
  1138.     >You wave goodbye and head down to Sweet Apple Acres to see AJ.
  1139.  
  1140.     Sweet Apple Acres, Dusk
  1141.  
  1142.     >When you arrive, the barn door is open.
  1143.     >You decide to go in and take a look.
  1144.     >Inside, Applejack is feeding apples down a chute while Big Mac runs along this belt hooked up to a millstone which grinds the apples down and extracts their juice.
  1145.     >Applejack looks over as you approach, but continues feeding apples into the contraption.
  1146.     >”Howdy there, Anonymous. What can I do ya for?”
  1147. “Hey, Applejack. Big Macintosh. I just got off of work myself and I thought I’d see how you were doing. I didn’t realize you were still going to be working though. Should I come back another time?”
  1148. >Applejack looks over at her brother running on the belt. “Hmm… you feel like helpin’ out any?”
  1149. “Uh, I don’t know if I can run very fast like that.”
  1150. >”Nah, just rollin’ apples down the chute. Think you could handle that for a bit?”
  1151. “That’s fine, sure. I’d be happy to.”
  1152. >”Great! Hit the showers, Big Mac. I’ll finish up here.”
  1153. >”Eeyup.” replies the stallion as he hops off the belt and heads inside.
  1154. >”Jus’ roll ‘em down one at a time an’ keep a steady pace.” Applejack explains as she gets onto the belt and starts to run.
  1155. “All right…”
  1156. >You begin rolling apples down into the machine, which makes a satisfying squelching noise every time it crushes an apple.
  1157. “So what’s all this for?”
  1158. >”Cider, of course! It’s a bit early for Cider season, but we ain’t got much of a choice way things are.”
  1159. “No choice?”
  1160. >”Travel ban, remember? I wasn’t kiddin’ when I brought it up to Twilight. We gotta turn these apples to cider or they’ll rot. We make a lot of our profits off exports but it just can’t happen right now so we’re bleedin’ capital pretty fast.”
  1161. “You can’t just ship the apples out by themselves?”
  1162. >”Don’t work that way. Ponies still gotta operate the trains, and somepony’s gotta go with the shipment to make sure it goes where it supposed ta.”
  1163. >Applejack is easily galloping faster than you can run by now, but still seems to be able to talk without issue.
  1164. >”But it ain’t all her fault, an’ I know that. Even if we were allowed to ship, we still got a bit of a PR problem. Nopony’s gonna want to order anything from a city that just had an outbreak of some kinda mysterious disease. Even if the doctors say there ain’t no reason it should spread by food.”
  1165. “So even if the ban is lifted you’re still going to be in the red?”
  1166. >”Fraid so. Which is why we gotta make it into cider 'fore it spoils"
  1167. “No wonder you’ve been upset.”
  1168. >”Ah still got no excuse fer lashin’ out at Twi like that. Poor girl never wanted to be a statespony. She’s just handlin’ this crisis best she can, an’ I just tries to bite her head off when I shoulda been thinkin’ about Pinkie Pie.”
  1169. “You’re okay with her now though, right? She’s been trying her best to figure out a solution and all.”
  1170. >”Yeah, me an’ Twi are square now. An’ Pinkie seems to be doin’ all right as well. But still…”
  1171. >You notice AJ starting to slow down.
  1172. >”I still think Pinkie Pie might need to go down to the farm herself an’ get some closure. Doesn’t seem like it changes all that much on the surface, but seein’ a casket or a grave or somethin’... it’s different from just hearin’ your parents died. Twi never had to go through somethin’ like that. I don’t know if she understands just how important it is…”
  1173. “What did Pinkie say she wanted?”
  1174. >”She says she ain’t sure yet, but so long as the travel ban’s in place she ain’t goin’ anywhere anyhow. But I think she needs to go.”
  1175. “Maybe she does, but that’s for her to decide, AJ, not you. You have to respect her privacy.”
  1176. >”I know… it’s just… I guess I can’t help but project a little bit.”
  1177. >Applejack slows down and walks off the belt, slowing the millstone to a halt.
  1178. >”All this reminds me of the way I lost my parents. All I can do is just give her my own advice as somepony who went through the same thing.”
  1179. “You’ve really had it rough, huh?”
  1180. >”Don’t you worry yer pretty green head about me, Anon. It ain’t nothin’ I can’t handle. We’ve been through rough seasons before, and I’ve already made my peace with what happened to ma an’ pa.”
  1181. “I don’t doubt you can handle it, but it’s still a lot to be going through. If you ever need anything, just let me know.”
  1182. >AJ looks over and smiles at you. “I will. Promise. So how ‘bout you then? Anything you been concerned about?”
  1183. “Actually, yeah. There is something...”
  1184. >”Well shoot, what is it?”
  1185. “So… your Granny was there for the founding of Ponyville, right?”
  1186. >”You bet yer flank she was! Whole town sprang up ‘round us.”
  1187. “Which makes your family native Ponyvillers, right?”
  1188. >”Native as they get!”
  1189. “And your parents were born here, and so were you, right?”
  1190. >”Born an’ raised!”
  1191. “So…”
  1192. “... why is your family the only one in town with an accent?”
  1193. >”Accent? Fraid you ain’t makin’ a lick o’ sense, Anon. Mah family ain’t got no accent.”
  1194. “Yes you do! You and your family are the only ones I’ve met in this town who speak the way you do!”
  1195. >”I don’t reckon me or mah kin speak any differently than anypony from Ponyville, Anon.”
  1196. “What about literally every single one of your friends?”
  1197. >”Like who?”
  1198. “Twilight?”
  1199. >”She’s Canterlot born. ‘Course she don’t speak like me.”
  1200. “Pinkie Pie?”
  1201. >”Born on a rock farm far from Ponyville.”
  1202. “Fluttershy?”
  1203. >”Cloudsdale.”
  1204. “Rainbow Dash?”
  1205. >”Same.”
  1206. “Rarity?”
  1207. >”She’s the one with the accent. Her own sister don’t even speak like her.”
  1208. “Cheerilee?”
  1209. >”Canterlot originally.”
  1210. The mayor. Surely the mayor was born in Ponyville.”
  1211. >”Yes sirree!.”
  1212. “So why doesn’t she have your accent?”
  1213. >”On account o’ she went to Canterlot fer schoolin’.” AJ says proudly.
  1214. “My friggin’ head hurts…”
  1215. >”Told ya I ain’t got no accent.”
  1216. "Just because I can't name anyone born and raised here doesn't mean you win... who else was born here? Name three more ponies that aren't part of your family."
  1217. >"Hayseed Turnip Truck, Golden Harvest, and Vinyl Scratch."
  1218. "My brain can't handle this..."
  1219. >"Can it handle rollin' apples? 'Cause I'd like ta get a bit more cider made."
  1220. >You spent a bit more time helping AJ make some cider.
  1221. >"That oughta do it for tonight. Thanks fer all the help, Anon. I had a mighty good time."
  1222. "Yeah, me too. I gotta get going though."
  1223. >"All right, see ya. Oh, an' I was just playin' earlier. I know we got an accent."
  1224. "But... you... I..."
  1225. >"See ya 'round, Anon."
  1226. >AJ gives a sly grin before heading inside and closing the door, leaving you there confused.
  1227. "... Huh?"
  1228.     >You stand bewildered for a minute or so after being baited hard by the apple horse until you decide to head home.
  1229.  
  1230.     Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  1231.  
  1232.     >You find Twi waiting near a pile of books as usual.
  1233.     “Hey, Twi.”
  1234.     >”Welcome back, Anon!”
  1235.     >Twilight quickly floats up and takes you in her forelegs before giving you a kiss.
  1236.     “Heh, wow. You seem to be in a good mood.”
  1237.     >”Mmhm! I got the mayor to agree to a proposal, so now I just need to wait for some letters I sent to return to see if I can make something happen. Also, I found a place you can rent whenever you want to take a look at it. It might take a couple days for you to get moved in, but luckily you don’t have much luggage to carry. Still, it’s furnished and everything, so you won’t have to worry about much.
  1238.     “That sounds great! You’re incredible, Twi.”
  1239.     >”Thanks, but that does mean we’re going to have to wrap up our history lessons. So let’s get to work.”
  1240.     >You studied with Twilight for the rest of the night.
  1241.  
  1242.     Tuesday, November 15th
  1243.  
  1244.     >You wake up bright and early to head over to Cranky’s house for work.
  1245.     >”Simple stuff this week, kid. Just clean up the exterior. Walls, roof, all that needs to be cleaned up and painted. Think you can handle that?”
  1246.     “Sure thing, Master.”
  1247.     >”All right, then get to work!”
  1248.     >It’s not difficult work, but there’s a lot of it. You’ll probably be doing this all week.
  1249.     >You mostly spend today removing moss, and nearly getting killed by Derpy when she almost knocks you off the roof during her visit.
  1250.     >Thinking about how easily you could have died just there gets you thinking about a certain someone.
  1251.     >Once work is over, you say goodbye to Cranky and wander into the Everfree Forest alone.
  1252.  
  1253. Everfree Forest, Afternoon
  1254.  
  1255. >Your mind begins to wander after you walk through the forest for what seems like half an hour.
  1256. >It feels like every time you have to walk a little further to get to her.
  1257. >How exactly are you finding her?
  1258. >You feel like you have a general idea of where she is in relation to the town… but nearly everything looks the same to you.
  1259. >And furthermore, how long do you have until you can’t find her at all?
  1260. >It’s been about 9 days since you saw her last.
  1261. >She was coughing up some kind of insect blood back then.
  1262. >You really have no idea how much longer she has.
  1263. >Or if you’re already too late.
  1264. >Just then, a pair of glowing emerald green eyes leers at you from the darkness.
  1265. >”... Ah, there you are.” you hear Chrysalis say in a rough voice.
  1266. >Your vision adjusts to the darkness of the forest, and you can make out her ash gray body laying on the ground of the everfree forest.
  1267. “Shouldn’t that be my line?”
  1268. >”I assume you’ve come to hear more of my fairy tales? I’ve got a good one for you today.”
  1269. “If you want to tell me that much, then sure. I’ll listen.”
  1270. >You have a seat on a nearby log for her.
  1271. >”Let’s see… I’m having trouble recalling what they refer to it as… but this was just before the time where Changelings and ponies truly became enemies.”
  1272. “Do you mean… the War of Shadows?”
  1273. >”Ah, so you’ve heard of it. Well then, would you like to hear our side of it?”
  1274. “Lay it on me.”
  1275. >”So eager… well you’re in for a treat. I am the only one left who knows this truth.”
  1276. >Chrysalis settles in and closes her eyes as she recalls the story. “Once upon a time, my children and I roamed free across Equestria. We fed carefully, subsisting on lost travellers, posing as harlots, or sneaking in windows under the cover of nightfall. We would eat our fill, then vanish into the wilds before anypony knew we were there.”
  1277.     >”One day, a changeling named John Smith was wandering in the woods, when he came across the site of a carriage accident.”
  1278.     >”The drivers had died in the crash, so John looked inside to see if there was a survivor he could feed off of.”
  1279.     >”To his surprise, inside he found an Alicorn Stallion, suffering from fatal wounds.”
  1280.     >”John Smith sensed love in his body, and sought to make him a meal… but just before he could feed, the Alicorn’s body began to glow, and flew apart into motes of beautiful light which rose into the sky and disappeared.”
  1281.     >”Only the Alicorn’s beautiful clothes were left. John was upset that he had lost his chance at a meal, and decided to impersonate the Alicorn he just saw perish, to find the one the Alicorn loved and feed off of her instead.”
  1282.     >”When a group set out to search for the missing Alicorn, John met them and claimed he had hit his head in the accident, and had lost his memory.”
  1283.     >”The ponies believed him, and they told John that he was their prince, and that his wife, the princess, was waiting for them.”
  1284.     >”So John returned to the kingdom and met this Princess.”
  1285.     >”She was overjoyed to see that the Prince had ‘survived’ and embraced him the moment he returned.”
  1286.     >”John was pleased, as the Alicorn Princess was so full of love for him to feed on.”
  1287.     >”She did not question her husband’s loss of memory, and continued to feed John love for many years.”
  1288.     >”The Alicorn Princess suspected nothing. She was happy, and loved him all the same.”
  1289.     >”... but slowly, something began to change.”
  1290.     >”Over time, her love became “different” somehow.”
  1291.     >”John was unsure what this meant. Perhaps there were some adverse effects from being fed on for such a long time. He became very curious. He needed to understand what was happening, so he asked the princess if her love for him had changed.”
  1292.     >”The Princess told John that it had changed indeed. Ever since he lost his memory, she began to love him more and more each day."
  1293.     >”What’s more, she had been thinking that she wished to have a child with him.”
  1294.     >”And then, John Smith did something very foolish…”
  1295.     >”He told her the truth.”
  1296.     >”John Smith confessed what had happened to the princess. He told her he had been impersonating her husband ever since that day, and that they could not have children because he was not truly a pony.”
  1297.     >”The Princess was struck with immense grief.”
  1298.     >”In her despair, she ordered John to drain her of her love and leave forever. She ordered him not to hold back, and not to leave a single feeling left.”
  1299.     >”And John Smith obeyed her order. Devouring her love… cherry and all.”
  1300.     >”As he devoured the last bit of her love… the princess said “Thank you.” and vanished into light just as he had seen the Prince do many years ago.”
  1301.     >”But the fool was being watched…”
  1302.     >”Soon the whole kingdom knew of what he had done.”
  1303.     >”He had no choice but to flee and return to me, his mother.”
  1304.     >”When he told me what he had done… I was furious.”
  1305.     >”I knew that my life and the lives of my people would never be the same because of his foolishness.”
  1306.     >”I cut his head off on the spot as a lesson to the rest of my children.”
  1307.     >”From that point on I declared that I was no longer their mother, but their Queen.”
  1308.     >”I took on the name of Queen Chrysalis, and decided that they must be ruled absolutely if we were to survive.”
  1309.     >”I forbade any of them from eating cherries without my express permission, and stripped them of their names. From that point on they would only have a letter and number to identify themselves.”
  1310.     >”They were to serve the hive with absolute loyalty or die by my hoof.”
  1311.     >”Under my rule, we were cast out… but we survived. We persevered.”
  1312.     >”Until now, that is.”
  1313.     >”Now I am Queen of nothing at all.”
  1314.     >Chrysalis looks up at you from her place on the forest floor.
  1315.     >"I've been talking for some time... what do you think of my story?"
  1316.     >That's a good question...
  1317.     >What do you think of her story?
  1318.     >Do you believe her?
  1319.     >What do you want to know?
  1320.  
  1321. “I… I think you really might have been telling the truth.”
  1322. “That story you told me about your mother. I just remembered that it fits in perfectly with another story Twilight told me.”
  1323. >”Does it now? Tell me about it.”
  1324. >You recount the tale of the Queen of Fools for her and she listens with a smile.
  1325. >”I see… it’s no wonder the story was incomplete. It cuts off right around the part where she would have met King Sombra.”
  1326. “History is written by the victors, eh? Just like that story about your birth.”
  1327. >”King Sombra’s hatred of my mother ran quite deep. He expunged and twisted information about her to the point where it is difficult to prove that she ever existed at all. And it becomes the new truth.”
  1328. >”Even now, the story I told you can not be verified as real “truth”. It is only the account of John Smith as relayed by me. We could have been mistaken, or we could have lied about the story along the way. The world will never accept that story over their own version of the truth.”
  1329. “Maybe the world won’t, but I still want to find my own truth. I refuse to blindly accept the “truth” that the rest of the world takes for granted without trying to verify it for myself.”
  1330. >”Is that why you continue to return to me? in search of truth?”
  1331. “I still think it’s plenty possible that you’re wrong about something, or mistaken… and I don’t agree with the decisions you’ve made, but I want to hear what you have to say about things.
  1332. >”I find your efforts meaningless… but amusing. You wish to know more then?”
  1333. “Yeah, I do. Can you tell me the truth?”
  1334. >”Universal truth does not exist. None are capable of stating real truth, only the lies they believe. But I’ll tell you my lies if you want to listen.”
  1335. “Good enough for me. So if all this is true, where exactly do changelings come from? Other than you of course.”
  1336. >She flashes you a toothy grin. “Are you asking me to give you the birds and the bees right here? Or perhaps… a demonstration?”
  1337. “Let’s… keep it PG-13 for now. Just give me the short version.”
  1338. >”The drones are a result of copulation between myself and a pony or another changeling. But despite all appearances, it is ultimately asexual reproduction. Genes are not passed on from the father, and there is no variation in children.”
  1339. “Wait, it works with other changelings too? But aren’t they your children?”
  1340. >”Willing mates are easier to find than you’d think, but harder to find than you’d hope. In order to boost our numbers when we had lost hundreds to war, much breeding was necessary. It was quite painful.”
  1341. >”... for them.”
  1342. “I... think I get the picture… no more details, thank you. Though I kind of wonder how you actually found “willing mates” considering they think that you exist to kill and or enslave them.”
  1343. >Chrysalis just remains silent and gives you an amused, smug grin.
  1344. “... yeah, I see your point. So what’s with that John Smith changeling? Why’s he named that?”
  1345. >”Just the name I happened to pick out for that drone at the time. It is a name which means common and indistinguishable. I was the one to name all of my children before and after the War of Shadows. Before, they had such beautiful names. Mirage, Charade, Fata Morgana, Phantasm, Mimic, Facade, Masquerade… but I gave them too much independence and freedom. I took that away after the War of Shadows, along with their beautiful names.”
  1346. “About that war… so was John Smith the only one to eat a cherry? Or were there others?”
  1347. >”There were others who did it simply out of rebellion, greed, or lack of self-control. But these were very rare incidents. And none had been nearly as important as the Princess John Smith devoured. A cherry here and there went unnoticed, but when they lost their beloved princess, they called for our blood. Or hemolymph, as it were. Is there anything else you'd like to know?”
  1348. “Yeah… what was with those two disappearing into light like that?”
  1349. >”I haven’t a clue. It’s not something I’ve ever seen before, and it seems like an odd detail to fabricate, doesn’t it?”
  1350. “Doesn’t seem like something you’d just add in without an explanation.”
  1351. >”It’s not as though it truly matters anyway. Even if you believe what I say to be the truth, it will never become the truth for others. And even if it did… it would change nothing for me. I am going to die, regardless of if my story is passed on or not. That is the only truth.”
  1352. “What if that’s only the truth as you see it?”
  1353. >Chrysalis’s eyes gaze at you coldly.
  1354. >”What are you babbling about?”
  1355. “Maybe there’s still a way to help you. Just because you think it’s impossible for you to survive doesn’t mean we can’t find a way somehow.”
  1356. >”Do you really mean to tell me that you wish to save my life?”
  1357. “I don’t want to let you die like this… starving to death alone in the forest. That’s no way to go. Their hatred of you is based only on misunderstanding. If I could tell them the truth, maybe they could see your side of things and figure out a way to live with your people the way things used to be.”
  1358. >Chrysalis stares down at the ground forlornly for a moment.
  1359. >”... It’s you who is misunderstanding.”
  1360. >”There may yet be some power in this world which can revitalize me… but it does not matter.”
  1361. >”Allow me to make this perfectly clear.”
  1362. >Chrysalis glares directly at you with her bright green eyes.
  1363. >”I do not want you to save me. Nor any else in Equestria to save me.”
  1364. “What?”
  1365. >”I want to die.”
  1366. “Why…”
  1367. >”Because there is nothing left for me in this world."
  1368. “You can’t just give up like that.”
  1369. >”If you don't like it... then don't bother coming back. I won't force you to watch me die."
  1370. "That's it then?"
  1371. >Chrysalis remains silent.
  1372. "You won't even consider it?"
  1373. >"Leave. Before somepony finds us."
  1374. >Doesn't seem like she'll talk to you any more today.
  1375. >You've got no choice but to walk home alone.
  1376.  
  1377.     >What Chrysalis said to you still weighs heavily on your mind when you return to the castle.
  1378.     >When you get back, Twilight launches straight into your lessons.
  1379.     >It suits you just fine, since you don’t exactly feel like talking just yet.
  1380.     >Before you go to bed, she gives you a card with the name and address of the landlord you should speak to about seeing the place for rent.
  1381.     >You thank her and go straight to bed.
  1382.  
  1383.  
  1384.     Wednesday, November 16th
  1385.  
  1386.     >This morning you’re doing some painting for Cranky.
  1387.     >He’s impressed at how easy it is for you with your height.
  1388.     >It’s a good thing too, since it means you aren’t on a ladder when Derpy plows into you and knocks you to the ground.
  1389.     >”Good morning, Anon!”
  1390.     “Grhhfk…”
  1391.     >”You know, I thought Anonymous looked like the physical incarnation of death itself, but I’m starting to think you are instead!” Cranky yells from his chair.
  1392.     >”Sorry, Cranky! Sorry, Anon. I know what’ll cheer you up, mail!”
  1393.     >Derpy pulls out a package addressed to you from Rarity and gives to to you, then tosses Cranky his mail.
  1394.     >You open up the package to find some sky blue zip-up coveralls.
  1395.     >Or zip-down depending on what needs to be done.
  1396.     “Guess Rarity didn’t want me coming to bother her in person.”
  1397.     >”Why? Are you two fighting? Is she mad at you?"
  1398.     "I think she might be a little mad at me. I guess I was kind of trying to invade her privacy and ask her something she wasn't ready to talk about."
  1399.     >"I wonder what that could be... but I guess if it's not your business it's definitely not my business. There's some stuff I wouldn't tell you about myself too. Not because it's bad or because I don't trust you, just 'cause it's kind of embarrassing and painful to talk about."
  1400.     "You don't have to worry about me butting in like that. I think I've learned my lesson from Rarity to be a bit more gentle about it."
  1401.     >"Thanks... maybe I'll tell you about it one day. Is there anything else you'd like to know that I can tell you?"
  1402. “Well, do you know about the pony on this business card?”
  1403. >You hand her the card you got from Twilight and she takes a look at it. Probably.
  1404. >It’s hard to tell what she’s looking at.
  1405. >”Oh, I know her. Silver Spoon is what she usually goes by.”
  1406. “Silver Spoon, huh? What’s she like?”
  1407. >”Well she hasn’t been playing too well with others lately, but she can be very assertive when she puts her mind to it. She manages tasks well, but has trouble showing initiative. But she’s a real genius, you know. Grades in every subject are top notch, and her math skills are especially advanced for her grade level.”
  1408. “Why are you describing her like a report card?”
  1409. >”Because she’s in Cheerilee’s class. She’s still just a little filly! Diamond Tiara’s best friend, actually.”
  1410. “And… she’s a landlord? With this business card and everything?”
  1411. >”No wonder she gets all that mail from the Zoning Comission.”
  1412. “Let’s… change the subject. Do you know anything about Rarity that could help me out?”
  1413. >”Rarity? Well, she’s been in a bit of a slump lately…”
  1414. “Do you know why?”
  1415. >”Well I guess part of it must be the travel ban. She usually gets her orders from out of town. Fancy Canterlot types or Manehattan Ponies asking for high end designer fashion items… she just can’t sell that kind of fancy stuff to the ponies in ponyville.”
  1416. “She did mention business has been slow…”
  1417. >”She’s the type of pony that really lets stress get to her… but usually it’s from working too much.”
  1418. “So she’s just stressed about her business, you think?”
  1419. >”Well… I wonder. It seems like she’s been acting strange even before that.”
  1420. “Strange how?”
  1421. >”She just doesn’t seem to go outside as often anymore… she’s a lot less social. I rarely see her leave the house.”
  1422. “When did this start?”
  1423. >Derpy adopts the thinking pose.
  1424. >“It was before you came here for sure, but I just can’t tell you exactly when it was… sorry.”
  1425. “It’s fine. Anything else?”
  1426. >Suddenly you’re interrupted by Cranky’s yelling "GET BACK TO WORK, JACKASS!”
  1427. "Oh right. Sorry, Master."
  1428.     >”I should get back to work too. If you still want to talk, come see me some time in the evening!”
  1429.     >Derpy quickly soars off to finish her route.
  1430.     >You decide to wear the coveralls for the rest of the day…
  1431.     >They’re really quite comfortable.
  1432.     >Even if Rarity is upset with you, it seems she’d never compromise the quality of her work because of it.
  1433.     >The freedom of movement in them is astounding…
  1434.     >Though you’re not sure if you should be wearing anything under them.
  1435.     >They’re called coveralls because they cover all of you, right? So it’s probably fine.
  1436.     >Besides, it feels goodman.
  1437.     >You spend the rest of the day painting the house until the sun starts to go down and Cranky comes out to tell you to get off of his property.
  1438.     “Uh, Master, before I go… you’re Pinkie’s friend, right?”
  1439.     >”Yeah, whether I like it or not. Why do you ask?”
  1440.     “Did you hear about the bad news?”
  1441.     >”Bad news?”
  1442.     “Her father passed away.”
  1443.     >Cranky’s ears fold back and he lets out a heavy breath as his expression turns serious.
  1444.     >”Poor girl. How’s she holding up?”
  1445.     “She’s having a lot of mixed feelings. She seems pretty confused how to handle it…”
  1446.     >”Well that’s natural. Death is strange… difficult to understand or comprehend. It’s in our nature to want to make sense of everything. But trying to think about why they died is pointless. It’s better to think about why they lived.”
  1447.     “Why they lived, huh?”
  1448.     >”Just thinking out loud. I don’t know if that’ll really help.”
  1449.     “I think it might. Thanks, Master. Do you want to see her with me?”
  1450.     >He holds up his hoof and shakes his head. “An old donkey like me would just remind her too much of her dad at a time like this. I don’t want to confuse the poor girl. But uh… give her a hug from me, all right? But don’t tell her it’s from me, got it?”
  1451.     “Heh, understood, Master.”
  1452.     >”Now scram!”
  1453.     >You scram on down to sugarcube corner to see Pinkie Pie.
  1454.  
  1455. Sugarcube Corner, Evening
  1456.  
  1457. >You speak to Mrs. Cake at the front who tells you Pinkie is upstairs.
  1458. >After going up the stairs and knocking on her door, you hear Pinkie reply, “Come in.” rather neutrally.
  1459. >Her hair still seems as poofy as ever, but there’s still a bit of a weakness to her smile when she sees you. “Hey, Anon.”
  1460. “Hey, Pinkie.”
  1461. >You sit next to the pink horse on her bed.
  1462. “How are you feeling?”
  1463. >Pinkie lies back and sighs. “About the same, I guess. I don’t feel much better or much worse. I talked to Applejack and Twilight. Applejack was really sympathetic, since she had to deal with losing both of her parents at once. And Twi said that something like what I’ve been feeling isn’t too uncommon, and that it might just take a while to hit me because I’m still in shock. They both asked me about going back to the farm to see him… but I didn’t really give them a good answer.”
  1464. “Still don’t know yet, huh?”
  1465. >”Not really…”
  1466. “But wouldn’t your sister at least want to see you?”
  1467. >”I dunno. Maud’s never really been the kind of pony who needs to talk about her feelings… none of my family really does that kind of thing. If you don’t like something, you just toughen up and deal with it yourself.”
  1468. “Sounds kind of rough.”
  1469. >”Kind of. It wasn’t all bad though.”
  1470. “Do you want to tell me about what it was like back then?”
  1471. >Pinkie turns her head to the side and looks at you while laying on her back. “I’ll be honest, living on a rock farm is pretty boring.”
  1472. “A… rock farm? What exactly is a rock farm?”
  1473. >”We collect rocks. And we sell the rocks to ponies that need rocks. And sometimes we’ll break rocks into smaller rocks.”
  1474. “Is… is this a real thing? Or are you messing with me like when AJ managed to convince me she doesn’t have an accent.”
  1475. >”I guess it’s kind of hard to believe. I’m not really the rock farming type, huh?”
  1476. “Yes, that’s the part of this story I’m having trouble believing.”
  1477. >”Well it’s true. In fact I’m not really much like anypony in my family except Granny.”
  1478. “So… what was your dad like?”
  1479. >Pinkie lets out a sigh. “The nicest thing I can say about him is that he was a hard worker. He always did his best to put food on our table. He was strict about rules, but he was fair I guess. He had this kind of weird minimalist philosophy about life where he liked things to be very plain and simple. I rarely ever saw him lose his temper, he didn’t drink… and that’s about it, really. So I… I don’t have anything to complain about, right? He never did anything bad but…”
  1480. >Pinkie seems to be struggling to finish her sentence.
  1481. >You decide this is a good time to reach out and bring her in for a hug.
  1482. >She puts her forelegs around you and sighs against your chest.
  1483. “Just say what you want to say, Pinkie. Be honest.”
  1484. >”He wasn’t bad, but… is that really enough? He was just so distant… he never played with us, or really took an interest in anything I liked, and he was stubborn and wouldn’t listen to anypony else’s opinion. He was always saying things like “Do as you’re told” or “Don’t talk back”. It’s like he didn’t even care how I felt! When I found out how much I liked making ponies smile… I told him that’s what I wanted to do with my life. He said it was unrealistic… and that I should just try to make an honest day’s work. That a party every once in a while is fine, but there’s more to life than being happy. And… that’s about the time when I decided to run away from home and came to ponyville.”
  1485. "Did you ever see him again after you ran away?"
  1486. >"A few times, yeah. I still came back to visit. Mostly because of my sisters. But Dad never really brought up the fact that I ran away. We just acted like it never happened. That's always how it is with my family... nopony ever talks about their feelings. I'm like that too, I guess. I keep bottling things up instead of talking about them 'cause I never learned how."
  1487. >You grip Pinkie tightly with your right arm.
  1488. >She seems to enjoy it.
  1489. >"Hey, Anon?"
  1490. "Yeah, Pinkie?"
  1491. >"Do you... think he was a good dad?"
  1492.     >You let out a deep sigh and hold Pinkie closely in your arm while you try to think of how to say this…
  1493.     >Man, what’s with these ponies and asking you difficult questions?
  1494.     “I know you wanted a dad that could spend time with you, and connect with you emotionally… and your father just couldn’t really deliver on that. But sometimes it’s not always easy to express your feelings to someone, even if you really do love them. Maybe he didn’t understand you, Pinkie, but I think he wanted to. I think he really did care about you and your future. He wanted to make sure you had a secure and stable life. That was his way of showing that he cared. It wasn’t because he didn’t love you, Pinkie. He just didn’t know how to show you that love.”
  1495.     >”... But now I’ll never know for sure how he really felt. I should have asked him all these things when I had the chance. But I never did. I guess I always thought he’d be around until I was ready… but it doesn’t work that way, huh?”
  1496.     >You shake your head.
  1497.     >”He used to tell me that he loved me. Not a lot, but he’d say it every once in a while. But it didn’t really matter. I didn’t “feel” loved. I… I didn’t believe him, I guess. How can you love me if you didn’t understand anything about me?”
  1498.     >You tighten your grip around Pinkie.
  1499.     >”But I guess listening to you say it like this… I didn’t understand anything about him either.”
  1500.     “And do you love him?”
  1501.     >Pinkie looks up at you and smiles. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
  1502.     >You smile back at the pink horse.
  1503.     >”I think… I want to see him. I know it’s stupid… he can’t hear me even if I go back to the farm. I’d just be talking to a grave. But I want to go anyway. I have some things I need to say to him… even if he can’t hear me anymore.”
  1504.     “It’s not stupid, Pinkie. It’s part of how we move on. I’m glad you feel like you’re ready to do this.”
  1505.     >”... Can you do me a favor?”
  1506.     “Sure, Pinkie.”
  1507.     >”Could you… go with me? When I go to see him?”
  1508.     >You embrace her tightly in both of your arms.
  1509.     "Of course I'll go."
  1510.     >"... Thank you."
  1511.     >You spent a long time with Pinkie cuddled up close to you on her bed.
  1512.     >You feel as though you’ve grown quite close to Pinkie Pie.
  1513.     >And she in turn has grown closer to you.
  1514.     >But it might be difficult to advance your relationship until she can return to the farm.
  1515.     >Once it gets late, you say your goodbyes and head home.
  1516.  
  1517.     Twilight’s Castle Library, Night
  1518.  
  1519.     >Twilight seems to be absorbed in a stack of papers.
  1520.     “Evening, Twi.”
  1521.     >”Oh, welcome back, Anon!”
  1522.     “What’s all that for?”
  1523.     >”Just going over some proposals for ending the travel ban. To be honest though,I still don’t know if I should.”
  1524.     “I can understand that.”
  1525.     >”I’ve been trying to look for some kind of pattern in the roots and branches… something to help us predict who’s going to get hit next. But everything’s just guesswork. It could all be completely random.”
  1526.     “Sounds like maybe you could use a little break. What do you say we go out somewhere Friday night?”
  1527.     >Her face lights up with excitement. ”You mean on our date? Sure! Where would you like to go?”
  1528.     “I’m still pretty new to this town. Is it wrong if I ask you to pick the location?”
  1529.     >”Of course not. I think I know just the place!” she says proudly.
  1530.     “Where’s that?”
  1531.     >”You’ll just have to wait until friday to find out.” Twilight teases.
  1532.     “A surprise, huh? Sounds great. I’ll look forward to it then. Just as long as it doesn’t end with you injuring me again.”
  1533.     >”Oh come on, how clumsy do you think I am?”
  1534.     “Hearing you say that feels like tempting fate.”
  1535.     >Twilight glares at you with flustered anger. “Just… sit down and quit being a jerk.”
  1536.     >You had another culture lesson with Twilight and went to bed.
  1537.  
  1538.     Thursday, November 17th
  1539.  
  1540.     >You find yourself working hard this morning.
  1541.     >Maybe it’s the anticipation of your date with Twi that’s giving you energy.
  1542.     >Or perhaps it’s just how good it feels to be freeballin’ in these coveralls.
  1543.     >Either way you manage to finish your work for today pretty quickly, impressing Cranky when he comes out to inspect it.
  1544.     >”Lookin’ good, kid… guess those hands of yours really give you an edge. How about you take off early today?”
  1545.     “Are you sure, Master?”
  1546.     >”Eh, I’ve gotta run down and buy more supplies for you to do anything else here anyway… just don’t get too used to it.”
  1547.     “Thanks a lot, master.”
  1548.     >”Don’t mention it. Now get off my property.”
  1549.     >Looks like you have some extra time today…
  1550.     >You should see your prospective landlord. Or… landlady.
  1551.     >Landfilly?
  1552.     >Fuck it, you should see Silver Spoon.
  1553.  
  1554.     >Silver Spoon’s House, Afternoon
  1555.     >It’s not the same kind of estate that Diamond Tiara’s parents own, but Silver Spoon’s family definitely owns one of the nicest looking houses in Ponyville.
  1556.     >And while it’s still the nicest looking house on the block, it doesn’t look out of place among its neighbors.
  1557.     >There are no obsequious topiaries or statues out front, just a well maintained picture perfect suburban lawn.
  1558.     >Her business card says to knock on the side door, so you walk around until you see a door on the side of the house with a silver plaque reading “Silver Smith Real Estate”.
  1559.     >You knock gently on the door.
  1560.     >”Come on in!” you hear a voice call out from inside.
  1561.     >You open the door and walk into the house.
  1562.     >A little filly sits at a small card table on a tiny chair, waiting for you.
  1563.     “Good afternoon. I’m here about the house for rent. I’m Anonymous. Are you… Silver Spoon?”
  1564.     >”That’s right!” she replies cheerily.
  1565.     >”Princess Twilight told me all about you, Mr. Anonymous. Would you like to see view the house today?”
  1566.     “Sure, if I can.”
  1567.     >”Excellent. Just give me one moment..”
  1568.     >Looking around, it seems like you’re actually in her bedroom rather than any proper office.
  1569.     >The little card table and chair seem to be somewhat hastily set up.
  1570.     >She grabs a saddlebag from the corner and puts it on. “All right then, it’s not too far from here."
  1571.     >You head out with her to go view the apartment.
  1572.     >"While we're on our way, do you have any questions?"
  1573. “Well, first thing I’m wondering is… uh, is it normal for Real Estate agents to be your age?”
  1574. >”My parents thought I could use some more responsibility, so they got me a house for my last birthday.”
  1575. “Huh. Well you seem professional at least. And you’ve made a better first impression than DTR.”
  1576. >”DTR?”
  1577. “Diamond Tiara.”
  1578. >Silver Spoon quickly turns around.
  1579. >”You’ve seen her? You talked to her? When?”
  1580. “Uh, last friday. I’m tutoring her… is something wrong?”
  1581. >The little filly looks down. “I haven’t seen her since she got sick. She won’t come to school, and my mom won’t let me see her because she says she doesn’t want me to get sick too. It’s been forever since I talked to her. How’s she doing?”
  1582. “She’s all right, I guess.”
  1583. >”I see… well, that’s good to hear. I hope she comes back to school soon. I miss her.”
  1584. “You’re good friends, huh?”
  1585. >”We’re more than just good friends. Oh, but uh, I should be talking about the house right now, shouldn’t I…”
  1586. “It’s fine. Ponies tend to go on long tirades about their personal issues and start asking really difficult questions around me. I’m used to it by now. So will I have any neighbors?”
  1587. >”You’re at the end of the block, so uh, you’ve got one next door neighbor. Vinyl Scratch. She’s mute, so don’t expect a lot of conversation out of her. ‘Cause she can’t talk, like, at all.”
  1588. “Yeah, I got that from mute. Anything else I should know?”
  1589. >”You like music?”
  1590. “I guess so?”
  1591. >”You’ll be fine then.”
  1592. >You arrive at the house. It’s… better than Cheerilee’s place, but still something a bit lower end.
  1593. >A simple one bed one bath, but it’s got a kitchen and a living room, so that should be enough for you.
  1594. >It comes with some appliances, as well as some furniture, including a bed that you’ll have to replace because it’s too small.
  1595. >You’re surprised to find that it has a fireplace as well, until you realize they probably haven’t invented electric heaters yet.
  1596. >Doesn't look like much... but it looks like it could be home.
  1597. >You tell Silver Spoon you’re interested, and she lets you know that she can have things ready by Monday.
  1598. >The two of you agree to meet up again on Monday to discuss the terms of the lease further and start going through the process of moving in.
  1599. >You part ways after making that agreement.
  1600. >Since you got off early, there’s still some time left in the day.
  1601. >You decide to pay a visit to Gilda.
  1602.  
  1603. Ponyville Hospital, Evening
  1604.  
  1605. >You go up the stairs and into Gilda’s room as usual.
  1606. >A manila folder is lying on the table next to her bed.
  1607. >Gilda looks over at you from her bed and smiles. “Bout time you showed up, dweeb.”
  1608. “Just dweeb today?”
  1609. >”What, do you get off on me insulting you or some shit?”
  1610. >You hold your hands up. “Whatever, it’s cool. So how’re you doing?”
  1611. >Gilda’s eyes drift over to the folder.
  1612. >”Well… my test results are in. But they didn’t want to tell me to my face. Mostly because I yell at them any time they try to talk to me.”
  1613. “So they left you that file, which you can’t read, and you weren’t willing to admit that to the doctors or apologize, so you just waited for me to show up?”
  1614. >Gilda sighs and stares at the ceiling. “Yeah… that’s pretty much exactly what happened. So… could you read it for me?”
  1615. “Sure that’s okay with you?”
  1616. >”Heh, after all the shit you’ve put up with from me… yeah, of course it’s fine. Just… get it over with.”
  1617. >You walk over next to her bed and sit down, opening up the envelope and taking out the white papers inside.
  1618. >You begin skimming the document.
  1619. >It’s in “english” as you understand it, but it’s still all greek to you.
  1620. >A lot of these anatomical terms have no meaning to you whatsoever.
  1621. “What is a Tertiary Humeral Ley-Line?”
  1622. >”That's important. What's it say?"
  1623. “Fractures of the tertiary humerus will take several months to fully heal... No damage to the the THLL... no disruptions in the carpo-radial circuit.”
  1624. >You look up from the paper to see tears falling from Gilda’s eyes on to the bed.
  1625. “Gilda…”
  1626. >”I… can… fly…” she sobs happily.
  1627. >”I’m gonna be able to fly again!”
  1628. “That’s great, news, Gilda!”
  1629. >”Keep going, what else does it say?”
  1630. >You skip to the end of the document.
  1631. “It says… you should be able to be discharged on December 1st. But you’ll need to check up regularly at the hospital to make sure you’re healing properly, and you’ll still have a cast on your legs.
  1632. >”It’s the 17th, right? So I’ve got 13 days left here, then I guess I’ll probably… have no idea what the fuck I’m going to do.”
  1633. “You don’t have a plan?”
  1634. >”Not really. I’m not gonna be able to work like that, and I don’t have anywhere to go.”
  1635. “No family?”
  1636. >”Like I said, it’s really every griffon for themself back home. If you’re an adult, you take care of your own damn self. And if you get sick or injured, hope you’ve got some savings, because otherwise fuck you, right? They don’t charge you shit here in Equestria. It’s all government run.”
  1637. “Not to mention they’re still working out those travel restrictions. Even if you could afford to go back home I’m not even sure if they’d let you.”
  1638. >”So basically I’m fucked.”
  1639. “Maybe not.”
  1640. >”What do you mean?”
  1641.  
  1642. “Just come live with me, idiot.”
  1643. >She stares at you in surprise for a moment. “Are you serious?”
  1644. “I may be an asshole, but I’m not fucking with you about this. I’m getting a place with cheap rent and a spare bed. It’s not that big, and it’s a one bedroom, but I figure it’s enough for you to crash at my place until you’re better. Our only neighbor is mute, so you won’t have to worry about her giving you any lip. Oh, and you can swear as much as you fucking want.”
  1645. >Gilda stares down at the sterile tiles of the hospital floor, smilight slightly. “... is it really okay?”
  1646. “If you want to, then yeah. Just do it.”
  1647. >”Hey, don’t get the wrong idea about this. I don’t “want” to live with a dweeb like you.”
  1648. “So you don’t want to move in then? Okay.”
  1649. >”Well I… I mean, if my only other choice is being out on the street, then… you know.”
  1650. >She nervously glances at you out of the corner of her eye.
  1651. >”I’m just gonna split as soon as I’m done healing. I’m not doing it because I want to, I’m doing it because I have to.”
  1652. >You hold your hands up in surrender.
  1653. “I get it. You’re a strong independent Griffon who don’t need no man.”
  1654. >”Yeah, that’s right! Wait, are you making fun of me?”
  1655. “Oh most definitely. But I’m still not kidding about letting you move in. That other bed’s too small for me anyway. Don’t think you’re getting the bedroom though. Plus, you’re going to apply for disability and help pay for food. And if I bring home a girl you either get your ass out of there or join in. Any objections, you stone cold cunt?”
  1656. >Gilda grins widely and looks up at you. “Sounds perfect, you god damn cocksucker.”
  1657. >The two of you can’t help but start laughing at how ridiculous you’re both being.
  1658. >And despite her strange way of expressing her feelings…
  1659. >You feel as though you’ve grown quite close to Gilda
  1660. >And she in turn has grown closer to you.
  1661. >You spend a long time talking with her before going back to the castle.
  1662.  
  1663. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  1664.  
  1665. >You walk into the library as usual.
  1666. >Twilight is writing into that magic journal you’ve seen her use to communicate with Sunset Shimmer.
  1667. “Evening, Twi.”
  1668. >Twilight quickly snaps the book shut and looks up. “You didn’t see, did you?”
  1669. “Just that you were writing something in that book to Sunset Shimmer.”
  1670. >”I was just talking to her about our date tomorrow… it’s still a surprise, so don’t look, okay?”
  1671. >You have a seat on a throw pillow next to her.
  1672. “Nervous?”
  1673. >”A little bit…” she admits sheepishly.
  1674. >”This is going to be the first date I’ve ever been on.”
  1675. “No need to be nervous. I’m sure we’ll have a great time no matter what we do together.”
  1676. >”Yeah… you’re right, Anon.” she says as she leans against you. “So how was your day?”
  1677. >You tell her about meeting with Silver Spoon, and the agreement you made with Gilda.
  1678. >“It’s very generous of you to offer your home to Gilda like that, Anon.”
  1679. “You’re okay with it then? Even though it means I’ll be living with another girl?”
  1680. >”There’s no need for me to get jealous over something like that. You’re just helping her out, right?”
  1681. >”Yeah… I think, anyway. It’s hard to tell.”
  1682. >Twilight places a hoof on your leg reassuringly. “It’s perfectly acceptable in Equestria if you want to start going out with her too. Just be honest about it, and I’ll understand.”
  1683. “Thanks, Twi.”
  1684. >You lean in and give her a kiss on the muzzle.
  1685. >The purple princess blushes and rubs at her face with her hoof. “Hee hee, that tickles! Now quit playing around. We’re going to have to study hard if we want our lessons to finish by the time you move out.”
  1686. >You had another informative lesson with Twilight.
  1687. >You’re pretty familiar with most of the history of Equestria by now, and you’ve started to graduate toward cultural studies.
  1688. >Twi is a really outstanding teacher.
  1689. >You hope you can bring this same kind of dedication to DTR when you see her tomorrow morning for her lesson.
  1690. >You head straight to bed after your lesson ends.
  1691.  
  1692. Friday, November 18th
  1693.  
  1694. >You don’t have to go to Cranky’s today… but you should probably do your other job.
  1695. >After taking a refreshing shower and putting on your nice suit, you head on over to DTR’s mansion.
  1696.  
  1697. Riches Estate, Morning
  1698.  
  1699. >You ring the doorbell, and the door swings open before the echo from the bell has time to fade.
  1700. >Randolph’s pretty fast for an old guy.
  1701. >”Good morning, Sir. Are you here for another lesson with our young mistress?”
  1702. “I am. Is she ready to see me?”
  1703. >”One moment, sir.”
  1704. >The elderly butler suddenly takes off in a vertical leap, vanishing from sight.
  1705. >You wait around stunned for a few seconds until he reappears just as suddenly, falling from above in a graceful landing.
  1706. >”She is ready to see you, Sir.”
  1707. “Are you a ninja?”
  1708. >”No, Sir. Merely a passionate acrobat in my spare time. Though these days I find myself using my skills to traverse the mansion more quickly, or to entertain the young mistress’s schoolyard chums.”
  1709. “Aren’t you worried about hurting yourself and being unable to continue working for them?”
  1710. >”No, Sir. Not anymore.” he admits sadly.
  1711. >Feeling a bit uncomfortable, you excuse yourself and head upstairs into your student’s room.
  1712. >When you enter, DTR is sitting on her bed again with a pile of candy wrappers on one side and a pile of worksheet papers on the other.
  1713. “Good morning, DTR.”
  1714. >”Good morning, Sensei.” she says teasingly, unaware of the word’s actual meaning.
  1715. “I hope you went through that homework the way you went through that candy.”
  1716. >”Why should I do that? It’s your job to help me with it, isn’t it Sensei?”
  1717. “Oh, I see. It’s okay if you can’t do it on your own I guess.”
  1718. >”Hey, who said I couldn’t do it on my own?”
  1719. “So you can do it then? Which ones did you do?”
  1720. >”I… I only did the history. It’s not like I can’t do it, the other stuff is just boring.”
  1721. “Oh… uh huh. Yeah, okay.”
  1722. >”What, you don’t believe me?”
  1723. “I’m not saying that.”
  1724. >”Yeah, but I bet you’re thinking it. I bet you 10,000 bits I can have the whole week’s homework finished next time you come here.” she says, pointing her hoof at your chest with a smirk.
  1725. “You don’t pay me well enough to afford that bet.”
  1726. >”Dang. You’re right. Well I’m not giving you a raise so… if I do all my homework next week then you have to let me give you a makeover!”
  1727. “Deal. But you still have to do your homework now.”
  1728. >She narrows her eyes. “You’re going down, Sensei.”
  1729. >wegotabadassoverhere.tiff
  1730. “Why’d you do your history and nothing else though?”
  1731. >”History’s fine. You get to read about a bunch of interesting ponies doing cool things… it’s just like reading a story, except it actually happened. I really like the parts where we learn about princesses and princes. Alicorns are so cool… it’s almost like they’re superheroes...” she says with a distant expression.
  1732. >She seems to catch on to your amusement and quickly straightens up. “Let’s just get this over with, Sensei.”
  1733. “All right then, we can start with math.”
  1734.  
  1735. >She does pretty well with math, and now that she’s showing her work, it’s easy for you to point out her errors and help her correct them.
  1736. >DTR seems quite proud of herself with how well she’s doing.
  1737. >Once you move on to English, you hit another stumbling block.
  1738. >She has to write an essay about what her favorite color is and why.
  1739. >But…
  1740. “Saying ‘because Purple is the prettiest’ isn’t enough, DTR.”
  1741. >”Why not? It IS the prettiest.”
  1742. >You sigh and rub the back of your head as you try to think.
  1743. “Well what makes it the prettiest?”
  1744. >”It LOOKS pretty. The other colors don’t look as pretty.”
  1745. “Okay… are there a lot of purple things you like?”
  1746.     >”Yeah, but I don’t like purple because I like those things, I like those things because they’re purple and that makes them pretty! This is a dumb question. You don’t need a reason to like a color, you just like it because you like it. If colors were really better than each other, everyone would just like the same colors. I mean, who’s to say we even see colors the same way? What if all the colors look like different ones to ponies with different colored eyes, and we really just all like purple because it’s the best?”
  1747.     >You touch your hand to your chin, considering what she said.
  1748.     “Write that then.”
  1749.     >”Write what?”
  1750.     “Write down what you just said. If you think you don’t need a reason to like purple, just explain why you think that.”
  1751.     >”But that’s not what the question’s asking…”
  1752.     “Teachers don’t actually care that much about following those guidelines. It’s not about what you’re writing, it’s about how you’re doing it. If you make it interesting like that, I’m sure Cheerilee will accept it.”
  1753.     >”Are you sure about that?” she asks suspiciously. “I’m not going to get in trouble, am I?”
  1754.     “Trust me, you won’t.”
  1755.     >Her eyes dart between you and the paper.
  1756.     >”... All right, I’ll try it. Your way sounds more fun anyway, Sensei.”
  1757.     >The filly starts writing her essay with her pencil held firmly in her teeth.
  1758.     >The look of dedication on her face tells you she’s enjoying this somewhat.
  1759.     >She finishes shortly, and after proofreading her essay for errors, you decide to ask her a question.
  1760.     “DTR…”
  1761.     >”What is it, Sensei?”
  1762.     “So your essay says your favorite color is purple right? Why is everything in your room white or pink then?”
  1763.     >She looks around her bedroom with a tired sigh. “Because my dad is the one who hired the designers that set up my room. Honestly, I think it looks pretty lame.”
  1764.     “Didn’t you tell him how you wanted it?”
  1765.     >DTR rolls her eyes. “No, he just did it on his own."
  1766. >”I told him a billion times before that my favorite color is purple, not pink, but he just says “Oh, but pink is so cute! It’s just like your coat! And the interior designer said that purple is passe this year…””
  1767. “I’m surprised you didn’t just tell him to fix it.”
  1768. >”Oh, I did. And he “fixed it” by firing the interior designer and trying to get him blackballed. Now nopony else wants to work for him.”
  1769. “Sounds rough.”
  1770. >She flips her mane back nonchalantly. “Whatever. It’s not a big deal. Anyway, I’m finished with my homework, so you can go now.”
  1771. “Yeah, all this talking about purple reminds me, I should get ready for my date.”
  1772. >”Date? Wait, who are you dating? Are you dating Princess Twilight or Cheerilee?”
  1773. “Yes.”
  1774. >You walk out the door without elaborating.
  1775. >”Wait, that doesn’t- Get back here, Senseiiiii!” she yells as you close the door.
  1776.  
  1777. >Twilight’s Castle, Afternoon
  1778.  
  1779. >It’s time for your date with Twilight…
  1780. >You head back to your room and take another shower for good measure.
  1781. >Being completely hairless and mostly featureless, there’s not all that much for you to do beyond shower, brush your teeth, and try to decide if you should wear your fedora or not.
  1782. >You decide to wear it in the end, as Twilight complimented how you look with it once.
  1783. >While you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, you hear a knock on the door.
  1784. >”Anon? Are you in there?” You hear Twilight call from the other side.
  1785. “I’ll be right out, Twi.”
  1786. >You open the door and find her standing outside, rubbing the floor with her hoof a bit nervously.
  1787. >She’s wearing some sort of ornamental silver hoofguard on her front hooves similar to the ones Celestia wears.
  1788. >You’re not sure what she did with her mane, but it seems far more silky and flowing than usual.
  1789. >She’s glances at you demurely, and you notice the glint of a glittery white mascara around her eyes.
  1790. >”Do I… look okay?”
  1791. “You look beautiful, Twi.”
  1792. >Twilight lets out a quiet sigh of relief as her expression softens. "I'm glad you like it... I wasn't sure what kind of style would look attractive to you. Spike kept telling me to just go the way I usually look, but I wanted to try a little harder tonight for you."
  1793. "Well I probably wouldn't have minded. You always look beautiful to me, Twi."
  1794. >You reach out and gently stroke the side of her neck, causing her to lean into your hand. "Thanks, Anon... you look nice too. You ready to go?"
  1795. "I think so. Let's go."
  1796. >You start walking together, and it's only a few scant seconds until Twilight's head suddenly gets in front of your leg, causing you to trip and tumble over her face first into the floor.
  1797. >But instead of a loud painful slam, you feel a strange lingering sensation of weightlessness as Twilight calls out, "Sorry!"
  1798. >She seems to have caught you with her magic just in time to stop you from hitting the floor, and gently lifts you back to your feet.
  1799. "Nice save... what was that about though?"
  1800. >"Well... in Equestria, when you're walking somewhere with your special somepony, it's good to show affection by sticking close together and rubbing up against each other's cheek or neck. But since you're a little tall, I thought I'd try putting my head against your leg and... I guess you saw how that worked out." she says, looking ashamed.
  1801. "I see... so it's like holding hands. But I guess it'd be difficult for a pony to walk while holding hooves with somepony."
  1802. >"Sorry, Anon. I'll just... walk next to you. Maybe a few feet away... maybe further."
  1803. "Don't be silly, Twi. Just use your wings. That way our heads are at the same height, right?"
  1804. >"My wings? Oh, right... my wings... I forget I have them sometimes..."
  1805. >Twilight begins hovering close to you like a little rosy cheeked cherub.
  1806. >She places her hooves on your shoulders to steady herself, and leans in, touching her warm furry cheek to you.
  1807. >"H-How's this?" she asks, sounding unsure.
  1808. "Are you stable up there?"
  1809. >"Yeah, it's just a little... I'll be fine. Let's start walking."
  1810. >You go a bit slowly for her sake as she floats on the air with her forelegs holding onto you tightly as if clinging to the edge of a boat in the water.
  1811. "Just a little what?"
  1812. >"Well..." Twilight starts to explain a bit hesitantly.
  1813. >"As part of their natural instincts, pegasi wings tend to instinctively stiffen and raise themselves in certain situations. Like to make themselves seem larger when encountering a predator, or getting ready to move quickly during fight or flight scenarios, or... displaying plumage to attract a potential mate."
  1814. >You can't help but chuckle.
  1815. "Heheh... Twi has a boner."
  1816. >"H-Hey, don't tease me! It's hard enough as it is trying to fly slowly when my wings are like this..."
  1817. "Yeah, I bet it's hard, baby."
  1818. >"It's perfectly normal for something like this to happen on dates... sometimes it just happens on its own for no reason at all, like when you get out of bed in the morning... There's nothing funny about it."
  1819. "You're right. Nothing funny. Just your raging uncontrollable animalistic desire for my hot bod making it difficult for you to fly."
  1820. >”If you keep this up, I’m going on the rest of this date without you.”
  1821. “I’m just playing, Twi. I won’t embarrass you once we’re out there.”
  1822. >You lean your head to the side slightly and touch her cheek to yours.
  1823. “Like this, right?”
  1824. >Her face is warm, and feels like it’s getting warmer as your cheek brushes against her coat of fine purple fur.
  1825. >”Y-Yeah… that’s… good. Well… let’s go! Haha...” she laguhs, her voice cracking nervously as she holds onto your shoulders tightly.
  1826. >You decide to try to make conversation to calm her nerves a bit. Talking about science usually seems to put her in a good mood.
  1827. “So, how exactly are you flying right now anyway? There’s not really any wind, or an updraft, and your wings don’t really seem to be large enough to fly in place like that. You’re pretty light, but you’re not that light.”
  1828.     >”Well you’re right about that. Ponies are pretty large animals with solid bones and lots of muscle mass. There’s no physical way we should be able to fly unassisted. But right now, I’m nearly weightless!”
  1829.     “Weightless? How?”
  1830.     >”Magic, of course. It all has to do with the bone structure in our wings. Magical energy is generated in the heart, and flows through a path in our bones called a “ley line”. By willing our bodies to send a current of magical energy through this ley line, it enters the bones in our wings and forms a circuit which activates a form of magic which makes our bodies lighter, and allows for interaction and manipulation of certain weather related phenomena.”
  1831.     “I heard that before… a Tertiary Humeral Ley-Line I think? And a carpo-radial circuit?”
  1832.     >”The Tertiary Humerus is the largest bone in our wings. Magical energy can’t reach the rest of the wing without flowing through the Tertiary Humeral Ley-Line.”
  1833.     “So if it got damaged…”
  1834.     >”You wouldn’t be able to fly at all. It’s the bridge from your wings to the rest of your body. And if that bridge is out, nothing’s getting done. As for the carpo-radial circuit, that’s the part that sends magic to and from the feathers. That part’s necessary for fine maneuverability and control as opposed to pure speed. Some ponies have their ley-lines develop a bit unevenly, like Dash. Her flight came before her carporadial circuit was fully developed, which meant she could fly pretty fast, but not very carefully when she was a little filly. She was all wing, no feather. Which… lead to her unflattering nickname.”
  1835.     “So when your wings are… erected, how does it make you have difficulty flying like this?”
  1836.     >”It’s because the body is trying to push everything into long distance high speed flight and gliding. It’s trying to go somewhere fast, and the flow of magical energy for that is different than when you just want to carefully hover in place.”
  1837. “So your body’s ready to race, huh?”
  1838. >”Even somepony like Fluttershy can go from a 2.3 wingpower rating to over a 5 when they’ve got a bit of adrenaline in them.”
  1839. “So is it all magic, or does muscle strength play any kind of role there?”
  1840. >”Well it’s a bit of both…”
  1841. >Twilight continues to speak with you about how Pegasus flight works while you head through town to your destination.
  1842. >Seems like you had the right idea. Talking about science seems to have helped Twilight relax.
  1843. >She hardly needs to hold on to you to stabilize herself now, though she does so anyway just to be a bit closer.
  1844.  
  1845. >”... and here we are, Anon!
  1846. >Twilight has lead you to a large hill overlooking most of the town. It’s still dwarfed by the size of her castle, but it feels refreshing being outside now that the sun has been lowered to make way for the night sky.
  1847. >Twi walks over to a spot on the hill with a mark on the grass and concentrates for a moment, the glow of her horn lighting up the night as a telescope, blanket, and pile of books shimmer into view.
  1848. “Voyeurism, huh? Not my first choice for a date, but let’s see how it goes.”
  1849. >Twilight gives you an annoyed glare.
  1850. “I know, sorry. We’re stargazing, aren’t we? It’s a great idea, Twi. “
  1851. >”It’s not nice to tease me like that… I was worried you wouldn’t like it.”
  1852. “It’s amazing, Twi. It really is. Just us and the stars… very romantic. A+.”
  1853. >”I was thinking it might be something familiar to you. I noticed when I was in the other world that the stars and the planets were all in the same places. Polaris, Betelgeuse, Venus, Cygnus, Aquarius… they were all there just like home.”
  1854. “Those names sound familiar… though I couldn’t tell you what they looked like, or how to find them. I know Polaris is the north star, so it’s probably to the north. And it’s part of… Ursa Major, right?”
  1855. >”That’s right! Polaris is right… up there.” she flies up next to you and grabs your hand, directing it towards the north star.
  1856. “Huh… yeah, I still can’t quite see it. They all kind of look the same. Sorry.”
  1857. >”Guess you weren’t a famous astronomer in your world. Well, it should be easier with the telescope. Do you want to see a constellation, like Orion? Or maybe a planet?”
  1858. “Maybe I could get a look at Uranus later.”
  1859. >”You get one more before I teleport home without you.”
  1860. “Wait, you said Orion, right?”
  1861. >”I did. Is there something about Orion?”
  1862. “Well… how do you have the constellation of Orion? Isn’t he a human?”
  1863. >”A human? How does Orion look anything like a human, Anon? He’s clearly a pony.”
  1864. “Let me see that…”
  1865. >You reach over to the pile of books and pick up the one about constellations.
  1866. >You thumb through the index and find Orion, turning to the page.
  1867. >On the page indicated, there’s a picture of a group of stars with lines drawn between them, and a drawing of a pony imposed over it.
  1868. “How… that barely makes any sense. It doesn’t look anything like a pony without that drawing.”
  1869. >”Well how exactly does it look like a human, Anon?”
  1870. >You try to puzzle it out, pointing at the lines with your fingers.
  1871. “His arm is here, and this is… a bow, I think… and that’s his belt, obviously.”
  1872. >Twilight rolls her eyes. “So… this “human constellation” has two right arms and no legs? Are you trying to mess with me again?”
  1873. “I’m really not this time! It… it’s supposed to look like a guy. I think this way really might make more sense though.”
  1874. >”Well, some cultures looked at Ursa Major and saw a bear, while others saw a ladle… so I guess it’s not impossible. Still, I don’t really see it as a human.”
  1875. “Yeah, it all just looks like stars to me. What about planets?”
  1876. >”Well you mentioned ‘Uranus’ before… do you know the rest as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune?” she asks pronouncing Uranus like “urine” (which isn’t much better but you decide not to push the envelope.)
  1877. “Yeah, that sounds the same. How did they get their names here?”
  1878.     >”Actually… a lot of celestial bodies are named after ancient Alicorns, both real and mythological. Each of the planets is named for a member of an ancient group of mythical alicorns that is said to have ruled many thousands and thousands of years ago. Jupiter was their leader… here, see?”
  1879.     >Twilight opens up a page of a book to show you a drawing of a golden alicorn with a lightning bolt cutie mark.
  1880.     “Huh… so they were Alicorns in this universe.”
  1881.     >”What were they named after in your world?”
  1882.     “A group of middle school girls in sailor outfits who fought to protect the world from monsters who would steal energy from the world’s inhabitants to revive their queen. They were led by their own queen who became the namesake for the moon.”
  1883.     >Twilight stares at you suspiciously.
  1884.     “... of course, historians are split on the subject, and today it’s more commonly believed that they’re predated by a group of mythological deities revered by the Romans who were also led by Jupiter. I prefer the Greek versions of their names though.”
  1885.     >”Gods, huh? I guess some people might have viewed them as something like that, but Alicorns aren’t all that different from everypony else. I wish everypony understood that though…” she says as she slumps down.
  1886.     “If you’re having trouble with that, we could always get everypony to watch you sing into a hairbrush in the shower.”
  1887.     >Twilight looks horrified, “H-How do you know I do that?”
  1888.     “I didn’t. And… how are you even embarrassed about that? Spike told me you were the lead vocalist for a battle of the bands, and I’ve seen ponies randomly break out into song in public.”
  1889.     >Twilight shakes her head. “I’ve gotta start learning your secrets so I can tease you back about this kind of stuff.”
  1890.     “Good luck. I know a thing or two about hiding my power level.”
  1891.     >”Then again, maybe I just need to let you talk and do all the work for me.”
  1892.     “Haha, yeah, maybe.”
  1893.     >"But... you really do treat me like anypony else. You don't know just how happy that makes me these days."
  1894. >Twilight sits and looks up at the sky. “When I was younger… before I moved to Ponyville, I didn’t have a lot of friends.”
  1895. >”I just absorbed myself in my studies, thinking that spending all those precious moments of your life with your friends was a waste of time.”
  1896. >”So it wasn’t until I moved to ponyville that I started to enjoy what life was like as a normal mare.”
  1897. >”Just being one of the gals… that Mare around town...”
  1898. >”But it’s not like that anymore.”
  1899. >”I’m a princess now. I have responsibilities… I command respect based on my position rather than my merit as a pony.”
  1900. >”I look back now and I see that the only truly precious moments of my life were the ones I spent with the ones I love… and that the chances for those moments are slipping away.”
  1901. >”So what I’m trying to say is thanks, Anon… thanks for letting me feel like a normal Mare again.”
  1902. >You place your hand on Twilight’s mane and stroke it with a smile to reassure her.
  1903. “C Minus, Twi. You’re way off base there.”
  1904. >”Huh?” She steps back in shock.
  1905. “You are NOT a normal mare. And you never were. And you probably never will be. Because you’re something better than that. You’re Twilight Sparkle. And nothing can change that.”
  1906. >”Anon…”
  1907. “All the reasons I love you… don’t have a damn thing to do with you being a princess. It may be a part of you, but it’s not what makes you Twilight Sparkle.”
  1908. “Twilight Sparkle dives into dreams filled with dangerous shadows without a plan just to save her #1 assistant.”
  1909. “Twilight Sparkle works hard to manage the outbreak of a completely new disease and still finds time to practice how to use a weapon she’s never even held before, just to protect her friends.”
  1910. “Twilight Sparkle never gives up, even when everyone turns against her.”
  1911. “Twilight Sparkle takes her boyfriend on a date and ends up giving him a history lesson,"
  1912. “And Twilight Sparkle doesn’t do these things because she’s a princess, or any other obligation.”
  1913. “Twilight Sparkle does these things because she’s Twilight Sparkle.”
  1914. >You see Twilight’s muzzle tremble as she looks up at you with a smile.
  1915. >Tears begin to fall from her eyes, twinkling in the moonlight.
  1916. >”I love you…”
  1917. “I love you too, Twi.”
  1918. >You both close your eyes…
  1919. >This time, you don’t miss.
  1920. >Your lips meet perfectly in a long kiss, causing a warmth in your chest to grow and fill you from head to toe with an incredible sensation…
  1921. >Even though it’s just a simple, tear soaked kiss, the pleasure you feel right now is nothing like you’ve ever experienced before.
  1922. >Even after your lips part and the cool evening air nips at them, the warmth doesn’t fade.
  1923. >This feeling will remain in your heart forever.
  1924. >Though teardrops continue to stream down her cheeks, Twilight looks at you as though she couldn’t be happier.
  1925. >”Heh… really though… C Minus? That’s how you open your big dramatic speech?”
  1926. “Haha, yeah… it was the best I could think of.”
  1927. >”Also, you gave me a history lesson on our date too.”
  1928. “I did, didn’t I?”
  1929. >”AND I did have a plan to escape that dream, it just didn’t work out because I didn’t know I was unable to use magic in Fantasia.”
  1930. “You don’t let anything slide, do you?”
  1931. >”Nope. And you wanna know why?”
  1932. “Tell me.”
  1933. >”Because I’m Twilight Sparkle.”
  1934. “Don’t I know it.”
  1935. >”All right, now let’s get back to stargazing… we haven’t even seen anything really good yet.”
  1936. “I saw something incredible, actually.”
  1937. >”You did? When?”
  1938. “When you had your back turned.”
  1939. >”Why? What’d you see?”
  1940. >You put on your shit eating grin.
  1941. “Uranus.”
  1942. >Twilight looks furious for a moment… but then just smacks you on the leg playfully and starts laughing.
  1943. >You join in laughing with her.
  1944. >Together you spent a wonderful time under the stars before heading back to the castle.
  1945.  
  1946. >This date has been going very well.
  1947. >Giving her that gift might be a good way to end this night...
  1948. >Should you give it to her tonight?
  1949.  
  1950.     >Perhaps this is the right time after all.
  1951.     “Twilight, could you meet me in the library? I have to get something for you.”
  1952.     >”Sure. Don’t take too long.”
  1953.     >You rush off to your room and grab the present, then return to the library at the same table you always have your lessons at.
  1954.  
  1955.     Twilight’s Castle Library, Night
  1956.  
  1957.     >Your hands are a bit sweaty as you approach the table.
  1958.     >You try to hold the package with your fingertips to keep it from smudging the wrapping paper.
  1959.     “This is for you, Twilight.”
  1960.     >The package floats out of your hands, surrounded by a purple glow of magic.
  1961.     >She stares at it curiously and slowly unfolds the wrapping paper neatly via careful telekinesis.
  1962.     >The jade green book slides out onto the table.
  1963.     “It’s… a scrapbook.”
  1964.     >”A scrapbook?”
  1965.     “Something so that you never forget who you are. You can always look in that book, and remind yourself.”
  1966.     >”This… I don’t know what to say, Anon.”
  1967.     >”It’s wonderful… there’s even a powerful preservation spell on it… it could last even longer than the stars in our sky like this.”
  1968.     “I know… I might not be around as long as that. But even if I do leave you some day, I want you to have that scrapbook to remember me by. To remember all of us by.”
  1969.     >”... a lot can happen throughout the years though.”
  1970.     “I know…”
  1971.     >”Even if I try my best to take care of it, something could happen… and I might lose this book.”
  1972.     “I know. I’m sorry. But I just... “
  1973.     >Twilight puts her hoof to your mouth and silences you.
  1974.     >”But I know in my heart that I’ll always remember the moment you gave it to me.”
  1975.     >”And there’s nothing in this world that can take that away.”
  1976.     >”I’ll never forget you.”
  1977.     >!?
  1978.  
  1979.     Twilight Sparkle’s strong will that allowed her to accept and overcome her weakness has awakened her heart’s true power…
  1980.  
  1981.     Twilight’s Persona has been reborn!
  1982.  
  1983.     Snedronningen has transfigured into Nimue!
  1984.  
  1985.     >”This power… it’s like… I understand the truth now.”
  1986.     >”The truth about who I am… and who I’m meant to be.”
  1987.     >”Thank you... I never could have found this answer alone."
  1988. “You really did like it, huh?”
  1989. >Twilight smiles. “I love it. And I love you”
  1990. “I love you too, Twilight.”
  1991. >”Hold on, I’ve got something for you too… maybe you could put it in the scrapbook.”
  1992. >Twilight pulls out a sheet of parchment paper from a stack.
  1993. >”This is the letter I wrote to Princess Celestia the night I met you.”
  1994. >”When I was still her student, I used to write to her whenever I learned something new about friendship. I felt like I learned something pretty important after we returned from Fantasia, so I wrote it down and sent it to her.”
  1995. “If you sent it to her, why do you still have it?”
  1996. >”She sent it back to me on Saturday night. She said I might want to hold on to it… I wonder what brought that on.”
  1997. >You should probably never play chess with Celestia.
  1998. >”Anyway... you can read it if you like.”
  1999. “I’d love to.”
  2000. >You look down at the parchment. Twilight’s flawless hoofwriting reads as follows on the page.
  2001.  
  2002. Dear Princess Celestia,
  2003.  
  2004. It’s been a while since I’ve written to you like this, but I feel like I’ve learned something I simply have to share. I learned that we don’t always know ourselves as well as we think we do. Sometimes our innermost desires and thoughts can surprise us, and even scare us. This can cause us to pretend they don’t exist, or act like they aren’t part of us. However, ignoring your feelings won’t cause them to go away. Denying your true self will only cause you to suffer until you admit the truth and try to deal with your problems head on.
  2005.  
  2006. I thought I knew myself pretty well before this nightmare night. I never would have guessed just how wrong I could be about that. But my new friend helped us admit the truth about ourselves and fought hard to save us. Now that we’ve admitted that these parts of ourselves exist, I get the feeling that we’ll be able to grow closer together than ever. Not just to our friends, but to our true selves.
  2007. Always your faithful student,
  2008.  
  2009. Princess Twilight Sparkle
  2010.  
  2011. “You write beautifully.”
  2012. >The purple alicorn blushes faintly. “Years of practice.”
  2013. “I think this will look great in our scrapbook. It’ll be a great reminder of our first meeting.”
  2014. >”I think so too. But this scrapbook won’t just be to remind me of things so I can cling to the past. I want to fill it with the future. Our future. Together with you and everyone else.”
  2015. “Yeah… this is our future.”
  2016. >”And for the first time in forever… I’m looking forward to every second of it.”
  2017. >The two of you look at each other with a shared smile, and place the letter into the scrapbook.
  2018. >You feel a tight bond between you and Twilight...
  2019. >!
  2020. ————————————————————
  2021.  
  2022. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  2023.  
  2024. Thou hast established a genuine bond…
  2025.  
  2026. These genuine bonds… shall be your eyes to see the truth.
  2027.  
  2028. We bestow upon thee the ability to create Morgan Le Fay, the ultimate form of the Priestess Arcana...
  2029.  
  2030. ————————————————————
  2031.  
  2032. >”Thanks again, Anon. I’ll try to come up with a good place to put this. Just let me know if you ever want to add anything to it, all right?”
  2033. “Got it, Twi."
  2034. >”One more thing.”
  2035. “What is it?”
  2036. >Twilight leans up against you and stretches her wings out.
  2037. >”I’m really looking forward to when you get your own place.”
  2038. “You are? Why?”
  2039. >”You’ll see.” she says teasingly before giving you a kiss and snuggling up to your chest.
  2040. “... guess I’m looking forward to it too then.”
  2041. >You spent a long time sleeping with Twilight...
  2042. Saturday, November 19th
  2043.  
  2044. >Once again, Twilight has given you the slip by the time you wake up.
  2045. >If you ever catch her napping, she is so going to get her mane messed up by you.
  2046. >Either way, it’s Saturday.
  2047. >Celestia said she’d be visiting again today…
  2048. >You never quite established where to meet up though…
  2049. >Perhaps you can find her at the same place as before.
  2050. >You take a quick shower and head out to the Hayburger.
  2051.  
  2052. Hayburger, Morning
  2053.  
  2054. >You don’t see Tia through the window of the establishment, but since you need to eat anyway, you order your usual meal and have a seat, deciding to wait around to see if she shows up.
  2055. >Not long after you take your seat, you hear an order for 4 double hayburgers with cheese being called out.
  2056. >As you look up from your meal, Celestia looks back at you from the counter and gives you a knowing smile before sitting across from you to wait for her order.
  2057. >”Good morning, Anonymous.”
  2058. “Morning, Tia. Glad you decided to show up here.”
  2059. >”A lady needs her nutrition.”
  2060. >Maybe a lady bodybuilder.
  2061. >”Actually, a one’s caloric intake tends to be quite high when they must perform spells regularly moving a couple nonillion kilograms of mass.”
  2062. “Did… did you just read my mind?”
  2063. >Celestia chuckles playfully, “Goodness, no! I wouldn’t violate your privacy like that just for a laugh. It’s just that it’s written all over your face.”
  2064. “But I don’t have a face.”
  2065. >”Well, I can be fairly perceptive.”
  2066. “I’ll say. Good call giving Twilight that letter for the scrapbook.”
  2067. >”It was my pleasure. I rarely get to experience some of life’s simple joys such as shopping or gorging myself on fatty foods.”
  2068. “Is that why you’re here then? Just to enjoy yourself?”
  2069. >”While I won’t deny that I am enjoying myself quite a bit, I do feel I must make good use of this opportunity to gain a closer understanding of others and how they live their daily lives.”
  2070. "So not just stuffing yourself with grease, huh? Well then what should we do?"
  2071. >"I'm not quite sure. Do you have any ideas?"
  2072. “To be honest, there’s not all that much to do around here… I think I saw a bowling alley maybe. Wait, bowling? How do ponies bowl?
  2073. >”Would you like to come with me and find out?” she asks with a smile.
  2074. “I wonder if they’ll actually let me.”
  2075. >”It never hurts to ask. Come on then, let’s finish up our food and go.”
  2076. >You each polish off the rest of your meal, and as always, Celestia’s ability to eat things 4 times faster than you is equal parts amazing and terrifying.
  2077.  
  2078.  
  2079. Bowling Alley, Morning
  2080.  
  2081. >You arrive at the building with the decorative oversized bowling pins and bowling balls out front.
  2082. >You can hear the thundering sound of balls crashing into bowling pins over the cheap scratchy radio music as you walk through the door with Tia.
  2083. >As you look around at the multitude of colorful bowling balls, something strikes you as odd.
  2084. “Wait… the ones on the signs look like regular black bowling balls, but the ones I see these ponies using don’t have finger holes.”
  2085. >”Some of them might, but certainly not all of them. We don’t have fingers, after all.”
  2086. “I… I’m confused.”
  2087. >Tia puts her hoof on your shoulder and spins you around to a drawing of a humanoid figure with horns holding a ball with 3 holes.
  2088. >”Bowling was originally brought to Equestria by Minotaurs. They introduced the game to us as a peace offering, and a show of good faith between our races. Despite a bit of initial difficulty in learning how to adapt it to a style of play suitable for hooves, the game became a hit. It has evolved quite a bit since that first game played on my carpet in the Canterlot throne room… Pony bowling balls ceased having the vestigal finger holes, and the rules were changed from playing with nine pins to playing with ten.”
  2089. “You were around for the invention of bowling in your country?”
  2090. >Celestia sighs and shakes her head. “I do need to try not to let my age show so much.”
  2091. “Sorry. I do find this kind of stuff interesting though. History and all that.”
  2092. >”By all means, ask me whatever you like if you’re curious. As a visitor to our world I wish to make you feel as comfortable as possible. But first, let’s get a lane for ourselves, shall we?”
  2093. “Right. After you then.”
  2094. >Tia walks up to the young stallion at the counter, wearing an amiable smile. “Good morning, may I please have lane… 18, and a pair of size 17 and a half horseshoes?”
  2095. >”Uh… did you say 17 and a half, ma’am?” the teenager squeaks out nervously.
  2096. >”I’m afraid my hooves are deceptively large for my size. And is it a problem if he bowls today? Surely you must have a few minotaur size bowling balls available for rent.”
  2097. >”We do, ma’am, but uh… Iron Will usually rents them… he told me before “If you don’t have my ball you go through the wall!” He was terrifying! Even in rhyme!”
  2098. >”If he shows up, allow me to speak with him personally. I assure you, no harm shall come to you.”
  2099. >”I don’t know, ma’am… Alley rules state that customers must be wearing the proper hoofwear… and he doesn’t seem to have the proper hoofwear. Or hooves. I don’t know if I can allow him to bowl…”
  2100. >”In which case… that would put your establishment in violation of anti-discrimination laws, wouldn’t it? As I recall, bowling alleys in the past would try to reject Minotaur customers by forcing them to use certain types of hoofwear and not renting it in Minotaur sizes.”
  2101. >”B-But we do rent them in minotaur sizes!” objects the squeaky voice teen.
  2102. >”Ah, but does the law not state that if you fail to provide proper footwear, the customer may wear his own?”
  2103. >”Umm… maybe?” he squeaks, unsure.
  2104. >”It does. Trust me. Now then, lane 18, size 17.5 shoes, a ten pound minotaur style ball, and a 16 pound minotaur style ball please. And have a little extra for the trouble.”
  2105. >She places a rather large bag of bits onto the table.
  2106. >”Y-Yes, Ma’am. Just one moment.”
  2107. >The teen grabs your items and lets you go to your lane.
  2108. "Pretty smooth."
  2109.     >”It’s only natural I remember the laws I pass. I wouldn’t be a very good head of state if I didn’t.” She says as she puts on her rental shoes.
  2110.     “You have a pretty good memory then?”
  2111.     >”I try my best, though I am known to make mistakes like anypony else from time to time.”
  2112.     “Well… do you remember anything about a pony called the Queen of Fools?”
  2113.     >”I do recall that story… though I don’t know if what I’d ever heard is true. Did she truly exist, or did she not? Suffice to say, I have never known her personally. I believe she was cursed to wander the land eternally until she found her true name... “
  2114.     “Yeah, but aren’t Alicorns immortal? If she did exist, what do you think happened to her?”
  2115.     >Celestia smiles at you like a mother to her child. “I’m afraid just because she is immortal does not mean she may necessarily be around forever. As I said… nothing is “invincible”. Even I can be slain. Of course she may also have been merely a myth... but myths are often based on truth.”
  2116.     “I heard about Alicorns dying before. In the War of Shadows. They say changelings assassinated two of them, right?”
  2117.     >”I see you have been taught well by Twilight. Prince Altair was found to have been killed and replaced by a changeling which made a meal of Princess Vega’s love before destroying her as well.”
  2118.     "Those names sound familiar..."
  2119.     >”As they should. You may have seen them last night.”
  2120.     “Last night?”
  2121.     >”You were stargazing, yes? I believe it’s time I let you in on a secret…”
  2122.     “Is uh, here the right place?”
  2123.     >”I’ve already cast the spell to obscure our conversation. This is something few know about. Not even Twilight is aware of it.”
  2124.     “What is it?” you ask after looking around cautiously.
  2125.     >”An Alicorn may be immortal… but they may choose at any time, with only a thought, to end their life… and become one with the cosmos.”
  2126.     “Become one with the cosmos?”
  2127.     >”Yes… they will leave their physical form behind, become pure energy, and their souls will merge with the planets or stars in the sky."
  2128. “So they can just… get tired of living and decide to turn into a star?”
  2129. >”Not exactly. Rather, their soul finds the place in the cosmos where it belongs, and rests there for eternity. For them, it was the stars Vega and Altair. I believe planets of our solar system are inhabited by the ancient alicorns as well. Constellations are said to house the souls of certain beings… and perhaps it does not even stop there. It may be that the Tree of Harmony itself houses the soul of one whose name is too ancient even for me.”
  2130. “So those alicorns like Jupiter were real? What were the planets called before that? Are the planets named after the alicorns, or are the alicorns named after what they’ll end up in? Did those planets even exist before those alicorns existed?”
  2131. >Celestia smiles at you, amused. “I am quite pleased by your thirst for knowledge. You remind me of Twilight when she was still learning closely from me. But I’m afraid that the specifics of life after death are beyond my ken. And while I was always taught that those alicorns were real, they are said to have existed many many thousands of years before my time.”
  2132. “Well then… if this stuff is all such a huge secret, why are you telling me about it? Why not Twilight?”
  2133. >Tia’s smile fades as she takes on a somber expression. “It does seem quite beautiful… it is even quite a wonder to behold firsthand. A beautiful display of dazzling light as they float off into the cosmos… but in reality it is a terrible burden to bear.”
  2134. “You don’t think that knowing she doesn’t have to live forever would comfort Twilight?”
  2135. >”It is all too comfortable, Anon. The knowledge that at any moment you may have a peaceful, painless, beautiful death. That any time you feel loneliness or pain, you may ascend beyond such worldly hurts and become something greater. Words can not express what a terrible temptation I felt all those years when I was seperated from my sister.”
  2136. “When you banished her to the moon… wait, was that also… part of this?”
  2137.     >”In a way. The Elements of Harmony did trap her soul in our moon. The moon’s true name is Luna, after all. But it was not exactly the same as “death”, merely a temporary prison.”
  2138.     “So all that time you weren’t just missing your sister… you had to make the choice to keep living as well. Because the world needed you to raise the sun and the moon.”
  2139.     >”It took no shortage of willpower to remain in this world for all those years. But I love the ponies of Equestria… and I loved my sister enough to hope for her safe return as well.”
  2140.     “And you don’t want Twilight to have to go through what you did?”
  2141.     >”It isn’t as though I never intend to tell her. It is something she will need to learn. But the responsibility of having to choose the moment of one’s death… is something very great indeed. I do not wish to distract her, or take away her innocence any sooner than she is ready. But then again, she has been through a lot lately.”
  2142.     >Celestia looks at you hesitantly.
  2143.     >This expression of worry and uncertainty she’s wearing is something you’ve never seen on her before.
  2144.     >”Do you… believe she is ready to hear of this?”
  2145. “Twilight can handle a lot… but I don’t think you need to speak with her about something like this just yet. There will be opportunities for you to tell her in the future, I know. But right now it wouldn’t help to add something like this to her worries.”
  2146. >Celestia sighs and sits on the floor of the bowling alley. “You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that. Mostly… for my own sake.”
  2147. “Because you aren’t ready to tell her?”
  2148. >”Because I know if I tell her… I’ll have to talk about how much longer I wish to be around. And that’s something I still haven’t decided for myself.”
  2149. “You’ve been considering it, huh?”
  2150. >”Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do not intend to leave this world any time soon. It would certainly much further down the line. But… it is something I have to consider. All things must come to an end… so that new and beautiful things may be born.”
  2151. >A bit awkwardly, you reach out and place your palm against Celestia’s back in an attempt to comfort her.
  2152. >”I’m sorry… I’ve turned our little bowling excursion into a bit of a dark affair about mortality. I doubt this is how everyday citizens act.”
  2153. “Don’t worry. In my experience this is… pretty par for the course.”
  2154. >”Oh?” she raises an eyebrow. “Well, all right then.”
  2155. “And there’s still time left in the day to get some bowling in. But… before we do, if it’s returning to the heavens, why did you mention the Tree of Harmony?”
  2156. >Celestia thinks for a moment with her hoof on her chin. “The method of becoming an alicorn princess… is quite complex. And to be honest, I do not understand how it works. I only have theories and guesses based on myths and legends. But suffice to say, the Tree of Harmony bears a striking resemblance to Twilight Sparkle’s Cutie Mark. I believe this is no coincidence… and perhaps it means that Twilight’s place in the cosmos would be inside that very tree. I’m sorry, but to explain further might take some time. Perhaps I could tell you more next week? For now... we bowl."
  2157. >You spent all morning bowling.
  2158. >It seems Celestia is quite skilled at the sport.
  2159. >You on the other hand… do a lot better than you thought you might have.
  2160. >Pony bowling pins seem to be made somewhat lighter than human ones, making it fairly easy to send them flying once you can get it straight down the middle with a good amount of power.
  2161. >All the while, Celestia is complimenting and encouraging you, and giving you helpful advice on how to improve.
  2162. >It really feels like she’s your mother trying to teach you how to ride a bicycle.
  2163. >It’s a little embarrassing… but also feels kind of good in a way.
  2164. >The two of you ended up having a lot of fun at the bowling alley until she tells you she has to meet with Twilight this afternoon to help her with something.
  2165. >Still…
  2166. >You can’t help but feel a bit intimidated by the fact that she was using a 16 pound bowling ball when you were struggling with 10.
  2167. >Either way, you decide you should make good use of the rest of your day.
  2168. >You did promise Cheerilee to go out with her again some time… a Saturday afternoon might be the least busy time for her.
  2169. >After taking a quick side trip to pick up some daisies, you head over to her house.
  2170.  
  2171. Cheerilee’s House, Afternoon
  2172.  
  2173. >Somehow you managed to find your way to her doorstep without getting horribly lost.
  2174. >You knock and wait for her to respond.
  2175. >You think you hear her saying something before the teacher opens her door, brushing her mane back with her hoof.
  2176. >”Oh, good afternoon, Anon! Did you come here to see me?”
  2177. “Well yeah, who else would I come here for?”
  2178. >”Oh… of course. Haha… dumb question.”
  2179. “I thought there were no dumb questions for a teacher?”
  2180. >”Right you are again! So what’s up?”
  2181. “I was in the neighborhood and I thought you might want to go out today. Are you free?"
  2182. >Cheerilee looks back over her shoulder into her house. “Well… alright, I suppose I should get out of the house. How does a movie sound?”
  2183. “Sounds great to me. Maybe some dinner too?”
  2184. >”That would be lovely. Just give me a minute to get ready."
  2185. "Go ahead."
  2186.     >Cheerilee disappears into the house for a few minutes.
  2187.     >You’re left standing outside waiting for her for a while.
  2188.     >You wonder if she doesn’t want you to see her messy house or something like that.
  2189.     >Perhaps you’ll ask her out in advance next time. Derpy might be willing to give her the message for you.
  2190.     >Or maybe she just doesn’t want you in her house because you smell like a bowling alley.
  2191.     >You really wish she’d hurry up.
  2192.     >”Sorry, just had to take care of a few things and get my shoes on… are you ready?”
  2193.     “Yeah, let’s go.”
  2194.  
  2195.     Ponyville Movie Theater, Afternoon
  2196.  
  2197.     >You buy tickets, but decline to buy anything to eat.
  2198.     >Carrot dogs just don’t do it for you… especially not at 10 bits a pop.
  2199.     >Cheerilee ends up eating the flowers you brought her.
  2200.     >Wise move. You’d probably end up spending more on popcorn than rent if you came here more than a few times a month.
  2201.     >Some things in this world really are disappointingly familiar.
  2202.     >Speaking of familiar, Cheerilee’s choice in film is… unexpected for you.
  2203.     >You thought she’d try to take you to some sort of pony romance film.
  2204.     >But instead, you end up in the theater with her for the live action movie based on the comic book franchise “Power Ponies”.
  2205.     >The special effects are incredible…
  2206.     >What they lack in technology, they make up for in being able to use actual fucking magic to produce the effects needed to make the movie.
  2207.     >It’s a bit of a predictable plot, and somewhat formulaic.
  2208.     >They start out distrustful and even hostile to each other at first, but learn to put aside their differences in the end and play off each other to defeat the villain.
  2209.     >The characters themselves are pretty interesting as well… though you question the inclusion of Mistress Marevelous in their lineup.
  2210.     >What’s the point of even having her on the team? Radiance can duplicate every single one of her powers anyway.
  2211.     >You feel like this was some sort of PC move to include an Earth Pony in the lineup.
  2212.     >Still, at least she’s hot. So you can’t complain that much.
  2213. >Cheerilee walks closely to you as you exit the theater, looking up and asking, “You weren’t too confused, weren’t you?"
  2214. “Nah, everything felt pretty familiar. But I’m surprised you wanted to see this kind of movie.”
  2215. >”Oh… yes, I suppose it’s not very marelike of me to see those sorts of movies…” she admits, looking a bit ashamed.
  2216. “Wait, hold on, I didn’t mean it like that! I’m the last person who should be judging anyone for their taste in media. I’m just… not sure what to expect. Or what’s normal. I mean it’s pretty rare in my world to see a mostly female cast like that in a big budget movie. I’m actually glad you like them.”
  2217. >Cheerilee's expression softens at your nervous apology. “Well, it’s not like I’m a real die hard fan of those sorts of things. I just started watching them to keep up with what’s popular with the foals these days.”
  2218. “Really? I wish I had a teacher as cool as you when I was a kid.”
  2219. >The cerise mare’s face turns an even deeper red. “Come on… don’t make fun of me.”
  2220. “I’m not making fun. You would have been the coolest teacher ever as a kid. And I think you’re pretty cool right now, taking an interest in something your students like.”
  2221. >”Yeah, but… it’s not really cool for an adult to like these things, is it? Especially a mare.”
  2222. “Trust me. I’m the last person who would say you weren’t cool for liking something just because foals like it too. And if it’s targeted towards stallions, why are all the stars female?”
  2223. >Cheerilee rolls her eyes. “So they can stuff them into those tight spandex suits?”
  2224. “Yeah, that Mistress Marevelous… and with the ropes and everything…”
  2225. >”There’s no way you could fight crime in something like that. You’d just be itchy and sweaty all day. And your secret identity would be a dead giveaway. They'd just have to find the mares who look like they tried to brush their coat with an iron."
  2226. "Plus they incorporate their cutie marks into their costume... they might as well be wearing their social security card."
  2227.     >”Hardly a realistic depiction of 6 superpowered ponies saving the world.” Cheerilee comments sarcastically.
  2228.     “Yeah, Twi and her friends do prefer the natural look, don’t they?”
  2229.     >Cheerilee rolls her eyes. “They might be heroes, but it’s not quite the same.
  2230.     “Right, they’ve got a dragon as their 7th member. Anyway, let’s talk more over dinner. I’m pretty hungry after sitting through that movie.”
  2231.     >”Oh, right. Is Chineighse okay with you?”
  2232.     “Sounds good to me. Lead the way.”
  2233.  
  2234.     >She takes you to a small restaurant in town where you continue talking about movies, the students (she’s rather impressed at DTR’s improvement), and you even casually bring up your other relationships.
  2235.     >You tell her about your experiences with Twilight, and she seems quite comfortable hearing about it.
  2236.     >She even laughs at your predicament of having ended up getting a history lesson on your first real date.
  2237.     >In turn, Cheerilee shares with you that she had a short relationship with Big Macintosh, but they broke it off mutually when they felt the relationship wasn’t really going anywhere.
  2238.     >You have a long, engaging conversation all throughout dinner until she invites you to come back to her place for some after dinner coffee.
  2239.     >You eagerly agree to her offer, and walk home with her after chucking your fortune.
  2240.  
  2241.     Cheerilee’s House, Evening.
  2242.     >”You know, Anon, you can be quite charming once you stop being adorably awkward.”
  2243.     “I assure you it’s a freak accident. But you’re an amazing Mare. You’re mature, responsible, sweet, quick witted, and very cute when you smile.”
  2244.     >She looks a little pleased to hear your compliments as she turns and starts to open the door…
  2245.     >And is suddenly tackled by a mare with an almost identically colored coat… but slightly lighter.
  2246.     >Her coat is more of the light pinkish color of Cheerilee’s Mane, wheras her own disheveled mane more closely resembles Cheerilee’s cerise coat.
  2247.     >"Cheerss why'da leave me heeere?" the other mare asks.
  2248.     >"... Anon, this is my sister, Pinot-... Berry Punch."
  2249. “Uh, pleased to meet you… I heard Derpy mention your name before.”
  2250. >You extend your hand cautiously until Berry Punch seizes it clumsily with her hoof and shakes it wildly.
  2251. >”HHhhi Anon. I’m Cheers’s older sister. You can call me Berry Punch.”
  2252. >Her breath reeks rather strongly of alcohol when she slurs at you.
  2253. “Yeah… I got that part.”
  2254. >”So… yer her coltfriend huh? Didja do it yet?”
  2255. >”Pinot!” Cheerilee yells, her face flushed with equal parts of embarrassment and anger.
  2256. >Berry Punch looks over her shoulder. “I told ya I wanna go by Berry Punch now.”
  2257. >”And I told you I want to go by Cheerilee, yet you insist on calling me Cheers. And more importantly, I told you I wanted you out of the house when I got home!”
  2258. >”I knoooow I’m really really sorryyyy. I couldn’t find my keys so I had to wait for you to come home so you could help me find theeem.”
  2259. >”Which is why I told you to find them before you got too drunk to do it.” Cheerilee growls at her sister.
  2260. >”Well I triiied but I couldn’t find ‘em so I had a few more to pass the time while I waited fer you ta come home.”
  2261. >”Pinot, that sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?” The teacher asks impatiently.
  2262. >”So what, you want me to leave now? Huh? Okay, help me find my keys an’ I’ll go now.” says Berry.
  2263. >”You’re not going anywhere like this, Pinot Noir. You’re just going to get arrested and put me through even more trouble if you go outside right now.” Cheerilee declares sternly.
  2264. >”She’s a cute lil’ sister ain’t she?” Berry asks you with a smile, earning her a glare from Cheerilee.
  2265. >”Inside. NOW.”
  2266. >Cheerilee shoves her sister through the door and closes it behind her.
  2267. >With her sister out of the way, she just stares at your feet.
  2268. >”I’m… sorry you had to see that. Would you mind taking a rain check on that coffee?”
  2269. >You're a bit conflicted on how to respond...
  2270.  
  2271. “That’s fine, Cheerilee. We’ll just have to do this again some time. Oh, and I’m getting a place of my own soon. Should be ready in about a week.”
  2272. >”Thank you… again, sorry about this.”
  2273. “Don’t be sorry. I had a great night. We should do this again. You just go take care of… what you need to.”
  2274. >”I suppose I’d better… Oh, but I did have a wonderful time with you. I’ll look forward to seeing you again, even if you just want to have a short chat.”
  2275. “I’ll keep that in mind. See you soon, Cheerilee.”
  2276. >”Have a good night, Anonymous.”
  2277. >Cheerilee returns to her home to deal with her sister.
  2278. >You decided to head straight home.
  2279.  
  2280. Twilight’s Castle Library, Night
  2281.  
  2282. >”Evening, Anon. How was your date?” Twilight greets you with a smile as you walk into your study area.
  2283. “It went pretty well until her sister cockblocked me.”
  2284. >Twilight’s eyes widen in shock. “Y-You were going to have s… with Celestia?!”
  2285. “Huh? OH. No, no, after I met with Tia I went on a date with Cheerilee. We saw the Power Ponies movie and had Chineighse.”
  2286. >Twilight slumps back against one of the shelves and lets out a deep breath. “Geez… don’t do that to me, Anon!”
  2287. “Sorry. But uh, what if she did want to? With me?”
  2288. >”Princess Celestia? With you?”
  2289. “Yeah, I mean you said you were fine with sharing me and all… so if hypothetically she was interested, would there be anything wrong with that?”
  2290. >”Anything wrong? I… I mean I did say I didn’t want to keep you to myself… I mean I’m glad you’re dating Cheerilee and everything too, but Celestia… I mean, I suppose there’s nothing “wrong” with it… would she even be interested? I… I’ve never really thought of her like…”
  2291. “Calm down, Twi. It’s just a hypothetical question.”
  2292. >”Well… I mean I wouldn’t want to go back on my word or anything… I did say I was fine with us being open, and it’s… I suppose I wouldn’t have any right to say you can’t but…”
  2293. “But it would make you uncomfortable because she’s practically your mother?”
  2294. >Twilight sighs. “I think I might need to talk to Cadance..."
  2295. “Your sister in law, right? That love expert?”
  2296. >”That’s her. In fact, I’d like it if you could talk to her as well. I mean, you’re doing pretty well so far but… there might be some things she can explain to you better than I can.”
  2297. “Better than you, Purple Smart?”
  2298. >She averts her gaze. “Knowing something and being able to teach it… aren’t always the same.”
  2299. “But… we can’t exactly talk to her, can we. She’s all the way in that Crystal Empire, and there’d be the problem of the travel ban, plus we might expose her to SIHN.”
  2300. >”Actually… I might have another way. It’s almost finished thanks to Celestia, but it still needs to be tested before it’s ready.”
  2301. “Guess I’ll be looking forward to it then.”
  2302. >”I’ll be doing my best to get it ready. For now, let’s get to studying.”
  2303. >You’re getting close to the end of your studies it seems.
  2304. >Twilight thinks you should be on track to finish by the time you’re moved in to your new place.
  2305. >You went straight to bed afterwards.
  2306.  
  2307. Sunday, November 20th
  2308.  
  2309. >Thankfully you’re allowed to wake up on your own this time.
  2310. >But you still feel like going to see Luna if she’s here.
  2311. >Inwardly you wonder why Luna doesn’t visit on Monday while her sister visits on Sunday.
  2312. >Oh well. If they did that, you wouldn’t be able to see her in the mornings because of work.
  2313. >You ask the castle guard if she’s shown up yet, and they inform you that she’s in the dining hall eating breakfast.
  2314. >You decide to see if she wants to do anything today.
  2315. >The midnight blue alicorn is sipping her coffee and reading the paper as you enter the dining hall.
  2316. “Morning.”
  2317. >She folds away the paper with her magic and turns to greet you. “Ah, good morning to you, Anonymous one. Do you wish to venture forth among the peasantry today as well?”
  2318. “I don’t know about calling them peasantry, but I’ll take you out if you want.”
  2319. >Luna’s coffee mug quickly raises to her face as she chugs down the remaining black liquid in it.
  2320. >"I am prepared!"
  2321. >At least she's... enthusiastic.
  2322.  
  2323. Ponyville Town Square, Morning
  2324.  
  2325. >”Ah, a beautiful morning… and the peasantry seem to have remembered their manners. See how they avert their gaze in deference?”
  2326. “I think they’re afraid.”
  2327. >”Afraid? I see…”
  2328. >”FEAR NOT, PEASANTS! WE PERMIT YOU TO LOOK UPON OUR BEAUTIFUL FORM TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT!”
  2329. “Are you kidding me...”
  2330. >”Anonymous one, why do you place your palm over your face so?” she asks as she leans in curiously to observe you.
  2331. “It’s a sign of exasperation among my people. If you want these ponies to like you, then you need to stop calling them peasants. And don’t act like you’re superior to them all the time.”
  2332. >”But we are superior. We are a royal true-born Alicorn, second only to our sister.”
  2333. “Okay, but… you don’t have to “act” like it.”
  2334. >Luna stares at you with a puzzled expression. “We… do not comprehend.”
  2335. “You’re doing the “we” thing again. You need to act more approachable. Try to be more like them.”
  2336. >”But we did this the Nightmare Night before last, when Twilight Sparkle taught us fun and festivity of the modern era!”
  2337. “And… have you kept doing it regularly?”
  2338. >”There was that comedy event in which Pinkie Pie taught me the value of public humiliation to appear humble.”
  2339. “So in other words you only really relax and let your hair down on special occasions. You’re still not used to being causal on a daily basis.”
  2340. >”But then how will we command respect among our citizens if we act and speak as they do? They will think we are unfit to rule them!”
  2341. “Celestia acts nice to everyone all the time, and ponies respect her.”
  2342. >The princess’s expression sours. “I have seen the way that the “Media” treats her. They publicly mock her and she refuses to retaliate! She even reprimanded me when I suggested enacting revenge on them by giving them the most terrible of nightmares until they repented for their ways. Sister deserves better than such insolence!”
  2343. “That’s not the kind of country your sister is trying to run. She wants to give them the freedom to express their opinion because she cares about them, and because it’s important to society.”
  2344. >Luna shakes her head. “Things were different before my banishment. Back then she was not afraid to use her Royal Canterlot Voice to get results. Now she is so… passive.”
  2345. “Back then, everypony was at war, right? The geopolitical situation has stabilized significantly since then. Things like patriotism and loyalty to the crown used to be important during times of war to ensure that the people would be united enough to withstand the difficulties of the war. But now that the climate is more peaceful, it’s important to focus on the civil liberty of your people so that they can advance culturally and socially.”
  2346. >Luna looks at you with a smile. “I sense wisdom behind your words… perhaps you are right… perhaps our heart is still longing for the days of battle. Peace seems strange to us.”
  2347. “Eh… it’s just something I picked up on.”
  2348. >You copied that almost word for word from what Twilight told you during a history lesson, but whatever works.
  2349. >”Very well then. We must learn how these ponies enjoy peace. Come, anonymous one!”
  2350. >The two of you walk through the town a bit more, until suddenly Luna halts in her tracks as if hypnotized by something.
  2351. “Luna? Luna, are you okay? Could this be… SIHN?”
  2352. >”What… what is this our eyes doth see?”
  2353. >You trace Luna’s gaze, and find that she is staring at a group of stand up arcade cabinets lined up together with young ponies sitting on stools to play at them.
  2354. “You guys… have video games? How? Literally how? They’re… they’re on the dirt! There’s no visible power source… oh right, Magic.”
  2355. >”Video… game? We have played games before but none like this. These sounds… that crystal display…”
  2356. “I think it’s CRT, not LCD.”
  2357. >Luna gets up and seizes your collar. “Teach it to us.”
  2358. “Yes ma’am.”
  2359. >She drags you over to a free cabinet.
  2360. >It reads "Marevel Super Heroes"
  2361.     >You see a terrifying smile creep across her face.
  2362.     >”I see… this intense high impact violence meant for two ponies to test their might… this is it! This is how the everyday pony expresses their desire for bloodshed and violence in times of peace! Truly these video games are the perfect outlet for our most basic instincts! Indulging one’s bloodlust and desire for violence in fantasy… how fun!”
  2363.     “Yeah… close enough. Do you want to try it out? There’s probably a steep learning curve though.”
  2364.     >”We have achieved the rank of black belt in martial arts of every race, both armed and unarmed styles, from ranged combat to grappling and even Chineighse swordplay! And our telekinetic manipulation can exert forces of over 100,000 PSI! This mere game played by foals shall be mastered by us as well.”
  2365.     “If you say so.”
  2366.     >”Now show us how it is used!”
  2367.     “Well you put a bit in the slot… and there.”
  2368.     >You slide in a coin and the character select screen pops up.
  2369.     >”I see… it wishes for me to select my fighter. I like this one. Shadowmane, I command you to fight for me! Do my bidding! Anonymous one, why is your palm upon your face once more?”
  2370.     “Oh boy…”
  2371.     >One crash course in “how metroid crawl” later…
  2372.     >Luna figures out how to use her magic to manipulate the controls, and you explain the basics.
  2373.     >Three button fighter, special moves are listed on the cabinet, basic stuff.
  2374.     >Still… she’s off to a rough start.
  2375.     >She is managing to beat the first two opponents, after many many tries, but...
  2376.     >“Why is this ‘Hum Drum’ so superior to Shadowmane? He is a mere blank-flanked foal! Shadowmane should be the superior fighter!”
  2377.     “It’s supposed to be balanced so they’re all viable.”
  2378.     >”Well it is not! Now put in another bit!”
  2379.     >You reach into your pocket and come up dry.
  2380.     “Uh, I’m out.”
  2381.     >”You lack funds? How is this possible?”
  2382.     “I don’t know, what about you?”
  2383.     >”We are the princess! We do not carry our bits around in satchels like commoners! Such paltry services should be complimentary to us!”
  2384. “I see Twi and Celestia paying for everything they buy. In fact, Celestia tips pretty well.”
  2385. >”I see… so perhaps we do need to carry around our bits in satchels like commoners. This shall bring us closer to them! Come then, we must go to the bank!”
  2386. “Are they open on Sunday?”
  2387. >”It is called First Royal Bank, is it not? None are more Royal than I! I am sure they can subtract whatever we need from the Royal Treasury.
  2388. “That doesn’t really answer my question.”
  2389. >”They would not close their doors to us!”
  2390. “If they’re there…”
  2391. >”It matters not, the capital is ours to do with as we please and they shall not withold it from us!”
  2392. “I think Twi might get upset if I end up in jail for robbing a bank with you.”
  2393. >”We can not be jailed! We are above the law!”
  2394. “Which “we” is that?”
  2395. >”Enough talk, we go now!”
  2396. >This looks bad, but you should probably try to make sure she doesn’t get into any more trouble…
  2397.  
  2398. First Royal Bank, Afternoon
  2399.  
  2400. “See, Luna? The sign says they’re closed.”
  2401. >”It lies.”
  2402. >The doors glow and swing open.
  2403. “Luna, we really shouldn’t be here right now.”
  2404. >”And why not? They have allowed Fluttershy in.”
  2405. >!
  2406. >You look inside and spot the yellow pegasus inside staring at Luna, frozen in terror.
  2407. “... Fluttershy? Do you… work at the bank?”
  2408. >Upon hearing your voice, Fluttershy squeals like a frightened mouse and quickly flies behind a “Please Wait Here” sign to hide her face.
  2409. >”G-Good afternoon, A-Anonymous… P-Princess Luna… I… don’t work here… no…”
  2410. >Luna takes a step forward, smiling. “Fluttershy, you have no need to fear! We are your friends! If you are here for a bank job, we shall be happy to keep silent about your crime! You have forgiven me for my crimes, so as good friends, I shall forgive yours.”
  2411. >”N-No! I mean… no, I’m… not robbing the bank.”
  2412. “Well then why are you here? They’re closed right now, aren’t they?”
  2413. >”Why am I here? I… I just… I forgot something… at the bank. I-I wanted to come get it when nopony else was around… I wouldn’t want to cause anypony any trouble…”
  2414.     >”What a coincidence!” Luna says happily. “We too have forgotten something at the bank. Our funds. We wish to withdraw them so that we may learn how to ‘get good’ at Marevel Super Heroes!”
  2415.     >”Oh… I see. That’s… nice.” she whispers as she hides behind the sign.
  2416.     >”Come join us, Fluttershy! Is this not normal for commenrs to meet at the bank and hold conversation? Come, converse with us while we wait to be served!”
  2417.     >”N-No, I’ll just… stay right here.” She says, backing up further behind the sign.
  2418.     >”Do not be ridiculous, we insist!” Luna says extending her hoof heartily.
  2419.     >”It’s… fine. I was just leaving anyway.” Fluttershy says, looking around nervously.
  2420.     “Didn’t you forget something though?”
  2421.     >”Did I? I… must have forgotten that too. Oh well. It’s probably not important.”
  2422.     You hear hoofsteps coming from the back room as a well groomed stallion wearing an expensive suit and a gelled black mane walks out. “Sorry about the wait, if you come right this way to the back room, we can-”
  2423.     >”No!” Fluttershy squeals loudly, interrupting him. “I… I changed my mind! I don’t need it! Sorry for wasting your time!”
  2424.     >Fluttershy moves quicker than you’ve even seen Rainbow Dash move as she zooms out of the door in a yellow streak, quickly flying out of sight.
  2425.     >The Stallion frowns, “Doesn’t need it? But… Oh! My goodness, Princess Luna! When did you get here? What can Count Money do for you?”
  2426.     >”Greetings, good count. I have arrived to claim funds from the royal treasury. I only need as many bits as it takes to get good at Marevel Super Heroes!” Luna declares as she sticks her hoof out.
  2427.     >”Well, my dear princess, we don’t normally open our doors past 2:00 on Sundays, but I have no problem making an exception for someone as… exceptional as yourself.” He says as he takes her hoof and kisses it.
  2428.     “Wait, so… what was that about back there? Why was Fluttershy here?”
  2429.     >Count Money looks at you coldly. “I’m sorry, sir, but ‘Fluttershy’ is entitled to privacy about these matters.”
  2430.     >You can’t help but notice the way he said Fluttershy’s name.
  2431.     >It seems suspicious… but this guy seems intent on stonewalling you, and you’ve got no leverage to make him talk.
  2432.     >Besides, Luna seems either uninterested or entirely oblivious to the matter, as she is primarily concerned with getting enough change to last her the rest of the day.
  2433.     >Once she gets 2 large saddlebags filled with bits, she repays you for what you spent on her so far, and drags you back to the outdoor arcade to continue playing Marevel.
  2434.     >It takes a lot of bits, but she finally gets past the third opponent.
  2435.     >“Victory at last! Such fun we are having!” she exclaims joyfully.
  2436.     >Suddenly, you hear a mature mare’s voice speak up from behind. ”Excuse me, Princess.”
  2437.     >You and the Princess turn around to see an older looking mare with a long brown mane and buttercream coat standing next to a little brown foal wearing a propeller beanie.
  2438.     >”Ah, the peas- commoners are impressed by my display of skill and wish to congratulate me?” Luna asks with a self-aggrandizing smile.
  2439.     >The motherly mare shakes her head. “Not quite. It’s just that you’ve been on that machine for quite some time… I was hoping you could allow me and my son to play.”
  2440.     >The princess tosses her mane back haughtily. “The field of battle is no place for mothers and foals. You would stand no chance in such an arena.”
  2441.     >”Is that so?” the tan mare asks, raising an eyebrow. “Well in that case, you won’t mind if I challenge you?”
  2442.     >”Come at us however you like! We have vanquished foes a thousand times your size! You stand no chance against our superior skill!
  2443.     >She pulls out a bit and pops it in, taking the second player controls. “Then I suppose I’ll just pick Mare-velous if you don’t want me to hold back.”
  2444.     >”Face me at your own risk, commoner, for peace loving ponies stand no chance against one hardened by true battle!”
  2445.     >One PERFECT later.
  2446.     >You’d swear Luna was smoking with rage.
  2447.     >”H-How… you… you must have cheated!”
  2448. >”I’m cheating?” asks the motherly mare. “I even let you use your horn. Most tournaments don’t allow that since it gives an unfair advantage in inputs.”
  2449. “You lost. Just let her play with her foal.”
  2450. >”We have not lost yet! We have more bits still! We challenge you to a rematch!”
  2451. >Ten curb stomps later.
  2452. “Maybe you should try again next week. It’s getting kind of late.”
  2453. >”We shall not surrender! So long as we draw breath we shall fight!”
  2454. >The brown foal taps his mom’s side. “Mom, I’m getting hungry… let’s just go.”
  2455. >”We’ll go get pizza right after Mommy finishes crushing Princess Luna’s spirit, Button. I think there’s some pretzels in your backpack.”
  2456. >You and the foal glance at each other, sharing a mutual look of sympathy.
  2457. >”How many bits does she have?” asks Button.
  2458. “I think a couple hundred at least. I doubt she’s going to give up until she’s used all of them.”
  2459. >”I don’t think Mom’s giving up until then either.”
  2460. “Hey, if I leave right now, you’re not going to get salty and blow up the machine or your opponent, are you?”
  2461. >”We shall abide by the rules of the duel! It is Mare-velous who shall be getting blown up!” Luna yells as she concentrates on the screen.
  2462. “I’m just going to go hang out with Derpy. You… take care.”
  2463. >”Fare thee well then!”
  2464. >You leave Luna to her beatdown.
  2465. >Maybe she’ll learn something about humility after getting schooled that hard.
  2466. >Either way, you decided to make your way to Derpy’s house.
  2467.  
  2468. >Derpy’s house, Evening
  2469. >The lights are on in her house. Looks like she’s home.
  2470. >You knock on the door and hope you don’t end up getting interrupted by HER embarrassing alcoholic sister.
  2471. >This is why ponies need Cell Phones.
  2472. >After a second, the golden eyed mare answers the door. “Hi, Anon! What’s up?”
  2473. “I thought I’d see if you wanted to hang out. Are you free?”
  2474. >Derpy freezes in intense thought.
  2475. >”... Yup! I was just going to have dinner… but I’m not a very good cook. I was thinking of picking up a Pizza. Do you want to join me?”
  2476. "Sure, it'll be my treat."
  2477. "Sure, it'll be my treat."
  2478. >”Wow, really? Thanks! That’s so nice of you.”
  2479. “It’s nothing. Moonbutt gave me a little extra when she paid me back earlier.
  2480. >Derpy looks at you, tilting her head in confusion. “Moon… butt? Oh! Do you mean Princess Luna? I thought I saw you two earlier today when I was running a special delivery… but then I hit a tree, so I couldn’t stop and say hello. Still, I’m surprised you’re dating two princesses at once!”
  2481. “It wasn’t exactly a date, Derpy. Let me explain.”
  2482. >You tell Derpy about your day on the to Ponyacci’s and back.
  2483. >She lets you into her house and the two of you sit around at a table as you place the pizza down and Derpy goes to get some plates.
  2484. >”Luna’s pretty funny, isn’t she? Just because you can fight for real doesn’t mean you can beat someone like her at her best game! She’s got nicknames like The Bit Devourer, and The Home Wrecker, and Ponyville’s #1 MILF… I think that stands for Mare I’d Like to Fight.”
  2485. “That’s probably what it stands for. Still, I can’t help but wonder what Fluttershy was doing back there at the bank.”
  2486. >”Fluttershy forgot something… I wonder what it could be too.”
  2487. “And she even got the manager to open the doors for her after hours. If it was important enough to ask about there, I can’t think of why she’d just leave it, unless it was something she really didn’t want us to see.”
  2488. >”Something she doesn’t want you to see... something she forgot at the bank… sorry, I’m not really good at mysteries like this.”
  2489. “Well… there’s something you might know about. When I talked to the manager, he said her name kind of strange. You seem to know everypony’s names, what about Fluttershy’s?”
  2490. >”Aah!”
  2491. >You hear a loud crash as Derpy drops the plates on the floor.
  2492. “Derpy, are you okay?!”
  2493. >”No! Don’t ask me about that!”
  2494. “Huh?”
  2495. >”I-I know I tell you a lot of things, m-maybe things I’m not supposed to, but this is one thing I really really can’t say! Please don’t ask me about Fluttershy's name! I... I made a promise not to tell!"
  2496. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I won’t ask again, okay, Derpy? Just let me help you with that. You’re not hurt, are you?”
  2497. >”No… I’m all right. And it’s my fault for dropping it. You don’t need to help me.”
  2498. “It’s not anyone’s fault, it was an accident. Let’s clean it up together, okay?”
  2499. >Derpy looks a little sad… but you see a tiny smile appear on her face when she looks at you. “Okay. Let’s do it together.”
  2500. >She gets a broom and a dustpan, and you help her clean up the shattered plate and throw it away.
  2501. >”Sorry again…” she says as she puts the broom away. “This isn’t very fun, is it?”
  2502. “It’s just an accident, Derpy. You don’t need to apologize to me.”
  2503. >”Yeah… but accidents happen a lot more when I’m around. It’s part of my condition.”
  2504. “I see…”
  2505. >”I don’t mind telling you about it, Anon. I know you’re really nice. You wouldn’t make fun of me, right?”
  2506. “Of course not. I’d never make fun of you, Derpy. You can tell me if you really want.”
  2507. >Derpy goes back to the table with you where the pizza is waiting.
  2508. >”It’s hard to explain… I guess a doctor or Cheery would be able to tell you better, but I’ll try.”
  2509. >You sit down and wait for her as she thinks about how to explain it.
  2510. >”Do you know… how a pegasus flies?”
  2511. “Sort of. Magic comes from their heart and goes through the ley-lines in their wing bones to make them lighter, then it goes through the feathers to help them move, right?”
  2512. >”Yeah, that’s it! Well… the wiring of the magic in my body is kind of… different. It sometimes goes off when I don’t want it to.” she says rubbing her hooves together nervously.
  2513. >”So… whenever I feel really happy, or really nervous, or really excited, sometimes it messes with the part of my body that makes me lighter or heavier. Especially on my right side. So if it happens when I’m flying, my weight will get all messed up and I’ll crash. Or sometimes my right side will go light on it’s own when I don’t expect it, and I’ll lose my balance and do something like… drop a plate.”
  2514. “Have you always been like this?”
  2515. >She nods sadly. “I was born like this. I know what it’s called but it’s really difficult to pronounce. Parts of my body just don’t work as good as some other parts.”
  2516. >You can’t help but glance at her right eye as it drifts lazily upward.
  2517. >You hope she didn’t notice.
  2518. “If… you were born like this, that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t apologize so much. You can’t help the way you were born. It’s just bad luck.”
  2519. >Derpy smiles as she brushes her mane out of her eyes and looks up at you.
  2520. >”I appreciate the thought… but to be honest, I’ve never considered myself unlucky. In fact, I think I might be one of the luckiest ponies in Equestria. This condition may have given me a lot of challenges, but if I wasn’t born like this, I never would have met Cheerilee, or come to ponyville.”
  2521. >Derpy turns and looks back at her flank. “We wouldn’t have gotten our cutie marks the way we did. And I never would have learned that even if something sounds impossible… if you just think a little differently, you can do something you never thought you could do.”
  2522. “That’s really inspiring, Derpy.”
  2523. >Her wings flutter nervously. “Aww… it’s not that great. But I guess that’s why I’m not too worried about the future. I’ve been really lucky to be able to do this for as long as I have. I made a lot of good memories… and if I try hard, I’ll be able to figure out something else to do.”
  2524. “Derpy… what are you saying?”
  2525. >Derpy looks down at the table, then glances back up at you. “I’m losing my job, Anon.”
  2526. “What… why?”
  2527. >She shakes her head. “You don’t have to act nice. We both know why. I keep making mistakes… I crash into things… I’m always late… I’m just not a very good mailmare. And it’s been really fun for the past ten years, but… last year my old supervisor quit. And my new one wants to ‘turn the place around’. My replacement has a disability too, so nopony will raise a fuss when I'm fired."
  2528. “Derpy… do you like being the mailmare?”
  2529. >She looks a little surprised. “Do I like it?”
  2530. >Derpy stares down at her hooves and thinks before saying, ”... I love it.”
  2531. >”I get to see so many friends every single day… all those wonderful ponies in ponyville. Every morning I get to say hello to them with a smile, ask them how they’re doing, and leave them their mail.”
  2532. >”And even though not everypony is happy to see me all the time… the ones that are make me feel like I really do belong in this world… that I’m needed.”
  2533. >”The ones… like you, Anon.” she says as her left eye looks up at you. “Even though I messed up when we first met, you were so nice about it, and you tried to help me. If it weren’t for that… I never would have known what a wonderful person you were.”
  2534. >“And these days… I always get so happy whenever I see you at Cranky’s house, I just can’t help but lose control and crash…”
  2535. >You see her start to blush slightly as she shakes out her wings restlessly.
  2536. >”I guess that’s why I’m always so clumsy. I just feel so happy whenever I’m delivering mail to all these wonderful ponies I can’t control myself.”
  2537. “Derpy… if that’s how you feel, then I promise I’m going to do everything I can to help you keep your job.”
  2538. >”H-Huh? But… she already knows who she’s going to replace me with and everything…”
  2539. “If you really love this, then you can’t just give up on it without even trying. After hearing everything you just said, there’s no way I can just stand here and watch you lose something you put your heart into every day.”
  2540. >”But I… I don’t want to become a burden. Not to you or anypony else.”
  2541. “You’re not a burden, Derpy. Not to me. I care about you. And when you care about someone, you don’t just abandon them when they need help. We’ll get through this together, okay?”
  2542. >Derpy stares at you with her lip trembling slightly. ”Thank you... Anon.”
  2543. >“I… I’m not gonna cry. I’m gonna save my tears for the end.” she says to herself weakly.
  2544. “I don’t mind if you cry, Derpy.”
  2545. >”I know… but that’s what I promised Cheery back then. She made me promise not to cry until it’s all over. That way they’ll be tears of joy, right?”
  2546. “That’s right, Derpy. We’re not giving up until the very end.”
  2547. >”Heh… I feel so happy hearing you say that… I might just end up falling out of my chair at this rate. My heart is pounding… my wings feel tingly… my tummy is growling…”
  2548. “That last one’s… probably because we’ve been talking for a while. I hope the pizza didn’t get cold.”
  2549. >”Guess we better hurry up and start eating, huh Anon?”
  2550. “Yeah, let’s do that.”
  2551. >The two of you sat and talked while over pizza.
  2552. >She’s even adorable while she eats, the way she feeds it into her mouth like it’s a piece of paper going into a shredder.
  2553. >She blushes when she catches you staring and nearly falls out of her chair, but you both end up laughing it off.
  2554. >Once the pizza is finished, you talk casually for a bit and then say your goodbyes.
  2555. >You feel as though you’ve grown quite close to Derpy...
  2556. >And she in turn has grown closer to you.
  2557. >It would be faster for you to get home by taking a shortcut through the Velvet Room.
  2558. >You wonder… should you get your fortune told by Igor while you're there?
  2559.     >Yes, this should help guide you on your path.
  2560.     >You find a door to fit your special key into, and enter the Velvet Room.
  2561.  
  2562.     Velvet Room
  2563.  
  2564.     >Igor sits waiting on his chair with his hands folded while the Alicorn Elizabeth stands by his side.
  2565.     >”Welcome back to the Velvet Room.” Igor says with a smile.
  2566.     >”It’s been some time, hasn’t it? I’m afraid I must apologize for any confusion during your last visit. My assistant has not been properly trained in providing these readings.”
  2567.     >”Nevertheless… we have decided to allow that card to remain in our deck. We believe it may have appeared there for a reason.”
  2568.     >”I just don’t know what went wrong…” the Alicorn says to herself.
  2569.     >”Ah, but first things first, you have established three new bonds since we last met.” Elizabeth says as she levitates three cards in the air. “The Hermit, Devil, and Aeon Arcana have each opened a new path of power for you.”
  2570.     >”The Persona Cassandra of the Fortune Arcana, Kirin of the Hermit Arcana, Tau of the Devil arcana, and Amaterasu of the Aeon Arcana have each found their place in your heart.”
  2571.     >”Furthermore…” Elizabeth adds as she holds up a golden card, “The Priestess Arcana has earned a permanent home in your heart. It has revealed its true nature as the Persona Morgan Le Fay.”
  2572.     >”Now then…” Igor says as he slides a deck of cards over to you. “Draw three from the deck and lay them out on the table. I shall read your past, present, and future.”
  2573.     >You lay three cards out side by side.
  2574.     >”Very good. Now let us begin by having a look at your past.”
  2575.     >With a flick of his wrist, Igor turns over the first card.
  2576.     >“Ah… the Hierophant Arcana reversed.”
  2577.     >”Society is filled with rules and traditions that become accepted as truth.”
  2578.     >”But you are not one who will so blindly accept these truths, are you?”
  2579.     >”This card tells me that you have been questioning the ideas of society. You have refused to accept what others tell you is right and wrong, instead choosing to follow your heart and discover your own truth.”
  2580.     >”This is a card of rebellion and revolution. Whether this rejection of society’s ideals is positive or negative… well, that all depends on whether or not you succeed.”
  2581.     >”So then, what is your present like?” he asks as he flips over the middle card.
  2582.     >”Oho… this is quite an auspicious card for you to draw.”
  2583.     >”Your present holds the upright Magician.”
  2584.     >”This is perhaps one of the most fortunate cards to draw when attempting to accomplish a difficult task.”
  2585.     >”That is not to say that you are to succeed through luck. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
  2586.     >”The Magician tells me that you hold power. It is your own personal strength and force of will that shall allow you to accomplish your goals.”
  2587.     >”You are at a good point in your life to take action by using the resources available to you.”
  2588.     >”Your creativity and ingenuity will allow you to accomplish great things.”
  2589.     >”But perhaps we can learn more about what you might do in the future…”
  2590.     >Igor reveals the last card.
  2591.     >”The Hanged Man, upright.”
  2592.     >”This card can mean many things… but when viewed in the context of your past and present, its meaning becomes a bit clearer.”
  2593.     >”Accomplishing some of your goals will require “patience”. You hold a great deal of power, but you must know when to use it.”
  2594.     >”Waiting can be frustrating. To achieve the best outcome, you must act only when the time is right.”
  2595.     >”But did you know that the man on this card hangs of his own free will?”
  2596.     >”He has put his own comfort for the purposes of enlightenment.”
  2597.     >”Perhaps you will need to sacrifice what you want and put yourself in a difficult position for the sake of yourself and others in the future.”
  2598.     >”Be sure to keep your goals in perspective.”
  2599.     >”Do not sacrifice too much for too little… or you may find yourself unable to get down.”
  2600.     >”But there are some things in life are worth any price.”
  2601.     >”Then again, I suppose I don’t need to tell you that.” Igor says as he glances at your blank face.
  2602.     >"Well then, until we meet again." Elizabeth says with a courteous smile.
  2603. Twilight’s Castle Library, Night.
  2604.  
  2605. >Twilight is waiting for you with a smile on her face.
  2606. >“Welcome back, Anon!”
  2607. “Evening, Twi.”
  2608. >Tomorrow we’re going to see Silver Spoon and start getting things in order, so I guess we’ll be pretty busy next week getting you moved in and finishing up your lessons… anything you want to talk about tonight?”
  2609. “I was talking with Derpy… she told me a little bit about her condition. Do you already know about it or should I not be talking about this?”
  2610. >”Well it’s pretty clear to see that she’s… different, so when I met her I did some research on the subject to better understand her condition. She has something called Mana Core Arrhythmia.”
  2611. “Mana Core?”
  2612. >”Basically, if magical energy is blood, and ley lines are blood vessels, the Mana Core is the heart. Emotional stimulation causes it to “beat” irregularly. This can cause an overflow of magic, or it can cause it to stop entirely.”
  2613. “So if it’s her heart, why does it affect her so much more on one side?”
  2614. >”Well, just like your bloodstream, the vessels expand and contract to let magical energy through. But the pressure caused by an attack can damage your ley lines and make it difficult for them to control the flow of energy reflexively. Like a Dam springing a leak. And because your Nervous System is connected to your Mana System, it can overstimulate sensitive nerves in the brain and cause some damage.”
  2615. “That’s awful.”
  2616. >”It’s a lot worse in Unicorns. They have even more connections… and they have a ley-line running straight through the brain into the horn. Some of them end up performing spells uncontrollably and becoming a danger to themselves and others… and sometimes it just causes severe brain damage. Unicorns with MCA don’t tend to live very long.”
  2617. “Shit…”
  2618. >”It’s genetic, but not always expressed. Earth Ponies tend to be carriers because it doesn’t affect them as strongly due to the symptoms being difficult to notice. They have fewer ley lines, and they don’t use their magic as often, so they rarely suffer adverse effects.”
  2619. “Is there anything that can help? A cure, a treatment, something?”
  2620. >Twilight shakes her head. “Medical technology and research has been on the rise lately… but magical illnesses are far more difficult to treat. Things have come a long way since Derpy was born. There’s experimental drugs, magical resynchronization therapy, even acupuncture has been shown to reduce the severity of attacks in some patients. But there’s nothing that can undo some of the damage that’s already been caused… and those treatments all come with their own issues. There’s a few medical charities that focus on research and treatment of MCA, but honestly… well, it’s kind of shameful.”
  2621. “What’s shameful?” you ask as you sit next to her.
  2622. >She looks over at you with a bit of guilt in her eyes. “You’d think after living together for over a thousand years, our three races would have learned that we’re all the same. But there’s still a lot of ponies that think the races shouldn’t mix. Especially not with Earth Ponies. And… MCA tends to occur mostly in ponies with mixed parentage. Some ponies use it to justify their prejudice.”
  2623. “That’s kinda fucked up.”
  2624. >Twilight nods in agreement. “It's really fucked up.”
  2625. “... you don’t think…”
  2626. >”Don’t think what?”
  2627. >You quickly explain what Derpy told you about losing her job.
  2628. >”Anon, that’s… that’s a big accusation to make. I mean, Derpy does make a lot of mistakes, even if they’re not her fault… but saying it’s racially motivated?”
  2629. “I’m not saying it’s true, but it’s possible from what you told me, isn’t it?”
  2630. >”Even if it’s true, that isn't something that's easy to prove… for all we know she’s of mixed heritage as well.”
  2631. “I guess you’re right. I don’t want to jump to conclusions just yet. Patience."
  2632.     >”If you want to help her keep her job, you should focus on what you can see, and what you can change. I’d hate to see her lose her job too…”
  2633.     “Is there nothing you can do about it?”
  2634.     >”It’d be an abuse of my power to order somepony to not fire an employee… especially when it’s somepony I know, and that pony has been underperforming. I can’t use my authority like that, Anon.”
  2635.     “I know. I’m not going to force you into that kind of position, Twi. I’m just trying to think of a solution.”
  2636.     >Twi takes you in her forelegs for a hug. ”You’ll find one, I know you will.”
  2637.     “Thanks, Twi.”
  2638.     >”No problem. Is there anything else you wanted to talk to me about before we get started? We’re going to have a busy week ahead of us.”
  2639. ”Yeah, about SIHN… I’m wondering if Fluttershy might be next.”
  2640. >“Fluttershy? Why do you think that?”
  2641. “She’s been acting strange. There’s something that’s been bothering her she won’t talk about… it could be that she’s the next Root.”
  2642. >”Strange?”
  2643. “There’s something she doesn’t want to talk about. Something that seems to be bothering her.”
  2644. >”Hmm… did she seem lethargic, or tired in any way?”
  2645. “Not really. In fact she flew out of there pretty quickly.”
  2646. >”Then at the very least she’s not in Stage 1.”
  2647. “Couldn’t she be holding it in like Pinkie?”
  2648. >”Discord is there to observe her. I told him that if Fluttershy starts showing any Stage 1 symptoms, or doing anything odd like Pinkie was, that he should send word to us immediately.”
  2649. “I guess that’s the best preparation we can hope for if we’ve got an inside man looking out for her.”
  2650. >”Right now all we can do is react. Even if we did know for sure that Fluttershy was going to be next, I’m not sure if there’s anything to be done other than keeping her close by for when it hits. And… that’s IF we’re on the right track about it being related to the elements of harmony. I mean, if it is, then why Spike? He’s our friend, but he’s not an Element. While the chances of this being a coincidence are pretty low, it doesn’t mean it can’t still be a coincidence. We don’t know if the next Root could be somepony like Derpy, or Shiny, or Celestia, or Cheerilee, or Hayseed Turnip Truck. Until we figure out the reason why the Roots are appearing where they have been, we have to assume that anypony could be the Root.”
  2651. ”I’m worried about Rarity too.”
  2652. >”Rarity? Well… in terms of your friendship, I think you just have to apologize for trying to violate her privacy, and let her know that you understand why it’s wrong, and that you don’t plan on doing it again.”
  2653. >”In terms of her being the next Root… I’m pretty sure she’s upset about the Travel Ban, but she’s just too polite to say it. But that should be fixed soon if everything goes right."
  2654. “I just hope I can make things right with her.”
  2655. >Twilight smiles and rubs your shoulder with her hoof.
  2656. >”I don’t think she’s that mad at you, Anon. She gave you those clothes, after all. She’s your friend. Just apologize and I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
  2657. “You really think so?”
  2658. >”Of course. You’re an easy guy to get along with, Anon. You may be kinda strange and awkward, but it gets people’s guard down and helps them feel a little more comfortable.”
  2659. “Sure it’s not just my raw animal magnetism?”
  2660. >”You’ve got about as much animal magnetism as a timberwolf.” Twilight retorts with a smirk.
  2661. “Uh huh? Your wing boners tell a different tale.”
  2662. >”Or maybe they’re just trying to tell me to fly away as fast as I can.”
  2663. “For such a QTπ you sure can be mean.”
  2664. >Twilight smiles playfully and wraps her forelegs around you. ”Aww, don’t be sad, you know I love you!”
  2665. “I love you too, QTπ.”
  2666. >”Hmm…” Twilight looks at your face, thinking.
  2667. “Something on your mind?”
  2668. >”Well… kind of. I’m wondering if you really want me to just keep calling you Anon. Now that we’re together and everything. I was just wondering if you like being called Anon, or if maybe you’d prefer if I called you something like… darling, or love, or sweetie, or honey, or something like that.”
  2669. “Huh, I never really thought about it.”
  2670.  
  2671. “If you want to try to call me something else, I don’t mind. Just try whatever you feel like calling me.”
  2672. >”You sure? Okay then… thanks, baby.”
  2673. >Twilight frowns awkwardly. “That… felt kinda forced. I guess you’re not exactly the “baby” type… babe, maybe? But that’s sort of feminine… not much better I guess.”
  2674. >”Darling?” she suggests. “But then I’d start sounding like Rarity…
  2675. >”How about Angel?”
  2676. “Taken.”
  2677. >”Yeah… geez, this is hard. Handsome? Then again appearance isn’t exactly your strong suit…”
  2678. “Gee, thanks, Twi.”
  2679. >”Sorry.”
  2680. “I’m kidding. It’s not gonna work if you force it though, Twi. Why does it matter so much?”
  2681. >Twi looks away. “Well you know…” she trails off.
  2682. “What? What is it?”
  2683. >”I’m just saying… calling you Anon isn’t super romantic since it’s not your real name or anything… and maybe there’s a time when I… might need to call out your name. And I wouldn’t want to kill the mood.”
  2684. “... Are you trying to figure out what to call me when we’re doing it?”
  2685. >Twilight’s face flushes bright red and you can’t help but grin like a maniac.
  2686. “Well I know my nickname for you is going to be Princess Starbottom, so-”
  2687. >You’re interrupted by a pillow levitating up to your head and smacking you in the face.
  2688. >”I think I’m just going to call you a clueless asshole.”
  2689. “That’s Gilda’s nickname for me.”
  2690. >”Well if the shoe fits…”
  2691. >You brush the pillow away from your face.
  2692. “I’m surprised though. I’ve never heard you swear twice in one night.”
  2693. >Twilight smiles and puts the pillow down. “Guess you’re rubbing off on me.”
  2694. “Yeah, you like it when I rub off on you.”
  2695. >Twilight rolls her eyes. “Seriously, you are such a jerk.”
  2696. “Should I cut it out then?”
  2697. >Twilight glances over at you and considers it. “... nah, I know you’re just doing it because you think I’m cute when I get embarrassed. Honestly, I kinda like it. SOMETIMES. And not in public. Okay?”
  2698. “Of course. Besides, you like giving me a hard time every once in a while too, don’t you?”
  2699.     >Twi grins and whaps you lightly with a pillow. “Only ‘cause you’re such a big goofball.”
  2700.     >You lean down and give a little smooch on the nose. “No u.”
  2701.     >She giggles playfully and kisses you back. “I love you, Babe.”
  2702.     “I love you too, cutie.”
  2703.     >You played around for the rest of the night calling each other silly names and cuddling.
  2704.     >Neither of you seem to care that you completely forgot to study.
  2705.  
  2706.     Monday, November 21st.
  2707.     >The next Morning, Cranky puts you to work on a project to start repairing the roof.
  2708.     >Being a two story house, you can’t help but feel especially nervous every time Derpy comes to deliver the mail.
  2709.     >But luckily you manage to avoid any work related injury.
  2710.     >After work, you meet with Silver Spoon and Twilight to discuss the terms of your lease.
  2711.     >It’s a bit boring for you, but Twilight seems to be enjoying the negotiating and talking and paperwork involved in the process.
  2712.     >You also end up having to get an ID card and fill out a bunch of forms to become a legal entity able to own property.
  2713.     >These ponies may not have a lot of tech, but they sure do have a 21st century bureaucracy.
  2714.     >Over the next few days, you find yourself very busy with your job, paperwork, buying whatever necessities weren’t included with the house, and horse taxes.
  2715.     >It isn’t until thursday night that you finish signing the lease.
  2716.     >Even then, Silver Spoon has some things to take care of before it’s 100% ready for you.
  2717.     >You’ll be fully moved in on Monday it seems.
  2718.     >Some time during the week, you manage to gather from various secondary sources such as Derpy and Spike that Rarity’s favorite flower is a “rose”.
  2719.     >It is now Friday Morning.
  2720.  
  2721.     Friday, November 25th
  2722.  
  2723.     >You decide to give DTR some tutoring this morning.
  2724.     >When you get to her room dressed in your nice suit, she seems quite happy to see you.
  2725.     >”Sensei, you won’t believe what happened! I turned in that English paper.. and I got an A+! And she wrote "Very Creative" in the margins too!"
  2726. “That’s great news, DTR.”
  2727. >”Yeah, I’ve never gotten an A+ before in English! And my other homework got pretty good grades too.”
  2728. “And what about our bet?”
  2729. >”Bet…?” she asks, tilting her head.
  2730. >”Oh. I… I forgot about it. I didn’t do all my homework yet.”
  2731. >Looks like you lucked out this time…
  2732. “No problem. That gives us something to work on today. Besides, you did well getting an A+ like that. Maybe I should get you something nice as a reward for your improvement.”
  2733. >”A reward?” she asks incredulously. “What could you get me that I couldn’t get myself? I get more in my weekly allowance than you probably make in a month.”
  2734. “My master taught me that it’s not the price of the gift, it’s the thought you put into it.”
  2735. >”Well he sounds stupid.” she pouts.
  2736. “You think so? Twi seemed to like the gift I got her and it ended up costing me nothing.”
  2737. >DTR’s face lights up with wonder. “Y-You’re really dating Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
  2738. “Not so stupid now, huh?”
  2739. >The filly’s face scrunches in frustration. “You’re making it up, Sensei. No way are you dating a Princess.”
  2740. “Well you can think what you want. I’m not going to spend time trying to convince you, since it’s not like I can summon her at will. We’ve got homework to catch up on.”
  2741. >You spend some time helping her with her homework, teaching her the new concepts as they come. She seems to grasp them pretty quickly from your explanations.
  2742. >After an hour or two, you take a short break.
  2743. >DTR keeps looking over at you during a moment of silence when you’re not working.
  2744. “Something on your mind?”
  2745. >”I was just thinking about school…”
  2746. “It’s been a while since you’ve been there, huh. What are you worried about?”
  2747. >She takes a while to answer.
  2748. >”... Sensei, can I ask you a question?”
  2749. “Of course, DTR.”
  2750. >”Why do we go to school? Is it really important?”
  2751. >Again with the difficult questions...
  2752. >How should you answer her?
  2753.  
  2754. “It is important. But you have to be looking at it the right way. It’s not all about grades and tests and homework. It’s about being a part of the world. Going to school helps you prepare for what’s out there, not just in terms of knowledge, but how to deal with the challenges life throws at you. Those math problems might seem unimportant, and on a day to day basis you might not use everything you learn in school, but basically school is there to teach you how to learn. How to study, how to approach problems you don’t know the answer to, all that stuff. And if your school’s really good, it’ll teach you the value of learning, and why you should want to learn. There’s nothing a teacher wants more than to inspire their student to want to know more on their own. About the world, about themselves, about what they’re going to do in life.”
  2755. >”Hmm…” DTR is listening to you intently, waiting to hear more.
  2756. “And it’s about the other students too. It gives you an opportunity to share an environment with others where you’re all learning together, sharing the same struggles, and being able to bond over it. They’re like your comrades in arms, trying to make it through the same thing you are. They’re all individuals with their own trials and problems, and as you grow together and become friends, you learn to help each other with them. So school is important, even if it’s not for the reasons you’d think. Do you get what I mean?”
  2757. >DTR rubs her chin with her hoof. “I dunno… seems kinda confusing, sensei. Like… then why do we have to learn any of this stuff?”
  2758. “When you got that A+ it felt good, didn’t it?”
  2759. >”… it did.”
  2760. “Was it fun?”
  2761. >”Kinda... I dunno why.”
  2762. “It’s because it was a challenge. Facing and overcoming challenges helps us feel good about ourselves. It lets us know how strong we are. How smart we are. How good we are at things. And you didn’t just face that challenge, you did it in a way that was clever and creative."
  2763. >"... I guess it does feel kinda nice. Being clever."
  2764. “School can be pretty rewarding, even fun. But it all depends on what you put into it. You can miss out on a lot if you just do the bare minimum, or if you don’t go at all.”
  2765. >”Do you… want me to go back to school?”
  2766. >You smiles and tousle DTR’s mane a little bit.
  2767. “I want you to want to go. Do you want to go back?”
  2768. >”I… I kind of do but…”
  2769. >DTR pulls away from your hand.
  2770. >”You wouldn’t understand, Sensei.”
  2771. “Why not?”
  2772. >”You just… wouldn’t get it.”
  2773. “Then we don’t have to talk about it now. But if you do need someone to talk to about your problems, I’ll be happy to listen.”
  2774. >”Yeah, I guess…” she responds unenthusiastically.
  2775. >Diamond Tiara seems to have trouble trusting you…
  2776. >Perhaps if you got her “something” to show her you understood her, you may be able to get closer.
  2777. >You finish up the rest of the homework with her and say goodbye.
  2778.  
  2779. >Later, you stop by a flower stand selling roses.
  2780. >Rarity seems to like them… but apparently roses come in a lot more colors than just red.
  2781. >Plain red seems like the kind of thing you give your girlfriend…
  2782. >You probably shouldn’t get her something like that.
  2783. >Instead, you decide to get her a bouquet filled with some of each to try to express the complex emotions you feel towards her.
  2784. >Your master always told you that the best gifts hold a personal meaning to you and the reciever.
  2785. >A bouquet you designed yourself should hopefully get these feelings across to Rarity.
  2786. 2 parts Pink Roses to 1 part red, 1 part yellow, and one rose each of white and orange.
  2787. >After arranging it in what you think is a manner pleasing to the eye, you head over to the carousel boutique.
  2788.  
  2789.  
  2790. Carousel Boutique, Afternoon
  2791.  
  2792. >You knock on the door and wait for an answer.
  2793. >After a few seconds, Rarity opens the door.
  2794. >”Oh, good afternoon, Anonymous.”
  2795.     >You hold out the flowers for her to see.
  2796.     “I wanted to apologize for how I acted towards you last time, Rarity. I’m still getting used to everything, and I didn’t realize how inappropriate I was being towards you. I’d like things to go back to the way they were.”
  2797.     >You see Rarity break into a bashful smile. “Well… they are quite pretty. And I would like things to be like they were before… very well then, apology accepted, come on in.”
  2798.     >You enter, and see a few new unfinished dresses laying around the place along with neatly drawn patterns for what appear to be some sort of gown.
  2799.     “Glad to see you’re looking a bit busier.”
  2800.     >”Yes, I do have a new client. In… fact, it’s the pony I was having coffee with that day. I was a bit too… embarrassed to speak about it at the time, but I don’t have any trouble being honest with you, Anonymous.”
  2801.     “Well, you don’t have to tell me.”
  2802.     >”No, no, you deserve an explanation.” she says as she dismisses your protests with a wave of her hoof.
  2803.     >Somehow you end up sitting at her coffee table and getting poured a cup as she sits across from you.
  2804.     >Just as Twilight said, Rarity seems to take her coffee with cream and nothing else.
  2805.     >”To be honest… it was Princess Luna who was with me that day.”
  2806.     “I see… guess that makes sense too.”
  2807.     >You spoon some sugar and cream into your own coffee and take a drink.
  2808.     >”Things were going swimmingly, she asked me about making some clothing for her since she knew the travel ban must make things difficult… and well, I suppose for some reason or another, I ended up… propositioning her.”
  2809.     >You nearly choke on your coffee, but try your best to maintain your composure and avoid coughing and sputtering all over Rarity’s table.
  2810.     “I… see…”
  2811.     >”She became quite flustered, and unfortunately declined my offer before beating a hasty retreat without even finishing her coffee. When you arrived, the wound was still fresh, and I simply felt too distraught to speak about it rationally. I'm sorry for snapping at you, Anonymous."
  2812. “It’s fine, Rares. You had every right to be upset at me, acting like that. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you. With how much you’ve helped me without asking anything in return, I couldn't not try to help if there was something bothering you. I never meant to be prying into your personal life when you didn’t want me to.”
  2813. >”You… you are forgiven. I should have made my intentions clear instead of lying to you about that being Sweetie Belle’s coffee. If I had just said that I did not wish to speak about it, I’m sure you would have understood. You can forgive me for that, can’t you?”
  2814. “Of course I can. I’m your precious Onii-chan after all.”
  2815. >Rarity brings her hoof to her mouth and lets out a polite little chuckle. “Oh, Darling, you really are quite unusual.”
  2816. “I’m glad you’re willing to talk to me again like this. You’ve really helped me out a lot, Rares. If you ever need anything in return, don’t hesitate to ask.”
  2817. >”Yes, well… what are friends for, after all? It’s good to have you back.”
  2818. >You chatted as friends over coffee until it got late.
  2819. >Afterwards, you returned to the castle.
  2820.  
  2821. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  2822.  
  2823. “Evening, Twi.”
  2824. >”Welcome back! You have a good day?”
  2825. “Yeah, I was hoping you could help me with something though. Do you know any good history books about Alicorns that might be good for a young filly?”
  2826. >Twilight folds her forelegs and thinks. “History… well, I don’t know so much about History. Most of the stuff we know about Alicorns is just sort of “legends". Their greater history is quite poorly documented."
  2827. "So you don't have any, huh?"
  2828. >"Well I might... could you be more specific about what you're looking for? Something about Celestia and Luna? Or some other Alicorns?"
  2829. "Any purple ones?"
  2830. >Twilight smirks playfully. "Other than me? Well, Pluto is sometimes depicted as purple... but I dunno. They're more of "myths" rather than well documented historical figures. Would you want something like that?"
  2831.  
  2832.  
  2833. “That sounds pretty good. After all, Tia told me she believes they were real too.”
  2834. >”Real? Celestia told you that? I never thought… huh. In that case, I might order one for myself. I have one in mind that I read when I was a filly. I’ll put in an order for a couple copies.”
  2835. “Oh, and… would you mind signing it?”
  2836. >”Signing it? Why would I sign it? I’m not the one who wrote it.”
  2837. “It’s for DTR. I think having you write something in it for her might make it have a little more meaning.”
  2838. >You briefly explained the situation with your student.
  2839. >”Heh, well while I don’t approve of some of her actions towards me in the past, I’m glad to see that she’s showing a real interest in education now. Of course I’ll sign it!”
  2840. “Thanks a lot, Twi.”
  2841. >”Speaking of education, that reminds me… Monday, after you get off work, could you come to the castle and see me? I should have something for you by then.”
  2842. “Something?”
  2843. >”I have to keep it a secret for now… I’ll explain why on Monday, okay?”
  2844. “Sure thing. I’ll look forward to it.”
  2845. >”Great. Now then, since you’ve got such a passion for learning yourself, I’ve made these review tests for you…”
  2846.  
  2847. >You spent the rest of the night taking tests with Twilight to review what you’ve learned.
  2848.  
  2849. Saturday, November 26th
  2850.  
  2851. >Celestia is in town today.
  2852. >You decide to go see her wearing your Kawaii in the Streets, Senpai in the Sheets T-shirt today.
  2853. >Partially because you want to be casual with her, and partially because you’d look like a chode bowling in a suit.
  2854. >Now you'll just look like a chode bowling in a t-shirt.
  2855.  
  2856. >This time you find her waiting for you at the usual place in the Hayburger.
  2857. >”Good morning, Anonymous.” she says as she sits with the sun shining through her hair, producing that particularly enchanting illusion of motion.
  2858. “Hey, Tia. You already eat?”
  2859. >”No, but I did order for both of us. That’s okay with you, isn’t it?”
  2860. “By all means. It’s not like there’s much I can eat here anyway, so I just end up getting the same thing.”
  2861.     >”Excellent. And I was wondering… I did have a rather pleasant time at the bowling alley. Would you mind going again this week?”
  2862.     “I’m pretty short on ideas, so that sounds good enough for me.”
  2863.     >”Lovely. Then let’s head over after we’ve finished with our meals. And don’t think I’ve forgotten my promise to tell you more this week.”
  2864.     “Sounds good to me, just as long as you don’t keep asking me more difficult questions.”
  2865.     >”Are you sure? Because I wanted to ask you if you believed all this fast food was making my hindquarters too large…” she says with a pouty frown.
  2866.     “No.”
  2867.     >”You didn’t seem to give it much thought. Usually I see you go silent for a moment when making a difficult decision.”
  2868.     “This isn’t a difficult decision. The answer to that question is always no.”
  2869.     >”Because you should never tell a lady her hindquarters are large, or because you believe there is no such thing as too large?”
  2870.     “Yes.”
  2871.     >”Well well, now look who’s the clever one.” she says with a mischievous grin.
  2872.     >You both quickly finish off your meals and head to the bowling alley.
  2873.  
  2874.     Ponyville Bowling Alley, Morning
  2875.  
  2876.     >You get your lane far away from the entrance and begin bowling.
  2877.     >A few frames in you decide to ask her about what she mentioned last time.
  2878.     “So you said you were going to explain about how somepony becomes an Alicorn?”
  2879.     >Celestia releases her ball steadily down the lane and turns around to speak with you as it hooks into the pins flawlessly for a strike.
  2880.     >”I suppose it might be more accurate to say that an Alicorn becomes them.”
  2881.     “Becomes them?”
  2882.     >”When somepony proves themselves worthy, they are brought to a beautiful place… a sea filled with stars. But of course… these are no ordinary stars. They are the souls of Alicorns that inhabit the cosmos, come to watch one ascend to their ranks.”
  2883.     >Your ball returns, but you wait for Celestia to finish speaking before throwing it.
  2884.     >”Here, one of these alicorns will join with that pony to grant them their power. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work."
  2885.     >”Twilight did not have power granted to her from the heavens… rather it was inside her to begin with.”
  2886.     >”Due to Twilight’s connection with the Elements of Harmony… I believe it is possible that the Alicorn whose soul has connected with Twilight is one that resided within the Tree of Harmony. Twilight may be the “Reincarnation” of this Alicorn, or perhaps something else entirely. I’m sad to say that this is only a theory. If an Alicorn’s soul does reside within the Tree of Harmony, she is an ancient being beyond even my knowledge. One possibly as old as time itself.”
  2887.     “So… Twilight’s a god?”
  2888.     >”Oh, quite far from that. Even if my idea were true, it would simply be an ancient being sharing a portion of its power to a worthy successor of its spirit. The circumstances of Princess Cadence’s becoming a princess are quite unusual as well… I’m not entirely sure where her Alicorn spirit is destined to reside. In fact, she was found as a pegasus foal by an Earth Pony village. Nopony knows who she truly is or where she comes from, but I’m afraid her story will have to wait.”
  2889.     “Keeping something so I’ll have to come see you again?”
  2890.     >”No, but I believe the Minotaur bearing down on you might wish to speak with you first.”
  2891.     “The what.”
  2892.     >”YOU TAKE MY BALL, STRING BEAN?”
  2893.     >An eight foot tall minotaur with a massive muscular humanoid torso covered in blue fur stands upon two rather spindly looking blue hooved legs, and sports a bull’s face with oversized horns, a metal nose ring jutting out of his snorting nostrils, and golden eyes that stare straight at your blank face.
  2894.     >He also sports a black tie clearly made for ponies, looking comically undersized on him.
  2895.     "... huh?"
  2896.     >"Mess with my ball I put you through the wall!"
  2897.     >The minotaur seems to rear up to strike, but suddenly his arm seems to freeze in place.
  2898.     >He looks equally as confused as you until you notice Celestia's hoof gently resting on his right bicep.
  2899.     >"Excuse me, but there's really no need for that." she says calmly.
  2900.     >The Minotaur glares down at Celestia.
  2901.     >You recall that to everyone else, she looks like a simple Unicorn…
  2902.     >”Hooves off my arm or you’re in for some harm!”
  2903.     >Celestia releases her grip. “You’re right, that was rude of me to lay my hooves upon you like that. But I believe you may be mistaken… with such powerful minotaur muscles… I believe you mean to say that the 16 pound ball is yours, is that correct?”
  2904.     >”That’s right. That 16 pound beast belongs to IRON WILL! Not this string bean over here!”
  2905.     >You’d like to tell him that his rhyming’s a drag and he sounds like a fag, but Celestia gives you a look that tells you she wants to handle things here.
  2906.     >”Well you see, it’s just that my friend Anonymous over there is using the ten pound ball. I rented the sixteen pound ball for myself. You see, I prefer the minotaur style balls because I believe the weight imbalance caused by the hollow holes is an integral part of how the game is played. I don’t believe you’re really bowling if you’re using a purely spherical ball.”
  2907.     >”So you’re the one using my ball? A puny little unicorn?” he asks crossing his arms and standing tall.
  2908.     >Although the real height difference is probably a lot less significant than he thinks, her illusion spell seems to make her appear to be the size of a regular Pony.
  2909.     >”I admit I must seem quite petite to you. You have such amazing posture after all. It really gives you a strong presence when you communicate.”
  2910.     >”Uh, thank you. I mean, of course I have good posture! Body Language is one of the many techniques that I, Iron Will, teach in my 100% satisfaction guaranteed Assertiveness Seminars! From doormat to dynamo or your money back!”
  2911.     >You think Iron Will may be mistaking aggressiveness for assertiveness.
  2912.     >”A motivational speaker you say? You have a very good voice for it. Now then, you want this bowling ball I’ve rented, is that correct?”
  2913.     >Yeah! That’s Iron Will’s ball! Sixteen pounds for a unicorn? Don’t make Iron Will laugh! I bet you can’t even bowl!”
  2914.     >”You ‘bet’? If it’s betting you like, perhaps we could settle this over a game? If I score more points, I shall continue to use this ball until my time is up. If you score more points, I shall apologize and never use ‘your’ ball again.”
  2915.     >Iron Will snorts derisively. “Sister, you think you can beat a minotaur at BOWLING? And Iron Will of all minotaurs? You’re on! Iron Will never backs down from a challenge!”
  2916.     >”Excellent.” She turns back to you. “Anonymous, I’m so sorry to interrupt our time together, but do you mind if I play a game with Iron Will for a moment?”
  2917.     “Go for it. Just don’t start before I get my popcorn.”
  2918.     >”Thank you, Anonymous. I’ll try to make it up to you later.”
  2919.     >With that, the game begins.
  2920.     >They take turns using the same ball…
  2921.     >Iron Will seems to almost be as good as he thinks he is, which is still pretty damn good. Far better than you at least.
  2922.     >His technique is very deliberate… he takes short shuffling steps and releases in a long slide that hooks into the 1 and 3.
  2923.     >Celestia’s technique is a bit more difficult to nail down being a quadruped… but whatever she does seems to be working as she matches Iron Will point for point.
  2924.     >In fact, she matches Iron Will frame for frame.
  2925.     >Every strike… every spare, even empty frames are mimicked on Celestia’s side of the scoreboard.
  2926.     >At the end of the game, your suspicions are confirmed.
  2927.     >Final scores are Iron Will: 213.
  2928.     >Tia: 213.
  2929.     >”We TIED?” Iron Will shouts. “But… how… what do we do now! We never agreed on what happens if we tie!”
  2930.     >Celestia just smiles and hands the ball over to him. “Well, I suppose what happens is we say “good game”. You’re quite a talented bowler. I’m very pleased to have found such a worthy opponent in ponyville. And since my time renting the ball is up, you may have it. I’ll be purchasing my own ball in the future.”
  2931.     >Celestia extends a hoof for Iron Will.
  2932.     >Iron Will seems a bit conflicted, but all of the eyes on him from the heated bowling game seem to be pressuring him into sportsmanship.
  2933.     >He shakes Tia’s hoof with his hand. “Well played! I suppose there might be a worthy opponent in Ponyville after all! But next time Iron Will WILL show you who the better bowler is!”
  2934.     >”Oh, I’d count on it.” Tia says with a smile and a firm hoofshake.
  2935.     >Celestia walks to the exit, and you follow behind her.
  2936.     >Once you’re out of the building, you have to ask…
  2937.     “So… you tied on purpose, right?”
  2938.     >”If I lost, he wouldn’t have learned anything, and if I won, he may have become upset… so I decided a tie is really the best result. Besides, a Minotaur coming in here regularly enough to be recognized arriving without any company must be quite lonely. I couldn’t just let poor Iron Will bowl by himself with all that talent.”
  2939.     >You eye her suspiciously...
  2940.     “Just how much are you holding back against me when we bowl anyway?”
  2941.     >”You should observe your surroundings more carefully, Anonymous. You never noticed that I bowled southhoof against you?”
  2942.     “I gotta say I’m really impressed.”
  2943.     >”Oh, it’s nothing. When you live for over a thousand years, you tend to become fairly accomplished at your favorite sport.”
  2944.     “Not about the bowling. I’m impressed you were able to defuse the situation like that. I thought for sure this was going to end up in some kind of crazy bowling alley brawl.”
  2945.     >Celestia chuckles and takes a seat against a tree.
  2946.     >”A true lasting peace can not be attained purely through violence. For all of Iron Will’s brute strength, I could have ended him with but a thought. However, such a victory would only reinforce the idea that might makes right. Instead I chose to give him a valuable learning experience that he may not soon forget. He feels good about himself, and he has learned to think twice before judging other ponies to be weaker than him."
  2947. “What if he doesn’t?” you ask as you sit up against the tree with her.
  2948. “What if he goes back to his old ways of yelling at ponies like the angry lovechild of Dr. Seuss and Hulk Hogan?”
  2949. >”Oh, he very well might. It’s difficult to change someone in a single encounter. But if we each show kindness and understanding to one another in every situation, then little by little we change the world to a kinder gentler place for everypony.”
  2950. “Trying to be a role model, huh? I dunno though. Some folks will always be jerks even if you’re nice to them.”
  2951. >”I believe you more than anyone should know that it isn’t so black and white. We all have light and darkness within ourselves. Good and evil. Yin and Yang. And at any time, one may overtake the other. But if we feed the light within each other’s hearts, there is always hope for a better world filled with kindness. That is the kind of world I seek to leave behind for my children.”
  2952. “Your children?”
  2953. >”In a way, I view all of the citizens of Equestria as my children. I have watched them grow since the start, helping to guide them, protect them, and nurture them. I feel sadness when they are in pain, and I feel joy when they succeed. Though I have never produced a true child of my own, I do not feel lonely so long as I have the children of my nation to watch over.”
  2954. >You place your hand on Celestia’s hoof.
  2955. “I think they couldn’t have asked for a better mother.”
  2956. >”I feel so happy to hear you say that, Anonymous. You’re a fine young man yourself, you know…”
  2957. >Celestia’s massive wing stretches out and embraces you in a curtain of feathers.
  2958. >You feel an intense warmth emanating from her.
  2959. >”I would be very proud to have a son like you.”
  2960. >It feels good hearing her say that…
  2961. >You want to respond, but anything you can think of saying just feels like it would kill the moment.
  2962. >So you decide to say nothing, and stay next to her silently.
  2963. >The warmth of her body is comforting...
  2964. >It makes you feel tired...
  2965. >You ended up falling asleep beside her.
  2966.     >A while later, you awaken snuggled up in Celestia’s wing.
  2967.     >”Finally awake, sleepyhead?”
  2968.     >You rub your face and blink away the remnants of your tiredness.
  2969.     “Thought you’d be gone by now. Twi usually leaves me to wake up on my own like that.”
  2970.     >”Well you are quite a heavy sleeper.” she says, chuckling to herself softly.
  2971.     “Thanks for sticking around until I woke up.”
  2972.     >”I wouldn’t want to just leave you alone under a tree asleep and vulnerable. You know they say there’s been some pickpockets loose in ponyville lately.”
  2973.     “Thanks again then. For watching my back like that. Guess I’ll see you around then.”
  2974.     >”Yes, I think I’ll go off on my own again. But I had a wonderful time. Same time next week?”
  2975.     “Sure thing.”
  2976.     >Celestia gives you another intensely warm hug with her wing before walking off.
  2977.     >Still plenty of time left in the day despite having dozed off.
  2978.     >Perhaps you’ll make good on Discord’s offer for some “Hot Coffee”.
  2979.     >He could provide some insight on your current situation.
  2980.     >Or he could waste the rest of your day trolling you.
  2981.     >Either way, worth a shot.
  2982.     >You decide to head to Fluttershy’s Cottage.
  2983.  
  2984.     Fluttershy’s Cottage, Afternoon
  2985.  
  2986.     >There’s some noise coming from around back.
  2987.     >You walk around the cottage to investigate…
  2988.     >”... and I said, ‘Yes, Oatmeal! And as a matter of fact, I am crazy!’”
  2989.     >That’s definitely Discord’s voice.
  2990.     >As you reach the back side of the cottage, you see him having a little picnic with Sir Bearington and Angel.
  2991.     >He spots you with his wild red and gold eyes and gives a devilish grin.
  2992.     >”Why hello there, Anon. Care to join us?”
  2993.     >You glare at the little white rabbit, who glares right back at you.
  2994. >”Now now, no fighting~!” Discord says in a sing-song voice. “Can’t we all just turn off our hate machines for a moment and enjoy some coffee? Love your shirt, by the way. Those words seem familiar… oh, I wonder where I could have heard them before...”
  2995. "I'll join. But he better not stop me from putting anything in my coffee."
  2996. >"I’m sure Angel Bunny will keep his cute little paws to himself this time. Now then, some music to suit the mood… aha, I know."
  2997. >Discord snaps his fingers and music begins to play from nowhere.
  2998.  
  2999. Track: ~レイプ馬のテーマ~
  3000. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QWqRZRZ074
  3001.  
  3002. >You stare blankly at Discord.
  3003. >”Problem, Anon? Oh, of course. I haven’t served you your coffee yet. How rude of me!”
  3004. >His arm stretches over to you and hands you a little cup of coffee with an image drawn in milk of a sour faced little character with a prominent rear end and a large phallus sticking out of it.
  3005. “Why.”
  3006. >”You want to know why I’m doing this? Well… tell me, why do YOU think I’m doing this?”
  3007.  
  3008. Because you’re bored.
  3009. Because you’re bored?
  3010. Because you’re BORED!
  3011.  
  3012. “...”
  3013. >”See? No difficult questions here. Just good times, good coffee, and the dankest of memes!”
  3014. >Discord seems to be TROLLING YOU.
  3015. >You wonder if you’ll be able to get anything productive out of him like this…
  3016. >What should you do?
  3017.  
  3018. “Challenge accepted.”
  3019. >You have a seat and take a swig of your coffee.
  3020. >It’s surprisingly good, considering you forgot to add anything to it like an idiot.
  3021. “Not bad. The coffee, and the dickbutt.”
  3022. >”Oh, you pick up a few tricks or two when you’re as old as time itself. Probably older considering all the time travelling I’ve done.”
  3023. “I heard about that. The CMC mentioned going on a little adventure with you.”
  3024. >”Oh it was quite the tale. I could tell you about our travels… but I won’t. Comics are a dying industry after all. Please support the official release.”
  3025. “How do you keep doing that anyway? And why do I feel like I understand it when you do it… but at the same time I don’t?”
  3026. “Kekekek… oh, Anon, you truly are ignorant to the girth of my power. Sadly though, even limitless power can be… limited.” he says, tapping on his golden headband.
  3027. “So what, are you a god?”
  3028. >”Yes.” he answers flatly, taking another sip of coffee.
  3029. “... seriously?”
  3030. >”Well everyone knows that when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say “Yes”!”
  3031. “So… are you really a god?”
  3032. >”Yes!”
  3033. “I really screwed myself with this question…”
  3034. >”Who’s to say I’m not telling the truth? I mean really, would I lie to you?”
  3035. “Yes.”
  3036. >”O u.” he says waving his lion’s paw playfully.
  3037. “If you were telling the truth, how did those Elements of Harmony defeat you in the first place? I heard you pretty much made reality your bitch with that headband off. Couldn’t you have just turned everyone into tang or pulled some other crazy cartoon bullshit?”
  3038. >”You’re asking me… but perhaps you already know the answer yourself.”
  3039. >What could he mean…?
  3040.  
  3041. Choice:
  3042.  
  3043. “You meant to lose.”
  3044. “They distracted you with a picture of Tia’s bangin’ flank.”
  3045. “It’s like that shit with Dr. Manhattan.”
  3046. “Praise the sun.”
  3047. “The elements of harmony have a unique connection to you.”
  3048. “Shrek is love, shrek is life.”
  3049. "You don't know either"
  3050. >Put it in
  3051. "You're more than you appear to be."
  3052. "This better not get confusing in the pastebin."
  3053. >>>"Every other answer."
  3054.  
  3055.  
  3056. “So… every… other answer? This will show up in the pastebin right?”
  3057. >”Sorry, but the correct answer was: “All of the above!” Gold star for effort though.”
  3058. >He puts a gold star sticker on your shirt with comic sans writing that says “you tried”.
  3059. “So basically… you have a pretty much limitless amount of power that’s only dictated by your imagination, but you can’t actually use all of it because you’re certifiably insane?”
  3060. >”Graduated top of my asylum!” he says proudly.
  3061. “And even though you “know” all of these things, you don’t actually know anything at all?”
  3062. >"I believe it was Socrates who said, ‘Ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat.’"
  3063. “So you either don’t know these things but you’re crazy enough to act like you do, or you do know these things but you’re too crazy to know that you do. And either way it amounts to the same thing.”
  3064. >”That’s right, I can’t/won’t help you metagame. Good try though.”
  3065. “But if you started helping us out, we might consider letting you take off that headband.”
  3066. >Discord smiles and takes a sip of his coffee.
  3067. >”Tell me, have you ever heard of the Scorpion and the Frog?”
  3068. “I was going to wait for the anime adaptation. But go ahead and tell me about it.”
  3069. >”One day in a pond, a Scorpion asks a Frog to carry him over a river. The frog refuses, saying that the scorpion would sting him while the frog carried the scorpion on his back. But the Scorpion says that he would never do that, for if he did, they would both die. So the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the lake. Once they’re halfway across, the Scorpion stings the frog! As the frog dies slowly from the poison, it begs to know why the Scorpion stung him. To which the Scorpion replies, “It is in my nature.” Do you understand the message of this story?”
  3070. "You're telling me you have to act a certain way because it's part of who you are?"
  3071. >"What? No, the moral is don't take stupid risks for no reason. Seriously, what would the Frog stand to gain from carrying the Scorpion on his back?"
  3072. “What did Fluttershy stand to gain from keeping you around? What did Twilight stand to gain from convincing them not to turn you back into stone?”
  3073. >”Really, they’re quite reckless, don’t you think? Even after I showed that I was still willing to follow my true nature rather than listen to them, Twilight still calls me her friend… really, those ponies would let all those scorpions ride on their backs without hesitation. And yet… there is something quite mysterious about friendship. One might even say “magical”. We all follow the rules of nature… but somehow love has this interesting way of telling you to put the needs of others first, even if it doesn’t benefit you. Or to trust someone even if they ought not to be trusted.”
  3074. “Love?”
  3075. >”Did I say love?” he asks innocently. “Goodness, I must have misspoke. Then again I suppose it’s quite easy… friendship and love have a great deal in common. I believe there is a school of thought that “friendship” is just one of the many forms of love. Philia, I think is what they call it. Then Storge, love between parents and children, and of course your favorite I’m sure, Eros. The intimate love we tend to think of when it’s brought up. It can be quite confusing. Before we know it, we may have developed true “Eros” for one we thought we were hardly so close to at all… perhaps one with whom we even have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with. Oh, but I’m sure all my rambling is boring you.”
  3076. “What… what exactly do you know? How do you know this stuff? And why aren’t you telling anyone if you do know?”
  3077. >Discord chuckles and sits back as if sitting on an invisible throne.
  3078. >”Didn’t I just say that the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing? But if nothing is known, and I know nothing for sure, then surely there is nothing I don’t know!”
  3079. “I think even you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
  3080. >”Now you’re getting it!” he cackles.
  3081. >You have coffee for a while longer until Discord excuses himself to go wash his hair.
  3082.  
  3083. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  3084.  
  3085. >Having had a rather… chaotic visit with Discord, you returned to the Library and find Twilight writing in that magic journal.
  3086. “Hey, Cutie.”
  3087. >”Oh!” she exclaims, snapping the book shut quickly. “You’re back early. That’s good… these are going to be our last two days living in the castle together.”
  3088. “Well in that case… we should make good use of our time together, shouldn’t we?”
  3089. >”You’re right. I was thinking of waiting but… I think we should just do it right here and now.”
  3090. >You begin to move towards Twilight, but suddenly a large stack of papers flies in front of you and drops onto the table with a thud.
  3091. >”Time for your final exam!” she exclaims cheerfully.
  3092. “But… but… you can’t tease me like that…”
  3093. >”#2 Pencil only, no ink quills, no notes, flash cards, or cheat sheets.” she says flatly, levitating some writing supplies on to the desk neatly.
  3094. “Teacher Twilight, one day I will free Girlfriend Twilight will be free from your tyranny.”
  3095. >”You’ll have to wait until monday for ‘that’, Anon.” she says with a sly wink. “For now, it’s time for your final. No talking during the test.”
  3096. >You grumble softly and put your pencil to the parchment to start your final.
  3097. >It’s quite long and comprehensive…
  3098. >But overall, the final isn’t too difficult.
  3099. >It still takes you all night to complete it.
  3100. >You end up turning in after the last question is written down.
  3101. >Twilight congratulates you on your hard work as you shuffle off to bed and go to sleep.
  3102.  
  3103. Sunday, November 27th
  3104.  
  3105. >You wake up refreshed.
  3106. >Luna should be here today.
  3107. >You check the dining hall to see if she’s having coffee, but a guard informs you that she took it to go, saying something about heading to the field of battle.
  3108. >You figure that means she's at the outdoor arcade...
  3109.  
  3110. Ponyville Arcade, Morning
  3111.  
  3112. >Moonbutt is at the Marevel Super Heroes Machine.
  3113. >She seems focused...
  3114. >You recall what Rarity told you about "propositioning" her.
  3115. >Should you ask Luna about it?
  3116.  
  3117.     >What’s the worst that could happen?
  3118.     >Well she could kill you.
  3119.     >But when has that ever stopped you from doing shit?
  3120.     >You approach the dark blue princess to ask about her time with Rarity.
  3121.     “Hey, Rarity was telling me about how she was talking with you last week. How did all that work out?”
  3122.     >”We did it!” she exclaims.
  3123.     “What? When?”
  3124.     >”Just now!”
  3125.     “I don’t see her anywhere…”
  3126.     >”Direct your gaze screen-ward, Anonymous one!”
  3127.     >She points her hoof at the screen, displaying “FINAL BATTLE: Shadowmane VS MatterMane-iac”
  3128.     >Looks like the final boss is the unicorn version of Mane-iac from that part where she steals Masked Matterhorn’s powers.
  3129.     “Oh, you’re talking about the game.”
  3130.     >You shut up for a moment to watch her.
  3131.     >You don’t have to be quiet for long…
  3132.     >”YOU VOMIT MANED HARLOT!” she yells as the souped up Mane-iac takes off 70% of her life bar with a single super.
  3133.     “It’s the final boss. They’re supposed to be unfair.”
  3134.     >”We will find the one who designed this game and see how they enjoy us ripping away 70% of THEIR life with a single blow!”
  3135.     “Maybe you should take a break for a second. Could we talk?”
  3136.     >”Very well. You shall be spared our wrath for now, MatterMane-iac. But we shall return for your head!”
  3137.     >Luna has a seat at a nearby bench. “Now then, you were speaking of Rarity?”
  3138.     “Yeah, I just wanted to know how things were going between you two. She told me you were there for coffee a couple weeks ago.”
  3139.     >”Ah, did she? Yes, it was quite an… eye opening experience for us. For me, that is.”
  3140.     “How so?”
  3141.     >Luna rests her elbow on the table and stares up at the sky.
  3142.     >”A thousand and one years ago… the dynamics of relationships were a bit… different. It was far less acceptable for one mare to love another publicly. I am aware that things have changed. But I could not properly read her intentions… and when she made them clear, I was quite bewildered… so I excused myself posthaste and fled the scene.”
  3143.     “So you just didn’t like chicks, huh?”
  3144.     >”You misunderstand.” she says with a dry smirk.
  3145.     >“It is merely that we never expected a citizen to be so forward about their attraction to one of the ruling class. But for a ruler to request the company of females for pleasure was hardly so uncommon.”
  3146.     “Expand more. I mean, please explain more.”
  3147.     >”Even a true alicorn like myself has needs and desires. A “relationship” between a commoner and royalty could not be undertaken lightly. After all, a marriage between myself and a stallion would elevate that stallion to the status of Prince. So it could be troublesome if he is not fit for the responsibility of being royal. So to satisfy ourselves we employed royal courtesans and concubines. And since a stallion could produce something… unwanted, naturally Mares were the obvious choice.”
  3148.     “And do they… still do that?”
  3149.     >”It appears that we do not. It has fallen out of practice many years ago.”
  3150.     >Damn. And you’re pretty sure humans can’t get ponies pregnant either.
  3151.     >... you’re pretty sure, at least.
  3152.     >”Is something troubling you, Anonymous one?”
  3153.     “Uh... so… are things still good with you and Rarity?”
  3154.     >”Oh, yes. I revisited her to make my apology and explain the situation. She understood, and we remain on very good terms. She is a lovely young mare, and we meant no offense. In fact, I intend to visit her tonight as well to see how the garments I ordered are coming along.”
  3155.     “Sounds good… you’re sure things are all right then?”
  3156.     >”I am quite sure. We have been getting to know each other better and… discussing our feelings for one another. We shall end up deciding a course of action together.”
  3157.     “That’s good enough for me. Now how about we play some Marevel?”
  3158.     >The princess raises an eyebrow, “Be warned, Anonymous one. For my trial by fire last week has left me more powerful than ever!”
  3159.     “We’ll just see about that. Let’s do this.”
  3160.     >You head to the MSH Cabinet and slide a bit into the 2nd player slot.
  3161.     >Seems like you can choose between the Power Ponies & Humdrum, Mane-iac, Pharaoh Phetlock, Shadowmane, Long-Face, Smudge, and High Heel...
  3162. “Hmm… I always felt like this guy could use a little more love.”
  3163. >You move the stick and select Humdrum.
  3164. >”Fool, we have already learned how to use our projectiles to prevent that one’s stubby little limbs from reaching us!”
  3165. >You begin the first of what will end up being many matches against the Princess…
  3166. >Shadowmane seems to be a speedy ninja-like character with teleports and a throwing dagger projectile move.
  3167. >Humdrum on the other hand appears to have low health, low damage, a tiny range on his normals, and a much smaller stature… but some tricky mix up specials that hit low or overhead, very good speed, and even a dive kick.
  3168. >Luna’s certainly learned how to play the game and use her specials, but she’s still not used to real fighting game strategy.
  3169. >You make good use of this fact, quickly taking to the air whenever she throws a predictable fireball and coming down with a jumping heavy to launch into a basic combo.
  3170. >Once you’re in, you can continue the pressure by throwing in divekicks, slides, and overheads, overwhelming Shadowmane’s defenses and securing you several victories in a row.
  3171. “Yeah, you can’t just spam knives against a character with such a fast jump.”
  3172. >”If this were a real battle we would have torn you apart by now!” she says between gritted teeth.
  3173. “It’s not a real battle though. Don’t you know about games? Celestia seems to enjoy bowling…”
  3174. >”And I used to trounce her at it until she had gotten an extra 1,000 years of practice on me. But those sports lack the stimulation of simulated violence that I crave to satisfy my bloodlust and give me the thrill of battle!”
  3175. >”Now there’s a caption!”
  3176. >You hear a stallion’s voice and see the blinding light of a flashbulb.
  3177. >”WHO DARES?!” Luna exclaims, covering her eyes.
  3178. >You see a gray-coated stallion with a light purple mane and tail holding out a camera.
  3179. >”Snappy Scoop with the Daily Clopper. Care to comment on the current state of the quarantine, I mean, ‘travel restriction’?”
  3180. >Luna glares at the camerapony. “I do not. And how dare you attempt to capture my image for your rag?”
  3181. >Snappy Scoop just smirks. “Well this is a public location, so I’m free to take however many pictures of you I wish, and use anything you say in my rag!”
  3182. >The princess looks like she’s about to explode, but then closes her eyes and gives Snappy Scoop a calm smile.
  3183. >”Forgive us… there is much we do not yet know about the current world. As such we tend to get just a little bit confused… this “Camera” I believe it is called was not around in my time. It does intrigue me so.”
  3184. >”Really… so you’re telling me you don’t know how a camera works?” Snappy Scoop asks with a smug grin.
  3185. >”Indeed, we do not. Please, allow us to examine it.”
  3186. >Luna’s magic snags the camera by its strap, lifting it off of Snappy’s neck.
  3187. >”Hey, don’t touch that!”
  3188. >”Oh, but our hooves are nowhere near it! We merely wish to examine how it works. This little device… I see, the strap goes around one’s neck so they can manipulate it with a single hoof and their snout. And by exposing a strip of film to light it can capture even my beautiful image? How amazing that it can do such a thing!”
  3189. >Luna holds the camera just out of reach with her telekinesis as she examines it.
  3190. >”Give it back! That is property of the Daily Clopper!” Snappy yells.
  3191. >”If it can withstand capturing the full form of our beautiful appearance…”
  3192. “Princess-”
  3193. >”Then I wonder if it can withstand the full strength of one hundred thousand PSI!”
  3194. >Luna grins wildly as the camera suddenly implodes upon itself, crunching and compressing into a tiny little ball of black plastic before the princess of the night releases her magic and lets it fall to the ground.
  3195. >”Oh, it appears not. Perhaps you should refrain from attempting to capture us with a device that is clearly not worthy.”
  3196. >Snappy gathers the compressed camera ball, glaring at Luna before running off.
  3197. >What should you do?
  3198.  
  3199. “I don’t know if he deserved that. Don’t you think you went too far?”
  3200. >Luna smirks and tosses her mane casually. “He leaves with his body unharmed. I have read this “Daily Clopper” and I am sure that however I acted they would not hesitate to portray me negatively. This way I have sent a message to his kind that I do not wish to be interrupted when enjoying the company of my friend.”
  3201. “I know, but he was just trying to do his job, wasn’t he? And I’m pretty sure that camera was expensive.”
  3202. >”Then he should have taken better care of it.”
  3203. “But you might end up bringing about even more trouble.”
  3204. >Luna laughs, “Ahaha! On the contrary, Anonymous one. You are naive… if you do not show that you are willing to defend yourself, then those types will believe they can do whatever they please with you. They must be shown their place. A single act of violence sends a message preventing future conflicts before they start.”
  3205. “I don’t think it’ll last as long as you think. What if he wants to get revenge for what you did today? What if he holds a grudge and tries to go after you again?”
  3206. >”He is of no threat to me. And if he returns, I will simply teach him another lesson.”
  3207. “Well what about your image? Don’t you care what ponies think about you?”
  3208. >”The ponies who would read the Daily Clopper will think of me how they wish regardless of the truth. No reasonable pony believes the filth they print anyway. Or are you saying that his behavior is acceptable in this day and age? That he has a right to harass somepony who is simply trying to enjoy a day at the arcade with her friend?”
  3209. “Not really. I mean he was pretty out of line too, but-”
  3210. >”But unless we teach him that this behavior will not be rewarded, he will continue to harass whomever he pleases. If he believes it is acceptable to invade the privacy of a monarch, then anypony is fair game. We are standing up for all of them to show that such rudeness will not be tolerated.”
  3211. >"Now, let us continue our battles. I shall defeat you yet!"
  3212.     >Luna continues to lose to you at Marevel.
  3213.     >She’s actually not that bad, and with each match she seems to get closer and closer to learning how to play.
  3214.     >You continue to play game after game until Luna is tired and running out of bits.
  3215.     >She bids you good day, and lets you know she’ll be at Rarity’s for the rest of the evening.
  3216.     >Your mind can’t help but wonder if they’ll be putting clothes on or taking them off, but that’s their business, not yours.
  3217.     >Your business lies elsewhere. In the everfree forest.
  3218.     >You head out of the town and into the dark forest with Chrysalis on your mind.
  3219.     >There’s still so much more you need to know…
  3220.     >So much more you need to ask her.
  3221.     >You hurry through the forest, hoping to find her quickly.
  3222.     >Half an hour later, you encounter that familiar clearing.
  3223.  
  3224.     Everfree Forest, Evening
  3225.     >Chrysalis’s chitinous hide has lightened to a pale gray since you last saw her.
  3226.     >She stares at the ground with a blank unfocused gaze.
  3227.     >”Why… have you returned?” she asks slowly.
  3228.     “... I’d like to know more. About what happened to you. You said your mother died giving birth to you, didn’t she? What happened after that? You couldn’t have made it alone, surely.”
  3229.     >Chrysalis continues to look to the forest floor stained with green splotches of hemolymph.
  3230.     >”Even… as an infant. I had my instincts. I ate my mother’s love while I was still in the womb. Once I was born… somehow I knew I had to appear normal.“
  3231.     >”I do not remember what sort of form I took… but it was convincing enough for the fools who ended up caring for my mother as she gave birth.”
  3232.     >”They were tricked… and I was hidden away. Given to a new family who wanted to care for me.”
  3233.     >”They raised me… and in return I fed on their love every night.”
  3234.     >”At first I did not realize what I was doing. I didn’t understand what I did, or why I felt the need to do it.”
  3235.     >”But as I took their love, I not only sustained my life, but became more powerful. And more cunning as well. I matured quickly for my age."
  3236.     >”But it was not until I devoured their anima that I understood the full impact of what I had been doing, and what I had done.”
  3237.     “Anima…?”
  3238.     >”I spoke of it as a cherry previously.” she says, looking up and staring into the distance through the trees. “But anima is its proper name.”
  3239.     >”After I made a meal of my foster parents, I began searching through my past… and I found a diary detailing the circumstances of my birth, written by my mother.”
  3240.     >”It was then that I left the Crystal Empire. I did not know what King Sombra would do if he found me. I thought he might kill me… or raise me as “his” daughter and teach me his wicked ways.”
  3241.     >”... but now I believe that he may have known of my existence all along… and chose to let me run free as a wild beast. Like a wolf that believes itself to be a pup, playing with its teeth and claws, not realizing how dangerous it is. Not understanding why its friends won’t wake up.”
  3242.     >”Yes… he only needed let me follow my nature. That was his curse, wasn’t it? ‘The child you bear shall be a loveless and duplicitous monster just as yourself. It shall live a life unloved, and die its death unloved. For all of its time, a stranger it shall remain to all. Feeding on the hearts of others, just as you do.’ Well… he got it right in the end. Even our own children have turned against us.”
  3243.     “Your children… what happened with them?”
  3244.     >”I told you before, didn’t I? I miscalculated the priority of the needs of others as opposed to my own… and paid dearly for it.”
  3245.     “I know what you told me… but what really happened?”
  3246.     >Her eyes remain fixed straight ahead as she looks skyward.
  3247.     >”After my defeat by Twilight Sparkle… we were all weaker than ever. I had to use a significant amount of magic to allow us to flee and return safely to the outlands.”
  3248.     >”I spent many days with my hive… but they grew weaker. Unlike I who had fed on Shining Armor’s pure love, their stomachs soon grew empty.”
  3249.     >”And so I made a great mistake… I fed them the love I had stored up."
  3250.     >”So many of my children were starving… crying… begging for a meal.”
  3251.     >”I attempted to act like their mother… after hundreds of years of training them to think of me as their Queen instead.”
  3252.     >”I had trained them too well. Hardened them too harshly. They turned on me… they said that I was foolish… unfit to lead. And they cast me out.”
  3253.     >”I was not their mother. I was not their queen. I was nothing to them but an incompetent leader who needed to be disposed of.”
  3254.     >”Truly… I am my mother’s daughter. A foolish queen to the end.”
  3255.     >”And so I ended up here… alone. I chose to bet it all on one attack. One meal. But then you showed up, devoid of love. And I decided that this… this is the way it should be.”
  3256.     “Chrysalis… there’s still a chance. If you just-”
  3257.     >”Stop it.” she growls.
  3258.     >”Stop trying to save me.”
  3259.     “You’re giving up just because of bad luck? Just because it was me instead of anyone else?”
  3260.     >”That’s not it…”
  3261.     “Then what is it? Why are you so intent on thinking that there isn’t a way to save you?”
  3262.     >”Because I don’t want to be saved! I… I don’t want to live my life like this any more!”
  3263.     >”Even if you could save me… I’d just go back to how I lived before…”
  3264.     >”For me… being alive… it’s painful… it’s too painful…”
  3265.     >Her outburst of emotion seems to be causing her to breathe heavily… she seems quite weak.
  3266.     >”Why… why should I have to live like this?”
  3267.     >”I… I never asked… to be born… a monster…”
  3268.     >”I can’t live… without hurting others…”
  3269.     “Calm down, don’t push yourself.”
  3270.     >”My children don’t want me… I don’t belong… in this world…”
  3271.     >”I just… want… peace…” she wheezes.
  3272.     >”I don’t… I don’t want… to live… and be in pain…”
  3273.     >”I want to die…”
  3274.     >”Please let me die… I don’t want… to live a life… by hurting anyone else…”
  3275.     >As you look at her, you see tears begin to stream from her glassy unfocused eyes.
  3276.     >You suddenly realize… she’s gone blind.
  3277.     >Her breaths are rattling and weak…
  3278.     >"I... do not belong... in this world... any longer..."
  3279.     >”If… I can’t choose… how I live… I’d like to… choose… how I die.”
  3280. “Don’t give me that… don’t just give in to Sombra’s curse like that! I know we can fight it. What kind of crime are you trying to atone for by dying like this? The crime of being born? There’s no such thing! You deserve to live the life you really want! If you need a place to belong, I’ll give you one!”
  3281. >”Wait…” she croaks out.
  3282. >”There’s… something… I have… to tell you…”
  3283. “... okay, tell me.”
  3284. >”I’ve been… I’ve been lying… to you…”
  3285. >”The truth is…”
  3286.  
  3287. ———————————————
  3288.  
  3289. 5 minutes earlier
  3290.  
  3291. Fluttershy’s Cottage
  3292.  
  3293. >Fluttershy emerges from her kitchen holding a bowl filled to the top with greens, cucumbers, and slices of fruit, topped with a bright red cherry sitting on a dollop of crème fraîche.
  3294. >”Oh Angel Bunny, it’s ready~!” she sings out happily.
  3295. >She looks around, but the room is still and silent.
  3296. >”Angel? It’s dinner time... I even made your favorite… are you hiding from me?”
  3297. >Fluttershy begins looking under the furniture and in the little critter play structures set up around her house.
  3298. >”That’s strange… Angel would never miss his special recipe. In fact… I don’t see any of my friends around at all.”
  3299. >”Angel? Discord? Sir Bearington? W-Where is everyone? Are you outside? Or- Ah!”
  3300. >Fluttershy’s body suddenly seizes in place, causing her to drop the bowl on the ground, shattering it loudly and spilling the salad all over the wood floor.
  3301. >”W-What’s going on…? I… I can’t move!”
  3302. >”Heh heh… you little bitch.”
  3303. >Fluttershy’s eyes widen, her body beginning to tremble despite being held fast by some mysterious force.
  3304. >”W-Who’s there?” Fluttershy stammers.
  3305. >”You have no idea just how much of a god damn nuisance you are… making me come out here like this.”
  3306. >”Y-You should leave right now… if… if my friends come back… aah!”
  3307. >Fluttershy’s body is forced to the ground face first, silencing her as she slams into the wood.
  3308.     >”Those creatures put up even less of a fight than you… and that’s saying something, you pathetic little shit. Now I don’t recall asking you to say a damn thing… so you better shut your fucking hole if you know what’s good for you.”
  3309.     >”You… you better not have hurt them…”
  3310.     >”Hahaha… again with the sass back. And I thought you were supposed to be the quiet one? Well… you’re not the smart one, that’s for fucking sure. Element of kindness, right? How the hell are you kind? I had to come out here like this because even after four weeks, you’re not even INFECTED! How did you avoid it for so long? There’s gotta be some god damn limits to how timid one pony can be!”
  3311.     >”I… I’m sorry… I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
  3312.     >”I’d have been fine if you ended up being last… heck that’s pretty much what I expected. But not even being in line at all? At this rate… everyone’s just going to keep going about their lives all hunky dory… what the fuck’s the point of that? Don’t you even care how much trouble you’re putting everyone through? And now that I’m going to have to do this myself… ugh, they’ll never figure out why things are happening the way they are! They’re all going to be so confused because of you!”
  3313.     >”I’m sorry… I don’t know what I did but I’m so sorry…”
  3314.     >”You’ve got some mouth on you… a pretty little mouth… maybe I should teach it a lesson about shutting the fuck up…”
  3315.     >Fluttershy just whimpers weakly…
  3316.     >”... heh heh heh… I’m just kidding you little fuck! Why would I do something like that? I’m not here to hurt you… I’m here to help you. All of you. You aren’t going to learn shit without someone here to show you the truth. You can’t even tell when you’ve lost something important… well I’m here to show it to you…”
  3317.     >Fluttershy’s body slowly spins around...
  3318.     >She gasps. “You... no, it's not-!"
  3319.     >A foreleg suddenly covers Fluttershy’s mouth, and her body begins to go limp… her eyes go out like a lantern being snuffed.
  3320.     >”Have fun in there..."
  3321.     >Fluttershy collapses to the ground.
  3322. At the same time, in the Everfree Forest…
  3323.  
  3324. >”the truth is… true… truth… I… I….”
  3325. >”... I… I feel…”
  3326. “Chrysalis? What’s wrong?”
  3327. >”tired…”
  3328. >Chrysalis’s eyes droop shut and her entire body goes limp.
  3329. “Chrysalis!”
  3330. >You rush over and throw your arms around her.
  3331. >She feels cold…
  3332. “No… not like this, damn it… I didn’t even get to tell you…”
  3333. *thump*
  3334. *thump*
  3335. >!
  3336. >That sound…
  3337. >Did you imagine it?
  3338. >You listen closely.
  3339. *thump*
  3340. *thump*
  3341. >It’s slow… and it’s weak…
  3342. *thump*
  3343. *thump*
  3344. >But it sounds like…
  3345. *thump*
  3346. *thump*
  3347. “... a heartbeat.”
  3348. “You’re… you’re still alive? You’re sleeping… this is SIHN! Damn it… why now? Of all times, why now?”
  3349. >There’s no doors nearby to warp through…
  3350. >The nearest house is Fluttershy’s cottage near the edge of the forest.
  3351. >But if you leave Chrysalis here, who knows what could happen…
  3352. >Ponies tend to get weakened by their time in Fantasia.
  3353. >And what’s going to happen if she’s sleeping out here alone?
  3354. >This is an important decision.
  3355. >You must choose how to act next.
  3356.  
  3357. >You look down at Chrysalis’s weak, lifeless looking body.
  3358. “I’m sorry, Chris… I can’t do it.”
  3359. “Please, forgive me.”
  3360. >You bend down… and scoop her up in your arms, lifting her up and throwing the changeling over your shoulder.
  3361. “I can’t just let you die like this!”
  3362.  
  3363. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGf2b1H91JA
  3364.  
  3365. >You look up at the starry sky…
  3366. >She taught you how to find it… damn it, which way?
  3367. “Come on, where are you… okay that’s… then you go… and it’s… there! Polaris! North is that way… I need to go this way!”
  3368. >You begin running, trying to hold her carefully.
  3369. >Her body feels so fragile… like it could snap.
  3370. >She’s light. Lighter than she looks. Lighter than you’d think. Lighter than you’d hope.
  3371. >But even emaciated as she is, she’s still weighing you down.
  3372. >It makes it hard to run… but you have to endure it.
  3373. “This is nothing… Cranky makes me carry heavier shit all the time!”
  3374. >You chase after the stars, knowing that they’ll lead you southwest to where you need to go.
  3375. “Chris… I won’t let you die the way he wants to…”
  3376. >Your legs are burning… you have to keep talking to distract yourself from the pain.
  3377. “I won’t let you die alone. I won’t let you die unloved.”
  3378. >Everything looks the same… you can’t tell how close you are.
  3379. “Almost...”
  3380. >Voices echo in your mind…
  3381. >”You can not save everyone. Not always.”
  3382. “I won’t know if I don’t try!”
  3383. >”The cycle of death is necessary for all things.”
  3384. “Not today!”
  3385. >“Don’t waste your time crying over our broken heart. Don’t you know that insects do not have one?”
  3386. “The hell you don’t, liar!”
  3387. >”Do not sacrifice too much for too little…”
  3388. “Some things in life are worth any price!”
  3389. >”Don’t take stupid risks for no reason.”
  3390. “I have a reason!”
  3391. "I'm not giving up! That's not me!"
  3392. "Come on, damn it move!"
  3393. >You urge yourself on faster and faster...
  3394. >The trees become a blur...
  3395. >Until finally, you burst out of the woods, tightly holding on to Chrysalis and panting loudly.
  3396. >Your lungs are burning...
  3397. >But Fluttershy's cottage is just in sight.
  3398. "I made it…"
  3399. >Your body feels weak…
  3400. >Chrysalis seems to get heavier and heavier as you stumble and begin to fall…
  3401. >But your collapse is stopped by the arrival of a large furry paw gripping you under your arm.
  3402. >You take a deep breath and turn your head to the side.
  3403. >”Hroroawwrr.”
  3404. “Sir… Bearington?”
  3405. >Fluttershy’s Kodiak Bear friend seems to have found you out back, and begins helping you to the cottage, sticking by your side and supporting you with an arm.
  3406. “Thanks…” you wheeze.
  3407. >”HRrorrror.”
  3408. “Yeah… I’m... coming... “
  3409. >With the help of Sir Bearington, you approach the house, and a group of guards out front spots you.
  3410. >”There he is! Somepony inform the princess!”
  3411. >”Quick, get him inside!”
  3412. >”Wait, what’s that he’s carrying?”
  3413. >”That’s the changeling queen!”
  3414. >”Hold off! Don’t come any closer! That thing is dangerous!”
  3415. >One of the guards approaches with a spear…
  3416. “Get back! Don’t touch her!”
  3417. >”Anonymous, you don’t know what that thing is! It has the power to destroy us all!”
  3418. “I know damn well what she is… don’t touch her. I want to talk to Twilight…”
  3419. >”We’re not letting the princess anywhere near that monster! If it’s got you under its spell we’ve got no choice but to take it by force!”
  3420. >The guardspony approaches threateningly, but suddenly is blocked as Sir Bearington steps between you, rearing up and roaring loudly at the guard, causing him to quickly retreat to the other two.
  3421. >From inside the house, you see Rainbow Dash jet out of the building.
  3422. >Seconds later, Pinkie Pie bounces out, followed by Spike, running with his red tie flapping about.
  3423. >Dash hovers in place a few feet from you, staring at the buglike creature slung over your shoulder.
  3424. >”Dude… that’s Queen Chrysalis!”
  3425. “I know.”
  3426. >”Big guy, where were you? Why are you holding the queen of the changelings?”
  3427. “Everfree Forest. Former Queen.”
  3428. >Pinkie walks over with her head tilted in confusion. “What’s up with her? She looks all pale and grody.”
  3429. “She’s dying. And… she has SIHN too.”
  3430.     >Dash eyes her suspiciously. “And you’re sure she isn’t just faking it or controlling your mind with the mind control powers she has?”
  3431.     “She’s not…”
  3432.     >Spike looks around nervously. “I… I’ll check. If she’s got SIHN and she’s not faking it, I’ll be able to tell. But you’re going to have to put her down first, okay big guy?”
  3433.     “If I put her down, will she be safe?”
  3434.     >The rest of the team looks between each other and nods.
  3435.     >You place Chrysalis on the grass.
  3436.     >Dash and Pinkie look poised to attack…
  3437.     >Spike seems a bit nervous too, as he walks slowly towards the former queen.
  3438.     >He reaches the two of you and kneels down, clutching her head gently as he closes his eyes.
  3439.     >”... Yeah, she’s a branch victim. Stage 3.”
  3440.     >Everyone breathes a sigh of collective relief.
  3441.     >”So why is she here?” Dash asks.
  3442.     “She’s been living in the forest… there’s no time to explain. Where’s Twi? Who’s the root? Is it Fluttershy?”
  3443.     >”Twilight’s out looking for you, Big Guy.” Spike explains. “And yeah, Fluttershy’s the Root. Stage 3. And it’s a big one this time. It knocked a lot of ponies into Stage 3 all at once. We’ve been freaking out over here since we couldn’t find you!”
  3444.     “I’m here now. I came as fast as I could when Chris got hit.”
  3445.     >”Well there’s something else you should know… we think someone attacked Fluttershy.”
  3446.     “Attacked?”
  3447.     >”There was a broken bowl inside… and when we got here, Discord was outside with his headband activated. He says something snuck up on him and said the word, and he got stuck there until we went to check on Fluttershy.”
  3448.     “Is she hurt?”
  3449.     >”Physically she’s all right, but she’s still the strongest Root SIHN we’ve seen yet.”
  3450. “What’s taking Twilight so long anyway?”
  3451. >”Well she shoul-”
  3452. >*FzztPOP*
  3453. >Twilight appears in a flash of purple magic, breathing heavily, sweat dripping from her brow.
  3454. “Twi, are you okay?”
  3455. >”Yeah…” she answers as her legs tremble slightly. “Just gotta… catch my breath… lotta teleporting…”
  3456. >Pinkie hands Twilight a glass of water, which she gulps down in a couple seconds.
  3457. >”Thanks, Pinkie Pie. I feel a lot better. Or… maybe… I don’t.”
  3458. >Twilight is staring straight at Chrysalis’s body flopped limply on the ground.
  3459. “Twi, I can explain.”
  3460. >”Did I… am I hallucinating from using too much magic, or is that really Queen Chrysalis on Fluttershy’s lawn?”
  3461. “Twi, there’s not much time. We have to save fluttershy. Listen to me.”
  3462. >”Why are you back here… why… I’m not letting you take it…” Twilight’s eyes narrow as her horn begins to shine...
  3463. ”Twilight!”
  3464. >”Huh?”
  3465. “Twilight, listen to me. You’ve been making a mistake!”
  3466. >”A… a mistake? But she…”
  3467. “Twilight, please. Please listen.”
  3468. >”I… but… she… you…”
  3469. >Twilight seems torn…
  3470. >She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
  3471. >”... okay. I’ll listen.”
  3472. “Chrysalis gave her love away to her hive. She’s starving to death, Twi. She’s been in the everfree forest wasting away. I met her when I got lost by accident. That history of the changelings you know is a lie. King Sombra distorted the facts to try to hide what really happened. She’s not a monster, she was cursed by King Sombra before she was born to become this. And now she has SIHN. When I was talking to her tonight she was so far gone she even lost her eyesight. Just look at what color she is! She can’t hurt anypony. Please, I need you to promise me her safety until we can end this outbreak. I need to help her.”
  3473. >Twilight stares in silence for an uncomfortably long time.
  3474. >”That’s crazy… it makes no sense…”
  3475. >”... but I believe it.”
  3476. >”You do?!” Everyone else exclaims simultaneously.
  3477.     >”I believe you, Anon. That kind of crazy disjointed to the point explanation… those are your words, not anyone else’s. And I trust you. Even if you did hide this from me.”
  3478.     “Twi… thank you.”
  3479.     >”Not to say you’re totally off the hook. We ARE going to talk about this later. But for now… Guards!”
  3480.     >The guardsponies snap to attention.
  3481.     >”Set up a bed in one of Fluttershy’s rooms and put Chrysalis in it. Gently. Do not harm her, or by inaction allow any harm to come to her. These are my orders as a princess. Am I clear?”
  3482.     >”Yes, your highness!” They shout in unison and salute.
  3483.     “Thank you so much for believing me, Twi.”
  3484.     >”If Twi believes you, we do too.” Dash says proudly.
  3485.     >”Yup!” Pinkie adds.
  3486.     >”I mean, I never really doubted you, Big guy.” Spike says a bit nervously.
  3487.     “I don’t blame you. This isn’t how I wanted to break the news. But right now we have to focus on Fluttershy. Although… one thing first.”
  3488.     >”Does… Fluttershy have a bathroom?”
  3489.     >Your dream team collectively groans.
  3490.     >Of course, you don’t really need to use the bathroom.
  3491.     >Wait, now you do actually.
  3492.     >But that wasn’t why you asked.
  3493.     >You just needed a door to make a quick visit...
  3494.  
  3495. Velvet Room, Evening
  3496.  
  3497. >The Alicorn attendant is waiting for you alone.
  3498. >”My master is out once again… but we saw what has transpired. I admit, it is quite distressing.”
  3499. >”The threat lurking in the shadows has finally made its move.”
  3500. >”And now there is great danger threatening you and the ones you love.”
  3501. >”Please... take care of yourself out there.”
  3502. >”Now then, I believe you have need of my services.”
  3503. >She fans the deck of tarot cards out to you with her magic.
  3504. >You note the golden tint on the Priestess card.
  3505. >”The Priestess Arcana has earned a special place inside your heart. You will carry it with you as long as you live.”
  3506. >”A touching sentiment, isn’t it? But more importantly, it means you have grown more powerful.”
  3507. >”Be sure to continue to improve your bonds, and others will find their place in your heart.”
  3508. >”Now then, select five to take with you into this new Fantasia.”
  3509.     >You think carefully, coming to a strong conclusion and selecting Cyrano, Dracula, Zhar-Ptitsa, Chiron, and Brynhildr to join you.
  3510.     >You pocket the 5 cards and Elizabeth bends forward into a bow.
  3511.     >”It is always a pleasure to see you. I hope dearly for your safe return.”
  3512.     >”Oh, by the way… if we were to return to the cosmos, where do you think our soul would reside?”
  3513.     >”Perhaps it would inhabit the compendium… or maybe the Velvet Room itself.”
  3514.     >”Or might there be a Planet Elizabeth out there waiting for me to return to it?”
  3515.     >”Oh, I hope there is… I wonder if there is intelligent life on Planet Elizabeth.”
  3516.     >”Yes, I would like to visit Planet Elizabeth some time and see what sort of sport they enjoy.”
  3517.     >”Due to the unlikeliness of the planet having earth-like gravity, I am sure that the metagame of any sport developed on Planet Elizabeth would have to be changed accordingly.”
  3518.     >”Perhaps the gravity is so light that an overzealous jump could send you clear out of Planet Elizabeth’s atmosphere and into the cold abyss of outer space! Oh, how thrilling that would be!”
  3519.     >”But… then again, it would be troublesome to lose one’s sport ball that way.”
  3520.     >”Perhaps they enjoy Chess on Planet Elizabeth instead. Using chess pieces made of Depleted Uranium so that they do not float away in the low gravity.”
  3521.     >”We shall have to see if we can acquire such a set of Elizabethan Chess Pieces.”
  3522.     >”If we do, we would love to play a game against you some time.”
  3523.     >”Until then… fare thee well.”
  3524.     >After a quick pit stop, you head back into the living room where Fluttershy is sleeping, with each of the members of the Dream Team doing their own thing to mentally prepare themselves.
  3525.     ”Sorry about that, is everyone ready?”
  3526.     >Pinkie looks up at you with a determined smile. “I know I’ve been going through a lot, but I’m 110% dedicated to saving Fluttershy right now. I won’t slow you down, Leader.”
  3527.     >Dash stretches her wings out wide. “I’m just hoping you can all keep up with me this time. Uh, that is to say, I’ll be right behind you, Leader.”
  3528.     >”I’ll be right by your side whenever you need me, Anon. Oh, and here’s your weapon.” Twilight says, floating the warhammer over to you.
  3529.     >”Everything’s all set up, big guy. We’ll dive on your orders.” Spike says, adjusting his tie.
  3530.     “There’s no time to lose. Let’s go!”
  3531.  
  3532.  
  3533.     Fluttershy’s Fantasia
  3534.  
  3535.     Sea of Trees
  3536.  
  3537.     >The five of you find yourselves in a forest blanketed by a thick rolling fog…
  3538.     >Acting quickly, you remove the glasses from your pocket and place them firmly on your head.
  3539.     >You look at your team, and they each begin slipping on their respective pairs of glasses.
  3540.     >It seems that Pinkie has chosen to wear a pair of thick rectangular glasses…
  3541.     “Those look a lot more practical than I was expecting.”
  3542.     >Pinkie rolls her eyes and looks at Twilight. “Well I wanted to wear the FUN glasses that I normally wear but…”
  3543.     >”But, that would defeat the purpose.” Twilight finishes. “The point is to have a way to signal that we’re in a dream just by looking, so you can’t wear anything that you’d normally wear.
  3544.     >”Too bad.” Dash chimes in. “I’m kinda diggin’ the aviators now. Maybe I should have gone with goggles…”
  3545.     “We can worry about Fashion later. Spike, how are we looking?”
  3546.     >Spike removes his hand from his temple and shakes his head. “I’m getting a lot of noise, Big Guy.”
  3547.     “Noise? What kind of noise?”
  3548.     >”Both kinds.” Spike replies. “Python figures stuff out by sound… but there’s this high pitched noise preventing me from tracking her."
  3549. "Let's look around. Maybe we can figure something out."
  3550. >You each begin to examine your surroundings…
  3551. >All of the trees in the forest are nothing but bare bark.
  3552. >No leaves, no fruit, and once you see through the fog skimming along the forest floor, you notice that the roots are entrenched in dried-up grassless ground.
  3553. “So… fertility metaphor?” you guess.
  3554. >Twi shoots you a disappointed look. “Seriously? That’s the first place your mind goes? I hope I never have to see what your dreams are like...”
  3555. “Dash had a bunch of sex issues, why not Fluttershy?”
  3556. >”I do not have “a bunch” of sex issues!” Dash yells defensively.
  3557. >”... I have one… little… sex issue.” She admits sheepishly.
  3558. >”It uh, kinda looks like the Everfree Forest!” Spike says in an attempt to change the subject. “We could be in there… we’d just have to head southwest to Fluttershy’s cottage, right?”
  3559. >”I dunno… isn’t the Everfree Forest a lot more… foresty? And a lot less dead?” Pinkie asks.
  3560. >Twilight’s face is up close against one of the dead trees. “I think Pinkie might be on the right track. I don’t think this is supposed to be the Everfree Forest.”
  3561. “Why's that, Twi?”
  3562. >Twilight looks back at you and begins explaining, “I know enough Dendrology to identify any local trees, even most of the ones in the Everfree Forest. I don’t recognize these... But I can tell they’re all the exact same species of tree.”
  3563. >”Does it matter?” Dash asks impatiently.
  3564. >”Trees and flowers have a lot of symbolism behind them. They could give us a hint of what to expect from her Shadow. I thought it might have been Prunus avium, but they’re way too small to be Cherry Trees. Perhaps if I took a cross section and examined the age of the tree I could narrow it down by looking at its lifespan…”
  3565. “Twi, I think what Dash was trying to say was that If we don’t get to Fluttershy by the time she reaches Stage 6, it won’t matter what her problem was. Her problem’s going to be the angry shadow trying to murder her.”
  3566. >"So what's the plan, big guy?"
  3567. “If that noise is blocking you from finding her shadow, can you figure out where it’s coming from?”
  3568. >”I’ll give it a shot, big guy.”
  3569. >Spike holds his head and concentrates...
  3570. >[Okay, I got it! The sound is coming from north-northwest.]
  3571. “Good job, little man. Everyone stick together. Let’s go.”
  3572. >You wade through the thick carpet of fog, through the dense trees.
  3573. >It’s difficult to navigate the forest without even any stars to help guide you.
  3574. >Only the white full moon hangs in the sky.
  3575. >Luckily, Spike’s ability gives you a bit of an edge in figuring out where to go, as every few minutes he stops you to correct your heading.
  3576. “So what kind of sound is it anyway?”
  3577. >[Do you know what a dog whistle sounds like?”
  3578. “Can’t say that I do.”
  3579. >[Well, it’s like that.]
  3580. >”An ultrasonic frequency above 33,500 Hz… could it be a shadow making that noise?” Twilight wonders out loud.
  3581. >”Why’s she giving us such a hard time finding her shadow anyway? Pinkie and I led you right to us, didn’t we?” Dash asks as she tries to fly up above the treeline to get a better view.
  3582. “Guess it’s because Fluttershy isn’t an exhibitionist like you.”
  3583. >”I think you mean “extrovert”?” Twi corrects you impatiently.
  3584. “Yeah, that too.”
  3585. >”He’s right though! Rainbow and I just wanna be surrounded by all kinds of ponies telling us how much they love us, but Fluttershy’s all shy and fluttery. She hates being the center of attention!”
  3586. “Makes sense that her Shadow would try to conceal itself from us then…”
  3587. >Suddenly, Spike halts. [Hold up! I hear something else getting mixed in with the noise!]
  3588. “Stop. Little man, what do you hear?”
  3589. >[The voices… what are they saying? I can barely understand them through that noise. ‘Sweeter…’? Something’s… sweeter? I don’t get it, but they’re coming closer.]
  3590. ”Everyone be on your guard.”
  3591. >You grip your warhammer tightly in your right hand while your left shuffles through the cards in your pocket, trying to figure out which of your Personas to call upon first...
  3592. >[Here they come!]
  3593. >Your fingertips grasp Brynhildr’s card as you see blurs of rapid movement in the treeline.
  3594. >Then, from the fog leaps 5 black-furred canine creatures!
  3595. >Their four limbs are thin and spindly and their bodies seem lithe to the point of being emaciated.
  3596. >White markings are drawn like bones all over their pitch black fur.
  3597. >Fortunately they don’t seem to have any jaws… but instead a loud howling sound emanates from a white mask in place of their heads, looking almost like an androgynous human face with slit-like empty eyes, thin nostril markings, and wine red lips that appear painted.
  3598. >The pack begins circling you, forcing you into a cross formation with Spike being protected at the center.
  3599. >”They’ve got the advantage in these conditions…” Twi says nervously as she stands her ground.
  3600. >”These things are so creepy… what’s up with those masks? That kind of face on an animal just looks wrong…” Dash remarks as she stands with her wings outstretched.
  3601. >”They’re doggies!” Pinkie squeals joyfully, bouncing up and down. “Who’s a good boooy? Who’s a good boy?”
  3602. “Pinkie, they’re shadows, they’re not going to let you pet them.”
  3603. >”Hee hee! I know that, silly, but just because they’re dangerous doesn’t mean you have to be scared of ‘em! They’re just cute little doggies! And if they’re gonna be bad doggies than we’re just gonna have to teach ‘em how to play nice!”
  3604. >Dash starts chuckling to herself. “Hahaha… yeah! I’m not scared of a bunch of puppies! Let’s see if their bite can really match their bark!”
  3605. >”I knew we’d need your positive attitude, Pinkie. Looks like we’re dog catchers for tonight!”
  3606. “As expected from the Element of Laughter, huh?”
  3607. >[This shadow is classified as the Starving Wolf. It’s part of the Temperance Arcana. If they’re this close I should be able to scan them through the noise, but be careful until I finish!]
  3608. "Business as usual then. Dream team, Engage!"
  3609.     >You swiftly raise the card from your pocket in a practiced motion and stab right through it with your finger.
  3610.     “PERSONA!”
  3611.     >The phantasmal form of a winged woman appears in front of you and raises her golden shield.
  3612.     >A burst of blue magical energy flows through you and your friends, hardening your body in preparation for the enemy’s attacks!
  3613.     >In response, you see one of the wolves raise its head and howl loudly, sending a green burst of energy through the pack of shadows and speeding them up!
  3614.     >”We’ve got that trick too! Red Baron!”
  3615.     >Dash shatters her card in midair, calling the plane and its enigmatic pilot into existence as its engines and propellers whir to life, empowering with you the same spell to put you on even ground!
  3616.     >”Thanks guys! Now it’s showtime!” Pinkie says before tossing her card up and jumping into the air after it, shattering it with an aerial hoofbump!
  3617.     >”Apollo!”
  3618.     >Pinkie’s Persona emerges from the shattered card…
  3619.     >From the sea of her soul appears a tall, musclebound dark-skinned man man with a full puffy afro, bright red boxing gloves, and a star spangled pair of shorts.
  3620.     >Her Persona shows off its winning white smile and rushes forward, smacking a Wolf with a flurry of rapid fire jabs, ending with a hook that sends it flying!
  3621.     >”Great job, Apollo!”
  3622.     “I think that’s the wrong Apollo...”
  3623.     >Twilight rolls her eyes and smiles. “It’s Pinkie Pie, don’t question it. But thanks to you, I can keep up now! Nimue!”
  3624.     >A fair-skinned maiden with long brown hair rises up, pulling a shining silver sword out of a deep blue pool as she rises, before rushing at the off-balance wolf and slicing it neatly in two with a flash of her blade, causing it to dissolve into globs of shadow!
  3625.     >[Great job, Twi! Four enemies left, here they come!]
  3626. >The four remaining Wolves dart around you in a circle, jumping in and out of the fog to try to obscure their positions.
  3627. >With their enhanced speed, it’s almost like they’re multiplying into a massive pack.
  3628. >They’re patient, trying to choose just the right moment to strike, until finally one makes its move by pouncing at Pinkie from above!
  3629. >But without even looking, Pinkie sidesteps, dodges the wolf’s claws by a hair, spins around, and pulls a bright blue miniature cannon out of nowhere, knocking it with her hoof to cause it to explode straight in the shadow’s face, knocking him back into the mists in a blast of confetti and streamers.
  3630. >”Sorry, but my tail gave you away ages ago!”
  3631. “I can see how she beat you now, Twi.”
  3632. >[It’s just a distraction! Look out!]
  3633. >Two of the wolves are standing still and gathering a bluish energy into a ball before striking it with their paw, shattering it into a rain of icy spears that launch straight at you and Dash!
  3634. >That protective aura you summoned earlier guards you from major injury, but the icy spears still stick to you and dash, wrapping you in a chilling pain and sending you to the ground.
  3635. >[They figured out your weaknesses that fast? I call shenanigans!]
  3636. >Your formation broken, the wolves begin to take leaping strikes at your remaining group.
  3637. >Twilight tries her best to defend herself, putting her naginata to good use to avoid serious injury while Pinkie jumps and rolls around to dodge them, forcing you all into a high speed melee while you and dash try your best to recover from your downed state.
  3638. >”Come on everypony, let’s get back in the fight!” Pinkie shouts as Apollo raises his right glove in a triumphant stance, causing a white wave of energy to wash over you and Dash to reinvigorate you.
  3639. >Dash shakes away the icicles and flaps her wings. “That all you got, you sons of bitches?”
  3640. >”Dash!” Twilight calls out.
  3641. “Hey, it’s true. Anyway, I gotta mix things up. Change! Cyrano!”
  3642.     >You draw a new card out and tap it, summoning the long nosed swordsman, whose mocking laughter slows the wolves down back to their normal speed.
  3643.     “Guard yourself for now, Dash. Wait for the right moment.”
  3644.     >”I hate waiting, but I hate those stupid ice spells more.”
  3645.     >Twilight follows up by commanding Nimue to send a wave of gentle healing light over your group. “We’re back to neutral, don’t break formation this time!”
  3646.     >You watch carefully… this time you’re faster!
  3647.     >As the wolf’s claws come sailing towards you from the darkness, you quickly bring up the shaft of your warhammer to stop its charge and kick it away, forcing it to retreat!
  3648.     >Your friends as well hold their ground, dodging and parrying the strikes that now seem to be in slow motion compared to before.
  3649.     >[I see… that’s why! Look at that one that’s slightly bigger, it’s the Alpha! Take it down and the others will be vulnerable to fire!]
  3650.     “Let’s take it down then. Twi, lend me a hoof?”
  3651.     >”I’ll lend you something better! Catch!”
  3652.     >Nimue appears and tosses her sword, sending it spinning through the air towards Cyrano, who catches it deftly in his left hand and brandishes his dual swords.
  3653.     “Get him, Cyrano!”
  3654.     >The long-nosed persona rushes at the pack leader, assaulting him rapidly with his double swords, slicing away before rearing up and bringing down both swords simultaneously for a devastating cross slash!
  3655.     Team Up Attack: X-Calibur!
  3656.     >The blades leave a deep cut that leaks a viscous black goop, and the Alpha Wolf seems to be struggling to stay together until a blue streak neatly bisects him, leaving a rainbow trail in its wake as it explodes.
  3657.     “Nice one, Dash. Pinkie, this is your chance!”
  3658.     >”You got it, leader! Horseona!”
  3659.     >Pinkie smashes the card high in the air to summon Apollo, who begins firing off a series of blindingly fast punches until his fists catch fire, raining flames down on the wolves and sending them rolling around on the ground in pain as they catch ablaze!
  3660.     >The Starving Wolves are severely put off balance by the fire, and the trio seems lost without their leader.
  3661.     >”Whaddaya say we kick things up a notch, Leader?” Pinkie asks, looking over at you with a grin.
  3662.     >You hold your warhammer high and prepare to lead the charge. “Let’s do it!”
  3663.     >”It’s PARTY TIME!” Pinkie exclaims!
  3664.     >The four of you rush forward in unison, overrunning the fallen shadows and delivering a frenzied all out beatdown until every remaining shadow violently explodes into a cloud of black goop and dust!
  3665.     >You lean your warhammer on the ground and wipe sweat from your face as Pinkie jumps around triumphantly.
  3666.     >”Oh my gosh wasn’t that an exciting battle? Were you excited ‘cause I was excited I’d never been so excited-- well, except for that time I saw Twilight walking into town and I went *gasp* but I mean really, who can top that?”
  3667.     “Heh, good work, Pinkie.”
  3668.     >[You’re getting close to the noise. Just a little bit further!]
  3669.     “Then let’s get moving. Full speed ahead!”
  3670.     >Your group takes off running, heading straight towards the source of the sound…
  3671.     >[Wait, huh? We just ran past it! Go back!]
  3672.     >You turn around, but all you can see are the identical trees blanketed in mist…
  3673.     “There’s nothing there…”
  3674.     >”It’s above us!” Dash yells, pointing her hoof at the sky.
  3675.     >You all look up, and catch a glimpse of that white mask attached to the brownish body of a hairy creature gliding under the faint moonlight on wide fleshy wings…
  3676.     “An ultrasonic noise… I thought it might have been a bat…”
  3677.     >”A… A bat?” Twilight says fearfully. “But I thought… I thought I got rid of that part of her!”
  3678.     “Maybe it’s still in there somewhere… or maybe it’s just from her memory of that event. Either way we have to take that thing down to find Fluttershy’s shadow. Dash, Twi, you two can take it in close combat. Pinkie and I will support you from a distance.”
  3679.     >”Got it!”
  3680.     >They take flight together and head towards the bat while Pinkie takes aim with her Party Cannon and you thumb through your cards...
  3681. “You oughta do. Chiron!”
  3682. >The wise Centaur appears and notches an arrow while Twilight and Dash streak towards the Bat’s back with their blades…
  3683. >But the moment before their attacks connect, the bat swiftly drops altitude, letting the two winged ponies soar straight over him and quickly darting around the sky to avoid the follow up shots by Chiron and Pinkie!
  3684. >”Hey, no fair! You weren’t even looking!” Dash yells.
  3685. >”It’s using echolocation to track our movements! I should have known he’d- Ah!”
  3686. >The bat creature suddenly darts at Twilight and latches onto her with his claws!
  3687. >As Twilight struggles in midair, trying to keep airborne as well as fend off her attacker, red streams of energy flow out of Twilight’s body and into the Bat!
  3688. >”Get your claws off her!”
  3689. >Dash quickly flies at him to break them up, but the Bat just manages to slip out of the way, receiving only a minor cut from Dash’s bladed wings.
  3690. >”Thanks, Dash…” Twilight groans as she shakes herself off.
  3691. >[It’s called a Thirsty Bat… even if it’s alone, don’t underestimate it! This thing’s no pushover, and I can’t scan it as long as it’s making that noise!]
  3692. “If we could just get it down here, we could hit it with our stronger attacks…”
  3693. >”Is that all? Then give me some juice and let me take care of it, Leader!”
  3694. >”All right then. Twi, keep him busy, Pinkie, help me with Dash!”
  3695. >”Understood. Show them your power, Nimue!”
  3696. >Twi shatters her card with her horn, quickly summoning her persona and letting loose a rapid fire torrent of icy shards at the Shadow. As they streak towards it, they suddenly splinter into thin needles of ice and rain down on it from every angle!
  3697. >It flaps its wings wildly and thrashes about to fend off the icy assault, and once it ends the hairy monster gathers a large ball of black energy between its claws and tosses it up into the air where it splits into four, one flying at each of you and narrowly missing.
  3698. >[Watch out for that dark magic! One hit and it’s over!]
  3699. “Got it… we’ll have to finish this quickly then.”
  3700. >You focus your mind and the blue card of The Fool appears from thin air!
  3701. ”Persona!”
  3702. >”Horseona!”
  3703. >Red and green lights wash over Dash’s body, empowering her with the physical ability she needs to rush straight at the shadow, slamming right into it and dragging it with her up into the air before locking her forelegs around its wings so it can’t escape!
  3704. >She lingers there with it for a moment before soaring into a straight dive with the Bat, taking it with her to the ground in a streak of rainbow light cumulating in a massive colorful explosion!
  3705. >The shadow quickly begins to get up, but you’re ready for it as you charge with your warhammer and take a massive swing, knocking it straight into a tree and snapping its trunk in half.
  3706. >Twilight suddenly streaks down from above with her persona in tow to deliver a powerful jumping slash, causing it to screech in pain!
  3707. >”And here comes the knockout!” Pinkie cheers as Apollo dashes through the trees to deliver a powerful straight punch to the gut!
  3708. >The shadow’s screeching stops as the wind is knocked from its lungs and it reels in pain…
  3709. >[Got it! Aww, no weaknesses? But it’s only resistant to Light and Dark, so just go town on it!]
  3710. “Can do! Loki!”
  3711. >”Nimue!”
  3712. >”Red Baron!”
  3713. >”Apollo!”
  3714. >Your personas surround the bat and unleash each of their strongest elemental spells at once, resulting in a multicolored magical storm that rains down on the thirsty bat until its body begins to rupture and burst into blackness!
  3715. >[Looks like you kept that battle from dragon on too long! Get it? … Nevermind.]
  3716. “Noise should be gone now, right? Can you find her shadow?”
  3717. >[Let's see... ah, yeah, that's way better. It's... kind of strange, but I can hear it. It's coming from the east. If we head there we should find her shadow.]
  3718. "East it is then. Let's go."
  3719.     >You and your crew start booking it at max speed to the east, determined to reach Fluttershy’s Shadow.
  3720.     >[We’re getting closer… she’s not too far now.]
  3721.     “Hey, I think I see something… just up ahead through the fog!”
  3722.     >You run through the haze towards the dark silhouette of something massive…
  3723.     >As you approach, you see small figures at its base, and prepare yourself for a fight, but…
  3724.     >[Wait! Those aren’t shadows there… those are ponies!]
  3725.     >The four of you run closer until you can make out the bodies of several slumbering ponies…
  3726.     >Once you get closer, you see Lotus and Aloe are sleeping next to each other… Bulk Biceps is wandering around in a daze, and you even recognize that stallion from the bank, Count Money, as he presses his hooves against… a solid gold wall?
  3727.     “Huh?”
  3728.     “... Oh.”
  3729.     >”What in Equestria…?”
  3730.     >”Dude…”
  3731.     >”My egotistical monument to myself was better. You could eat it.”
  3732.     >You all stare up at a massive gold wall surrounding a solid gold castle with an exotic looking aesthetic, several tiers of buildings with sloped triangular walls, and every single inch of it made from solid gold.
  3733.     >[This looks familiar… yeah, I’ve seen castles like this! They weren’t made of gold, but this is just like the ones I see in those samurai movies all the time! The evil shogun will be holding the princess captive at the top of the castle, and the lone swordspony will have to fight his way through the shogun’s enforcers until he gets to the top and faces off in a one on one duel with the evil shogun himself!]
  3734.     >”Are you kidding me? Fluttershy loves Samurai movies all this time and she's been holding out on us?” Pinkie exclaims.
  3735.     >”Yeah, and the formula’s totally wrong for it. There’s five of us, none of us have swords, and she’s holding herself captive!” Dash says, sounding disappointed.
  3736.     >”I don’t think this is about movies… something’s been off ever since we got here.” says Twilight.
  3737.     >[Yeah, I can barely even understand half the things those shadows are saying. What’s up with that?]
  3738. “It might have something to do with Fluttershy’s real name.”
  3739. >”Her real name? What do you mean, Big Guy?” Asks Twilight.
  3740. >”Yeah, Fluttershy is Fluttershy. I remember everypony used to call her Klutzershy back in Flight camp, but I’m pretty sure that’s not her real name.”
  3741. >”Well Pinkie Pie isn’t my real name either, but it’s not like it’s a huge deal, I just go by Pinkie Pie because it sounds cuter. Why would Fluttershy want to hide her name from even her bestest friends?”
  3742. “She told me before that she couldn’t tell me something “because” I was her friend. That it was something none of her friends knew. Which uh… I guess means she doesn’t really consider Derpy a friend, since Derpy let it slip that she knows Fluttershy’s real name… and when I asked Derpy to tell me about it, she started getting really scared and told me Fluttershy made her promise not to say. But with the way this castle looks, I’m starting to think it means that her real name is easily recognizable as foreign. I think you called it Neighpon, right? Well with that kind of castle, I’m starting to think that might be where she’s from originally.”
  3743. >Twilight gasps, “Of course… that’s what they are! Those aren’t Prunus avium out there, those are Prunus serrulata! They’re Cherry Blossom trees! Wait, hold on. She can’t have a different name… after becoming a Princess I’ve seen all kinds of official documents with her name on them, especially lately. I’ve never seen anything on the town census registry or any place else that lists her as something other than Fluttershy.”
  3744. “She must have had it changed.”
  3745. >”But why go through all that trouble just to hide that she’s foreign? I don’t know anypony that would have a problem with something like that…”
  3746. >[Uh, guys? I don’t mean to rush you or anything, but Fluttershy just entered Stage 5.]
  3747. “What? Already?”
  3748. >[I don’t know what to tell you! This SIHN isn’t acting like the others!]
  3749. >Twilight looks up at the top of the castle. “Oh no… how are we going to get up there before she hits Stage 6? It must be a dozen stories high, and filled with shadows!”
  3750. “Looks like we’re going to have to totsugeki in and fight through a gundan of kage to climb to the top floor and save our ojou-sama.”
  3751. >”Or…” Dash begins as a bright red plane fades into view. “We could not do that dumb stuff I didn’t understand, and just fly up to the top.”
  3752. “Oh. Yeah, I… guess that works too.”
  3753. >You pull out your card of the Sun arcana and tap it gently, summoning an enormous crimson colored bird.
  3754. >”I’ll give you guys a pass this time. Most of you are pretty new to the whole “Flying is awesome” thing.”
  3755. >You hop on your firebird while Pinkie and Spike hold on to the wings of Red Baron’s plane.
  3756. >Zhar-Ptitsa lets out a screech and takes flight, soaring up through the sky and leaving a trail of flame in its wake!
  3757. >You look down at the castle courtyard and see a group of humanoid looking shadows with Temperance masks waving swords indignantly at you as the 5 of you soar through the air, completely bypassing their defenses.
  3758. “Wohoo! Sequence breaking!” you cheer.
  3759. >”How are we getting in?” Twilight yells out. “There’s no windows!”
  3760. >”We make our own windows! Red Baron!” Dash calls out raising her hoof in the air and directing it to the wall of the top floor.
  3761. >Pinkie and Spike yelp in panic as a rocket suddenly ignites on the plane, shooting straight into the side of the golden palace with a loud explosion, knocking out a 5 meter chunk of the wall, melting it away from the heat and the force of the blast.
  3762. “Dash, I’m usually a fan of overkill, but please try not to bring down the building with Fluttershy still in it.”
  3763. >”Heheh… oops. Sorry, leader.”
  3764. “Either way it worked. Let’s get in there!”
  3765. >You fly in on the back of your firebird to the smoke-filled room with your team following you.
  3766. >You jump off and wave the smoke away with your hands, calling out.
  3767. "Fluttershy! We're here! Are you okay?"
  3768.     >As the smoke clears, you see the pink maned pegasus cowering on the floor with her hooves over her face…
  3769.     >And standing over her with a wild untamed mane, wide, fleshy wings, a pair of fangs that protrude when she smiles, and of course, those golden eyes… is her other self.
  3770.     >”Poor little Fluttershy…” the shadow coos. “... hah, as if! None of those things are true.”
  3771.     >”W-Why are you doing this… what’s going on?” Fluttershy whimpers from the floor.
  3772.     >”Isn’t it obvious?” asks the shadow in its odd echoing voice. “They think you’re a weak little maiden that needs to be saved… but now that they’ve made it up here, they’ve realized you were the dark overlord the whole time... “
  3773.     >”I-I am weak! I need my friends… what are you talking about?”
  3774.     >Fluttershy’s shadow ignores her other self and looks at the five of you. “How was it out there? All those ponies begging to be let in to our castle… left out in the cold with all the starving beasts… but there’s no way we’d ever let them into our castle, would we?”
  3775.     >”I… I’d never let a poor little animal starve! And my home is open to anypony that needs it!” Fluttershy retorts angrily without opening her eyes.
  3776.     >”Oh, you think that’s true, do you? Well even if you close your eyes like that, I’m sure you can feel the solid gold beneath your feet… yes, this is what our heart is! Wrapped in gold, denied to anypony else, walled off from the world so that we alone may enjoy it!”
  3777.     >You want to yell at the shadow that Fluttershy has been nothing but kind and generous to all of you…
  3778.     >But contradicting the shadow’s words would cause Fluttershy to reject it even harder…
  3779.     >What could her shadow possibly mean?
  3780.     >”Poor little Fluttershy…” the Shadow repeats. “I think maybe I’ll debunk that phrase word by word so we never have to hear it again!”
  3781.     >”P-Please, don’t…” Fluttershy whimpers…
  3782.     “Fluttershy, you have to accept what she’s saying!”
  3783.     >”Now then, ‘Poor’... I think that one’s quite easy. We’ve been a naughty little girl, haven’t we… dodging taxes is no good! But we can’t have everypony knowing that we’re rich enough to buy the whole damn town ourself!”
  3784.     ”The bank…!”
  3785.     >”Very good! We can’t believe you fell for our ridiculous lie that we ‘forgot something’. Well, then again, I suppose all we forgot was the money we needed. But for somepony with more wealth than the bank can hold, getting in after hours is no problem at all. Especially not when Count Money is one of the few that know our secret… but we’ll get to that part later.”
  3786.     >”Please, don’t tell them…” Fluttershy begs.
  3787.     >”Next is ‘little’. That one should be obvious. We’re the oldest out of our friends after all. But we still act like a scared little immature child… something so weak and helpless… even our wingpower is a pathetic 2.3. But oh, the truth is we’re far from gentle and innocent. We’re so overflowing with violent intent that a mere TASTE of it can send others to their knees!”
  3788.     >”I would never harm anypony… I-I’m very opposed to violence!”
  3789.     >The batpony smiles, “You can’t deny what’s inside your heart… I know everything about you. I AM you, after all! And violence is in your nature, no matter how much you want to ignore it… ignore your responsibilities!”
  3790.     >”I’m not violent… I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
  3791.     >”Then maybe I need to make myself more clear… perhaps it’s time we moved on to the third word… ‘Fluttershy’.”
  3792.     >”Please don’t…” Fluttershy begs.
  3793.     >”Such a beautiful, feminine name. Something so sweet and gentle… that’s why you decided to keep it…”
  3794.     >”But your real name… I like it so much better.”
  3795.     >”Isn’t that right…”
  3796.     >The Flutterbat leans down and speaks softly into Fluttershy’s ear… ”Umaguchi Shizuka?”
  3797.     >Twilight’s eyes go wide. “U-Umaguchi? As in… Umaguchi-Gumi?”
  3798.     “Umaguchi-Gumi?”
  3799.     >Fluttershy’s shadow grins, flashing her fangs. “The very same. Umaguchi-Gumi… Neighpon’s premier Yakuza group, and the largest organized crime group in the world. That storm in cloudsdale was no accident… it was an assassination! They killed my parents while they were there on business, seeking to weaken the Umaguchi without realizing that they had an heir living right there in Ponyville.”
  3800.     >”But when they came begging for me to take my rightful place… I just ran and hid from my responsibility to my family… what does it matter if innocent ponies die because I’m too scared to take my place? What does it matter if they’re suffering? I don’t care about ponies… I only want to live my own selfish carefree life, playing with my adorable little critter friends, not having to work or suffer… living a quiet life off of my endless wealth and hiding it away instead of doing something USEFUL with my life! What does it matter that my money is stained with blood? It can’t be helped… I don’t want that violent lifestyle, I don’t want to do anything! I just want to sit on my flank and play with animals all day! How’s that for your Poor Little Fluttershy? What have you got to say to that, Umaguchi Shizuka?!”
  3801.     >”Please… please don’t call me that… that’s not my name!”
  3802.     “You have to accept it!”
  3803.     >”I won’t! My name is Fluttershy! I don’t have anything to do with the Umaguchi! You…”
  3804.     >”YOU’RE NOT ME!!!”
  3805.     >The shadow's golden eyes glow red for a brief moment...
  3806.     >"Hahaha... so you're still running away from your responsibilities! All right then, if you're not me, then I'll become the new you! The one this world needs!"
  3807.     >[We couldn’t stop it… here it comes!]
  3808.     >Fluttershy’s body shivers and collapses to the floor…
  3809.     >Her shadow self rises on its wings as the roof of the golden palace splits apart and folds open, revealing the dark sky and full moon, the entire room becoming an open air platform at the top of the castle hundreds of feet in the air!
  3810.     >A gust of cold wind sweeps over you as little bits of shadow shaped like bats swarm Fluttershy’s Shadow, encasing her in themselves and adding themselves to her, causing the shadow to grow and change shape…
  3811.     >A black iron Bar appears above her, a chain shooting out from it and wrapping around her legs as she assumes a more more humanoid form. Her wings grow large and wrap around her body like a thick black cloak as a dark blindfold wraps itself around her eyes, and a shiny red apple lodges itself in her mouth.
  3812.     >The 15 foot shadow sways in the wind and lets out a muffled cry, causing blackness to converge beneath her and form into several mask-faced Samurai with long rabbit ears tied back wearing a blue gi with black hakama pants.
  3813.     >”Even Fluttershy couldn’t accept herself in time…” Twilight remarks sadly.
  3814.     “She’d gone through so much effort to leave that part of herself behind, it’s no wonder her Shadow is so angry.”
  3815.     >”Then we’ve just gotta do what we do best!” Dash says, confidently flexing her wings.
  3816.     >[That shadow is too strong for me to figure out a weakness, but I bet I can get the little ones! Take them out first and Fluttershy’s Shadow should be vulnerable!]
  3817.     “You heard him. Focus on the small ones, but be careful if the big one tries anything!”
  3818.     >Each of you has your wapons drawn and takes a defensive position, waiting to see who makes the first move as you keep one hand in your pocket, thumbing through your cards and deciding on how to take the initiative...
  3819.     >Your fingers grasp the card of the Moon Arcana…
  3820.     “Chris… I’m not quitting on you no matter what happens! Persona!”
  3821.     >Dracula manifests from a puff of black smoke, diving at one of the lop-eared samurai with a flying tackle, knocking it off its feet and taking it to the air where he forces his fangs against the shadow’s neck, ripping and tearing at it with wild fury and causing black ooze to spurt out in jets from the wounds!
  3822.     >Twilight takes to the air, soaring straight over one of the Samurai and bringing her Naginata down on it from above.
  3823.     >It quickly raises its sword to block, but in that instant, Dash streaks by, slicing open its belly and collapsing it into a sticky pile. “Get out of our way, losers! We’re here to save Fluttershy!”
  3824.     >Pinkie smacks her card and summons Apollo to lunge at another shadow with a dashing straight, socking it straight in the mask before it can react and sending it flying off the edge of the castle. “Who else wants to get Pie’d in the face!”
  3825.     >Another Samurai appears behind you, forcing you to jump back to avoid its strike. In retaliation, you direct your will towards it and watch as Dracula swings the shadow he’s carrying and tosses straight into the other samurai, knocking them down in a pile and allowing Twilight to swoop in and skewer two at once with her Naginata.
  3826.     >[That’s four already, but more keep showing up! Hang on… aha! They’re weak to Darkness! Guess they’re scared of their own master, huh?]
  3827.     “They should be scared of me! Dracula!”
  3828.     >You snap your fingers, and Dracula flings a black sphere at one of the samurai.
  3829.     >The moment it touches the Samurai’s body, it envelops it in a cloud of dark energy which shrinks away and winks out into nothingness.
  3830.     “Not done yet!”
  3831.     >Dracula throws two more consecutive Mudo spells, each hitting their mark and sucking the samurai into a miniature black hole to take them out of the fight!
  3832. “Break the chain!”
  3833. >”You got it, leader! Horseona!”
  3834. >Apollo sends a flaming punch at the chain holding the shadow’s legs, turning them red hot!
  3835. >Fluttershy’s shadow struggles and sways in her suspended state like a woman thrashing around in a straightjacket as the heat increases around her feet.
  3836. >Dash and Twilight strike the molten hot chain simultaneously with their blades, cutting through it in a shower of sparks and sending Fluttershy’s shadow crashing to the ground hard, lying there helplessly.
  3837. >[The enemy’s down! This is your big chance!]
  3838. “Let’s do it!”
  3839. >[Yeah! Get ‘em!]
  3840. >You swarm the fallen shadow, holding nothing back and swinging away without mercy!
  3841. >You each give it your all, and when the dust settles, the Shadow seems to have gone still.
  3842. “I almost feel bad for her like that…”
  3843. >”Yeah, I know what you mean.” says Twilight. “Even if it’s just her emotions gone nuts, it’s still part of her… I hope she understands.]
  3844. >[Uh, guys? Don’t feel bad just yet… I think it’s not done.]
  3845. “Huh?”
  3846. >Suddenly, a cut appears on the blindfold around Shadow Fluttershy’s eyes.
  3847. >It splits apart and falls from her head.
  3848. >She looks almost like she’s sleeping… but her eyes suddenly snap open, staring at you with a piercing golden gaze.
  3849. >You feel strange, as if every inch of your body is telling you to run away…
  3850. >The shiny red apple it held in its mouth begins to shrink, the liquid from it being drained away until it turns to a dry husk and Fluttershy’s shadow spits it out.
  3851. >Her legs flex, and the shackles around her ankles snap, allowing her to stand to her feet and open her wings wide, proclaiming, “I am a shadow… the true self!”
  3852. >”No more holding myself back… it’s time to feast to my heart's content! And you all look absolutely delicious...”
  3853. >[I… I think you made her angry..."]
  3854. "I think we made her hungry..."
  3855.     >”She looks like she means business… what do we do, Anon?”
  3856.     “The best defense is a good offense! Hit her with everything you’ve got!
  3857.     >The gold card of the Priestess Arcana appears in midair as you will it.
  3858.     “Come forth, Morgana!”
  3859.     >Morgan Le Fay raises her sorceress’s staff and sends out a sustained blast of lightning that arcs into the Shadow’s chest and crackles wildly!
  3860.     >The force of the spell sends out powerful shockwaves that rush past you while the shadow screeches in pain.
  3861.     >”Kreeee! You… you will submit to me.”
  3862.     >The shadow glares at you, and again you’re overcome with that sensation as you see those golden eyes staring into your soul...
  3863.     >Every part of you wants to flee, but you know there’s nowhere to run from this beast…
  3864.     >You can only cower and submit to your fate…
  3865.     >You barely notice the pain of her fangs sinking into your body after she scoops you up and holds your neck to her mouth...
  3866.     >You grow weaker and weaker, the energy being drained from your body…
  3867.     >”... I said, get your fangs off of my boyfriend!”
  3868.     >You feel dazed, and even as you fall to the ground while the massive block of ice crashes into the Shadow’s body, knocking her off the edge of the castle, it just feels like a conversation two tables over in a crowded restaurant.
  3869.     >It isn’t until a bright light emanates from Nimue that you suddenly regain all of your senses.
  3870.     “What… what just happened?”
  3871.     >You look around, and Fluttershy’s shadow is engaged in an aerial dogfight with Dash’s persona while Apollo continues trying to pepper it with balls of flame from a distance.
  3872.     >”Her shadow messed with your mind! It’s a good thing Nimue could heal what she did to you…”
  3873.     “Damn, how long was I out?”
  3874.     >”Doesn’t matter, are you okay now?”
  3875.     “Yeah, thanks Twi."
  3876.     >[It's something related to her Stare ability... be careful. If Twi gets hit with it, I don't think you can heal it, Big guy. She doesn't have any weaknesses, so you're just going to have to keep fighting until you find a strategy that works!]
  3877. “You weren’t kidding when you said her shadow was the strongest one yet… Change! Cyrano!”
  3878. >The Long Nosed Swordsman mocks the shadow, biting his thumb at her and inexplicably weakening her.
  3879. “Pinkie, time to get hype!”
  3880. >”You got it! Showtime!”
  3881. >Apollo raises his glove and an invisible crowd starts to cheer, giving you the strength you need to fight!
  3882. “First things first, we need to get her back down. Dash, can you ground her?”
  3883. >”Leave it to me, leader!”
  3884. >Dash quickly maneuvers behind Fluttershy’s shadow and calls out the red plane, directing it to charge straight into the shadow’s back, sending the two of them crashing back down to the golden castle with an enormous impact that forms a crater where they land!
  3885. >Fluttershy’s shadow growls angrily and picks itself out of the crater, spinning around and grabbing hold of Dash’s persona, staring directly at the Pilot…
  3886. >You see Dash herself get this vacant look of weakness, and the shadow lunges at her persona, sinking its fangs into the Red Baron and draining him.
  3887. >”Nimue! Snap Dash out of it!” Twi shouts quickly, shattering the card with her horn and sending a rejuvenating burst of energy to Dash, allowing her to regain her senses and call back her persona.
  3888. >”Ugh… thanks, Twi…”
  3889. “We’ve got to do something about that stare… if we let her keep going like that she’ll just keep draining us.”
  3890. >”How can we stop it?” Twi asks, “If we try to get close and attack her eyes, she’ll just stop us with the stare!”
  3891. “We can’t fight while looking at her, but we have to look at her to fight… damn it.”
  3892. >[Guys, I think I have an idea!]
  3893. “You do? What is it?”
  3894. >[I don’t know if her shadow is listening in… you’ll have to trust me on this one.]
  3895. “I do trust you, Spike. Do what you need to do.”
  3896. >[All right, Twi, I need you to stick close to me! The rest of you keep Flutterbat busy!]
  3897. “Got it. Everyone attack her from a distance! Avoid watching her face if she gets close!”
  3898.     >You quickly swap personas to Chiron who lets loose a barrage of arrows, while Red Baron’s gunbarrels whir to life, peppering Fluttershy’s shadow with shots, and Pinkie takes careful aim with her party cannon, firing off compressed shots of confetti and streamers to distract her.
  3899.     >The shadow growls and flexes its wings in response, sending a powerful gust of wind that knocks you around, and nearly sends Pinkie off the edge of the platform if not for Dash quickly flying to her aid and grabbing her hoof to help her back up.
  3900.     >[Now get her, Twi!]
  3901.     >”Hey, Shizuka!” Twilight yells before sending a deluge of extra powerful icicle spears at the Shadow!
  3902.     >They rain down on the shadow and pierce its skin, sending her into a rage as she rushes Twilight with her eyes wide open, only to find that Twilight is standing with her eyes shut tightly.
  3903.     >Before the shadow can react, Spike jumps out with his eyes closed and takes a deep breath…
  3904.     >Spike exhales strongly and lets loose a massive torrent of emerald green flames straight into the shadow’s face, burning her eyes and sending her reeling back in pain!
  3905.     >”Aaaagh! My eyes!”
  3906.     >[Now you can’t use your stare!]
  3907.     “Good work, little man! Let’s hit her with everything we’ve got!”
  3908.     >”Hey Rainbow, wanna try something cool?” Pinkie asks to Dash.
  3909.     >”You know I do, Pinkie!” Let’s go for it!”
  3910.     >You draw a new card while Dash and Pinkie plot together.
  3911.     “Change, Brynhildr!”
  3912.     >The Valkyrie flies at the shadow together with Nimue, both of your personas assaulting the shadow with rapid sword strikes, dealing heavy damage to it under the empowerement of Pinkie’s magic.
  3913.     >In the meantime, Dash calls out her persona, allowing Pinkie to ride on the plane’s wings and soar high up into the sky.
  3914.     >You see the plane disappear into the clouds, and then a glint of light…
  3915.     >”You guys might wanna get clear!” Dash yells.
  3916.     >A whistling comes from high up in the air, slowly growing louder…
  3917.     >From the sky begins to fall a large pink object shaped like…
  3918.     “Is that…”
  3919.     >”A bomb?!”
  3920.     >In the distance you can hear Pinkie laughing maniacally as she straddles the giant pink bomb sailing through the air straight to the ground.
  3921.     “Take cover!”
  3922.     >”WAAAHOOO!”
  3923.     >You and Twilight dive away just as it strikes the ground and detonates in a terrifyingly powerful eruption of noisemakers, confetti, and rainbow colored smoke, nearly blowing out your eardrums from the sheer force of it.
  3924.     >After the last shockwave clears, you cautiously get up from your prone position to see Pinkie standing proudly over the crumbling shadow.
  3925.     >”Ain’t no party like a Pinkie Pie party ‘cause a Pinkie Pie party don’t stop~!” Pinkie sings happily, doing a little victory dance.
  3926.     “How are you okay after that…”
  3927.     >Twi giggles and pats your shoulder with her hoof. “It’s Pinkie Pie. Don’t question it.”
  3928.     “Yeah… good work, everyone.”
  3929.     >You walk over and watch as the shadow’s form shrinks back into the wild-maned bat pony.
  3930.     >Slowly, the original Fluttershy struggles to get to her hooves and cautiously walks over to the shadow…
  3931.     >You step back to give them some room.
  3932.     >”How… how am I supposed to live like this…” The shadow weeps on the ground. ”A monster like me… doesn’t deserve to face her friends…”
  3933.     >”Please… don’t cry.” Fluttershy says, placing her hoof against her other self’s face and wiping away her tears.
  3934.     >”It’s my fault you’re this way… you’re not a monster. You just think you’re a monster because that’s what I’ve been calling you all this time.”
  3935.     >”I’ve been so afraid of you… knowing that something like you exists in me. I spent so much time wishing I could have been born somepony else… that I never had this power… that I was never given this fate. I called you a monster and tried to lock you away. I tried to pretend you didn’t exist… that you weren’t a part of me.”
  3936.     >”But now I realize how wrong that was…”
  3937.     >”I’m supposed to be the Element of Kindness. But I’ve been so very cruel to you… to myself.”
  3938.     >The shadow's golden eyes fill with tears as she looks away from her other self.
  3939.     >”Please, don’t do that. Don’t do that anymore.” Fluttershy says, placing her hoof on her shadow’s cheek and gently turning her head to look at her.
  3940.     >”I know… we learned when we were little that when we were scared of something… we would just close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.”
  3941.     >”I used that to avoid my responsibilities… I just pretended that my problems weren’t there and ignored them because I was too weak to face up to them.”
  3942.     >”But pretending it isn’t there won’t make it go away. It’s just lying to yourself… and that’s the cruelest thing you can do.”
  3943.     >”I promise I won’t be scared anymore. I won’t look away from my trouble and pretend you don’t exist.”
  3944.     >”My name…”
  3945.     >”My name is Umaguchi Shizuka. No matter what I changed it to, that’s the name my parents gave me. They gave me that name because they loved me. They gave “us” that name.”
  3946.     >”You’re me. And I am you.”
  3947.     >They share a long gaze into each other’s eyes before the shadow smiles and fades away, flowing back into Fluttershy’s body.
  3948.     >She wipes her eyes and shakes herself off, turning around and looking up at you for the first time.
  3949.     >”I’m sorry I’ve caused you all so much trouble… but I’m not going to be afraid anymore. No more closing my eyes.”
  3950.     “Glad to hear that. You’ve got beautiful eyes, Shizuka.”
  3951.     >Fluttershy just giggles. “You’re pronouncing it wrong… you can just call me Fluttershy like always, okay? I know Shizuka’s my real name, but it’s really just easier on your tongue if you all keep calling me Fluttershy.”
  3952.     >Dash, Twilight, and Pinkie all run up and hug Fluttershy.
  3953.     >”No matter what your name is, we love you. And we’re here for you whenever you need us.” Twilight says.
  3954.     >Your heart sinks as you suddenly remember…
  3955.     “Little man, we’ve got to get out now. We can explain everything later, but I need to make sure Chrysalis is okay.”
  3956.     >[Oh, right. That...]
  3957.     >"Chrysalis?" Fluttershy asks. "As in, Queen Chrysalis?"
  3958.     "There's no time to explain. Spike, take us out now."
  3959.     >[All right, exiting Fantasia now.]
  3960. >The six of you wake up in Fluttershy’s living room.
  3961. >It seems Fluttershy’s house is full of royal guards who have been watching over you during your fight in Fantasia.
  3962. “... Where is she?”
  3963. >”Anon, calm down. I told them to put her upstairs and make sure she’s safe, remember? Just calm down… you’re shaking.”
  3964. >You didn’t even notice your hands were trembling until Twilight pointed it out.
  3965. “She’s dying, Twi. She’s been dying ever since I came here, and I don’t know how much longer she has. I need to make sure she’s still alive. For all I know she died while we were still in Fantasia. I could still use the power of our bond with Dracula, but I don’t know… I don’t know if that means she’s still alive or not.”
  3966. >”Just calm down, Anon. We’ll go upstairs, okay? We’ll check on her together. Just take things one step at a time. Spike, I’ll leave it to you to fill Fluttershy in on what’s been happening. Anon and I are going upstairs to check on Queen Chrysalis.”
  3967. >”Be careful, Twi…” Spike says, sounding a bit worried.
  3968. >You go upstairs with Twilight where you find Chrysalis laying on a soft-looking circular bed on the floor, clearly designed for some sort of animal.
  3969. >She seems as still as you left her.
  3970. >You begin to approach her but notice Twilight wincing nervously.
  3971. “It’s okay, Twi, it’s safe.”
  3972. >You lean down and press your head to her body.
  3973. >...
  3974. *thump*
  3975. *thump*
  3976. “She’s still alive… but I don’t know why she’s not waking up.”
  3977. >”Not everypony recovers from SIHN right away. Most of them do though… Anon, should I call somepony to take a look at her? A doctor, a vet, Fluttershy, Zecora…”
  3978. “I’m… glad you’re being so logical about this.”
  3979. >Twi smiles and shakes her head. “To be honest, I’m freaking out inside. And I really want some answers. There’s a lot of emotions I’m feeling right now, but… I can tell you’re serious about this. I have to be strong for now, and freak out about this later. So what do you think, should I have somepony take a look at her?”
  3980.  
  3981.  
  3982. “Zecora… you think she could help?”
  3983. >”She knew what to do for Spike when all the other doctors and vets in Ponyville were stumped. She might know something about changelings too…”
  3984. “Then I guess it’s worth a shot. Call her over.”
  3985. >Twilight goes up to one of the guards. “Send word to Zecora that there’s been another SIHN outbreak and we have a dying changeling queen over at Fluttershy’s house. Tell her to bring whatever she needs to help her.”
  3986. >”At once, your highness.” the guard says with a salute before leaving.
  3987. >Twilight has a seat. “Zecora lives in the Everfree Forest… it might take a while for her to get here. In the meantime, I want you to tell me everything from the beginning, okay?”
  3988. “Yeah… that’s fair. I’ll tell you everything.”
  3989. “It all started after that first day I visited Applejack. I drank a little too much and tried to take a shortcut through the forest. I got lost, ended up in the everfree forest, and saw Lyra crying in the woods. It turned out to be Chrysalis in disguise. Back then I was still wearing the necklace, so she thought I was just a pony. So she tried to attack me and eat my love… but she found that I didn’t have any. Or at least what I did have, she couldn’t eat. So since we were both lost out there, she invited me to sit and talk with her. She… made some good points about herself. I couldn’t really argue with them. After we talked for a bit she told me how to get out of the forest. Said it was repayment for entertaining her. I felt like I wanted to understand more about her… so I started going back.”
  3990. >”She made some ‘good points’? About what?”
  3991.     >You begin explaining the things Chrysalis told you and how they didn’t quite match up with what Twilight said. You describe your subsequent visits, and all the things she told you there. About the nature of how changelings eat and how they lived before the war of shadows, about the “Anima”, about the Queen of Fools, Chrysalis’s true mother, about John Smith and the War of Shadows, about how she gave up her own strength to try to save the lives of her children, and about how she wants to die to be free of her painful life…
  3992.     “And then she got hit with SIHN, just as she was about to tell me something that she’d been lying about.”
  3993.     >Twilight shakes her head and paces. “This is almost too much to take in at once… I’d been so sure about what I read but… when I think about it, all those books… all that information that seems to contradict what she said… it all comes from the Crystal Empire’s library. That incomplete story on the Queen of Fools, that story about the first changeling, it all came from there. Could everything I think I know about Changelings really be a lie?”
  3994.     “I don’t know about all of it, but there’s some stuff at least that makes it pretty likely. When she told me about something in that John Smith story, there was a detail that didn’t make sense to her that she couldn’t have known otherwise… and Celestia confirmed it for me later. That one at least has to be true, I think. Or even if it’s not true, it’s at least honest.”
  3995.     >"This has got to be one of the most stressful nights of my life..."
  3996.     "Tell me about it."
  3997.     >Twilight shakes her head. "There's even more going on out there that I haven't told you about yet. I figure... we should focus on this right now. And right now what I want to know is why you're putting yourself through this risk. I told you how dangerous she was, didn't I? If she ate your love for me... I don't know what would happen. So... why are you putting yourself in so much danger for her? Why are you trying to save her when she wants to die?"
  3998. “I believe what she told me. And if all of that is true… then this… this isn’t fair. It can’t end this way. The only thing she did wrong was being born. King Sombra is the one who forced her to become something that could only live by eating the love of others. How can I just let her die like that? How can I let that son of a bitch’s curse come true? She’s had to live her life alone for so long… and when she finds someone who cares about her, it’s too late? There’s no other way for her to live? She and her children should just die because of what they are? How can I accept that?”
  3999. >”... do you really think you can save her? How?”
  4000. “To be honest… I’m not so sure. But I want to try whatever I can. If there’s any chance, I need to take it.”
  4001. >Twilight looks like she’s about to say something, but is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the Zebra, carrying two large saddlebags filled with strange items.
  4002. >”Twilight Sparkle, is this true? The changeling queen returned for you?”
  4003. >Twilight shakes her head. “Not exactly, Zecora. She’s been starving to death in the forest, and Anon brought her here when she got hit with SIHN. You know about all sorts of magic that I don’t. There might be some kind of curse that made her this way… can you do anything?”
  4004. >”Dying from a lack of love… I suppose it’s not too unheard of. Permit me time to examine her first, and I shall tell you if she is cursed.”
  4005. >”Thank you, Zecora. But please hurry, we don’t know how long she has left.”
  4006. >”Yes, only time will tell. Perhaps you should prepare as well.”
  4007. “Prepare how? What else is there to do?”
  4008. >”... Anon, maybe there’s… somepony else that can help. I was planning on waiting to reveal it, but I think I might have to show you that surprise tonight. I’d like you to speak with my sister in law, Princess Cadance. She knows more about love than anypony in Equestria, and she’s had some personal experience with Chrysalis. Would you like to talk to her?"
  4009. “Isn’t she all the way in the Crystal Empire?”
  4010. >”She is. But I’ve been working on a way to communicate with her. We’ll need to go back to my castle to do it, is that okay with you?”
  4011. “What if she wakes up while I’m gone?”
  4012. >”Zecora and I will stay with Chrysalis while you talk to Cadance alone. The moment anything changes I’ll teleport right to you, okay? But right now Zecora needs to work. This is all I can think of that you can do to help.”
  4013. “... I’ll do whatever it takes. If there’s a chance she knows something that could help, I have to ask her.”
  4014. >”All right then. We’ll be right there. Zecora, I’ll be back soon.”
  4015. >Twi’s horn shimmers, and in a flash of purple light, you find yourself in the castle.
  4016. >You’re in that room with the crystal mirror she made you try to go through once…
  4017. >”So to make things simple, this is what I’ve been working on. I figured out a way to use this mirror to communicate with another mirror I had sent to the Crystal Empire so that we can communicate and coordinate quickly if SIHN breaks out somewhere else.”
  4018. “So you invented skype before you invented the Telephone? Well as long as it works. Let’s do it.”
  4019. >Twilight flips a few switches, and the device attached to the Crystal Mirror hums to life. The surface of the mirror swirls into indistinguishable shapes, shifting and changing like a turbulent pond.
  4020. >”She has to activate the mirror. Give it a moment…”
  4021. >After about a minute, the mirror finally steadies, showing you a mature looking pink alicorn with a tri-colored mane that looks a bit… tussled.
  4022. >”Cadance! Thank goodness you’re here… did I wake you up?”
  4023. >The princess closes her eyes and sighs, placing her hoof on her forehead. “Oh, I was already up... please tell me you’re not just calling to say hello.”
  4024. >”It’s not that, it’s Anon. He needs to speak with you right away.”
  4025. >”Twilight, sweetie, I know you're eager to express your love with him, but this is not exactly the most appropriate time to ask me to give him the facts of life."
  4026.     >”I-It’s not that either!” Twilight blurts out, blushing wildly.
  4027.     >”Oh. Well what is it then? Give me a second…” Cadance’s horn glows bright blue and levitates a brush over to herself, running it through her mane to look a bit more presentable.
  4028.     >”He… needs to talk to you about a lot of things. He’ll explain. I have to go.”
  4029.     >Twilight quickly teleports out, presumably returning to Fluttershy’s cottage.
  4030.     >You stand in front of the mirror and wave a bit awkwardly.
  4031.     “Uh, hello. Sorry for… ‘interrupting’ you. But this is important.”
  4032.     >”Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s nothing that Flash Sentry hasn’t seen befor- wait, maybe not. Anyway, it’s nice to finally meet you. I am Twilight Sparkle’s sister in law, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, better known as Princess Cadance.”
  4033.     “Anonymous. Twilight Sparkle’s boyfriend. Nice to meet you too, Princess Cadance. I’ve heard a little bit about you as well.”
  4034.     >”So what is this about?”
  4035.     “There’s a lot of questions I have for you… I hear you’re an expert on love."
  4036.     >That's right. It’s my special talent. I can see the love inside a heart, feel it, enhance it, even mend a broken heart.”
  4037.     “You can see love?”
  4038.     >”It’s a bit more complex than you’d think, but yes, I can to an extent. Even through this mirror I can see your heart. It’s… quite unusual, actually. Your heart isn’t like anything I’ve seen before.”
  4039.     “It’s not? What do you mean?”
  4040.     >”I don’t sense just one heart, I sense many myriad hearts all working together in unison to form a single one heart. It pulls in many different directions, and some are stronger than others, but each of them seems to have its own set of feelings. Being pulled in that many directions at once must be stressful, especially when you don’t know our customs as well as you’d like. But you should know that the love you feel for all those ponies is no less pure. Don’t be afraid to explore where your hearts take you. Your love for one pony doesn’t diminish your love for another. For you this is more true than anyone.”
  4041. “I see… so that’s what it’s like, huh? I guess I understand that a little bit. But anyway, there’s something important I need your help with. And I know it sounds crazy, but… do you believe that all life is precious?”
  4042. >Cadance looks taken aback as her eyes go wide. “Did… did you get Twi pregnant?”
  4043. “What? No! I mean… that’s not even possible… is it?”
  4044. >”Oh, thank goodness… I thought this conversation was going somewhere really uncomfortable.”
  4045. “It’s not possible, right?”
  4046. >”Physically, I doubt it. But love can be a strange and mysterious force. It can do things we never thought possible…”
  4047. “Can we get back to the question?”
  4048. >”Oh! Of course. My bad. Well… of course I’d say that life is precious. Our hearts grow strong by bonding with others… we connect with each other and share our hearts, bringing love into the world. When somepony dies, we feel sadness because our hearts are in pain from losing one that they’ve connected so closely with. We can never share the love in our hearts with them again once they’ve passed on. We’re only left with the bittersweet feeling of the love they gave to us that remains in our heart. That’s why it’s important to treasure your life and use it to touch as many hearts as you can while you have the chance. None of us will be around forever, but when we leave this world, the love we gave to others remains. So in a way, you’re still a part of this world so long as somepony remembers the feelings you gave them.”
  4049. >”... Sorry, I sort of went on for a little bit there. I hope that answers your question.”
  4050. “Yeah, actually that’s… a lot more poetic of an answer than I was expecting. Anyway… I have another question. Do you think that someone can change? That they can turn away from darkness and redeem themself?”
  4051. >Cadance gives you a warm smile filled with understanding. “Of course I do. It’s how I became a Princess after all."
  4052. "How you became a princess?"
  4053. >"Of course! You don't know? I could tell you if you're interested..."
  4054. “As much as I’d like to know, I don’t know if I have time.”
  4055. >”Oh… all right.” she says, sounding a little disappointed.
  4056. “It’s not like I don’t care, but right now… I need you to help me save somepony’s life.”
  4057. >”Save a life? Whose life?”
  4058. “Chrysalis.”
  4059. >”Queen Chrysalis…”
  4060. “No, just Chrysalis. She’s been abandoned by her hive. She’s starving to death, and on top of that she was just affected by SIHN. I don’t know how much longer she can hold on… I need to know how to save her.”
  4061. >”You really want to save her?”
  4062. “I do. Please, I need your help. I know you must hate her after what she did to you, but you might be the only one who can help.”
  4063. >Cadance closes her eyes and shakes her head. “You’ve got it all wrong.”
  4064. >”I… I don’t hate her.”
  4065. “... you don’t?”
  4066. >”I know I have every right to. She did a lot of terrible things to me and my family. But even then, I don’t hate her. I feel sad for her.”
  4067. “You feel sad for her?”
  4068. >”Back when she kidnapped me, we were talking for a little bit… and at that time, I looked into her heart. When I did… I actually cried. I saw so much pain inside her… she had a heart, but it was so deeply scarred and shrouded in hatred. She must have had such a hard life to have a heart that ached so badly it screamed in agony.”
  4069. >”I tried to tell her this… but she just told me I was mistaken. That she had no heart. And neither did her subjects. She had deluded herself so deeply into believing that she was incapable of love. And when I tried to tell her otherwise, she got angry and attacked me.”
  4070. >”But… even then, there was still something that was strange to me.”
  4071. “Strange?”
  4072. >”She didn’t eat my love. Not even a little bit of it. She could have easily devoured my Anima… heck, it would have made a lot of sense. It’s only because of my love that we were able to defeat her in the end. If she had taken my Anima, she would have been too powerful for anypony to stop. But she didn’t even try.”
  4073. “That is kind of strange. She’s always told me about how she’s only doing the most practical solution, and that she thinks of feeding on ponies like stepping on an anthill. From what she’s told me, she doesn’t sound like she would have had any hesitation to do that.”
  4074. >”She’s lost, and confused. I think she tricked herself into believing that she doesn’t have a heart… so someone feeling genuine emotion towards her is confusing. But no matter how much she tries to deny it, it’s there. It’s weak, starving, and in pain… but it’s there. She’s not as logical as she pretends to be. She makes decisions based on emotion just like we all do. You’ve grown attached to each other. I can see it inside your heart. Part of her is inside of you. And I think part of you might be inside her as well.”
  4075. “You seem to be accepting this a lot faster than I thought you would have.”
  4076. >”I don’t know what went on between you two or what happened after she left. But I will always believe that love can save your heart from darkness, no matter how far you’ve fallen. Time and time again, this has proven to be true. And even without knowing the situation, I can tell that your feelings are true. When you speak of her, I hear your heart calling out. You want to be with her. You don’t want to let go of this bond you’ve made. Right now… you care more about her than anyone else in the world.”
  4077. “... but she told me tonight that she didn’t want to live anymore. She told me not to save her. She said she didn’t want to live a cursed life, having to force others to suffer so that she can live. She was living for the sake of her hive, and now that they’ve cast her out, she says she doesn’t belong in this world anymore. That this world doesn’t have anything left for her. What do I do? Isn’t there something? Some way to keep her alive without hurting anyone? Do you know any kind of spell that could feed her so she doesn’t have to live that way anymore?”
  4078. >Cadance just smiles. "The question is, do you believe her?"
  4079. “… She once told me that lies are the shield that protects our heart from the harshness of truth. That we all live in our own world full of comfortable lies so we don’t have to face the difficult truths. Now I see why she told me that. She’s afraid of her feelings. After all the hardship she’s been through, she’s afraid to expose herself to getting hurt again. She’s so afraid of getting hurt that she’s lying to herself and-”
  4080. >”Hey.” Cadance interrupts you. “Don’t tell me that. There’s somepony else who needs to hear it more. You need to tell her everything. Reach out to her. The real her. Let her know that you understand her. Right now, you may be the only one in the world who truly does.”
  4081. “You really think I can save her like that?”
  4082. >”Honestly? I have no idea. But even if you can’t save her, she deserves to spend her last moments like that. Her heart has been in pain for so long… the least we could do is let her leave this world without feeling that pain. Nopony deserves such a tragic fate.”
  4083. “Thank you, Cadance… thank you for understanding. For helping me understand.”
  4084. >”Thank you, Anonymous. It’s my deepest desire to spread love in Equestria however I can. I couldn’t help her back then… but now you can do what I wasn’t able to do. Even if you can’t save her life… I believe you can save her heart.”
  4085. “I will… thank you.”
  4086. >A flash of purple light illuminates the room, and Twilight reappears next to you.
  4087. >”Sorry… am I interrupting?” Twi asks, looking between you and the mirror.
  4088. “Actually I think we were just finishing up. What’s the situation?”
  4089. >”Zecora brewed something that should help her regain consciousness. It’s not much, but it should let you talk to her. Do you… want to speak with her now? Or is there something else?"
  4090.  
  4091. “I’m ready. I know what I need to do, thanks to Cadance.”
  4092. >”I didn’t do anything. All I did was tell you what your heart’s been trying to say all along.” Cadance looks over at Twilight through the mirror. “You’ve truly found someone special, you know that?”
  4093. >Twi looks up at you and smiles. “Yeah… I really did.”
  4094. “Let’s go then.”
  4095. >That bright purple light fills your vision again, bringing you back to the upstairs room in the cottage.
  4096.  
  4097. Track: ~Alone~
  4098. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_O2zAbZYeg
  4099.  
  4100. >Zecora is watching Chrysalis closely, with a vial filled with a green liquid sitting nearby.
  4101. >It seems the guards have cleared out of the room.
  4102. >Zecora looks at you and points her hoof to the green fluid. “If you let her drink this special brew, her eyes shall open up for you.”
  4103. >Twilight looks up at you and nods. “Good luck.”
  4104. “You’re not staying?”
  4105. >”Nah, I’d just get in the way. This is your fight, isn’t it? It’s between you and her now. Do what you need to do.”
  4106. “Thank you, Twi.”
  4107. >She floats up and kisses you gently on the lips before exiting the room.
  4108. >Zecora follows after her, shooting you a sly grin.
  4109. >It’s just you and Chrysalis now.
  4110. >Nothing left but this green potion.
  4111. >You undo the stopper and carefully pour it into her mouth.
  4112. >It smells foul, but you trust Twi and Zecora.
  4113. >After a few tense seconds, you hear a groan coming from Chrysalis.
  4114. “Chris, are you okay? Can you hear me?”
  4115. >”... am I… alive…?”
  4116. “You are.”
  4117. >”Where…?”
  4118. “It doesn’t matter. I’m here with you. I want you to tell me the truth. Tell me what you were lying about.”
  4119. >”I… I was dreaming…”
  4120. >”I thought… I heard your voice… you still… you want to save me… after I told you to give up…”
  4121. “I can’t let you die. Not until you tell me the truth. I won’t let you pass on without giving you that chance.”
  4122. >”The truth…”
  4123. >”The truth is… I lied to you.”
  4124. >”I still… had strength.”
  4125. >”Tha-ackh-” she begins coughing loudly.
  4126. >You throw your arms around her, holding her until her coughing fit subsides.
  4127. >”That’s why… you could find me.”
  4128.     >Her voice is weak and raspy…
  4129.     >”I… led you back to me… when I sensed you… in the forest.”
  4130.     >”I did… have strength… to eat.”
  4131.     “Then why? Why didn’t you try to eat anything? Tell me the real reason.”
  4132.     >She looks towards the sound of your voice, though you know her eyes can’t see you.
  4133.     >”At first… you were just… bare anima.”
  4134.     >”You were hardly… a filling meal.”
  4135.     >”But I could tell you had potential.”
  4136.     >”I thought… I thought you could bring me more…”
  4137.     >”I was right… you came back…”
  4138.     >”And every time… with more love…”
  4139.     >”I thought… I was fattening you up…”
  4140.     >”But… that was… a lie.”
  4141.     >”The reason… I didn’t eat you… is because… at least… on that first day… we were the same.”
  4142.     “The same…”
  4143.     >”You knew… what it was like. To be… unloved… to not… love any other…”
  4144.     >”I felt… like you… could understand me…”
  4145.     >”You might… understand… my pain… my struggle...”
  4146.     >”I felt… connected.”
  4147.     “I felt it too, Chris.”
  4148.     >”I wanted… to leave behind… my story…”
  4149.     >”To someone… who might… understand.”
  4150.     >”And… before I knew it… I began… to understand…”
  4151.     >”I remembered… my other lie.”
  4152.     >”When I told you… we did not have hearts…”
  4153.     >”That was just… a convenient lie…”
  4154.     >”When I… had to kill… John Smith…”
  4155.     >”I tried… to kill my emotions.”
  4156.     >”I pretended… to be heartless.”
  4157.     >”I told my children… they too were heartless.”
  4158.     >”It was the only way… I could think of… to bear the pain.”
  4159.     >”I told this lie for so long… I began to believe it.”
  4160.     “I know, Chris. I know you have a heart.”
  4161.     >”So… I became scared… I did not understand… why I felt these emotions…”
  4162.     >”Because you… reminded me… that I had… a heart.”
  4163.     >”And… I started to realize… how I felt.”
  4164.     >”About you.”
  4165.     >"How I... really feel."
  4166.     >She reaches her hoof out, and you take it gently in your hand.
  4167.     >"I..."
  4168.     >"I..."
  4169.     >Clear tears begin to run down from Chrysalis's glassy gray eyes.
  4170.     >"... I love you."
  4171.     >Chrysalis has finally expressed her true feelings and opened her heart to you without fearing pain.
  4172.     >Right now, this is her true self.
  4173.     >What should you say?
  4174.     >What should you do?
  4175.     >You take her gently in your arms.
  4176.     “I love you too.”
  4177.     “I want to be with you… I want to give you a place in this world again.”
  4178.     “If you’re in pain then let me share that pain. We can overcome it together.”
  4179.     “Please, don’t die… don’t leave me after we’ve finally found each other.”
  4180.     >Tears stream nonstop from her cold eyes.
  4181.     >”This feeling… it… it doesn’t hurt… anymore…”
  4182.     “Then stay with me, Chris!”
  4183.     >”You’re so cruel…”
  4184.     >”Giving me… something to live for… when I’m like this…”
  4185.     “You can still save yourself, just use my love…”
  4186.     >”I thought I was happy… because I could accept my death… without regrets…”
  4187.     >”That it meant… I wouldn’t hurt… that I wouldn’t… hurt others…”
  4188.     >“But… that was also… a lie.”
  4189.     >”This… is happiness.”
  4190.     >”I didn’t care if I died… because I was not truly living…”
  4191.     >”But right now… with you…”
  4192.     >”I feel… alive…”
  4193.     >”I want… to live…”
  4194.     “Then do it, Chris. Live.”
  4195.     >”... I am.”
  4196.     >”This… this is… living. For the first time… in so long.”
  4197.     >”Please… would you… hold me… close?”
  4198.     “... Okay.”
  4199.     >You carefully grip her in your arms and pull her close.
  4200.     >Her heartbeat thumps weakly against your chest…
  4201.     >”This… this is good.”
  4202.     “Don’t leave me, please…”
  4203.     >”When… my father cursed me…”
  4204.     >”He said…”
  4205.     >”I would live my life… unloved…”
  4206.     >”And… die my death… unloved…”
  4207.     >”Please… stay with me…”
  4208.     >”Let’s… break… the curse… together.”
  4209.     “I’m not leaving you. I love you, Chris…”
  4210.     >”I love you too… from the bottom of my heart… I love you. I'm… truly… happy…”
  4211.     >She holds onto you as tightly as she can.
  4212.     >You stay there with her, feeling her heartbeat against your chest.
  4213.     >Soon you begin to feel her grip loosen.
  4214.     >You try in vain to grip her tightly in response.
  4215.     “Chrysalis…”
  4216.     >Her heartbeat begins to grow fainter.
  4217.     “Chris…”
  4218.     >Her hooves slip off of you, drooping weakly.
  4219.     >You can no longer feel her heartbeat.
  4220.     "Why…?"
  4221.     "What did I do wrong?"
  4222.     >Only silence answers you.
  4223.     >You look at her face…
  4224.     >Her eyes are closed.
  4225.     >She died smiling.
  4226.     "… I love you."
  4227.     >You lean in and press your lips against hers.
  4228.  
  4229.     *thump*
  4230.  
  4231. ...
  4232. *thump*
  4233. >!
  4234.  
  4235. Track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBzZVJG7y8s
  4236.  
  4237. >At that moment…
  4238. >A mysterious thing occured.
  4239. >You felt it as your lips touched…
  4240. >A heartbeat.
  4241. >And then…
  4242. >A powerful light began to emanate from Chrysalis’s body.
  4243. >You step back and watch as her body glows…
  4244. >A wave of light explodes outward from her body, flowing through you and filling you with a sensation that makes your heart race!
  4245. >The shockwave pulses through the walls, and you hear multiple cries of surprise as it reaches outside the doors.
  4246. >Suddenly there’s a rumbling and cracking...
  4247. >And the door behind you collapses as 4 ponies, a Zebra, and a dragon fall through.
  4248. >But what interests you more is a second cracking sound.
  4249. >It’s coming… from her!
  4250. >You see that faded chitinous hide begin to split open along the back…
  4251. >The rest of it begins to crumble and splinter, letting out a sound like rapidly cracking ice.
  4252. >Finally you hear a great ripping sound, followed by a wet squelching noise as the back of Chrysalis’s body tears apart, and something begins to rise out of it.
  4253. >Not something…
  4254. >Somepony…
  4255. >A white alicorn with a blue mane emerges from Chrysalis’s body…
  4256. >Her frame is thin and frail looking…
  4257. >Her long white spiral horn stands majestically atop her forehead.
  4258. >Her white coat, despite being covered with some viscous substance, looks pure and soft like silk…
  4259. >And when her blue wings begin to spread, the light flows through them like panes of stained glass.
  4260. "It's really you..."
  4261. >The newborn Alicorn's blue eyes flit open, and she looks to you.
  4262. >"Thank you... thank you for not giving up on me."
  4263. >"Because of you, my curse is finally broken. Your love saved me."
  4264. >Without a second thought, you rush at each other and share a deep kiss of love.
  4265. >!
  4266.  
  4267.  
  4268. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  4269.  
  4270. Thou hast established an inseparable bond.
  4271.  
  4272. This inseparable bond shall have a permanent home in thy heart.
  4273.  
  4274. We bestow upon thee the ability to create Alucard, the ultimate form of the Moon Arcana...
  4275.  
  4276.  
  4277. >The eavesdroppers watch on as you kiss her, unsure if they should cry at her touching rebirth, or vomit at its… visceral nature.
  4278. >Personally you don’t give a damn if she’s a little sticky.
  4279. >”She’s beautiful…” Fluttershy remarks.
  4280. >”She’s been reborn…” says an awestruck Twi.
  4281. >”Does that mean it’s her birthday today?” Pinkie asks excitedly.
  4282. >”That’s… really Chrysalis?” Dash asks.
  4283. >”Why is it so gooey…” Spike says, quivering.
  4284. >”C-Captain Domino! What happened to you!”
  4285. >You don’t recognize that last voice. It came from downstairs…
  4286. >You all look between each other and begin running down the stairs to see what the trouble is.
  4287. >Downstairs, a unicorn mare wearing the royal guard uniform is trying to get a look at her new spiral horn in a mirror.
  4288. “It’s just like her!”
  4289. >Captain Domino shakes her head. “That light did something to me, huh? I do feel different… like the horn though.”
  4290. >The white and blue Alicorn steps gently down the stairs and walks forward. “D-010… Domino, I see. It’s nice to see you again, my daughter.”
  4291. >’Captain Domino’ quickly stoops into a bow. “H-Hello, My queen.”
  4292. >The reborn changeling waves her hoof. “No, none of that. Not anymore. Mother will suffice.”
  4293. >Twilight starts to connect the dots…
  4294. >”C-Captain Domino… you were a changeling?!”
  4295. >She rubs the back of her head nervously. “Sorry for deceiving you, Princess Twilight. I did make sure to properly cast the Changeling detection spells! Just… with a couple exceptions built in.”
  4296. >Suddenly, the pegasus soldier you saw earlier in the night bursts in the room with beautiful insect-like wings.
  4297. >He was the one trying to take Chrysalis from you until Sir Bearington scared him off.
  4298. >”Staff Sergeant Max Flightmaster?” Twilight asks, bewildered.
  4299. >”M-410… Max. I see. Hello again, my son.” Says the white Alicorn.
  4300. >”Uh, hello… my queen. Sorry I called you dangerous earlier.”
  4301. >”You don't need to call me that. I have a new life... perhaps I should have a new name. What do you think?"
  4302. “How about… Farfalla?”
  4303. >”Farfalla… a butterfly emerging from its Chrysalis. A bit straightforward, but I like it. Very well, from this day forth, I am Farfalla. And... well, it’s a bit awkward, but I just realized something.”
  4304. “What’d you realize?”
  4305. >”I love you so much… but I don’t even know your name.”
  4306. >You just grin and place your hand on her shoulder.
  4307. “If you can not call me by name, then you need not say anything at all, for I too have forgotten my true name. If you must call me by something, call me your love.”
  4308. >Farfalla laughs playfully. “All right then. Thank you, my love.”
  4309. >Twilight is sitting down while Fluttershy brings her a glass of water and Pinkie holds up an electric fan to cool her down.
  4310. >”I can’t believe they were both changelings… I can’t believe how wrong I’ve been about everything…”
  4311. “It’s been a pretty big night for all of us, Twi.”
  4312. >”And it’s still not over…” Twilight laments. “I still have to apologize to Rarity and Applejack for sending the Royal Guard into their homes and scaring them during that SIHN outbreak. Applejack is really upset, and she wants answers… and Rarity… Well, let’s just say Cadance wasn’t the only one interrupted tonight.”
  4313. “What? You mean…”
  4314. >”When Lu-” Twilight begins, but stops herself when she looks at Farfalla.
  4315. >”It seems you wish to discuss some matters I should not be here for. In fact… I need to consider where I’m going to go now. I doubt that Domino and Max are the only ones affected by that light. The rest of my children may have been reborn as well. They… might need me. But there’s still so much I want to do with you, my love.” Farfalla says to you, looking a bit nervous.
  4316. >”Perhaps they’ll be fine without me… but I’m just not sure. And I don’t know if my presence here is fully welcome just yet. My love… what should I do?”
  4317.  
  4318. >You place your hand on Farfalla’s shoulder, gently stroking her silky coat.
  4319. “I’d love for you to stay, but I know you’ve got some things you need to do. You should go to them. Not as their queen, but as their mother that loves them. Say what you need to say, make sure they’re safe, and then come right back as soon as you’re ready, got it?”
  4320. >Farfalla nods and presses her neck against you in that affectionate way ponies tend to do.
  4321. >You stoop down to help her out, returning the favor with a hug. She’s not quite as large as she was before after all.
  4322. >”Thank you, my love. I’ll be back soon. I promise. Domino, Max, would you like to join me?”
  4323. >The guard captain looks at Twilight shyly. “That… depends. Do I still have my position as Captain, Princess? Because I really would like to stay here.
  4324. >”Well… of course you can stay, Captain. You’ve been with the royal guard for years now. You’re one of the best! We couldn’t replace a captain like you…”
  4325. >”Then I guess that settles it!” Domino says happily. “I look forward to continuing to serve you, my princess.”
  4326. >The insect-winged pegasus clears his throat, “Well, in that case… Captain, permission to take a temporary leave of absence? After all, my mother just recovered from a very serious illness, and I’d like to ensure her health and safety for a while.”
  4327. >”Permission granted, Staff Sgt. Max Flightmaster. Take care of her for me.” Answers Captain Domino.
  4328. >They salute each other, and Max takes his place by Farfalla’s side.
  4329. >The former queen smiles at you. “Goodbye for now then, my love. I will return. I promise.”
  4330. “I’ll be waiting right here for you.”
  4331. >A sudden look of realization comes over Farfalla’s face. “Oh! I have an idea… one moment.”
  4332. >She quickly runs upstairs to the room she was in, and after a few moments, comes back down.
  4333. >”Here… it’s not much, but just… something for you to hold on to.”
  4334. >She levitates a thin, pointed strip of chitin to you.
  4335.  
  4336. Obtained: Chrysalis's Horn
  4337.  
  4338.     >”It’s… my horn. From my molt. I… I suppose I’d understand if you don’t want it. It is a little gross, after all. But I seemed to recall that some males think things like this are… cool.”
  4339.     >You take the dried horn in your hand.
  4340.     “It’s super cool. Thank you, Farfalla.”
  4341.     >You see tinges of red on her white face appear as she blushes. She seems quite pleased by your praise.
  4342.     >”Well… until we meet again.”
  4343.     >Farfalla turns and begins to leave along with Max until Twilight calls out, “Wait!”
  4344.     >The white alicorn turns her head to see Twilight standing behind her.
  4345.     >”I… I’m sorry!”
  4346.     >”I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry for everything I did to your people…”
  4347.     >”I was so wrong… I… I hated you… when I saw you again, I was so consumed by fear, remembering what you put me through… I was so scared that you would take him away from me. I almost did something terrible… if he hadn’t stopped me.” Twilight apologizes tearfully through closed eyes, unable to look her former enemy in the face.
  4348.     >Farfalla gracefully trots over to Twilight and lifts her head with a hoof before giving her a kiss on the cheek.
  4349.     >”You only ever did what you thought was best for the ones you love. Just as I did. I would never begrudge you for that. In the end… we’re not so different, you and I. Take care of him for me, won’t you?”
  4350.     >Twilight nods and wipes away her tears. “I will… and when you come back, I… I want to get to know you too, all right?”
  4351.     >”That sounds lovely.” Farfalla says with a warm smile.
  4352.     >With those words, and one final parting glance, Farfalla and her son exit the cottage and take flight on their new wings, soaring across the midnight sky back to their family.
  4353.  
  4354.     >"Guess that's that then." Dash says. "Good work, everypony, now let's-"
  4355.     >"Um..." Fluttershy interrupts meekly.
  4356.     >"I... I believe there's still a few things... that might be important... tonight."
  4357.     >"You mean like cleaning up the big goopy changeling molt in your bedroom?" Pinkie asks
  4358.     >"N-No... it's about... the one who attacked me."
  4359.     >!
  4360. “Attacked…”
  4361. >Fluttershy nods sadly. “I’ll explain as much as I can… while you were out, I even had Twilight cast her Memory Spell on me. But there’s still something missing.”
  4362. “Just start from the beginning, tell us as much as you can, then we’ll worry about what you don’t have.”
  4363. >Fluttershy begins recounting step by step the details of her encounter with the Culprit.
  4364. >Making the salad, walking around the empty house, and getting stopped by some mysterious force.
  4365. >She recalls with perfect clarity everything that was said to her, and everything that she said.
  4366. >She remembers being thrown to the floor, being threatened, the Culprit telling her that she wasn’t infected, and that the Culprit would have to do it manually.
  4367. >She tells you about the Culprit saying that they were here to help, not to hurt.
  4368. >She remembers the culprit saying that they couldn’t tell when they’d lost something important.
  4369. >She tells you about the culprit turning her around so she could see the culprit’s face.
  4370. >”But then… all I remember is saying ‘You… no, it’s not…’ and then nothing. I don’t remember why I said that, or what I meant, just the exact words that I said. I don’t remember what their face looked like, or what their voice sounded like. I couldn’t tell you if they were a unicorn, a pegasus, an earth pony, or if they weren’t even a pony at all. It’s like… I remember all the details of what ‘happened’ but my memories of their ‘identity’ were stolen.”
  4371. “Stolen?”
  4372. >Twilight nods in agreement. “It’s plausible. If they were erased or altered, my Memory spell should have fixed it up. I believe this culprit used some kind of magic to take those memories away from her.”
  4373. >”But why would the culprit just take the memories about their identity? Why not just erase everything about the whole encounter if they were blabbing so much?” Dash wonders.
  4374. “They want us to know… they want us to keep looking for them. Everything is going according to some kind of plan that the culprit organized. Or at least, it was. But Fluttershy did something, or didn’t do something, that kept her from becoming infected with SIHN.”
  4375. >”What was with that stuff about ‘helping’ us?” Dash asks. “The culprit doesn’t want us to ‘live our lives all hunky dory’ but then they want to help us too?”
  4376. “Who knows… it could be some kind of game to the culprit’s sick mind. Maybe it means the culprit thinks he’s helping you by getting you to face your problems.”
  4377. >”Or maybe he’s talking about our Personas.” Spike suggests. “Maybe the culprit just thinks we should be grateful that if we survive we get a cool superpower.”
  4378. >”The culprit’s motives are still so unclear…” Twilight muses. “But there are a few things we know for sure. We know that SIHN is transmissible, and there are already other victims infected. We also know there’s some kind of order to it… maybe it’s the order that they’re infected in. And this could still be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that Applejack and Rarity are going to be among them.”
  4379. “You could maybe dismiss the first few as coincidence… but now we know that all the ones that have happened so far have been for a reason. Fluttershy was specifically targeted. They’re doing something to the Elements of Harmony.
  4380. >”Then why was I first?” Spike wonders. “I’m not one of the Elements... maybe the elements don’t have anything to do with it. Maybe it’s just because we’re Twi’s friends.”
  4381. >”You really think that the Culprit is targeting my friends?” Twi asks, sounding worried.
  4382. “You are a princess, after all. Like it or not, you’re a very important pony. It could make you a target.”
  4383. >Twi seems a bit conflicted until Pinkie gives her a hug. “Hey, turn that frown upside down right now, Missy!”
  4384. >Dash smirks, “We can all see that look on your face, thinking that this is your fault we’re in danger. Well cut it out right now! We’re your friends!"
  4385.     >”Besides, it is just a theory after all.” Fluttershy says. “For all we know it could be an entirely different reason why we’re being affected.”
  4386.     >Twilight sighs, “You’re right. I guess I’m just a little tired. It’s been a very long night, and I’m still not sure if we’re closer to finding the answer. Just more questions…”
  4387.     >“Speaking of answers… I think I owe it to you all to tell you the truth about myself now. Since you’re all here and everything...” Fluttershy says a bit nervously.
  4388.     “We might need some coffee at this rate…”
  4389.     >”I’m calling in sick tomorrow… hey, Twilight. Can you write me a note or something saying I have to stay home on monday?” Dash asks hopefully.
  4390.     >”I’m not your mother, Rainbow Dash!”
  4391.     “I’ll take a note too. Just say something about extenuating top secret royal stuff. I mean that’s pretty much the truth anyway.”
  4392.     >”I… fine I’ll write something for you two.”
  4393.     “Anyway, you were saying, Fluttershy?”
  4394.     >”Oh, yes. Well, as you all know now, I was born with the name Umaguchi Shizuka. Family name first, of course. My father was the previous head of the Umaguchi crime syndicate, Umaguchi Tobi. Our family has been a powerful influence in Neighpon for generations, with the first born taking over the family business. Somewhere along the line our business became something unsavory, and we ended up becoming criminals, controlling the underworld of Neighpon and hiding behind many fronts of legitimate business. I mean, they’re not all bad… they help out the community by going after violent criminals that disturb the order, and the parts of our business that are legitimate are well run. We actually own one of the world’s largest shipping companies, and we even have a stake in the Rainbow Factories in Cloudsdale.”
  4395.     >”The MOB makes rainbows?!” Dash says, shocked.
  4396.     >”Not exactly… the employees themselves aren’t members, but the executives in charge of the factory are… very receptive to our needs. It’s why I was able to live in Cloudsdale so comfortably under a fake name.”
  4397. “So… why did you live there and not in Neighpon where your family was?”
  4398. >"Like I said, the Umaguchi pass down leadership through their children… but my mother and father had trouble conceiving. I was the only child they were ever able to produce, so they had to hide me. They kept me safe in Cloudsdale, where I received secret supplementary lessons from home tutors about the things I would need to learn to take over one day. Things like… the stare.”
  4399. “The stare?”
  4400. >Twilight begins to explain, “You saw her shadow use it. Fluttershy’s special technique that she can use to affect certain animals to calm them down and make them behave.”
  4401. >”That’s… not exactly true, Twilight. It’s not mine. It’s the Umaguchi family’s secret technique. And what I haven’t ever shown you is that it works on Ponies too. That’s why I always say that I don’t want to take it lightly. It doesn't calm them down, it destroys their will with a surge of violent intent.”
  4402. “That’s what your Shadow meant, huh? Oerflowing with violent intent…”
  4403. >”That’s correct. It’s one of the reasons the Umaguchi family is so successful, and why the successor is always chosen by blood rather than by merit. They’ve passed down the technique only to those of their own blood, showing them how to use their inherent magic to project their force of will and overpower somepony with violent intent alone.”
  4404. >”Your magic… that’s why it backfired when I used that spell to hypnotize those vampire fruit bats, isn’t it?” Twi asks
  4405. >Fluttershy nods guiltily. “It was a two way street. Because I was projecting magic, something was able to get in. The “will” of those vampire fruit bats. I never told you, but even after you tried to use your magic to fix it, all that happened was that my will was able to overcome it. But now that part of myself is mixed together with my “violent intent”. If I ever use the stare like that again, I’d lose control and turn back into Flutterbat. Even eating apples fills me with all these powerful emotions.”
  4406. “No wonder your shadow was so upset. It must have been difficult having to hide your power level like that.”
  4407. >”I don’t use the stare too often anyway… and when I did try it, I was able to turn myself back. Luckily Discord was there when it happened to keep anypony else from seeing. Or… I guess maybe it would have been better if you had found out earlier so my shadow couldn’t use it against me. I’m sorry I didn’t tell anypony. And I’m sorry I hid the fact that I had so much money… I mean, technically it isn’t “my” money as far as the state is concerned, so there’s no legal reason I should have to pay taxes on it…”
  4408. >”Fluttershy, could we… maybe talk about your finances and potential tax evasion later? There’s something I’d like to bring up.” Twilight interjects.
  4409. >”Oh, of course, Twilight. What is it?”
  4410. >”It’s… just something I feel like you should all hear here before you hear it anywhere else.”
  4411. >You notice Twilight’s eyes nervously darting towards Spike every once in a while.
  4412. >”So, as you now all know, whenever SIHN hits, Princess Luna falls asleep as well. Today being Sunday, Princess Luna was still in town on vacation when it happened this time.”
  4413. “So when it hit… she was seen in public?”
  4414. >”No, and that’s the problem. When it happened, she was… at Rarity’s house.”
  4415. >”... in Rarity’s bedroom.”
  4416. >”WHAAAAT?!” the whole room sans Spike echoes.
  4417. >”Yeah… so when it happened, Rarity screamed, guards rushed in, Luna got carried out, Luna was seen being carried out, Rarity is in hysterics, and basically everything is absolutely terrible. Like I said, this night isn't over yet. Now I need to figure out what to tell not only Rarity, but Applejack as well, because I thought that if it was going to be Fluttershy that was the next SIHN Victim, that Discord would warn us immediately. And when Discord didn't warn me, I sent the guard in full force over to Applejack's place, Granny Smith attacked the guards with a sword, and now Applejack is mad at me too."
  4418. “So all in all, a successful evening”
  4419. >”Pretty much.” Twilight agrees sarcastically.
  4420. >”It… wasn’t all bad!” Fluttershy says hopefully. “I mean, we did save an entire race of creatures from a terrible curse, and I learned to accept my identity! Plus, I can help you all out now that I have my Persona!”
  4421. “Oh yeah, what kind of Persona is it anyway?”
  4422. >”Well… his name is Shoggoth, and he’s a support type. It seems that he allows me to see into the hearts of shadows to read their weaknesses, as well as give me the ability to see great distances, use my stare to affect shadows, process visual information incredibly quickly, communicate psychically from long distances, share visual information, scan ponies in the real world to see if they’re in Fantasia, and a few other neat tricks, though unfortunately it doesn’t have any attacking abilities. I can even see your personas and the abilities they grant you if I concentrate! Let’s see, Spike, your persona is Python of the Magician Arcana and it.. oh! It’s very similar to mine, isn’t it?”
  4423. >”Yeah… it’s similar. Except yours is way better.”
  4424. >”Oh, no no no no, that’s not true, Python is very useful… he… he can listen to things from very far away, right? And he can speak many languages, that’s something impressive, isn’t it?”
  4425. >Spike waves his claws dismissively. “It’s fine… Python got jammed tonight and was totally useless. Your Shoggoth would have handled that no problem. You’ve got the better support persona. There's no point in having two... it'll just attract shadows too quickly if we have that many out at once. You take over, Fluttershy. It was fun while it lasted."
  4426. >"Spike, I'm sure there are things that Python can do that Shoggoth can't." Twi rebutts.
  4427. >"Yeah, but none of them are gonna be as useful in battle as super stare powers or anything."
  4428. >"Yes, but... well, Anon, you're the leader, what do you think?" Twi asks you.
  4429.  
  4430. “Well, Spike, I’m not gonna sugar coat it. Fluttershy may have a stronger support persona.”
  4431. “But!”
  4432. “That doesn’t mean your Persona couldn’t grow into something different. Super powerful hearing has been used in fights by all kinds of superheroes throughout the ages. I think you guys have one called Maredevil, right?”
  4433. >”Yeah, Maredevil. The superhero whose power is that she’s not “completely” blind.”
  4434. “But speaking of Blindness, just because there’s something that could deafen your persona doesn’t mean there isn’t something that could blind Fluttershy’s. And what if we start fighting invisible shadows? I’ll have to do some research of my own, but I think that your Python can still grow even more.”
  4435. >Dash and Pinkie give each other a look.
  4436. “Oh hush up. Anyway, that’s my decision as a leader. We’ll see how Fluttershy works on the field, and we’ll see how your persona can grow apart from hers. Got it, little man?”
  4437. >Spike still looks a little drained, but he at least cracks a small smile. “Thanks, big guy. Is that everything? Or is something else going wrong tonight too.”
  4438. >Everyone starts to shake their head except for Twilight.
  4439. >”Well…”
  4440. >”Oh COME ON!” Everyone yells at once.
  4441. >”I-I’m sorry! It’s just that well… I was planning on loosening the Travel Ban tomorrow. Everypony would be subject to review before being granted a Travel Visa. We’d be keeping track of where everypony who leaves goes, and restrict where they can go and for how long, but now… I don’t know if I should. What if the Culprit escapes? What if the Culprit starts infecting ponies too far for us to do anything about? What if the Culprit comes back? What if the culprit tries to hurt one of you? Do I need to keep guards assigned to each of you? How does SIHN spread? Will there be roots all over Equestria if I do this? I just… I just don’t know anymore...”
  4442. >Twilight seems quite distressed…
  4443. >This is an important decision.
  4444. >You must choose wisely.
  4445. >What should you support?
  4446.  
  4447. “Think about it, Twilight. Ponyville is defended by the Elements of Harmony, one of Equestria’s most powerful forces. That culprit is here for a reason. And if he does leave, you’ll be keeping track of who comes and goes, won’t you?”
  4448. >”Yeah, nopony gets to travel without their identity being recorded.”
  4449. “Then it should be fine. Don’t get the fear, Twi. Besides, if it was really that contagious, I don’t know why the other princesses wouldn’t have gotten it and spread it to canterlot by now. And if the Culprit really did want to hurt you girls, there’s been plenty of opportunities. This Culprit might actually be deluded enough into thinking that putting ponies into Fantasia really is helping them. If any of you don’t feel safe, then it should be up to you if you feel you need extra security.”
  4450. >”In that case…” Fluttershy says, looking at the door to the next room where the guards are waiting. “Could I ask Captain Domino to stay with me? She seems quite strong, and I’d love to talk to her about what it was like to be a changeling. And now she’s an entirely new breed of Pony… do you think she’ll let me touch her horn?”
  4451. >Twilight giggles lightly. “I’ll ask her what she thinks, Fluttershy. You’re right though, Anon. It makes sense for the Culprit to stay here. The Culprit would have to be in Ponyville to make sure things are going according to their plan, in case they need to interfere again.”
  4452. “Then I think we’re all in favor of loosening the ban.”
  4453. >”Then… can we go home noow?” Dash moans impatiently.
  4454. “That’s all from me.”
  4455. >”I’ve said everything I need to say. Everypony take care.” Twi says.
  4456. >”See ya tomorrow! Or… later today!” Pinkie says after glancing at the clock.
  4457. >You all leave Fluttershy’s house and go straight to bed.
  4458. >Well, almost.
  4459. >Before that, you find the Scrapbook you started with Twi.
  4460. >It looks like that bit of Chris’s horn is thin enough to fit in it.
  4461. >You carefully added it to the scrapbook, and then went straight to bed, relieved that the long night is over.
  4462.  
  4463. Monday, November 28th
  4464.  
  4465. >You slept in for a very long time today.
  4466. >You’re not sure what time it was when you finally went to bed last night, but you decide to go to the dining hall at the castle to enjoy the free food one last time.
  4467. >If they’re actually serving food, that is.
  4468. >When you get there, it seems you’ve slept in until lunch time.
  4469. >They have copies of the paper laying around in the Dining hall.
  4470. >Out of curiosity, you decide to take a look at how the town is reacting to the situation at hand.
  4471. >There’s a few different papers available, but the headlines seem to either be about the Fourth SIHN outbreak, or that wave of light which transfigured the changelings.
  4472. >To your relief, the papers don’t seem to be mentioning Princess Luna and Rarity anywhere in them.
  4473. >”Hey, Big Guy.” you hear from the other side of your paper.
  4474. >You peek over the top, and see Spike taking a seat next to you.
  4475. “Hey, Little man. You need this when I’m done?”
  4476. >“Nah, I saw ‘em earlier. I know last night was rough, but you really like to sleep in, don’t you?”
  4477. “What can I say? I need my beauty rest. Seems like things are working out okay though. These articles seem pretty positive about the changelings, and I haven’t seen anything about Rarity.”
  4478. >As you say Rarity’s name, Spike’s expression droops immediately.
  4479. >”Yeah… guess you’re not reading the right papers then. Actually I’d say it’s more like the wrong one. Ever heard of The Daily Clopper?”
  4480. “I’m… familiar.”
  4481. >Spike hops off his chair and goes to the wastebasket in the corner, digging out a thin newspaper and uncrumpling it before smacking it down on the table.
  4482. >The headline reads, “PRINCESS LUNA HAS SIHN; COLLAPSES IN THROES OF SEXUAL PASSION WITH LOCAL FASHIONISTA!”
  4483. >The photograph displayed on the front of the paper makes your skin crawl.
  4484. >It’s clearly taken in Rarity’s bedroom through the upstairs window. It's blurry, and nothing is exposed, it still quite clearly depicts the Princess in a compromising position with Rarity on her bed.
  4485. “This can’t be legal. This is a complete invasion of their privacy… does the Princess know about this?”
  4486. >Spike shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. Either way I have a message for you from her.”
  4487. “A message?”
  4488. >”Yeah… kinda got lost in all that stuff from last night. Luna left town and said she’s going to try to lay low for a while for Rarity’s sake. No more vacations on Sunday like before.”
  4489. “Guess she figured something like this would happen one way or another... She say anything else?”
  4490. >”Not much. She just made Twi promise not to tell Rarity about what’s really going on, and to protect her while she was gone. Luna really seemed worried about Rarity… she sounded pretty serious.”
  4491. “Guess she really does care for her, huh?”
  4492. >”Yeah, I guess…”
  4493. “Do you want to try to visit her?”
  4494. >”I already tried. She doesn’t want to see anypony but her sister right now. Sweetie Belle thinks she’ll be all right though. She says her crying is somewhere between “Sad romance novel ending” and “Happy romance novel ending” so she should bounce back after a couple weeks.”
  4495. “Hope she’s right.”
  4496. >”Me too…”
  4497. “So then… how do you feel about all this?”
  4498. >”Honestly, I feel like I want to go fishing right now.”
  4499. “Fishing, huh? I’d be up for that. Let’s do it, little man. We can talk more down at the lake.”
  4500. >”Awesome! I’ll go grab our stuff!” Spike hops out of his chair and runs to his room looking excited.
  4501.  
  4502. Ponyville Lake, Afternoon
  4503.  
  4504. >You got your fishing gear and went down to the lake with Spike.
  4505. >This time you remembered to bring the manuals.
  4506. >It’s a little confusing at first since all of the instructions are written for creatures with hooves, but eventually you figure it out and cast your lines deep into the lake.
  4507. >You sit at the water’s edge together with Spike, waiting for a bite.
  4508. >Perhaps you should make conversation while you wait.
  4509. >What should you talk to him about?
  4510.  
  4511. “So how’s life, little man? From all the stuff I learned in your Fantasia… seems like this stuff might be kinda rough for you.”
  4512. >Spike sighs and shifts his seating a bit, kicking his legs over the edge of the dock.
  4513. >”Yeah… it’s a bummer to say the least. Just being the support guy I can handle, but Fluttershy beating me out at it too? It’s like… what’s the point? Why is mine so much worse than hers?”
  4514. >You sigh and look over the lake.
  4515. “I guess I can kind of understand where you’re coming from. Not too long ago I was asking what the point of having Mistress Mare-velous on the Power Ponies was when Radiance was pretty much better than her in every way. But just because there’s some overlap in their powers doesn’t mean they’ll use them in the same way.”
  4516. >”I know that… but that’s not what I want to be. I don’t want to be the support for the support, I wanna be out there doing my own thing. Doing the things the others can’t do.”
  4517. “Our Personas are always growing, little man. Yours might just be a late bloomer. Python might start getting some serious attacking magic.”
  4518. >”Thanks for the vote of confidence, but… I still kind of doubt it. Python doesn’t seem like he’d be very strong, even if he did learn spells. But what about Twilight’s Persona, Nimue? It wasn’t always Nimue, right? How’d she get a new one?”
  4519. “We went on a romantic date together and made lifelong memories.”
  4520. >Spike looks mortified. “D-Do I have to go on a d-d-date with you too to change my Persona?”
  4521. “I ‘d-d-doubt it’, little man. It just sort of happened when she found the answer to a problem she’d been having. I think you just have to grow emotionally, and your Persona will change with you.”
  4522. >”Well, that’s why we’re here fishing, isn’t it? To become real men? So maybe… if I catch a fish, I’ll be a real man, and I’ll get a new Persona!”
  4523. “It’s… possible, I guess.”
  4524. >”All right, let’s do this! I’m gonna catch myself a fish!”
  4525. >Spike watches the lake intensely in silence.
  4526. >30 minutes later, he’s watching it a bit less intensely.
  4527. >30 minutes after that, you’re both getting kind of bored of this.
  4528. >Until…
  4529. >You hear a *fwip* as the line goes taut, and a buzzing sound as something starts to draw it out...
  4530. >Something seems to have snagged Spike’s line!
  4531. >”Whoah! I got a bite!”
  4532. >Spike stands up and starts angling his rod, pulling on it and cranking the handle to reel it in.
  4533. >”Feels like a big one…”
  4534. >You watch as he struggles and tries to bring the line in, the water in the center of the lake splashing wildly as something tries to free itself.
  4535. >”Geez, did I hook a whale or something?!”
  4536. >Spike seems to be having trouble landing it…
  4537. >You might be able to steady him and help him pull…
  4538. >But maybe he’d rather do it himself.
  4539. >What should you do?
  4540.  
  4541.     >You decided to stand behind Spike and yell encouraging things.
  4542.     “Don’t give up, Little man! Right now your hands hold the power to shape the future, and your destiny lies inside that Fish!”
  4543.     >”Yeah… I can do this!”
  4544.     “Don’t beg for it, earn it! Then it will be granted to you!”
  4545.     >“I’ll get him all right!”
  4546.     “Even if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in me that believes in you!”
  4547.     >”I believe!”
  4548.     “You are dragon! Fire transformed!”
  4549.     >”Yeah, I’m a dragon!”
  4550.     “When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Burn them down with your combustible lemons!”
  4551.     >”Yeah, burn it down!”
  4552.     ”You are the hope of the universe! Answer to all living things that cry out for peace! Protector of the innocent! The light in the darkness! You are truth! Ally to good, nightmare to fish!”
  4553.     >”Come on, get over here you stupid fish!”
  4554.     “Don’t stop! You can’t stop! That’s the truth of Strawberry Milk!”
  4555.     >”I’m not gonna stop…!”
  4556.     *snap*
  4557.     >You both stare as silence fills the air and the line goes slack again.
  4558.     “...”
  4559.     >”... I guess the line broke.”
  4560.     “Yeah…”
  4561.     >”Probably shouldn’t have tried to pull so hard, huh.”
  4562.     “Maybe less hard next time.”
  4563.     >”Why were you talking about Strawberry Milk?”
  4564.     “I dunno, it just kind of came out.”
  4565.     >You both sit there staring at the broken line for a couple minutes.
  4566.     >”... want to call it a day and get some strawberry milk?”
  4567.     “Eh. Sure.”
  4568.     >You both went and bought some refreshingly cool strawberry milk to drink before parting ways.
  4569.     >Twilight mentioned she had a surprise for you back at the castle.
  4570.     >You promised her you'd be there, so you head out after finishing your strawberry milk.
  4571. Twilight's Castle Library, Evening.
  4572.  
  4573. >Even though your lessons are over, you still find Twilight waiting at your usual spot, reading through that magic Diary with the sun emblem on it.
  4574. “Hey, Cutie. I’m here for my surprise.”
  4575. >Twilight smiles and sets the book aside, “Glad you’re still excited. I guess part of it was kind of messed up thanks to last night, but try to act surprised anyway, okay? Now follow me.”
  4576. >You follow her through the library, curious about what she could mean.
  4577. >She leads you to the back where the Crystal Mirror that serves as a portal to the human world is kept. The one you used last night to speak to Cadance.
  4578. “Oh, that’s what you meant by messed up, huh?”
  4579. >Twilight nods. “I finished it yesterday, and I was going to use it to formally introduce you to Princess Cadance, but… well, you were there.”
  4580. “Yeah…”
  4581. >”It doesn’t just connect to the Crystal Empire though! It actually connects to another mirror over in Canterlot if you just change the frequency, and we’re planning on making even more of them for major cities to facilitate instant communication during times of crisis!”
  4582. “So you invented this? You invented the magic skype mirror? Because that sounds like a pretty major technological achievement for your world.”
  4583. >”I can’t take full credit. I just figured out some new applications for already existing spells and magical artifacts by reverse engineering them. Plus the material components to construct a mirror like this are pretty hard to come by. Which makes it poorly suited for mass production.”
  4584. “I still think it’s pretty cool. When I talked to Cadance, it was like she was really right on the other side of that mirror. Instant communication with no video or audio distortions is something you can’t even get in the human world.”
  4585. >”Either way, the mirror itself wasn’t the surprise. Or at least, not all of it.”
  4586. “So what’s the rest of it then?”
  4587. >”Well… I’ll let Cadance explain, and I’ll meet up with you later on at your house.”
  4588. “Going somewhere?”
  4589.     >”Yeah… well, there’s just some things I’m not quite suited to teach. But she is!”
  4590.     >As you try to puzzle out the meaning of her words, the switches flip with a purple glow, and in a flash of light, Twilight disappears.
  4591.     >This time, Cadance answers a lot more quickly.
  4592.     >She’s also properly groomed and rested.
  4593.     >”Good afternoon, Anonymous!” She says cheerfully.
  4594.     “Good afternoon, Cadance. Thanks again for all the help last night.”
  4595.     >”It was nothing, really. That love for her inside your heart was all you needed. And it feels like it’s stronger than ever before.”
  4596.     “Hope I didn’t cause too much trouble for all of you. Did anypony… change?”
  4597.     >”Yes, quite a few, in fact… it seems that changelings have been living among us peacefully this entire time.”
  4598.     “Guess they didn’t all accept the lie that they didn’t have hearts.”
  4599.     >”It’s really wonderful, knowing that Chrysalis was able to be saved by love. I always hoped one day someone could heal her heart… and it turned out to be you. Thank you, Anonymous. For saving somepony from a pain over a thousand years old.”
  4600.     “I just did what I thought was right… so anyway, did Twilight have me call you for any particular reason? Or are we really just chatting?”
  4601.     >”Oh, yes! Looks like it’s finally time for the talk.”
  4602.     “What talk?”
  4603.     >”THE talk, Anon. It’s time for Big Sister Cadance to teach you the facts of life! Welcome to Sex Ed.”
  4604.     >Cadance punctuates this by pulling out a blackboard with her magic, positioning it on the other side of the mirror.
  4605.     “Oh… they’re not kidding when they say you’re an expert on ‘love’, huh?”
  4606.     >”That’s right. Now get those clothes off, dear.”
  4607.     “Huh? Do I have to?”
  4608.     >”This is no time to be modest. I know you’ve got some different morals where you’re from, but you’re in Equestria now. You don’t want to end up hurting Twilight, do you?”
  4609.     “Well, of course not but…”
  4610.     >”Then I need to see what I’m working with here. I can’t do that if you’ve got all those clothes on. Now strip, please.”
  4611. “... but it’s cold.”
  4612. >You feel Cadance judging you with her eyes.
  4613. “Fine.”
  4614. >You grumble and remove your clothes.
  4615. >Cadance smiles, “There we go. Now then, on to our lesson. Are you ready?”
  4616. “My body is… not sure if ready.”
  4617. >”Too bad. We’re starting anyway.”
  4618. >”Now then, let’s start with the basics. A Mare’s body is…”
  4619. >”And as you can see, when aroused it’s a lot more…
  4620. >”Which is called, ‘Winking’ and the…”
  4621. >”But they also like it when you touch their cutie mark, the spot just under their wings, the edge of the wing when displaying, and some ponies like Shiny love to have their…
  4622. >”Which can be uncomfortable at first. In fact when I tried it with Shiny he-”
  4623. >”And when he’s fully aroused, I measured Shiny at-”
  4624. >”And Shiny said, ‘Oatmeal, are you crazy?’”
  4625. >”But I’m sure with time, patience, and willingness to experiment, you’ll be able to figure out what works best for you two. And that about sums it up! Any questions?”
  4626. >You shake your head quickly.
  4627. “I think… I know everything I could possibly want to know now. And many many things that I wish I didn’t.”
  4628. >”I’m glad you learned a lot! I think Twi’s going to be a very happy Mare.”
  4629. “Can I put my clothes back on…”
  4630. >”Of course! Anyway, I should probably get back to my duties… but if you need any help, just ask Twilight and I’m sure she’ll be happy to set up another talk like this.”
  4631. “I think… we’ve talked a good amount.”
  4632. >”I think so too. This was good practice for when I have to give this talk to my kid some day!”
  4633. “Maybe… learn how to stay on subject before you do.”
  4634. >”All right, gotta run!”
  4635. >The mirror shuts off.
  4636. >This has been the most intense lesson you’ve ever had.
  4637. >But at least you know what you need to.
  4638. >You put your clothes back on and head out.
  4639. >Twilight isn’t in the Library.
  4640. >She said she’d meet you at your new house, so you head straight there.
  4641.  
  4642. Your House, Evening
  4643.  
  4644. >Twilight is waiting outside.
  4645. >You wave as you approach, and she runs to your side, excited.
  4646. >”So did you learn a lot?”
  4647. “...”
  4648. >”Hello?”
  4649. “Twilight…”
  4650. >You stoop down and place your hand firmly on her shoulder.
  4651. “Your body is incredible.”
  4652. >”Uh, thank you?” she squeaks nervously. “Maybe we should continue this conversation inside…”
  4653. >You nod and take the key from your pocket, unlocking the door and heading in to your new home together with her.
  4654. >”A lot sure has happened… not just last night, but this whole month.”
  4655. “Hey, don’t speak too soon. Month isn’t over yet.”
  4656. >”Maybe.” she says as she has a seat on your couch. “But I think no matter what happens, I’ll be able to get through it with you.”
  4657. “You’ve really got that much faith in me, huh?”
  4658. >You have the seat next to her.
  4659. >”Of course I do. I don’t know if any of us would have made it this far without you.”
  4660. “I couldn’t have made it this far without each of you either. I came here with nothing… and you’ve all given me so much in return. Especially you, Twilight. You’re the reason I’m able to live in Ponyville like this. You’ve worked so hard this past month not just for me, but for all of Equestria.”
  4661. >”A Princess’s work is never done, it seems.”
  4662. “Then how about just for tonight, we forget all that? No Princess Twilight, no Teacher Twilight, no Warrior Twilight. Just the Twilight Sparkle that I know and love.”
  4663. >”I think that sounds wonderful. Let’s do it. Just you and me tonight. All of me. I won’t hold anything back.”
  4664. >You share a knowing gaze and get off of the couch together, heading out of the living room, and through the door into the bedroom.
  4665. >...
  4666. >You spent a long time with Twilight Sparkle.
  4667.  
  4668. http://pastebin.com/TgfQgXXk
  4669.  
  4670. Tuesday, November 29th
  4671.  
  4672. >You wake up on your big comfy bed, your arms still on top of a sleeping mare snuggled up to you under the covers.
  4673. >Finally, a chance to surprise her.
  4674. >You carefully slip out of bed, putting on some clothes and heading into your kitchen.
  4675. >She’s been working hard lately… she might appreciate some breakfast in bed.
  4676. >You resolve to make her a nice breakfast.
  4677. >Pancakes are good… you bet she likes those.
  4678. >Or at least you would think that, until you realize they live in a pre-industrial era with no big supermarkets and instant pancake mix.
  4679. >You’d have to make everything from scratch.
  4680. >Perhaps something simpler…
  4681. >You spy a basket of fresh apples in the kitchen.
  4682. >Did you buy apples? Maybe AJ had them leave some as a housewarming gift.
  4683. >Either way, it seems you have apples, bread, eggs, milk…
  4684. >You figure this is enough to make some decent french toast.
  4685. >You get to work, beating together a couple eggs and adding milk, slicing some bread and dunking it in, then placing it in a buttered skillet over a decent heat.
  4686. >You work at it carefully with a spatula, concentrating hard to make sure you don’t end up burning it.
  4687. >While it cooks, you quickly slice up some apples very thinly before taking it out of the pan and plating it, spreading apple slices over the toast.
  4688. >It’s a little… scrambled eggy, but you tried your best.
  4689. >Seems you have syrup as well. You’ve got Pinkie to thank for that. She gave you a little help last week stocking your pantry.
  4690. >Powdered sugar as well.
  4691. >But which should you put on?
  4692. >This is a trivial decision…
  4693. >You probably don’t need to choose wisely.
  4694.     >Screw it, you put some of each.
  4695.     >You sprinkle light amounts of powdered sugar on top, and leave some syrup to the side.
  4696.     >You walk in with the plate of apple french toast for your cutie pie, singing gently to her as the sun shines through your window.
  4697.     ”The book of looove is long and boring~”
  4698.     “No one can lift the damn thing~”
  4699.     “It’s full of charts and facts, some figures, and instructions for daaancing~...”
  4700.     >You hear her mumble softly under the covers and begin to stir.
  4701.     >You reach over and begin to gently peel them back.
  4702.     >”Nooo… don’t hurt Trixie’s kitty…”
  4703.     “...”
  4704.     >When you pull the covers back, you see an azure mare laying on your bed with a sky blue mane and tail, bearing the cutie mark of a starry wand and crescent moon.
  4705.     >You try to recall if Cadance mentioned something about transforming into some kind of alternate “honeymoon form” after sleeping in bed with a male.
  4706.     >You’re pretty damn sure she did not mention something like that.
  4707.     >She rubs her face with her hooves as the light shines on her, and blinks open her violet eyes, looking a little confused.
  4708.     >”Hmm… why is…”
  4709.     >Her eyes suddenly shoot open when she sees you.
  4710.     >”AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH”
  4711.     “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH”
  4712.  
  4713.     One minute later.
  4714.  
  4715.     “AAAAAAAAAAAAAA”
  4716.     >”AAAAAAAAAAAAA”
  4717.  
  4718.     Another minute later.
  4719.  
  4720.     >”What are you doing in The Great and Powerful Trixie’s house?!”
  4721.     “Your house? This is my house! That’s my bed!”
  4722.     >”Trixie was here first! Get your own!”
  4723.     “I did get my own! This one! I signed the lease last week!”
  4724.     >”So that is why the For Lease sign was gone… another mystery solved!”
  4725.     “Okay, that’s it. I’m calling the guard to sort this out.”
  4726.     >”The g- wait!” She dives forward and seizes your waist in her forelegs.
  4727.     >”Don’t call the guard! Please! Trixie… Trixie will do anything!
  4728.     “Huh?”
  4729.     >”Anything. Anything you ask Trixie, she’ll do. If... if you wish for Trixie to be your slave for today, Trixie will do it. Just let Trixie stay. Don't call the guard, please."
  4730.     >This is an important decision.
  4731.     >You must think hard about how to react.
  4732. “Look, just… explain why you’re in my house first. You said your name is Trixie?”
  4733. >”The Great and Powerful Trixie, most magical Unicorn in all of Equestria!”
  4734. “Yeah, okay. So why are you in my house?”
  4735. >”Trixie has been using this house for shelter. It had a soft bed for Trixie to sleep in when the nights became too cold to sleep outside.”
  4736. “So you’re a squatter?”
  4737. >”The Great and Powerful Trixie is a TRAVELLER.” she corrects you indignantly. “We arrived on Nightmare Night to enjoy the festivities in disguise, but then the town became quarantined upon the outbreak of SIHN. So Trixie has been stuck in town with no money and no way to leave.”
  4738. “How exactly did you end up in bed with me anyway?”
  4739. >”It was very late when Trixie returned last night. It was dark, and Trixie was so exhausted that Trixie doesn’t even remember getting into the bed.”
  4740. >As you try to wonder just how early Twilight gets up in the morning, your train of thought is interrupted by the growling of Trixie’s stomach.
  4741. “... here, eat this.”
  4742. >You hand her the plate of french toast.
  4743. >Trixie’s face lights up. “It’s been so long since Trixie has eaten a warm meal… thank you!”
  4744. >She raises the pieces of french toast with her magic and begins munching them down.
  4745. >”It is delicious!”
  4746. “At least someone’s getting to enjoy them.
  4747. >”Hold on… these apples, did you get them from that basket in the kitchen?”
  4748. “Uh, yeah. Why?”
  4749. >”Trixie worked hard to get those apples!”
  4750. “Oh, sorry. I th- wait, you said you don’t have any money.”
  4751. >Trixie looks to the side nervously and has another bite.
  4752. “Did you steal them?”
  4753. >”It’s different. Trixie only took them because she needed them. Trixie can’t earn a living with her trade in this town anymore, so Trixie has no choice.”
  4754. >How do you feel about this?
  4755.  
  4756. “You shouldn’t be stealing. Can’t you just get a job?”
  4757. >”Trixie can’t. Not here. Trixie only meant to visit here for a day to see Princess Luna!”
  4758. “Okay, so… why don’t you just ask for help? This place is practically a socialist’s wet dream.”
  4759. >”Because Trixie… made a mistake. Trixie made several mistakes, in fact.”
  4760. “What kind of mistakes?”
  4761. >”Trixie… became possessed by an evil spirit for the purposes of exacting revenge on Twilight Sparkle. And in the process Trixie may have… enslaved the town for a day or two.”
  4762. “You… enslaved the town?”
  4763. >”And Trixie is greatly apologetic for it! Twilight Sparkle even forgave Trixie.”
  4764. “So what’s the problem then? If Twi says it’s not your fault then shouldn’t that be enough for everypony else?”
  4765. >”Perhaps… perhaps not. But then Trixie made another mistake.”
  4766. “Which was…?”
  4767. >”A certain somepony convinced Trixie to play a prank on Twilight Sparkle after her coronation. It was supposed to be harmless… just a bit of fun. But it… got out of control. And what began as a prank ended up as sabotaging a princess on a royal mission.”
  4768. “That sounds like a pretty leap.”
  4769. >”Well how was Trixie supposed to know that Twilight Sparkle was wearing a magical amulet that amplified her negative emotions to the point of nearly throwing her heart into darkness? It wasn’t even Trixie’s idea, and Trixie has since cut all ties with the one who came up with it.”
  4770. “If that’s… really true, don’t you think she’d give you a chance to explain yourself?”
  4771. >”Trixie tried “explaining herself” back in Manehatten when she was framed for stealing the Ostlerheimer Diamond. Even after clearing her name and helping to apprehend the real thief, there are still those who believe Trixie is guilty. Not because of what she has done, but because of what she is.”
  4772. >"Trixie has had enough of their unfair treatment. Trixie only wishes to rebuild her caravan so she may leave this town in peace without the trains."
  4773. “So… how close are you to finishing your Caravan then?”
  4774. >”Close, but it is proving difficult. I still need many materials to finish building it, and they are not too easy to… appropriate. I’ve hidden it near the everfree forest. There is enough for Trixie to sleep under the stars, but it needs more work before it is mobile and sturdy enough to last through a journey alone.”
  4775. “So you haven’t been staying here every night then?”
  4776. >”Only when it is too cold, or if it rains.”
  4777. “And you’re saying you’re only doing this until you can travel?”
  4778. >”Trixie doesn’t desire to stay here any longer than she already has. Trixie would prefer to find a place where she can show her face in public without being thought of as a criminal.”
  4779. “Well you have been stealing from them.”
  4780. >”Is Trixie supposed to starve? Or perhaps enjoy the comfort of a prison cell? We have even begged for bits in disguise during our time, but the increased presence of guards has made it difficult to gather the necessary bits to keep Trixie fed.”
  4781. “I’m not going to just turn you in, but you’re putting me in a difficult position here.”
  4782. >”Well then at this point Trixie is open to suggestions, because she can not show her face in this town to work, and it seems you have an objection to Trixie sustaining herself by theft, even when she takes no more than she absolutely needs.”
  4783. “If it was just you it might not be so bad, but I already have someone else coming that I need to take care of when she gets out of the hospital.”
  4784. >”Trixie doesn’t need to stay with you, just… only when it’s too cold to sleep outdoors. If you need to explain, just say that I’m your marefriend. If… if you want, I could be your marefriend. If that’s what it takes.”
  4785. >You sigh and rub the back of your head.
  4786. >It’s getting kind of late.
  4787. >You still have to go to work today.
  4788. >What should you tell her?
  4789. “I’m not going to force you to be my marefriend. I already have one. In fact, I already have three. But if you’re really this desperate I guess I can’t just stand by and do nothing.”
  4790. >”You… want to help Trixie?”
  4791. “Just for a little bit, okay? It’s better than having you out on the street stealing. And we’re going to have to talk about some of this when I get home. I’ll see if I can help you with your caravan. Okay?”
  4792. >”Trixie understands. Thank you for being so kind to Trixie… it’s been so long since Trixie has experienced such beautiful generosity, o’ Great and Caring Anonymous!”
  4793. “Just Anon is fine. I’ll be back later tonight.”
  4794. >”Then Trixie shall wait for you here. Thank you again, Trixie shall not forget the kindness you have shown to her on this day.”
  4795. >!
  4796.  
  4797. —————————————————————
  4798.  
  4799. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  4800.  
  4801. Thou hast established a new bond…
  4802.  
  4803. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  4804.  
  4805. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Tower Arcana.
  4806.  
  4807. —————————————————————
  4808.  
  4809. >You got ready and headed out to work.
  4810. >Before you leave, it seems there’s a note on the door.
  4811.  
  4812. Dear Anonymous,
  4813.  
  4814. Sorry to run off like this, but there’s some stuff I have to take care of with the new guard arriving from the Crystal Empire. You’re seriously a heavy sleeper! Does anything wake you up? Anyway, I had an amazing time last night. Sorry I couldn’t stick around. But you’re welcome to visit me in the castle any time you like if you just want to talk.
  4815.  
  4816. Love,
  4817. Princess Twilight Sparkle.
  4818.  
  4819. >You stuff the note in your pocket and depart for work.
  4820.  
  4821. Cranky’s House, Morning
  4822.  
  4823. >You spy the elderly donkey waiting on his rocking chair.
  4824. “Good morning, Master! Sorry I couldn’t make it yesterday.”
  4825. >”I gotta say that’s the first time I’ve ever heard ‘Saving Equestria’ as an excuse for not showing up to work.”
  4826. “Wondered what that note said. But uh, look. Gilda is getting out of the hospital on the 1st. Is it okay if I leave early then?”
  4827. >"Ah, the Griffon, eh? Hmm... show up on the weekend and I'll call it even."
  4828. “Sounds fair. I’ll come in saturday morning then.”
  4829. >”I’ll hold you to it. Now let’s have you get to work!”
  4830. >You spent your morning working for Cranky again.
  4831. >It seems like there’s always something that can be improved on this house.
  4832. >And given the lack of power tools, nearly everything has to be done by hand.
  4833. >But along the way you’ve picked up a lot of valuable skills.
  4834. >You can even cut lumber for your fireplace when it starts snowing and you realize your shitty house has no insulation.
  4835. >After work, you decided to go see how Rarity was doing.
  4836.  
  4837. Carousel Boutique, Afternoon
  4838.  
  4839. >The sign on the front door says CLOSED.
  4840. >Guess she’s not doing business right now.
  4841. >Still, you’ve come all this way. You’re at least going to try.
  4842. >You knock on the door and wait.
  4843. >About 10 seconds later, the door opens… but Rarity isn’t the one answering it.
  4844. >”Good afternoon, Mister Anonymous!” Sweetie Belle greets you happily.
  4845. “Hey there, Sweetie Belle. Is your big sister here?”
  4846. >Sweetie Belle sighs.
  4847. >”Well she says she’s never leaving the house again, so yeah. She’s here.”
  4848. “Do you think I could talk to her, Sweetie Belle?”
  4849. >“I dunno… she says she doesn’t want any visitors right now. Even Spike couldn’t get into her room. She only goes out to raid the fridge or use the little filly’s room.”
  4850. “That bad, huh?”
  4851. >”That’s my sister for you. I’m used to it by now.”
  4852. “You’re not worried?”
  4853. >”Not really. I know a thing or two about tabloid gossip. Once the next big thing hits, nopony will even remember this happened! It’s only on the front page in the Daily Clopper after all. Every other newspaper’s talking about the latest SIHN outbreak, or the new Travel Laws, or that crazy wave of light that turned all the changelings in the world into a new kind of pony.”
  4854. “Yeah, that was a pretty busy night.”
  4855. >”Want to come in? If you want any coffee you’ll have to make it yourself though.”
  4856.  
  4857. “I’d like to at least try to talk to Rarity first.”
  4858. >”Oh. Well, okay…”
  4859. >Sweetie Belle seems disappointed.
  4860. >She lets you in to try to speak with Rarity.
  4861. >As you to the stairs, you notice the dress she was working on for Luna is gone.
  4862. >Hopefully that means Luna ended up taking it with her last Sunday.
  4863. >”Are you sure this is a good idea?”
  4864. “She might want to talk to me. And if she makes it clear that she doesn’t, I’ll back off.”
  4865. >”If you say so…”
  4866. >You go up to Rarity’s room.
  4867. >She’s probably pretty upset right now.
  4868. >You’ll have to be careful how you talk to her, and be sure to respect her wishes.
  4869. >You knock on her door gently.
  4870. “Rarity? It’s me, Anon. Can I talk to you?”
  4871. >”No! Get out! Stay away from me!”
  4872. >...
  4873. >Doesn’t get much clearer than that.
  4874. >Sweetie Belle looks at you with a "What did I tell you" look.
  4875. "Uh, okay Rarity. Just let me know when you're feeling better..."
  4876. >You shuffle awkwardly down the stairs.
  4877. >”That was faster than I thought it’d be.”
  4878. “You’re telling me.”
  4879. >”Spike lasted way longer than you with her.”
  4880. “I’m sure that’d be a pretty big boost to his ego. So I guess I’m waiting until she feels better… uh, since I’m here do you want to hang out?”
  4881. >”What, so I’m just your backup because my sister didn’t want to talk to you?” Sweetie Belle glares.
  4882. “Whoa, hold up. What’s all this about? I just made plans to see her to make sure she’s okay, and since she doesn’t want to see me, I wanted to see how you’re doing. Is something bothering you?”
  4883. >Sweetie Belle sighs and hops onto the couch. “Do you have an older sister, Mister Anonymous?”
  4884. “If I do, I can’t remember anything about her. I don’t know who anyone in my family is.”
  4885. >”Well… it’s not always easy, especially when she’s somepony so important and successful. She’s out there saving the world as the “Element of Generosity”... how am I supposed to compete with that? Everything I do is so boring in comparison. Oh, Sweetie Belle, you drew a picture in class and got an A? That’s nice, Rarity tell us more about how you and your friends saved Equestria for the EIGHTH time.”
  4886. “Yeah… guess that does sound kinda hard to match up to.”
  4887. >”Try ‘impossible’. It’s not that I don’t love Rarity… and I know she loves me a whole lot too. But sometimes all anypony sees when they look at me is her little sister. That’s how Applejack introduced me to you the first time we met, remember? I’m not important enough to stand on my own… what if I never am? What if I never come close to being anywhere as cool or important as Rarity?”
  4888. “Sounds like you really look up to her, huh?”
  4889. >Sweetie Belle nods sadly.
  4890. “But I’m sure Rarity wants nothing more than to see you grow and become as successful and loved as her. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
  4891. >”A secret?” Sweetie Belle looks up curiously.
  4892. “Yeah, a secret. See, the thing about grown-ups is that they still don’t really know what they’re doing. They act responsible, and try to look like they’re in control of everything, but they’re still just as lost and confused. They all put on a front… a facade to overcome life’s hardships. So when you have an idol, it can seem like they’re this amazingly talented genius that you could never hope to match up to. But chances are, on the inside they’re just as unsure about themselves as you.”
  4893.     >”Adults… really don’t know what they’re talking about?”
  4894.     “Well, kind of anyway. They’ve usually got some experience, and they had time to hone their skills and learn how to deal with problems, but they can still be scared and confused on the inside, especially back when they were just starting out. And it’s still worth listening to what they’ve got to say and respecting them, but the point is that you shouldn’t think you’ll never be as good as them.”
  4895.     >Sweetie Belle still looks a little troubled…
  4896.     >”But even if I try really hard, I’ll never be an Element of Harmony like she is. There’s only one of those in the world.”
  4897.     >You place your hand gently on her back.
  4898.     “Sweetie Belle… the eagle shouldn’t lose sleep just because it can’t swim as fast as the fish.”
  4899.     >She tilts her head, looking perplexed. “Is that a code phrase or something? Are you trying to give a signal to somepony?”
  4900.     “It means that you and Rarity are as different as an eagle and a fish. You shouldn’t worry about not being able to do what Rarity does, because you’ll be able to do things different one day.”
  4901.     >”But I can’t fly.”
  4902.     “Maybe not. But you’re not an Eagle. You’re Sweetie Belle. And you just haven’t figured out what Sweetie Belles do that Rarities can’t. When you find your talent, and what you’re passionate about in life, it’s going to be something that Rarity could never imitate on her best day.”
  4903.     >A smile comes to Sweetie Belle’s face as she wraps you in a tight hug.
  4904.     >”Thank you, Mister Anonymous. I know you said grown ups don’t really know what they’re talking about, but what you said sounds really good."
  4905.     "No problem, Sweetie Belle."
  4906.     >"I'm really excited now. I'm gonna get my cutie mark for sure!"
  4907.     "When you do, come show it to me too, all right?"
  4908.     >"All right!"
  4909.     >You spent some more time getting to know Sweetie Belle until it got late.
  4910.     >You said goodbye and headed home.
  4911.     >Trixie is still in your house...
  4912.     >You should probably figure out what to say to her, what to ask her, and how to handle this situation.
  4913.     >Seems like the best way to talk to Trixie is to speak with her directly.
  4914.     >But you need a bit more time to figure out what to do with her long term.
  4915.     >You decided to go straight home to talk to her.
  4916.  
  4917.     Your House, Evening
  4918.  
  4919.     >You unlock and open the door to your house, looking around for the azure unicorn.
  4920.     >It looks like she’s sleeping on your sofa.
  4921.     >Approaching to wake her up, you notice her expression seems troubled.
  4922.     >She’s squirming and twitching in her fitful sleep…
  4923.     “Trixie? Trixie, wake up.”
  4924.     >”Aah!” Trixie flails and falls off the side of the sofa, landing hard on the floor.
  4925.     “You all right?”
  4926.     >”Trixie is okay…” she groans from the floor.
  4927.     “Looked like you were having a bad dream or something.”
  4928.     >”Trixie was having a very bad dream…” she says, picking herself up and sitting back on the couch.
  4929.     >You have a seat next to her on the couch.
  4930.     “What kind of dream was it?”
  4931.     >”The same kind of dream Trixie has been having for a long time… a very bad nightmare. That is why Trixie wished to see Princess Luna. To learn what it means, and make it stop.”
  4932.     “If you were so focused on seeing Princess Luna, why didn’t you just approach her any of the days she’s visited us?”
  4933.     >”Because Nightmare Night was Trixie’s one chance to approach her in disguise without arousing suspicion! On Nightmare Night, everypony is in disguise, so nopony would question it if Trixie were to approach Princess Luna."
  4934.     “So that’s why, huh? A dream? Seems like a pretty small thing to risk being thrown in jail for treason. Actually, why don’t you tell me more about that? What did you do? And whose idea was it?”
  4935.     >"It was HER idea. Not mine. She is the one who listened in on Twilight Sparkle's summit and said that we should try to take advantage of Twilight's forgiveness to mislead her and give her bad advice, pretending to be her friends. Then we would convince her to play a prank with us, and pin the blame for the prank on Twilight to teach her a lesson!"
  4936.     "And... who is 'her'?"
  4937.     >"She is... my ex. Gilda. A Griffon."
  4938. ”Gilda, huh? I see… well, this is a bit of a complicated situation for me. I just need you out of here by tomorrow for now, and I’ll check back with you next week to try to figure something out more long term. In the meantime, I think I probably have some spare blankets or something. If it starts raining and you need some place to stay, knock on my window and I’ll let you in.”
  4939. >”What about food?” Trixie asks.
  4940. “Well, I guess it’s already too late for what you stole. Just make what you have last… take what you need for a week. I’ll just have to go shopping again tomorrow.”
  4941. >”You… you’re giving Trixie your food?”
  4942. “Yeah, I mean I guess. I’m not that hard for money so…”
  4943. >Trixie quickly throws her forelegs around you and hugs you.
  4944. >”Thank you so much! This is the first time Trixie has experienced such kindness!”
  4945. “Eh… it’s fine, really.”
  4946. >Doesn’t seem like she has the bar set very high for kindness.
  4947. >You’re basically just telling her to have some food and get out so you don’t have to deal with her right now.
  4948. >This pony is a bit of a mystery…
  4949. >You wonder if you should ask something else about her.
  4950. >Maybe about her dreams, or something about her past, or something else entirely.
  4951. >Is there anything you want to ask her?
  4952.  
  4953. “So you said you couldn’t practice your trade or something around here, right? What exactly is it that you do?”
  4954. >Trixie flips her mane with a smirk. “The Great and Powerful Trrrixie, is the most prodigious magician in all of Equestria! None may even dream of accomplishing the feats of wonder The Great and Powerful Trixie is capable of! The Great and Powerful Trixie still remembers the day she discovered what she loved. You see, Trixie was born to a clan of Earth Ponies, not knowing the wonders of what magic could truly do. It was not until Trixie was in Canterlot one day and snuck into the Summer Sun Celebration to watch Princess Celestia personally raise the sun that she realized how brightly magic could make her shine! The Great and Powerful Trixie saw how the crowd looked on upon Princess Celestia in adoration and awe of her power, and from that day forth The Great and Powerful Trixie vowed to see the whole world acknowledge her as the greatest magician of all time! Trixie practiced alone, without the aid of any other, until she was good enough to earn a place in Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns! There Trixie studied and learned what she needed to become the best! She honed her craft until her magical skills were top notch, and now The Great and Powerful Trixie travels the world showing that she is the most powerful Unicorn in all of Equestria!"
  4955. “This story… sounds kind of familiar.”
  4956. >As does its heavily expositional nature, you think to yourself.
  4957. “Isn’t that what inspired Twilight Sparkle to start practicing magic? And didn’t she get into that school too? Your story is pretty much exactly the same.”
  4958. >”Our stories are nothing alike!” Trixie snaps.
  4959. >”Trixie was in Twilight’s year at the same school, this is true… but unlike Twilight, Trixie had to earn her chance to audition for this school. Trixie was not born to Canterlot’s upper class where her parents could simply arrange an audition for her by pulling a few strings! Trixie pulled herself up from the mire of society’s outcasts and earned her spot at that school! Trixie was not granted personal tutelage by Princess Celestia, or given a Dragon egg to hatch. Trixie was given three minutes of their time to “impress them”, and impress them she did!”
  4960. “You seem to know a lot about Twilight Sparkle.”
  4961. >”Of course. Trixie was in her year after all. And Trixie has read every interview Twilight has given for every magazine since she became Princess!”
  4962. “I can’t tell if that makes you sound like her stalker or if you’re jealous.”
  4963. >”It is neither! She is Trixie’s eternal rival! Our fates are intertwined like the moon and the stars. Trixie has struggled and fought for her power instead of having it granted to her like Twilight. One day Trixie shall surpass Twilight Sparkle, and show her that hard work is stronger than her ‘talent’ and luck!”
  4964. “Well I’m all for hard work and guts. I mean, it must be pretty hard to learn magic without any help. I hear most ponies just use things they learn out of spellbooks, or just stick to whatever magic they’re talented at. At the very least unicorns usually have parents that can teach them how to do basic stuff."
  4965. >"It is true. But Trixie is the only non-earth pony to be born to her clan since its beginning. Some claimed it was infidelity on my mother's part, but I know that it was destiny posing a challenge to me. The gods chose to start me at the bottom so that I would have to earn my place at the top. And earn it I shall."
  4966. “Sounds like you’ve definitely had it pretty rough then. I’ll be happy to help you how I can. I’ll make sure to see you next week, all right? Think you can hold out for me until then?”
  4967. >”Trixie is used to sleeping with only the moonlight for warmth. Of course, blankets are always appreciated. Here, allow Trixie to show you…”
  4968. >Trixie takes out a little map of ponyville and marks a spot for you.
  4969. >”This is where you can find Trixie.”
  4970. “Got it. I’ll see you before next week, all right?”
  4971. >”Trixie shall hold you to your word then! But… thank you. Again. “
  4972. >You helped Trixie gather up some food and blankets to take with her.
  4973. >She slips on a black cloak and leaves with a smile, vanishing into the night.
  4974. >It’s pretty late…
  4975. >You decided to go straight to bed.
  4976.  
  4977. Wednesday, November 30th
  4978.  
  4979. >Work is coming along fine today.
  4980. >Grueling, sweaty, and tedious…
  4981. >But strangely there’s a sense of satisfaction you get from exerting your strength and getting results like this.
  4982. >In a way it’s like the same way it feels good to destroy a shadow.
  4983. >You suppose it’s one of those “endorphin” things related to physical exercise.
  4984. >It’s definitely a good way to keep in shape at least.
  4985. >And you seem to be getting better at catching as well, as you even manage to brace yourself in time for Derpy to crash into you.
  4986. >”Derpy! If you break that kid you’re going to have to pay for him you know!” Cranky calls from the upstairs window.
  4987. >”Sorry, Cranky! I’ll leave your mail in the box, okay?”
  4988. >She still seems cheerful as ever…
  4989. “Hey, Derpy? Are you free after work today?”
  4990. >”Huh? Hmm…”
  4991. >”... yup! I should be. Why?”
  4992. “Just wanted to come by and talk about some stuff.”
  4993. >”Stuff, huh… well, all right. Actually, if it’s… alright with you, would you like to go to sugar cube corner with me after work?”
  4994. “Sure, that sounds great. I’ll meet you there then.”
  4995. >”Okay! See you later, Anonymous!”
  4996. >Looks like you'll be talking with Derpy today.
  4997. >You should think about what you want to bring up when you're with her.
  4998.  
  4999. Sugar Cube Corner, Evening
  5000.  
  5001. >You head over to Sugar Cube Corner as soon as you’re off of work, and meet up with Derpy.
  5002. >Derpy goes ahead of you to order. “Good evening Mrs. Cake!”
  5003. >”Good evening, Derpy!” Mrs. Cake replies cheerfully. “One of your usual?”
  5004. >”Mmhm! How’s Carrot Cake? Do you know what you’re getting him for Hearth’s Warming yet?”
  5005. >”Oh, I’m not quite sure…” she says, placing a couple muffins into a bag. “I’ve just been so busy I haven’t even had time to think of a good present. Time just seems to fly by these days…”
  5006. >”Mmhm, Carrot Cake said that today too. He said Pound and Pumpkin are growing up so fast he doesn’t know what to do. Maybe you should get him a new camera! That way he can take lots of pictures of the foals while they’re still little!”
  5007. >”A camera? That could work… we really could use more pictures of the twins. Thank you, Derpy. That’s a wonderful idea!”
  5008. >”No problem, Mrs. Cake! And I think you’re gonna like Carrot’s gift for you too~!” Derpy says teasingly while she places a few bits on the counter.
  5009. >”Oh, I’m sure I will. Here you are, Derpy, your usual!”
  5010. >Mrs. Cake slides the bag across the counter for Derpy.
  5011. >”Thanks, have a wonderful night, Mrs. Cake! Say hi to Pinkie for me!”
  5012. “Oh, me too. Can you tell Pinkie I’d like to see her this Sunday? I want to take that trip out of town with her.”
  5013. >”I’ll let her know, dearie. Take care!”
  5014.  
  5015. >You find a nice spot with Derpy to sit down on the grass.
  5016. “Your usual, huh? You usually order two muffins?”
  5017. >”Yup! I order one for me and one to give to somepony I like. And since I like you a lot, this one’s for you!”
  5018. >Derpy flips open the bag and catches the muffin on the tip of her nose, balancing it and holding it out to you.
  5019. “Aww, thanks. You’re really thoughtful, you know that?”
  5020. >Derpy blushes a little and flutters her wings. “Heh, thank you…”
  5021.     >You sit down and take the muffin from her nose.
  5022.     ”I’m pretty impressed. I don’t think I could balance a muffin on my nose like that.”
  5023.     >”Hee hee, you don’t have a nose, silly!”
  5024.     “Oh yeah. That’d make it even harder. Still, it’s a neat trick.”
  5025.     >”It’s not too difficult. I’m a lot less clumsy when I’m on the ground after all.”
  5026.     >You take a bite of the muffin. It’s sweet and fluffy, with lots of little bits of stuff in it.
  5027.     “This is pretty good… what flavor is it?”
  5028.     >”It’s muffin flavor, of course!”
  5029.     “Huh?”
  5030.     >”They take all the other muffins mixes and put them together, then they make muffins out of that! So it’s got banana, and strawberry, and carrot, and blueberry, and raspberry, and chocolate chip, and apples and a bunch of other stuff! So it tastes like every other muffin in the shop at once! It’s really good ‘cause it’s too hard to decide what kind of muffin to buy when I like ‘em all!”
  5031.     “I know what you mean. It took me forever to decide between syrup and powdered sugar on french toast yesterday. In the end I had to just go with both.”
  5032.     >”Sounds like a creative solution to your problem!”
  5033.     “Heh, might have just ended up being too sweet though. But I guess she didn’t mind. Anyway, I… was wondering if you knew anything about that pony that your boss wants to hire. I know I promised to help you but I haven’t really been doing enough.”
  5034.     >”I’m so happy that you want to help… it’s okay if you can’t though.”
  5035.     “I said I’d help you, Derpy. And I mean it. You want to cry tears of happiness, don’t you?”
  5036.     >Derpy smiles, “I do.”
  5037.     “So, can you tell me anything about this pony?”
  5038.     >”Well… I haven’t really memorized his name just yet. Thinking about it’s kinda scary after all. He has a cool windy name though. And he has a maximum wingpower of 12.5. When he was young he had his right foreleg amputated."
  5039.     "So that's his disability?"
  5040.     >"I think so. I don't think he has any other ones, or it probably would have said on his file."
  5041. “What else does his file say? Does it say if his parents are both Pegasi?”
  5042. >”It wouldn’t say anything like that. It’s not important to the job after all, right?”
  5043. “Yeah, or at least it shouldn’t be. Guess it makes sense that you can’t really ask a question like that.”
  5044. >”I didn’t mind her asking though. My mommy was a pegasus and my daddy was an Earth Pony.”
  5045. “You told her?”
  5046. >”Of course! I thought maybe if she knew more about me, she’d like me better. Miss Pearl Shine told me both her parents were unicorns too. And she grew up in Canterlot, where she went to a fancy university where she got her business degree too!”
  5047. “Do you know anything about the parents of your other co-workers?”
  5048. >”Of course! I’ve worked there 10 years, after all. I think just about all of them have both Pegasus parents.”
  5049. “All of them? None of them have mixed race parents?”
  5050. >”Of course. They’re mostly from Cloudsdale after all. Since Earth Ponies and Unicorns can’t walk on clouds, they’re all pegasi up there!”
  5051. “So you’re not from Cloudsdale?”
  5052. >”Nope, I was born in Fillydelphia, but then I moved to Cloudsdale, then Canterlot, and now Ponyville!”
  5053. “I see. What about your old boss? The one from a year ago?”
  5054. >”Postmaster Brown? Oh, he was super nice! He had this big white beard that was all poofy, and he’d always say really sweet things about how he’d like to have a granddaughter like me all the time. His parents were actually a unicorn and pegasus, but he was an earth pony. It’s too bad he had to retire. I miss him.”
  5055. “He does sound pretty great.”
  5056. >”He was… but I guess it can’t last forever, huh? I mean, I guess he put up with my bad performance ‘cause he liked me, but Ms. Shine says I’m just not good enough.”
  5057. “Well maybe we can prove her wrong. What if you improved your performance?”
  5058. >”Improved? How do I do that?”
  5059. “Well… is it possible to do your route walking?”
  5060. >”Of course. Ponyville started as an Earth Pony town, so you can go anywhere even if you can’t fly. Even Rainbow Dash’s place has a grounded mailbox to put stuff into.”
  5061. “Then maybe you could try walking your route instead of flying it. If you can do that, maybe you’ll have less accidents. It might be easier on you with your condition.”
  5062. >”Do it… walking?”
  5063. “Of course. You just have to think a little differently, right?”
  5064. >Derpy seems happy as she considers the idea, but then her smile fades.
  5065. >”But a Pegasus running around town when she can fly is so embarrassing… what if they laugh at me? A pegasus should be able to fly, right?
  5066. “Derpy, if anypony ever laughs at you like that, just tell me who they are and I’ll straighten them out. But I think you’ll be fine. You have a lot of really wonderful friends in this town, don’t you?”
  5067. >Derpy nods and places her head against your side. “Mmhm. I do.”
  5068. “They’ve got no right to make fun of you if you’re just out there doing your best. So don’t worry about it.”
  5069. >”You really think I can do it walking? And then… if I can do it better than flying, I’ll be able to keep being the mailmare?”
  5070. “You won’t know until you try. I believe in you, Derpy. We’ll find the way together, all right? I'm not ever giving up on you.”
  5071. >You notice Derpy beginning to sway and stumble slightly…
  5072. >You quickly reach out and catch her as she blushes.
  5073. >”Heh… sorry. I’m just feeling a little excited. When I hear you saying things like that… my heart just keeps beating really fast, and I feel all dizzy and stuff. It just makes me feel really... really happy.”
  5074. “I know what you mean. I feel the same way around you, Derpy.”
  5075. >”You do?”
  5076. >You look at Derpy…
  5077. >It’s hard to tell if she’s looking back at you or shyly averting her gaze.
  5078. >”Thanks…”
  5079. >”I’m gonna try real hard, okay? Even in my spare time, I’m gonna keep running my route and practicing so I get good enough to stay here forever.”
  5080. “If you need any help, I’ll be here for you.”
  5081. >”Well… in that case, how about a race? First one back to my place?”
  5082. “Hah, sure. Sounds like fun.”
  5083. >”Yay! Okay, you ready?”
  5084. “Ready when you are.”
  5085. >”On your mark…”
  5086. >”Get set…”
  5087. >”Go!”
  5088. >You take off running with Derpy, dashing through the town as quickly as you can.
  5089. >You’ve been doing a lot of physical labor, as well as a lot of shadow fighting, and that’s been pretty good exercise.
  5090. >But still…
  5091. >She’s fast.
  5092. >Really fast.
  5093. >Derpy quickly pulls ahead and is outrunning you like nopony’s business.
  5094. >You can’t even come close to matching her speed.
  5095. >By the time you stumble to her front door, you’re completely out of breath.
  5096. >”You made it! I was worried you got lost.”
  5097. “Hah… you’re pretty fast, Derpy.”
  5098. >”Am I? I was just so excited I couldn’t stop running!”
  5099. “That’s good… I don’t think you’re gonna have any trouble running your route.”
  5100. >”Thank you, Anon… I’m really happy you’re helping me like this. I think… I think I can really do this now.”
  5101. >Derpy’s wings flap unevenly as she tries to hover up to you and extend her forelegs.
  5102. >She bobs and wobbles a little in midair, and you quickly rush forward to catch her, throwing your arms around her in a hug.
  5103. >Her forelegs seize your chest, and you instantly feel her weight on you like carrying a boulder.
  5104. >Still, you endure it, holding her up and hugging her tightly.
  5105. >”Hee hee, you caught me.”
  5106. “I’ll always catch you.”
  5107. >Her wings waggle slightly, and you feel her get lighter.
  5108. >You give her another tight squeeze before setting her gently on the ground.
  5109. >”See you around, Anon…”
  5110. “Take care, Derpy.”
  5111. >You part ways with the mailmare and head home.
  5112.  
  5113. Your house, Night
  5114.  
  5115. >You return home and take a nice rest on the couch after that race.
  5116. >Before long, you hear a knock on the door.
  5117. *knock knock knock*
  5118. >You unlock the door and open it up.
  5119. >Twilight is standing outside.
  5120. >”Hey, sorry I had to run the other day. Can I come in for a minute?”
  5121. “Of course you can, Cutie.”
  5122. >You let Twilight in and have a seat with her on the couch.
  5123. >”I definitely had a great time that night. Leaving wasn’t anything personal. I’d have loved to stay, but… duty calls, right?”
  5124. “I’m just worried about your sleep. You’re not just staying up all night the way Pinkie was, are you?”
  5125. >”I’m not that bad. But I am getting a bit less sleep than I’d like. Still, with the additional reinforcement to the guards, it’ll be a bit of a load off my shoulders.”
  5126. “Just make sure you take care of yourself, Twi.”
  5127. >”Thanks, I will. Anyway, I came here to give you this.”
  5128. >Twilight floats a large hardcover book about an inch thick to you.
  5129. >”It’s that book you were asking for. I signed it for you already and everything.”
  5130. >You flip through it briefly…
  5131. >It’s filled with pictures and stories of all the old Alicorn “Gods”, from Caelus and Terra to Bacchus and Cupid.
  5132. >On the inside of the cover, Twilight has written something.
  5133. >”To Diamond Tiara Rich, may this book be your Kleio! Princess Twilight Sparkle.”
  5134. “I think DTR is going to like this. It’s almost perfect. I’ll just need to grab a purple book cover for it.”
  5135. >”Why Purple?” Asks Twilight.
  5136. >You lean over and give her a kiss on the snout.
  5137. “Because it’s the prettiest.”
  5138. >Twi smiles warmly and returns the favor to you.
  5139. >Now that you have Twi here, this is a good opportunity to talk to her about something if you need to.
  5140. >Do you have anything you want to talk to her about right now?
  5141. “Hey, Twi?”
  5142. >”What’s up?”
  5143. “Do you know somepony named Trixie?”
  5144. >”... Who?”
  5145. >”Uh, Trixie? Unicorn, I uh, heard she enslaved the town once or something… do you know her?”
  5146. >”Trixie… oh! Her. I didn’t really recognize the name without “The Great And Powerful” in front of it. Yeah, I know her, what about her?”
  5147. “What about her? I uh, well… what do you think about her?”
  5148. >”Well she’s a pretty good magician, but she could stand to learn a thing or two about humility. But I’m sure she’s not all bad, and I think she really learned her lesson back when I beat her in that duel. I wonder what she’s doing these days…”
  5149. “You do? I mean… when was the last time you saw her?”
  5150. >”Last time I saw her? Let me think… it was… oh! Right, when I went into the other world, the other Trixie was in a Battle of the Bands with me! She had a pretty good singing voice, and that song she wrote was really catchy. But in the end, The Rainbooms defeated the Dazzlings and saved CHS together! But I guess that wasn’t really the same Trixie.”
  5151. “Yeah, probably not. So when was the last time you saw the Unicorn Trixie?”
  5152. >”Uh, it was…”
  5153. >Twilight looks like she’s thinking hard.
  5154. >”I guess… when I beat her in that duel? Then she apologized and I forgave her, and she ran off.”
  5155. “You really haven’t seen her since then?”
  5156. >”I don’t… wait, maybe I did. It was… yeah, wasn’t there? I think… maybe?”
  5157. “You don’t remember?”
  5158. >”Not… really. I mean I feel like there might have been this one time. Wasn’t there, like with… I think… maybe I ran into her some time after I became a princess? I dunno, I don’t really remember.”
  5159. “So… you ‘might’ have run into her once since then?”
  5160. >”Mmmaybe? Must have been a while ago, I really don’t remember anything about it. Oh, was it at the Rainbow Falls Traders Exchange? No, no, I’m thinking of somepony else. Oh well. Probably wasn’t important. I’ll let you know if I remember.”
  5161. >Twilight doesn’t seem to remember much about what happened.
  5162. >You’d like to ask further, but it might be suspicious to do so.
  5163. >You decided to change the subject.
  5164. “So how are things between you and Applejack?”
  5165. >Twilight looks a bit crestfallen. “To be honest… not great. Pretty bad, actually.”
  5166. “Did you at least manage some kind of damage control?”
  5167. >”Yeah, but… well, I guess Applejack is the Element of Honesty for a reason. She’s pretty good at seeing through lies. I told her as much as I could. I said that we did that because she’s at high risk to contract SIHN. But that just begged the question of how I know that.”
  5168. “So wait, she has some kind of magic lie detector power because of her element?”
  5169. >”Huh? No, nothing like that. She’s just pretty quick witted, and doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for ponies hiding things when they should be honest.”
  5170. ”You’re really going through a lot, huh? How early did you wake up the day before anyway?”
  5171. >”It was... 3:30? 4:00? Something like that. It was before sunrise.”
  5172. “Geez.”
  5173. >”Yeah, I’m surprised you didn’t wake up when Spike was knocking on the door. I didn’t want to bother you so I just got out of bed and answered it. You’re not upset that I wasn’t there are you?”
  5174. “Nah, I’m not upset. You need to take care of yourself though.”
  5175. >”I will. Things are a lot easier in some ways now that the travel restrictions are changed, but a bit more difficult in some other ways.”
  5176. “Speaking of travel restrictions, I was talking with Derpy earlier…”
  5177. >You explained the situation with Derpy.
  5178. >”A canterlot pure-blooded Unicorn… I mean, obviously that alone doesn’t make you racist.”
  5179. “Oh of course not.”
  5180. >”But... asking her about her parents' race? That's a really inappropriate question to be asking your employee, especially when you should know that she has MCA."
  5181. "So then...?"
  5182. "It's not decisive evidence. Maybe you'd get a warning for it. It could just be 'simple curiosity' after all. It's not like she forced Derpy to answer, or asked in an interview."
  5183.     >”Really is a hairy situation… I wish I could help more. But I think you’ve got some great ideas. I mean, you’ve done the impossible before. The same thing could easily happen with you and Derpy.”
  5184.     “Thanks, Twi. Oh, and I was thinking of seeing Applejack tomorrow to talk to her.”
  5185.     >”You sure that’s a good idea? She’s pretty upset with me right now. It might be kinda awkward if you show up like that. I mean, she knows I’m your marefriend after all.”
  5186.     “I’m… fairly sure. Either way, I guess I’ll just see what happens.”
  5187.     >”Just… try not to tell her anything else about SIHN. I’d rather have her be upset with me for now and forgive me later than put her in danger.”
  5188.     “I’ll keep that in mind.”
  5189.     >”Thanks. Anyway, I have to get going. Sorry I can’t stay.” She gives you a smooch on the lips and hops off the couch.
  5190.     “Take care, cutie.”
  5191.     >”You too, babe.”
  5192.     >Twilight leaves the house and flies back to her castle.
  5193.     >You’re pretty tired.
  5194.     >Cranky’s letting you take tomorrow off to see Gilda…
  5195.     >You decided to go to bed so you can be there as early as you need to.
  5196.  
  5197.  
  5198.     Thursday, December 1st
  5199.  
  5200.     >After getting dressed and ready, you head straight to the Hospital.
  5201.     >While you’re walking, you notice it’s gotten a bit colder.
  5202.     >Winter is coming.
  5203.     >You push that tired ‘joke’ out of your head and get to the hospital, finding Gilda in her room as usual.
  5204.  
  5205.     Ponyville Hospital, Morning
  5206.  
  5207.     >You see an expression of relief wash over her face as you enter the room.
  5208.     “Ready to go, Gilda?”
  5209.     >”That’s what the eggheads tell me anyway.”
  5210.     “Well if you’re that attached to Hospital food you can try to stay.”
  5211.     >”Ugh… I asked them for coffee once, and I’m pretty sure they just steeped boiling water with dirt.”
  5212.     “Guess you’re stuck going with me then. So do we just go or…?’
  5213.     >”Doctor’s gonna be here soon. He’ll give me my prescriptions and shit, and then we can go. Till then, uh, anything you want to talk about?”
  5214. “Yeah, actually I was wondering if I could talk to you about that Unicorn… your Ex, Trixie, right?”
  5215. >”Her? What about her?”
  5216. “I met her in town a couple days ago. I didn’t realize who she was at first until she started talking about doing something with you to Twilight. What exactly happened there?”
  5217. >”Well… I mean, for a while she’d been bitching about Twilight Sparkle ruining her life, and how she keeps having nightmares about her and shit, and when we heard she became a Princess, she started throwing in some shit about Twilight stealing her destiny, and that it should have been her. So I told her she needed to get that shit out of her system, so if Twilight fucked her over, she should try to fuck Twilight. Over. So I listened in on her conversation with her friends, and decided we could try fucking with her by turning her against her friends and making her out to be a shitty princess. So we tried that for a bit, it didn’t take, then when we were trying to run a scam and pin it on her, she came to her senses and called us out on our shit.”
  5218. “I see. And what happened after that?”
  5219. >”We had that argument, and then we split.”
  5220. “You… didn’t get in any trouble for interfering with royal duties or some shit like that?”
  5221. >”What? No, I went to jail for stealing.”
  5222. “You weren’t accused of treason or anything?”
  5223. >”We were just fucking with her. How is that fucking treason? Besides, I’m not from Equestria. Treason is going against your own country.”
  5224. “Trixie seems to think she’s in for a much more severe punishment.”
  5225. >”I don’t think Twilight Sparkle gives a shit. In fact I don’t think anyone but Trixie really gives a shit about what happened then. If she did I’d be going back to the slammer, not back to your place.”
  5226. “Actually, I talked to Twi. She says she doesn’t even remember it happening.”
  5227. >”Damn, think she gives lessons on how to not give a single fuck like that?”
  5228. “I fucking wish.”
  5229. >”Maybe she freaked ‘cause she heard I went to jail.”
  5230. “Maybe. Or she’s just some kind of paranoid narcissist.”
  5231. >”I don’t think I’m in any place to judge. Besides, it is kind of my fault. I mean, I was just trying to help her get the fuck over it and move on, but I might have made things worse. I mean she’s had shit stacked against her from day one. Guess I could see how that could make you grow up thinking everypony’s out to get you.”
  5232. “What do you mean by that?”
  5233. >”Well you know she’s a Lulamoon, right?”
  5234. “A what now?”
  5235. >”Fuck, you don’t know, huh?”
  5236. “All I know is she said something about a clan, and being the first unicorn in the family since a long time ago or something.”
  5237. >”Well it’s… shit, do you know what… Gypsies are?”
  5238. “Uh, yeah?”
  5239. >”Good. That’s what her family is.”
  5240. “So Trixie is… a Gypsy?”
  5241. >”I don’t fucking know, she knows that shit better than I do. But her family kind of just… lives by their own fucked up morals and has some weird history of not respecting the monarchy or some shit. Some kind of weird grudge.”
  5242. “And they’re all earth ponies?”
  5243. >”Yeah, or at least they’re supposed to be. Trixie’s either some kind of genetic freak, or her mom fucked a unicorn. But Trixie... I dunno, it's complicated. I can't really tell if she thinks of herself as a Lulamoon or not. I mean she never uses her last name. I'm sure you've heard her calling herself "The Great and Powerful Trrrrixie" by now."
  5244. "Might have heard it a few times."
  5245. "But she's still always talking about how she was born with some grand destiny and how the hands of fate have put her there for a reason... I dunno man. It's some weird shit."
  5246. “Guess I’ll have to ask her some time.”
  5247. >Gilda looks up. “She’s still in town?”
  5248. “Yeah, uh, actually I was wondering if it’d be okay with you if she crashed on our couch every once in a while. She’s kind of living in the woods right now and with the rain and the cold weather…”
  5249. >”Dude, don’t be a fucking pussy about it. It’s your house, isn’t it? Your house, your rules. I don’t have any other fucking option, so I just gotta deal with it.”
  5250. “I know it’s my house. But even if it’s just for a little while, I want that place to be your home.”
  5251. >Gilda looks a little surprised. “My home?”
  5252. “A house is just a thing you live in. A home is a place you’re welcome. I don’t want you to live with me and think you’re imposing somehow, okay? You don’t have to stay forever, but I don’t want to keep you somewhere that you don’t feel like you belong.”
  5253. >”You mean… you actually want me living with you?”
  5254. “Hell, of course I do, Gilda. And what about you? Or am I still too much of a dweeb?”
  5255. >”You’re not just a dweeb, you’re a colossal cocksucking faggot.”
  5256. >You just smirk patiently.
  5257. >”... but I guess… it wouldn’t be so bad. Having a place to call home.”
  5258. >”And even if you suck big ones, it’s… a lot better than being alone.”
  5259. >Gilda sighs and stares at the ceiling.
  5260. >”I’ve been… doing a bit of thinking. About my life.”
  5261. >”I always thought it was better to try to be self-reliant. That you shouldn’t let anyone hold you down. Being alone meant you were free.”
  5262. >”Well lately, I’ve had a lot of time alone.”
  5263. >”And after all the time I’ve spent with you… I think it’s pretty clear.”
  5264. >”Being alone sucks shit.”
  5265. >"Every time I felt lonely I'd just start flying and forget about it."
  5266. >"But hell, even that's just me trying to think about when I was still with Dash."
  5267. >"So I guess... fuck, I don't even know what I'm saying... I just sound like a fucking retard, don't I."
  5268. >You place your hand on her claw.
  5269. "You won't have to be alone anymore."
  5270. >She pauses for a moment... and grips your hand gently.
  5271. >"... Thanks."
  5272.     >A few minutes later, the nurse comes in and walks you two through the aftercare instructions.
  5273.     >Gilda has already been fitted with a pair of crutches, and she’s given some instructions about how to take care of her wings that you don’t understand.
  5274.     >From what you can glean, she can fly or float just a little bit, but she shouldn’t be entering any races.
  5275.     >She seems pleased enough that she can fly at all and that she isn’t permanently grounded.
  5276.     >They give her some medicine and prescriptions, and instruct her to come back every two weeks to see how she’s healing.
  5277.     >Once you’ve both been fully briefed on how to take care of Gilda, the two of you are able to walk out of the hospital side by side.
  5278.     >Gilda seems quite happy to finally be breathing fresh air untainted by the stench of hospital disinfectant.
  5279.     >She has to walk slowly because of her injury, but you keep each other with some light conversation, making the time pass quickly.
  5280.     >Before you know it, you’re at your house.
  5281.  
  5282.     >You open the door for her and head inside together, sitting down to rest on the couch.
  5283.     >”So… this is my new home, huh?”
  5284.     “Yeah. What do you think?”
  5285.     >”Rather be living in a cloud home, but beggars can’t be choosers I guess. This’ll do just fine.”
  5286.     “Glad you like it. I’d give you a tour but… it’s pretty basic. And I still need to wash my sheets.”
  5287.     >”Huh?”
  5288.     “Nothing. Oh, and don’t touch my war hammer. It’s a genuine minotaur vintage weapon.”
  5289.     >”Why do you have a fucking war hammer?”
  5290.     “It’s uh, sort of a hobby. Plus, you know how it is these days. It’s for self-defense.”
  5291.     >”Defense against what?”
  5292.     “Nevermind.”
  5293.     >”Whatever. Either way that’s pretty fucking metal.”
  5294.     “Of course it is. The wood ones don’t squash as well.”
  5295.     >Gilda just shakes her head at your shitty joke.
  5296.     >You spend a bit more time talking and getting her used to your place.
  5297.     >She decides to rest on her new bed after a while.
  5298.     >There's still some time left in the day.
  5299.     >You could probably swing by Applejack's place if still want to...
  5300. >You figure it might be good to visit her. You’ll just have to be careful not to step on anyone’s… hooves?
  5301. >Whatever.
  5302.  
  5303. Sweet Apple Acres, Evening
  5304.  
  5305. >You hear some activity in the barn again.
  5306. >Going in to investigate, you find Applejack making Cider again.
  5307. >Looks like she’s making it with Apple Bloom this time.
  5308. >The younger sister is rolling apples down the chute while the elder sister runs along the belt to turn the machine.
  5309. “Evening, Apple Bloom, Applejack.”
  5310. >”Howdy Mister Anonymous!” Apple Bloom waves from the little stool she’s standing on to reach the apple chute.
  5311. >”Howdy, Anon.” AJ says, continuing to walk along the belt.
  5312. “Making Cider again, huh? Could I help again?”
  5313. >”Can he pleeease? Ahm bored, sis!” Apple Bloom pleads.
  5314. >”All right, fine. But don’t forget yer homework, Apple bloom.”
  5315. >Apple Bloom hops down from the stool with a sigh and disappears into the house.
  5316. >You take her place and begin feeding apples in as AJ turns the grinder.
  5317. “You really had me going about your accent back then, you know."
  5318. >”Well, it was a sorta silly question, so I thought I’d mess with you a lil’ bit.”
  5319. “But… now I’m just confused. Your fake explanation made so much sense I don’t know why you really talk the way you do.”
  5320. >”Nothin’ complicated. Just we end up talkin’ the way our parents do. Ma an’ Pa had an accent, I got it from them, they got it from Granny. Simple as that.”
  5321. >You hope she means they got it from their own respective Grannies.
  5322. >”I could talk the way the other townsponies do, but I like payin’ respect to my heritage this way. The Traditional Apple Family Accent an’ all that. Jus’ like talkin’ the way my parents did.”
  5323. “I see.”
  5324. >That really was a simple explanation.
  5325. >There’s a bit of a lull in the conversation after her answer.
  5326. >You’re not exactly sure what to talk about with her here…
  5327.  
  5328. “So… how’s business?”
  5329. >”Well the new travel laws only got done a couple days ago, but it ain’t lookin’ so good fer us. Or anypony.”
  5330. >”Our town’s been quarantined on account of some kinda rare disease fer a whole month. Askin’ somepony to eat somethin’ grown in that town ain’t easy.”
  5331. “Yeah, it’s like you said before. So then how’s the cider coming?”
  5332. >”Well, demand’s been up in town lately, so that’s good fer us, but it sure ain’t good fer our town.”
  5333. “Not good for the town? How so?”
  5334. >”More ponies out drinkin’, gettin’ into trouble, tryin’ ta drown out their stress with cider instead of dealin’ with their problems. It ain’t like I’m some kinda temperate, but everypony gettin’ sauced all the time ain’t good for a town’s character.”
  5335. >”Which is partly why we don’t make so much of it out of season. You oughta be drinkin’ to celebrate, not to hide your troubles. Alcohol’s fer good times, not fer bad ones.”
  5336. “Applejack?”
  5337. >”And I ain’t got no choice but to enable it ‘cause I can’t sell these got dang apples nowhere!”
  5338. >”An’ since the suppliers won’t take our product, that means apple prices all over Equestria are gonna skyrocket, ‘cause supply’s low an’ there ain’t enough competition to keep prices down!”
  5339. “AJ?”
  5340. >”So that means all them other apple farms are gonna be rakin’ in big bits while we gotta turn our stock to cider just ta get by, and the poor out there gotta get bled dry from all the got dang moneygrubbers linin’ their pockets on the backs of this tragedy!”
  5341. >”An’ they’re tellin’ me I can’t even take a business trip out there ta’ do some personal negotiation an’ see if I can’t get them to reconsider? Big Mac ain’t no negotiator, Granny Smith’s too old to travel, what am I supposed ta do? Hope Apple Bloom gets her cutie mark in damage control?
  5342. “Applejack!”
  5343. >”What?!”
  5344. “I ran out of apples like 5 minutes ago.”
  5345. >You motion to the empty baskets and the grindstone still running at top speed as AJ runs along the belt.
  5346. >"Oh... pardon." She says, slowing down and walking off.
  5347.     >”Y’know, there ain’t no place I’d rather be than home an’ all, but I’m gettin’ just a little stir crazy knowin’ I can’t leave even if I wanted to.” Applejack laments.
  5348.     “It’s understandable. I think the whole town is kind of going nuts. Honestly you’re probably handling this a lot better than 90% of the ponies I’ve met would.”
  5349.     >”Only 90?” AJ says giving you a dangerous look.
  5350.     “100%, ma’am.” you quickly correct yourself.
  5351.     >”That’s what I thought. I’ve been workin’ overtime every day tryin’ to figure out how to keep this farm afloat. Ain’t nopony else gonna do it for me.”
  5352.     “You really manage all of the farm’s finances by yourself?”
  5353.     >”Big Mac ain’t doin’ it, Granny ain’t doin’ it, an’ Apple Bloom ain’t doin’ it, so that just leaves me.”
  5354.     “That’s pretty impressive. It’s hard to find someone who can do it all.”
  5355.     >”Well, it ain’t like I got much of a choice. This here’s the Apple Family Business. Our cousins all got their own farms to take care of ‘cross Equestria, an’ we help each other out from time to time when we need it, but we can’t ask ‘em to have a permanent place here when they got their own farms to take care of. So I gotta know the ins an’ outs of how every part of the farm works, from the fields to the bank. Gotta learn how to do it all fer when there ain’t nopony else to do it for ya. Ever since Ma' an Pa' lost their lives to that arsonist, that's the way it's had ta be."
  5356.     "You didn't have a choice but to step up, huh?"
  5357.     >"It ain't no trouble. They raised me good an' learned me what I needed to know to take care of the family."
  5358.     >Apparently, Grammar wasn't considered "needed'.
  5359.     "Can't imagine how tough it must have been, losing both of them."
  5360.     >"We adapted an' moved on. An' speakin' of movin' on, if I'm outta cider apples, that means I'm turnin' in fer the night."
  5361.     "I see. Well, good night then Applejack."
  5362.     >"G'night, Anonymous."
  5363.     >Applejack heads inside.
  5364.     >You headed straight home to get some sleep and prepare for your tutoring session with Diamond Tiara tomorrow.
  5365.  
  5366. Friday, December 2nd
  5367.  
  5368. >You wake up take a shower, get dressed, and then head out to the kitchen eat some cereal.
  5369. >Gilda is already having herself a bowl.
  5370. >”Bout time you woke up. You sure like to sleep in, don’t you?”
  5371. “You sleep pretty early.”
  5372. >”Yeah, nice comeback.”
  5373. >You grumble and pour yourself a bowl.
  5374. >”Oh, and you should probably go shopping.”
  5375. “I know, I gave some of our food to Trixie so she wouldn’t starve.”
  5376. >”Yeah, but I mean you’re still missing a lot of shit. You don’t even have any tarragon, or thyme, or basil…”
  5377. “I don’t think you can put that on French Toast.”
  5378. >”Dude…”
  5379. “Well it’s not like I was a master chef before I came here.”
  5380. >”Look, just... if you’re that helpless, I guess I could cook for us every once in a while… I feel like you’re the kind of guy that can’t make anything that’s not breakfast.”
  5381. >Damn, she’s good.
  5382. “Make me a list of what you need and I’ll buy it. Just remember to get those disability checks to help pay for it.”
  5383. >”Yeah, yeah. I’ll cook if I feel like it, but don’t expect anything really great, ‘cause good food takes time.”
  5384. “Right, and you’re just so busy these days.”
  5385. >”You fucking know it. I got a lot of catching up to do. You got any idea how hard it is to masturbate in a hospital?”
  5386. “No, but please do tell.”
  5387. >”Haha, fuck you.”
  5388. >You smirk and continue eating.
  5389. >”... but I mean, I can cook something “good” but if I’m gonna do that, you better be around to appreciate it. And maybe help me out a bit. Not exactly easy in my condition. And I’ll need you to come to the fish market, pick up some perishable shit… it’s gonna be a whole thing.”
  5390. >”N-Not that it’s going to be a “thing”, I just… don’t want you thinking I can’t back it up when I say I can cook.”
  5391. "I get it. I'll think about it."
  5392. >It seems Gilda wants to make dinner with you some time...
  5393. >This could be a chance to grow closer to her.
  5394. >You polish off your cereal, say goodbye, and head off to see DTR.
  5395.  
  5396. Riches Estate, Morning
  5397.  
  5398. >You arrive at the mansion with your book, having found time to get it bound in purple and gift wrapped before you saw AJ.
  5399. >Randolph lets you in, and you open the door to DTR’s room.
  5400. “Good morning, DTR.”
  5401. >”Good morning, Sensei. What’s that?” she asks pointing to your thick package.
  5402. “A little present for you. Here.”
  5403. >You hand it over, and she looks at it curiously for a moment trying to guess its contents before giving up and tearing off the wrapping paper.
  5404. >“Tales of Alicorns and Titans…?”
  5405. “There’s more. Look on the inside.”
  5406. >She opens the book and reads the little dedication written by…
  5407. >”Princess Twilight?!”
  5408. “Told you so.”
  5409. >”You actually got her to sign it to me?”
  5410. “Wasn’t too hard. She is my marefriend after all.”
  5411. >”But… what does this mean, anyway? Kleio?”
  5412. “The muse of inspiration. If you read you’ll understand. Do you want to read it now?”
  5413. >”I… well, since I’m paying you, you should read it to me.”
  5414. >You briefly consider telling her to read it herself… but something in her expression tells you she really wants you to read it to her out loud.
  5415. “As you wish.”
  5416. >You have a seat next to her on the bed.
  5417. >She snuggles up closely to you, holding onto your arm and peeking over to look at the pictures as you start to read to her.
  5418. >It’s an amazing book like you thought.
  5419. >Though the stories are ever so slightly different from the stories of the Roman gods as you know them, they’re still just as interesting, if not more so from the fact that Celestia believes they really existed.
  5420. >The illustrations really bring the stories to life as well, depicting the majestic Alicorns and their rule from Olympus, as well as the many titans, demigods, and creatures of the mythos.
  5421. >She makes you slow down every time there’s a drawing of Pluto, clearly taking to the Alicorn just as you thought she might.
  5422. >After a while you come across the Fates.
  5423. >The three goddesses who spin a one’s life from thread, measure it out to see how long they’ll live, and then cut it when it’s their time to die.
  5424. >The little filly seems a bit troubled.
  5425. “Something wrong?”
  5426. >”No, it just… I guess I was just thinking about stuff.”
  5427. “What kind of stuff?”
  5428. >”I… well… Sensei, do you believe in Fate?”
  5429. “What do you mean?”
  5430. >”Not like the three Alicorns in the book. Just… y’know. In general. Do you think Fate is a real thing that happens?”
  5431. >
  5432. >
  5433. >
  5434. >
  5435. >Continues: http://pastebin.com/8EsQCj1h
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