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My Little Persona Quest: Social Links Are Magic

mojochan Nov 2nd, 2014 (edited) 14,719 Never
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  1.     >Mysterious Piano notes play through the air emanating from what seems like nowhere at all.
  2.     >You find darkness in your eyes giving way to a cool blue light.
  3.     >You sit on a painted blue wooden chair across from a hunchbacked old man with bulging bloodshot eyes, long fingers, pointed ears, and a nose which extends nearly half a foot from his face.
  4.     >The long-nosed man rests with his hands folded in his lap on a soft looking armchair coated in blue velvet. He sits across from you separated by a polished blue table.
  5.     >Standing next to the long-nosed man is a petite winged unicorn with blue fur and bright golden eyes, whose head barely reaches the height of the arm of the old man’s seat.
  6.     >”Welcome to the Velvet Room.”
  7.     >The man sweeps his right arm out to the side, inviting you to look around.
  8.     >You take in your greater surroundings, finding blue bookshelves up against the blue walls which sit upon a blue velvet carpet, containing books of various sizes with identical jackets of blue velvet hiding their titles from you.
  9.     >A blue brick fireplace lights the room with flames which burn the same brilliant blue.
  10.     >You turn your attention back to the long-nosed man who begins to introduce himself.
  11.     >”My name is Igor.”
  12.     >”I am delighted to make the acquaintance of such rare guests.”
  13.     >He gestures to his side with his left hand. “This is Elizabeth. She is a resident here like myself.”
  14.     >The blue pony gives you a polite smile and lowers the front of her body in a quadrupedal bow. As she does, you catch a glimpse of a picture on her flank of a brown grimoire.
  15.     >”Pleased to meet you.” she replies simply in a pleasant, silvery voice.
  16.     >Igor begins to explain, “This place exists between dream and reality. Mind and matter. This is a room that only those who are bound by a “contract” may enter.”
  17.     >Igor’s eyes gaze intently at you. “That is, under normal circumstances.”
  18. >Elizabeth trots silently to Igor’s side with a pleased smirk. “Gate crashing, hm? How daring.”
  19. >Elizabeth’s piercing golden eyes cause you a bit of unease before Igor chuckles gently.
  20. >“Hoho, you have no need to worry. As you did not come here of your own accord, I have no intention of ejecting you from this location.”
  21. >”On the contrary…” Igor continues. “I wish to extend the offer to you to return.”
  22. >Igor slides a piece of yellowed parchment across the table to you with a blue inkpen on top of it.
  23. >”All you have to do is sign your name on this contract saying you agree to take responsibility for the choices you make.”
  24. “...”
  25. >You stare blankly at the contract, unsure of what to do.
  26. >Somehow you know you can’t do as he asks.
  27. >“Ah, of course, there is one problem. You do not know who is your true self. You had to give up that part of yourself to get this far.”
  28. >Igor adjusts his posture and folds his hands under his chin with his spindly fingers weaved together. “Perhaps it would help if I tell you what I know of you.”
  29. >”You are about to embark upon a journey to somewhere you have wanted to go for a very long time.”
  30. >”On this journey you will form new bonds with others.”
  31. >“Through these bonds you will discover who is your ‘True Self’.”
  32. >”But in to protect these bonds, you will require the use of a unique ability, and you will require my help to do so.”
  33. >Igor turns up his palms in surrender, “I’m afraid that is all I can tell you.”
  34. >”But if you sign this contract, your new life may begin. You do not need to use your name, simply write what you wish on the line.”
  35. >The contract reads as follows.
  36.  
  37. I, __________, chooseth this fate of mine own free will.
  38.  
  39. Sign the contract?
  40. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  41.  
  42. Last Name: Mous
  43. First Name: Anon_
  44.  
  45. >As soon as you place the inkpen down on the table, Elizabeth’s horn glows gold, and the same magical aura surrounds the contract and pen, floating them back to Igor who looks it over.
  46. >Igor gives a wide smile. “Henceforth, you shall be welcome here in the Velvet Room.”
  47. >“Hold on to this.” Igor slides an odd-looking key across the table. You pick it up and ponder its odd shape, as well as the picture of the black and white mask split down the middle on the end.
  48. >“Til we meet again… Anonymous.”
  49.  
  50. —————————————————————
  51.  
  52. Monday, October 31st
  53.  
  54.  
  55. >The shrill whistle of a train pierces your ears and rouses you from your slumber.
  56. >You stretch your arms, but quickly meet resistance as you wang your funnybone against the wall.
  57. >You fall off the seat you were on, landing on the floor with a loud crash as you writhe in pain and clutch your elbow. At least you’re up now.
  58. >You’ve fallen down off the pillowy white seat you were sleeping on, and on to the green carpeted floor.
  59. >You shake off the pain as another loud whistle sounds, getting up on your feet carefully.
  60. >”Now arriving at Ponyville Station. Please ensure all belongings are securely on your person before exiting the train” sounds a voice from a speaker.
  61. >You take a look out the window and see what you’re sure must be the train station. The train seems to have come to a full stop.
  62. >You don’t seem to have any belongings other than your outfit. You decide there’s no point in staying any longer, and move to exit the train.
  63. >Your head nearly hits the top of the door frame as you leave the car. What idiot built these tiny doors?
  64. >Drowsily you stumble out of the car and exit the train on to the platform. Your elbow still aches but you try to ignore it and look around. It seems like there’s no staff around, so you leave the platform and head through the door into the station itself.
  65. >Inside the station, you see a turnstyle near a booth with a sign over it which reads “Arrival” and one that says “Do Not Enter This Way”
  66. >Since you’re not keen on injuring yourself again, you go towards Arrival, obviously.
  67. >You reach the booth and you hear an alluring feminine voice from it. “Your ticket, please.”
  68. >Ticket? Yes, you feel like you have something like that. You reach into your pocket and sure enough you find a small piece of paper.
  69. >You take it out of your pocket and hold it out to the mare. You’re so tall that you can’t even see her face from the angle. You can see her deep blue coat and wings, but her cutie mark is covered by a jacket that looks to be her uniform.
  70. >She removes the ticket from your green fingers with her hoof and brings it inside the booth. “Let’s see.”
  71. >”Oh? What an exotic name. Well, it’s none of my business. Welcome to Ponyville. I hope you enjoy the Nightmare Night celebration. You’re free to go.”
  72. >You have to duck a little again to get through the turnstyle, and once again to leave the station.
  73. >The sun is high, and you begin walking down the road aimlessly, taking in the sights. Every single home and business you see has some sort of decoration on it.
  74. >You see lights strung up, fake spiders in cobwebs, balloons with pictures of a black alicorn, and even some spoopy Pony skulls.
  75. >While you’re observing the decorations, something hard collides with your leg, almost causing you to trip.
  76. >You look down and watch helplessly as a full plate of noodles and marinara sauce falls on your black shoes and shatters.
  77. >The small purple and green dragon who was holding it clutches his head, shouting “Noooo! My spaghetti!”
  78. >He seems to be wearing a white toque and chef smock, and on his face is an out-of-place looking white moustache.
  79.  
  80. What do you say to him?
  81. “Dude, my shoes.”
  82. “Are you okay?”
  83. “Watch where you’re going, Chef Boy-Does-That-Moustache-Make-You-Look-Like-A-Fag.”
  84. ------------------------------------------------------------
  85.  
  86. >>>“Are you okay?”
  87.  
  88. >”Me? Yeah, I’m fine. But my Chef Boy-Pon-Ee costume isn’t gonna be as good without some spaghetti as a prop. I spent so long getting the sauce to taste just right and everything! But nevermind that, let me help you clean off your costume, Lyra.”
  89. >He leans down and brushes off the errant bits of sauce and noodles on your shoes and legs, wiping it off on his smock.
  90. >”It’ll look like I just had an accident in the kitchen this way. Or maybe I could pretend it’s blood and spin it so I’m like that one chef who kills ponies and makes them into cupcakes.”
  91. >He cackles sinisterly while wiping up the sauce, testing it out.
  92. >”There, nice and clean. And they’re Italian now too!”
  93. >”I gotta say though, Lyra. That’s a pretty great costume. And your guy voice is right on.”
  94.  
  95. Response:
  96. “What Costume?”
  97. “Who’s Lyra?”
  98. -----------------------------------------------------------
  99.  
  100. >>>”Who’s Lyra?”
  101.  
  102.  
  103. >”Come on, you can’t fool me. I’ll give you the voice, but the only people who even have a good idea of what humans look like are me, Twilight, you, and maybe bon-bon by now, knowing you. And you can’t be Twilight for three reasons.”
  104. >”One, I know she’s at the castle because she just sent me on an errand. Two, I know what her costume is. And Three, she’s such a perfectionist there’s no way she’d forget that humans have things like eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and hair.”
  105. >”Q.E.D. you’re either Lyra, the pony in this town with the biggest obsession with humans, or someone she put up to it! Man, I shoulda gone as a detective this year! I only did this because I thought Rarity might like to see me in a mustache.”
  106. >The diminutive dragon crosses his arms in self-satisfaction.
  107. “I’m not Lyra.”
  108. >”Uh huh, if you’re not Lyra, then who are you?”
  109. “I’m anonymous.”
  110. >You feel a heart skip a beat. That wasn’t what you were trying to say.
  111. >”Uh huh, nice save.”
  112. “What? No, I meant to say I’m a-anon… anonymou-... anonymous…”
  113. >”Uh, I know it’s Nightmare Night and all but you’re actually kinda scaring me now…”
  114. “That’s wrong! My name isn’t anonymous, it’s anonymous!”
  115. >Your heart is racing and your head spins. You drop to one knee. You feel like you might throw up.
  116. >”You don’t look so good…”
  117. >As you lean down, spike puts his hand up against your head and his eyes widen in surprise.
  118. >”S-Skin…? How? What kind of costume is this? A-Are you really Lyra? Who are you? What are you?”
  119. >Those questions ring loudly in your ears like a siren. You try to clutch them in pain, but find that you don’t have any ears.
  120. “I… I don’t know!”
  121. >You scramble over to a shop window and look at your reflection. You see only a featureless green head staring back at you.
  122. >How are you looking at it without eyes? How are you speaking without a mouth?
  123. >Your next moments are a blur as you pass out.
  124.  
  125.  
  126.     >You find yourself in the Velvet Room again.
  127.     >Igor is gone, but you see Elizabeth sitting by the table reading a book.
  128.     >She looks up from her book with a blue velvet jacket. ”Ah, back so soon? My master is away right now, but I suppose that means this visit was unexpected for all of us.”
  129.     >The book glows and its cover closes. ”You know, being a pony is quite an interesting experience. And an Alicorn especially.”
  130.     >”With these wings, I can reach the books on the highest shelves, and with this horn I can turn pages with the power of my mind alone.”
  131.     >”But I wonder if it’s okay to rely on this power.”
  132.     >”If I don’t use my hooves now and again… I might begin to gain weight, don’t you think?”
  133.     >She gives you a playful smirk and stares with piercing golden eyes before continuing, “You don’t have to answer. I’d hate for you to get a game over so quickly after all.”
  134.     >”Besides, I believe I have a solution.”
  135.     >”We shall engage in the Japanese tradition of Radio Aerobics!”
  136.     >”But since we do not have a radio, I shall provide the music.”
  137.     >Elizabeth stands on her hind legs and begins to do jumping jacks while singing.
  138.     Veeelvet oh velvet~
  139.     My maaaster has a laaarge nose~!
  140.     >She finishes after two lines of the song before taking her seat again.
  141.     >”Wasn’t that delightful? I feel as though I’m in the prime of my youth.”
  142.     >”We should do this again some time. I shall ask my master to join us as well.”
  143.     >”Until we meet again…”
  144.  
  145.  
  146.     >You groan as you regain consciousness and shake off your sleep, blinking your eyes awake.
  147.     >Your body feels heavy, as if you were out hard, but you pull yourself together and look around the room.
  148.     >You’re alone in what seems to be an infirmary. You’re guessing this by all the posters of equine anatomy on the walls and the medical supplies.
  149.     >You see no doctors or patients, though the latter makes sense when you look at where you were lying.
  150.     >You were on a bunch of small hospital beds pushed together to make one big hospital bed. They must not be used to someone of your size.
  151.     >You recall having a panic attack and freaking out about your face and skin.
  152.     >There’s a mirror nearby, so you take a better look at yourself in it.
  153.     >You’re wearing a black suit and black slacks with a red tie. Your face is as it was before. Completely featureless.
  154.     >Examining yourself a bit more closely, you do find that your head has vague outlines of something where your features are supposed to be, almost as if your face is wrapped in a thin green blanket.
  155.     >When you touch it though, it definitely feels like skin.
  156.     >You experiment in a couple other ways. You try closing one “eye”, and find that you can, though it’s difficult to tell from looking at you.
  157.     >You try blowing on the mirror, and your breath fogs it up as it should, though when you clear it off with your hand you notice no fingerprints.
  158.     >Cautiously you try to lick the tip of your finger and find that the “mask” splits open a bit to reveal a mouth with a red tongue and white teeth.
  159.     >Good news, you can still eat.
  160.     >You think about what you could try with your “ears”, and it’s only then that you notice a sound that’s been in the background for a while now.
  161.     >Several voices, though you can’t make out what they’re saying.
  162.     >It sounds like it’s coming from the other side of the infirmary door.
  163.     >You’ve calmed down and you’re ready for some answers. You decide to go see who’s talking.
  164. >You open the door and pass down the hall lined with some beautiful paintings and tapestries.
  165. >You pass by a window and glance through it. Looks like it’s night. New moon today, judging by its absence.
  166. >You continue and the voices get louder, until you go through the doorway to the room they’re coming from, where six ponies of various color and one dragon are sitting around a table talking.
  167. >You see the blue one with the wings and rainbow colored mane say affirmatively, “So we’re in agreement. We throw him through the mirror, and if that doesn’t work, we throw him harder!”
  168. >The purple Alicorn is startled when she sees you in the entryway, “Oh, you’re up!”
  169.  
  170. Response?
  171. “No one is throwing me anywhere.”
  172. “Where am I?”
  173. “What’s going on?”
  174. --------------------------------------------------------
  175.  
  176. >>>“Could someone here explain what’s going on?”
  177.  
  178.  
  179. >The purple horse speaks up, “Sorry about that, my name is Twilight Sparkle. I know you’re probably confused and you’ve got a lot of questions, but I just want you to know that you’re in a safe place, and me and my friends are here to help you.
  180. >“You already met Spike, so allow me to introduce Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie.”
  181. >She points to each of them in turn and they each give a smile, except for Rainbow Dash, who just kind of looks uncomfortable, and Fluttershy who tries to hide when she’s pointed out.
  182. >Twilight continues speaking, “From what I heard, Spike bumped into you in the street, where he mistook you for a friend wearing a costume. You had a panic attack while he was talking to you and passed out, so spike started crying for help until Dash heard him and helped carry you back to our Castle so I could help you.”
  183. >Spike takes offense, grumbling “I wasn’t crying, I was calling. There’s a difference.”
  184. >Twilight gets back on subject, “He said you seemed confused about who and what you are. I know you want answers from me, but it might help you to answer some of my questions.”
  185. “... I’ll try.”
  186. >”Okay, so… you don’t know your name?”
  187. >You think about it before replying.
  188. “I feel like I should. Like it’s on the tip of my tongue. But it just keeps coming out as anonymous.”
  189. >”That’s all right. So then… do you know if you are a Human?”
  190. “I think so. Or I thought so. But looking at me now, I know that Humans aren’t supposed to look like this.”
  191. >”So you’re not sure either, huh… what year is it?”
  192. “2014. October 31st. Friday?”
  193. >”Everything’s right there except the year and the weekday. It’s Monday. Do you know where you are in general?”
  194. “Your castle. I’m in… Ponyville, I think. But I only know that because it’s what I heard on the train.”
  195. >”You came here on a train? From where?”
  196. “Don’t remember. In fact, I can’t clearly remember anything from before the train arrived at the station.”
  197. >”I see, and do you have any idea why you came to Ponyville?”
  198. >You think back to what you learned from Igor.
  199. “Only that I’d been wanting to come here for a while. But I don’t know why. And to do it I had to… give something up. I think I had to give up my identity.
  200. >Expressions range from fascinated to curious to Rainbow Dash pretending to fall asleep.
  201. >Twilight turns to her, “Rainbow Dash, this is important!”
  202. >Rainbow opens her eye, “Oh, is it? Because I thought the fact that we’re missing a PRINCESS is important, but yeah sure let’s spend time playing 20 questions with greenie. And hey, when’s my turn? Anon, what’s your favorite food?”
  203. “Don’t know.”
  204. >Twilight brings her hoof to her face in exasperation. “She’s probably just running late, or trying to surprise us. But if you really don’t want to be constructive when there’s someone who needs our help, then you can go home.”
  205. >“Perfect.” Dash leaves behind a streak of rainbow as she speeds out of castle.
  206. >”Anyway… it seems like you have amnesia. It might be magical in nature, but I’d have to run some tests to figure it out for sure.
  207. >"As for whether or not you're from the world on the other side of the portal, well, I don’t think you are, but I’m not 100% sure. I’d have to run some tests.”
  208. “So in other words we still don’t know anything.”
  209. >Twilight hangs her head, “I’m sorry, but I guess that’s the way it is. This could take some time. "
  210. >"In the meantime though, I don't see any reason why you can't stay."
  211. >Spike finally chimes in, "I can show you around if you want!"
  212. >Twilight seems concerned, "You did pass out earlier, so you might want to just get some rest. You can stay in the castle if you like. Or if you still have questions, you can ask me."
  213.  
  214. Choose Spike
  215. Choose Twi
  216. Choose Bed
  217. ------------------------------------------------
  218.  
  219. "I feel fine now. It sounds like this place is doing something like Halloween. If that’s the case, this might be my one chance to go around town without standing out too much.”
  220. >Twilight smiles, “I’m not sure what Halloween is, but you’re right about what you said. This is a great opportunity.”
  221. >Spike seems excited. “Maybe you came here to have an awesome Nightmare Night with me!”
  222. “It could be.”
  223. >Twilight adds, “Let me know if you remember more while you’re out. Since Princess Luna is running late, that puts me ahead of schedule to work on a little something for you that might help. Not sure when it’ll be ready though, so it’ll be a surprise.”
  224. >You hear a loud whisper in your ear and feel an arm around the back of your neck. “I’m gonna have a surprise for you tooooo. BUT TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT’S A SURPRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiseeee.”
  225. >You’re sweating again a bit as you turn your head slightly to see the face of the Pink pony next to you.
  226. >But she was just sitting at that table…
  227. >I-Instant movement?!
  228. >This speed… it’s not human!
  229. >But then again they’re ponies, not humans.
  230. >Twilight looks annoyed. “Pinkie, I said keep it low key around him for a few days until he gets used to things.”
  231. >”THIS IS AS LOW AS MY KEYS CAN GO.” Pinkie Pie quietly screeches as she shakes with pent up energy.
  232. >You guess this world must have cocaine too.
  233. >”Well, then I’ll just go ahead and declare our meeting officially over. Everyone can get back to enjoying Nightmare Night.”
  234. >Pinkie Pie seems to explode out of the room.
  235. >You barely catch a glimpse of Fluttershy leaving. That pony could be a ninja…
  236. >Applejack and Rarity on the other hand, seem to want to talk to you.
  237. >”Howdy.” The orange- err, apple horse extends a hoof which you cautiously shake, but she seems satisfied by it. “Applejack. Call me AJ if ya like. Can I call you Anon?” she asks in a southern country accent.
  238. “That’s fine. It’s uh, nice to meet you.”
  239. >”Pleasure’s all ours. Most of ours, anyway. Sorry about Dash. She’s just concerned about other things. Anyway, me and my family are in charge of Sweet Apple Acres, home to the best apples in Equestria. If’n yer still in town, swing on by an’ we’ll have ourselves a lil’ hootenany with the best cider you’ll ever taste.”
  240. “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
  241. Applejack tips her hat with a smile and trots off so Rarity can speak.
  242. >“Hello there, Anonymous.” she says in an enchanting trans-atlantic voice.
  243. >“I just wanted to say that I find your sense of style to be positively marvelous!”
  244. “Thank you, I think… I just kind of woke up wearing this. I think it’s the only thing I own.”
  245. >”Yes, and… not to busy you with the details but I couldn’t help noticing you have some teensy stains on those slacks.”
  246. >She sniffs the air, “... Marinara, if I am not mistaken.”
  247. >Spike looks guilty and steps back a little.
  248. >”Even if we don’t know how long you’ll be here, I believe it’s imperative you look your absolute best each day! So please do be a dear and come on down to the Carousel Boutique as soon as you can. I shall have outfits galore for you in no time at all! Yes, we’ll need to get you some evening wear, day wear, casual outfits, formal outfits, semi-formal outfits, winter gear, summer gear, rain gear, oh and don’t even get me STARTED on hats!”
  249. “I don’t have any money.”
  250. >”Oh no no no no no! Perish the thought! You are our guest. I wouldn’t take a single bit from you even if you begged me to. An upper class gentleman like you deserves only the best, and I AM the best.”
  251. >She finishes with a flip of her carefully styled mane and gives you a dreamy gaze.
  252. “Wow, uh, thank you. I’ll come by when I have time.”
  253. >Smooth.
  254. >”See you around, Anonymous.” she sings as she struts out the door.
  255.     >Spike is peeking out from behind a chair practically drooling over Rarity.
  256.     >You smile at him invisibly once she’s out of the room.
  257.     “Hate to see her leave, love to watch her go?”
  258.     >”Yes… no! Maybe? I don’t know… could you repeat the question?”
  259.     “You like her, right?”
  260.     >”Well I-I mean, of course. Who wouldn’t like Rarity? That’s the Element of Generosity for you. She’ll stick her neck out for a complete stranger like you!”
  261.     “I was pretty surprised. She seems like a good Mare.”
  262.     >”She really is…” he trails off.
  263.     “What do you mean by Element of Generosity though?”
  264.     >”Huh? Oh, that. Geez… there’s a lot you’re out of the loop on. I’ll try to sum things up for you while I get my backup costume.”
  265.     “Sounds good with me. Let’s go.”
  266.     >He begins explaining some basic concepts and history to you, using a lot of “blah blahs” and “yada yadas” to try to give you the cliff notes. Equestria, Ponies, other species living here…
  267.     >By the time you get back to his room he gets onto the subject of princesses, and you stop him when he mentions Twilight.
  268.     “Twilight Sparkle is a princess?”
  269.     >”Yeah, almost all Alicorns are. I guess if you didn’t know that you wouldn’t be able to guess huh?”
  270.     “Why isn’t she surrounded by guards and servants bowing to her or introducing her as Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
  271.     >”That’s just not her style. Don’t even try to call her princess. She doesn’t like it.”
  272.     “What kind of princess hates being a princess?”
  273.     >”It’s not that she hates it. She’s always looking for new ways to take on more responsibility as a princess. She’s just not used to it I guess. It just makes her a little uncomfortable. Aha! Found it.”
  274.     >Spike pulls out a little purple dragon costume which he climbs into.
  275.     “I thought you were a dragon.”
  276.     >”I-I am a dragon! But you know, a Dragon is the scariest thing in Equestria, so now I’m like a… a DOUBLE Dragon.”
  277. “I’ll keep an eye out for any toads you can battle.”
  278. >Spike looks at you curiously.
  279. “Nevermind. It’s a joke. You wouldn’t get it.”
  280. >You’re not sure you get it either but it just came to your mind.
  281. >”Well anyway a Double Dragon would be more like two dragons. This is more like a dragon times a dragon, which is even more!”
  282. >You want to say that 1 x 1 is less than 2, but you let it slide.
  283. >”Okay, costume’s ready. Grab a bag and let’s get some candy!”
  284. >You spend some time shaking down the townsponies for candy. You’ll split some of your share with Spike at the end of the night as thanks for showing you around.
  285. >While you’re going from house to house, he sums up a lot of the more important stuff about Equestria, explaining things like the Elements of Harmony, Nightmare Moon, Discord, Changelings, The Crystal Empire, etcetera.
  286. >You feel like less of a complete idiot by the end of the night, but given that his summary of changelings was “Like ponies, but bugs, and they shapeshift into ponies and eat love.” you feel like he’s omitting a lot for time.
  287. >At the end of the night, you go with Spike watch an interesting show put on by a Zebra named Zecora. It’s an impressive display of magic as she makes green fog come to life and chase around some of the foals, but somehow Spike seems disappointed.
  288. >You then learn that everyone has to give up some of their candy at the end of the night.
  289. >This isn’t Halloween, you decide. This is a cruel display of extortion devised by the ruling class of Equestria to teach children to be compliant with taxation and subjugation to their royal superiors.
  290. >What a grim world you have come to.
  291. >But the more you think about it, the clearer it becomes how much you do and don’t know about your past.
  292.     >You know what Halloween is. You know it’s a holiday done in your world similar to this one, but without all that bullshit at the end.
  293.     >You know what it’s supposed to be like, and you know that you’ve experienced it before.
  294.     >While you know that these things happened to you, you still can’t “remember” them.
  295.     >You can’t picture a costume you wore, or a house you went to, or candy you got, but you’re sure these things happened.
  296.     >You’re sure that you had a family, but you can’t even picture what they might of looked like, or how many of them there were.
  297.     >Spike breaks your contemplation by tugging on your arm as you reach the castle. “Hey, thanks for coming with me tonight. Everyone else had their own plans tonight, so I didn’t have anyone to go with.”
  298.     “Don’t mention it. I should be thanking you. I learned a lot, and I had a good time.”
  299.     >Spike looks pleased, “Aww, it’s nothing. You’re a pretty cool guy too.”
  300.     “And doesn’t afraid of anything.” you add.
  301.     >”Huh?”
  302.     “Dumb joke. Can’t seem to control it.”
  303.     >”Right. Hey, wanna trade candy when we get back inside?”
  304.     “You read my mind, little man.”
  305.     >”Ha! Right on, big man.”
  306.  
  307.     >!
  308.  
  309.  
  310.     —————————————————————
  311.  
  312.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  313.  
  314.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  315.  
  316.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  317.  
  318.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Magician Arcana.
  319.  
  320.     —————————————————————
  321.  
  322.     >You head back inside to the castle with Spike.
  323.     >Incredibly, it turns out he loves cinnamon flavored candies.
  324.     >You pawn all of yours off on him for some of the good stuff from Sugarcube Corner.
  325.     >Both of you seem pretty satisfied, so you turn in early. All that walking tired you out.
  326.  
  327. Golden Oak Library, October 31st?
  328. >Twilight opens another book titled “Who Cares?”
  329. >The pages crumble into multicolored gemstones which shower her face and spill onto the floor loudly.
  330. >She sighs and shakes her head. “Sorry, Anonymous. This book doesn’t have the answers I need either.”
  331. >You stare at the purple alicorn blankly.
  332. “... Twilight, does any of this seem strange to you?”
  333. >She nods, “It does. I can usually find what I’m looking for in no time at all in my library, but it’s taking forever tonight!”
  334. “... does anything else seem strange?”
  335. >You’re in a large circular room that seems to be made entirely out of wood. Alcoves are carved into the wooden walls to form shelves lined with books which all seem to have equally unenthusiastic titles such as “Booring”, “Yawn”, and “Too long; didn’t read.”
  336. >Embedded in the wood in several places are colorful gemstones and carvings of what kind of looks like Spike.
  337. >”I don’t see what you’re getting at here, Anonymous.”
  338. “Twilight, this is a dream.”
  339. >”What? No it isn’t!”
  340. “Yeah it is, Twilight. I can tell. Lucid dreaming. Learned it from watching Inception too many times.”
  341. >”Watching… huh?”
  342. “Never mind.”
  343. >”No, tell me why you think it’s a dream.”
  344. “Because I don’t remember coming here, obviously. In fact, the last thing I remember doing was turning in early after trading some candy with Spike.”
  345. >Twilight starts thinking.
  346. >”The last thing I was… Spike! Oh Anonymous, you’re right, this IS a dream! This is Spike’s dream, and something’s wrong!”
  347. “Wait, what? It’s not mine?”
  348. >You try to exert some control over this dream, but nothing you think of is happening no matter how hard you will it.
  349. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
  350. >”You’ve got to listen. Princess Luna never showed up. I thought she was just lost, or tardy, but then something went wrong… folks all over ponyville can't wake up!"
  351. >You remember Spike telling you about Luna, Nightmare Night, and her power over dreams.
  352. “So then why are you here?”
  353. >”I figured out how to cast a Dream Diving Spell similar to Princess Luna’s magic. After hearing that Spike wouldn’t wake up when I sent for him, I decided to try it out on him.”
  354. “Well I guess it worked then. So… now what?”
  355. >”All I have to do is cast this awakening spell from inside his dream, and we’ll be out of here.”
  356. >Twilight closes her eyes and her face strains for a few moments... but nothing happens.
  357. >”Huh?”
  358. >Twilight tries again, straining even harder.
  359. >”HNnnngnn…”
  360. >Fuck all occurs.
  361. >”This is bad. This is really bad, Anonymous. I can’t use my magic! At all!”
  362. “Calm down, Twilight. We’ll find a way out. Maybe we just have to figure out where Spike is to get him to wake up.”
  363. >Twilight takes a deep breath. “Y-Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks, Anonymous.”
  364. >You’re just guessing, but the last thing you need is Twilight freaking out.
  365. >You still have no idea why you’re here. And you’re pretty sure that this is the real you.
  366. “Do you know where he might be?”
  367. >“Let’s… check my room.”
  368. “Your room?”
  369. >Twilight Explains as she starts walking up the stairs with you. “This tree is the Golden Oak Library. I used to live here until it got destroyed by Lord Tirek. After I defeated him, I ended up with the castle you’re sleeping in.”
  370. “... makes sense, but why your room?”
  371. >”Because Spike didn’t have his own room. He slept in a basket near the foot of my bed.”
  372. >Given how normally Twilight says this, you decide not to question it. You and Twilight keep climbing the stairs.
  373. >From behind, you start to hear an unsettling noise.
  374. >It sounds like someone cracking 100 ice trays at once, but keeps getting louder and louder.
  375.  
  376. >You turn around, peering through the darkness of the unusually long staircase to see where the sound is coming from.
  377. “Twlight?”
  378. >”Yes, Anonymous?”
  379. “Should we worry about the stairs getting eaten by crystal?”
  380. >Twilight looks over her shoulder and sees that the staircase is rapidly becoming encased by creeping blue crystal that grows over everything it touches like moss, trapping it in a thick spiky blue coating.
  381. >”Th-This is a dream… dreams can’t hurt you if they’re not real.
  382. “Are you sure about that?”
  383. >”No.” Twilight whimpers.
  384. >You look at her for half a second before you both start tearing up the stairs desperately trying to outpace the crystal swallowing everything in its path.
  385. >You’re gaining distance from it, but just how long is this staircase anyway?
  386. >Your legs are burning, and Twilight starts pulling ahead. Must be the Earth Pony in her.
  387. >Twilight is soon out of sight as she runs without looking back, and it’s a few more seconds before you hear a frightened scream sound down the staircase.
  388. “Twilight!”
  389. >Putting everything you’ve got into it, you charge up the stairs and through a doorway to see Twilight on the ground with a gash on her cheek dripping with blood. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what did it.
  390. >A short two-legged creature with pointy ears brandishes a sharp metal stick. Its face is nothing more than a blue expressionless mask.
  391. >Its body is completely black as if it's coated in some gooey shadowy substance.
  392. >Its tiny body combined with the simple shape almost makes it look like a stuffed toy, but when you notice the stick it's carrying is soaked with blood at the tip, it suddenly feels a lot more dangerous.
  393. "Twilight, get away fro it!"
  394. >"There's nowhere to run! We have to go past it to get upstairs! Without my magic I..."
  395. >Suddenly, your head throbs. You begin to hear a voice.
  396.  
  397. I am thou.
  398. Thou art I.
  399. Thou hath opened thine eyes.
  400. The Time is now!
  401.  
  402. >A glowing blue card floats in midair in front of you.
  403.  
  404. "Per..."
  405. "so..."
  406. "...na!"
  407.  
  408.  
  409.  
  410. ~Reach Out the Truth!~
  411.  
  412. >You extend your hand and tap the face of the card with your fingertip, causing it to explode in a shower of blue energy!
  413. >Something begins to rise from the ground near your feet. The head of a black horse with a golden horned helmet.
  414. >Compared to the ponies you’ve seen in Ponyville, it’s absolutely enormous. The height of its body alone easily surpasses your head.
  415. >You smirk as Twilight looks on in awe. You raise your hand and point at the shadowy creature, directing your anger and wrath at it.
  416. >The black horse charges, and in one swift motion it gores the imp-like shadow with its horned helmet!
  417. >The shadow lets out a scream of pain before exploding into blackness.
  418. >”Above!” You hear Twilight scream as two more imps holding spikes jump from the ceiling at the black horse!
  419. >The horse parries the crude spears with its helmet, but you feel an impact on your own head as it does.
  420. >After briefly clutching your head, you regain your focus and command this creature to unleash your power!
  421. “LOKI!”
  422. >The horse’s eyes glow green and you see a gust of emerald wind swirl around the two imps, trapping them in a tornado which slams them both into the ceiling hard!
  423. >They collide with a loud whump, and land with another fwump as they both fall to the ground on top of each other.
  424. >Before they can get back up, Loki swiftly crushes them both in one stomp of its hoof, letting out a squelching sound as their bodies burst into shadow and they disappear.
  425. >Twlight is astonished, “What kind of magic was that…?”
  426. >You adjust your tie, breathing heavily as Loki fades away.
  427. “Persona… that’s the name of my power.”
  428. >”But how-” Twilight cuts herself off as she notices the advancing crystal coming into the room.
  429. >”No time, let’s keep moving!”
  430. >You’re really not sure how you did this either, but you’ve got more important things to worry about.
  431.  
  432.     >You run up the stairs with Twilight, but this time she keeps pace with you, not wanting to stray too far from her protector.
  433.     >”It’s gaining on us, come on!”
  434.     >Boy you really have to do more cardio.
  435.     “H-How big… is your house…?”
  436.     >”It was nowhere near this big. Maybe it’s because Spike is so small, it’s bigger in his dreams. I think we’re almost there, keep going!”
  437.     >You tough it out even though your body is burning up. You’re not gonna die here to some literal overgrown rocks.
  438.     >The crystal begins to nip at your heels, and you jump up the last of the stairs, diving through the doorway to the bedroom just as the crystal seals up the staircase leading down.
  439.     >Looks like you’re safe for now.
  440.     >”W-What is this…?”
  441.  
  442.     Track: ~Who's there?~
  443.  
  444.     >Wiping the sweat from your brow, you take a look around and see that this bedroom has been completely ransacked.
  445.     >The bed is broken and its mattress is shredded with claw marks all over it. A little basket lies in pieces next to it.
  446.     >The walls are covered in pictures of Twilight, but they’ve all been damaged or disfigured in some way.
  447.     >Some of the photos have their eyes gouged out, or a cut drawn across her neck, or red scribbles all over her.
  448.     >A few of them have words scrawled in red over them. “Bitch!” “Traitor!” “Show-off!” “Know-it-all!” “Tyrant!” “Hate you!”
  449.     >Twilight’s hooves are over her mouth. She looks like she’s about to cry.
  450.     >”Is this… what Spike really thinks of me?
  451.     ”It’s just a dream, remember, Twilight? Spike’s just having a bad dream. We need to wake him up.”
  452.     >She doesn’t respond, but just nods silently.
  453.     >You spy a box in the corner that’s labeled “PROPERTY OF SPIKE.”
  454.     >Curiosity gets the better of you and you decide to open it up. Inside are pictures of that white horse, Rarity, each with red writing on it which reads “MINE.”
  455.     >Statues of her made out of gemstone are under the pictures, as well as bits of her purple mane and tail.
  456.  
  457. “Twilight, this is…”
  458. >She comes over to have a look, and seems immensely disturbed.
  459. >”Everyone knows he has a crush on Rarity but this is just plain scary…”
  460. >A mysterious chiding voice rings through the air. “You hear that? Everyone already knows… why can’t you admit it?”
  461. >The two of you look towards the source of the sound and see two figures standing on a balcony leading outside from the bedroom.
  462. >Twilight rushes ahead, and you quickly follow.
  463. >What you see makes your heart skip a beat.
  464. >Spike is on the balcony… facing another Spike?
  465. >An almost identical duplicate of spike is looking at him. The only major difference is that his eyes are gold in color.
  466. >Twilight looks between them, “Two Spikes? What’s going on?”
  467. >The gold-eyed Spike gives a smile, “Look who’s here… Princess Twilight Sparkle, here to save her poor defenseless useless spikey-wikey.”
  468. >The normal spike looks over, “T-Twilight? D-Don’t listen to this guy!”
  469. >The other Spike laughs, “Aww, look at the little guy. He’s afraid of his own shadow, literally! And you call yourself a dragon?”
  470. >Spike growls, “I AM a dragon!”
  471. >Shadow Spike just laughs in his face, “What a joke! Dragons are strong. Powerful. Intimidating. Respected! Everything you’re NOT!”
  472. >Spike looks hurt by his shadow’s words as he continues, “You even have to pretend to be a dragon on Nightmare Night. Because dragons are supposed to be scary, right? But you’re not like that… you’re nothing but Twilight Sparkle’s PET!”
  473. >”I… I am NOT a PET! I’m her number one assistant!” Spike yells.
  474. >”You’re her little lap dragon. A domesticated whelp. A servant. You don’t honestly think she respects you? That she takes you seriously? That she’ll ever treat you as an equal?"
  475. >"She didn’t even trust you to light that fire at the Equestria Games because she knows you’re not a real dragon!"
  476. >"Because of her you had the most embarrassing moment of your life!"
  477.     >Spike shakes his head. “You’re wrong, Twilight does respect me! She… she even gave me a seat at the castle with the other elements!”
  478.     >Shadow Spike just smirks, “Yeah, about that… why do you think your seat’s so much smaller than everyone else’s?”
  479.     >Spike closes his eyes. “Shut up…”
  480.     >”It’s a baby seat. For a baby. Because that’s what you are. It’s what you LET her make you into.”
  481.     >Twilight is looking away in shame, completely unable to come to her own defense.
  482.     >”Because you’re too scared of what a real dragon is. Because you’re scared that Rarity will never love a dragon. You want to be her little pony pet!”
  483.     >”Stop it!”
  484.     >Shadow Spike narrows his eyes. “When are you going to cut this beta-male Uncle Tom charade and grow up to be a real dragon? When are you going to start taking what you want like you know you’re meant to?”
  485.     >Spike shakes his head. ”What do you know… that’s not the way it is!”
  486.     >Shadow Spike just smiles, “I know everything. I know what you’re not willing to admit, because I AM you!”
  487.     >”And I know the truth… the truth that Rarity doesn’t love you. She’ll never love you. She treats you like a child! A toy! Her little Spikey-wikey! And Twilight’s the same way! You’re just a joke to her! You’ll always be walking behind her as a servant! You’ll never get the respect you deserve as long as she’s around!”
  488.     >Spike finally snaps and screams “I SAID SHUT UP!!!”
  489.     >”THIS ISN’T HOW I FEEL AT ALL!!!”
  490.     >”I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY!!!”
  491.     >”YOU’RE NOT ME!!!”
  492.     >”YOU’RE NOTHING LIKE ME!!!”
  493.     Hahaha… that’s right. I’m not you! I’m my own self now!”
  494.     >Green and black smoke surrounds the fake Spike as he begins to change form
  495.     >The real Spike begins to stumble and falls onto the ground unconscious.
  496.     >Shadow Spike’s voice sounds out with a roar, “I am a shadow… the true self...”
  497.     >”I’ll eliminate you all and take what I want! What I deserve!"
  498.     >Twilight rushes to Spike’s side as the Shadow Spike jumps off the balcony and starts growing into a massive black dragon with a long body that circles around the tree.
  499.     >You look down at Twilight sobbing over Spike’s drained body, then back over to the growing shadow dragon.
  500.     “Take care of him, Twilight. I’ll handle this guy.”
  501.     >He looks way stronger than those imps you fought before…
  502.     >But like hell you’re backing down from a fight when your first friend is in trouble!
  503.     “I know you’re in there, little man. I’m coming to save you right now!”
  504.     >You leap from the balcony at spike, and tap the card in mid-air to call out Loki. “Persona!”
  505.     >Loki appears beneath you, allowing you to ride him up the serpent’s body and charge right into the shadow’s face with a powerful headbutt!
  506.     >The helmet collides straight on with Shadow Spike’s jaw, knocking his head back!
  507.     >”Ow! Now you’re in for it!”
  508.     >You see him inhaling a deep breath as his belly bulges. You can tell he’s going for something big, but at the same time you see your chance!
  509.     “Garu!”
  510.     >Loki summons up a green gale of wind and fires it directly into the shadow’s open mouth!
  511.     >The rush of unexpected air is too much for his lungs to handle, and he reels back, loudly hacking coughing gouts of uncontrollable emerald flames, with smoke emanating from his nostrils.
  512.     >You ride your steed down the dragon’s neck and charge into his stomach, piercing it relentlessly with Loki’s horns and forcing him to fall onto his back in pain.
  513.     >You know you need something bigger to take down a monster of this size though. You look around, and an abandoned pony-drawn noodle cart catches your eye.
  514.     “That works. LOKI!”
  515.     >You hold on tight as Loki rears his legs and summons a tornado to lift the cart into the air, and send it crashing down on the dragon’s face!
  516.     >”AAAGHHHH!”
  517.     >An echoing cry of pain sounds through the air as the shadow rears up and starts gushing green and black smoke from its wounds.
  518. >Loki charges up Spike’s body!
  519. >With a leaping strike, slices the dragon’s head clean off with his horns, sending it flying into the air!
  520. >Bits and pieces of the shadow crumble apart, ending with the the head, which turns back into the small yellow-eyed dragon and falls back onto the balcony.
  521. >You land back on the balcony and pocket the card triumphantly.
  522. "Get rekt, scrub."
  523. >Wow, you're so cool.
  524. >Twilight must think your dick is huge.
  525. >Spike has started to wake up and look at his fallen Shadow.
  526. >Twilight is sitting with her head hanging low and tears streaming down her face.
  527. >”Why… why am I so weak… why am I so pathetic…” Spike’s shadow cries.
  528. >Spike gets to his feet and walks over to look at his shadow sobbing on the ground.
  529. >”Because you were right about what you said.” Spike’s admits hoarsely.
  530. >”I let everyone put me down… and I guess in some ways I like being treated like a kid ‘cause I’m honestly scared to grow up. I’m terrified of becoming like other dragons and losing all the friends I’ve made. Losing who I am.”
  531. >”I’ve got a lot of growing up to do… but that’s not a bad thing.”
  532. >”It means that even if I’m not as important as Twilight right now, and even if… even if Rarity doesn’t like me the way I like her, that can all still change.”
  533. >”I know why my seat is smaller than everyone else’s. It’s because I’ve got a lot of room to grow into it.”
  534. >”And I’ll need you to do that. You’re me. And I’m you.”
  535. >”A man’s gotta learn to take the good in with the bad.”
  536. >Spike’s Shadow smiles at him with tears in his eyes as they reach out and touch hands, causing the shadow to fade into blue dust.
  537. >You see the image of a long coiled dragon appear briefly, then turn into a card which floats towards Spike.
  538. The strength of heart required to face oneself has been made manifest…
  539. Spike has faced his other self…
  540. He has obtained the facade used to overcome life’s hardships, the Persona Python!
  541.     >Spike seems relieved as he looks at the card. “This is… my Persona.”
  542.     >You smile at spike and put your hand on his shoulder.
  543.     “I knew you had it in you, little man.”
  544.     >Spike grins, “Couldn’t have done it without you, big guy.”
  545.     “Hey, what are friends for?”
  546.     >”Yeah, what ARE they for?”
  547.     >!
  548.     >A disturbing echoing voice comes from behind Twilight.
  549.     >Standing above the crying Alicorn, you see another shadow duplicate.
  550.     >Her wings are fully extended as she glares haughtily with golden eyes down at the crying princess.
  551.     >”Princess of Friendship? Once again, Celestia goes deciding things on her own. Look at us. Look what we did to Spike. This stranger is a better friend to him than us.”
  552.     >Twilight looks frightened, but tries to stand up to her shadow, “I-I saw what you did, I won’t let you trick me!”
  553.     >The shadow shakes her head, “I don’t want to trick you, I want you to be honest! Isn’t that right, me?”
  554.     >Twilight glares, “Whatever you’ve got, I can take it.”
  555.     >Shadow Twilight gives a haughty laugh, “You say that to everyone, but you know you always take on more than you can handle. Anonymous saved you here… Sunset Shimmer saved you on your first task as the Princess of Friendship…”
  556.     >Twilight looks hurt by her shadow’s words, as the gold-eyed princess continues to berate her. “There’s no point in even trying to make friends like this… not anymore.”
  557.     >Twilight snaps back, “What are you talking about, my friends are the most important thing in the world!”
  558.     “Twilight…”
  559.     >Her shadow retorts, “Not anymore. Not after you’ve been CURSED by Celestia!”
  560.     >”C-Cursed? I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
  561.     >”Immortality… one of the many wonders of being an Alicorn Princess. But you know what it really means. You’ll end up a cold, distant, unfeeling, friendless monster like Celestia.”
  562.     >”Don’t talk about Princess Celestia like that!” Twilight yells.
  563.     >Spike tries to step in, but you stop him.
  564.     “She needs to fight this on her own.”
  565.     >”It’s only natural… unlike you, your friends won’t live forever! Why bother trying to keep them in your heart when you know you’re just going to forget about them.”
  566.     >”I will NEVER forget about my friends.”
  567.     >”Yeah right… you’ve seen what happens to all of Celestia’s “friends”. She betrayed Starswirl, trapped her own sister in the moon for 1,000 years, and cast her star pupil into darkness because she thought she knew best. She’s all alone in this world. It happened to her and it will happen to you!”
  568.     >”No it won’t! I won’t let it happen!”
  569.     >”Oh it’s already begun! Look at the way you treat your friends like you know best now! Even after Spike saved the Crystal Empire from your failure, you wouldn’t trust him with the simplest task!”
  570.     >”I only wanted to help…”
  571.     >”And your help nearly killed him! You’ve already changed, Princess. And once your friends are gone, you’ll be nothing but a monster. I know you will. Because I am you.”
  572.     >”Please stop… stop saying that!”
  573.     >”I haven’t changed! That’s a lie!”
  574.     >”Even if you think you’re a part of me, you’re wrong!”
  575.     >”Twilight no!” Spike calls out, but it’s too late.
  576.     >”YOU’RE NOT ME!”
  577.     >The horn of Shadow Twilight glows with power as she laughs, “That’s it! That’s the spirit! Deny it. DENY THIS SICK WORLD!”
  578.     >Twilight trembles and collapses to the ground as her shadow grows in power.
  579.     >She floats in the air, gathering power as her body turns into a deeper purple and grows larger and larger. Stars appear in her mane and tail as it shifts to a psychedelic appearance as if someone painted a nebula onto it.
  580.     >Blood red regalia appears on her, and her cutie mark twists and fractures as well.
  581.     >Her body becomes large enough for her head to reach the balcony as she stands on the ground in her new form.
  582.     >”I am a shadow… the true self…”
  583.     >”To survive this cruel and unfair world I will freeze my heart… freeze this world so that it will never twist into something that can hurt me!”
  584.     >Your eyes meet Spike’s.
  585.     >”We’ve got to save her!”
  586.     “We will. I guess it’s hard facing yourself, even if you know it’s you. That’s why you need your friends to help you. Let’s go, little man!”
  587.     >”You got it, big guy!”
  588.     >Spike takes out his card and tosses it in the air. “PERSONA!”
  589.     >He takes a deep breath and blows it to pieces with green flame, summoning the massive dragon Python.
  590.     >”All right, what do you got? How do I fight with you?”
  591.     >Python’s eyes glow and Spike looks confused.
  592.     >”What do you mean, ‘You don’t’.”
  593.     >Python’s eyes glow again and Spike looks annoyed.
  594.     >”Well why NOT?”
  595.     >Again Python something to Spike psychically.
  596.     >”WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE ANY ATTACKS?!”
  597.     >You’re starting to realize why this kid has so much repressed anger and violence.
  598.     >The world fucking hates him.
  599.     >”Look out!” Spike yells right before he pushes you out of the way of a blast of ice from Twilight’s horn.
  600.     >You’ll have time to feel bad for Spike later. You have to stop Twilight’s Shadow.
  601.     >You bring the card up and tap it to summon Loki. You’re still a little tired from the last fight, but you’ve got to keep going!
  602.     “Persona!”
  603.     >You shout as you command him to use a Garu spell.
  604.     >Fierce wind blows towards Shadow Twilight, but she just smirks as her horn glows and redirects the spell back to you!
  605.     >The wind picks you up off your feet and throws you out of the Library.
  606.     >”Big guy!” Spike yells as you tumble down the side.
  607.     >You throw your arms out and try to catch onto the tree trunk. The bark chips at your hands but you manage to slow your descent and slide to safety at the base of the tree.
  608.     >As you try to collect yourself, you hear a voice in your head… Spike’s voice!
  609.     >[Big guy, listen to me!]
  610.     “Little man…?”
  611.     >[Twilight’s magic is stronger than yours. You have to hit her horn first!!]
  612.     ”How are you talking to me?”
  613.     >[My Persona. It makes me psychic!]
  614. “You really are the number one assistant.”
  615. >[Heh, was there ever any doubt? Hold on, I’m getting something else… Loki is a bad match for this Shadow. Even if you break through, wind won’t do much. You should use heat instead.]
  616. “My persona only knows Wind magic. That much I can tell myself.”
  617. >[I know, I’m getting something else. Your… unique ability? Use the… power of the bond we forged? What the hay does that mean?]
  618. >You try to remember what Igor told you.
  619.  
  620.  
  621. >”On this journey you will form new bonds with others.”
  622. >“Through these bonds you will discover who is your ‘True Self’.”
  623. >”But in to protect these bonds, you will require the use of a unique ability, and you will require my help to do so.”
  624.  
  625. >You reach into your pocket and pull out another card.
  626. >This one has a “I” instead of a “0” on it, and a different being appears on the front.
  627. “I think I’ve got it.”
  628. >[Well don’t just stand there, here she comes again!]
  629. >Another blast of ice comes, and Loki steels himself for the blow.
  630. >Loki endures the hit as best he can, but you feel the pain and cold being transferred through your body.
  631. >Your limbs are losing sensation, but you’re still conscious, and you can still fight!
  632. “Loki!”
  633. >Your black steed charges and leaps at Twilight’s forehead, striking her horn with his helmet!
  634. >Sparks appear at the point of impact as Twilight’s magic is disrupted. [Now’s your chance, do it!]
  635. >You hold up the other card and tap it.
  636. “Change!”
  637. >Loki disappears, and in his place a red horse-like creature with human hands and hooves for feet appears, letting out a loud whinny as it summons a blast of flame at Twilight’s hoof, knocking her off balance and sending her crashing to the ground!
  638. >[Haha! Timbeeeer! That’s amazing, big man! You can change your persona!]
  639. >Twilight begins to try to stand up again, but you’re not about to let that happen.
  640.  
  641. “Change!”
  642. >You bring back Loki who slices at Twilight’s horn, leaving a gash that oozes red and black smoke as she yells in pain!
  643. “Change!”
  644. >The red horse lets out another explosive fire blast!
  645. “Change!”
  646. >Loki charges again!
  647. “Change!”
  648. >Another agi spell!
  649. “Change!”
  650. “Change!”
  651. “Change!”
  652. >You repeat your combo faster and faster until you’re seamlessly assaulting her with both personas one after the other.
  653. >[You’ve got it, now end this!]
  654. “OROBAS!”
  655. >You unleash one final agi spell with explosive results! Nightmare Twilight boils away, leaving nothing but her weakened, burnt, shadow self.
  656. >[Nice! Just remember you couldn't have done it without a #1 assist from a #1 assistant.]
  657. >Twilight's Shadow cries to itself on the ground, "There's no point to living... knowing what we'll become."
  658. >Princess Twilight glides to the ground by her shadow and leans down.
  659. >"I know it seems that way. It's hard to think of a life without my friends. Something like that really doesn't seem worth living for."
  660. >"But we have to try our best and enjoy the time we have with them."
  661. >"It hasn't all been great being a Princess. There's honestly a lot I hate about it."
  662. >"But I think we can manage together. You're me, and I'm you."
  663. >The two princesses touch hooves and the shadow forms the blue image of a royal looking woman with long gold hair.
  664.  
  665. The strength of heart required to face oneself has been made manifest…
  666. Twilight has faced her other self…
  667. She has obtained the facade used to overcome life’s hardships, the Persona Snedronningen!
  668.  
  669. >Twilight looks up to the Balcony. "Spike, I'm sorry. I really haven't treated you with the respect you deserve."
  670. >[Don't worry about it. I never realized just how hard it was being a princess either.]
  671. >"What do you say, Spike? Still willing to be my #1 assistant?"
  672. >[You bet I am, Twilight. Hey, Python is telling me I can wake us up now! Wait, this was a dream? Does that mean I ca-]
  673. >And then everyone woke up.
  674.  
  675. Tuesday, November 1st
  676.  
  677. Twilight’s Castle, 6:00 AM
  678.  
  679. >You wake up in the guest room bed next morning pretty early.
  680. >It’s pretty safe to say both you and Twilight are going to want some questions answered about last night.
  681. >You exit your room, and unlike last night, there are two guards posted by your door.
  682. >When you ask them where you might find Twilight, they let you know she’s been in the library since late last night.
  683. >Thanking them, you go to check on her.
  684. >The library seems to be one of the largest areas of the castle. Many bookshelves are still pretty bare, but every single one is labeled and organized with what it should contain.
  685. >A blue door catches your eye on the side of the room.
  686. >Instinctively you pull out a key from your pocket and place it in the door, opening it and stepping through.
  687.  
  688. Velvet Room, 6:10 AM
  689.  
  690. >You once again find yourself in the room filled with blue velvet.
  691. >Both Igor and Elizabeth are here this morning.
  692. >”Welcome back to the Velvet Room.” Igor greets you with a smile.
  693. >You have a seat across the table from him.
  694. >Igor holds up a blue card like the one you found last night.
  695. >”I see you have finally awakened to your true power. Persona. The mask your heart wears to face the world.”
  696. >Elizabeth continues, “But you hold within you a special ability known as the Wild Card. Yours is a heart that can wear many faces.”
  697. >Igor fans out a deck of tarot cards, each with a different picture on its face.
  698. >”A persona’s abilities are driven by your heart, which is sated by your bonds with others.”
  699. >”By interacting with someone and forming a new bond, you were able to obtain the Magician arcana.”
  700. >Igor shows you the card representing the Magician. “Your power will grow as your bond deepens. I strongly urge you to take this to heart.”
  701. >”Now then, fare you well until we meet again.”
  702.  
  703. Library, 6:10 AM
  704.  
  705.  
  706. >Your visits to the Velvet Room are always quite surreal. You’re not even truly sure if they’re happening anywhere outside your own mind.
  707. >Either way you endeavor to find Twilight.
  708. >It’s a big library, and you almost don’t find her until you decide to look behind the fortress of books someone has piled up on the floor.
  709. >Twilight is flipping the pages with her horn, her eyes focused intently on the book before tossing it to the pile on her left and replacing it with a book from the pile on the right.
  710. “Good morning, Twilight.”
  711. >”Good morning… oh! Good morning! Anonymous!”
  712. >She was still on autopilot for a couple seconds there.
  713. “Are you all right?”
  714. >”Yeah, yeah I’m fine, I just… couldn’t sleep. I had a lot of research to do. Well, still have. I’m not totally finished, but I guess I could take a break to talk to you.”
  715. >First things first, you decide.
  716. “How’s Spike doing?”
  717. >”I was able to wake him up. He said he remembered everything that happened, but otherwise he felt fine. I’m glad I didn’t hurt him in my dream…”
  718. >You take a look at Twilight’s cheek and notice a small bandage on the spot where the Imp attacked her during the dream.
  719. “What about the other ponies who were trapped in their dreams?”
  720. >”Once I got out of the dream, they woke up too. They all said they remembered dreaming about a Ponyville full of gems and dragon statues. Time Turner said he spotted one of those shadow creatures like the one that attacked me, but ran away just in time. Nopony else got hurt during that dream.”
  721. “Sounds like everyone came out of it okay then.”
  722. >Twilight purses her lips and looks down. “... not exactly.”
  723. “What do you mean?”
  724. >Twilight explains, “See, not everypony was on the ground when they fell asleep. Most of the pegasi were flying low, but there was a certain somegriffon that was 30 feet in the air when it hit her.”
  725. “A Griffon?”
  726. >"Gilda. She was Rainbow Dash's childhood friend."
  727. >”I didn’t even know she was in town until today. Apparently she’s supposed to be doing community service.”
  728. “Does Dash know she’s there yet?”
  729. >Twilight pauses, “When I said “was”… the emphasis was on the word friend. They cut ties last year when Gilda came to visit. They got into an argument, and it seems like Gilda’s behavior has just gotten worse ever since.”
  730. >”I told Dash about Gilda but… she just made up an excuse and left without saying anything to me.
  731. “I thought Spike said she’s supposed to be the Element of Loyalty.”
  732. >Twilight looks angry, “You weren’t there, okay? Gilda made Dash choose between her and us, and Dash chose us. And from the sound of it, Gilda really was just bad news all around.”
  733. “Hey, easy there, Purple Smart. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just new to all this. I’m trying to figure out what’s up.”
  734. >Twilight sighs, “You’re right… sorry, Anonymous. I’m just under a lot of stress. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
  735. “You went through a lot last night. Let’s change the subject. Did Princess Luna ever show up again?”
  736. >Twilight looks up, “So you know her? I guess Spike must have told you something. Anyway, she did show up. She said that she fell asleep too, but doesn’t remember being in that dream with the rest of us.”
  737. >”She’s still still trying to sort things out, and she told me that until everything is solved, I should be careful and not tell anyone about what’s happening. She told me Celestia thinks that’s for the best.”
  738. “I guess that makes sense. Letting everyone panic about what’s going on isn’t going to help.”
  739. >”The doctors are calling it Stress Induced Hysteric Narcolepsy. They’ll be issuing warnings to Pegasi to fly close to the ground, take breaks during long distance flights, and land immediately if they feel drowsiness or numbness.”
  740. “Better than nothing, I guess.”
  741.     >”I don’t know… I feel like this isn’t over. Luna gets that feeling too. I think this is going to keep happening until we figure out what’s causing it.”
  742.     “I agree. But we’ll get to the bottom of it. I promise.”
  743.     >!
  744.     —————————————————————
  745.  
  746.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  747.  
  748.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  749.  
  750.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  751.  
  752.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Fool Arcana.
  753.  
  754.     —————————————————————
  755.  
  756.     >Twilight smiles at you. “Thanks. You know… maybe the reason you came here was to help us.”
  757.     “So I’m your knight now, Princess Twilight?”
  758.     >Twilight shakes her head, “You don’t have to call me that.”
  759.     “You got it, Purple Smart.”
  760.     >Twilight giggles and puts her hoof to her mouth. “Just Twi is fine, silly.”
  761.     >!
  762.  
  763.     —————————————————————
  764.  
  765.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  766.  
  767.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  768.  
  769.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  770.  
  771.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Priestess Arcana.
  772.  
  773.     >"Anyway, about that power you used last night... I don't suppose you can tell me anything more?"
  774.     >You shake your head.
  775.     "I didn't know I had it until that moment I summoned it. Once I did, I knew how to use it like it was my own arm, but other than that it's a mystery."
  776.     >"I guess I understand. When I got my Persona, I knew how she worked without having to be told too. I guess your ability to change them is unique to you though. I just wonder why you didn't have to fight your Shadow the way we did."
  777.     "Maybe I already have, but I forgot about it."
  778.     >"Yeah, that might be it." she still sounds unsure.
  779.     >"Anyway, I have a little present for you. I was working on it while I couldn't sleep. Have a look."
  780.     >Twilight shows you a small gold pendant. "Try putting it on."
  781.     >You do as she says and slip it around your neck. Suddenly, you feel yourself shrinking!
  782. >You fall onto all fours and suddenly you're on eye level with Twilight.
  783. >"Oh, I guess I probably should have warned you that was going to happen. Anyway, take a look!"
  784. >She brings you over to a full length mirror where you have a look at your new pony body.
  785. >"I'd already figured out how this works when I was doing those experiments to figure out how the portal from our world to the Human world works."
  786. >"So since I already knew the magical theory behind it, it wasn't too much work to figure out how to turn a human back into a pony on this side."
  787. >"You don't have to use it if you don't want to, but if you think it'd be easier to get around as a Pony, you can put it on and take it off as you please."
  788. >"Do you like the way you look?"
  789.  
  790. Response?
  791.  
  792. "It's perfect."
  793. "Maybe change some things."
  794. "This is like one of my Japanese animes."
  795. -------------------------------------------------------------
  796.  
  797. >You stare at yourself in the mirror.
  798. "This is like one of my Japanese Animes."
  799. >"Huh?"
  800. "It means I look like a chode but I'm diggin' it."
  801. >"Right... well, if you don't want people connecting this identity with you human form, maybe you should make up a name for this form."
  802. >You start thinking about that...
  803.  
  804. Name yourself?
  805. Do it later?
  806. Don't Bother?
  807. ------------------------------------------------------------
  808.  
  809. >Man, names are hard.
  810. >But you come up with something that seems fitting and tell it to Twilight.
  811. “Dream Trotter.”
  812. >”I see… yeah, that’s a good name! Anyway, I’ve got some more work to do, and Spike is still sleeping, so I guess you’re free to check out the town on your own if you want. Or if you want to visit any of the other Elements of Harmony, I’m sure most of them would be pretty happy to see you.”
  813. “First things first, I want you to get some sleep. You’ve been up all night working. You need to rest.”
  814. >”All right… I can ignore myself but I guess I can’t ignore my friends trying to look out for me.”
  815. >”I’ll see you when you get back tonight, okay?”
  816. >You nod at Twilight and watch her teleport away in a purple flash.
  817. >She did remind you though, there’s a few places you could go.
  818. >Rarity told you she’d like to get you fitted for some free clothes.
  819. >Applejack wanted to invite you to have some cider and get to know you.
  820. >And that griffon Gilda keeps sticking in your mind. You can’t help but feel a little responsible that someone got hurt. It might be good if someone visited her, given that it doesn’t sound as though she has a lot of friends in town anymore.
  821.  
  822. Routesplit time
  823.  
  824. Rarity
  825. Applejack
  826. Gilda
  827. -------------------------------------------------------------------
  828.  
  829.     >You decided to see this Griffon for a number of reasons. Guilt, curiosity, a desire to test out your new form…
  830.     >But either way, you make your way out of the castle after asking a guard for directions. You politely decline his offer to accompany you, and head off on your own to Ponyville General.
  831.  
  832.  
  833.     Ponyville General Hospital, 7:00 AM
  834.     >The air in the hospital is filled with the stinging smell of disinfectant.
  835.     >It’s filled with ponies you haven’t met, mainly pegasi.
  836.     >Even though no ponies were seriously injured, it seems that the Pegasi are getting pretty worried about it happening to them.
  837.     >You consider leaving several times, but after half an hour your number gets called and you speak to the earth pony mare at the reception desk.
  838.     >The placard by her reads “Pencil Pusher”.
  839.     >This is either another prophetic pony name or the hospital administrators here are assholes.
  840.     >”An earth pony? You’re maybe the second I’ve seen all morning. And I looked in the mirror. What are you, lost?”
  841.     >Might be the second one after all.
  842.     “I’d like to see a Griffon that was admitted here. Her name is Gilda? She had SIHN.”
  843.     >“Are you a friend?”
  844.     “Well, not exactly…”
  845.     >”So you’re not a friend, and I’m willing to bet my lucky pencil you’re not family. And you want to get in to see her because… oh? Are you two… like that?”
  846.     “Like what? Oh! No, no we’re not like that, I mean… is that legal? Not that I…”
  847.     >It’s a good thing you don’t have pockets.
  848.     >Your spaghetti would be unsanitary for all the patients.
  849.     “I don’t know her. I mean I was just talking to Twi back at the castle and she told me about her…”
  850.     >”Castle? Princess Twilight told you about it? Oh, well go right ahead, one of the other elements is already in there!”
  851.     >Her immediate deference when it comes to the ruling class is a bit scary.
  852.     >You hope that Twilight has the self control to not abuse her power.
  853.     >You sure wouldn’t.
  854. “Uh… thank you. For… understanding the situation.”
  855. >”Don’t mention it. This is a friendship thing, isn’t it?” she winks.
  856. “Yeah, it’s something like that.”
  857. >”West wing, Second floor, room 214.”
  858. “Thanks…”
  859. >You excuse yourself before you can do any more damage and find your way to room 214.
  860. >The door is ajar, and you can hear yelling coming from the room as you get close.
  861. >”A BOOK? Why do you think I want a stupid book? Are you an egghead on top of everything else?”
  862. >”You always do this, Gilda! Every time someone tries to help you, you try to rip their head off for it! What is your problem?”
  863. >That voice you recognize from yesterday. Rainbow Dash.
  864. >”My problem is that I don’t need your pity, and I definitely don’t need a damn book!”
  865. >”It’s not pity, I’m trying to make things right by being the bigger mare!”
  866. >”OH, the BIGGER mare? The truth comes out at last. You’re only doing this so you can look good because you’re the Element of Loyalty.
  867. >”That’s not what this is about, Gilda.”
  868. >”Yes it is, you make everything about yourself all the time!”
  869. >”Gilda, I didn’t even tell Twilight I went”
  870. >”Yeah, sure you didn’t. I’m just supposed to believe that?”
  871. >”Only if you can stop being a paranoid psycho for ten seconds!”
  872. >”How about you get out of my face in ten seconds flat before I break YOUR wings! You can tell your stupid friends you tried and I’m not falling for it.”
  873. >”I can’t deal with you like this…”
  874. >”Then leave! I was doing just fine without you!”
  875. >”Yeah, I heard you’re really going places. Word of advice when you get there, don’t drop the soap!”
  876. >You hear a loud noise that sounds like Gilda throwing a heavy book at Rainbow Dash before you see the cyan mare storm out with tears in her eyes.
  877. >Dash notices you and looks away, still unsure if you saw her crying.
  878. >You feel like you should say something.
  879.  
  880. Choice:
  881. Talk as Anonymous
  882. Talk as Dream Trotter
  883. -----------------------------------------------------------------
  884.  
  885. “Rainbow Dash, right?”
  886. >“Do I know you?” She asks averting her gaze.
  887. “It’s me. Anonymous. Twilight gave me this necklace to disguise myself as a pony called Dream Trotter.”
  888. >Dash is staring at the wall, but you can tell she’s trying to blink away tears. “Yeah, she said something about you staying a while longer.”
  889. “Are you okay?”
  890. >Dash slumps down in the hallway. “I don’t know… everything was fine for the first hour, but then I tried to give her my book, and she started freaking out, so I started freaking out, and well… I basically ruined any chance of her ever being my friend again.”
  891. “You used to be really close, huh?”
  892. >”We were more than close.”
  893. >Dash reads your surprised expression and quickly corrects herself, “We weren’t- I mean… it’s complicated.”
  894. “That’s fine. It’s none of my business.”
  895. >”Thanks, Anon. I just wish things could go back to the way they used to be between us.”
  896. >”But ever since Flight School she just crashed hard.”
  897. >”We got into trouble here and there, but it was just kid stuff.”
  898. >”She hasn’t stopped though. Fighting, stealing, and that’s just the stuff she’s gotten caught for.”
  899. >”If she keeps this up she could seriously start doing time for it. I don’t want to see that happen to her.”
  900. >”Listen, I’ve been laid up like this before, and the doctors say she has it way worse than I did. It can really drive you crazy to be alone like that. She… isn’t going to want to see me any time soon. I know it’s a lot to ask, but you’re like the only other person in town I can ask she doesn’t already hate.”
  901.  
  902. Response?
  903.  
  904. “I’ll do it.”
  905. “She wouldn’t want you to ask me that.”
  906. “You should apologize and do it yourself.”
  907. ---------------------------------------------------------------
  908.  
  909.  
  910.     “I actually came here to visit her on my own. I’ll see how it goes. If I want to come back, I will. But not because you told me to.”
  911.     >Dash nods. “It’s the best I can hope for. Thanks.”
  912.     “Don’t mention it.”
  913.     >”Got it. In fact, don’t mention any of this to anyone.”
  914.     “Got it.”
  915.     >Dash looks relieved. “Thanks, Anon. You’re a good friend.”
  916.     >!
  917.     —————————————————————
  918.  
  919.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  920.  
  921.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  922.  
  923.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  924.  
  925.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Chariot Arcana.
  926.  
  927.     —————————————————————
  928.  
  929.     >Dash wipes her eyes, trying to get into a presentable state.
  930.     >”I gotta get going. See ya round.”
  931.     “Later.”
  932.     >Dash is actually respectful enough of the hospital rules to walk out instead of breaking the sound barrier with her departure.
  933.     >You consider entering the hospital room as you are in your pony form, but pause and think about it.
  934.     >It was really useful having a pony form to get into the hospital…
  935.     >But something in your head tells you that the best way to get to know this stranger is by being a 6 foot tall faceless green skinbeast in a suit and tie.
  936.     >You slip off your necklace in what is surely your greatest idea ever.
  937.     >You suddenly spring to full human height and begin to confidently stride into Gilda’s room.
  938.     >You confidently hit your head on the doorframe
  939.     >Stooping down a bit, you enter through the doorway. This is still a good idea.
  940.     >Gilda looks to be in pretty bad shape. One of her eagle front claws and the opposing lion hind leg are both suspended in traction restraints and casts.
  941.     >The rest of her body is mostly covered in bandages, and you can see bruises on her face.
  942.     >You can’t see her wings, but judging by the empty bed in the room, there appears to be a hole in the bed for her wings to fit through so she can lay on her back.
  943. >Gilda stares at you in awe and just remarks, “Wow, they gave me the good stuff.”
  944. “Actually, uh, I’m real.”
  945. >Probably.
  946. “My name is Anonymous. I’m a human.”
  947. >Probably.
  948. “I’m uh, new in town.”
  949. >”Wait, you’re not a hallucination? Then who are you and how the hell did you get in my room?”
  950. “It started off really hard, then got really easy, then got really hard again.”
  951. >”Yeah that’s what your mom told me. Now why the hell are you here?”
  952.  
  953. Response?
  954.  
  955. “I came because I was concerned.”
  956. “I came because I was bored.”
  957. “I came to laugh at you. Is that what you want to hear?”
  958. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------
  959.  
  960.     >You decide to play it cool.
  961.     >Since you’re so good at it after all.
  962.     “Oh I’m just chilling. What, is there something better to do in this town?”
  963.     >Gilda grins, “You’re not wrong, but what makes you think I want to hang out with a dweeb like you?”
  964.     >The way she emphasises dweeb like it’s supposed to be a sick burn makes you kind of curious.
  965.     “Seriously, dweeb? You’re supposed to be pretty hard and the best you can throw at me is dweeb?”
  966.     >Gilda narrows her eyes, “I was hard for your mother last night you fucking green sack of shit in a suit.”
  967.     >You can’t help but laugh a bit. And also feel a little curious and scared about Griffon anatomy.
  968.     “Haha, okay now that’s more like it. What’s with that though, you’re seriously the only person I’ve heard swear since I got here.”
  969.     >Gilda raises an eyebrow. “You mean you really don’t know? Shit, how new are you?”
  970.     “Pretty fucking new. So know what?”
  971.     >Gilda rolls her eyes. “Public decency laws. Equestria is full of ‘em. You’re not allowed to swear on public property or in the presence of a minor.”
  972.     >You stare at her for a full second.
  973.     “Are you fucking serious?”
  974.     >”That’s what I said the first time I heard about it. Then they told me if I said it again it’d be a 20 bit fine.”
  975.     “I don’t know if this place has any revolutionary groups, but I’m joining the first one I see now because that is some buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuull shit.”
  976.     >”Fuckin’ a, man. I mean normally I wouldn’t care, but I don’t want officer tightwad busting my fucking balls all the time about it, especially when I’m on probation.
  977.     “Is officer tightwad actually somepony’s name?”
  978.     >Gilda starts cracking up in her bed, “Hahaha… fuck it hurts to laugh kinda. Dude, you’re fucking hilarious.”
  979.     “Yeah, I try.”
  980.     >You weren’t trying though.
  981. >”Hey, look. I think the painkillers are kicking in for real now, so I don’t know how much fun I’m gonna be in a bit. If you feel like it, maybe you could come back another day.”
  982. >”I mean I guess you’re kinda cool even if you are a dweeb.”
  983. “You’re not so bad yourself. You have to be pretty hardcore to survive a 30 foot free fall while unconscious.”
  984. >Gilda seems a little pleased at your flattery. “Heh, this? I’ve been through worse. I’ll be back in the air in no time.
  985. “Until then, don’t go anywhere okay?’
  986. >”Fuck you, asshole.” she smiles.
  987. “Whatever, bitch.” you retort with a grin.
  988. >!
  989.  
  990. —————————————————————
  991.  
  992. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  993.  
  994. Thou hast established a new bond…
  995.  
  996. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  997.  
  998. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Lovers Arcana.
  999.  
  1000. —————————————————————
  1001.  
  1002. >You leave to give Gilda her rest. You decide to leave in Pony form to avoid causing trouble.
  1003. >Once you’re outside, you start to notice your stomach growling.
  1004. >You consider grabbing some breakfast until you realize something.
  1005. >You’re fucking broke.
  1006. >In your eagerness to let Twilight get some sleep, you completely forgot to ask her what to do about money while you’re here.
  1007. >Both Applejack and Rarity did invite you to come over to their place.
  1008. >Applejack’s offer definitely sounded like it included food…
  1009. >But Rarity is supposed to be the “Element of Generosity” for whatever that counts for. Would she be willing to feed you?
  1010.  
  1011. Choice:
  1012. Go see Rarity
  1013. Go see Applejack
  1014. --------------------------------------------------------------------------
  1015.  
  1016. Sweet Apple Acres Farmhouse, 9:00 A.M.
  1017.  
  1018. Track: ~Alone~
  1019.  
  1020. >You wonder if all of this forest is really part of the orchard… if that’s so, AJ’s family probably owns more land than the rest of Ponyville put together.
  1021. >You get to a part of the orchard where the apple trees have thinned out, giving way to the rough dirt of the farmland.
  1022. >Seems like they also grow corn, and other vegetables you can’t identify because you don’t know jack shit about farming.
  1023. >As you go through the white wooden fence, you even spy a chicken coop.
  1024. >This was definitely the right place to go for breakfast. You just hope that you aren’t mistaken for an intruder, because you haven’t yet figured out if ponies can operate shotguns.
  1025. >Confident that shotguns require fingers, you knock on the door of the large red farmhouse.
  1026. >To your surprise, it’s not AJ, but a decrepit looking green mare with a white mane done up in a bun answers the door.
  1027. >”Ehh, hello there? Oh, why hello there, Princess Luna! How nice of you to drop by.”
  1028. >This granny is either incredibly senile or she thinks you look super gay.
  1029. “Princess…? No, I’m a guy. I’m looking for AJ. Are you her uh, Mother?”
  1030. >She holds a hoof up to her ear to hear better. “OJ? Pardon my french, but we don’t serve that filth ‘round these parts, Princess. Just good ol’ fashioned apple juice and apple cider! You’re more than welcome to come on in for a glass! See, we’re expectin’ this ‘Infamous’ feller to drop by some time.”
  1031. “Anonymous.”
  1032. >”He’s on a bus? One of them newfangled contraptions from Manehattan? That’s mighty far.”
  1033. “Anonymous.” you repeat more clearly.
  1034. >”He’s in a rush? Well he’d better be if he’s fixin’ to make it today.”
  1035. >You slam your hoof into your forehead.
  1036. “Just… where is Applejack.”
  1037. >”We’ve got an apple sack inside.”
  1038. >She is straight up fucking with you and you have no way to prove it.
  1039. “APPLE. JACK."
  1040. >A voice comes from behind. “Somepony holler?”
  1041. >You turn around and see the orange-err, apple horse from yesterday.
  1042. >”Applejack? Why she’s right in front of ya! Don’tcha got eyes?”
  1043. >You scream internally at the elderly mare, but your murderous rage is quelled when you get a good look at AJ.
  1044. >Something about her really seems different from when you met her at the castle.
  1045. >Perhaps it’s the fresh sweat from a hard morning’s work causing her face to glisten in the sunlight.
  1046. >She seems so confident and strong, but also feminine and graceful.
  1047. >It’s as though she gained 10 years of maturity and experience the moment she stepped back on to the soil of her farm.
  1048. >You briefly recall spike mentioning about how every pony finds something in their life that they were “meant to do”. You thought it sounded like an absurd fatalist platitude at the time, but right now…
  1049. >You wouldn’t have any doubt if someone told you that this is what Applejack was born to do. In fact you’re sure of it.
  1050. >Or maybe she’s in heat and your pony body is picking up crazy horse pheromones. Who knows?
  1051. >AJ gently prods you with her hoof. “What’s the matter? Cat got yer tongue, sugarcube?”
  1052. “OH Hey AJ, I’m hungry. I mean… I’m anonymous. It’s me.
  1053. “Twilight gave me the horse necklace.”
  1054. “I am still hungry though.”
  1055. >”Horse Necklace?” AJ looks down at your neck. “Ah, I see. Some kinda spell. I thought you seemed familiar. Go ahead an’ take that silly thing off. Apple Family will take you just as you are, thank you kindly.”
  1056.     “Right, of course…”
  1057.     >You slip the necklace and revert to your human form. Granny smith’s eyes widen as she yells “DEEEATH! IT’S THE GRISLY SPECTER OF DEATH COME TA GIT ME!
  1058.     >Granny Smith pulls out a wooden cane and twists the handle, pulling it apart to reveal a hidden sword which she takes in her teeth and swings around wildly.
  1059.     >You're already feeling as Granny Smith starts screaming and giving chase. "THERE IS ONLY ONE THING WE SAY TO DEATH! NOT TODAAAAAY!"
  1060.    
  1061.  
  1062.  >How is this going worse than your visit with Gilda?
  1063.     >And how is she so much faster than you?
  1064.     >You ask yourself a lot of questions when you're about to die.
  1065.     >Just as the venerable tornado of death is upon you, you see a flash of orange as Applejack's hind legs shoot out and send the blade spinning into the air.
  1066.     >"Granny Smith, that's a right nasty way to treat Mr. Anonymous! He ain't the specter of death, he's our guest!"
  1067.     >Granny smith stops swinging her head around and looks closely. "Oh, a guest? Why didn't he just say so earlier?'
  1068.     >You quickly scramble away and hide behind Applejack.
  1069.     "Your Grandma just tried to kill me!"
  1070.     >AJ smiles and tries to comfort you, "Sorry 'bout that, she was just confused. She thought you was death incarnate."
  1071.     "I think SHE'S death incarnate."
  1072.     >Applejack beams, "Yep, they don't make 'em like they used to."
  1073.     "I nearly died!"
  1074.     >Applejack shakes her head, "Aww come now. We fixed her sword cane ages ago so it ain't got no blade to it. T'weren't any danger to ya!"
  1075.     >You point out that the sword is standing straight up with its point down in the ground.
  1076.     >AJ shrugs. “Soft soil. Never you mind. We’ll make things square with a good home cooked meal of our best!
  1077.     >You fear for your life if you say yes... but you're really too hungry to walk to Rarity's.
  1078.     "... if someone tries to kill me one more time I'm leaving."
  1079.     >You figure that's a stern enough ultimatum.
  1080.     >AJ grins, "You got my word that there ain't nothin' that'll harm so much as a hair on your head so long as yer a guest in my home."
  1081.     >You're too hungry to be picky about double negatives or baldness.
  1082.     "Good enough for me. Let's eat."
  1083.     >Applejack rings the chow bell to call over her brother, Big McIntosh. Big Mac, as you’re told he’s called.
  1084.     >You settle in for breakfast, or Second Breakfast as it were to the apple family.
  1085.     >The sheer scope of the meal laid out before you in such a short time is nothing less than astonishing.
  1086. >You’ve got an apple pecan salad, toast with zap-apple jam, apple cinnamon pancakes, an apple and cheese omelette, fresh squeezed apple juice, bottled hard apple cider, and for dessert, a classic apple pie.
  1087. >After learning that it was almost all the handiwork of Granny Smith, you feel pretty keen to forgive her for her earlier mixup.
  1088. >You were quite hungry, but by the time you get to dessert, you’re picking at it slowly enough for AJ to get some conversation out of you.
  1089. >”So tell me, Anon. How are you liking ponyville?”
  1090. “It’s had its ups and downs I guess. But the people here seem to be pretty good.”
  1091. >You decide to ask her a question in return.
  1092. “So are your parents still working out in the fields? I’d feel kind of bad eating without them.”
  1093. >Everyone briefly pauses at once and you feel your heart sink.
  1094. >AJ finally breaks the silence, “We’ve been eatin’ without Ma an’ Pa fer many a year now.”
  1095. >Way to fucking go.
  1096. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
  1097. >AJ shakes her head, “I reckon it’s best you learned it ‘fore ya said somethin’ ‘round Applebloom. She don’t remember ‘em too well but… she’s just a filly. It’s hard for her.”
  1098. >You try really hard to avoid eye contact until Granny Smith speaks up. "Oh don't get your pretty green head in a twist, Mr. Anonymous. My grand daughter ain't some weepin' maiden you gotta fret over hurt feelings with. She's an Apple, and the Element of Honesty to boot! She ain't got a gosh darn thing she's afraid to admit."
  1099. >Applejack chuckles, "Thanks Granny, you always know what to say."
  1100. >Big Mac chimes in, "Eeeyup."
  1101. >AJ raises a bottle, "Now how's about we crack these puppies open an' start havin' a good time like I promised ya?"
  1102. "Hear hear!"
  1103. >!
  1104.  
  1105. ———————————————
  1106.  
  1107. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  1108.  
  1109. Thou hast established a new bond…
  1110.  
  1111. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  1112.  
  1113. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Strength Arcana.
  1114. ______________________________________________________________________
  1115.  
  1116.     >You spend the next several hours drinking and listening to Granny Smith talk about the history of Ponyville and show you scrapbooks.
  1117.     >It sounds boring on paper, but you’re actually really interested in the history of Ponyville and Equestria in general.
  1118.     >You feel like it’s important to know as much as you can about this world you’re in.
  1119.     >The history lesson lasts well into the afternoon, and before you know it you’re interrupted by a trio of cute high pitched voices.
  1120.     >”THE CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS ARE HEEERE!”
  1121.     >Crusades? These are dark times indeed.
  1122.     >Applejack looks at you. “Sounds like my little sister an’ her friends are home. Want to meet ‘em?”
  1123.     >Your thoughts briefly drift to the amulet in your pocket, but you decide that after all the hospitality AJ and her family have shown you, it wouldn’t be right to start hiding like this.
  1124.     “If it’s okay with you.”
  1125.     >AJ trots out to greet her sister, “Applebloom, I told y’all no yellin’ in the house. Now come on over to the sittin’ room. There’s a feller I’d like y’all to meet.”
  1126.     >Three little fillies follow Applejack in, and they all stare at you wide-eyed.
  1127.     “Sup.”
  1128.     >”Anonymous, I’d like ya to meet my sister Applebloom, Rarity’s sister Sweetie Belle, and their friend Scootaloo. Girls, this is my friend Anonymous. He’s not from Equestria, so I’d like y’all to come make him feel nice an’ welcome, ya hear?”
  1129.     >”He’s cool…” says Scootaloo.
  1130.     >”He’s creepy.” Sweetie Belle frowns.
  1131.     >”He’s just like us!” Applebloom shouts excitedly. “Your face matches our flanks, Mister Anonymous!”
  1132.     “Wat.”
  1133.     >”It’s blank, just like us!” Applebloom explains by turning to the side so you can see her unmarked flank.
  1134. “Oh right, the cutie mark thing… I remember now. But I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing.”
  1135. >Scootaloo rushes up to your side. “Do you know what your special talent is?”
  1136. “Maybe, but uh, not really?”
  1137. >Applebloom runs up next to her. “Do you know what your destiny is and what you were born to do?”
  1138. “Not even close.”
  1139. >Sweetie Belle appears next to Applebloom. “Do you know who you really are inside and what makes you you?”
  1140. “I don’t even know my real name.”
  1141. >Scootaloo taps out a drumroll on a chair, letting applebloom stand up tall to make a grand gesture. “If you answered no to all three questions, then you should join…”
  1142. >”THE CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS!”
  1143. >Being drafted into military service by children. How did it come to this?
  1144. >Applejack steps in to try to provide some reason. “Now y’all, I don’t rightly know if Mister Anonymous appreciates you gangin’ up on him like this to get him to join yer club.”
  1145. “A club?”
  1146. >Applebloom explains, “The purpose of the Cutie Mark Crusaders is to work together to find out who we are, and what we’re supposed to be. And once we do, we’ll each have our Cutie Marks!”
  1147. >Applejack sighs, “Y’all realize it’s only ponies that get cutie marks, right? Even if Mister Anonymous does figure out who he is, it’s not quite the same.”
  1148. "Actually, I think it might be."
  1149. >AJ looks a little hesitant. “You sure you wanna go with that?”
  1150. “Finding out who I am and why I’m here is one of the most important things in the world right now. I know I didn’t talk to you much about it, but it’s the truth. Besides, a club sounds fun.”
  1151. >AJ just gives you a smug grin, “Welp, I know when I’m beat. Jus’ don’t say I didn’t try an’ warn ya.”
  1152. >"Then it's settled! Mr. Anonymous, you are hereby an honorary member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders!" Declares Scootaloo.
  1153. >The other two join in. "Hear hear!"
  1154.  
  1155. >!
  1156. ———————————————
  1157.  
  1158. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  1159.  
  1160. Thou hast established a new bond…
  1161.  
  1162. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  1163.  
  1164. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Emperor Arcana.
  1165.  
  1166. ———————————————
  1167.  
  1168. “Cool. Wait, what exactly DID I sign up for?”
  1169. Sweetie Belle says proudly, “As an honorary member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, you’re going to assist us as we try various tasks and talents until we find out which ones we’re great at!”
  1170. “Wouldn’t it be easier to find something you like and practice it until you’re good at it?”
  1171. >The CMC look at you like you’re speaking in Greek to them.
  1172. >Applebloom shakes her head. “This is why yer still just an honorary member.”
  1173. >You throw your hands up. “All right, let’s do it your way. What have you tried? And what’s up next?”
  1174. >Applebloom brings out a long sheet of paper from her bookbag and shows it to you.
  1175. >This list is nearly 100 items long. You only have time to skim it.
  1176. “... Ninjas? Giant Robot Pilots? Dentists?”
  1177. >Scootaloo shudders at your mention of the last one.
  1178. >”Well ya cain’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” says Applebloom.
  1179. >”We broke a lot more than eggs.” replies Sweetie Belle.
  1180. “You’ve done so many things I’m actually not sure what else there is to try.”
  1181. >”That’s why we don’t pay you to come up with the brilliant ideas, because we’ve got that covered.” Scootaloo says proudly.
  1182. “You don’t pay me at all. But what’s your plan?”
  1183. >”CUTIE MARK HOT PEPPER EATING CONTEST WINNERS!”
  1184. >Applejack just smiles, "I gotta take care of some farm work. Anonymous, why don't ya give 'em some o' the ones from breakfast? Y'know. Thooose ones." she says menacingly.
  1185. "Ahh, of course. Those ones." You grin having gotten the picture.
  1186. >"Which ones? Which ones?" Applebloom asks excitedly.
  1187. "Follow me, and I'll show you, girls."
  1188.     >5 minutes later, the CMC are lying on the floor in agony, defeated.
  1189.     >None of them made it past a single bite of green bell pepper.
  1190.     >Of course, you told them it was a guatemalan insanity pepper to make it more fun.
  1191.     >"S-Sweetie Belle..." Scootaloo moans out from the floor.
  1192.     >"Y-Yes, Scootaloo?"
  1193.     >"T-Tell Dash... I think she's... the coolest."
  1194.     "Come on, girls. The list says you already tried hammy acting."
  1195.     >You pick up their plates and swallow down the remains of the pepper. No sense in letting it go to waste.
  1196.     >Applebloom struggles to get back on her hooves. "All right, we admit you're worthy to be our rival, but we'll get you next time!"
  1197.     "How did I go from honorary member to rival?"
  1198.     >"CUTIE MARK CRUSADER SMOKE BOMBS!"
  1199.     >They rip open a bag of flour and toss it into the air, scattering it around the kitchen and running off.
  1200.     >It made a mess, but didn't actually get on you. They're certainly adding smoke bombs to the list.
  1201.     >Looking at the time, you realize it's already past 2:30, and you figure it's a good time to get back to the castle and check in with Twilight now that she's had some rest.
  1202.     >As you walk away from the farmhouse, you hear AJ yelling in the distance.
  1203.     >"APPLEBLOOM YOU GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW AND CLEAN UP THIS KITCHEN OR I WILL TAN YOUR HIDE TILL THE COWS COME HOME!"
  1204.     >You wonder if this was something you were supposed to prevent as a responsible adult.
  1205.     >Oh well.
  1206.     >You change back to your pony form for ease of traveling and start heading back.
  1207.     >But as you're doing that, you think to yourself... Ponyville is really just straight north, isn't it?
  1208.     >There's no need to take this path, you can just cut through.
  1209.     >And they say you never have any good ideas.
  1210.  
  1211.     Everfree Forest, 5:00 PM.
  1212.  
  1213.     Track: ~Corridor~
  1214.  
  1215.     >You are so fucking lost.
  1216.     >As it turns out, the alcohol tolerance of a pony is a lot lower than that of a human.
  1217.     >After switching forms, it seems your judgement and sense of direction was thrown off a little bit.
  1218.     >You're probably going to die out here.
  1219. >Suddenly you hear an eerie noise. You get ready for a fight until you listen more closely and identify the sound.
  1220. >Is that… a woman crying?
  1221. >You decide to go towards the source of the sound. She’s probably lost, but at least you’ll be lost together.
  1222. >You finally locate the source, a mint green unicorn with a lyre cutie mark is curled up and sobbing.
  1223. “Hey, are you okay?”
  1224. >The mare looks up and wipes the tears from her eyes. “A-Are you really there? D-Did someone really find me out here?”
  1225. “Yeah, I got lost on my way home. I’m… new to town.”
  1226. >The unicorn sniffles, “I-I’m lost too… and so cold… and so hungry…”
  1227. >You approach her to comfort the sobbing mare.
  1228. “It’ll be okay, I’m here now. We’ll find our way back together.”
  1229. >She smiles, “Thank you… but first… I think I need something to eat.”
  1230. “I didn’t bring any food with me.”
  1231. >”Oh, didn’t you? Because I think you did!”
  1232. >The mint green mare changes form in a flash of green flame and leaps at you!
  1233. >Before you can react, you’ve been pinned down by an emaciated looking black and green bug-like alicorn. She bares her fangs and sticks out her tongue.
  1234. >”You really are a life saver… nothing personal, but I think I’m going to have to suck you dry now.”
  1235. >Her mouth opens wide as you’re too paralyzed with fear to struggle. Yep, looks like you’re gonna die here after all.
  1236. >But just as you think she’s about to plunge her fangs into you drink your blood, you hear her confused voice. “What the hell is this?”
  1237. >You cautiously open her eyes as she stands over you with her mouth open and tries to inhale deeply.
  1238. >Her breath smells like moldy cheese, but other than that you’re unharmed.
  1239. >”I can’t eat this… where is it! What did you do?”
  1240. “Uh, what did I do? Where’s what?”
  1241. >”Your love, idiot! Where’s your love! Any kind of love will do! Eros! Philia! Storge! Agape! Love of surfing! Love of good food! Loving your job!"
  1242. "Uhh..."
  1243. >”If you said you loved science I’d take it!”
  1244. >You’re not really sure how to respond, so she leans down and runs her tongue along your face. It gives you horrible shivers as it feels icy cold.
  1245. >”What… oh… oh no. Could it be? Oh, cruel fate…”
  1246. >The bug-like pony falls onto her back melodramatically with her hoof on her forehead.
  1247. >”I’ve done it. I’ve really done it. I have found the one pony in equestria who is completely unloved and devoid of love for anything else.”
  1248. >You feel a little offended that she’s insulting you after trying to eat you and now seems to be trying to get sympathy for it, but you’re still kind of curious to be honest.
  1249. >”Come on then, lie down with me. Neither of us are leaving this forest alive, and it isn’t as though you have anything to live for either.”
  1250. >You consider leaving her to rot, but you still have some questions, and she’s probably right about you not leaving this forest alive. You’re proper lost.
  1251. “So… what are you?”
  1252. >”My name is Queen Chrysalis. But I suppose you may simply call me Chrysalis now. I am a changeling. And what of you, Earth pony? I did not believe it possible for a pony in Equestria to be so loveless.”
  1253. “Well… I’m not exactly a pony, you see.”
  1254. >You remove your necklace and take your human form.
  1255. >”Oh? Another shapeshifter?”
  1256. “Not my magic. Twilight gave me this necklace.”
  1257. >Chrysalis gags at the sound of her name. “That bitch… she dares imitate my own magic after what she did to me? What she did to my people?”
  1258. “I think I heard Spike tell me something about changelings invading the country to take it over.”
  1259. >Chrysalis seems indignant. “Legitimate attempts at self-preservation. If you cut us off from our food source, of course we will have to take drastic measures. After all, are you saying you would hesitate to step on an anthill to save your life? To save the life of your people?”
  1260.     >You shake your head.
  1261.     “That’s different. Ponies are sapient.”
  1262.     >”How utterly naive” Chrysalis scoffs.
  1263.     >”We do not have the luxury of farming and feeding upon a species which can not understand what is done to it. Sapience is necessary to form the love we need to feed upon. We are not given a choice to be born like this… so why must we be cursed for it?"
  1264.     >"Why do they permit the existence of monsters which would devour a pony whole if given the chance… but banish us who simply feed upon their love and leave them to live?”
  1265.     “I… I don’t know.”
  1266.     >You can’t help but wonder if she was crying to try to lure someone to her… or if you just happened upon her.
  1267.     >Before you can ask, you hear Chrysalis begin to break out in laughter. “Ahaha! That look on your face… are you actually feeling sorry for us? You really are naive. It amuses us greatly.”
  1268.     >“Don’t waste your time crying over our broken heart. Don’t you know that insects do not have one?”
  1269.     >You feel a bit embarrassed, but aren’t sure how to retor, so you just look away indignantly.
  1270.     >”... South-West is where you need to go.”
  1271.     “You’re letting me go?”
  1272.     >”We have no use for something we can not feed upon. Consider it repayment for amusing us as we lay at death's door."
  1273.     >You turn to leave, but you aren't quite ready yet.
  1274.     "... what if I want to come see you again?"
  1275.     >Chrysalis thinks. "I suppose I could use a laugh in my final days. If you really can't help yourself... simply wander into the forest again. I'll make sure you find me."
  1276.     "My name is Anonymous. I'll be back."
  1277.     >You really are too curious for your own safety.
  1278.     "Until next time then, Anonymous."
  1279.     >!
  1280.     ———————————————
  1281.  
  1282.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  1283.  
  1284.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  1285.  
  1286.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  1287.  
  1288.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Moon Arcana.
  1289.  
  1290.     ———————————————
  1291.  
  1292.     >You head southwest and return to Ponyville.
  1293.  
  1294.     Twilight’s Castle, 6:30 P.M.
  1295.  
  1296.     >You’ve been walking for hours. When you get back to Ponyville, you head to Twilight’s Castle without a second thought.
  1297.     >One of the guards tells you Twilight has been looking for you, so you decide to not keep her waiting and meet with her in a part of the library with a strange contraption hooked up to a mirror.
  1298.     “What’s this thing for?”
  1299.     >Twilight explains, “This mirror is a portal to another world. The world of humans. I’m not sending you away from Equestria or anything just yet, but I’d really like to just test something.”
  1300.     >Your initial encounter with Rainbow Dash comes to mind.
  1301.     “So this is the mirror she wanted to throw me through?”
  1302.     >”Well, yes… she was convinced that you just accidentally ended up in our world from theirs, and the best thing to do was to send you back home as soon as possible so we could focus on finding Princess Luna.”
  1303.     “But you don’t agree?”
  1304.     >Twilight shakes her head. “If you did fall through the portal, I don’t understand why you look like a human instead of a Pony. And it still doesn’t explain why your name and appearance are missing.”
  1305.     “So what’s this test about?”
  1306.     >Twilight flips a few switches magically and the mirror turns into a swirling portal.
  1307.     >”Just a simple little test is all. Just stick your head through it for a couple seconds, and my friends on the other side will tell me what they see.”
  1308.     “You’ve got friends on the oooother side?”
  1309.     >”Uh, yes. I’ve got friends on the… other side.”
  1310.     “She’s got friends ooon the ooother siiiide…”
  1311.     >”What are you doing?”
  1312.     “Forget it. Are you sure this is safe?”
  1313.     >”Perfectly. The theory is rock solid. You should have no trouble at all.”
  1314.     >You walk up to the portal and stare into it.
  1315.     “So just a couple seconds through… and then back. And my head won’t get cut off?”
  1316.     >”Probably not.”
  1317.     “Probably?”
  1318.     >”... you’ll be fine.”
  1319. >You’re really not convinced, but you have to do this to figure out your true self. You figure if someone up there wanted you dead they had their chance earlier today anyway.
  1320. >You take a deep breath and try to stick your whole head through the portal.
  1321. *CONK*
  1322. “Ow! Fucking... grhrhg!”
  1323. >You clutch your head in pain after ramming straight into the portal like it was a brick wall.
  1324. >”There’s no reason for language like that, Anonymous.”
  1325. “I thought you said it was safe!”
  1326. >”Well I didn’t think you’d try to ram it!”
  1327. “Stupid… hate science.”
  1328. >”You fought two giant monsters yesterday and you’re getting like this over a bump on the noggin? You’re not even bleeding, you know.”
  1329. “Yeah, well… this caught me off guard.”
  1330. >Great, now senpai will never notice you because she thinks you’re a huge baby. She’s not wrong though.
  1331. >Twilight is writing into a book attached to the machine, which vibrates after a couple seconds. Twilight looks at it and says, “So they felt a little shake, but they couldn’t see anything. Hold on, let me try.”
  1332. >She walks up to the portal and sticks her head through for a few seconds before trotting back.
  1333. >”Works fine for me. I’ll tell them we’re done here for now.”
  1334. >Twilight writes in the book again, and turns the machine off for now, returning it to its regular appearance as a normal mirror.
  1335. “Alright, Purple Smart. What’s your conclusion?”
  1336. >Twilight has a seat. “Well, Anon… I think you might be cursed. I don’t know who did it, but… all the signs point to a curse. I’m not sure what world you’re from, but I believe you need to break the curse by discovering your true self, or finding someone who will recognize you.”
  1337. “That’s pretty specific… but I kind of believe it. How did you figure all of it out?”
  1338. >She looks a little embarrassed. “Well… that’s how it worked in the fairy tale.”
  1339. >You look at her blankly.
  1340. “Seriously.”
  1341.     >”I-It’s not just any fairy tale though! It’s a really old one from over a thousand years ago!”
  1342.     >At least it’s something.
  1343.     “Well… how does it go?”
  1344.     >”It’s called the Queen of Fools. It says that a long long time ago in a far away land, there was a Mare who wished to become queen more than anything.”
  1345.     >”One day, a Demon appeared before her and offered her a deal… he offered to make her queen in exchange for her true self.”
  1346.     >”The Mare accepted, seeing no value in her old life, and the Demon granted her wish.”
  1347.     >”But the moment she made the trade, the Demon sent her to a far off land.”
  1348.     >”She tried to tell the people of this land that she was a queen, but nopony would believe her because she could not tell them her name, or the name of her kingdom.”
  1349.     >”And so she was cursed to wander the world as Queen without a kingdom. The only way to break the curse was to say her own name with certainty.”
  1350.     >You wait for Twilight to continue, but she just stops and looks at you.
  1351.     “... So then what?”
  1352.     >”That’s it. That’s all I could find. I’m sorry… I wish I could be of more help.”
  1353.     “Don’t worry about that, Twi. It’s a start, I think. I’m sure that what I need to do is to find my true self.”
  1354.     >“Whoever you are, it has something to do with SIHN. And I have a feeling it’s not over. What happened last night is going to happen again until we figure out what’s causing it.”
  1355.     “I think you’re right about that. So what’s the plan?”
  1356.     >”Well… for now, we wait and see if SIHN starts appearing again. If it does, then we go into the dream again and fight off those shadows with our personas. Since magic doesn’t work in dreams, I’m going to start practicing using a weapon to support it. I suggest you do the same.”
  1357.     >You nod in agreement.
  1358.     “I’ll think about what I want to use. Anything else?”
  1359.     >”Actually… I have another present for you.”
  1360. >Twilight brings out a little wooden box with her magic and floats it into your hands.
  1361. >You open the box, and inside you find a pair of big thick coke-bottle glasses.
  1362. “What are these for?”
  1363. >”Well, last time I used the dream diving spell, I wasn’t able to tell that I was in a dream right away, remember? I thought that could be dangerous if we weren’t able to tell we were in a dream immediately.”
  1364. >”So as soon as one of us realizes we’re in a dream, we put on these glasses, and we’ll know immediately that we’re in a dream without question just by looking at each other.”
  1365. >Twilight floats up a pair of black glasses for herself. “This is just so you know what they look like. Don’t ever put on your glasses outside of a dream, okay? Spike will be getting some too.”
  1366. “I don’t think you have to worry about me wearing mine around town. Why do mine look so silly?”
  1367. >She averts her gaze nervously, “... I had to buy you novelty glasses because they’re one size fits all. I didn’t have time to get some tailor made.”
  1368. >You sigh, but it’s the best you can hope for, really. It’s not like you have to wear them outside a dream anyway. You pocket the glasses.
  1369. “Thanks, Twilight.”
  1370. >”So then, tell me how your day in ponyville went.”
  1371. >You spend some time talking about your day with Twilight, who listens intently.
  1372. >Your encounters with Dash and Chrysalis are conveniently ommitted, but you tell her about Gilda, AJ, and the CMC.
  1373. >”It’s good to hear you’re making new friends so quickly.”
  1374. “It really surprised me too. I guess they’re just really friendly here.”
  1375. >"I think it might be the friendliest place in Equestria!" Twilight says proudly.
  1376.  
  1377. Twilight seems to be in a good mood. This would be a good time to ask her something. But what?
  1378. “So what should we do if we get in a fight?”
  1379. >”Well, my Persona, Snedronningen, is able to use powerful ice magic, as well as some healing magic. But she isn’t very resilient to damage, especially fire attacks. Spike says you’re able to use multiple personas, so I’ll be counting on you to pick ones that can cover my weakness, and I’ll support you as best I can.”
  1380. >”As for everything else, Spike has been able to commune with his persona to answer some questions, but it’s still not a lot. I’ll have him forward you a full report on his findings later.”
  1381. “Right… oh yeah, this is kind of unrelated but I had a question about something Spike mentioned to me yesterday. Something about these things called Changelings? And Queen Chrysalis? What’s that all about?”
  1382. >“I don’t think they’ll be a threat to you any time soon, but if you’re curious I’ll tell you what I know.”
  1383. >Twilight spends a lot of time explaining to you the events of the Royal Wedding Invasion, as well as Chrysalis’s attack on ponyville, in which she kidnapped the CMC and tried to steal Twilight’s magic.
  1384. >”... but like I said, they’re not any danger now, especially here.”
  1385. “Why is that?”
  1386. >”After they caused so much trouble for us, my brother and I worked together to develop a Changeling Detection Spell. The spell we invented is simple and unintrusive to cast, and every unicorn guard is required to learn it. I even got to make informational pamphlets about how to tell if your friend or loved one might be a changeling!”
  1387. “Aren’t they just trying to eat though? It doesn’t actually hurt or kill the pony, does it?”
  1388. >Twilight frowns, “You don’t get it, Anon. They don’t just eat what they need and stop. They want to enslave everypony in equestria and drain all the love inside them until there’s nothing left. You won’t die without love but… your life wouldn’t be something worth living. Changelings can't feel love, so they don't understand."
  1389. “Yeah, I guess that doesn’t sound fun.”
  1390. >”I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea, Anonymous. These things attacked us. I don’t want to be at war with them. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the basics of self-preservation for all of ponykind. If you see a changeling, you should report it immediately. They’re incredibly dangerous. Queen Chrysalis was strong enough to overpower Princess Celestia with just the love from my brother. I don’t want to think what they could accomplish with a serious foothold.”
  1391. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
  1392. >You say that, but it seemed like Chrysalis could barely overpower a field mouse at the end of your conversation. She wasn’t even holding you down that strongly, you were just surprised.
  1393. >But at least you’ve heard the other side of the story.
  1394. >”Oh! I almost forgot, I’ve got something else for you.”
  1395. >Twilight tosses you a small bag of coins.
  1396. >”As a reward for saving the Princess of Friendship, I hereby declare you the recipient of a royal allowance from my personal treasury.”
  1397. >Well there’s one problem solved, but still…
  1398. “Actually, I was considering getting a job, even if it’s just a part time one. I don’t want to be a total NEET.”
  1399. >”A what?”
  1400. “I’d feel bad if I wasn’t doing something constructive.”
  1401. >”Well I’d be all for that, but… you’re sort of a stranger in a tightly knit town who doesn’t remember anything about who he is or what he’s skilled at.”
  1402. >”No offense.”
  1403. >She’s got you there.
  1404. >You take a second to think to yourself.
  1405. >What might be a good job for you?
  1406.  
  1407. “How about a masseuse?”
  1408. >Twilight cocks her head to the side, confused. “A masseuse? How would that even work? You don’t have hooves or a horn, and I doubt you’re better with your hooves than Lotus Blossom, Aloe, or Quake after a day.
  1409. >You just laugh.
  1410. “Two words, Twi. Opposable thumbs.”
  1411. >You wave your fingers at her, but she seems unimpressed.
  1412. “You don’t think I could do it?”
  1413. >”I’ve had hands before, Anon. I wasn’t really feeling it.”
  1414. “Yeah I bet you weren’t, or you would never have gone back.”
  1415. >Twilight gives you a smug look. “So you’re saying you can massage a pony better with fingers and no experience than a trained professional can with hooves.”
  1416. “I’m saying a lot of things. But if it were that hard they wouldn’t advertise the job on daytime TV.”
  1417. >”All right, then prove it.”
  1418. “Gladly.
  1419. >You’re actually not sure if you really can do this, but this is about your pride now.
  1420. >Twilight lays down on a cushion. “It’s not good to keep a princess waiting, Anonymous.” she teases.
  1421. “Just relax and leave it to your royal masseuse, your highness.”
  1422. >You dive right in before she can psych you out any further, putting your fingertips against the base of her neck and rubbing gently to start with.
  1423. >You’re pretty careful to start, making sure to gently rub the muscle instead of the bone.
  1424. >Twilight seems to just be smiling as much as she’s ever been, not wanting to make it too easy for you by letting on when she likes it.
  1425. >”Well your fingers are pretty soft, I’ll give you that.”
  1426. >Time to go a little harder then. You put your hands on her shoulders and begin rubbing behind them with your palms while kneading your thumbs in circles at her inner back. She lets out a deep breath and arches her back a bit in response.
  1427. >You keep that up for a bit before reaching your arms down below her front legs, massaging and kneading her chest with your hands.
  1428.     >Twilight shivers slightly. “I guess I needed this more than I thought…”
  1429.     “So you’re going to admit I’m good at this?”
  1430.     >”Heh, don’t get ahead of yourself.”
  1431.     “Uh, Twilight, can you put your wings down? They’re kind of getting in the way.”
  1432.     >You can’t see too well from behind her, but you think Twilight might be blushing.
  1433.     >”... you’re not ‘bad’ at it.”
  1434.     >You’re confused, but hey it’s a step up.
  1435.     >You decide to avoid her wings for now. They look rather delicate and you’d hate to injure her.
  1436.     >Instead you decide to run your hands down her sides nice and slow, feeling with the grain of her fine purple fur.
  1437.     >Your fingertips start to trace over the sides of her flank, and you stop when you notice her shivering again. You decide to start your work down here, and press your palms down against both sides of her flank, working them in circles for about half a second before she suddenly lets out a squeal and jumps back, colliding with you.
  1438.     >Direct hit to the pride, captain.
  1439.     >You collapse on the ground as she spins around. You can definitely see she’s blushing hard as she stammers out, “W-What do you think you’re doing back there?”
  1440.     “YOU HIT ME IN THE JANK WITH YOUR ASS.”
  1441.     >“H-How dare you call it a lady’s rear end an a-ass in front of her! And don’t change the subject! What were you thinking, touching my cutie mark like that? ”
  1442.     “I was trying to massage your THIGH, crazy horse! Why did you jump up like that?”
  1443.     >”I… d-do you really need me to spell it out for you?!”
  1444.     >You really hope Twilight can tell that you’re giving her a death glare right now.
  1445.     >”Well… a mare is… very sensitive in that spot! A massage is one thing, but you just started going to town like that… you should be more delicate when it comes to a mare’s body.”
  1446.     “You should be delicate when it comes to mine!”
  1447.     >Twilight suddenly puts her hooves over her mouth. “Y-You mean I hit you in the… with my… oh. I’m so sorry.”
  1448. >There’s a long silence while you clutch your nads in pain while Twilight tries to think of how to phrase her question.
  1449. >”It’s not, um… broken… is it?”
  1450. “Please get me the stuff you’re giving to Gilda and then give me 5 times as much.”
  1451. >”Should I get a doctor to look at it?”
  1452. “Please don’t. I’m still trying to pretend I have some dignity left.”
  1453. >Twilight pauses. “If… if it helps, you were right. It did feel pretty good.”
  1454. >It does feel good to be right, but you aren’t able to enjoy it as much as you normally would.
  1455. “I think I’m going to bed.”
  1456. >”Oh! Let me help you with that, it’s the least I can do, and you’re in no condition.”
  1457. >Twilight’s horn glows and you appear in the guest bedroom in bright purple flash.
  1458. >Surprisingly she actually managed to teleport you onto the bed instead of a pit of leopards.
  1459. >See? Your luck is turning around already.
  1460. >”Good night… oh! I almost forgot, Spike wanted to see you some time. He wouldn’t tell me why though. He said it was… ‘Real Men Only Stuff’ or something like that.”
  1461. “I may no longer qualify.”
  1462. >”I’m really really sorry, Anon… I’ll try to make it up to you some time. Get some rest for now.”
  1463. >You let out a long, slow, “Fffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.” after she’s gone, and wait for the pain to fade before falling asleep.
  1464.  
  1465. Wednesday, November 2nd
  1466.  
  1467. Twilight’s Castle, 10:00 AM
  1468.  
  1469. >You slept in a bit later today, since you didn’t have such urgent matters to discuss as yesterday.
  1470. >Still, you decide to pay Spike a visit first thing in the morning just in case.
  1471. >When you get to his room, Spike looks excited to see you.
  1472. >”Hey big guy, come on in and have a seat! I have a proposition to run by you.”
  1473. >You have a seat on his floor, since the furnishings look too small to support your human weight.
  1474. “So what’s this about?”
  1475. >“Well, big guy… ever since I had that run in with my shadow, I’ve been thinking long and thinking hard about what I’m doing with my life and where I’m going. My shadow was totally right about me not being mature enough for Rarity. So I’m going to fix that starting today!”
  1476. “Good to hear you’re taking that experience positively. So what’s your plan?”
  1477. >”Oh I’ll tell you what my plan is. But first, let me ask you a question. When you walk around ponyville, what is there a distinct lack of?”
  1478. “Well I haven’t seen a single Starbucks, but I feel like that’s just a matter of time.”
  1479. >”Starbucks? That place that keeps trying to steal Donut Joe’s business in Canterlot?”
  1480. >Of all the things you’ve seen and heard since you came here, this is the most frightening of all.
  1481. >”Anyway, what I mean is guys. Real hardcore dudes! We’re surrounded by so many mares, it’s no wonder I’m not growing up right. I’m completely devoid of strong male role models.”
  1482. >”So I’m starting up a “Guys’ Club.” A place for guys to hang out and do guy stuff together! Have real guy fun! Just guys, no girls allowed.”
  1483. “Sounds cool I think. Count me in, little man.”
  1484. >Spike pumps his fist in the air. “Awesome! Then I think the best way to initiate you into the Guys’ Club is to stuff you full of protein!”
  1485. “Where are you going with this.”
  1486. >”I’ll tell you where I’m going. I’m going downtown. With you. To see Gustave le Grand about his meat!”
  1487. “Spike I think you may have gotten the wrong idea about me.”
  1488. >”What? But I thought humans ate meat.”
  1489. “Oh. Yeah that’s fine, tell me more about that.”
  1490. >”He’s a Griffon chef that got stuck here after nightmare night because of some passport issues. So his food stand is still open and he’s willing to cook some meat for anyone who wants to order it.”
  1491. “Sounds good to me. Let’s do it.”
  1492.  
  1493. Ponyville, 10:30 A.M.
  1494.  
  1495. >You and spike managed to score some ham, bread, and cheese to make sandwiches with.
  1496. >Given the price tag, ham sandwiches were probably not the intent of the chef.
  1497. >In fact, you realize this isn’t really what either of you intended either. You’re kind of just having really expensive ham sandwiches with Spike for breakfast.
  1498. >You found a secluded spot for both of you to have lunch in so you can eat in your human form.
  1499. >”This is strange. I don’t feel any manlier. Are you sure we’re doing it right?”
  1500. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, little man.”
  1501. >You take another bite of your ham sandwich.
  1502. “Are you thinking of inviting anyone else to the club? How about Big Mac?”
  1503. >Spike rolls his eyes, “Him? I don’t think so. Let’s just say I caught him this one time with Twilight’s old doll and… things have been weird between us ever since.”
  1504. >You’re usually pretty curious about new information in this world.
  1505. >But not this time. You decide to change the subject.
  1506. “The creatures in this world sure have strange diets. Ponies don’t eat meat, changelings don’t eat anything except love...”
  1507. >”Yeah, I mean Dragons are supposed to just eat Gems mostly but I’ll eat anything on a plate.”
  1508. “There’s not a lot I won’t eat, but I think I draw the line at eating Gems or Love.”
  1509. >”You’re missing out, big guy. On Gems, that is. Not love.”
  1510. “If you say so, little man.”
  1511. >”Well, big guy, it’s been real, and I think we can call the first meeting of the Mens’ Club a success, but I gotta get back to writing that report for Twilight on shadows. You can keep the rest of the food, okay?”
  1512. >You nod and wave him goodbye.
  1513. >But all this talk of food reminds you of some of the people you met yesterday.
  1514. >Gilda might appreciate you smuggling in some ham to her in the hospital…
  1515. >But you wonder if Chrysalis really is starving to death like she implied.
  1516. >Chrysalis might get insulted if you try to feed her ham instead of love.
  1517. >It’s probably better to give it to someone who will appreciate it while it’s fresh.
  1518.  
  1519. Ponyville General Hospital, 10:50 A.M.
  1520.  
  1521. >Pencil Pusher lets you through again without questioning it.
  1522. >Twilight’s name commands a great deal of respect around these parts, so she still trusts you just by association.
  1523. >This time, Room 214 is quiet. Dash must feel things are still too rough between her and Gilda to visit again.
  1524. >After taking off your necklace, you let yourself in.
  1525. >Gilda’s eyes flutter open. Looks like she was sleeping.
  1526. >”Hey, fag. Back so soon?”
  1527. “Sup, bitch? I thought I’d bring your sorry ass some food.”
  1528. >She sniffs the air and looks at the bag you’re holding.
  1529. >”Holy shit, did you bring me some real god damn food?”
  1530. >Reaching into the bag you pull out some of the ham you bought earlier.
  1531. >”Hell, I like you. You can come over to my house and fuck my sister.”
  1532. “Hope she’s hotter than you.”
  1533. >”Quit teasing and give me that meat.”
  1534. “Yeah, that’s what your sister said.”
  1535. >Gilda just smirks and you put the bag next to her good arm.
  1536. >She quickly snatches the ham from it, ignoring the bread and cheese entirely.
  1537. >Despite her eagerness, she’s savoring the food and taking time to chew it slowly.
  1538. >”Swearing and real meat. It’s like I’ve died and you’re my foulmouthed angel.”
  1539. “I’m not the one with wings, remember?”
  1540. >”If you start calling me angel I WILL get out of this bed and kick your ass.”
  1541. “With an attitude like that? In your dreams.”
  1542. >She just smiles. "You know, in some places they say that when it comes to romance, you're either a carnivore, or an herbivore."
  1543. >"What kind of girl do you like better?"
  1544. ”I think a carnivore is better.”
  1545. >She gives you a smug look, “Do you think saying something like that will make me happy?”
  1546. “Well then what would you say?”
  1547. >She thinks for a moment. “You ought to be more careful, trying to get with carnivores. The moment they think they can do better, they’ll ditch you for an upgrade.”
  1548. >”It’s better to find someone who depends on you and can’t live without you. Carnivores are just going to break your heart.”
  1549. >Gilda looks to be in deep thought as she remembers something before turning back to face you.
  1550. >”But it’s not like I don’t understand where you’re coming from. There’s something attractive about a girl who knows what she wants.”
  1551. >”The kind that’ll pin you down and rock your world.”
  1552. >”But that’s how you get your heart broken.”
  1553. “I guess I’ll have to watch my back around you then.”
  1554. >The griffon shakes her head. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that.”
  1555. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
  1556. >Gilda gives you a playful smile. “You figure it out, dumbass.”
  1557. >She seems like she’s had all the personal talk she can handle for today.
  1558. >It takes a few hours before you’re asked to leave. You spend that time trading insults and talking about random shit.
  1559.  
  1560. Ponyville Town Square, Afternoon
  1561.  
  1562. >After walking around town for a bit, you come across a rather elegantly designed building that Spike pointed out earlier as the Carousel Botique.
  1563. >You’ve been putting it off, but Rarity did request that you come here as soon as you had time.
  1564. >You’re not doing anything right now, so there’s really no putting it off. You decide to see if she’s home.
  1565. >After looking around to ensure nopony’s watching, you slip off your necklace and knock on the door.
  1566.     >”Come in!” sings a voice from inside.
  1567.     >The shop’s bell jingles as you open the door and duck through the doorframe.
  1568.     >It’s good to see this place at least has decently high ceilings, allowing you to stand tall once you’re inside.
  1569.     >Inside, Rarity is arranging a rack of dresses with her magic. She looks over her shoulder and turns around beaming.
  1570.     >”Anonymous! Oh I’m so glad you finally came! I was beginning to worry that you wouldn’t come after all.
  1571.     “It’s nothing personal, I just had a very busy past couple of days. I’ve been working with Twilight, visiting a SIHN victim in the hospital, and nearly getting eviscerated by Applejack’s grandma.”
  1572.     >Rarity tuts. “Ever since that terrible business on Nightmare Night it seems everypony’s hustling about like the world is coming to an end. Well, even if it were, that’s no reason not to look your best.”
  1573.     “Sorry. AJ asked first, or else I might have gone to see you instead.”
  1574.     >”Well, you’re here now and that’s what matters. Now then, why don’t you take those clothes off so we can get started?”
  1575.     >Wow, not even an I art thou etcetera etcetera. Looks like ponies can be carnivores too.
  1576.     >As soon as your black suit comes off, the blue aura of Rarity’s magic surrounds it as she brings it over to the table and spreads it out, analyzing it closely.
  1577.     >”Hmm, I see. So the stitching on the sleeves goes at the shoulder like so… and the seam is…”
  1578.     >She mutters to herself while levitating out a length of measuring tape and takes note of every detail.
  1579.     >”I’m so sorry I couldn’t have something ready for you to wear out the store, but you must realize this is the first time I’ve ever seen a human, much less made clothes for one. Shirt and pants off now, darling.”
  1580.     >You feel quite chilly once they’re off. You wrap your arms around your body for warmth before Rarity notices your discomfort.
  1581.     >“Oh, I see! I didn’t realize you were hairless like that, poor dear.”
  1582.     >A thick wool blanket magically wraps around you for warmth.
  1583.     >”Better?” she asks.
  1584.     “Yeah, thank you.”
  1585.     >Rarity chats with you lightly while she continues her measuring.
  1586.     >Sweetie Belle apparently spoke quite highly of you to Rarity, and told her all about you, including your entrance as an honorary member of the CMC.
  1587.     >She smiles while talking about her sister, but still seems to be a little bothered by something. It takes her a few seconds to ask.
  1588.     >”... so have you… seen my dear spikey-wikey lately? Is… is he going to be all right?”
  1589.     >It takes a second to register who she’s talking about.
  1590.     “Oh, Spike? Yeah he’s fine. He made a full recovery and it won’t be affecting him again. Why do you ask?”
  1591.     >Rarity sounds surprised. “A full recovery you say? But… then why did Twilight turn me away when I tried to visit him? She… she said, ‘He might not be ready to see you just yet.’ but then when will he be ready?”
  1592.     >The marshmallow colored pony has stopped her measuring.
  1593.     >”... or is it something I did? Something I said? Does he not wish to see me?”
  1594.     “I don’t think you did anything wrong, Rarity. But I can understand why Twilight said that.”
  1595.     >The pictures of Rarity in Spike’s dream flash through your mind, as well as all the things Spike’s shadow said about Rarity.
  1596.     “Spike is… he’s an amazing little man, you know. He’s strong. Stronger than a lot of people around here seem to give him credit for. Stronger than he thinks he is too.”
  1597.     “I know he definitely wants to see you again. But SIHN did affect him in some major ways. I think he does need a little time to adjust. He’s pretty much trying to re-invent himself.”
  1598.     >Rarity still seems concerned. “Call it woman’s intuition or just paranoia, but it seems to me that SIHN is far more than just an unexpected nap. Is Twilight not telling me something?”
  1599. >You feel a little guilty having to keep it from Rarity when she’s worried so much, but Twilight and the other princesses agreed to keep it quiet. Still, you feel like you have to give her something.
  1600. “It’s… for some of the victims, it’s like having the worst nightmare you’ve ever had. The kind that feels real. It sticks with you and won’t leave your mind even after you’ve woken up. All things considered, our little man is doing an amazing job facing his.”
  1601. >”I… I didn’t poor spikey-wikey was going through something like that… what should I do? What should I give him? What does he need?”
  1602. >Rubbing the back of your head in thought, you consider what she could do to help.
  1603. “Well… I think what he needs right now is respect. But if you want to show him you care, maybe you could give him a gift. I don’t want to ask too much of you, but… I was thinking, could you make a necktie for him like the one I have?”
  1604. >The white and purple pony raises the necktie with magic and glances at it. “Hah! Darling, who on earth do you think I am? I am Rarity, the greatest young fashionista of our era! I shall have it ready by monday.”
  1605. “I think he’ll really like it. Maybe you could personalize it a bit more too. Could you work a symbol onto it that looks something like this?”
  1606. >You take one of her pens and sketch out a symbol.
  1607. “It’s a tradition in my world to wear clothing with things from our favorite Japanese animes. It means man.”
  1608. >”Darling, I haven’t the faintest idea what any of that meant, but I LOVE it!”
  1609. “Good, I think he’ll like it too, especially if you’re the one who makes it.”
  1610. >Rarity seems to be wildly enthused at the idea of making Spike a present. You get the feeling she really does care for the little guy in her own way. Still…
  1611. “... uh, one other thing.”
  1612. >She looks up, “Why yes, what is it?”
  1613. “Maybe you should drop the nickname and see how he reacts next time. Just at thought."
  1614. >Rarity seemed puzzled for a moment, but shakes away her doubts before replying, “Yes, of course dear. I’ll do just that.”
  1615. “Sorry if I’m intruding a bit. I know we just met and everything.”
  1616. >She just smiles, “I don’t mind in the least, dear. Even though we just met I feel… close to you. I feel as though I can trust you as you’re my own brother.”
  1617. >!
  1618. —————————————————————
  1619.  
  1620. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  1621.  
  1622. Thou hast established a new bond…
  1623.  
  1624. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  1625.  
  1626. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Star Arcana.
  1627.  
  1628. —————————————————————
  1629.  
  1630. “Brother, huh? In that case let me show you how to write Onii-chan on mine.”
  1631. >She looks at you curiously. “O-Onii-chan?”
  1632. >The adorably demure way she says it to you hits you like a brick through the heart as you fly back dramatically.
  1633. “K-Kawaii…”
  1634. >”... Darling are you sure we’re speaking the same language?”
  1635. >You try to straighten up your tie nervously, but since you took it off you’re just kind of straightening your throat.
  1636. “It’s nothing, forget about it.”
  1637. >Rarity just giggles playfully. “You’re quite an entertaining fellow. Anyway, I believe I have all the measurements I need, so you can put your clothes back on if you like. Still, I’d hate to see you walk out of here empty handed… is there anything I could interest you in? A… hat, perhaps?”
  1638. >Looking at some of the hats on display, one in particular catches your eye. A gray striped fedora with a black band sitting on a rack.
  1639. >It fits on your head perfectly, you find.
  1640. “This works.”
  1641. >The marshmallow horse grimaces, “I… do have other hats, you know. Perhaps you’d like to look around more?”
  1642. “Nah, this one’s perfect. Is it expensive? I’ve got some bits, how much do you need for it?”
  1643.     >”N-No, I don’t believe I will require compensation if you wish to take that particular hat off my hooves. I mean, it’s yours if you want it but are you sure that your style doesn’t call for something more… stylish?”
  1644.     “I dunno what you mean, the Fedora is timeless.”
  1645.     >”You don’t want something more modern? Like perhaps a newsboy cap…” she mutters that last part under her breath.
  1646.     “It’s the traditional hat of my people. I shall wear it proudly. Thank you, Rarity.”
  1647.     >”Heh, such interesting culture you come from. It’s as they say… there’s no accounting for taste.” she mutters again.
  1648.     “Thanks for the hat, Rarity. I’m heading back home.”
  1649.     >”Of course. Take care, and please come back soon. Very soon.”
  1650.     >If you didn’t know better, you’d think Rarity was desperate to convince you to wear something else. Anything else.
  1651.     >But you do know better because fedoras are super cool.
  1652.     >You lean down and give her a tip of your hat to say goodbye, then head straight home.
  1653.     >Twilight’s Castle, Evening
  1654.     >Since you’re back a little bit early, you decide to take a little side trip while you have time.
  1655.     >You’re not entirely sure if time actually passes there anyway though…
  1656.  
  1657.     >Velvet Room, Evening
  1658.     >Taking your usual seat, Igor welcomes you.
  1659.     >”Welcome back to the Velvet Room.”
  1660.     >His alicorn assistant levitates a book open with a golden glow and holds it open as she begins to comment on your latest endeavors.
  1661.     >”You have been quite busy since we last saw you. You have formed a great deal of new bonds between others.”
  1662.     >”Priestess… Chariot… Lovers… Strength… Emperor… Moon… Each one of these shall grant you a new aspect of your self.”
  1663.     >Igor adds, “The more you nurture these bonds you form, the greater the power they shall grant you.”
  1664.     >”Now then, allow me to perform a reading to help guide you along your way… Draw three cards, and I shall read your past, present, and future.”
  1665.     >Igor offers you a deck, from which you take the top three cards and place them on the table.
  1666.     >With a wave of his hand, Igor flips the first one, revealing a card numbered XXI.
  1667.     >”Ah, the upright card of The World is in your past.”
  1668.     >”I believe you might recall that we said you had desired to journey to this world… this card represents the completion of that journey and the accomplishment of a goal.”
  1669.     >”You may believe now that it is a curse… but your loss of self was one of the steps necessary for this journey. Without it, you would not have been able to move forward.”
  1670.     >Igor reveals the second card, an upside-down card depicting a lantern.
  1671.     >”The Hermit reversed… someone in your story is alone without the guidance of others and they suffer for it.”
  1672.     >”You have witnessed before how quickly a heart can turn on itself. Without others, this one’s heart is falling into darkness quickly.”
  1673.     >”Now then, let us see what your future holds.”
  1674. >Igor flips up the last card. A skeleton with a scythe, upside down.
  1675. >”The Death reversed… there is an obstacle in your future that will prevent a necessary change.”
  1676. >”You would do well to identify this obstacle, for the cycle of death is necessary for all things.”
  1677. >”And take equally that you do not become this obstacle… if you attempt to interfere with the natural order of things, an irreversible tragedy may occur.”
  1678. >”Alas, that is all the cards can tell me today.”
  1679. >”You are one who has the power to change… but you must not forget the agreement you made to be held responsible for the choices you make.”
  1680. >Elizabeth speaks up again. “Before you leave, we must discuss an issue which has arose with your power.”
  1681. >The Alicorn flips through the pages of her book. “Five new Personas have appeared in the compendium. Pythia of the Priestess Arcana… Glashtyn of the Lovers Arcana… Enkidu of the Strength Arcana... d’Artagan of the Emperor Arcana… and Dracula of the Moon Arcana.”
  1682. >”However…” continues Elizabeth. “It seems that the true form of the Chariot and Star Persona have yet to reveal themselves. Perhaps it is simply the natural indecisiveness of your personality.”
  1683. >”To remedy this, you should spend some time thinking about the true form of these two, and they shall reveal themselves soon enough.”
  1684. >Elizabeth gives you a sly smile. “You’ll think of a cool one for me, won’t you?”
  1685. >Igor speaks up again. “And with that, we wish you luck until we meet again.”
  1686.  
  1687. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  1688.  
  1689. >You’re not entirely sure why you never seem to say anything when you’re in the Velvet Room.
  1690. >Perhaps it’s because you know in there that it is more important to listen.
  1691.  
  1692.     >Once again, you find Twilight buried in books.
  1693.     >She sweeps them off the the side as you arrive. “Welcome back, Anon! I love your hat.” she motions to your spiffy new Fedora.
  1694.     “Thanks, Twi. Rarity let me have it for free.”
  1695.     >”I should have guessed. It makes you look cool!”
  1696.     >You tip your fedora at Twilight, and she giggles a bit, clapping her hooves together.
  1697.     >”Anyway, about your job… I actually talked to Lotus and Aloe today down at the Spa, but… it was kind of difficult to explain the whole deal with you being human so I couldn’t exactly get you anything.”
  1698.     >”Even if I could explain it to them, there’d still be the matter of your customers wanting to know what’s going on.”
  1699.     “I’ve been using my human form with most of the people I’ve met. They don’t seem to mind so much.”
  1700.     >Twilight shakes her head. “Even if it’s fine with them, I’m trying to think of the right way to introduce you to the whole town. To even make your existence public in equestria.”
  1701.     “Can’t you just be honest?”
  1702.     >Twilight sighs. “Ponyville is pretty friendly, but right now everypony is a little scared and confused about SIHN. It’s a strange disease nopony has ever heard of that came out of nowhere and affected a lot of ponies.”
  1703.     >”If some mysterious creature from another world who claims to have amnesia just happens to show up the exact same night… people are going to wonder if they’re connected. They wouldn’t be able to trust you.”
  1704.     “Your word seems to carry a lot of weight with the ponies in town. Couldn’t you just tell them I’m legit?”
  1705.     >”Whether you’re legit or not, people are already suspicious of the official explanation for SIHN I’ve put out. I mean… it is a lie after all. Stress is just a convenient excuse Princess Luna helped me come up with. We have no idea what caused it, and unless we figure that out, it’s pretty likely it’ll happen again.
  1706. >The purple alicorn falls back onto a cushion.
  1707. >”I’m the wielder of the Element of Magic, and the Princess of Friendship. Ponies are counting on me, and I have no idea what’s causing this.”
  1708. “It sounds like you’re expecting too much of yourself, Twi. This is something nobody knows the truth about… but we CAN find it out. And we will. You just have to be patient. No one can rightfully blame you for being unable to solve this in a few days.”
  1709. >Twilight looks up at you sadly. “I know… but I still feel like that’s not good enough.”
  1710. >There’s a moment of silence as you try to think of a new way to approach this.
  1711. “Okay, how’s this. You weren’t always a princess, right, Twi?”
  1712. >She shakes her head. “It hasn’t even been a full year.”
  1713. “And has your town ever had a major problem that affected a lot of ponies?”
  1714. >”It’s practically a weekly occurrence, Anonymous.”
  1715. “And every week, was everypony constantly asking “Why hasn’t a Princess come to solve all our problems for us?” or did they learn to deal with them on their own?”
  1716. >Twilight looks completely caught off guard, and doesn’t respond.
  1717. “The ponies in this town are tough. That much I can tell. They’ll get through this. You need to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.”
  1718. >Her expression softens as she shakes her head and smiles. “You’re… absolutely right. I was feeling so helpless that I started imagining everyone else was too.”
  1719. >”Thanks for bringing me to my senses, Anon.”
  1720. “Don’t worry about it, Twi. We’re friends, right?”
  1721. >”You bet! And I know now that the best way for me to prepare is to start preparing you!”
  1722. “Preparing me for what now?”
  1723.  
  1724. >”Well if we want you to be accepted in Equestrian society, you’ve got a lot to learn. Especially when it comes to… culture.”
  1725. “I won’t be touching anyone else’s ass.”
  1726. >Twilight blushes wildly, “D-Don’t call it that! There’s another thing! Language! There are laws about what kind of words you can use in public places and around foals, and this happens to be a library!”
  1727. “Then why are you yelling?”
  1728. >She turns a lovely shade of beet red as she tries to hide her face in her hooves.
  1729. >”... that’s it, it’s lesson time. And you better not think you’re skipping out early. Like my mother always said to my brother, in school, working, or on the streets. Pick one.”
  1730. >Sounds kind of harsh, but you can tell she’s serious. You take a seat on a pillow and settle in for your first lesson.
  1731. “Let’s get to it then.”
  1732. >Twilight levitates an enormous book out from a nearby pile at least 800 pages thick.
  1733. >”Here we go. An Abridged History of Equestria. Volume One.”
  1734. >You may not have been properly prepared for this.
  1735.  
  1736. Several hours later
  1737.  
  1738. >It’s really annoying the way Twilight can tell that you’re sleeping even though you don’t have eyes.
  1739. >For an Abridged history it’s pretty damn exhaustive.
  1740. >Still, she manages to at least get to some relevant parts regarding the reign of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.
  1741. >At least it’s more descriptive than Spike’s “abridged” abridged history of Equestria.
  1742. >Whether or not it’s better is up for debate when you’re not exhausted.
  1743. >You’re only saved from this neverending lecture thanks to an Owl roosting on her book until she gets the message.
  1744. >”All right, Owlowiscious. We’ll go to bed. Sorry, Anon. Looks like we have to leave off at the fun part.”
  1745. “Yeah… too bad…”
  1746. >Twilight has the best god damn assistants in the world.
  1747. >”We’ll pick up tomorrow, okay? I hope you can wait until then!” she says cheerfully before trotting off to her bedroom.
  1748.     >It’s very late. You’re too exhausted to do anything but go straight to bed.
  1749.  
  1750.  
  1751.     Thursday, November 3rd
  1752.     Twilight’s Castle, Morning
  1753.  
  1754.     >It’s late morning, and you wake up feeling hungry.
  1755.     >Yesterday’s breakfast was good, but it seems a bit pricey to be getting every morning.
  1756.     >There was a burger joint you passed by called Hayburger.
  1757.     >Since it looked pretty cheap and it’s not too far, you decide to check it out today.
  1758.  
  1759.     Hayburger, Morning
  1760.  
  1761.     >Inside the fast food joint, you place an order for a #1. Their signature burger, plus a drink and fries.
  1762.     >When you go to take a seat to wait for your order, you notice a familiar face at one of the tables.
  1763.     >Rainbow Dash is sitting by the window, looking forlorn as she stares up at the morning sky and waits for her food.
  1764.     >Recalling Igor’s words about the dangers of being alone with one’s thoughts, you decide to take this opportunity to speak to her.
  1765.     “Is this seat taken?”
  1766.     >Dash glances at you. “Oh, hey Anon. Go right ahead. Don’t mind me.”
  1767.     >As you take the seat opposite hers, she doesn’t seem too interested in you, continuing to stare out at the sky.
  1768.     “Nice day out.”
  1769.     >”I wish it weren’t. If there were some clouds to clear up I’d at least have some work, but now I’m stuck with this stupid sunny day that I can’t enjoy!”
  1770.     “Why can’t you enjoy it?”
  1771.     >She looks at you like you’re an idiot, which you probably are.
  1772.     “Because… you’re worried about Gilda?
  1773.     >”No, I mean… I still am worried about her, but it’s because of that stupid SIHN stuff. It could hit me any time I’m flying, so they’re telling me I can’t fly unless it’s for work? They can’t just do that! That’s like a violation of pony rights!”
  1774.     “It’s dumb, but they’re right that you could get hurt. Did you talk to Twilight about it?”
  1775.     >Dash sighs and leans back in her seat. “She told me I just had to bear with it until everything was figured out, and that she’d let me know as soon as it was safe.
  1776.     >She seems a little guilty as she continues, “...I told her I couldn’t just wait like that, and she started lecturing me about how it could put my future career at risk, and that if I got hurt it could ruin my chances of ever getting into the wonderbolts.”
  1777.     “The whatnow?”
  1778.     >”Seriously? You really must have brain damage if you can’t remember who the Wonderbolts are.”
  1779.     “Amnesia. And my history of Equestria is pretty spotty when it comes to anything after the last millenium because Twi thought it was important to start from the beginning.”
  1780.     >”Yeah, that’s Twilight for you. But seriously, the Wonderbolts? Best stunt flying team in all of Equestria? The greatest fliers of all time have all been part of the Wonderbolts. Well, almost all of them. Since the greatest flier of all time is me, and I’m not a member yet.”
  1781.     “It must be pretty difficult to get in then. Surely they must have heard of you considering everything you and your friends have been through, right?”
  1782.     >”Of course they’ve heard of me! I was at the top of my class in the Wonderbolt Academy and got a perfect score on the entrance exam for the new Wonderbolt Reserve Team. I’m just… not a full member yet. It’s not that easy.”
  1783.     “Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that, I just didn’t know.”
  1784.     >”Yeah, it’s fine…”
  1785.     >She looks over as a unicorn trots over and floats your orders on to the table.
  1786.     >Seems like you ordered the same thing. Except Dash ordered it three times.
  1787.     >”Oh right… I probably shouldn’t have asked for my usual since I won’t be flying today. Oh well.”
  1788.     >While you begin to eat your food, you keep one eye on Dash to see that you’re doing it properly.
  1789.     >Hooves are difficult.
  1790.     >All things considered, fried hay patties are pretty tasty. Though you’re not sure if that would change if you tried to eat it as a human.
  1791.     >Despite her large order, Dash seems to be eating pretty slowly. Halfway through her burger she starts up conversation again.
  1792.     >”So… how was Gilda?”
  1793.     “She’s a lot different from most of the ponies I’ve met. I don’t think she’s that bad, but I could see others not really getting along with her personality.”
  1794.     >”Did she… ever talk about me?”
  1795.     >You pause, thinking how to respond.
  1796.     “... I’m not sure.”
  1797.     >”What do you mean by that?”
  1798.     “It depends, what exactly were you and her? What went on between you two?”
  1799.     >Dash freezes up.
  1800.     >”... what did she say?”
  1801.     “I don’t know… nothing I guess.”
  1802.     >”Well then there’s your answer, isn’t it?”
  1803.     >”Nothing happened. We weren’t anything but friends.”
  1804.     >”And now we’re not even that anymore.”
  1805.     “Dash, that’s not-”
  1806.     >”It’s not really any of your business, right? I’m done eating, you can have the rest.”
  1807.     >Before you can even get in another word, Dash takes off flying, leaving a rainbow trail out of the Hayburger.
  1808.     >Even if you wanted to, you couldn't catch up to her at that speed. You're left to finish your meal alone.
  1809.     >After polishing off a couple hayburgers, you're still left with one you can't eat.
  1810.     >Figuring something may be better than nothing, you decide to take it with you and visit Chrysalis again.
  1811.  
  1812. Everfree Forest, Afternoon
  1813.  
  1814. >After stumbling around the forest for half an hour, you’re beginning to wonder if you should have planned this out.
  1815. >All you remember was that you needed to head northeast into the forest, but everything starts to look the same, and without much sunlight coming through the trees, it’s difficult to tell if you’re still heading in the right direction.
  1816. >Still, she seemed confident when she said she would “Make sure you found her.”
  1817. >While you’re pondering what kind of magic she might be using to do that, or if she’s even capable of something like that in her state, you’re startled by the sudden appearance of a pair of green eyes in the darkness.
  1818. >The blackish tone of her chitinous hide seems to provide a natural camouflage for her. Must be why she feels safe staying where she is.
  1819. >That combined with her utter stillness made you sure that she was nothing more than the shadow of a tree.
  1820. >”Welcome back…” she greets you with a dark smile.
  1821. “I almost didn’t see you there…”
  1822. >Her eyes are drawn to the still wrapped hayburger you’ve been squishing in your hand for the last 30 minutes.
  1823. “I don’t know much about changelings, but I figured I’d see if you wanted this. Can you eat it?”
  1824. >She thinks for a moment. “Bring it to me.”
  1825. >After unwrapping it, you hold the hay burger up for her to let her consider if the meal is suitable.
  1826. >She sniffs it once and takes a small bite.
  1827. >The changeling chews it a couple times and swallows, letting it sit in her stomach for a moment before going in for a large bite.
  1828. >This time you barely see her chew before she gulps it down and takes another big bite out of it, quickly inhaling the rest of the burger as you try to hold it carefully so you don’t lose a finger.
  1829. “So it was good then?”
  1830. >She shakes her head. “Alas, it merely tastes of ash to my mouth. As does all other food.”
  1831. “Ugh… so regular food just tastes like ash to changelings? Then… why did you eat it all?”
  1832.     >Chrysalis gives you a proud glare. “I may have lost my status as a queen… but I still have my honor. It would be rude to refuse a gift given in good faith. Besides, it is not as though I gain absolutely nothing from eating it.”
  1833.     “So you can eat it? I’m sorry, I don’t really know much. Why is it that you need to eat love if you can eat other stuff? Is it just the taste?”
  1834.     >”If you wish to try to understand… imagine it as though love contains a certain… nutrient that our body lacks. So long as we have it, we may ignore our other needs. We need not food nor drink nor sleep.”
  1835.     >”If I have fully gorged upon true love, I am invincible and truly immortal. In time even my legs would heal.”
  1836.     >”But if my stomach is empty of love… then I could dine on cake and brandy all the day and it would make no difference. I will eventually starve for lack of love. And I am going to die.”
  1837.     “You’ve really given up on trying to save yourself then?”
  1838.     >”I had enough energy left for one final trap. I made up my mind then that I would leave it to fate. Once chance to see if I would live or die. Unless you mean to lure another out here for sacrifice so that I may devour their love to live another day?”
  1839.     “I… no, not really.”
  1840.     >”Don’t lose sleep over it. Even if you were to betray the world for me, I do not even have the energy to feed on another. If it helps you to understand, it is as though my teeth lack the strength to chew, and my throat lacks the strength to swallow.”
  1841.     “So what happened to the other changelings?”
  1842.     >”... I made a mistake, to put it simply. I miscalculated the priority of the needs of others as opposed to my own… and I paid dearly for it. I am queen no longer.”
  1843.     “Can I ask you something about what Twilight told me?”
  1844.     >Chrysalis weakly rolls her eyes at that name. “Be my guest.”
  1845. “She was telling me about how you kidnapped her Brother’s fiancee, and those foals, and all that stuff you’ve done with her. She told me you intended to rule all of Equestria. Seems kinda different from what you’d been saying.”
  1846. >”Is that so? And tell me, who do you believe is telling the truth in that case?”
  1847. “... I wouldn’t have come back here if I thought everything she said was accurate, but it’s not like she has a reason to lie to me. So I think you’re both telling the truth in your own way.”
  1848. >”Well reasoned, for an outsider. Or perhaps it is because you are an outsider that you are able to see things more clearly.”
  1849. “You two also said the exact same thing. That what you were doing was self-preservation.”
  1850. >Her face looks even more twisted than when she was eating an ash-flavored burger. “The same as her… please, never say that again.”
  1851. “If you’re just trying to do self-preservation, then why try to rule them? Why go so far?”
  1852. >”Because while we can not live without them… they can comfortably live without us. So the choice is down to our enslavement of them, or their genocide of us. Which would you prefer there?”
  1853. “It can’t really be that black and white. Isn’t there another way?”
  1854. >Chrysalis sighs mournfully. “In the past, there was a balance. Our numbers were fewer. We lived among them in secret, impersonating their loved ones and leaching away their love, striking in silence and vanishing before we could be detected.”
  1855. >”For many years this was the status quo. We were myths, legends, boogeymen which could not truly be said to exist with certainty.”
  1856. >”But as our numbers rose, our attacks became more frequent. Victims began to take notice.”
  1857. >”To return to how things were, some of us began to feed more heavily in their attacks. They left their victims drier and drier until some began to cross a line that should never have been crossed.”
  1858. “How did they do that?”
  1859. >Chrysalis sighs mournfully. “In the past, there was a balance. Our numbers were fewer. We lived among them in secret, impersonating their loved ones and leaching away their love, striking in silence and vanishing before we could be detected.”
  1860. >”For many years this was the status quo. We were myths, legends, boogeymen which could not truly be said to exist with certainty.”
  1861. >”But as our numbers rose, our attacks became more frequent. Victims began to take notice.”
  1862. >”To return to how things were, some of us began to feed more heavily in their attacks. They left their victims drier and drier until some began to cross a line that should never have been crossed.”
  1863. “How did they do that?”
  1864. >Chrysalis smiles and licks her lips. “Imagine the love inside you, well not “you” you, but imagine it as a delectable ice cream sundae with a fresh red cherry on top.
  1865. >”The more of the ice cream we eat, the worse off our victims are. But so long as the cherry remains, it can simply be refilled with more scoops as they recover.”
  1866. >“But if we eat that “cherry”... they will never recover. Never be able to love again.”
  1867. >”So when a few fools began to eat cherries… that was the moment our existence ceased to be tolerated. We were driven from the land.
  1868. >”It was at that moment that I had to take my role as Queen, to lead them through those dark times and ensure our survival. I forbade them to eat “cherries” without my own permission.
  1869.     >To devour them at will and let their hunger go unchecked would be unsustainable.”
  1870.     “So when you planned on ruling them, you would turn things back to the way they were?”
  1871.     >”Of course not. Did you not just hear about how it failed? No... I planned to let them have all the ice cream they wished. And turn Equestria into a beautiful little land of bare cherries.”
  1872.     “That doesn’t really sound fair.”
  1873.     >”It didn’t have to be. It became them or us, and now it simply has to be us, since you turned out to be less of a sundae and more of a hat filled with dirt and a golf ball.”
  1874.     ”If I wasn’t though, are you saying you would have taken my “cherry”?”
  1875.     >Chrysalis looks at you seriously.
  1876.     >”I would have licked. You. Clean.”
  1877.     >It gives you chills the way she turned that around on you.
  1878.     >”You know, I suppose it might have been more accurate to think of it as the ice cream cone, but it’s really more like a cherry. Small, sweet, juicy, and the absolute best part.”
  1879.     “I should go.”
  1880.     >Chrysalis chuckles, seemingly amused by your cowardice. “Yes, I daresay you’ve made me hungry enough for a single day. But I did enjoy your presence. Perhaps it would be good to reminisce with you another time.”
  1881.     “... we’ll see.”
  1882.     >”Farewell then.”
  1883.     >With that, you leave to the southwest and head back into town. The sun is already setting by the time you get there.
  1884.  
  1885.     Twilight's Castle, Evening
  1886.  
  1887.     >Twilight wanted to study with you again.
  1888.     >You'll probably have a little time to talk to her tonight before you start.
  1889.     >Is there anything in particular you want to try to talk to her about tonight?
  1890.  
  1891.     >You find Twilight waiting in the usual spot.
  1892.     >”Welcome back, my faithful student.”
  1893.     >She giggles to herself. “Just kidding. I always wanted to say that. How are you?”
  1894.     “I’m fine, no complaints here. I was wondering what you thought of Spike though.”
  1895.     >”What do you mean?” she clears off a seat across the table and sits down so you can talk.
  1896.     “Just wonder how he’s been doing.”
  1897.     >Twilight smiles, “You’ve really taken a shine each other. I guess maybe it’s just a guy thing, huh?”
  1898.     “Something like that. But you’ve known him a long time, right? How do you think he’s doing?”
  1899.     >The Princess seems a little proud as she explains, “You know, I thought he might have needed some time off after going through what he did with his shadow, but it’s been just the opposite. He seems refreshed and better than ever!”
  1900.     “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, huh?”
  1901.     >Twilight nods in agreement. “A lot stronger. Unlike me, he can even use some of his persona’s power while he’s awake. He does this thing where he goes into a kind of trance and speaks to his Persona to ask it for information. He says he’ll have that report for us soon.”
  1902.     >”Still… I gotta say, it is a little lonely.”
  1903.     “What do you mean?”
  1904.     >”Ever since that night, I’ve realized I really am smothering Spike. I’m not giving him enough room to grow on his own. Even though I know he’s done some really amazing things and saved me so many times, I still keep such a close eye on him. It’s kind of like… I dunno.”
  1905.     “Like what?”
  1906.     >Twilight smiles a bit as she looks at you. “I guess… it’s kind of like he’s my kid brother, you know?”
  1907.     “Your brother?”
  1908.     >She settles in as she recounts the tale of her dragon egg hatching test, and how she got her cutie mark hatching Spike. She tells you about how Celestia took Spike in and raised him to be an assistant before giving Spike his current position as Twilight’s assistant .
  1909.     >It takes an hour.
  1910. >Behold the Princess of Exposition.
  1911. >”... so to put a long story short, he’s practically like a little brother to me I guess!”
  1912. “... wait, so you hatched him, doesn’t that kind of make you like his Mother?”
  1913. >”H-His mother? Nooo no no no no. His mother is… well, I don’t know who his birth mother is. In fact, I guess I’ve never asked him how he feels about all that. Maybe he thinks of Princess Celestia as his mother. Or maybe he just doesn’t feel like he has any parents at all.”
  1914. “He did tell me he lacked a positive male influence in his life. So I guess there’s not a father in the picture at least.”
  1915. >”No wonder he feels so confused inside. I guess I don’t really understand his feelings very well.”
  1916. “Nobody really did. Don’t take it personally, Twi.”
  1917. >”Of course, right. But… how do you think he really does view me?”
  1918. “How he really views you, huh?”
  1919. >You think back to what you know of him, what he’s told you, what his shadow said, and what the room in his mind looked like.
  1920.     >You take a second to answer.
  1921.     “I think… he views you as his boss, right?
  1922.     >”His boss, huh? I guess you’re right about that. He always does seem pretty worried about being replaced. Personally, I don’t think I could ask for a better assistant. But maybe he won’t always just be my assistant. Maybe… he wants things to change.”
  1923.     “I guess his shadow did say some things about not thinking that you don’t respect him. And that you don’t view him as equal. So maybe you’re his boss because he thinks you don’t feel the same way about him. So maybe he does feel the same way. But… not exactly as your “kid” brother. Maybe just a brother. I think he’s just scared that you only think of him as an assistant.”
  1924.     >Twilight smiles warmly. “You really get it. He… actually said to me once that “we” are his family. But at the time, I still didn’t understand exactly how he meant it. That’s probably why his shadow acted the way it did. I haven’t done a very good job of showing him how I really feel.”
  1925.     “Sounds kind of like you’re asking questions you already know the answer to.”
  1926.     >She blushes a little bit. “I guess even when the truth is obvious, it’s not always easy to understand and accept it. That’s why we both denied our shadows even when we knew they told us the truth. But… that’s what friends are for. They help you understand yourself.”
  1927.     “Then I’m glad I have a friend like you.”
  1928.     >She grins slyly. “But you know… I think of you as more than just a friend, Anon.”
  1929.     “You do…?”
  1930.     >Twi sits up and flips her mane back confidently. “Isn’t it obvious?”
  1931.     >”I think of you as a wonderful student as well!”
  1932.     “R-Right…”
  1933.     >”Now then, we’ve spent enough time on Spike, let’s get back to History of Equestria 101!”
  1934. >It’s difficult to get a word in edgewise during the lesson, but you manage to get a question in during the snack break.
  1935. “So you’ve told me about Ponies, Griffons, Windigos, Centaurs, Gargoyles, Diamond Dogs, Draconequines, and more than I will ever care about Breezies… why haven’t I heard anything about Changelings?”
  1936. >”Again with the Changelings? Why do you keep bringing them up?”
  1937. “Just… curious. I mean, hey, I don’t know my true self, and these things can change what they are, and they look like ponies but they don’t have cutie marks... “
  1938. >Twilight puts her hoof on her shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’re not a changeling. You wouldn’t be able to get near the castle without a detection spell going off.”
  1939. “Oh. I’m glad to hear that. But still, why doesn’t your book talk about them?”
  1940. >”Well, it’s sort of because the history of Changelings isn’t too well known. I’m not even sure for how long they’ve existed. There’s a really obscure origin story, but it doesn’t really specify the date. And after that, there’s some stories about them appearing here and there, but nothing major until the changelings began a war when they murdered the husband of a Princess, impersonated him, and drained the Princess of her love until there was nothing left. Soon it was discovered that many influential figures had been secretly changelings, or had their loved ones impersonated. It signaled the beginning of a dark era known as the War of Shadows, where nopony could trust one another. It’s also the first time Queen Chrysalis is mentioned by name. She rose to power as their leader and commanded an entire army of changelings until she was finally driven out.”
  1941. “So it sounds like there’s a lot after all.”
  1942. >”Sort of. Like I said, this is the abridged version. I mostly learned this from old incomplete books and journals when I was researching Changelings with my brother.”
  1943. “You said there’s an origin story too? What’s that about?”
  1944. >”Well… I don’t have the book with me, but I mostly have it memorized.”
  1945. >”The story goes that a long time ago, there was an evil Alicorn Queen who seduced a kind unicorn King. She claimed to love him, but was only marrying him to gain control of his land. When the King found out the truth, she tore out his heart and ate it to gain his power. She then unleashed creatures she created with dark magic upon the world to continue her work. Creatures incapable of love which would feed on the love of others until she had consumed all love from the world.”
  1946. “So… is that Queen supposed to be Queen Chrysalis?”
  1947. >”I think so. It doesn’t specify, but the queen is unnamed and there’s no record of anyone else it could have been. Alicorns are very rare, after all. And given their immortality, it would be strange for an evil alicorn queen to just disappear like that without anything even talking about her defeat.”
  1948. “But if she’s just an alicorn, why doesn’t she look like one? Why doesn’t she have a cutie mark, and why does she have to eat love?”
  1949. >”Dark magic is a powerful and mysterious force, Anon. It’s too dangerous to study closely, but it’s capable of great and terrible things. From what I’ve seen, it’s not too surprising that overusing dark magic could turn you into something completely different from a Pony.”
  1950. “I dunno. This source of yours sounds kind of sketchy. You sure it’s accurate?”
  1951. >”I’ve found no contradicting evidence, and it’s the most reliable source that’s available, so I don’t see much reason to doubt it. Do you?”
  1952. “I don’t know. If Celestia or Luna could confirm it that’d be something.”
  1953. >”It may have even been before their time. Their rule wasn’t always as wide as it is now, and they may not know or remember the story. I could ask if they’ve heard it before, but I don’t really know what difference it makes.”
  1954. “Well… what if they end up going extinct? An entire race of creatures starving to death sounds pretty grim.”
  1955.     >Twilight smiles, “Wow, you’re starting to sound like Fluttershy. I get that you’re concerned, but you really don’t know as much about the Changelings as I do. They’ll be fine. Believe me, I’ve studied them extensively and read every book out there on them.”
  1956.     “It still sounds like you’re missing a lot of information on them though.”
  1957.     >You see her smile fade as she starts to speak more seriously. “Me and my Brother know more about changelings than anyone who isn’t a changeling themselves. I know what I’m talking about here. I’ve personally seen Queen Chrysalis eat food that isn’t love. She doesn’t need it to live, it powers her magic. Given how long they lived apart from us, I don’t see why they’d suddenly be in trouble just because we’ve stepped up our game for a bit.”
  1958.     >It’s really hard to fault Twilight for thinking the way she is. She hasn’t seen what you’ve seen.
  1959.     >But at the same time, it’s her word against Chrysalis.
  1960.     >Chrysalis has plenty of a reason to lie and deceive you. Twilight doesn’t.
  1961.     >Chrysalis tried to eat your cherry. Twilight took you in and became your friend.
  1962.     >Logically, you should believe Twilight, but…
  1963.     >”Hey, Anon?” Your train of thought is interrupted as she waves at your unresponsive face.
  1964.     >”Sorry I got a little upset just now. I know you didn’t mean it like that, I’m just a little sensitive. Changelings have given me a lot of trouble, and I worked really hard researching them. It’s nothing personal.”
  1965.     “No, it’s fine. I’m sure you did the absolute best you could. Let’s just get back to the lesson.”
  1966.     >Twilight perks up when you say that. “Sounds good to me! You’re a really eager learner, huh? No wonder you asked so many questions. It’s the mark of a brilliant mind to always ask why.”
  1967.     >The lesson continues without incident, though you’re still a little distracted and can’t really focus on what she’s saying.
  1968.     >You head straight to bed after the lesson is over.
  1969.  
  1970. Friday, November 4th
  1971. Twilight’s Castle, Morning
  1972.  
  1973.  
  1974. >Dash seemed pretty upset yesterday.
  1975. >After considering your options for what to do today, you begin to realize that you don’t actually know where Dash lives.
  1976. >Not really keen on running all over town looking for her, you inquire with some of Twilight’s guards, who reveal that her house is actually located on a cloud in midair, making it difficult to access for non-pegasi.
  1977. >Still, at least that narrows things down. You decide to pay a visit to Applejack, since it’s been a few days since you last spoke.
  1978. >The town is still sleepy as you walk through it this morning.
  1979. >Since you’ve never been especially big on crowds, it’s a bit relaxing.
  1980. >It really helps you appreciate how Ponyville is sort of a beautiful little town.
  1981. >Everything looks so quaint that you wonder if ponies think Twilight’s big honking castle in the middle of the town is an eyesore.
  1982. >Doesn’t exactly blend in. Even to you it seems a bit out of place in a folksy city like this.
  1983. >After a long and peaceful walk, you’re on the dirt path leading out to AJ’s farm.
  1984. >About halfway down, you start to hear voices carrying from the distance.
  1985. >Loud wailing and yelling… crying, high-pitched voices.
  1986. >There’s always something different in a voice when something is genuinely wrong.
  1987. >Something in the voice that makes your blood run cold.
  1988. >This is one of those times.
  1989. >You break into a gallop as you go towards the source of the voices.
  1990. >It’s coming from a tree house made of wooden boards that you passed by on your first visit, but didn’t pay any attention to.
  1991. >This time you can make out Apple Bloom’s voice.
  1992. >”C’mon, Scootaloo! You gotta wake up! You just gotta! Please wake up!”
  1993. >After quickly removing your necklace, you call out to them.
  1994. “Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle! Are you in there? What’s going on?”
  1995. >They stick their heads out the window to look when they hear your voice.
  1996. >Tears stream down their faces from their reddened eyes.
  1997. >Sweetie Belle tries to respond through her sobbing and sniffling.
  1998. >”S-She was jus… she was just talking and and… and then she starded gedding dizzy, and, and she was talking really slow, and then she fell over, and she fell asleep, and now she won’t wake uuuup!”
  1999. >Apple Bloom looks at you frightened. “I-Is she gonna die, Mister Anonymous?”
  2000. “Calm down. She’s going to be fine, Apple Bloom. You don’t have to worry about anything. I’m here now and I’m going to help her.”
  2001. >”B-But she’s… she’s gonna go to sleep an’ not wake up…” Apple Bloom weeps as she tries to wipe away the tears with her hooves.
  2002. ”I know how to wake her up, Apple Bloom. Right now you need to listen to me. I need to find Princess Twilight. And we need to get you three to an Adult. Do you know where Applejack is?”
  2003. >Apple Bloom cries harder. “S-She’s all the way in the south orchard…”
  2004. “Then is there anypony who’s closer?
  2005. >Sweetie Belle speaks up weakly through her sniffles. “M-Miss Cheeriliee… sh-she’s at the schoolhouse early ‘cuz it’s a school day…”
  2006. “That’s better. But… even then I have to find Princess Twilight and get there fast.”
  2007. >As soon as the words leave your lips, a blue scroll appears out of thin air in a puff of golden flame. It floats in front of your eyes for you to read a message written in shimmering gold.
  2008.  
  2009. Dear Anonymous,
  2010.  
  2011. I apologize for such an unusual method of communication, but as you lack a Cellular Phone, my Master suggested this as a way of contacting you. Time is of the essence in your mission right now. As such, we would like to offer you a special service of the Velvet Room. A nice little shortcut.
  2012.  
  2013. Simply find any locked door, and open it with your key. The other side shall lead you to our Velvet Room no matter where you enter from. Once you exit, you will arrive in the usual place. Quite convenient, is it not?
  2014.  
  2015. Sincerely,
  2016. Elizabeth
  2017.  
  2018. P.S. This message will self-destruct for security reasons.
  2019.  
  2020.     >As soon as you finish reading, it vanishes in another plume of gold flame.
  2021.     >”W-What’d it say?” asks Apple Bloom hopefully.
  2022.     “If I can get to the schoolhouse I should be able to meet with Twilight easily from there. I need you two to help me by bringing Scootaloo out here and leading the way to the schoolhouse. Got it?”
  2023.     >”G-Got it, Mister Anonymous.” Apple Bloom replies as she tries to wipe away her tears again.
  2024.     >The two fillies take their time carefully carrying Scootaloo out together and down the ramp. Once she’s close enough, you scoop her up into your arms and hold her close to her chest.
  2025.     >She’s breathing normally for someone sleeping, but she feels cold.
  2026.     >You’re not particularly strong, but luckily she hardly weighs a thing compared to you. It shouldn’t be hard to carry her back.
  2027.     “Okay, lead the way, Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
  2028.     >The three of you run in silence. The two fillies are trying their best to put on a brave face, but you can tell if they start talking they might start crying again.
  2029.     >It’s convenient sometimes to not have a face. They can’t seem to tell that you’re worried too.
  2030.     >Even if no one got hurt by shadows last time, Scootaloo is just a filly. If she gets attacked, she might not be able to escape or fight back.
  2031.     >”The schoolhouse comes into view at last, and you charge up to the door to knock loudly.
  2032.     >From the other side, a light-pink and purple mare opens the door, rubbing her eyes for a second before jumping back with a startled wail. “Whaaa! W-Who are you? What’s going on? What do you want?”
  2033.     “Don’t know. Scootaloo has SIHN. Need you to watch them. Also need your door.”
  2034.     >You reply with simple words, being mostly out of breath and also in a bit of a rush.
  2035.     >The teacher stammers out, “I… oh dear… oh dear… y-you put her down or I’ll…”
  2036.     >”No, Miss Cheerilee! Mister Anonymous is our friend! My sister knows him!” Apple Bloom cries out as she rushes in front of you.
  2037.     >”Mine does too!”
  2038.     >Cheerilee looks a little panicked and confused.
  2039. “I can help her. Twilight and I know how. I need you to watch these three, and let me use your door.”
  2040. >Cheerilee swallows nervously. “O-Okay. Girls, come inside. You too, Mister Anonymous. Bring Scootaloo this way, I’ll get her a warm blanket…”
  2041. “Thank you. But I won’t be staying too long.
  2042. >You move in after the other two fillies, and after placing Scootaloo down, you spy a broom closet with a keyhole.
  2043. “This will do. Girls, you be good and listen to your teacher.”
  2044. >”W-What are you doing there?”
  2045. >No time to ask permission. You stick the key in and give it a turn until it clicks open.
  2046. “Going through a warp zone of course. Who says school doesn’t teach you anything useful?”
  2047. >You quickly remove the key and step through.
  2048. >In an instant you find yourself surrounded by blue.
  2049.  
  2050. Velvet Room, Morning
  2051.  
  2052. >”Welcome back.” You hear from Elizabeth as she stands alone near a door on the other side of the blue velvet library.
  2053. >”My master is away at the moment... but I believe you aren’t planning on staying long anyway, isn’t that right?
  2054. >”Do not be too hasty though, for there is something you must take care of here before you should continue your mission.”
  2055. >Eight cards float around you in a circle, each of them holding the image of a Persona.
  2056. >”Even your Wild Card ability is subject to certain limits as you are now. You may take only four of these Personas with you.”
  2057. >”Of course, Loki will accompany you regardless, as he can not be separated. He will not be counted among the four.”
  2058. >”Now then, choose wisely.”
  2059.     >Cyrano, Dracula, and Enkidu all seem useful. And given how much time you’ve spent with Gilda, you figure Glashtyn would be a good choice.
  2060.     >You select the four cards and pocket them.
  2061.     >Elizabeth gives a respectful bow. “Excellent. Now simply leave through that door, and you should find yourself in the usual place.”
  2062.     >Walking quickly across the room, you open the door into Twilight’s Library.
  2063.  
  2064.     Twilight’s Castle Library, Morning
  2065.  
  2066.     “Twilight! Spike! Is anyone here?”
  2067.     >You call out in the library, running around to try to find anyone that could help you.
  2068.     “Twili-”
  2069.     >A flash of purple light appears near your feet as Twilight teleports directly in your path.
  2070.     >Unable to stop in time, you trip and crash directly into a bookcase, knocking it to the ground and scattering books everywhere.
  2071.     >”Anonymous!”
  2072.     “Ow…”
  2073.     >Shaking off the painful collision, you recover your fallen fedora and place it back on your head.
  2074.     >”Anonymous, I’ve been looking all over for you! There’s another SIHN outbreak!”
  2075.     “I know… I was on the way to Sweet Apple Acres when I ran into the CMC at their clubhouse. Scootaloo’s been affected by it too. I had to take them to the schoolhouse.”
  2076.     >Looking over at Twilight, you notice she has a long spear strapped to her side.
  2077.     >”So you were all the way out there…. no wonder you took so long. It looks like some of the first cases started this morning, but it wasn’t until about half an hour ago that everypony started to notice. A lot of the victims are still in bed, so it was mistaken for regular oversleeping.”
  2078.     “No wonder I thought the town was quiet this morning on such a nice day… everyone was still trapped in bed. Then we’ve got to go in right away. Let’s find somepony and get on in.”
  2079.     >”Not that easy. Spike’s ability is telling him we need to find the right pony’s dream. It’s the Shadow of a certain Pony that’s pulling them into that world. A powerful shadow. Which means somepony with a powerful heart.”
  2080. “You can explain later. Do you know who it is?”
  2081. >”I think so. I believe it’s Rainbow Dash.”
  2082. “Dash?”
  2083. >”You said just now it was a nice day outside, didn’t you? But the weather schedule calls for rain today. So if Dash didn’t show up for work… it could be that something’s wrong.”
  2084. “That’s some quick thinking on your part, Twi.”
  2085. >”Thanks, Anon. But we’ve got to be even quicker if we want to end this before somepony gets hurt. Stick close to me.”
  2086. >Twilight’s horn glows, and instantly the two of you pop into a large tent where Spike is kneeling next to a sleeping gray pony with his hands on her head and his eyes closed.
  2087. >Looking around, you notice the rest of the tent is filled with other SIHN victims. You recognize a couple ponies walking around from the Hospital. Nurses and doctors you’d seen from your visits.
  2088. >”Spike, you can stop scanning Octavia. I think it’s Dash.”
  2089. >You see Spike’s eyes snap open before he rubs his head and sighs. “It’s about time… it’s too exhausting to check everypony one by one.”
  2090. >Once again you see a flash of purple light, and find yourself in a luxurious looking white and blue house.
  2091. >Rainbow Dash is lying completely still on a couch, still resting on a pillow beneath a poster of the Wonderbolts.
  2092. >Twilight walks over and puts her hoof on Dash’s shoulder, seeing if she can rouse her.
  2093. >“Dash? Dash can you wake up? I have tickets to see the wonderbolts if you wake up!”
  2094. >She remains completely unresponsive.
  2095. >As your eyes wander around the room, you see a couple of framed pictures of Dash and Gilda together.
  2096. >Strangely, it’s only those two. She doesn’t seem to have any other pictures of her friends.
  2097.     >”Anonymous, are you ready?”
  2098.     “Huh? Oh… actually, not exactly. You kind of teleported me here without a weapon…”
  2099.     >Twilight looks a little guilty as she glances at the Naginata strapped to her side.
  2100.     >”Oh… well you hadn’t decided on a weapon just yet, so I guess it’s kind of… Aha! Use this.”
  2101.     >Twilight looks into Dash’s closet and pulls out a long wooden mallet with her magic.
  2102.     “You expect me to fight off shadows with a Croquet mallet?”
  2103.     >”No, I expect you to fight off shadows with a Polo mallet. This is what happens when you don’t plan ahead, Anonymous! I’ve been spending my free time reading about proper weapon form and doing drills, and I still have enough hours in the day to teach you about history because of the magic of proper scheduling. Star Swirl the Bearded believed that the key to proper self-”
  2104.     >”Twilight, can this wait?” Spike asks impatiently as he stands at the ready next to Dash.
  2105.     >”Oh, right. Sorry.” Twilight looks away meekly. Spike just rolls his eyes.
  2106.     “I’ll make it work I guess. Better than nothing.”
  2107.     >You take hold of the Polo mallet and go up to Dash with the rest of them.
  2108.     >Spike places his hands on Dash’s head and closes his eyes.
  2109.     >You all remain silent as he concentrates on his power.
  2110.     >”... It’s her all right. And I’m sensing an incredibly powerful shadow in there. You ready?”
  2111.     “Good job, little man. Let’s do this.”
  2112.     >”Let’s save Dash, boys!”
  2113.  
  2114.     >The three of you find yourselves standing outside of massive black and yellow fortress beneath a sky filled with pitch black storm clouds.
  2115.     >The large block lettering above the entrance reads “SHADOWBOLT ACADEMY”
  2116.     >Posters line the walls reading “Join the Shadowbolts! Tryouts today in Stadium! Only the BEST and COOLEST. Mudponies need not apply.”
  2117.     >Twilight and Spike still seem a little disoriented. You put on your thick glasses and tap them both on the shoulder.
  2118.     >After looking at you for a second, they both snap to their senses and slip their glasses on.
  2119.     >”Good job, Anon.” says Twilight. “I figured we’d need you to do this again.”
  2120.     “Don’t sell yourself short. Glasses were a great idea, Twi.”
  2121.     >”And they look pretty cool.”
  2122.     >Spike is wearing a pair of small spectacles.
  2123.     >Pretty classy looking, though they might look even better once Rarity finishes that tie for him.
  2124.     >”Anyway, what is all this? Shadowbolts? Those things Dash told us Nightmare Moon sent after her?” Twilight asks as she approaches a poster.
  2125.     “I figured they were just like Dash’s edgy dream version of the Wonderbolts.”
  2126.     >Twilight reads the poster out loud to herself. “Best and coolest, mudponies ne-”
  2127.     >Her cheeks flush red as she stops reading. “I’m going to give Dash the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is her pride as a pegasus talking rather than her secret prejudice against earth ponies.”
  2128.     >Spike nudges you and smirks. “Twilight said a bad word.”
  2129.     “Oh did you now, Princess?”
  2130.     >Twilight glares. “I was reading it off the poster, that doesn’t count! As an Alicorn, I’m technically part earth pony, I live in a town with a high earth pony demographic, and a bunch of my best friends are earth ponies!”
  2131.     “Earth pony friends? That’s what they all say.”
  2132.     >Her expression sizzles with rage. “You’re doing this on purpose.”
  2133.     >”Yeah, and you’re totally falling for it.” Spike grins.
  2134.     “Hey, does this mean I can say nigger as much as I want in this world?”
  2135.     >”Just for that? No, you can’t. Because I know it’s something bad now. Now can we please get back to finding Rainbow Dash?”
  2136.     “Something tells me we’re going to find her at this Stadium."
  2137.     >You tighten your grip on the Polo Mallet, staring at the entrance to this Shadowbolt Academy.
  2138.     >Twilight looks at you and nods. "Let's go."
  2139.     >You kick in the door and step through to the interior of the academy.
  2140.     >The whole place gives off a strong military vibe. The walls are thick black stone that looks like it could withstand a bombing.
  2141.     >You see more and more recruitment and propaganda posters plastering the wall, each one extolling the strength and superiority of the Shadowbolts while offhandedly dismissing “lesser beings”.
  2142.     >Twilight peers through her glasses at one of the posters. “Hey, look at this one. Gold medals won by Shadowbolts… Artistic Flying: Rainbow Dash. Distance Gliding: Rainbow Dash. Aerial Relay: Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash, and Rainbow Dash. Apple-bucking: Rainbow Dash. Magic: Rainbow Dash. Awesomeness: Rainbow Dash.”
  2143.     >Spike looks incredulous. “Oh come on, that last one isn’t even a real event!”
  2144.     “Wow, all this symbolism is too deep for me. If only someone could tell us what it all means!”
  2145.     >Spike chuckles, “H-Hold on big guy. Now bear with me on this… what if Rainbow Dash… secretly thinks that she’s better than other ponies.”
  2146.     “Oh my gosh, you don’t really think? Nooooo waaaaay. Rainbow Dash has an ego? That’s crazy talk!”
  2147.     >Twilight stomps her hoof on the ground hard enough to leave cracks in the concrete. “Are you two knuckleheads going to keep cracking jokes, or are you going to help me find Dash?”
  2148.     *DING DING DONG*
  2149.     >A chime comes from a loudspeaker followed by a distorted voice.
  2150.     >[Ahem. Hello to all of my worthless and slack-jawed fans unworthy to behold my awesomeness. It looks like three lamewads have entered the academy and are trying to crash the tryouts. Don’t be fooled by the Alicorn. She’s a complete egghead, and she flies like a soaring sack of garbage! I mean come on. Can you even call that flying? I wouldn’t. Anyway, if they’re allowed to make it to tryouts, it’s gonna be super lame. Kill them before they get the chance to screw it up for us. Dash out.]
  2151.     >”...”
  2152.     “...”
  2153.     >”... she said I fly like what?”
  2154. “It’s just her shadow trying to rile you up, Twi.”
  2155. >Spike’s hand jumps to his forehead. “So much for stealth… guys, we’ve got shadows incoming fast!”
  2156. >You take your Polo Mallet in hand as Twilight swiftly removes the Naginata from its sheath on her side, gripping it in her mouth and standing at the ready with her wings spread.
  2157. >A gust of wind whistles through the hallway as a trio of unusual creatures speed towards you.
  2158. >Their faces are covered by gold masks with bodies consisting of nothing more than a muscular black torso attached to a floating gray stormcloud.
  2159. >They flex silently, showing off their muscles as if to impress an invisible crowd.
  2160. >You hear the crackle of energy as Spike summons his persona behind you. Python coils around him as he concentrates.
  2161. >[Here they come, let’s do it!]
  2162. >You charge forward with a battle cry and take a wild swing at one of the genie-like shadows!
  2163. >Though you put every ounce of strength behind it, the Genie simply ascends on his cloud to dodge your swing, his chest shaking in silent laughter as you fall onto the ground.
  2164. >[Don’t worry, Big Guy, just keep buying time until I can find their weakness!]
  2165. >Overhead, a violet figure streaks by as Twilight strikes the laughing Genie with her Naginata, sending it spinning out of control until it lands on the ground.
  2166. >”That’ll teach you to laugh at my friend!”
  2167. >The other two Genies flex angrily and each strike a pose! A gust of wind knocks Twilight out of the air from one of them while the other fires a bolt of lightning from his hands that hits you straight on!
  2168. >Pain erupts from every point of your body as the lightning courses through it, leaving you feeling weak.
  2169. >[Big guy, are you all right? Loki doesn’t do well against Lightning attacks!]
  2170. “Thanks… captain hindsight.”
  2171.  
  2172. >”Anon, do you need help?”
  2173. “I got this…”
  2174. >As you struggle to your feet, you draw a card from your pocket and tap the face. “Change! Dracula!”
  2175. >The card shatters, and a pallid man in a red and black cloak appears and lunges at the fallen Genie!
  2176. >Dracula sinks his fangs into the Genie, which squirms frantically in his grip as the life is drained from the shadow and returned to your body.
  2177. >The effect is instant, and the pain from before feels like nothing but a bad memory this time as the Genie melts away after being sucked dry.
  2178. “Ahh, tastes like cherries.”
  2179. >[Got it! The Genie is weak to ice. Take them down, Twilight!]
  2180. >A blue card appears in front of Twilight before she pierces it with her horn to shatter it! “Snedronningen!”
  2181. >A blonde haired woman in a white dress extends her arms as a large ice crystal forms around one of the Genies, freezing it and sending it crashing to the ground.
  2182. >Without missing a beat, the snow queen unleashes a consecutive blast at the other Genie, leaving them both trapped in ice and helpless on the concrete floor.
  2183. >Twilight looks at you smiling. “If my calculations are correct, this is our chance for an all out attack!”
  2184. “Let’s do it.”
  2185. >”This is the power of Friendship!”
  2186. >You and Twilight run forward and unleash a wild barrage of attacks, turning the battlefield into a chaotic frenzy of pain and chaos!
  2187. >The dust clears, and both genies explode simultaneously into blobs of shadow.
  2188. >Twilight sheaths her Naginata with a flourish as she skips forward, singing.
  2189. >“I’m T to the WI, LIGHT, and ain’t no other pony beat up shadows like me! I’m Twilightlicious.”
  2190. >You raise an invisible eyebrow at her.
  2191. “Really?”
  2192. >”What? You got to say something cool when you beat a shadow.”
  2193. >You just shrug and let her have this one, looking back at Spike who reflects your gesture.
  2194. “Let’s keep going then.”
  2195.  
  2196. Shadowbolt Academy Stadium, ???
  2197.  
  2198. >Rainbow Dash lays sleeping on the cold ground… a voices begin to come from all around her, starting out soft but growing louder and louder.
  2199. >”Rainbow Dash… Rainbow Dash… Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!!! Rainbow Dash!!! Rainbow Dash!!!”
  2200. >Dash’s eyes blink open as she looks up to see an open air stadium.
  2201. >It looks like the one she used to watch the Wonderbolts perform in at Cloudsdale…
  2202. >The stands are filled with ponies from Ponyville.
  2203. >Many of them are sleeping, but the rest are awake and cheering her name.
  2204. >”Rainbow Dash!!! Rainbow Dash!!! Rainbow Dash!!!”
  2205. >”Where am I… why is everyone cheering for me?”
  2206. >A bolt of lightning cracks through the air, and a figure streaks out from the clouds flanked by two others, leaving a rainbow trail behind as she performs a series of loops, rolls, and other acrobatic stunts before finally swooping to the ground with a large circular rainbow explosion which rocks the stadium, causing the crowd to go wild.
  2207. >Now that she’s on the ground, Dash looks a little more carefully at the pony in the lead.
  2208. >She’s wearing a purple and black costume with yellow lightning highlights, purple and yellow goggles, blue wings, and a rainbow mane and tail.
  2209. >”Thank you! Thank you! Thank you to all of my adoring fans for worshiping the ground I fly over, and thank you to my fellow Shadowbolts for not getting in my way!”
  2210. >Even the voice sounds familiar, but distorted and echoey.
  2211. >Rainbow Dash struggles to get to her feet, but her entire body feels weak and numb.
  2212. >”Who… who are you?”
  2213. >The costumed pony removes her goggles, staring back at Rainbow Dash with sinister golden eyes.
  2214. >”Who am I? Why I’m you… and you’re me, of course.”
  2215. >Dash looks confused. “Uh… pretty sure I’m the only me around here. Rainbow Dash.”
  2216. >The Shadow grins, “Oh I think you’ll find that you’re me all right. And I’ll prove it in front of everyone in ponyville right here. I’ll show them how awesome we actually are.”
  2217.     >An enormous projector screen flickers to life on the wall of the stadium and the crowd cheers wildly.
  2218.     >”Fillies and Gentlecolts, I present to you the very best of Rainbow Dash! A highlight reel I like to call, ‘My True Self!’ And remember, no talking during the movie. That’s right Mudponies, I’m talking to you.”
  2219.     >On the projector screen, a grainy film begins to play as the titlecard reading “My True Self, produced by Shadow Rainbow Dash” flashes by.
  2220.     >The film opens with a young Rainbow Dash laying on a cloud, exhausted and breathing heavily.
  2221.     >A claw comes from out of frame holding a glass of water, and the camera pans up to reveal a young Gilda being the one holding it.
  2222.     >”You were freaking awesome out there!” Glida squeals in excitement.
  2223.     >Young Dash smiles and takes the water, gulping it down. “I know. But it’s nice of you to say. How’s my new cutie mark? Just as awesome?”
  2224.     >Gilda takes a look and nods. “Just as awesome. I’ve seen you in class, but I guess I never introduced myself. I’m Gilda.”
  2225.     >Dash extends a hoof to shake. “Rainbow Dash. You can call me Dash. Can I just call you my guardian angel? I really needed something to drink after pulling off a Sonic Rainboom.”
  2226.     >Gilda shakes her hoof but just smirks, “If you call me an angel in public I’ll rip your wings off.”
  2227.     >The Dash on screen just chuckles, “So does that mean I get a free pass to call you that in private?”
  2228.     >The Griffon rolls her eyes, “If you really want, whatever. It’s still a stupid nickname for someone who’s got more detention than school left.”
  2229.     >Young Dash rub her hooves together shyly. “Actually it was kind of my nickname for you when I first saw you fly. That flawless aileron roll looked so natural it was like you were an angel in flight.”
  2230.     >Gilda scoffs and turns her head, but the beginnings of a smile are on her face. “You’re such a dweeb. But I guess you’re cool enough to be my friend.”
  2231. >The real Rainbow Dash looks at her Shadow. “Why are you showing everyone this mushy stuff? You didn’t even show them the Sonic Rainboom I did!”
  2232. >Her Shadow laughs deeply. “Ha ha ha! Oh no, this is just the build up for the wonderful… ‘climax’ of your relationship.”
  2233. >Rainbow Dash’s eyes go wide. “You… you wouldn’t dare.”
  2234. >The shadow just looks back to the screen. “Why don’t you watch and see? Here we are, my favorite part. The day you got your first rejection letter…”
  2235. >Dash’s eyes lock on to the camera, but before she can move, a pair of Shadowbolts appear on either side of her and pin down her wings.
  2236. >”STOP IT! DON’T SHOW THAT TO ANYONE!”
  2237.  
  2238.  
  2239. Meanwhile…
  2240. “MARIN MOTHERFUCKING KARIN! AHAHAHAHAAA”
  2241. >You cackle wildly as the massive tank fires a shell at another group of imps, utterly vaporizing them.
  2242. >Twilight hangs on to your leg atop the tank for safety. “I don’t approve of your language, but I do approve of this spell! This is incredibly effective!”
  2243. “I know, right!”
  2244. >This turret had been giving you some grief as your physical attacks were barely scratching it, but as soon as you tried out a status effect spell, the charmed tank has been putting in work for you by taking out every single shadow in your way.
  2245. >[Uh, guys? I hate to interrupt your fun, but I think you should hurry. I’m only getting audio here, but Dash’s shadow is awake, and it’s showing some REALLY personal home movies to everyone in the stadium.]
  2246. “Home movies? What are you talking about?”
  2247. >[Hold on, I’ll patch you through with Python.]
  2248.     >Gilda: [So you didn’t get fast tracked… it’s no big deal. It’s not the end of the world for someone as awesome as you.]
  2249.     >Dash: [I flew like a soaring sack of garbage out there, Angel. I completely choked on the Sonic Rainboom and had to be rescued! I’m never getting in as long as I live.]
  2250.     >Gilda: [It’s not the end, you just have to do things more conventionally. Here’s what you do. Graduate. Go to the most backwater town you can find that still has an Equestria Games team. Get some experience in Weather so you can get references. Blow everyone out of the water in the solo events. Get scouted. Become a Wonderbolt! Flawless plan.]
  2251.     >Twilight’s eyes go wide. “That’s… that’s why she came to Ponyville? She never told me…”
  2252.     >Dash: [I don’t think it’s gonna happen, Angel. I was lame out there. Lame is all I’ll ever be. I’m never gonna be a real somepony.]
  2253.     >Gilda: [Dash, I don’t EVER want to hear you say that again. And don’t let anyone else say it either. You’re not lame, you’re awesome. You are the definition of awesome. You’re the most awesome pony in Equestria! So what if you screwed up once? You’re going to be a legend someday, Dash! You’re going to be the most important pegasus who ever lived! You… you ARE the most important pegasus who ever lived. You’re the most important pony who ever lived…]
  2254.     >Dash: [Angel… you really mean that?]
  2255.     >Gilda: [I… I do. Let me show you.]
  2256.     >Dash: [Mmmfh!]
  2257.     >The sound of swanky jazz music starts to play through your heads.
  2258.     >Dash: [A-Angel… what was that?]
  2259.     >Gilda: [Did you like it?]
  2260.     >Dash: [It felt good. Can you do it again?]
  2261.     >Gilda: [I’ll do it as much as you want, Dash. I’m gonna help you forget all about that stupid test.]
  2262.     >The swanky jazz music intensifies as you hear a loud gasp from Rainbow Dash.
  2263.     >Dash: [Oh… oh! Angel this is so good…]
  2264.  
  2265.     >You hear an explosive clang of metal followed by the sound of wild sparking as Twilight drives her Naginata into the Tank.
  2266.     >”Spike. Stop listening. NOW.”
  2267.     >[Y-Yes, ma'am.]
  2268.     >The audio feed cuts off.
  2269.  
  2270.     >Twilight soars down the hallway, followed quickly by you and Spike.
  2271.     >You’ve taken out the last of the small shadows, but you’re still running for a good 5 or 10 minutes before you finally get close to the entrance to the Stadium.
  2272.     >The loudspeakers continue to broadcast the film, and it echoes down the hallway as you run.
  2273.     >Gilda: “Better than last time, right?”
  2274.     >Dash: “You bet it was, Angel. I’m so glad to have you here for me.”
  2275.     >Gilda: “I’ll always be here for you. I love you, Dash.”
  2276.     >Dash: “... you what?”
  2277.     >Gilda: “I… I love you.”
  2278.     >Dash: “Hold on, you love me? Like… that kind of love?”
  2279.     >Gilda: “I-Is something wrong?”
  2280.     >Dash: “Angel, I’m flattered and everything but… I think you have the wrong idea…”
  2281.     >Gilda: “The wrong idea? But we’ve been doing this like every other night since… I don’t know how long. What are you saying?”
  2282.     >Dash: “Angel, this was fun but… that’s just it, it’s just fun. I-I’m not gay, okay!”
  2283.     >Gilda: “Are… is this a joke, Dash? Because it’s not very funny.”
  2284.     >Dash: “Angel, I thought you were my one friend who didn’t buy into all those stupid rumors.”
  2285.     >Gilda: “You’re fucking serious?”
  2286.     >Dash: “Yes! I’m not gay, okay! I just… oh god, I can’t believe this…”
  2287.     >Gilda: “I can’t fucking believe it either… so this was all just fun to you? And you’re going to sit there and give me this crap?”
  2288.     >Dash: “I… I’m sorry Angel, but I just don’t feel that way about you. I was just experimenting and… I needed it, but I’m just not that way, okay? I like stallions!”
  2289.     >Gilda: “Please don’t fucking call me that, okay?”
  2290.     >Dash: "Please don’t let this ruin things. I need you as my friend. I never meant to lead you on, I was just stupid. Promise me you’ll keep being my friend… let’s just forget this happened, okay?”
  2291.     >There’s a long pause where you can only hear your rapid footsteps.
  2292.     >Gilda: “Of course. Never happened."
  2293.     >Dash: "Thanks."
  2294.     >”PERSONA!”
  2295.     >You hear Twilight’s shout from up ahead, and the loud sound of machinery breaking apart.
  2296.     >Catching up and entering the stadium, you see an impressive amount of ice covering the projector, screens, and audio system.
  2297.     >Twilight’s breaths are heavy from exhaustion, but pure anger seems to be fueling her.
  2298.     >From the crowd you hear a roar of booing as their movie is cut off.
  2299.     >You see Dash sobbing uncontrollably with her face in the ground as two Shadowbolts pin her there.
  2300.     >Dash’s shadow self feigns distress. “Oh no, technical difficulties! I’m so sorry, everypony. But at least you got to see all the juicy parts… and all my juicy parts.”
  2301.     >Twilight begins to raise her Naginata before Spike shouts, “Don’t attack it! She needs to accept it, or it’d be like attacking Dash!”
  2302.     >She reluctantly lowers her weapon. “Dash… Dash, it’s Twilight Sparkle. Spike’s here too. You don’t need to be afraid anymore. This thing can’t hurt you unless you let it. It’s part of you.”
  2303.     >Dash quietly mutters from the ground. “... did you see it?”
  2304.     >The princess grimaces before responding. “I… even if I did, there’s nothing wrong with that. You were just experimenting. And if you were gay, nopony that matters would ever have a problem with it.”
  2305.     >The Shadow laughs, “Oh you think that’s what we’re ashamed of? You don’t get us at all. That was just the exhibition. A little show before the main event. You see, that was all just build up so that you all fully understand my true self… the way I used her like a piece of meat… like my own personal sex toy! I didn’t care one damn bit about her!”
  2306.     >Dash sobs, “S-She said it was fine… we were just having fun… she wanted to stay friends… that was going to be enough.”
  2307.     >Shadow Dash throws her head back haughtily as she taunts Rainbow. ”Oh but it wasn’t enough. We knew she wasn’t okay but we acted like it was all just fine! We knew all to well how we tore her heart to shreds, and then we just acted like everything was as it should be.”
  2308.     >Dash cries weakly. ”That’s not how it went… she was okay… she said she was…”
  2309.     >Her Shadow shakes her head. “Why bother denying it… our friends do nothing but hold us back. They can not soar in the skies of freedom with us! Twilight’s wings are nothing but decoration! Fluttershy? She should have been born a mudpony!”
  2310.     >Dash glares, “Who the hell do you think you are to talk about Fluttershy like that?”
  2311.     >The shadow leans down, taunting her. “I told you, I am YOU. This is what you really think about them!”
  2312.     >You see Dash attempt to bite her shadow’s nose, but she comes up just short. “My friends don’t hold me back! I’m better than I ever was because of my friends!”
  2313.     >”What a joke! If that’s true… then how do you explain this?”
  2314.     >A letter appears in front of Dash’s shadow. She takes it in her hoof.
  2315.     >”Dear Rainbow Dash, I have seen you consistently perform at the highest level, and I would like to extend this offer to you completely off the record. If you attempt to join the Wonderbolts, I will personally guarantee your entry. But as I’m sure you know, Wonderbolt regulations are explicit in that a member must take residence in one of several locations, of which Ponyville is not one. I can not make an exception like that, even for you, despite Ponyville’s impressive performance at the Equestria Games. I know that your friends are important to you, but a true friend would understand if you put your career first. You will be able to write to them often and I have no doubt that you would instantly make many lifelong friends if you returned to Cloudsdale. I believe Soarin may even have his eye on you as his very special somepony if you’re interested. I see the best in you, Rainbow Dash. You deserve better than Reserve Member. You owe it to yourself and to the world. Sincerely, Sergeant Spitfire.”
  2316.     >Silence fills the air.
  2317.     >Twilight speaks up. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
  2318.     >Dash fails to respond, but her shadow answers. “We needed to be sure Gilda would come."
  2319.     >"She's all we need!"
  2320. >”We needed her to be ours again, and then we would be able to leave behind all you pathetic wingless mudponies! What’s the point of a friend like that? They only chain you down! Why should I be unable to fulfill my lifelong dream because of this ridiculous obligation to my friends? Element of Loyalty? They are the ones who should be loyal to us! That’s why we need Gilda like she was! Dependent on us... hanging on our every word... in love with us! I want her to be like she was! I want to make her my BITCH!”
  2321. >Dash’s screaming pierces the air, echoing in the stadium. “DON’T TALK ABOUT HER LIKE THAT!”
  2322. “Dash, stay calm!”
  2323. >”No! I’m not gonna take this crap!”
  2324. >”Dash you have to understand that she’s you!” Twilight pleads.
  2325. >”That’s a lie!”
  2326. >”I’d never say those things!”
  2327. >”You hear me?”
  2328. >”YOU’RE NOT ME!!!”
  2329. >A dark smile spreads over the Shadow's face as she throws back her head in triumph.
  2330. >"Ohhh YES! That's it! It feels so good~! Now I can finally be free! I can be my own self now! AHAHAHAHAHAAA!"
  2331. >The shadowbolts holding Dash's wings collapse into darkness and flow into Dash's Shadow as the real Dash's body loses consciousness.
  2332. >Her shadow grows in size, forming into a wicked looking masked man in a long black coat with broken chains wrapped around his arms, astride an enormous mechanical griffon painted rainbow colors.
  2333. >The mechanical griffon whirrs to life, jet boosters roaring as it lifts the Shadow skyward.
  2334. >The crowd starts cheering again as the Shadow declares, “I am a Shadow… the TRUE self! Now that I am freed, none shall stand before me! All inferior beings unworthy of my presence must be eliminated!”
  2335. “I have a feeling a croquet mallet isn’t going to cut it here.”
  2336. >Twilight gives you a stern look. “Keep your head in the game. Dash is our friend, and she needs our help. Spike, start scanning her for information.”
  2337. >[Already on it! She’s tough, so it might take some time.]
  2338. “We’ll handle it. Let’s go!”
  2339.     >Shadow Dash hovers high in the sky. “Hmm… today’s weather… ah yes, thunderstorms!”
  2340.     >Dark clouds gather overhead and crackle with energy before two massive bolts fly down to strike you and Twilight with a loud thunderclap!
  2341.     >It’s a direct hit to you and Glashtyn, but the pain is nothing compared to when Loki was struck earlier.
  2342.     >Black smoke fills the air at the points of impact, and as you wave it away you see a faint glimmer of light where Twilight stood.
  2343.     >The crowd cheers at the successful attack as you rush to her side.
  2344.     “Twi, are you all right?”
  2345.     >She just smirks and extends her wings proudly, appearing unharmed. “Alicorns are built tougher than that, Shadow!”
  2346.     >[Attagirl, Twi! You tell her!]
  2347.     >The clearly biased crowd boos upon seeing her tank the attack.
  2348.     >”Come on, Dash! That the best you can do?”
  2349.     >Twilight winks and glances at your pocket.
  2350.     “Ah, I get you.”
  2351.     >You take a step back and pull out your cards. “Change. Loki!”
  2352.     >The form of the armored black horse appears and raises its head, surrounding Twilight with an aura of green energy to increase her speed.
  2353.     >Black clouds converge above Twilight as Dash’s shadow raises its arms. “You dare mock us? You shall know your place!”
  2354.     >An absolutely massive thunderbolt lances out at Twilight, but in an instant she swoops into the air to avoid it.
  2355.     >“What’s the matter, Dash? I’m not too fast for you, am I?”
  2356.     >[What are you doing, Twilight? You’re acting like a total jerk!]
  2357.     “It’s called playing the heel, little man. She’s putting on a show. What’s the status on that report?”
  2358.     >[Oh! It’s almost done! Just keep her busy a little longer…]
  2359.     “Got it. Let’s try this! Cyrano!”
  2360.     >Your new persona appears as a winged man dressed in dandy clothes with a feathered hat, wearing a red demon-like mask with a long nose, and a rapier strapped to his side.
  2361.     >It mimes an act of mocking laughter as a blue energy drains away from Dash, leaving her defenses weakened.
  2362.     >The shadow holds on to the mecha griffon as its engines roar, barreling towards Twilight who calmly hovers near the ground, who calmly begins to recite some memorized lines.
  2363.     >”Bravery without forethought, causes a pony to fight blindly and desperately like a mad bull. Such an opponent, must not be encountered with brute force…”
  2364.     >In an instant, Twilight ascends as a purple streak of light, allowing the Shadow’s jet to collide with the ground, the metal scraping the floor of the stadium and screeching.
  2365.     >”... but may be lured into an ambush and slain!”
  2366.     >[Is that from that war book? No wonder you insisted on getting a copy express delivered. Hey, the results are in! Her weakness is ice!]
  2367.     >”Then let’s show her an ice time!”
  2368.     “I think you’re enjoying this a little too much, Twi.”
  2369.     >”Uh huh, and riding that tank?”
  2370.     “Touche. Glashtyn!”
  2371.     >”Snedronningen”
  2372.     >Crystals of ice rain down on the Shadow from the sky, barraging her with a torrent of freezing hail!
  2373.     >You and Twilight look into each other’s eyes, and your minds connect for an instant, simultaneously smashing your cards and combining your powers!
  2374.     >”PERSONA!
  2375.     “PERSONA!”
  2376.     >Your spells unite, forming a pillar of ice the size of a 747 and sending it crashing down on Dash’s shadow!
  2377.     >It explodes on impact, scattering flakes of ice and snow to the air in the aftermath as Dash’s Shadow let’s out an unearthly howl of pain, hemorrhaging a black and red mist and losing size until it returns to the form of a Pegasus in her tattered costume.
  2378.     >The ponies in the stands go wild as they change their cheer, “TWILIGHT! TWILIGHT! TWILIGHT!”
  2379.     “Hey, me and Spike helped too.”
  2380.     >[Welcome to the story of my life.]
  2381.     >You hear a groan as the real Rainbow Dash pulls herself to her feet and begins to walk to her defeated shadow.
  2382.     >The Shadow Rainbow Dash cries mournfully as she lays defeated on the ground. “They should be calling our name... why do our friends keep holding us back?”
  2383.     >Dash reaches her Shadow and raises her right hoof. From the anger in her cerise eyes, you would have guessed Dash was about to smack her Shadow. But instead, she extends it gently.
  2384.     >”... Get up. If you’re gonna be wearing my face like that… do it with some pride. Don’t just blame others for what we don’t have.”
  2385.     >Dash’s Shadow looks up with tearful eyes. “You… you don’t hate me anymore?”
  2386.     >Dash grips her shadow’s hoof and brings the Shadowbolt to her feet. “To be honest I kind of do. I hate that you showed everyone those things… but it’s because I’m just hating myself. I was just torturing myself over being the Element of Loyalty even though I hurt Gilda so bad. I hid away my true self. I ignored my dream because I was scared to death of losing these friends I didn’t deserve. I convinced myself that everything was fine how it was… that it was me being loyal. But I wasn’t being loyal to someone who really mattered. I wasn’t being loyal to you. To myself.”
  2387.     >Dash holds her hand over her heart. “You’re me. And I’m you.”
  2388.     >The golden eyes of Dash’s Shadow become tinged with tears as she smiles and begins to fade away. “Thank you…”
  2389.  
  2390.     The strength of heart required to face oneself has been made manifest…
  2391.     Rainbow Dash has faced her other self…
  2392.     She has obtained the facade used to overcome life’s hardships, the Persona Red Baron!
  2393.  
  2394.  
  2395.     >Spike and Twilight immediately run to Dash and give her a big group hug.
  2396.     >”H-Hey! Watch it! Could we not do this mushy stuff in front of everypony? I’ve been embarrassed enough today as it is.”
  2397.     “You heard the lady. Little man, take us home.”
  2398.     >”Roger that, big guy. Python, an Escapé Route if you please!”
  2399.     >”Escapé? You mean esca-”
  2400.     >And then you escapéd from the dream.
  2401.     >The four of you slowly open your eyes, finding yourselves in Dash’s house again.
  2402.     >Dash rubs her head. “Ugh… so that wasn’t a dream…?”
  2403.     >”Well… it’s kind of complicated. But I guess I owe you an explanation.” says Twilight.
  2404.     >Dash sits patiently and listens to Twilight’s explanation about SIHN, shadows, Anonymous, and Personas.
  2405.     >”... but luckily for you, it seems that SIHN victims who haven’t realized their Persona don’t remember details very clearly. So all those ponies in the audience might remember dreaming about you, but they probably won’t remember the contents of your shadow’s… home movie.”
  2406.     >Dash lets out an exaggerated sigh of relief and collapses onto her bed. “Oh my GOSH, Twilight, that’s something you should have told me like TEN MINUTES ago. I was thinking I’d have to leave ponyville forever! Nobody remembers it… except you guys, huh?”
  2407.     >Twilight hangs her head. “Sorry.”
  2408.     “If it helps, Spike thinks everyone treats him like a pet because he’s afraid to grow up and has a kind of creepy level of possessiveness when it comes to Rarity, wheras Twilight is worried her immortality will twist her into a cold unfeeling monster because you’re all going to die before her.”
  2409.     >Spike and Twilight give you a silent smoldering glare.
  2410.     “... or maybe I should have let you two explain it.”
  2411.     >Twilight clears her throat. “What he was trying to get at is that we’ve all done bad things, and we all have awful parts of ourselves we’re ashamed of. You don’t have to be perfect either. What happened between Gilda and you… it’s your business. And when you’re ready, please, talk to us about joining the Wonderbolts. I know it’s not a comfortable subject, but we’re your friends. We’ll understand.”
  2412.     >Rainbow Dash just sighs and shakes her head. “We… we don’t have to talk about it all like right now, do we?”
  2413.     >Twi brings a hoof to Dash’s wing and strokes it softly. “Whenever you’re ready, Rainbow. Right now I think you’ve earned some real rest. We’re going to go make sure everypony else is okay."
  2414. >Dash looks hesitant. “So… you don’t think I’m some kind of awful pony because of what I did?”
  2415. “If you were really that kind of pony, you wouldn’t be beating yourself up over what you did to her.”
  2416. >”The only one who can say who or what you like is yourself, Rainbow Dash. It’s okay to be confused or try to experiment, but in the end you have to be honest with yourself.”
  2417. >Hearing that seems like a bitter pill for Dash to swallow, but she nods and agrees. “Okay. Thank you.”
  2418. >”O-One more thing.” she adds.
  2419. >”I know we did a lot of weird stuff in that second video and… it uh probably looked kind of gross, but it’s not, okay? I mean, she started doing it and it felt kinda good, so I… I mean, I was just trying to be fair… it’s not that weird, right? Y-You would have done it too, right?”
  2420. >Spike and Twilight both stare at her wide-eyed.
  2421. “Uh… we didn’t actually “see” that part of the video.”
  2422. >”We just got an audio feed from Spike’s persona, and I made him cut it once things started getting inappropriate. I only saw a little bit before I destroyed the projectors.”
  2423. >Dash’s cheeks turn ruby red as she tries to hide her face in her hooves.
  2424. >”Why, what did you do?” Twilight inquires curiously.
  2425. >”Nothing. Shut up.”
  2426. >”Dash, knowledge is power! I have all sorts of books I could lend you on the subject, and I’m no stranger to experimenting! If I could answer your questions I’m sure you’d find that what you did was nothing out of the ordinary. What was it? Was it tri-”
  2427. >Twilight is interrupted by Dash bucking a pillow at her face hard enough to knock her flat on her back.
  2428. >”Anyone else want some?”
  2429. “Nope.”
  2430. >”No ma’am.”
  2431. >”That’s what I thought.”
  2432. >”That’s what I thought. Now then, back to business. I want in on your crazy Dream Team. And I’m not taking no for an answer. So when do I get my glasses, and what are you guys called anyway?”
  2433. >Twilight pulls the ruined pillow off her horn, spilling feathers on Dash’s floor.
  2434. >"A name? We don't have one yet..."
  2435.  
  2436. “We should come up with one later. Right now I’d like it if you could take me back to the Schoolhouse. I’d like to see Scootaloo and make sure she’s okay. The others are probably wondering where I went too.”
  2437. >Dash sits up quickly. “Scootaloo? I’m coming too then. I’ll rest later.”
  2438. >Twilight sighs. “Well there’s no stopping you now. Spike, would you like to help me with the other SIHN victims?”
  2439. >”Of course. I wouldn’t want you to hog all the fun.”
  2440. >”All right then. I’ll drop you two off first. You can make it back to the castle together, and Spike and I will take care of things with the ponies affected this time.”
  2441. >Again your body is sent through space with a pop. Twilight and Spike quickly teleport away to attend to their own business, leaving you and Dash outside the schoolhouse.
  2442. >You go to knock on the door, but before you can, Dash stops you.
  2443. >”Hey, listen. I’m sorry I acted like such a jerk to you yesterday. Again. I’d been under so much stress, and then you went and asked me a question like that… and I guess you know why I flipped out now.”
  2444. “I probably shouldn’t have asked in the first place. It’s personal, and it’s not my business.”
  2445. >”You asked because you were worried about Gilda, right?”
  2446. “I thought I might be able to help her more if I knew a bit about her past. I didn’t mean to pull up something painful like that for you.”
  2447. >Dash sits with her head hung low. “I want to help her too. But honestly, I couldn’t answer your question because I don’t know what we were. Or what we are now. But I’ll tell you more about what happened later if you want. I want you to be able to help Gilda and you should understand what happened if you’re going to do that.”
  2448. “Right now I think a certain filly would want to see you. You know she thinks you’re the coolest, right?”
  2449. >She looks caught off guard for a moment, but just smirks casually, brushing it off. “Psh, of course. Everypony who knows what cool “is” thinks that.”
  2450. >You just shake your head and open the door.
  2451. >”Mister Anonymous! Rainbow Dash!”
  2452. >Scootaloo calls out to you and waves from under her blanket, with Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Cheerilee at her side.
  2453. >Dash rushes past all of you and wraps Scootaloo in her wing, hugging her tightly.
  2454. >”Are you okay, Scootaloo?”
  2455. >Scootaloo nods and clings on to Dash. “Mmhm, I feel great. I had a dream about you! You were flying around and being super cool and everyone was cheering for you… and Mister Anonymous was there too and he helped you save everyone! I can’t remember the rest of the dream though...”
  2456. >”It… probably wasn’t important. What is important is that you’re okay now.”
  2457. >As you watch the two Pegasi embrace, you feel something tug at your pant leg.
  2458. >Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle are standing at your feet. “Mister Anonymous? Thanks fer helpin’ us out when we were scared… we’ll try an’ be stronger next time.”
  2459. >”So to show our appreciation, we would like to officially extend our thanks on behalf of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. But… could you sit down first? You’re a little tall right now.”
  2460. “Haha, sure.”
  2461. >You sit on the floor with your legs crossed so they can look you in the eye. If you had eyes.
  2462. >“And uh, close yer eyes fer a sec?”
  2463. >You close your eyes, though again you don’t have any.
  2464. >After a second, you feel the two fillies holding on to you with their hooves, followed by something soft on your cheeks as you hear a little smooching sound.
  2465. >”Thank you, Mr. Anonymous!” the two sound off in unison as you open your eyes.
  2466. >They run back with a girlish giggle while Rainbow watches smugly. “Nice reward.”
  2467. “You still owe me one.”
  2468. >”In your dreams, egghead.”
  2469. >While Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle go back to huddling around Dash with Scootaloo, their Teacher steps forward. “I’d also like to thank you, and also apologize for treating you so coldly at first.”
  2470. “Well a strange green monster came to your door with two crying little girls and one unconscious one. A teacher ought to care enough about her students to be worried.”
  2471.     >Cheerilee rolls her eyes. “Well if you put it like that, you make it sound like I trusted you too quickly. But I talked with the girls about you while you were gone. You know, to keep their mind off what was happening while we waited for her to recover. You sound like quite a gentleman, carrying Scootaloo all this way.”
  2472.     “Ah, I just did what any Honorary Cutie Mark Crusader would.”
  2473.     >“I’m sure you did. Well then…”
  2474.     >Cheerilee makes no effort to hide as she leans up and gives you a kiss on the cheek. It lasts longer, and feels a lot warmer than when the girls did it.
  2475.     >”For being such a gentleman and looking out for them.”
  2476.     >”Hey, look! Mister Anonymous changed colors! His cheeks are red!” Apple Bloom calls out.
  2477.     “H-Huh?”
  2478.     >You put your hands over your cheeks. Cheerilee laughs warmly and shakes her head, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you blush. But I’m so happy you were there to help. If you don’t mind, perhaps you’d like to have dinner some time so I can get to know this brave friend of the princess who saved three of my students? Just come by any day after school’s out. I’ll make time.”
  2479.     “Uh, thanks. I’ll check my schedule.”
  2480.     >You glance over at the three cutie mark crusaders who stare at the two of you with wide eyes and beaming expressions.
  2481.     >Cheerilee looks back and sighs, “Word of advice, don’t drink from unsealed containers around them.”
  2482.     “I don’t get it.”
  2483.     >”Just a little inside joke.” She smiles. “I’ll see you around then.”
  2484.     >!
  2485.  
  2486.     —————————————————————
  2487.  
  2488.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  2489.  
  2490.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  2491.  
  2492.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  2493.  
  2494.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Hierophant Arcana.
  2495.  
  2496.     —————————————————————
  2497.  
  2498.     >Dash pats Scootaloo on the head. “All right, we gotta dash for now. Twilight wanted us back at the castle. Take it easy, okay?"
  2499.     >Scootaloo nods happily and gives Dash one last hug for the road before you and her set out.
  2500.     >As you're walking away, you hear the three fillies call out.
  2501.     >"GOOD LUCK ON YOUR DATE!"
  2502.  
  2503. Twilight’s Castle, Afternoon
  2504.  
  2505. >When you arrive at the Castle, the guards inform you that Twilight wishes to speak with you at once.
  2506. >The two of you head on up to the meeting room.
  2507.  
  2508. Twilight’s Castle Meeting Room, Afternoon.
  2509. >Twilight and Spike are sitting at their seats looking anxious.
  2510. >Rainbow Dash sits in her own seat, while a stool has been brought up for you.
  2511. >After everyone settles in, Twilight breaks the silence. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Not everypony recovered this time.”
  2512. >!
  2513. >”What!?”
  2514. “But… we did everything right, didn’t we? It was all the same. Did we miss somepony? Is there a shadow we didn’t defeat?”
  2515. >Spike shakes his head. “I would have sensed it if there was another. Python said we were finished there and we could go home. When we got back to the medical tent, like 90% of the ponies there were fine, but the rest were completely unchanged. Something’s… different about them.”
  2516. “Different how?”
  2517. >The dragon tries to think hard about how to put it into words. “Just… different. But just to make sure, I scanned each of them for a shadow, and none of them had one like me or Dash. The one pulling them in isn’t in that tent. And that’s every victim in Ponyville.”
  2518. >Dash rests her head on her hoof. “If it’s this serious, why aren’t Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy here?”
  2519. >Twilight shakes her head. “Princess Luna and Princess Celestia are both ordering all of us to stay quiet about it until we figure out what’s causing it all. Even to our friends. Going public about things won’t help. Even if we tried to warn them about their shadows, they’d forget it as soon as they fell asleep. But we’re doing what we can. In fact, we may have discovered another link.”
  2520. “What’s that?”
  2521. >”Everypony affected said that they were under a lot of stress at the time for some reason or another. So even though our naming was a bit of a hasty cop-out, it might have ended up being true. Ponies under a lot of stress seem to be most susceptible to it.”
  2522. >Dash scoffs. “So we’re going to tell them to stop flying and think happy thoughts?”
  2523. “Wouldn’t that cause them to start flying?”
  2524. >Your reference is met with stony silence.
  2525. >”... Anyway, that brings me to my other news. We’re actually doubling down on the whole stress thing to the point where Princess Celestia is going to be making a personal visit to Ponyville to help put everyone at ease. She’s going to be taking a break from her royal duties to emphasize how important it is that other ponies take time to rest as well.”
  2526. “Do you think it’ll help?”
  2527. >Twilight’s glum expression says it all before she even opens her mouth. “She has to try to do something. Or at least look like she’s doing something. But honestly, us four are the only ones who can stop SIHN once it hits. And it might be up to us to find its cause as well.”
  2528. “We’ll find it for sure.”
  2529. >Dash raises her hoof triumphantly. “Now that I’m on the team there’s no way we’re losing to any punk shadows. I say we just beat ‘em all up until they get the message to stop trying to mess with us.”
  2530. >”I’ll keep bugging Python for more information until I can figure out why those other ones won’t wake up. Which would be... Bon Bon, Diamond Tiara, Mr. and Mrs. Cake…”
  2531. >Dash interrupts him, “Wait, the Cakes are both affected? Who’s watching their foals? Who’s watching their store?”
  2532. >”Well, the answer to both of those questions is Pinkie Pie! Despite everything that’s been going on, she hasn’t lost a joule of energy!” Twilight says proudly.
  2533. >Spike raises an eyebrow. “Wasn’t it an unmitigated disaster last time she tried to foalsit?”
  2534. >”She’s gotten better at it with practice. And when things get tough, Pinkie’s the kind of Pony who really steps up in a jam. Anyway, I think that’s all for now. You all know what you need to do. Well, except for you, Anonymous. You can just do what you want I guess.”
  2535. “About Princess Celestia, when exactly is she visiting?”
  2536. >”Uh, tomorrow. So our lessons tonight might have to do more with her. As well as… etiquette.”
  2537. >Dash looks a bit incredulous. “He’s taking etiquette lessons from you? Has he seen you eat?”
  2538. >”What’s wrong with the way I eat?”
  2539. >”Oh it’s fine. For a mountain lion.”
  2540. >Twilight glares daggers at Rainbow Dash while you look at Spike, who nods silently in support of Dash.
  2541. “Welp, you three seem busy. I’m gonna stop by Sugarcube Corner to see Plinko.”
  2542. >You not so subtly slip out of the room just as Dash starts attempting to mimic how Twilight eats Hayburgers. “You eat them all like ORHGMRHMGHRMGHM”
  2543.  
  2544. Sugarcube Corner, Afternoon
  2545.  
  2546. >As you step into the colorful pink candy shop, the decorations alone make you feel like you’ll get Diabetes if you stay here too long.
  2547. >The Pink Pony from the meeting is behind the counter, waving happily to you in your pony form.
  2548. >”Hi Anon! Come on in!” she screeches.
  2549. “Oh, so Twilight told you about this form already?”
  2550. >”No, silly, but the trains have been out since Nightmare Night which means there aren’t any new ponies in town because I know everypony in town and the only pony I don’t know is you which means you must be new but you can’t be new and I was right because you aren’t so I saw your necklace and thought that it’s either a magical amulet that changes the taste of apples to oranges or a magical amulet that changes a human to look like a pony and since Applejack wouldn’t allow anypony who thinks oranges are better than apples anywhere near ponyville it must be the other one because really, come on. What else could it be?”
  2551. >Can’t argue with that logic.
  2552. “I can’t argue with that logic.”
  2553. >You really can’t.
  2554. >”I know! It’s just so obvious!”
  2555. “Anyway, it looks like SIHN doesn't have you worried much.
  2556. >”What, Me Worry? That word isn’t even in Pinkie Pie’s dictionary!”
  2557. >She spreads a book onto the table and points to the empty space between "Worm" and "Worcestershire Sauce".
  2558. "Yeah, okay."
  2559. “Wait, that’s not even in alphabetical order. And if it were, Worry would be further down.”
  2560. >”That’s because I opened a cookbook, silly.”
  2561. “Anyway, I kind of wanted to make sure you were holding up okay and everything… where are their children?”
  2562. >”Not to worry, I’ve got my eye on them. Here, have a look!”
  2563. >Panka spins around a large novelty candy cane on the counter to reveal a spyglass lens of sorts. Looking through it, you see a little baby pegasus and unicorn staring back at you.
  2564. “Is this one-way? I feel like they’re watching me.”
  2565. >”Oh don’t worry, they’re just foals! They’re not going to hurt you. Even if they were to have some sort of horrible nightmare where the darkness in their hearts came to life and tried to kill you unless they accepted it as part of themselves you wouldn’t be in any danger because they don’t have enough of a sense of self to be able to reject it and have it go haywire since they lack object permanence or the ability to say something like “you’re not me” since they’re just foals after all though I did hear them say my name once so maybe they can talk but I don’t know if they’re able to make the complex decision to reject a part of themselves although I did once hear pound say “burn” followed by pumpkin saying “everything” and I’ll be honest I got kind of scared but I think pound might have been trying to say “bun” but “bun everything” doesn’t make much sense unless they’re plotting to grow up to become pastry based supervillains whose goal is to encase the entire planet in a giant bun but what are the odds of that happening?”
  2566. “Wait, so Twilight DID tell you about that stuff?”
  2567. >”About what stuff?”
  2568. “Are you serious?”
  2569. >”Are you?”
  2570. “Yes?”
  2571. >”Then nice to meet you Serious Anon! Or is Serious your last name? Or your middle name? Or” she gasps “Your maiden name?!”
  2572. “You’re trolling me right now aren’t you.”
  2573. >"Do I look like the kind of pony who would do that to you?"
  2574. "I... I don't know. My brain hurts. Is this how people feel when they talk to me?"
  2575.     >”Hold that thought. Pumpkin looks cranky.”
  2576.     >Pooka pulls a lever on the register, sending her chair up through the ceiling to the second floor.
  2577.     >You hear a loud thud followed by laughter. Water being sprayed. What sounds like 20 blowdryers going at once. Then silence before Pinker’s chair comes back down from the second floor with her sitting on it proudly.
  2578.     >“Ta-da!”
  2579.     “What’s that white stuff behind your ear?”
  2580.     >Plinkie reaches back and rubs off some white powder. “It’s flour, silly.”
  2581.     >You stare at the pink horse, and she just stares straight back at you.
  2582.     >...
  2583.     >”Aha! You blinked first.”
  2584.     “How can you tell? Are you on drugs? Am I on drugs? Is this place safe for children?”
  2585.     >”The only drug Pinkie Pie is on is called PINKIE PIE. Side effects include laughter, dizziness, joyfulness, playfulness, loss of appetite, giddiness, increase in appetite, hugging, trouble sleeping, good times, oversleeping, “cake hoof”, inability to pronounce pronounce the word squirrel, swag, dancing all night, dancing all day, inability to dance, inability to tell that you can’t dance, spontaneous musical numbers, confetti lung, weight gain, smiling all the time even when you feel bad, weakened fourth wall, sıɥʇ ǝʞıן buıʞןɐʇ, talking like this,
  2586.     talking like this
  2587.     >”and the inability to stop having FUN!”
  2588.     “... where I come from we call it cocaine.”
  2589.     >Planko giggles and snorts, “Hee hee, you’re funny.”
  2590.     “I don’t know how much more I can handle being the Straight Man around you.”
  2591.     >Her eyes go wide and she whispers, “Are you saying you like dudes?”
  2592.     “Uh, no. I’m not saying that. I just want to ask if you’re sure that you’re okay out here.”
  2593.     >”You want to ask if I’m okay? Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?”
  2594.     “Well… taking care of two babies and running a store can’t really be easy. But I guess I don’t really know you. You seem to be prepared. I can see why Twilight wasn’t too worried.”
  2595.     >”Mmmhm! She usually gets these things right. Not everything. But most things."
  2596. “I can think of one or two things she’s gotten wrong.”
  2597. >”Like what? Like you secretly hiding a girlfriend in the woods that she says is evil but you don’t think she’s evil just misunderstood but you can’t really prove who’s telling the truth but you can’t tell Twilight because she’ll send your girlfriend away and then you’ll never know the truth because she’s going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it but if only Twilight was willing to look past her racism and help then she might be able to live but if that happens it might turn out that your girlfriend was lying to you and then she’ll kill everyone and your only source of information is a bunch of outdated fairy tales but your heart is still telling you to listen to her because you feel like you and her are kindred spirits but at the same time you’re worried that if you do it she’ll bite your willie off or do weird butt stuff to you which you’re still not totally 100% on if you like yet or not?”
  2598. “... No?”
  2599. >”Aww. See? Can’t get ‘em all right.”
  2600. “I... think I might just buy some cupcakes and get out of your hair for now.”
  2601. >“Oookie dokie Loki!”
  2602. >You point out the cupcakes you want and fork over a few bits for them before heading home to Twilight’s Castle.
  2603. >On the way back, you decide to try one since you skipped breakfast due to the SIHN outbreak.
  2604. >It’s… surprisingly complex in flavor.
  2605. >It’s a sort of dark chocolate cream with a hint of cinnamon topping a moist carrot cake.
  2606. >You expected a simple sugar rush given the atmosphere back there, but the the frosting is rather mild.
  2607. >The texture of the frosting is smooth and creamy without any of that sugary grit that you get sometimes in store bought cupcakes.
  2608. >Inside the cake itself, there are small bits of shredded dried carrot, as well as some kind of nut or seed that gives it just a little crunch and adds some richness.
  2609. >Best of all they seem to have nailed the nebulous ratio of cupcake to frosting, where at no point are you eating one without the other.
  2610.     >No wonder Pankers seems like she’s on drugs. You could seriously get addicted to this shit.
  2611.  
  2612.     Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  2613.  
  2614.     >Twilight is waiting in the usual place for you.
  2615.     >”Welcome back, Anon. How was your trip to visit Pinkie Pie?”
  2616.     “It was… trippy.”
  2617.     >”She can be a bit hard to understand at first, but you’ll get used to her ways soon enough.”
  2618.     “She seems like she’s got things under control in her own strange way. Shop’s still running and the kids are still breathing, so it’s better than I’d probably do.”
  2619.     >”I’m sure the Cakes are proud of her. She’s come a long way since I first came to Ponyville. I definitely think she’s much more responsible now.”
  2620.     “Right. So let’s talk more about this Princess Celestia. You told me some basic stuff about how she came to rule Equestria and all that, but what’s she actually like?”
  2621.     >”Well, she’s kind, gentle, understanding, and very wise, but I’ve also seen her be a bit playful, so she definitely has a fun side to her as well. She said she was very interested in meeting you.”
  2622.     “Does everypony else think as highly of her as you?”
  2623.     >”What do you mean?”
  2624.     “I mean you make her sound pretty perfect. Surely some people are unhappy with the way things are. Nobody is in complete support of everything their government does, right?”
  2625.     >”Is this about the language laws?”
  2626.     “It’s about a lot of things, Twilight. I know your Shadow didn’t seem to approve of her as highly as you seem to. I’m sorry I’m giving you a hard time about it, but I’d like to know more about what things are really like.”
  2627.     >Twilight hangs her head in defeat. “It’s not like I think she’s perfect… I’m not trying to hide all the bad stuff or anything, but Princess Celestia is somepony very important to my heart, and I want to make sure you two get along well.”
  2628.     “I’m all ears. Even if I don’t have any.”
  2629.     >”Well… she does tend to keep a lot of secrets from everypony. And it doesn’t always work out well."
  2630. >”I know she does it to me because she wants me to learn to solve my problems for myself, and I’m grateful that she gave me that freedom, but for her previous student it caused a major disaster. And there was that time she kept taking trips to other worlds behind everypony’s back because she fell in love… and of course, she banished her sister to the moon for 1,000 years.”
  2631. “Definitely doesn’t sound perfect.”
  2632. >”Banishing her sister… to be honest, that’s the one thing I’ve wanted to ask her about for the longest time, but I’ve never really been able to. I just don’t understand how you could do that for all those years without trying to free her even once. I know it was necessary to use the Elements of Harmony to purify her… but wasn’t there some other way? Did she even try? Would I… would I have done the same thing if I was in her position?”
  2633. >Tears suddenly begin to drip from Twilight’s eyes.
  2634. >”W-Will I end up doing that to my friends too?”
  2635. >As she starts to cry, you sit next to her and gently stroke her mane to comfort her.
  2636. “The Twilight Sparkle I know would never hurt her friends.”
  2637. >”I-I know, but… I would never think Celestia could do that to someone she loved either… I just don’t understand…”
  2638. “If you don’t understand, maybe you should ask her.”
  2639. >Twilight shakes with tears. ”I can’t… I’m too scared.”
  2640. >You're not entirely sure what to say to her.
  2641.  
  2642. “If you want to move on from this, you need to ask her. But you don’t need to do it alone. We’ll do it together, okay Twilight?”
  2643. >”I… I’m still not sure. With everything that’s happened, I’m starting to wonder if I don’t really know who her “true self” is. And… what if I don’t like the answer?”
  2644. “I think you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective then. It just goes to show that everyone has good and bad parts to themselves. But even though those bad parts exist, it’s the good parts that really matter. Even though we’ve seen each other’s worst, it hasn’t stopped any of you from being friends. In fact I think it might be the key to bringing you closer than ever.”
  2645. >”You really think so?”
  2646. “Yeah, I do. And… maybe I don’t agree with all of Celestia’s decisions, but she raised a fine little man, and an amazing princess. So she’s got that going for her in my book.”
  2647. >Twilight leans into you. “Thanks… I’m glad I can count on you for this. I’m sure she’ll really like you. You know… if there’s ever anything I can do for you, just let me know. You’ve helped me out so much already after all.”
  2648. “I’ll keep that in mind, but you don’t need to worry.”
  2649. >”All right, do you want to move on to our lesson for tonight?”
  2650. “I have to learn etiquette right? What’s the proper way to address her? Can I just call her Princess Sunbottom?”
  2651. >”Seriously, Anon?”
  2652. “I’m kidding. I’m not going to do anything that could get you in trouble with her.”
  2653. >”Good, because I’d hate to see you get banished to the Sun.”
  2654. “Wait, is that an actual thing she does?”
  2655. >”Talking time is over. Your lessons start now.” Twilight smiles playfully at you and begins her long lecture about the things you should and shouldn’t do when in the presence of royalty.
  2656. >It’s boring, but you suppress your desire to be an snarky sarcastic twat for her sake.
  2657. >You feel as though you’ve grown quite close to Twilight.
  2658. >And she in turn has grown closer to you.
  2659. >Once the lesson is over, you get to bed early to prepare for tomorrow.
  2660.  
  2661.     >The next morning, you’re awoken by a sweet sing-song voice.
  2662.     >”Anonymooous~ rise and shine~!”
  2663.     >You rub your eyes and sit up in your “Princess Size” bed, which unfortunately is just barely enough to fit you.
  2664.     >Waiting for you with a smile on her face and a gem studded saddlebag is Rarity, who seems to have let herself in.
  2665.     >”Sorry to wake you, but Princess Celestia is arriving soon and Twilight asked me if I could help you to look presentable.”
  2666.     “Well, I’d let you do my hair, eyelashes, nails, and all that, but I don’t have them. You could help me pick out an outfit, but I only have one. So after I take a shower I’m good.”
  2667.     >There’s a glint in Rarity’s eyes as she smiles to herself. “Ah, but there’s another form you’ve got that does need some proper care, isn’t there?”
  2668.     “Yeah, but Twilight said I could talk with Celestia in my regular form anyway, so there’s no need to bother with that, right?”
  2669.     >Rarity shakes her head with a bout of entertained laughter, “Ahahahaaa, ohh noonono Anonymous, you will be witnessing her arrival in public, which means you shall be using your pony form. Which means that your presentability in that form is of the utmost importance! First impressions will color every subsequent encounter, so you’ve absolutely positively got to look your best! And I believe you just gave me permission for mane, eyelashes, hooves and wardrobe.”
  2670.     “I’m just going to be looking at her from the crowd, and you’re all usually naked anyway. Twilight said I don’t need to wear anything for royalty..”
  2671.     >”Don’t NEED to? Do we need to paint our walls a color other than gray? Do we need to sleep under a roof? Do we need to eat anything but hay alone?”
  2672.     “What if I don’t feel like doing all that stuff?”
  2673.     >The white horse simply laughs again. “Ohohoho, Darling… this is not a negotiation. Twilight told me to ensure that you are presentable for the Princess, and I intend to follow through. So we can either do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
  2674.     "... easy way."
  2675.     >"A wise choice."
  2676.  
  2677.     >You’re still a little annoyed that she thinks she can threaten you like that, but there honestly is something scary about her.
  2678.     >And in her defense you were kind of being a baby about getting yourself groomed, even if you do think it’s stupid and unnecessary.
  2679.     >She certainly finds a lot of things to complain about when it comes to your hygiene.
  2680.     >You’re not sure what fetlocks are, but she certainly seems to be fussing over them like an older sibling and her kid brother.
  2681.     >In fact, that gives you the idea to ask about her own little sister while she’s trying to care for your hooves.
  2682.     “So how’s Sweetie Belle?”
  2683.     >”Ah, yes. She told me yesterday about your heroic display of valor. Carrying Scootaloo to safety in your arms like a dashing Knight, and even winning the heart of a beautiful maiden, if her story is to be believed.”
  2684.     “Her teacher wants to thank me over dinner some time. I don’t know if it’s an actual ‘date’. I mean she asked me in my normal form. I’m not even really sure what to make of that. Is it a date?”
  2685.     >“Well, any mare with a heart would be impressed by such courage under fire and determination to ensure the safety of those fillies. The way you care for your frog, less impressive. You’re going to get thrush if you don’t wash after walking who knows where.”
  2686.     “I don’t know what those things are.”
  2687.     >”Yes, it would certainly appear that way… I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on you. This isn’t your natural form, after all.”
  2688.     “I don’t think big green and featureless is either, but I at least know more about what a human’s body is like than a pony’s body.”
  2689.     >”Then I must apologize for being so insensitive. I hadn’t considered you might not enjoy looking like us over your normal appearance. It’s a difficult thing to comprehend.”
  2690.     “Eh, I probably wouldn’t be taking very good care of myself either way.”
  2691.     >”And… there. That’s ought to do it. I’ve made all the improvements I need to.”
  2692.     >She clipped and brushed you a bit, and cleaned off your hooves, but that’s about it.
  2693. “What happened to being unable to live on hay alone?”
  2694. >“I think somepony my sister calls a “hero” ought to be able to shine brightly enough on his natural beauty alone. And anypony who disagrees will have to answer to me.”
  2695. “Thanks. Let’s get going then.”
  2696. >”Are you insane? I look like a train wreck right now! I’ve got much much more work to do before I could even think of someone showing a picture of myself to Celestia.”
  2697. “You look pretty to me.”
  2698. >She flashes you a smile. “Practicing for your big date already, I see.”
  2699. ”So it is a date?”
  2700. >Rarity puts her hoof on her chin. “Hmm, I couldn’t be sure. Cheerilee is certainly on the market… but I suppose the truth is that you should act the same either way. So long as you are a gentleman, the night should end well regardless of her feelings towards you.”
  2701. “Sounds like some good advice. I’ll keep it in mind.”
  2702. >”I’ve got to go prepare myself then. But first, I’ve got this for you.”
  2703. >Rarity levitates out neatly folded clothes in a clear plastic bag.
  2704. >”A full outfit of top quality formal wear. I spared no expense!”
  2705. “You made these for me already? They look… great!”
  2706. >They actually look the exact same as the clothes you’re currently wearing, but you’re pretty sure she could tell you at least 200 different ways they’re different.
  2707. >Besides, these are nicer because your friend worked hard making them for you.
  2708. >”No need to try them on now, just slip them on after your shower. Oh, I hope it fits properly…”
  2709. “It looks perfect. Thank you, Rarity. Oh yeah, is Spike’s ready too?”
  2710. >”Indeed it is. It wouldn’t do to have him be looking unprofessional in front of the princess, now would it?”
  2711. >She brings out a very soft-looking red silk tie with the symbol “男” in a circle in gold.
  2712. “You’re amazing, Rarity. It’s only been three days...”
  2713. >”When inspiration strikes, I sometimes surprise myself with how productive I can be! And you are a very inspiring man. I’d be happy to see you again any time you wish to visit.”
  2714. "I'll come by again. Thanks."
  2715.  
  2716.     >You’re squeezing into the crowd near large wooden stage with a red carpet leading up to it.
  2717.     >Personal space is pretty much nonexistent as everyone tries to push and squeeze past to be as close to the stage as they can.
  2718.     >In the very front is a section for photographers and journalists wearing badges around their neck.
  2719.     >You hear the clicking of shutters about every 30 seconds accompanied by a bright flash as they take pictures of Mayor Mare conversing with Spike and the Elements of Harmony, sans-panko.
  2720.     >One might nearly miss Fluttershy’s presence as well, given how hard she seems to be attempting to conceal it by hiding behind Applejack. Must be camerashy.
  2721.     >”She’s here!”
  2722.     >A pony in the crowd calls out, pointing to a large figure in the sky.
  2723.     >As it nears, you can make out the quartet of white pegasi in gold armor drawing a chariot through the sky with the Princess aboard it.
  2724.     >The thundering noise of camera shutters and cheering fills the air as the Princess’s chariot touches down at the edge of the carpet.
  2725.     >The Princess gives a bow of courtesy to her drivers, who return with a deeper bow.
  2726.     >As she strides down the carpet with a warm smile, you find yourself mesmerized by her sheer presence.
  2727.     >It’s almost instinctual that you bow with the rest of the ponies as she passes you by. You barely remember making the decision to do it.
  2728.     >Her entire body seems free from imperfection, from her coat of the purest white to her mane and tail which play the strangest trick as sunlight pours through them, looking like a shifting aurora flowing through the air.
  2729.     >”Fillies and Gentlecolts!” the Mayor announces. “Please give a warm welcome to Princess Celestia!”
  2730.     >As she reaches the stage and gives a royal greeting to the Mayor and the Mane… 5+1, there’s a great deal of celebration and cheering, but you swear you hear some booing in a lower register underneath it all.
  2731.     >The radiant princess takes the podium and addresses the crowd after the thunderous roar of camera shutters begins to slow.
  2732.     >”Thank you. Thank you all for this lovely reception. I can’t express how much joy it brings me to be here in Ponyville. I still remember the day I came across that seed collector and his family… from the moment I met them, I knew that their family had the strength, perseverance, and unity they needed to be able to tame the unclaimed lands near the Everfree Forest, and become the founders of a town whose strong spirit of togetherness would help it grow into something great. I believe that spirit of togetherness is still very much alive today in each and every one of Ponyville’s wonderful residents. I don’t believe there is anypony in Equestria who could come to this beautiful town and feel unwelcome from its inhabitants. I could think of nowhere in Equestria I would rather be on my vacation than right here in Ponyville!”
  2733.     >Her praise answered with great cheering and another storm of flashbulbs and lens sounds.
  2734.     >Some jerkoff screams “YEAAAAAAAAH” right into your ear, and while you briefly consider knocking his teeth in, you promised Twilight you’d behave.
  2735.     >Also he’s fucking huge and could probably tear you apart.
  2736.     >”Now then, I would like to take a short time to open the floor to questions from the press and the townsponies.”
  2737.     >There’s a deafening roar from the rabble of press in the front row clamoring to be noticed by her, shouting her name over each other to catch her attention before she chooses one.
  2738.     >”Princess Celestia, is this the right time to be taking a “vacation”? Don’t you have a responsibility to the people first during times of crisis?”
  2739.     >”This is absolutely the right time to be taking a vacation. The positive correlation between rest and health is well known. When our health is of concern, it is vital that we reduce our levels of stress wherever we can. My sister is more than capable of handling my work load in addition to her own for a single day.”
  2740.     >”Princess Celestia, the approval ratings of Princess Luna remain a mere 30% according to the latest polls. Recently Glenn Buck described her as quote “A laughably out of touch aristocratic social inadaptate whose desire for absolute tyranny is only curbed by her incompetence and childishness.” So far she has declined his offer for an interview. Your response?”
  2741.     >”My sister has made great strides in every area of readjusting to the current social and political climate since the end of her banishment. She is practically an entirely different pony compared to how she was only a year ago. I believe public opinion has simply yet to catch up to the the Princess she is now. We must all learn to accept the past without dwelling on it, and focus on how we can all build a better Equestria today.”
  2742.     >”What more could you be doing to resolve the outbreak of SIHN?”
  2743.     >”I will need everypony’s help and cooperation to resolve this situation, and at this time I am greatly impressed with how much effort everypony has put into matter. I believe everypony is working to their fullest potential, as it is all our heartfelt desire to see this matter resolved as quickly as possible.”
  2744.     >This goes on for a while.
  2745.     >She keeps getting asked bullshit leading questions and unrelated political crap instead of anyone asking a question that might be relevant to the people actually being affected by SIHN.
  2746.     >Celestia manages to field all of them while maintaining her poise, never changing out of her comfortable amicable tone.
  2747.     >”Now I’m afraid I’ll have to end questions here… it looks like the sun is already going down! These winter days really are quite short, aren’t they? I will be taking the rest of my vacation at Sweet Apple Acres. I would like to ask the press to please respect the privacy of the Apple Family and their private property.”
  2748.     >Twilight and her friends finally get to stand back up as they accompany her to Sweet Apple Acres.
  2749.  
  2750. Sweet Apple Acres, Afternoon
  2751.  
  2752. >Granny Smith, Apple Bloom, and Big Mac are all waiting at the property line. They allow the Princesses and their friends on through, but stand in the way of the paparazzi and rubberneckers.
  2753. >”Anypony fixin’ to trespass on our property had better think twice, or they’re gonna be enterin’ a world o’ pain! Ain’t that right Big Mac?” Squeaks out AJ’s little sister.
  2754. >The large red stallion casually kicks a tree with his hind leg, uprooting it and sending the trunk toppling to the ground with a loud crash.
  2755. >”Eeyup.”
  2756. >The looky-loos and photographers clear out soon enough, though not before snapping a few last photos from a safe distance.
  2757. >Once everyone is cleared out, you walk on towards the farmhouse, removing your necklace to revert to human form. You straighten up your tie and go to join the others, who are sitting on the porch drinking apple juice.
  2758. >Celestia and Twilight put down their glasses and stand once they notice your arrival. Everypony else watches closely.
  2759. >”Princess Celestia, I would like to introduce you to Anonymous, our new friend. Anonymous, this is Princess Celestia.
  2760. >You genuflect to her and tip your hat.
  2761. “M’lady.”
  2762. >Celestia smiles. “It is always a pleasure to meet a friend of Twilight.”
  2763. >The Princess looks over her shoulder. “Pardon me for delaying us again, but I would like to speak with Anonymous in private for a moment to discuss some certain matters.”
  2764. >”What matters?” asks Apple Bloom innocently.
  2765. >”Why, I finally have someone to confide in about the difficulties of being so much taller than everypony else. It’s not every day I get to find one who shares my pain.” Celestia smiles as she delivers her line without a hint of sarcasm.
  2766. >”Eeyup.” chimes in Big Mac knowingly.
  2767. “Uh, cool. About that… I’d feel more comfortable if Twilight could talk with us too about… tall things. Would that be okay?”
  2768.     >”Why, of course it would. Granny Smith, might I make a request of eminent domain on your parlor room?”
  2769.     >”First time I seen ya I was only this big!” Granny Smith puts her hand on Apple Bloom’s head to demonstrate.
  2770.     >”Delightful. Come along then, Anonymous, Twilight.”
  2771.     >The others give you some reassuring smiles as you enter the house, though Spike is trying to mime something with his arm that could either mean “Show her your biceps” or “get her with an uppercut when her guard is down.”
  2772.     >Once the door is closed, Celestia has a seat across from you and Twilight. “Don’t fear being overheard. I’ve cast a silence spell for your privacy.”
  2773.     “Thanks. Uh, you can go first… your highness.”
  2774.     >”I simply wanted to get to know you better. You don’t need to address me so formally. Just call me whatever feels natural.”
  2775.     “You got it, Princess Sunbottom.”
  2776.     >”Anon!”
  2777.     “Oh fuck, I forgot. Wait, shit! Damn it! Oh god I’m sorry I fucked this up so fast… shit.”
  2778.     >Twilight has covered her face with her hooves, and you quickly follow suit with your hands.
  2779.     >After a couple seconds of silence, you begin to hear a light chuckle.
  2780.     >”Usually when ponies swear at me, it’s quite direct and deliberate. I’ve never quite seen profanity spill out like a hooffull of jumping beans in my presence.
  2781.     >Twilight opens her eyes. “You’re not going to send me to magic kindergarten and banish him to the sun?”
  2782.     >”And why would I do that? He did such a marvelous job of guessing my sister’s private nickname for me.” Celestia puts her hoof to her chin and smiles.
  2783.     >”P-Princess Luna calls you… that? Why?”
  2784.     >"It's her way of telling me to watch my weight. And to stop eating her food."
  2785.     >Twilight's jaw drops.
  2786.     >"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Princess? Should I have Spike take a look at you?"
  2787.     >”I assure you I’m quite alright, Twilight. But from what I’ve heard of your friend, he must surely be lost and confused, and finding it difficult to adjust to our world. To accept the existence of a ruler such as myself might be quite difficult. I wish to hide nothing from you, Anonymous. I want you to trust me. I aim to be entirely honest and forthcoming about my true self when speaking to you. Even if it is a bit embarrassing, or unbecoming of royalty. And if this unusual amount of profanity is part of who your own true self is… I believe it might be harmful to stifle it too much.”
  2788.     “Hear that Twilight? I can swear as much as I want now.”
  2789.     >”Of course…” Celestia continues, “if Twilight wants to set rules or boundaries for you, she’s more than within her right to do so as long as you’re freeloading in her castle.”
  2790.     >”Hah!” Twilight exclaims triumphantly as you pout.
  2791.     >”Now then, I’m sure you have many questions about me. What would you like to know?”
  2792.     >You look to Twilight, but she seems as unsure as you. The mood got pretty lively, and it’s a bit of a heavy question.
  2793.     >”Whatever it is, I won’t be upset if you ask. This is a time to be honest about our true selves. I think you’ve both seen firsthand how much it can hurt to hide away how you really feel.”
  2794.     “Well… I’ve heard by now about you banishing Nightmare Moon to the moon for 1,000 years. And I, well, both of us actually, wanted to know why… well, why everything?”
  2795.     >Celestia looks forlornly at her student. “You’ve wanted to ask this for quite some time then, haven’t you?”
  2796.     >Twilight nods silently, trying not to meet her master’s gaze. “I just… you just seem to love your sister so much. How could you live apart from someone you love for so long? How could you handle banishing her for 1,000 years?”
  2797.     >The white alicorn closes her eyes. “I’ve been asking myself those questions and more every night for the past 1,001 years."
  2798.     >”When my sister became Nightmare Moon, she truly meant to kill me. She… left me with no choice but to use the Elements of Harmony to stop her. Princess Luna herself told me after her return that I made the right decision. That she could not have been saved at that time. But even her words aren’t enough for me to fully believe that there was no other way.”
  2799.     >Celestia looks out the window longingly. “What if I had held out for just a moment longer? What if I had said something, done something different? What if I had been more proactive about helping her before she became Nightmare Moon? Surely she wouldn’t have killed me… she would have stopped herself. She would have returned to normal. Our sister could never hurt us…”
  2800.     >”Those are the thoughts that would go through my mind every night I raised the moon. I don’t remember how many decades it took before I could do it without weeping.”
  2801.     >Twilight rubs her hooves together timidly. “I… I’m so sorry, Princess Celestia. I never knew you doubted yourself so much. It was insensitive of me to ask you this…”
  2802.     >”There is no need for apology, Twilight. I’ve kept this inside for too long, and I can think of no pony I would rather be confessing this to. In fact, there is another secret I have never spoken to anypony about which I would like to share.”
  2803.     >”Another secret?” asks Twilight.
  2804.     >”For 1,000 years, every night after the Summer Sun Celebration, I would visit Nightmare Moon in her prison. To see if I could get through to Princess Luna and convince her to come home.”
  2805.     “Why keep that a secret?”
  2806.     >”Because everypony knew her only as the wicked Nightmare Moon. There were none who understood… and I wished to selfishly keep this pain inside as a way of punishing myself for being unable to save my beloved sister.”
  2807.     "To keep that inside for 1,000 years... sounds unbearable."
  2808.     >"When raising the moon, it could get that way. But when I raised the sun, it filled my mind with hope. Hope at the possibilities of today. That hope kept me going."
  2809. >Tears fill Twilight Sparkle’s eyes as she rushes to Celestia, throwing her hooves around the princess. “I’m so sorry… you were hurting all this time and I never noticed once… I should have done something…”
  2810. >Celestia wraps the young alicorn in her white wings. “You did do something, Twilight. You never noticed because when you were by my side, I didn’t feel the pain. When you and your friends defeated Nightmare Moon, you didn’t just save my sister. You saved me.”
  2811. >”I’m sorry for thinking all those horrible things about you… I just couldn’t imagine being able to do that to someone you love. I wouldn’t have been able to do the right thing. I’m such a coward… I could never have your strength. I don’t deserve to be a Princess...”
  2812. >Princess Celestia puts her hoof under Twilight’s chin, forcing it up. “Look at me, Twilight. And Listen carefully. You are not me. You will never be me. And I never want you to be me.”
  2813. >”P-Princess?” Twilight squeaks out nervously.
  2814. >”What I did to Luna hurt like tearing off a part of myself. I never want you to have to endure that pain. I would never feel disappointed if you were unable to do that. But you must not forget that you could save my sister when I couldn’t. Your greatest accomplishments are things that only you could have done, Twilight.”
  2815. >Twilight looks into her teacher’s eyes as Celestia begins to tear up. “I love you so very much, Twilight. Nothing you can do will ever change that. And I will never want you to be anything other than who you really are.”
  2816. >Tears flow from Twilight’s eyes as she throws herself against Celestia. “Thank you… I love you too, Celestia. I’ll make you proud.”
  2817. >”You already have.”
  2818. >Your vision of the two starts to blur… you feel a stinging as you rub at your face and wipe away a tear.
  2819. >Celestia looks up at you. “Oh my… I’m sorry. Tears tend to be contagious in situations like these.”
  2820. “Hah, yeah, it happens I guess. I want to say sorry for being a huge fucking hypocrite and judging you before I met you."
  2821. >”Apology accepted. I’m glad you two decided to talk to me about this.”
  2822. >Twilight shakes her head. “I wouldn’t have been able to say it without him. Thank you, Anon.”
  2823. >”Then you have my thanks as well for giving my student the courage to face her fears. I hope this is the start of a wonderful and honest relationship between us.”
  2824. >!
  2825.  
  2826. —————————————————————
  2827.  
  2828. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  2829.  
  2830. Thou hast established a new bond…
  2831.  
  2832. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  2833.  
  2834. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Empress Arcana.
  2835.  
  2836. —————————————————————
  2837.  
  2838. “I think it will be. Anyway… we better get back to the others. This is your vacation, and you should be enjoying it, right?”
  2839. >Celestia chuckles, “Believe it or not, it’s already the best vacation I’ve had in years.”
  2840. >The three of you exit the living room and rejoin the gathering.
  2841. >Lunch is ready, and it’s even more delicious and extravagant than last time.
  2842. >After stuffing yourself for a while and listening to your friends tell stories and talk about their lives, things slow down a bit and you all begin to break apart to talk.
  2843. >Granny Smith is busy talking with Celestia, while Apple Bloom is busy helping her brother to clear dishes.
  2844. >You could probably get any of the others to talk to one on one.
  2845.  
  2846.     >This time there is nowhere for her to run. Nowhere for her to hide.
  2847.     >She should have expected us.
  2848.     “Uh, hey Fluttershy?”
  2849.     >The yellow pony’s ears perk up in surprise and she suddenly covers her face with her hooves.
  2850.     “Is uh, everything okay?”
  2851.     >”Oh... don’t mind me. Everything’s fine. Are you enjoying the… a-are you enjoying yourself?”
  2852.     >She removes her hooves from her face, but continues to look directly at the ground with somewhat of a nervous smile.
  2853.     “Yeah, it’s a pretty nice time. Celestia’s been really good to me.”
  2854.     >”Oh, she really is wonderful isn’t she? I’m glad you seem to be hitting it off with her as well.”
  2855.     >You glance at the patch of dirt she seems to be staring at, but there’s nothing there you can see.
  2856.     “Uh, am I doing something to make you uncomfortable? I don’t know your culture very well and everything, so if I’m doing something wrong you can tell me.”
  2857.     >”Uncomfortable? Around you? Why, what ever gave you that idea, Mister Anonymous? All of my friends really like you, and you saved Scootaloo by carrying her to the schoolhouse all by yourself when she was affected by SIHN! If anything, I’m very glad to finally be able to talk to you.”
  2858.     “Yeah, it’s just… you’ve been staring at the ground for a while and all.”
  2859.     >Her head whips upward as she starts staring up at the sky.
  2860.     >”Oh, I was just looking at a cute little rolly-polly. It’s gone now. Now I’m looking at that bird way way off in the distance.”
  2861.     “Right. Is there some reason you don’t want to talk to me?”
  2862.     >”Oh of course not! I want very much to talk to you. I’m so glad that you took the time to come up to me and ask me how I’m doing. I've wanted to talk to you for a while, but I just wasn't quite sure how to approach you.”
  2863.     >Her words don't sound insincere, and her expression seems genuinely pleased, but she just continues to stare straight up.
  2864.  >You try to lean over her to block her view, but her head zips back down.
  2865.     >”Oh dear, I don’t like the look of that spot on my hoof. I hope it’s nothing serious but I’m going to keep looking at it just in case. Go ahead and keep talking though. I’d love to get to know you. I-I want very much to be your friend, if that’s okay with you.”
  2866.     “It’s fine with me if you do, but could you first just tell me why you don’t seem to want to look at me? Do you not like my hat?”
  2867.     >”O-Oh, no it’s quite a lovely hat, I saw you wearing it when you were coming up. It makes you look very… big… and... intimidating.” she squeaks out weakly.
  2868.     >You’re not the brightest tool in the shed, but you can put two and two together.
  2869.     ”Fluttershy… are you just scared of the way I look?”
  2870.     >”... N-No. Y-You’re not scary. I think you’re a very good person. All of my friends like you, and they’re not scared...”
  2871.     “So you’re sure you’re not even a little bit scared of me?”
  2872.     >”... well maybe… a teensy… tiny bit… absolutely… terrified… of your face… I’m sorry… please don’t be upset.”
  2873.     >She lowers her head further every time she talks until she’s pretty much getting to first base with mother earth.
  2874.     “Wait, so it’s not actually me you’re scared of? It’s just my face?”
  2875.     >”Y-Yes, I’m so sorry. I know it’s not your fault that you look the way you do, a-and I don’t want to burden you by asking you to put on that amulet Twilight made for you either. It’s my fault for being afraid. I know you’re a very sweet and gentle person, and you would never hurt anypony, but looking at your f-face just… w-well, how’s this?”
  2876.     >Fluttershy looks up at you smiling with her eyes closed. “If I just don’t open my eyes, I can talk with you just fine, see?”
  2877.     “You look like one of my Japanese animes.”
  2878.     >”Pardon me? I-Is that bad? Should I stop?"
  2879.     "No, this is perfect. Keep doing exactly what you're doing."
  2880.     >"Oh! Okay then! Sorry for being rude and not looking at you. But if you ever need a friend to talk to, I'd be happy to listen!"
  2881.  
  2882. “Same here, Fluttershy. If there’s something you need to talk about, you can let me know. It’s kind of what everyone else seems to be doing.”
  2883. >”Is that so? Oh… thank you very much. But… you don’t need to worry about my problems. I’m sure they’re not very important.”
  2884. “Everypony’s problems are important, Fluttershy. Especially these days. Is there something bothering you other than my face? What do you think of what’s happening with SIHN?”
  2885. >Fluttershy has a seat facing your general direction. “SIHN… did they have to give it such a scary name? It’s bad enough as it is… coming out of nowhere like that. I’m glad that none of my animal friends are being hurt by it, and very few ponies seem to be injured but…”
  2886. “But what?”
  2887. >”The first time it happened, everypony was only out for a few hours… and everypony all woke up at once. But this time some ponies didn’t wake up. What if… what if they never wake up? What if it just keeps getting worse?”
  2888. “Everyone’s working hard to figure out how to stop it. They’ll wake up, Fluttershy. There’s just something strange about it this time.”
  2889. >”I… I hope so. One of them is just a little filly… and Mr. and Mrs. Cake are both still asleep… I don’t know… I’m worried about Pinkie Pie.”
  2890. “I visited her, Fluttershy. She seemed really energetic… and before SIHN hits you, you start to feel tired. So I doubt she’s in any danger, right?”
  2891. >Fluttershy’s head turns down. “I… you’re probably right.”
  2892. “Is something wrong?”
  2893. >”Well… I tried to visit her, and I ended up making her very upset with me.”
  2894. “So ‘you’ upset ‘her’? How did that happen?”
  2895. >”Well… I was just asking if she’d like me to help her foalsit for Pound and Pumpkin, since I didn’t want to go to this today anyway, but that made her very upset and she told me I should trust her… Oh, she’s right. I’m a bad friend for not trusting her.”
  2896. “Sounds like you were just trying to help. That doesn’t make you a bad friend, Fluttershy.”
  2897.     >”No, I’m still a bad friend because I don’t know about the other reason that I’m a bad friend.”
  2898.     “... that makes zero sense.”
  2899.     >”Well you see, I must be a bad friend to Pinkie, because she didn’t invite me to your Welcome to Ponyville Party. So I must have done something very bad… and since I can’t remember what I did, that makes me an even worse friend.”
  2900.     “What Welcome to Ponyville Party?”
  2901.     >Fluttershy’s eyes go wide as she looks up at you. “She di- eeeek!”
  2902.     >Fluttershy quickly covers her face with her wings. “S-She didn’t throw you a Welcome to Ponyville Party?”
  2903.     ”Nope. She didn’t even say Welcome, Ponyville, or Party during the whole time we talked.”
  2904.     >”Ohh… oh dear. “ she rubs her hoof on the dirt nervously.
  2905.     >”I’m… sure it’s nothing, or Twilight would have done something…”
  2906.     “Is there something I should know here?”
  2907.     >”Well… maybe there’s the slightest possibility you might want to talk to Pinkie with Twilight… and make extra sure she’s doing alright.”
  2908.     “And why’s that?”
  2909.     >”Just… maybe you should let Twilight know that Pinkie Pie hasn’t thrown you a welcome party yet. Or said the word Party. I’m… sure she already knows though.”
  2910.     “Fluttershy… I think you might possibly be a better friend than any of us to Pinkie.”
  2911.     >”Oh… thank you very much, Anon. I think you’re a very good friend too. I’m so glad you decided to talk to me like this.”
  2912.     >!
  2913.  
  2914.     ———————————
  2915.  
  2916.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  2917.  
  2918.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  2919.  
  2920.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  2921.  
  2922.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Temperance Arcana.
  2923.  
  2924.     ———————————
  2925.  
  2926.     “Thanks. It was good talking with you too.”
  2927.     >You briskly walk off to go find Twilight.
  2928.     >Fluttershy continues to stand there smiling with her eyes closed.
  2929.     >“If you’re still curious about what’s been worrying me, I suppose I’ve also been having a lot of anxiety about my Father recently… I mean, you won't say anything about this, right?"
  2930.     >...
  2931.     >"Thanks, you're a good listener! It all started when I read an article about an "Electra Complex..."
  2932.  
  2933.     >Lucky for you, Twilight is just listening to Spike telling a joke.
  2934.     >Twi seems to have been put in a good mood after that heart to heart with Celestia, and Spike certainly seems happy to be wearing his silk tie.
  2935.     >”... and then she said, ‘Oatmeal? Are you crazy?’”
  2936.     “Hey, can I interrupt you two for a sec?”
  2937.     >”Oh, hey, big guy! What’s up?” asks Spike
  2938.     “I was just talking to Fluttershy about Panky… and she said that I should tell you that she hasn’t thrown me a welcome party yet… or used the word party in a sentence at all. What does that mean?”
  2939.     >Spike and Twilight give each a look of fear and confusion.
  2940.     “What does it mean?”
  2941.     >Twilight turns back to you. “Uh, I guess you don’t really know her that well… but around here it’s pretty well known that parties are sort of Pinkie’s ‘Raison D’être’”
  2942.     “What?”
  2943.     >”Spike explains for her. “Parties to her are like AJ and apples. Or Twilight and books.”
  2944.     “Oh.”
  2945.     >”In fact…” Spike looks at Twilight. “Didn’t you invite Pinkie to this? I mean, we’re having fun with our friends and eating food… isn’t this a “party”? Why wouldn’t Pinkie want to come?”
  2946.     >”I asked her, but she said that she had to watch Sugar Cube Corner and take care of Pound and Pumpkin. I told her ponies would understand if they had to close down for a day due to a medical emergency, but she said there just wouldn’t be enough time to find anyone willing to foalsit Pound and Pumpkin that she trusted.”
  2947.     “Uh, actually, Fluttershy says she offered to foalsit for her because she didn’t want to come to the party in the first place.”
  2948.     >”Wait, so Pinkie lied to get OUT of going to a party? What’s going on here?” Spike asks scratching his head.
  2949.     >”I’m not sure, Spike. But I think she's hiding something. Let’s wait until it’s dark, and then go check on her. I have an idea.”
  2950.     >You enjoy the rest of the party, though your thoughts are elsewhere.
  2951.     >Celestia bids her farewells and returns to Canterlot come nightfall.
  2952.     >You, Twilight, Spike, and Dash all return to the castle for a quick meeting...
  2953.  
  2954. Twilight’s Castle, Evening
  2955.  
  2956. >You arrive after Dash in the meeting room, and Twilight and Spike arrive soon after with some papers that they hand out to you.
  2957. >Dash flips through the papers. “This looks long and boring. I don’t want to read it.”
  2958. >Twilight stamps her hoof on the ground. “Rainbow Dash, Spike worked hard on this report. It’s all very important information about SIHN, Shadows, and our powers.
  2959. >Rainbow Dash reluctantly starts reading. “If you try to quiz me on this stuff I’m out of here.”
  2960. >You shrug and take the papers in hand as you begin to read.
  2961.  
  2962. Spike’s SIHN Report
  2963.  
  2964. by Spike the Dragon
  2965. Edited by Princess Twilight Sparkle
  2966.  
  2967. If you’re reading this, you’re someone very important who needs to know the truth about SIHN, what causes it, and how to stop it. I’ll begin by explaining about the “world” SIHN victims end up in, followed by information on SIHN itself, the Shadows, and the Personas. Please remember that by royal order, this information is not to be leaked to the public. Any information you read should not be shared freely. Without further ado, let me first introduce the “world” created by SIHN.
  2968.  
  2969. Fantasia
  2970.  
  2971. From here on out, we’re calling this strange “dream world” created by SIHN “Fantasia”. Fantasia is a shared dream generated by a certain SIHN victim in which others are pulled into. Inside Fantasia, creatures called “Shadows” exist. I’ll talk more about them later, but to sum it up, they’re like monsters created by negative thoughts and feelings of those trapped in Fantasia. In Fantasia, unicorn magic doesn’t seem to work properly. Twi still isn’t sure why, but Pegasus flight functions just fine. However, during Fantasia we are able to summon our “Persona” to help defend ourselves. You can’t use your persona outside of Fantasia. However, I can access certain abilities of my persona through what Twilight calls “Autohypnosis” and I call “daydreaming” where I kind of slip halfway into Fantasia while still being awake.It’s a little exhausting though, so I can’t do it completely at will. Injuries sustained during Fantasia will be reflected on your body in real time. Meaning if you die in the dream, you die for real. But if you’re healed by a spell, you’ll get healed for real too! Those who enter Fantasia will become confused and fail to recognize their surroundings as a dream immediately. The exception to this seems to be Anonymous, who apparently is good enough at lucid dreaming to figure out he’s in a dream right away. Anyone wearing their special glasses will help signal others that they’re in Fantasia, and seeing one of us wearing them seems to get the message across right away. Those in Fantasia will also forget details of the dream once they wake up, much like a real dream, unless their persona has awakened, in which case they will retain full memory of the events.
  2972.  
  2973. SIHN
  2974.  
  2975. SIHN stand for Stress Induced Hysteric Narcolepsy. But the only ones that know it isn’t really psychosomatic are us, Princess Luna, Princess Celestia, and some of the Doctors we’ve sworn to secrecy. SIHN sort of comes in two varieties which we’re calling “Root” and “Branch”. “Root” is the big one to worry about. “Root” occurs only in those with “strong hearts”. This is because they are the only ones capable of forming a strong enough “Shadow” to create a “Shadow Self” which will be described later. When somepony is affected by the “Root”, they will be trapped inside a Fantasia formed by their own subconscious in which their Shadow Self will appear. As time goes on, the by “Root” will begin to affect others with “Branch”. “Branch” victims don't form a Shadow Self, but will get pulled into the Root’s version of Fantasia, where they’re vulnerable to being attacked by Shadows. “Branch” SIHN seems to kick in at random during any point of the “Root” victim’s symptoms. Once the victim enters fantasia, the only way to bring them out is to stop the Shadow Self and wake up the “Root” victim.
  2976.  
  2977. Stages of SIHN
  2978.  
  2979. Stage 0: “Incubation” - Those who end up being affected by SIHN are often under large amounts of stress for some reason or another. We’re not sure if this is a cause, a symptom, or something unrelated. But it’s possible that those who have SIHN are “infected” with it before they show any symptoms of “Stage 1”, so we’re putting that here.
  2980.  
  2981. Stage 1: “Manifestation” - This initial stage progresses fairly quickly from what we’ve seen. Most of our information on this stage comes from “Branch” victims, but it is also consistent with what the “Root” victims have felt so far. Stage 1 begins with feelings of emotional isolation and distance. Subjects will feel disconnected from their surroundings as if what’s happening to them isn’t real. They may begin to feel confused or paranoid in some cases. Feelings of tiredness are common near the end of stage one, as well as excessive blinking. This stage has been observed to last up to 10 minutes.
  2982.  
  2983. Stage 2: “Attack” - The attack happens very quickly, usually lasting less than a minute. During stage 2, victims will exhibit acute Cataplexy, which is characterized by muscular weakness, loss of motor control, blurred vision, and slurred speech. Eventually their entire body will collapse as it worsens, and they will fall asleep, progressing to stage 3.
  2984.  
  2985. Stage 3: “Calm” - In stage 3, the victim will enter Fantasia, but will still be “asleep” both in the real world and in Fantasia. While in Stage 3, a Shadow can not manifest from the Root victim’s mind, and Shadows will ignore the victim’s body in Fantasia. A majority of Branch Victims will be created when the Root enters this stage, but it has been shown that Stage 1 and 2 Root victims can create Branch victims as well. Possibly even Stage 0, but further research is necessary. Victims spend most of their time in stage 3, and it’s unknown how long they can remain in the Calm. However, progression to stage 4 is accelerated when we enter Fantasia from outside.
  2986.  
  2987. Stage 4: “Awakening” - When the victim enters stage 4, their mind will gain awareness in Fantasia and they will “Wake up” in Fantasia. They won’t immediately recognize that they’re inside a dream, accepting the quirks of Fantasia as reality without questioning much. Because it hasn’t been observed from a reliable outside source yet, it’s not known how long it lasts. In this stage, Branch Victims are vulnerable to being attacked by Shadows. So far none have been seriously injured as they were able to evade their attackers, but this is still clearly the most dangerous stage for Branch victims. It is highly likely that a Branch victim will die in this stage if they spend too much time in Fantasia and are overrun by shadows. While this is the last observed stage for Branches, Root cases can continue to progress.
  2988.  
  2989. Stage 5: “Confrontation” (Root Only) - In Stage 5, a Shadow Self will manifest. While they have shown a tendency to antagonize their Originals, they will not harm them physically. The Shadow Self will attempt to show their Original the darkest parts of their conscious and subconscious mind, shocking them by publicly revealing the darkest and most shameful aspects of their personality that they deny and keep hidden from the world. And while they won’t “Lie”, they’re still capable of presenting the facts in a very distorted and unfair manner that doesn’t exactly tell the whole truth accurately. If the Original is able to accept that their Shadow is a part of them, it will calm itself and rejoin them. Once tamed, the Shadow Self will grant the Root the power of Persona. However, if the Original is unable to accept their Shadow Self, the shadow will go berserk and separate from the Original, entering Stage 6.
  2990.  
  2991. Stage 6: “Rage” (Root Only) - Stage 6 is where the Shadow Self will reject the original and attempt to become its own self, or replace the original by killing it and taking its place. During Stage 6, the Original self will “pass out” in Fantasia while their Shadow Self rampages. An Enraged Shadow Self is much more powerful than a normal shadow, and incredibly difficult to defeat. However, it can be done, as I’m sure you’ve all seen firsthoof. Once it has taken enough damage, the Shadow Self’s enraged form will return to normal, having been weakened enough to break its power over its victim, and the Original Self will wake up. If the Original accepts that the Shadow Self is a part of them, it will rejoin them as a Persona. If they continue to reject it, it’s unknown what would occur.
  2992.  
  2993. Recovery
  2994. Branch victims tend to feel exhausted and drained after they’ve been freed from Fantasia. It seems to directly correlate with how much time they’ve spent in Fantasia. However, no life-threatening or permanent damage seems to be present in SIHN Survivors. Root victims especially might find themselves feeling rejuvenated and relieved after accepting their Shadow.
  2995.  
  2996. Shadows
  2997. A Shadow is essentially a reflection of one’s heart. So the stronger the heart, the stronger the Shadow born from it. It’s unknown if regular shadows each have a corresponding heart from which they were born or not. However, strong enough hearts will create a distinct sub-type of Shadow known as a “Shadow Self”. Shadows can take on many forms, which seem to be influenced by the Fantasia they reside in. Defeating a normal shadow will not cause any harm to come to the one responsible for its creation. Even if a normal shadow is destroyed, it can regenerate itself slowly after a period of time. The following factors are known to increase the activity and aggression of shadows. SIHN Victims progressing to Stage 4, presence of other powerful shadows, and activity by Persona users. Because of this last factor, we should be careful if more ponies join our team. We may need to limit ourselves to to a certain number of active users at once to avoid drawing too much attention from the Shadows.
  2998.  
  2999. Shadow Selves
  3000. The Shadow Self is created when a Root SIHN Victim enters Stage 5. In stage 5, the Shadow Self is still “connected” to its host, as it is a part of them. As such, any damage inflicted on a Shadow Self during stage 5 will be reflected back to the Original. As long as the Shadow Self exists, SIHN Victims will be unable to exit Fantasia. The Shadow Self must be pacified and returned to the original in order for the SIHN victims to wake up. Once it has been tamed and accepted, it will become a Persona.
  3001.  
  3002. Persona
  3003. The power we hold is really nothing more than our Shadow under our own control, having been accepted as a part of us. It allows us to summon a creature in Fantasia to fight for us or to grant us power. Since it’s a part of you, any damage your persona takes will of course be reflected on yourself. However, a persona is considerably more durable than your own body, so using it as a shield is recommended. But like Shadows, our Personas are vulnerable to certain elements of magic, so if you get hit by your weakness it’s not going to help much. The Persona will grow alongside us not only as we continue to fight with it, but as we grow and mature ourselves. It’s possible that our Persona could change to something completely different. Anonymous’s Persona is a bit different from us because of an ability he has called the “Wild Card”. While he has an innate Persona like we do with Loki, his other Personas come from the Bonds he forms with others. Every time he makes a new bond with somepony, a new Persona will be available. And as his bond with them grows, that Persona becomes more powerful. So to put it simply, Friendship is Magic!
  3004.  
  3005. >Spike's report ends there.
  3006.  
  3007.     >Dash tosses the papers down and sighs. “Ugh… there, I’m done.
  3008.     “Done here too. It’s good to be on the same page about this, but what about Pinkie Pike? Are you saying you think she’s the Root?”
  3009.     >Twilight clears her throat and begins to explain her theory. “Well, after scanning them, we’ve found that the Branch victims who didn’t wake up after we defeated Dash’s Shadow Self are still in Stage 3. But nearly all of the others had progressed to Stage 4, as we saw them in the crowd. Which leads me to believe that these Branch victims are from a different Root, and were not in Dash’s Fantasia. This new Root is the source of a 3rd Outbreak. And it happened some time slightly after the 2nd Outbreak began, but before we entered Dash’s Fantasia and defeated her shadow. But every pony in Ponyville has been accounted for since yesterday morning… and none of the SIHN victims are Roots. So it doesn’t make sense…”
  3010.     “So what if she’s just in stage one? She could infect others, but she wouldn’t be asleep.”
  3011.     >Spike chimes in, “In stage one, you’re not nearly as responsive or energetic as she is. She also doesn’t seem tired at all. She would have to have been in stage one since yesterday morning. So even after working all day, going to bed, then waking up the next morning and continuing to work, she’s still in “Stage 1”? I could understand fighting it off for a while, but if you ever went to sleep you’d just end up in Fantasia and progress right on through to Stage 3.”
  3012.     >Dash looks down. “Stage one feels awful. I felt so alone I just wanted to crawl into bed and die… I don’t think she’s there yet.”
  3013.     “Then what is she?”
  3014.     >The princess shakes her head. “I’m not sure. But I want to check on her, which is why we’re going to sneak in to her place and have Spike scan her while she’s asleep to see what she’s dreaming about. If she’s not going to be honest and tell us if something’s wrong, we’re going to have to figure it out on our own.”
  3015.  
  3016.     >”Finally, time for action! Let’s do it!” Rainbow raises her hoof in the air.
  3017.     >”Hold up, if it turns out Pinkie IS the Root, and we end up in Fantasia, we’re going to need weapons. So I got you something to fight with. Hopefully it’s intuitive enough for you to pick it up without much training…”
  3018.     >Twilight opens up a locked chest sitting in the corner of the meeting room with her magic.
  3019.     >Out floats a strange looking mess of blades and straps coated in her purple aura as she places it down in front of Dash, who suddenly squeals with delight.
  3020.     >”Omigoshomigoshomigoooosh!!! Are those real? Did you actually get me real 100% authentic Vængrbrandr like the kind General Firefly and the original Wonderbolts used in the First Griffon War of Equestria to tear through Emperor Darksky’s elite air troops?”
  3021.     “Did his parents seriously name him that, or do Griffons get to choose their names in Middle School?”
  3022.     >Spike scratches his head, “And what’s a Wanger Brander?”
  3023.     >”They’re Wing Blades.” Twilight explains. “They go over her wings. Should be intuitive to use for her. I’ve got something for you too, Anon.”
  3024.     >A large iron War Hammer floats out of the chest, hovering to you and falling gently to your feet.
  3025.     >You reach down to grab it, and to your surprise it’s a bit lighter than it looks. You’re actually able to hold it in your arms, though the head certainly has some weight to it.
  3026.     “Well it’s big enough for me… how’d you find something like this, Twi?”
  3027.     >”It used to belong to a Minotaur. It’s not too heavy for you, is it?” asks Twilght.
  3028.     “It’s heavier than a polo mallet, but I guess it works.”
  3029.     >Dash slips on her weapon, spreading her wings and looking to the side. “How do I look?”
  3030.     “Edgy.”
  3031.     >"Looks like it fits properly. If you're both ready, let's head on down to Sugar Cube Corner!" Twilight says as her Naginata flies to her side.
  3032.     "Actually, I gotta do something before we go. Quick bathroom break..."
  3033.     >You slip off to use the bathroom, but also to pay a visit to the Velvet Room...
  3034.  
  3035. Velvet Room, Evening
  3036.  
  3037. >This time, Igor and Elizabeth are both there to see you.
  3038. >”Welcome back to the Velvet Room.” says Igor.
  3039. >”I see that you are steadily making progress towards the truth. Have you been taking my reading to heart?” he asks as he swiftly lays out for you again, The World upright, The Hermit reversed, and Death reversed.
  3040. >”Ho ho ho… I would not take offense if you had dismissed it. After all, these cards represent many things… some great, some small. And it is always a difficult task to determine when your “Future” becomes your “Present”.”
  3041. >”Still, there are many universal truths which these cards can remind us of. They can help us to reflect on our situation before acting, and make the right decision.”
  3042. >Elizabeth levitates three cards for you.
  3043. >”It appears you have formed a new bonds of the Hierophant, Empress, and Temperance Arcana.”
  3044. >”They have granted you the Persona of Chiron, Pele, and Demeter respectively.”
  3045. >”In addition, your power of the Wild Card has grown stronger. You may now bring one more persona with you into Fantasia.”
  3046. >”You may need them soon. Please, choose wisely the aspects of your self you wish to accompany you on your quest.”
  3047. >Elizabeth spreads out the array of cards holding your Personas for you.
  3048.  
  3049. Choose 5 Personas to bring with you  
  3050.  
  3051. >Enkidu, Chiron, Demeter, Pele and D'Artagan.
  3052.  
  3053. >”An excellent choice by our esteemed guest…” Elizabeth smiles and puts away the rest of the cards for you.
  3054. >Igor gives you his toothy smile. “We wish you the best of luck. Until next time, fare the well…”
  3055. >You exit the Velvet Room and rejoin Twilight in the meeting room.
  3056. >“Back already?” asks Twilight. “That was pretty fast. You must be in a hurry to go see her… all right, get close to me.”
  3057. >”What? You’re teleporting us? Sugar Cube Corner is so close I could fly there before I finish saying its name!” Dash protests.
  3058. >Twilight gives her an impatient look. ”Right, and how are we going to explain four of us walking down to Sugar Cube Corner after dark with three of us carrying lethal weapons and Anonymous looking like that?”
  3059. >Dash lifts her wings up and looks over her shoulder at the blade hanging off it. “Point taken.”
  3060. >The four of you cluster up. A purple glow flashes briefly, and you find yourselves popping into an alley across from Sugar Cube Corner.
  3061. >Twilight keeps her head low and moves towards the door, followed by you, Spike, and Dash.
  3062. >You look around nervously, as someone of your size holding a giant hammer might stand out a bit, but you don’t see anyone in the windows of the nearby houses.
  3063. >As the four of you bunch up near the door, Twilight looks at it for a moment, then turns back around to address the group.
  3064. >”So… anyone have any ideas on how to get in?” she whispers.
  3065. >Dash brings her hoof up to her head in quiet frustration. “You brought us here without thinking of that? Don’t you know a lock picking spell? Or can’t you teleport us in?”
  3066. >Twilight seems taken aback as she whispers harshly, “That would be a very unethical use of my magic, Dash. That’s breaking and entering!”
  3067. >"What part of sneaking into her house while she's asleep wasn't supposed to be breaking and entering?" Dash retorts.
  3068. “You’re a princess. Don’t you have diplomatic immunity or something?”
  3069.     >”This is no time for a legal lesson, Twi!” Dash whispers angrily. “Anon, just bust the lock with your big honking hammer.”
  3070.     “K.”
  3071.     >”Anon! We’re trying to do this without getting noticed!” Twilight squeaks desperately.
  3072.     “I was just kidding.”
  3073.     >”We could try knocking.” suggests Spike. “The lights are on.”
  3074.     >The three of you turn around and look in the store window. All the lights are indeed on.
  3075.     >You turn back to Spike, who shakes his head and gently knocks thrice.
  3076.     >”We’re open~!” calls out a cheerful voice from inside.
  3077.     >The group exchanges glances before Twilight carefully opens the door. The four of you enter and find Sugar Cube Corner to be brightly lit with Plinkie Pie happily sitting behind the counter waiting for you.
  3078.     >”Hi! Can I help you? Are you robbing me? Can I help you rob me?” Plonkie inquires.
  3079.     >”O-Oh, these?” Twilight looks at the weapons nervously. “T-These are…”
  3080.     “We’re LARPing.”
  3081.     >”What’s LARPing?” Dash asks, puzzled.
  3082.     >Twilight leans in and whispers the answer. Dash leans back. “Seriously? Can I please just be robbing her instead?”
  3083.     “Dash is our Rogue. She’s a Dashing Rogue.”
  3084.     >”Really? That sounds like fun! Can I play too? What do I have to do? Do you have to rob me? Are you a vicious band of swords for higher with chaotic neutral alignments which are really just an excuse for you to act like an asshole without any repercussions because chaos is really poorly defined since chaotic characters are supposed to be able to act lawful more than lawful characters are supposed to be able to act chaotic and you want freedom to kill people whenever you feel like it’s more fun even though it would completely derail the GMs plot but you’re blaming him for not being flexible enough and not giving the players agency but really you’re just kind of not getting the point of playing a tabletop roleplaying game because the GM is working really hard on making something for all of you to enjoy and it's more fun than just raping and murdering since that's- Oh hi character limit!"
  3085.  
  3086.     >"...that’s honestly the kind of immature bullshit an eight grader thinks is edgy and cool but really it just makes you a complete douchebag because I thought we were supposed to be having FUN TOGETHER.”
  3087.  
  3088.     >She stares at you with wide eyes, breathing heavily.
  3089.     >Twilight is the first to break the awkward silence. “I… actually understood some of that, but you’re still kind of worrying me, Pinkie. This is a lot more bizarre than your usual antics. And kind of dark too. Are you feeling okay?”
  3090.     >Dash nods in agreement. “Pinkie Pie, I know I say ‘you are so random’ a lot, and usually it’s a compliment. But this is a bit too random even for you.”
  3091.     >Punka: *laughs*
  3092.     >”Random? You call that Random?!”
  3093.     >Binkie hops up on the counter and clears her throat, beginning to recite.
  3094.     >”hi every1 im new!!!!!!!”
  3095.     >Pinko holds up a spork from thin air.
  3096.     >”my name is Pinkie but u can call me t3h PeNgU1N oF d00m!!!!!!!! lol…as u can see im very random!!!! thats why i came here, 2 meet random ppl like me _… im 13 years old (im mature 4 my age tho!!) i like 2 watch invader zim w/ my girlfreind (im bi if u dont like it deal w/it) its our favorite tv show!!! bcuz its SOOOO random!!!! shes random 2 of course but i want 2 meet more random ppl =) like they say the more the merrier!!!! lol…neways i hope 2 make alot of freinds here so give me lots of commentses!!!!
  3097.     DOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <--- me bein random again _^ hehe…toodles!!!!! love and waffles, t3h PeNgU1N oF d00m”
  3098.     >Spike, Twilight, and Dash stare at her with mixtures of confusion and fear on their faces.
  3099.     >You on the other hand are laying on the floor clutching the sides of your head.
  3100.     “Oh god it’s like fucking cancer for my ears.”
  3101.     >Dash looks to the other two. “I’m no expert, but I’m willing to bet that’s a sign that Pinkie is NOT okay.”
  3102.     >The pink horse bounces up to you. “What’s the matter, Nonny? Why so serious? Let’s put a smiiile on that face! I mean, I want to see you smile and I’m trying so hard here… since we can't do "that" together.
  3103.     >"I mean come on, Nonny! You gotta meet me halfway on this stuff!”
  3104.     >Twilight interposes herself between you and crack horse. “Okay, Pinkie. Sit down and take a deep breath. And explain to me what’s going on.”
  3105.     >Pinkie’s body twitches slightly but she has a seat. “Nothing’s going on, Twilight! Nothing at all! It’s just like you want it, right? Nice and orderly, everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing… I’m just here doing my job… making sure the shop is open… keeping an eye on the foals… and waiting for the orders from my princess…”
  3106.     >Twilight looks confused. “Orders? What orders? And… why do you need to keep the shop open? It’s way past your closing time. Why aren’t you asleep?”
  3107.     >The pink horse just giggles playfully, “Oh, Twilight, I don’t have time for sleep! I haven’t slept in days!”
  3108.     >”What?!”
  3109.     >The four of you exclaim simultaneously.
  3110.     >Pinker nods enthusiastically. “How can I sleep? I have to take care of these foals… I have to watch the shop… I have to be responsible while I wait for Mr. and Mrs. Cake to get better… and… and I need to wait for you to tell me I can do it with Anonymous!”
  3111.     >”Do what…?” Twi asks cautiously.
  3112.     >”You knoooooow. The “P” word.” the pink pony whispers loudly.
  3113.     >She looks confused for a moment, but suddenly Twilight’s eyes go wide. “Oh.”
  3114.     >”Oh what?” Spike asks. “Twilight, what did you do?”
  3115.     >Twilight gives a guilty smile. “I just… she wanted to throw Anonymous a Welcome to Ponyville Party… and I told her to wait until I said it was okay.”
  3116.     >Dash smacks her forehead with her hoof. “You told Pinkie Pie she couldn’t throw a party?”
  3117.     >”I just told her to wait! I didn’t think she’d stop sleeping!”
  3118.     "Staying awake for that many days can't be healthy, right?"
  3119.     >Twilight shakes her head. "It can't be done. Even if you're drugging yourself, your body will force itself into... micro... sleep... Spike, scan her now."
  3120.     >Spike places his hands on Pinka's head. "This is... a Root! But her mind is stuck halfway between Fantasia and Reality!"
  3121. >”Is this part of the LARP?” Pinke asks curiously.
  3122. >”This isn’t a game, Pinkie. You have SIHN. We need to go into your dream. Do the thing, you guys!” Dash commands.
  3123. >Spike grimaces. “I don’t think we can… she’s stuck halfway like this. Fantasia isn’t fully formed and it’s starting to leak into her conscious mind. That’s why she’s acting stranger than usual.”
  3124. >”Well I am not falling asleep. I can NOT get SIHN right now. I just can not. No way. Nuh uh. I got too many important things. I gotta watch the kids, I gotta watch the store, I gotta watch twilight, but not THAT Twilight because ugh, vampires that sparkle? Come on! Vampires are supposed to be dangerous and sexy like Fluttershy! Not all mopey and girly like Fluttershy.”
  3125. >Twilight puts her hooves on Pinkle’s shoulders. “Pinkie, you don’t need to do those things, you need to go to sleep!”
  3126. >”No!” Pickle Pie shouts childishly while pouting.
  3127. “... If you go to sleep… you can throw me a party tomorrow?”
  3128. >Twilight looks at you, then back at Pinkeye. “Yes! If you go to sleep you can throw Anon the best Welcome to Ponyville Party ever! You were waiting for me to say it’s okay, right? Well it’s okay! Okay?”
  3129. >Pinkles gasps in surprise and joy “Okay!”
  3130. >And immediately, she collapses face-first into the floor with a loud thud.
  3131. >Spike kneels down and puts his hands on her head. “Stage 3. She’s ready.”
  3132. >From outside, you suddenly hear what sounds like a young colt yelling. “Mommy! Someone help! Mommy won’t wake up!”
  3133. >An older female voice comes from the other side. ”Someone help! Candy just collapsed!”
  3134. >”Someone get a doctor! My husband has SIHN!”
  3135. “The branches are sprouting all at once…”
  3136. >Spike looks down at the collapsed pink horse. “It’s because she was holding it in for so long. Everything’s catching up at once!”
  3137. >The sounds of more panicked voices fill the air as Ponies run from their homes seeking help for their loved ones.
  3138. >Twilight looks down. “We have to go in now!”
  3139. >Dash spreads her wings. “Ready.”
  3140. ”Let’s go!”
  3141.     >You slap on your glasses and give a nod to the other three.
  3142.     >Twilight and Spike wear the glasses you saw last time, while Dash puts on a pair of sunglasses.
  3143.     >”All right, Spike. Can you track down Pinkie’s shadow for us?” asks Twilight.
  3144.     >Dash just taps the Princess on the shoulder and points. “I think I might have a clue where she is.”
  3145.     >You all look in the direction Dash is pointing, and see a massive gingerbread theater covered in white icing, rainbow colored lollipops, and candies with shiny foil wrappers. The stained sugar-glass windows of the establishment each depict the pink mare’s face. A red taffy carpet is rolled out, and you can see enormous red arrows made from licorice, cupcakes, and gumdrops pointing towards the entrance. At your feet, you even notice a trail of Reeses Pieces laid out in a path leading to the theater.
  3146.     >Most telling of all are the oversized cookie billboards stuck on giant candy canes which read “PINKIE PIE IS IN HERE.” looming over the structure
  3147.     >”... Oh.” says Twilight.
  3148.     >Rainbow tilts her head. “Her subconscious isn’t much for subtlety, is it? She sure thinks highly of herself…”
  3149.     >Each of you just stares at Rainbow Dash.
  3150.     >”... What’s everyone looking at me for?”
  3151.     >”Your Fantasia was filled with posters talking about how great you were and racially slurring other ponies!” Twilight exclaims.
  3152.     “You gave yourself a trophy in awesomeness.”
  3153.     >”Did you see the size of that screen? It was bigger than the largest theater in Equestria.” Spike adds.
  3154.     >Dash’s wings droop. “Okay, I get it. I secretly think I’m the most awesome pony in Equestria.”
  3155.     “Secretly?”
  3156.     >Rainbow Dash stomps her hoof. “Can we just go save her already? We’re wasting time!”
  3157.     >”Hey guys, check this out.” Spike picks up a slab of monogrammed chocolate from the graham cracker pavement and reads the writing on it out loud.
  3158. >“‘Come one and all, everypony is invited to the party to end all parties. Everypony who’s anypony is going to be there. There will be cake, dancing, music, candy, cookies, chocolate, cupcakes...’ uh, it keeps going like that for a while… aha! Here we are. ‘...and a live one mare show called Me, Myself, and I, performed by Pinkie Pie and Pinkamena Diane Pie. The party begins now. In the theater. What are you waiting for. Go in. Stop reading. Come to the party. I mean it. Seriously. Go.’ it uh… keeps going like that for a while. I think you get the picture.”
  3159. >Twilight’s eyes scan the leaflet briefly. ”If she’s making herself easy to find, then it’s all the better for us. She’s technically had SIHN for longer than anypony we’ve seen so far. We don’t know what could happen.”
  3160. “Hey, do you guys hear something?”
  3161. >A high pitched noise whines in the distance, steadily growing louder.
  3162. >Spike drops the tablet on the graham cracker floor, leaving a mess of shattered chocolate as he tosses his card in the air and blasts it with green flame to summon Python.
  3163. >Python surrounds Spike as he closes his eyes. [There’s a bunch of shadows coming in fast! They’re all clumped up together for some reason…]
  3164. >You peer into the distance and see the silhouette of a small car speeding towards the group. Slowly the noise starts to seem familiar.
  3165. “It’s a police siren. Damn it, does anyone have their smart phone? We need to record this encounter!”
  3166. >Twilight and Dash give you a confused look as the car zooms towards the four of you, screeching to a halt about 10 feet away.
  3167. >It’s a brightly colored candy car with marshmallow and licorice tires decorated with gumdrops in a polka dot pattern. A blue and red hard candy siren flashes on top of it, and the side reads in white icing letters “Fun Police”
  3168. >[‘Fun Police’? Wait, so are they going to arrest us for having too much fun, or not enough?]
  3169. >”Maybe they’re regular Police that like to enjoy their job.” Dash suggests.
  3170. “I DON’T CONSENT TO A SEARCH.”
  3171.  
  3172.     >Twilight draws her Naginata. “I’m pretty sure these are the shadows! Focus, Dream Team!”
  3173.     >Dash snorts with laughter. “Dream Team? Take you all night to think of that one?”
  3174.     >”Would you knock it off? This is serious!” snaps Twilight.
  3175.     >The car door flies open and out climbs a stocky creature with a smiling gold mask. It wears a police cap on its head and holds a pair of handcuffs in its left hand, with a gun strapped to its right side. But most notably of all, its body is a big circular donut with pink frosting and sprinkles, with a key floating in the “hole” of its midsection.
  3176.     >[Guys… that shadow looks delicious…]
  3177.     “WHAT’S YOUR BADGE NUMBER PIGGY?”
  3178.     >Dash gives Twilight a sarcastic smile. “Serious, right?”
  3179.     >Twilight sighs. “Let’s just get this over with…”
  3180.     >You’re interrupted by the Donut Cop blowing a shrill whistle, signaling a parade of additional officers to comically squeeze their way out of the small vehicle.
  3181.     >[That explains the reading… must be bigger on the inside.]
  3182.     “AM I BEING DETAINED?”
  3183.     >”I don’t care how many of ‘em there are. If those tubs of lard think they can get between me and Pinkie Pie, they got another thing coming. Let’s go!”
  3184.     >Dash takes off with a streak of rainbow light! The blades on her wings glint as she zips past the Fuzz with her wings outstretched, clipping its neck.
  3185.     >Gobs of what looks like raspberry jelly spew from the Shadow’s neck as it falls to the ground, flailing helplessly.
  3186.     >”Try this on for size!” Dash tosses her blue card high into the air and swiftly flies into a loop to shatter it, bringing forth a bright red triplane adorned with Dash’s cutie mark on the fuselage and tail.
  3187.     >Its propeller whirrs rapidly as it hovers in the air, crackling with static before raining down bolts of lightning, singeing the frosting of the Fun Police.
  3188.     >[Keep it up! I'll figure out their weakness soon.]
  3189.     >You slip a card out of your pocket depicting a massive wild man covered in hair with chains wrapped around his arms. You jab your finger at the card, summoning Enkidu as you shout.
  3190.     “I DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY PRESENT.”
  3191.     >Enkidu howls as he plunges his arms straight into a Cop’s hole and spreads it out wide until its body begins to tear and form cracks, red trickling out from the hole before your persona finally rips it apart, spraying the remaining Fuzz with jelly from his hole.
  3192.     >[Wow. I think I’m ready to swear off donuts for good after watching that.]
  3193.     >The other donut cops huff with anger as they fumble for their pistols, taking aim at Enkidu and Dash before firing off a barrage of shots that sound like noisemakers, and leave trails of streamers and confetti as they pepper the two of you.
  3194.     >The shots mostly glance off of Enkidu’s strong body, but Dash is forced to frantically flit back and forth like a dragonfly to dodge the party handcannons.
  3195.     >Though she slips past the first few, a couple shots find their mark on her wing and sends her tumbling to the ground.
  3196.     >She just barely manages to catch the wind before she hits the ground, slowing the fall with her injured wings.
  3197.     >”Damn that hurts… I guess these guys really aren’t a joke.”
  3198.     >[Well they’re shooting you with superballs, so it’s kind of half and half. I’ve almost got their weakness nailed down here.]
  3199.     >”Roger that, Spike. Anonymous, can you keep drawing their fire for now?” Twilight asks as her Persona breathes a cool white light on to Dash, healing her wounds.
  3200.     >Enkidu grabs a Shadow by the neck and delivers a headbutt powerful enough to turn its mask concave with a loud gonging sound.
  3201.     “YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETAIN ME.”
  3202.     >[I get the feeling that means yes?]
  3203.     >"I get the feeling Anon has some issues with authority." Twilight muses.
  3204.     >"I get the feeling he's an idiot. But at least he's kicking butt! Red Baron!"
  3205.     >The plane glows and bathes the party in a bright green light!
  3206. >Enkidu’s wild haymakers plow into one donut cop after another as his fists shine green with Dash’s speed magic.
  3207. >A sea of jelly is beginning to form at your feet as the shadows hemorrhage it with every blow, the gunshots remaining ineffective against Enkidu’s tough skin as he rampages through the crowd.
  3208. >Dash re-enters the fray as well, darting around the battlefield with speed so incredible, wounds seem to appear on the shadows out of nowhere.
  3209. >Every hit you take either repairs on its own from Enkidu’s power, or is swiftly healed by Twilight, allowing the three of you to maintain perfect form in this orgy of sugary violence until…
  3210. >[Got it! Their weakness is fire! Toast ‘em, big guy!]
  3211. “PELE!”
  3212. >You call forth your new persona, taking the form of a dark-skinned woman with bright hair like flowing lava, clad only in a grass skirt and a wreath resting upon her head.
  3213. >[Whoah… she looks hot.]
  3214. >You snap your fingers at one of the donut cops, causing an explosion of flame that knocks it off its feet.
  3215. >Without skipping a beat, you turn and snap at the next, blowing him the fuck out with a burst of flame.
  3216. >Again and again you roast the pigs with consecutive agi spells until they’re each smoldering and helpless on their back.
  3217. >Rainbow Dash swoops down to your side. “We’re just getting warmed up! Ready to go All-Out?”
  3218. >You respond with a toothy grin, which is all the confirmation Dash needs as she leads the charge. “Let’s freaking GO!”
  3219. >It’s all out madness as the three of you smash, stab, and slice apart every single shadow on the field, leaving each of you soaked to the knees in raspberry jam as the dust settles, the last of the shadows finally bursting apart and melting away.
  3220. >You take a deep breath and plant your warhammer on the ground.
  3221. “I guess we’re free to go.”
  3222. >"Geez, Anon. Do you always go that nuts about Shadows?" Dash asks as she shakes jelly off her wings.
  3223. "Those were shadows?"
  3224. >Dash takes a step back and stares at you nervously.
  3225. "I'm kidding."
  3226.     >[That’s all for now, but you better hurry! Pinkie has already advanced to Stage 5!]
  3227.     “Stage 5 this quickly?”
  3228.     >Twilight slips her Naginata back into its sheath after cleaning the jelly off the blade. “Like Spike said earlier, it’s all catching up at once. I don’t know if Pinkie will have the strength to deal with her shadow for long after what she’s been through…”
  3229.     >”It’s Pinkie Pie. What kind of ‘dark inner self’ could she possibly be hiding?” Dash asks.
  3230.     >”I would have said the same about all of us. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nopony knows how to hurt you better than you do.”
  3231.     “If she reaches stage 6 before we get there, her shadow will start attacking Pinkie and the Branches. They’ll be defenseless.”
  3232.     >”Then let’s go already!” Dash takes off in the direction of the arrows, flying straight down the red taffy carpet and plowing straight through the gingerbread doors of the theater.
  3233.     >”Wait! It could be a trap!” Twilight calls out uselessly after Dash. “Oh no… now what do we do?”
  3234.     “Dash has the right idea. If Fantasia is shaped by your subconscious… I don’t think Pinkie’s subconscious wants to trick us. I think she wants us to notice her.”
  3235.     >Python vanishes as Spike walks up. “I think big guy makes sense. Besides, it’s the best lead we’ve got, and we need to stick together.”
  3236.     >Twilight looks to the theater hesitantly “But I… you’re right. We’ll follow the arrows. I’m right behind you.”
  3237.     >The three of you charge down the red carpet in a blur thanks to the effects of Dash’s spell.
  3238.     >Just as the three of you clear the threshold and enter the dark theater, you feel hear a squelching noise under your feet as you suddenly slip and begin to slide down into the darkness.
  3239.     “Whoooaooooh!”
  3240.     >Wind whips past you as your body hurtles down a long slide covered in what smells like butterscotch pudding.
  3241.     >You hear Spike’s voice calling out in the darkness from behind you, “Whooooah! H-Hey Twilight, didn’t we do something like this back in the Crystal Empire?!”
  3242.     >”We did! But at least we could see where we were going back then!” Twilight replies.
  3243.     >”IS THAT YOU GUYS UP THERE? TRY NOT TO LAND ON MY WINGS WHEN YOU GET TO THE BOTTOM!”
  3244.     “Oh shit how do we slow do-”
  3245.     >You’re cut off as you faceplant into what feels like a bunch of sticky pillows.
  3246.     >It’s a pretty soft landing. Twilight and Spike on the other hand slam straight into your spine.
  3247.     “Owf.”
  3248.     >”You okay, big guy?”
  3249.     “Twrf twrff tw grt hr fff aff off mr.”
  3250.     >The dragon and the alicorn climb off and let you drag yourself back to your feet in what seems to be a pit of marshmallows.
  3251.     >A burst of flame illuminates your view, revealing Spike holding onto a makeshift torch made out of a flaming marshmallow on a stick. Twilight and Dash are standing nearby at the bottom of the butterscotch slide.
  3252.     >Twilight glares at Rainbow Dash. “See what happens when you run ahead?”
  3253.     >Dash rolls her eyes. “Yeah, because I should have stuck close so you could fall onto my Vængrbrandr.”
  3254.     “Now’s not the time. I see a way out. Everyone stick close behind Spike so we can see with his torch.”
  3255.     >They look towards you and notice the hallway illuminated by the torch with bright red arrows pointing down it.
  3256.     "Lead the way, Little Man."
  3257.     >Spike holds the torch as high as he can and walks down the hallway.
  3258.     >Dash and Twilight share a bitter gaze before following you.
  3259.     >It’s not far down the candy coated hallway until you begin to hear the sound of an unhappy crowd.
  3260.     >Spike narrows his eyes as he tries to peer down the hallway. “Just a little further I think… does anyone else hear booing?”
  3261.     “They’re either booing or they want more boo-urns.”
  3262.     >”I’ve never heard anypony boo at Pinkie Pie.” Dash comments.
  3263.     >Twilight starts to walk faster. ”I don’t think that’s our Pinkie they’re booing…”
  3264.     >You hear a strange distorted voice echoing through the hallway. ”Aww, tough crowd tonight! Some folks really can’t take a joke. Must be all the ponyvillians in the audience. Hey, here’s one for you! I heard Princess Twilight taught ponyville a brand new use for books. Reading!”
  3265.     >Another wave of booing rings out, with members of the audience yelling at her to “Get off the stage!”
  3266.     >Spike holds the marshmallow torch out in front and runs as fast as his little legs can carry hi.
  3267.     >The three of you follow closely, unable to see more than a few feet until the moment you cross the threshold of the hallway.
  3268.     >As soon as you enter the room bright colorful lights spring to life as streamers and balloons rain down upon your head.
  3269.     >Noisemakers buzz loudly in your ear, and you hear a distorted voice call out, “Surpriiiise!”
  3270.     >Shielding your eyes from the bright light with your hand, you squint at the stage to see… a two-headed pink pony wearing a jacket?
  3271.     >Oh wait, it’s one of those trick jackets you put over two people to make it look like they have two heads.
  3272.     >One of them looks like the bubble-gum pink pony you remember from back in reality.
  3273.     >The other looks similar… but her hair is long and straightened, and her golden eyes give away her identity as a Shadow.
  3274.     >Pinka looks a little confused. “Oh… Twilight? Rainbow Dash? Spike? Anonymous? What’s going on? Why am I throwing you a surprise party at a comedy club?”
  3275.     >The shadow nudges her head playfully. “Don’t you remember? They said it was okay for us to throw him one! We’ve been waiting so long, after all. Hope you don’t mind we started warming up the crowd without you. Oh, of course you guys don’t mind. You NEVER mind starting without us. We’re always last, aren’t we? Even I met Twi first, she still sings my name last in the opening song!”
  3276.     >Twilight just raises her eyebrow. ”Song? What is she talking about? I don't get it."
  3277.     >"Oh, you think you need to "get" everything. There's a surprise." Pinkie's shadow says disdainfully.
  3278.     >”Hey, be nice to Twilight!” Penki snaps at her Shadow.
  3279.     >”I’m just joking… can’t friends joke around with each other? I thought you all liked my jokes… I thought you liked me… Oh well. Let’s get things started for realsies. Hi, I’m Pinkamena, and this is Pinkie Pie, and this is our one mare comedy show to welcome Anonymous!”
  3280.     >The crowd cheers, and Pinkles gives a kind of nervous smile and wave while her Shadow bows her head.
  3281.     >”Now then…” Pinkamena begins. “Speaking of Twilight, I’ve got a good one about her brother! Hey Pinkie Pie~!”
  3282.     >”Uh… yes, Pinkamena?” the pink mare answers hesitantly.
  3283.     >”What’s the only day of the year Shining Armor gets to have anal?”
  3284.     >Pinkie Pop puts her hoof over her mouth. “T-That’s not really an appropriate joke to tell… uh, maybe… I don’t know…”
  3285.     >”Family Appreciation Day!” Pinkamena says proudly to the amusement of the laughing crowd.
  3286.     >You look to Twilight as her face goes red. “T-That’s completely unfounded! Pinkie, do you really think that I’m attracted to my brother? What would even give you that idea?”
  3287.     >”You did sing a song about how much you missed him for like, a minute and a half and then got crazy jealous about him getting married.” Dash adds unhelpfully.
  3288.     >”Hey there Rainbow Crash! You know, I think I know why you had so much trouble learning to fly when you were a filly.” Pinkamena teases.
  3289.     >”Huh?” Dash looks back at the stage.
  3290.     >”Because you couldn’t tell when you weren’t straight!”
  3291.     >Dash’s face flushes with anger, but the roaring laughter of the crowd causes her to simply hide her face in her wings. “You Pinkie Promised you’d never talk about that stuff... “
  3292.     >”I… I didn’t!” The other pink horse protests. “I’m sorry Dash! I don’t know how she knows that!”
  3293.     >Pinkamena looks at her other head and smiles. “Didn’t I say this was a one mare show? I know it because I AM you.”
  3294.     >”They’re just jokes, Pinkie… it’s your friends who need to lighten up and stop taking things so seriously… Oh, here’s a good one. You ever hear of the biggest orgy in Ponyville? It was called the Apple Family Reunion!” Pinkamena smiles and waves to the crowd when they jeer at her joke.
  3295.     “Stop it! I don’t tell those kinds of jokes… those kinds jokes hurt ponies!”
  3296.     >”What’s it matter? It’s all just a joke to us! It’s all just a show… and everypony else is just a fickle audience. They act like they love you because you make them smile and laugh! But once their clown stops being funny, look how fast they turn against us!”
  3297.     >Twilight shakes her head. “That’s not true! We all care about Pinkie!”
  3298.     >Pinkamena throws back her head and laughs loudly. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all evening! You care about us? Partying is the one thing that keeps us going… if we’re not partying, we realize just how empty and meaningless our life is! And you took it away from us without a second thought, letting us suffer in silence! All that time you didn’t even have a clue that something was wrong!”
  3299.     >Twilight sinks to her knees. “I… I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to! I just forgot!”
  3300.     >”They’re always going to “just forget” about us! Because they know that once the music stops… we’re nothing. We don’t have a single thing in life we truly care about! Behind all those smiles and laughs is a sad, empty Mare who has no dreams, no aspirations, and no future. They’ll get tired of your parties… they’ll get tired of US. Because nopony loves a sad clown. Nopony.”
  3301.     “No… No! I’m not like that! And I’d never even think of jokes like that about my friends! I’m not going to be a part of this any more!”
  3302.     >The two horses start to struggle and push against each other under the jacket.
  3303.     >“Rgh… what do you think you’re doing!” Pinkamena yells.
  3304.     “Stop! Don’t do it!”
  3305.     >”I’m ending this! Show’s OVER!” The pink horse yells as she rips the costume loudly, separating her Shadow.
  3306.     >Pinkie glares angrily... and collapses.
  3307. “But… she didn’t say it!”
  3308. >[She doesn’t need to. She rejected her shadow in her heart. She’s in Phase 6!]
  3309. >”Show’s over, huh? All right, no more fun and games!”
  3310. >The streamers decorating the candy theater flock to Pinkamena, swarming her and twisting shape to form a crude shell like a giant featureless humanoid pinata.
  3311. >Long balloons circle her like flying snakes, twisting and contorting themselves to link up and form rows of balloon armor.
  3312. >Oversized balloon boxing gloves and balloon shoes attach themselves to her limbs, and colored balloons give her an angry looking balloon frowny face.
  3313. >She pulls out a jumbo sized balloon sword as her reverberating voice booms, “I AM A SHADOW… THE TRUE SELF! If this show can’t go on forever, then I’ll do you a favor and let you experience the ecstasy of death! Better to die smiling than to live a pointless life!”
  3314. “At least she didn’t turn into a killer clown.”
  3315. >[Those balloons around her are blocking my scan! I can’t analyze like this!]
  3316. >”We can’t scan her? What do we do? Sun Huf said in the Art of War that if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles… but if you’re ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril… but if we only know one... “ Twilight furrows her brow in concentration, trying to decide...
  3317. “Twilight look out!”
  3318. >A flaming pie strikes her head on, exploding on impact and sending her flying into the wall, dazed and damaged. “Ahh!”
  3319. >[Twilight! Guys, she looks hurt!]
  3320. >”See what happens when you wait around? She’s made of balloons! Pop her!”
  3321. >Dash darts forth and with a flash of steel, tears apart the balloons on the shadow’s right arm with a series of rapid fire popping noises.
  3322. >She swoops around and hovers nearby to examine her handiwork. “Wait, what’s that?”
  3323. >A little black ball with a skull on it floats in the air where a balloon once stood. The shadow giggles playfully. “Hee hee… sorry, you picked the booby prize!”
  3324.     >[It’s a bomb!]
  3325.     >A bright explosion knocks Dash out of the sky and sends her tumbling to the ground, slamming into it with a crunch.
  3326.     >”Urgh! The hell… how is that fair…?”
  3327.     >[This is bad… they’re both hurt and you used up most of your magic in the last fight!]
  3328.     >He’s right. Those rapid fire agi spells from Pele weren’t cheap. But you think you might have just enough…
  3329.     “I got this. We’re not out of the fight yet.”
  3330.     >You focus your willpower and draw a card from your pocket before striking it with your fingertip. “Change! Demeter!”
  3331.     >A woman with golden hair and a plain white toga appears in a flash.
  3332.     >She holds a sheaf of white out towards Twilight, and a golden glow of energy reinvigorates Twilight, bringing her back to her hooves. “Thanks, Anon!”
  3333.     “Can you heal us?”
  3334.     >”On it. Snedronningen!”
  3335.     >Soothing white light from Twilight’s Persona envelops the entire party, fixing their wounds.
  3336.     “Thanks. Dash, I think I have an idea. Can you speed us up first?”
  3337.     >”You want me to be even faster? Just say the word. Persona!”
  3338.     >The Party golem raises another flaming pie. “Why so serious, nonny? Nobody likes a tryhard, just have fun and quit trying to act smart!”
  3339.     >A plate of delicious fire streaks towards your face, but between Dash’s spell and Demeter’s natural ability, evading it is…
  3340.     “Easy as pie!”
  3341.     >”Who are you calling easy? I’ll have you know I don’t put out until the first date!” the shadow retorts.
  3342.     >You make a quick mental note to follow up on that, and swap out to Chiron.
  3343.     “Twin shot!”
  3344.     >The centaur takes its bow and looses a pair of arrows at the shadow.
  3345.     >They each sail through a patch of clustered balloons, and just as you suspected, another bomb reveals itself and detonates in the distance in a huge burst of flame!
  3346.     >”Ouchie!” The shadow yells as she pulls back her arm. “Hey, that’s supposed to hurt you a lot more than it hurts me!”
  3347.     “Twi, stay on defense unless we need to heal. Dash, light her up from a distance with your Persona!”
  3348.     >”Got it!”
  3349.     >”Got it!”
  3350.     >The gun barrels on the Baron’s plane whirr to life and pepper the shadow’s balloon armor with lead, stripping away at the balloon armor with a Torrent Shot.
  3351.     >Twilight hangs back with her wings extended, ready to move at a moment’s notice while Chiron rears up and extends his arms, causing a flow of green energy to siphon from the shadow’s body into yours.
  3352.     >”Oh no, you’re stripping me bare in front of all these people! Just kidding, we don’t wear clothes anyway!” The shadow laughs at her own joke before taking a wide swing at all three of you with the balloon sword!
  3353.     >Despite its flimsy construction, the massive sword cuts at your personas when it comes into contact with it, as well as slicing apart the candy seats in the front row of the audience. Luckily they’ve started to evacuate towards the back, so the collateral damage is limited to furniture.
  3354.     >Twilight tosses another healing spell at the party, instantly returning each of you to peak shape. “Great! We’ve got this pattern down and you’ve nearly got all her balloons!”
  3355.     “Can you clear off the rest with me, Dash?”
  3356.     >”Give me 10 seconds!”
  3357.     10
  3358.     “PERSONA!”
  3359.     >”PERSONA!”
  3360.     >You unleash a simultaneous storm of bullets and arrows!
  3361.     9
  3362.     8
  3363.     >Dash’s bullets ignite a bomb on her right leg, clearing it off!
  3364.     7
  3365.     6
  3366.     >An arrow strikes a bomb, and the concussive blast takes out the last balloons on her left arm!
  3367.     5
  3368.     4
  3369.     >Dash’s shots leave her left leg smoking and bare as she starts to fall to the ground!
  3370.     3
  3371.     >You finish her right arm!
  3372.     2
  3373.     >Dash charges in alongside the storm of projectiles!
  3374.     1
  3375.     >Her wings slice clean along its face, popping the final balloons in a deafening explosion, leaving a rainbow shockwave as Dash flies away from the fully exposed shadow!
  3376.     0!
  3377.     >She loops around in the air and makes a smooth landing next to you.
  3378.     >“Told ya. Ten seconds flat.”
  3379.     >[I see it! Her main body is weak to physical strikes!]
  3380.     >”I think you’re forgetting I’ve got one balloon left!” The shadow yells as it raises the balloon sword up high, bringing it down right towards you in a massive finishing strike!
  3381.     >”d’Artagan! Stop that blade!”
  3382.     >The musketeer draws his steel and holds it high, causing an illogical clang as the balloon sword meets it and grinds against your persona’s sword, sending sparks flying!
  3383.     >You rush up along your Persona and take hold of the balloon, putting your back into it and lifting hard, dragging the party golem’s light streamer body into the sky.
  3384.     “Now! Split this pinata wide open, girls!”
  3385.     >They fly straight and swing their blades wildly at its vulnerable torso, cutting the ribbons to smaller ribbons and tearing apart its streamer body!
  3386.     >It falls to the stage in pieces as you hear the weak voice of the shadow. “Looks like… it’s… curtains…”
  3387.     >You sheath your weapons, and the shadow explodes into a black goop before fading away.
  3388.     >All that’s left is Pinkamena, as her other self begins to reawaken and step towards her.
  3389.     >The shadow begins to mutter weakly. “Underneath it all… there’s just nothing. Nobody really needs us… they’ll just leave us behind.”
  3390.     >These words bring a tear to the real one’s eye as she sniffles. “I… I guess seeing other ponies happy really is what makes my life worthwhile… and without that I don’t know what else I can do. I party because I don’t want to see them sad… because it’ll make me realize that I’m sad. And… it’s my fault, because I never tell anyone. I just try to pretend it’s not there until it goes away. But I can’t do that forever. I can’t pretend you don’t exist.”
  3391.     >Pinkamena looks down sadly, and Pimkie places her hooves against Pinkamena’s chest.
  3392.     >”Hey, cheer up… Making ponies smile is what I live for… and I wanna see us smile too.”
  3393.     >Pinkamena looks at herself. “But… they’ll just leave us… because we’re useless...”
  3394.     >She shakes her head. “I know that’s what we might think… but that’s not up to us. It’s up to them. And they’re still here fighting for us. Our friends are here for us, and they want us to smile. After all, you’re me. And I’m you.”
  3395.     >You see a smile come to Pinkamena’s gloomy face as she puts her arms around her other self and starts to fade away, merging into the body of her other self.
  3396.  
  3397.     The strength of heart required to face oneself has been made manifest…
  3398.     Pinkie Pie has faced her other self…
  3399.     She has obtained the facade used to overcome life’s hardships, the Persona Apollo!
  3400.  
  3401.     >She looks back at the four of you and smiles, “Sorry I put you through all this trouble. I guess this wasn’t a very fun show…”
  3402.     “Don’t be so sure. I think the crowd loves it.”
  3403.     >In the back seats, a sea of ponies sits with tears in their eyes, sniffling and crying at her emotional display. They begin to applaud loudly to show their support, cheering and whistling and calling her name. “Pinkie! Pinkie! Pinkie!”
  3404.     >Twilight and Spike both have tears in their eyes as well, while Dash is trying to look away and not show you her eyes.
  3405.     “They sure do love you, Panka.”
  3406.     >The pink horse giggles, “No, silly. My name is Pinkamena Diane Pie. But everyone calls me Pinkie Pie. You can call me that too.”
  3407.     “Oh! It’s pronounced Pinkie Pie? Why didn’t anyone tell me? I’ve been saying it wrong this whole time…”
  3408.     >Pinkie bursts into a fit of bubbly laughter, joined by Spike, Dash and Twilight.
  3409.     >It’s a bit contagious, and soon you and the crowd start to laugh as well.
  3410.     >You all sit there laughing like fools for what feels like days. You’re not even sure what’s so funny.
  3411.     >Maybe it’s just because it feels good to do it.
  3412.     >You barely even notice when you all drift back out of fantasia and laugh yourselves awake.
  3413.     >Pinkie’s laughter eventually gives way to yawning as she rests on the ground.
  3414.     >Twilight looks to you. "Could you carry her to bed?"
  3415. “Sure. Come on, Pinkie.”
  3416. >You leave your warhammer on the floor and scoop the pink horse up into your arms with some effort.
  3417. “Hrrghh…
  3418. >Pinkie giggles drowsily. ‘Hee hee… guess I should lay off the cupcakes… thanks for carrying me…”
  3419. >She wraps her forelegs around you and holds on as you carry her up the stairs.
  3420. >Twilight watches with a smile. “We’ll get someone to take care of Pound and Pumpkin. Get some sleep, and we’ll talk about everything in the morning, okay, Pinkie?”
  3421. >”Mmhm…” Pinkie mumbles.
  3422. >As you climb the stairs, you see a lot of framed photographs of parties she’s thrown in the past, including one with a small alligator wearing a party hat.
  3423. >Can’t help but feel curious about that one, but you decide to just carry her to bed in silence.
  3424. >As you place her on the bed and throw the covers over her, she lets out a satisfied dreamy sigh.
  3425. “Good night, Pinkie.”
  3426. >You head back downstairs and go straight home with Twilight to get some sleep.
  3427.  
  3428. Sunday, November 6th
  3429.  
  3430. Twilight's Castle, Morning
  3431.  
  3432. >There’s a note near your bed from Twilight.
  3433. >It says to come to the meeting room to discuss something once you wake up and get ready.
  3434. >After taking a quick shower, you suit up and head to the meeting room where Pinkie, Spike, Twilight, and Dash are waiting for you.
  3435. >Pinkie is just finishing up reading through Spike’s report.
  3436. >She places it on the ground just as you come in. “Yeah, I had a feeling it was something like that. Hi, Anon!”
  3437. >”Good morning.” Twilight greets you. “I had something important about the Dream Team to discuss. Which as it turns out, was a name that RAINBOW DASH thought up of first, so she has no reason to criticize my choice!”
  3438. >Dash rolls her eyes, “Yeah, but I wasn’t like ‘trying’ so whatever…”
  3439. “What’s this about?”
  3440. >Twilight looks back at you. “Well, to put it simply… I guess I’ve sort of been acting like I was the de facto leader of our group without really asking if that’s what everyone wanted. So I wanted to know if you'd like to be our leader, Anon."
  3441. >You take a moment to consider how you feel about all this…
  3442. “I don’t think I’d be able to help manage everything I know you’ve been doing for us out here… so I’ll pass on that kind of stuff. But once we get into Fantasia, I’d be willing to take over as our Field Leader. I’ll lead the Dream Team, but everything outside that I trust you all to do on your own. Is that what you all want?”
  3443. >Spike pumps his fist in the air. “I’m behind you 100% Big Man!”
  3444. >Dash smirks. “You seem to know how to handle yourself in a fight. Just as long as you’re not looking over my shoulder telling me which way to whiz all the time.”
  3445. >Pinkie smiles joyfully, “I for one, welcome our new human overlord!”
  3446. >Twi just giggles, “Seems like you’ve got some kind of charisma. Maybe your true self is some sort of Great Leader.”
  3447. “If I turn out to be Kim Jong Un I’m gonna be pissed. But this sounds good. Twilight can handle what she’s been doing, and I’ll be the Field Leader of the Dream Team.”
  3448. >”Then it’s settled. We won’t let you down, Leader!” Twi says with a smile.
  3449. “Anon is fine. Anything else?”
  3450. >Everyone else looks around, as Pinkie gets a devious little smile on her face. “Well~ there’s one thing… I want to play a little game with you.”
  3451. “I’m scared. And maybe a little turned on.”
  3452. >Pinkie waves her hoof and laughs, “Haha, not that kind of game, silly. Do you remember how to play ‘I Spy’?”
  3453. “I… do, actually.”
  3454. >”Well… I spy with my little eye, something beginning with S.”
  3455. “Uh, okay. Spike?”
  3456. >”Nope! Guess again!”
  3457. “Ssseats?”
  3458. >”Nuh uh!”
  3459. ”Suit?”
  3460. >”Not quite!”
  3461. “Shoes?”
  3462. >”Not even close! You give up?”
  3463. “Yeah, what is it?”
  3464. >Twilight’s horn glows, and there’s a blinding flash of purple light!
  3465. >When your vision clears, you’re standing on a stage in town square just like Celestia was, with a large crowd of ponies and others waiting to yell at once, “SURPRISE!!!”
  3466. >Streamers and balloons fly through the air, and a large banner unfolds reading
  3467.  
  3468. WELCOME TO PONVILLE, ANONYMOUS!
  3469.  
  3470. "Well, I did say you could have one!"
  3471.     >Pinkie squeals loudly, “Eee! You like it! I’m so glad you like it! I’ve been waiting so long to throw you your Welcome to Ponyville Party! Or… Ponville, I guess. Yeah, I kind of made that banner after several days of sleep deprivation.
  3472.     >Twilight clears her throat to get Pinkie’s attention.
  3473.     >”Oh right! I forgot.”
  3474.     >Pinkie zips up to the podium and takes the microphone. “Fillies and Gentlecolts, I would like to introduce you to our good friend from a far away land, Anonymous! He hasn’t been out in public much because he’s kind of a hikki, and his appearance might look a little too spooky for some of you, but I know you’ll all love him just as much as me! So please give him that big friendly Ponyville welcome!”
  3475.     >The entire crowd cheers and claps for you. One mare is practically foaming at the mouth with excitement by your appearance.
  3476.     >Pinkie holds the mic in your direction. “Care to say a few words about yourself?”
  3477.     “I’ll have to keep it to a few, but sure.”
  3478.     >You take the Mic from her and stand at the podium to address the crowd.
  3479.     “Uh, hello, ponies.”
  3480.     “I am Anonymous. You can call me Anon. I come in peace. I uh, I like the people err, ponies that I’ve met here so far. They’re really nice. And cute. And uh, you know. There’s the Elements of Harmony that I met, and they’re all nice, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and I think I’m an honorary member, and I met their teacher already too, and I think there’s like one more? Yeah, Celestia. But she was pretty cool, we talked for a little bit ‘cause she wanted to see me back when I was kind of hiding because I didn’t want you all to think I was this crazy green monster out to steal your souls. We thought I might have been from another world, but we tried to send me back there and it didn’t work, so I probably have this kind of curse which I don’t think is contagious, but either way I have amnesia for everything before the past week or so, so I’m still sort of trying to find out who I am. Uh, Thank you?"
  3481.     >...
  3482.     >... “YEEEEEAAAAH!"
  3483.     >There’s always that one guy who’ll cheer no matter how bad you bombed that. You’re not sure if he makes things better or worse.
  3484.     >You shuffle away from the podium and there’s some kind of forced clapping.
  3485.     >Twilight holds the Mic with her magic as she takes the podium. “Well, the good news is we’ve safely eliminated “public speaker” from his list of possible identities. But I think I’d like to take a moment along with my friends to talk about how we’ve gotten to know Anon the past week.”
  3486.     >You pass by Spike who just gives you a look that says ‘I know that feel’.
  3487.     >He exchanges a silent nod with you.
  3488.     >”Even though the world we live in is very strange and confusing to him, that hasn’t stopped Anon from making friends with nearly everypony he’s met so far! And even though he’s a bit quirky, when things get tough, he really pulls through for his friends. I’m proud to call Anonymous my friend.”
  3489.     >Twi leaves the podium gracefully to much more sincere applause as Dash takes her place.
  3490.     >”He can act a little lame sometimes, but even though I was a complete jerk to him at first, he put up with me and helped me out. So I’m also proud to call him my friend.”
  3491.     >This continues with Spike, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack, and the CMC each taking a moment to talk about the good you’ve done for them and your positive qualities.
  3492.     >By the end, everyone is applauding cheerfully and most of them seem to have forgotten your pathetic attempt at a speech.
  3493.     >Once you’re out of guest speakers, Pinkie takes the mic again. “And with that, I think it’s time we get this party STARTED! HIT IT!”
  3494.     >The crowd cheers and a classical music quartet begins to play. It’s not entirely what you expected, but it seems nice.
  3495.     >You recognize the gray mare playing the Cello as that Branch victim during Dash’s outbreak, Octavia.
  3496.     >A white mare with electric blue hair and glasses with purple lenses lays next to the band on a blanket, watching her with a satisfied expression.
  3497.     >Pinkie puts her foreleg on your shoulder. “How’s it all look, Anon? Music wasn’t my first choice, but our usual DJ is still recovering.”
  3498.     “It’s great. I gotta thank you all for the assist back there. I bombed pretty hard, but they all look like they’re ready to accept me thanks to you guys. Honestly I’ve been wanting an opportunity to be able to use my normal form around town for a while, and you really came through for me on that one. Thanks, Pinkie.”
  3499.     >”Heh, don’t mention it. After all, we’re friends now, aren’t we?”
  3500.     “Yeah, of course.”
  3501.     >!
  3502.  
  3503.     —————————————————————
  3504.  
  3505.     Thou art I… And I am thou…
  3506.  
  3507.     Thou hast established a new bond…
  3508.  
  3509.     It brings thee closer to the truth…
  3510.  
  3511.     Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Sun Arcana.
  3512.  
  3513.     —————————————————————
  3514.  
  3515.     >”You know, you can stop by some time when I’m off of work if you want to hang out and talk. Right now I think you oughta get your butt to mingling!”
  3516.     “Okay, but first, where’s Fluttershy? I wanted to thank her for tipping me off that you weren’t okay. Something didn’t happen to her, did it?”
  3517.     >”She said she’d come, but she might be a little late. Also she said to forget about all that stuff she told you about her Dad.”
  3518.     “What stuff about her dad?”
  3519.     >”Nice! You really are a good friend. Oh! Guests at 6:00!”
  3520.     >You turn to see two mares approaching you from behind. One excited unicorn with a seafoam green and white coat, and a cream colored earth pony with a pink and blue mane.
  3521.     >The cream mare is the first to greet you. “It’s nice to meet you, Anonymous. I’m Bon Bon, and this is my very special somepony, Lyra Heartstrings.”
  3522.     “Uh, nice to meet you.”
  3523.     >You instinctively extend your hand to shake, and Lyra seizes it in both hooves.
  3524.     >Bon Bon glares at Lyra, who says defensively, “I’m just shaking his hand. It’s customary!”
  3525.     “Yeah, I don’t really know a lot about pony culture, so it’s fine. But you’re kind of supposed to do it with just one… hoof. Or hand. Whatever.”
  3526.     >She continues to shake your hand for a little too long.
  3527. >Lyra looks up at you with a dreamy smile. “It’s customary to stroke my mane to establish trust.”
  3528. “It is?”
  3529. >”It’s not. Don’t trust her.” Bon Bon says flatly.
  3530. “Eh, I don’t mind.”
  3531. >You reach out and gently run your fingers through her white and light green mane. It’s soft, and feels pretty good on your hand. Lyra closes her eyes with a gracious smile while Bon Bon just rolls her eyes.
  3532. >”I have to apologize for her. She has a fixation about certain anatomical features not found on ponies. She tends to forget about certain things when it comes to them, like manners. Or her girlfriend.” Bon Bon scowls.
  3533. “It’s fine, I’m just glad ponies aren’t scared of me. It’s good that she’s uh, curious.”
  3534. >Lyra looks up at you beaming with an intense look in her eyes. “It’s customary to put your fingers in my mouth.”
  3535. >Bon Bon hooks Lyra’s neck with her foreleg, dragging her away in a submission hold. “I should have learned my lesson at that Iron Will seminar. You are sleeping on the couch tonight, missy!”
  3536. >”Can it be his couch?”
  3537. >”NO.”
  3538. >Lyra stretches her forelegs out at you tearfully as Bon Bon drags her away from the party.
  3539. >All things considered you’re still going to count this social interaction as successful.
  3540. >”Excuse us…” You hear two simultaneous voices from behind you.
  3541. >Turning around, you see a pair of nearly identical mares wearing white headbands and collars. The only difference is one has a blue coat with a pink mane and tail, while the other has a pink coat with a blue mane and tail.
  3542. >Even their cutie marks are nearly the same.
  3543. “... man I gotta ask Twi more questions about your guys’s laws.”
  3544. >”Lotus Blossom.” The Blue mare introduces herself with a bow of the head.
  3545. >”Aloe Blossom.” The Pink mare says, bowing in turn.
  3546. >”We have a bit of a proposition.” says Lotus.
  3547. >”There’s a position we’d like to see you in.” Aloe continues.
  3548. “This isn’t illegal, right? I mean I’m assuming you’re sisters… or did you just marry your doppelganger?”
  3549.     >”Oh, we’re sisters. Twins, actually.” answers Lotus.
  3550.     >”And it was Twilight’s suggestion that we do this, in fact.”
  3551.     “This is the best party ever.”
  3552.     >”You seem quite excited.”
  3553.     >”You must be very eager to work with us.”
  3554.     “Work! Yes. That’s what I want to do. Work. That’s what we’re talking about. Twilight said she talked to Lotus and Aloe for me, and that’s you two. You are both talking to me about becoming a masseuse.”
  3555.     >”We’re interested in seeing what you can do.” says Lotus.
  3556.     >”We’ll still have to give you some training, but you could start work as a part timer, and we could see how things go from there. How does that sound?” Aloe asks.
  3557.     “It sounds good. I’ll give it a shot and see how it works out.”
  3558.     >”Excellent!” Lotus says cheerfully.
  3559.     >”See you tomorrow then.” Aloe says as she walks away with her sister.
  3560.     >You take a short break between mingling to scarf down some of the free food.
  3561.     >It ends up mostly being cake and other sweets, as the idea of a carrot in a hot dog bun just seems disgusting to you. Maybe fine for ponies, but you’ll stick to your mashed pig genitals stuffed in intestine.
  3562.     >Before the hypocrisy can really hit, you notice some of the ponies have quieted down and begun to stare in the same direction.
  3563.     >Turning your head to see what all the fuss is about, you instantly understand their silence.
  3564.     >Fluttershy is walking to the party with a blindfold over her eyes and a leash and collar around her neck.
  3565.     >Holding on to the other end of the leash is a tall serpentine creature with four limbs. His gray face looks a bit like a snaggletoothed misshapen pony, with a golden circlet wrapped around his head. His horns, wings, limbs, and tail seem to come from too many animals to count. You should probably learn how to count past 9 some time.
  3566.     >He struts confidently, holding onto her leash with a little slack as his smooth voice rings out,
  3567. >“We’re here, Fluttershy. And I think I see the man of the hour himself. Would you like to talk to him?”
  3568.     >”Oh, yes please. Thank you for helping me out like this. Nopony’s staring at me, are they?”
  3569.     >Nearly everypony is staring at either her or her patchwork companion.
  3570.     >”You’re practically invisible.” he reassures her. “Come along now.” he gives her leash a gentle tug and walks towards you.
  3571.     >”Aaaand heel!” He stops in front of you, and Fluttershy stands by his side. “Good girl!” he reaches down and rubs her head proudly, causing her to giggle.
  3572.     >The unusual mish mashed creature extends his eagle claw to you. “Anonymous, I presume? Pleased to finally meet you. I am Discord, ex-ex-ex-spirit of disharmony.”
  3573.     >You stare at him and Fluttershy for a couple seconds before leaning in and asking quietly.
  3574.     “... is this a sex thing? Because I’m not touching your hand if this is a sex thing.”
  3575.     >”Oh! Good! Heeeeeavens! What ever could lead you to think something like that? A pure temperate maiden like Fluttershy doing something so lewd? Why, peerish the thought. Such an absolutely filthy mind you have.” He says dripping with sarcasm and sass as he mimes fainting motions.
  3576.     >You continue to stare, unconvinced.
  3577.     >”Well obviously, my good friend Fluttershy here wanted so dearly to attend your party even though she can’t bear looking at your face, so she asked her old pal Discord to show her the way there while she wore a blindfold so she can attend your Welcome to Ponyville Party without fear! Isn’t that right, Fluttershy?”
  3578.     >”It’s true!” she agrees cheerfully. “This way I can talk to you without being afraid. I asked him to do this. And I’m very grateful he volunteered.”
  3579. >”Assisting the blind, why I’m a regular boy scout! All part of the new-new-new and improved Discord!”
  3580. “Why does her collar say ‘Juicy’ on it?”
  3581. >”I had to reuse one from my old pet. Sadly he is no longer with us, but I’m sure that he went happy. After all, he was drunk! May he rip in piece...”
  3582. >A single tear drips out from one of Discord’s wild eyes and falls to the ground dramatically.
  3583. >In a flash of purple light, Twilight appears next to you with a pop. “Discord.”
  3584. >”Oh, why if it isn’t Twilight Sparkle! Have you tried the punch? It’s got some kick.” Discord says smugly.
  3585. >”Are you really so petty that you have to rebel by humiliating Fluttershy in public like this?” Twilight glares.
  3586. >”Of course not, she asked for this! I’m helping her out like any good friend would.”
  3587. >”Are you sure about that?” asks Twilight. “Because I think you might be being… ‘n-”
  3588. >”Oh no, not the N-Word, not in front of everypony…” Discord pleads. “I’m just trying to help her the best I can, I swear on my father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate’s grave!”
  3589. “N-Word?”
  3590. >Twilight looks over at you. “Discord has a bit of a history of poor behavior, so we’ve set it up that saying a certain word in his presence will… correct his behavior. Not that it will cause him any real pain, just a bit of discomfort and embarrassment. And I think one good turn might deserve another. You were talking to them longer, what do you think?”
  3591.  
  3592. As wise woman once said, ‘¿por qué no los dos?'
  3593. “It’s fine, isn’t it, Twilight? I mean, Spike gave me some cliff notes on the stuff this guy did now that I think about it, but Fluttershy says she really did ask him to do this.”
  3594. >Twilight still looks a little concerned. “Yeah, but just because she asks doesn’t mean he can’t use ‘discretion.’”
  3595. “And I agree on that. “Juicy” is probably going a bit too far.”
  3596. >”Well clearly you weren’t a 70’s child then. Pet Juice was all the rage in those days.” Discord pouts.
  3597. “I figure it’s enough to let him off with a warning this time, isn’t it?”
  3598. >Discord smirks. “I knew you’d see it my way. See, Twilight? No harm, no foul.”
  3599. “But I gotta say, when you were talking about N-Words, I thought it was going to be niggers.”
  3600. >”Anon! I told you not to say that word!” Twilight looks at you flustered.
  3601. >Discord leans in curiously. ”Ooh? Why, what’s it mean? It sounds like such a fun word to really yell out loud.”
  3602. “Sorry, it’s just a naughty word from my world.”
  3603. >As soon as the word “naughty” finishes leaving your lips, that golden headband you saw discord wearing glows brightly.
  3604. >Suddenly, his head is sent crashing to the ground with his backside in the air.
  3605. >The headband glows with a gold magical aura as Discord grumbles into the ground. “Now that was on purpose.”
  3606. “Oh, good heavens. What ever could lead you to think something like that?"
  3607. >”Very funny. I’d applaud your sense of humor if it weren’t that my hands are stuck to the ground as well.”
  3608. >”Seems like a perfectly reasonable coincidence to me. But you know what you need to do to free yourself.” Twilight says.
  3609. >Discord grumbles into the ground a bit. “Razzum frazzum… fine. I’m sorry for enabling my friend into putting herself in an embarrassing situation. And for lying about the name of my pet juice.”
  3610. >”Apology accepted.” Twilight says clearly, allowing Discord to lift his face from the ground.
  3611. >”Your streets are filthy, by the way. I should hope I don’t catch my death of hoof-and-mouth.”
  3612. “You’re not mad, are you?”
  3613. >”That's my secret. I'm always mad.” Discord replies pridefully. “But at least someone is having fun with this anti-fun headband.” He says, tugging at it uselessly.
  3614. “I thought I heard Spike say everything was ‘cool now’ between all of you?”
  3615. >”While I forgive Discord for his actions, that doesn’t excuse him from having to face punishment for them. If you break the trust of your friends, sometimes you have to earn it back. And it doesn’t prevent you from having fun, Discord, it just means you can’t use the full extent of your magic to do whatever you want.”
  3616. >”And where’s the fun in that?” Discord asks, pouting. “Besides, if friendship is magic, and you’re restricting my magic, then… let’s see, A = B… carry the one… you’re restricting my friendship too!”
  3617. >”Nice try, but the headband stays. Besides, it isn’t up to me. Celestia and Luna were the ones to decide your punishment, and I’m going to respect their decision. Luna wanted to turn you back to stone until I begged her to reconsider!”
  3618. >Discord leans over to you. “Between you and me, being stoned for over a thousand years is not nearly as fun as it sounds.”
  3619. >”Look at it this way, by wearing that headband, you’re helping everypony be able to trust you. And if you just behave yourself and show everypony how much you’ve changed, it’ll be gone before you know it.”
  3620. “If it’s such a big deal, why are you pushing the envelope so much with this?”
  3621. >Discord rolls his eyes, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have such an integral part of yourself stolen and locked away like this?”
  3622. “Yes.”
  3623. >”Yes.” Twilight says firmly. “And so do Celestia, Luna, Cadence, and all the other ponies Tirek stole magic from.”
  3624. >”You know on second thought, I think I heard Rarity say that headbands are in this year…” Discord muses to himself as he looks at his reflection in the punch bowl.
  3625. >Twilight just sighs and walks away to rejoin the party.
  3626.     >You see Discord blow a raspberry at Twilight as she leaves.
  3627.     “I’m actually confused. Are you guys friends or not?”
  3628.     >”Well of course we are, didn’t you hear it straight from the pony’s mouth right there?”
  3629.     “I just don’t get why you’re giving her such a hard time. It’s pretty obvious she doesn’t want to be doing this.”
  3630.     >Discord actually seems surprised. “How do you figure? That pony wouldn’t eat her Alphabet Soup out of order. She has to be in control of absolutely every aspect of her life!”
  3631.     “Not with you. You’re her friend. I’ve seen her be bossy, controlling, stubborn, obsessive, and even blindly dogmatic when it comes to certain things. But she’d rather die than live a life without her friends. So if you really consider her your friend, then you should realize this and quit being an asshole.”
  3632.     >Discord looks down to the ground. “I… I know she considers me her friend, but… I’ve always wanted to be more than that, you know? I mean, immortality can just get so lonely… ever since she became an Alicorn princess, I’ve seen that look in her eyes that asks ‘will I even be the same pony 100 years from now?’ And it makes me just want to scoop her into my arms and tell her that there’s someone who knows that pain… someone who will be willing to spend eternity with her for better or worse, someone who’s already spent so many years alone and can’t bear to watch another go down that road… but what if she says no? What if she can’t accept me for who I really am? That’s why I keep pushing my boundaries, Anon. Because I’m just too scared to put my heart out on display for her… I need to know for certain if she loves me the way I love her.”
  3633.     “Wow… really?”
  3634.     >”No, I'm trolling her because I don't have my powers and I'm bored. And now I'm trolling you for the same reason."
  3635.     "I can't believe I took that bait."
  3636.     >"From the original master baiter himself! Nothing personnel, kid. But you're literally 1,000 years too early to be out trolling me."
  3637. “All right, you got me once, I got you once. Let’s call it even?”
  3638. >”Very well, even if you’re a bit green compared to me, I shall admit you to be a worthy enough opponent in my current state.” He extend his eagle claw to you, which you shake firmly.
  3639. “Only your current state? So this isn’t even your final form?”
  3640. >”Well…” he leans in next to you. “Get me to Rank 10 and who knows what parts of my ‘form’ you’ll see.” Discord whispers, licking his lips.
  3641. >!
  3642.  
  3643. —————————————————————
  3644.  
  3645. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  3646.  
  3647. Thou hast established a new bond…
  3648.  
  3649. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  3650.  
  3651. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Death Arcana.
  3652.  
  3653. —————————————————————
  3654.  
  3655. “... I hope I’m being trolled right now.”
  3656. >”Why would I deceive my new friend for the purposes of personal enjoyment?”
  3657. “That question answers itself.”
  3658. >”Maybe so, but even cut off from my natural senses as I am, I can tell we’re not so different, you and I. Why, we’re even both honorary members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
  3659. “They trust you around children?”
  3660. >”They trust YOU around children.”
  3661. “Exactly how much do you know about me anyway?”
  3662. >Discord chuckles to himself, “Oh, Anon… I know more than you’d think… but less than you’d hope. If you’re interested, come visit me at Fluttershy’s cottage some time. We can have some
  3663. hot coffee.”
  3664. “I have to warn you though, I am very particular about my coffee. The very best you have, please.”
  3665. >”I understand.” he smiles.
  3666. “... how? I barely understand what I’m saying.”
  3667. >"I could tell you... but I won't."
  3668. “And why not?”
  3669. >”Because it appears I don’t know how to put on a collar without magic.”
  3670. >Discord holds up a leash with an undone collar.
  3671. “I thought she was being sort of quiet.”
  3672. >”I’d better go find her before Twilight finds out. Do consider my offer though. TTFN.” Discord gives you a limp wristed wave and walks off to find Fluttershy.
  3673. >The party still seems to have quite a bit of life in it.
  3674. >You spy Dash eating alone and decide to join her.
  3675.     >She seems to not notice when you approach her until you speak up.
  3676.     “How’s the party?”
  3677.     >”Huh? Oh. Sorry, I was kinda spacing out. What’s up?”
  3678.     “Is something wrong, Dash? Eating alone doesn’t really suit a girl like you.”
  3679.     >Dash looks at her half eaten carrot dog. “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I said no, huh?”
  3680.     “If you don’t want to talk about it right now, it’s fine.”
  3681.     >Dash waves her hoof. “If it’s that obvious, there’s no point in trying to hide it. Besides, everypony else was already there for it.”
  3682.     “There for what?”
  3683.     >Dash takes a bite of her carrot dog, chewing slowly while she decides what to say.
  3684.     >”... when me and Gilda cut ties, it was at a welcome party Pinkie threw for Gilda.”
  3685.     >You take a seat next to Dash and wait for her to continue.
  3686.     >”She was visiting, and she just couldn’t seem to get along with my new friends. When Pinkie invited her to a party, she ended up falling into a few more of the pranks we set up than I meant. I thought she’d have fun… but she just flipped out and started insulting my friends. So I told her that if she couldn’t handle my new friends, she could leave. So she did.”
  3687.     “That happened just because of a few pranks?”
  3688.     >Dash looks down. “Not exactly… that’s just the part everyone else knows. This is…” She looks around. “This is something I haven’t told any of my friends before, okay?”
  3689.     “Your secret’s safe with me.”
  3690.     >She stares at her carrot dog for a few moments before she can speak. “Truth is… Gilda wasn’t just ‘visiting.’ I was supposed to move back with her to Cloudsdale.”
  3691.     “No one else knows? You didn’t tell your friends you planned on leaving?”
  3692.     >”Yeah… it was Gilda’s idea in the first place. Remember that part of the uh… video? Go to a backwater town and get some experience in weather?”
  3693.     “Now that you mention it, yeah…”
  3694.     >”We had a plan. But when the time came… I couldn't do it. I just kept giving her the runaround about it whenever she’d ask. But I think she knew what my answer was, even though I was too much of a coward to say it.”
  3695. “That’s why she got so upset?”
  3696. >Dash nods silently. “When we were apart, I made a lot of really great friends. She wasn’t so lucky. She’d been waiting for me alone that whole time, and just when she thought she’d finally be getting her friend back, it turns out I replaced her. Yeah, of course she was mad. Of course she hates me. I’m the freaking worst. I wouldn’t be surprised if she hates me for the rest of my life.”
  3697. “She doesn’t hate you. But… it wasn’t just her body that broke. She needs time to heal first.”
  3698. >”Then do you think… there’s any chance of things going back to the way they used to be?”
  3699. “I can’t say that for sure. But I do think that if you ever want things to get better, you’re going to have to talk to her. It can’t just be me.”
  3700. >”... is it okay if I need some time too?”
  3701. “Of course it is.”
  3702. >Dash sighs and leans against you. “Thanks… Talking with you really helps. Maybe things’ll turn out okay after all.”
  3703. “They will, Dash. I promise.”
  3704. >”Guess I got a lot to think about when I get home. But right now, let’s enjoy your party. I think Pinkie’s just getting started here.”
  3705. “Sounds good to me.”
  3706. >The party keeps on going until it’s nearly sundown before you’re finally able to leave.
  3707. >The rest of the ponies you met there seemed curious but ultimately very accepting of your presence.
  3708. >A lot of them asked how you smelled without a nose.
  3709. >You told most of them “terrible”.
  3710. >Not every pony at the party ended up talking to you, but you learned a few names here and there of ponies you’d seen around town before.
  3711. >It’s getting late, but you figure you might be able to visit someone you hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to today.
  3712. >You’ve learned a lot more about Gilda and Dash since you last met. There might be something you could talk to her about.
  3713. >But you haven’t seen Chrysalis in a couple days either, and you still haven’t asked her about the latest information you got from Twilight.
  3714. >Once everything’s over and you’re alone, you decide to head into the everfree forest.
  3715. >It’s been 3 days. You can’t help but wonder just how long Chrysalis has left.
  3716. >It feels like you’ve been out here longer than last time. As time stretches on, you begin to wonder if you’re lost and going the wrong way.
  3717. >But before you can decide to turn back, you spy a dark gray form lying on the forest’s floor.
  3718. >It’s Chrysalis. But her eyes are closed, her body isn’t the shade of deep black you’d seen before, and droplets of some blue-green substance stain the ground near her face.
  3719. “Chrysalis!”
  3720. >”No need to yell. I am right here.”
  3721. >She pulls herself off the ground, her green eyes opening slowly.
  3722. “Are you okay?”
  3723. >”What sort of foolish question is that? Of course not. What part of ‘I am dying’ led you to believe I might be ‘okay’?”
  3724. “Uh… sorry. It just never really… you don’t look very good.”
  3725. >”Starvation can do that to a girl.”
  3726. “Yeah, of course. Sorry.”
  3727. >”Is this your first time seeing it?”
  3728. “Seeing what?”
  3729. >”Death.”
  3730. >You try to think, but your mind is an impenetrable fog. Trying to grasp a memory is like trying to grasp air.
  3731. “I can’t say. There’s a lot I don’t remember. Maybe I have or maybe I haven’t, but I’ve never seen someone die since I came to Equestria. And I guess… it didn’t really seem real until I saw you like this.”
  3732. >”Well don’t start getting all sentimental now. Nothing has changed. And nothing will change. I was dying then, and I am dying now. I am simply further along that path.”
  3733. >You look down in silence, unsure what to say.
  3734. >“I have been surrounded by death since the moment I was born. My very own birth was marked by the death of my mother.”
  3735. “I’m… sorry to hear that.”
  3736. >”Didn’t I just say not to get sentimental? There’s no reason to be sorry. After all, I was the one who killed her.”
  3737. “You killed her?”
  3738. >”From the inside out. I was born into this world without a mother or father.”
  3739. "… the story Twilight knows about how you came to be doesn’t seem to add up with that."
  3740. >”The story of my birth? Ah, I would doubt there to be much accurate information on it. Tell me, what sort of fairy tale have they spun about my existence?”
  3741. >You tell her Twilight’s story about the king and the evil queen who ate his heart.
  3742. >Chrysalis smiles as you tell her the story, and at the end gives an entertained chuckle. >“Heheh… I suppose that’s true from one point of view. But I don’t suppose she told you who the author was, did she?”
  3743. “You’re saying you know who it was?”
  3744. >”Of course. Perhaps you might understand if you hear the story the way I tell it.”
  3745. “Please do. I want to hear your side.”
  3746. >Chrysalis closes her eyes recalling the tale.
  3747. >“Once upon a time, there was a foolish Alicorn who met a kind Unicorn king who ruled over the most beautiful empire in all the world.”
  3748. >”The Unicorn king was captivated by her exotic appearance. Her thin wings featherless wings full of vibrant colors like stained glass… her magnificent spiral horn that could cast any spell… her coat as soft as the softest silk.”
  3749. >”He fell in love, and told her that she deserved to rule the empire by his side as his wife.”
  3750. >”She told him that she had been searching for a place to call home for a long time, and gladly accepted the King’s offer.”
  3751. >”The King loved her, and the Alicorn grew to love him in turn. They ruled together for many moons as King and Queen. Husband and wife. But the foolish queen was not satisfied. “
  3752. >”She was never content as she was, always wondering and dreaming if there was more for her. She felt as though she did not belong because of how different she looked from the other ponies in the empire… and that she had yet to find her rightful place in the world.”
  3753. >”One day, an earth pony from a far off land traveled to their empire.”
  3754. >”When the Queen saw him, she noticed that he he too had a coat like silk.”
  3755. >”She grew curious of this stranger, and approached him to ask of the land he hailed from.
  3756. "But he was so overcome by her beauty, he could do naught but babble."
  3757.     >”Not wanting to give up, she began to disguise herself and meet with the traveler in secret.”
  3758.     >”She asked him where he came from, and why he could not speak to the Queen.”
  3759.     >”He was slow to tell her the truth at first, but over the course of many meetings, he revealed that he came from a land where all ponies had spiral horns, silken fur, and stained glass wings.”
  3760.     >”He said that the queen reminded him of someone he once knew and loved. He wished to call out her name… but every time he tried, his tongue could only babble, and trying to remember the name was like trying to grasp air.”
  3761.     >”The more the queen met him, the more she began to feel as though she loved the traveler in turn, and that she belonged with him and not the King.”
  3762.     >”One day she said to him, ‘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.’ And so he did.”
  3763.     >”They shared a secret love… and one day the traveler asked the Queen to run away with him and live happily together in his homeland.”
  3764.     >”But the Queen still had feelings for the King she had married. She was paralyzed by indecision, unable to choose between her two lovers.”
  3765.     >”And before she could make her choice… the King found out about their relationship.”
  3766.     >”Her infidelity drove him mad… and stained his heart pitch black.”
  3767.     >”He slew her lover in a fit of jealous rage… and was about to do the same to the Queen, until she revealed that she was with Child.”
  3768.     >”She told the King that it was his… but the King did not believe her. Instead, he turned to dark magic to punish her for wronging him.”
  3769.     >“He laid a curse upon her child as so.”
  3770.     >”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.”
  3771.     >”That child was I.”
  3772.     >"And that King's name... was King Sombra."
  3773. “I’ve heard about him. Twilight and her friends helped Princess Cadence to use the Crystal Heart to destroy him.”
  3774. >”So he’s gone then. Well as you can see, it doesn’t exactly change my situation one bit. I’m still cursed as the day I was born. But at least my death will mean a true end to his dark magic.”
  3775. “So that’s the real story… and the story Twilight knows was written by King Sombra, wasn’t it?”
  3776. >”It’s how he sees the truth. Tyrants often rewrite history to make things seem more favorable to them. And that becomes the new truth, even after their rule is over.”
  3777. >”Good and evil, wrong and right, these things are not absolute. Each of us tells a different story. We all live in our own world of comfortable lies so we don’t have to face the difficult truths.”
  3778. “I guess you’re right about that.”
  3779. >She flashes a smile, “Of course, you haven’t even considered… uhk...”
  3780. >Chrysalis suddenly doubles over, her face contorted with pain as she clutches at her stomach with her hoof.
  3781. “Chrysalis? What’s wrong?”
  3782. >You step towards her to try to help, but she just holds out her foreleg to push you away and starts coughing harshly, taking a raspy breath between each fit of deep coughs before spewing a green fluid onto the ground in a viscous puddle.
  3783. >Unable to do anything to help, you can only watch wait for the attack to pass, which it does after a few minutes.
  3784. >Her breathing is a bit more labored as she wipes away the green substance from the corners of her mouth.
  3785. >”Hemolymph. It’s… what I have in place of blood. I suppose it’s my body telling me our little chat is over for today.” she explains.
  3786. >You’re still in shock... you can't think of anything you could say that would help. You feel completely powerless.
  3787. >"Is it all right if I ask you a question?"
  3788. "What is it?"
  3789. >"Tell me... who do you think my father was?"
  3790. >There's not really a lot to go on...
  3791. >What do you believe?
  3792. >And what should you tell her?
  3793.  
  3794.  
  3795. “I… there’s too many questions I have about your story. I couldn’t give you a real answer.”
  3796. “Anything I said… it’d just be another one of those comfortable lies we tell to make sense of the world because we can’t handle the idea that there’s something we can’t explain.”
  3797. >Chrysalis smiles, “I can’t tell if your answer is the result of wisdom… or just indecision.”
  3798. “Probably the last one. I just don’t know enough. I want to know more if I’m going to tell you what I think the truth is.”
  3799. >”Is that so… well, I suppose that’s fine too. But you know… every once in a while, a lady likes to be told a comforting lie.” she says, flashing a sly grin.
  3800. “I’ve seen where telling lies can lead you. It can tear you apart from your true self. I’m not a smart man, but I know enough to learn from the mistakes I’ve seen others make.”
  3801. >”Perhaps… but the truth can be even more dangerous. We all tell lies to ourselves and others. Wearing your heart on your sleeve can only lead to pain. Lies are the shield that protects our heart from the harshness of truth. After all, you’ve been lying about meeting me, haven’t you? If lying is so wrong… what do you think would happen if you told the truth about me?”
  3802. “Probably… nothing good for you.”
  3803. >”Lies protect us until we are ready to face the truth. ‘Hope’ is one of these lies. If I work harder, I will get what I want. If I follow my dreams, I will be happy. Some day, things will be better. One day, I will find love. We tell ourselves these lies and wait for them to become truth.”
  3804. “So… they’re the facade necessary to overcome life’s hardships…”
  3805. >”Precisely.”
  3806. “I see what you mean. But I’m still going to search for the truth… even if that path is harsh.”
  3807. >”How very noble of you.” she yawns, placing her head on the ground again and closing her eyes.
  3808. >”I do enjoy our chats, but that’s all for today."
  3809. “I’ll stop by again. You… try to take it easy, okay?”
  3810. >”You too. I wouldn't want to leave some things unsaid before I pass."
  3811. >You head straight home.
  3812.  
  3813. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  3814.  
  3815. >You go to the usual spot for lessons, and find Twilight laying down on some pillows with an empty mug next to her.
  3816. >She unmistakably reeks of alcohol as she waves and calls out louder than usual, ”Hey ‘nonymous!”
  3817. “Enjoyed the party, huh?”
  3818. >”Yup.” she giggles. “I had a lootta cider.”
  3819. >You have a seat next to her.
  3820. “No history lesson tonight then? Let’s just talk.”
  3821. >Twilight snickers, “C’mon, I’m not drunk drunk.”
  3822. “You’re… pretty plastered, Twi. How much cider did you have?”
  3823. >She rolls her eyes, “I’m noot drunk. Princesssessses aren’t suppossed to get drunk.”
  3824. “Seriously, how much? I had some of that stuff and it’s not really that strong... “
  3825. >”Iunno, like… a contests worth? How much is a contest?”
  3826. “You got in a drinking contest and you’re gonna try to tell me you’re not drunk?”
  3827. >”Yeah but it was against DASH. An’ everyone knows Dash is a tooootal lightweight. An’ she said she could drink more thn me an I told her she couldn’t and I was RIGHT. I AM THE PRINCESS OF BEIN RIGHT.” Twilight laughs.
  3828. “Oh yeah? If you’re not drunk then why don’t you try standing up?”
  3829. >Twilight tries to push herself up by her hooves. Her wings extend out to try and stabilize her as she sways in place before falling forward against your chest.
  3830. >”Okay I’m drunk, are you happy now Mr… prince you’re right now?”
  3831. “Wouldn’t I have to marry you to be the prince of being right?”
  3832. >”Quit sassin’ me… I’m the Princess here…” she knocks your lightly with her hoof.
  3833. “I’m not judging you, Twi. You’re actually kind of cute when you’re like this.”
  3834. >Twilight looks up at you. “You think I’m cute?”
  3835. “Uh, yeah. I do.”
  3836. >”C’moooon...” she giggles, pushing at you. “Yer tryin to embarrass me cuz I’m drunk.”
  3837. “I’m not, Twi. We’re the only ones here, right?”
  3838. >”Yeah…” Twilight stares at you. “We’re th’ only ones here. An’... you wanna know somethin’? Yer cute too, so hah.” she laughs, poking you with her hoof.
  3839. “QT3.14.”
  3840. >”D-Did you jus’ call me a cutie pie?”
  3841. “You actually got that one?”
  3842.     >”Hah! ‘Course I got that one. I’m drunk but I’m still Twilight Sparkle an’ I know my Maths.”
  3843.     “As expected of Twilight Sparkle then.”
  3844.     >Twilight bursts into laughter again. “Yer so weird, Anon… but y’know, that’s the firs’ time anypony’s ever called me cute.”
  3845.     “It’s true though. You’re cute.”
  3846.     >”Well… so are you…”
  3847.     >You share a long gaze with Twilight before she starts to lean in closer.
  3848.     >You close your eyes…
  3849.     >You feel an intense pain as something sharp and pointy jabs you right in the face.
  3850.     “OW FUCK! God IT DAMN MY FACE.”
  3851.     >You fall backwards clutching your face and howling pain as Twilight starts to panic, apologizing repeatedly. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! Oh my gosh you’re bleeding I’m so sorry I forgot I had a horn are you okay?”
  3852.     ”AHHHGH… DAMN. FUCK.”
  3853.     >”I’m so sorry Anon! It was an accident! GUAARDS I NEED HEELP!” she cries out.
  3854.     >A few panicked guards run into the room, and after a bit of initial confusion, they quickly deduce the situation.
  3855.     >”You go grab the medic. Princess, would you permit us to help you to your chambers?”
  3856.     >”I’m so soorryyyy Anooon.” Twi cries.
  3857.     “Still… not as painful as last time… god damn it…”
  3858.     >”It’s just a small laceration, Princess. Your friend will be fine. Let’s get you to bed.”
  3859.     >With a guard on both sides of Twilight, they help her walk away to the bedroom, though you hear her call out “Sorryyyyy” one last time before she leaves.
  3860.     >They bring you an earth pony nurse who cleans off your face and places a small bandage on it. “I’m not obstructing your vision, am I?”
  3861.     “It’s fine…”
  3862.     >”I heard you said something about ‘last time’, is there somewhere else you’ve been injured I should take a look?”
  3863.     “Uh, no. No there’s not.”
  3864.     >”Well just keep that bandage on until it heals, and don’t pick at it.”
  3865.     “Got it…”
  3866.     >She lets you leave, and you head straight to bed for some much needed rest.
  3867.  
  3868. Monday, November 7th
  3869.  
  3870. >You’re roused from your slumber by a loud knocking at the door to your room.
  3871. >”Mail delivery for Anonymous!” calls a high pitched cheerful voice.
  3872. >You crawl out of bed pathetically and grumble as you walk to the door, opening it and rubbing your “eyes”
  3873. “Hullo?”
  3874. >A blonde maned Mare with a gray coat looks up at you with excited golden eyes, though one of them seems to drift down independently. “Good morning, Mister Anonymous! I’ve got some mail for you out here!”
  3875. “Mail for me? From who?”
  3876. >”All sorts of ponies! I’ve never seen anypony get as much mail as you’ve got before!”
  3877. “That’s… kind of strange, considering most ponies didn’t know I existed until yesterday. I don’t think I even met you at the party, miss…”
  3878. >The mailmare extends her hoof. “Call me Derpy. That’s what everyone calls me.”
  3879. “Derpy it is then. Nice to meet you.”
  3880. >”I was actually at your party to start with, but then I realized I had all this mail I needed to gather up and take to you! It took me all night, but I think I finally got it all!”
  3881. “Uh, all night? Wait, exactly how much mail do I have?”
  3882. >”I’d appreciate it if you came out to get it, it’s not very easy to fit through doors…”
  3883. >You take a step outside, and see an absolutely massive bag of mail easily four times the size of the pony who brought it here.
  3884. “How… what? That… why do I have so much mail when I’ve only been here for a week?”
  3885. >”Oh, this isn’t all from last week. You’ve been getting a lot of mail for a long time, but I’ve just never known who you were or how to send it to you! Most of them are return to sender though.”
  3886. >You take a letter out from her bag and examine it. It says return to sender but…
  3887. “My name or address isn’t on any of these, Derpy.”
  3888. >”Of course, because you don’t have one, right? I always thought that was strange, but now I realize it’s because those letters were all for you! I usually just get rid of them at the Dead Letter Office, but now that I know who you are, I can finally give you your mail!”
  3889. “Look, Derpy… I wasn’t even part of this world until a week ago. There’s no way I could have sent these letters. I haven’t even sent a letter since I got here. These are just letters from somepony who didn’t write a name or address.”
  3890. >The mailmare’s wings droop.
  3891. >”So… this isn’t your mail?”
  3892. “Uh, do you have anything addressed to Twilight’s Castle that actually names the recipient as Anonymous?”
  3893. >”No…”
  3894. “Then I don’t think this is my mail. These are just dead letters.”
  3895. >”Oh… I’m sorry…” tears begin to form at Derpy’s mismatched eyes. “I just… I was so excited ‘cause I thought I had all this mail for you, but I just screwed it up… n-now I gotta take it all back but I worked all night and it’s so heavyyyyyy!” she cries loudly pressing her face into your pant leg to try to hide her tears.
  3896. “W-Whoah! Uh, please don’t cry, it’s okay… look, I’ll help you carry the letters back, all right? I have to go into town today anyway.”
  3897. >Derpy peeks out from behind your leg and looks up at you with one eye. “Y-You wanna help me?” she squeaks.
  3898. “Yeah, I mean… it’ll be a lot easier for me since I’m so much bigger.”
  3899. >”Oh thank you Mister Anonymous!” She squeals and flies straight into your chest, sending you crashing to the ground with the force of her hug.
  3900. “Oof…”
  3901. >The gray mare frowns and looks at your forehead. “Oh no, did I do that? Here, let me kiss it better.”
  3902. “Actually it’s from last ni-Mmf!”
  3903. >Derpy’s attempt to kiss your forehead goes spectacularly awry as her hoof slips on a fallen letter. Her mouth lands squarely against your lips, sealing you both in a surprise first kiss.
  3904. >She blushes bright red and quickly jumps off, fluttering her wings and flying backwards in panic before knocking her head on the ceiling and falling down onto the pile of mail.
  3905. >“Owie…” Derpy says, rubbing her forehead with her hoof.
  3906. “These ponies are going to kill me."
  3907.     >Derpy covers her mouth with her hooves shyly. “A-Ah! A-Are you okay? I’m so sorry I hit you… and then k-kissed you… you’re not mad are you?”
  3908.     “I think I’m getting used to it… but the second part wasn’t so bad, you know.”
  3909.     >The mailmare’s cheeks flush red “O-Oh… well at least you’re not upset. A lot of ponies yell at me when I screw up...”
  3910.     “It’s not that big of a deal for me. I’ll help you with the mail. Is the post office far?”
  3911.     >”Thanks! It’s not too far. I can show you the way.”
  3912.     >You’re surprised that a mare of that size was able to lug around this giant bag of dead letters, but for someone of your size it’s really not too difficult.
  3913.     >Besides, you need the exercise so you can fight off shadows.
  3914.     >While you’re walking with her, you decide to try to strike up a conversation.
  3915.     “So… Derpy, is that your real name?”
  3916.     >Derpy trots alongside you closely, shaking her head. “No, it’s a nickname. But my real name is kind of embarrassing… so everyone just calls me Derpy. I like it better that way.”
  3917.     “Kind of like Pinkie Pie, right?”
  3918.     >”That’s right! Her real name is Pinkamena Diane Pie, but Pinkie Pie sounds a lot cuter. I got a little confused at first when I started getting letters for Pinkamena from her sister, but it worked out in the end.”
  3919.     “Are there a lot of other ponies that go by nicknames?”
  3920.     >”Mmhm, it can get a little confusing when I see a different name on the letters, but I think I know everypony in town by now! Like Bon-Bon. Sweetie Drops is her real name, but she doesn’t like anyone but Lyra calling her ‘Sweetie’ so she goes by Bon-Bon.”
  3921.     “Huh. Anypony else I know?”
  3922.     >”Cheery’s older sister, do you know her?”
  3923.     “Cheery?”
  3924.     >”Oh, that’s my nickname for Cheerilee back when we were in school. You don’t have to remember it though, I’m the only one who calls her that.”
  3925.     “So you went to school with her? Wait, you’re really the same age?”
  3926.     >Derpy giggles, “Actually I’m a few years older. How young did you think I was?”
  3927. “Uh, I’m not really sure… I kind of don’t know how long ponies live or how fast they mature. Or if time even goes at the same rate here as it did in my world. How old would you say I am?”
  3928. >Derpy stops moving and closes her eyes.
  3929. “Uh, Derpy?”
  3930. >”Hold on, I’m thinking.”
  3931. “Okay…”
  3932. >...
  3933. >...
  3934. >She opens her eyes and looks towards you. ”One… thousand… twenty… four years?”
  3935. “Seems a bit high.”
  3936. >”I’m not very good with numbers…” she admits.
  3937. “Anyway, you’re Cheerilee’s friend?”
  3938. >”Mmhm! She’s my best friend!”
  3939. “Is there anything you could tell me about her? She asked me to dinner, but I’m really not sure what kind of Pony she is.”
  3940. >”You came to the right Mare then! I can tell you stuff about anypony in this town, but Cheery especially!”
  3941. “Cool. So what can you tell me about her? Is there anything she likes or doesn’t like?”
  3942. >Derpy looks to the sky, thinking as she walks with you. “Let’s see… well, first off her real name is Cheers Liqueur, but she never uses it. She’s the smartest Pony I know, and she’s a really hard worker. But she’s always so busy she doesn’t have a lot of time to do the things she wants to. She really likes foals, and seeing their smiling faces is the one thing that makes her happier than anything in the whole wide world! If there’s one thing she doesn’t like, it’s adults who look down on others and act like they’re better than somepony. And she especially doesn’t like it when adults are mean to foals. She’s got an older sister, Pinot Noir, but her sis goes by Berryshine or Berry Punch because that name is hard to pronounce. Berry Punch has a kid with Sommelier named Berry Pinch. And she’s also got a kid sister who’s in her class named Piña Colada. Should I keep going?”
  3943. “I think I got lost 2 sisters ago.”
  3944. >"Cheery's only got two, silly."
  3945. "That's pretty impressive though."
  3946. >"That's nothing. I didn't even get into her parents or tell you her favorite food and flower! Daisies, for the record. As a mailpony, I should know at least that much for everypony in town."
  3947. “So what about you then? What are your favorite flowers?”
  3948. >Derpy looks up and smiles. “You want to know about me?”
  3949. “Of course I do.”
  3950. >The mailmare looks a little flattered that you asked her. “Well… if you really want to know, my favorite flower is also Daisies. For the same reason as Cheers.”
  3951. “What reason is that?”
  3952. >Derpy stops for a second to think again. “Hmm…”
  3953. >”Sorry, but that’s a little secret between us. Oh hey, we’re here!”
  3954. >Derpy points out a rather small looking house nestled between two larger homes on the street.
  3955. “This is the post office?”
  3956. >”No, silly, this is… oh no! I… I got so distracted talking to you I went home instead of going to the post office!”
  3957. >Derpy’s whole body droops as she stares at the ground. “This keeps happening… I just don’t know what went wrong…”
  3958. “Hey, don’t be sad.. at least I know where to find you now when I want to see you again.”
  3959. >”When you want to?” she looks up with a smile.
  3960. “If it’s okay with you of course.”
  3961. >”I-I’d love to hang out with you again! If you ever want to know more about anypony in town, just come on by and I’ll tell you all about them!”
  3962. “I want to know more about you too, Derpy.”
  3963. >The mailmare’s wings flutter happily. “Aww, thanks! I want to know more about you too!”
  3964. >!
  3965.  
  3966.  
  3967. —————————————————————
  3968.  
  3969. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  3970.  
  3971. Thou hast established a new bond…
  3972.  
  3973. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  3974.  
  3975. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Fortune Arcana.
  3976.  
  3977. —————————————————————
  3978.  
  3979. >"Okay, I still gotta get these letters back to the post office. This time I'll be paying extra close attention so we don't get lost!"
  3980. "All right. Lead the way."
  3981. >You walk down to the post office with Derpy, keeping the conversation light this time.
  3982. >Once you arrive, you hand off the bag of letters to her and she waves goodbye, taking them back inside.
  3983. >Now that you're in town, you promised Lotus and Aloe you'd see them about a job.
  3984. >Since you spent a lot of time helping Derpy, you'd better head straight there...
  3985.  
  3986. Ponyville Day Spa, Afternoon
  3987.  
  3988.  
  3989. >You have to wait around a bit until Lotus and Aloe are in between clients.
  3990. >After 15 minutes or so, the Blossom twins agree to see you for an interview.
  3991. >The ‘interview’ portion goes a bit… poorly.
  3992. >It’s somewhat awkward that you have to answer 90% of their questions with “I don’t remember”.
  3993. >Things only start to pick up during the “practical” portion of their interview.
  3994. >They’re very impressed when you do a thing with your fingers that makes it look like a dolphin.
  3995. >In fact, even in terms of what one would consider normal for a “human” your fingers are especially slender and long.
  3996. >You’re a bit nervous at first when they ask you to massage one of them while the other observes, but you try your best.
  3997. >They discuss your performance privately before coming back out to tell you their conclusion.
  3998. >”You’re quite good for an amateur…” Lotus begins.
  3999. >”... but here at the Ponyville Day Spa, we do have a certain level of quality to maintain.” Aloe finishes.
  4000. >”Still,” says Lotus, “we acknowledge your natural talent and your unique…”
  4001. >”Anatomy?” Aloe suggests helpfully.
  4002. >”So we’ve decided that if you’re willing to put in the work, we could take you as an… Apprentice.”
  4003. >”An intern.”
  4004. >”You’d be trained.”
  4005. >”Not by us though.”
  4006. >”And you’d receive compensation.”
  4007. >”Not from us though.”
  4008. >”Twilight volunteered to pay your wages.”
  4009. >”Economic hiring incentive to stimulate the economy!”
  4010. >”And we have gotten quite a bit more business ever since SIHN began to be a problem.”
  4011. >”A nice massage is a great way to de-stress.”
  4012. >”So what do you say?” They ask simultaneously.
  4013. “Well it’s a relief to know I’m not completely terrible at it but… I am trying to find my identity while I’m in ponyville. Sort of like how you ponies find your cutie marks, except for my face."
  4014. “So if it works anything like that, I’d like a little more time to think about this in case there are any other possibilities. Is… that okay with you two?”
  4015. >”Of course!” replies Lotus.
  4016. >”Absolutely!” says Aloe.
  4017. >”This isn’t Manehattan, you know.”
  4018. >”We Ponyvillers stick together and help each other out.”
  4019. >”Now more than ever.”
  4020. >”Everyone in town is like family.”
  4021. >”Take as much time as you need.”
  4022. >”The position will remain available.”
  4023. “Thanks a lot. You two sound like some ponies I really wouldn’t mind working for… I’ll try to give you an answer as soon as I can. Thank you for taking the time to see me.”
  4024. >They bow in unison and say, “May you find your true path.”
  4025. >You tip your fedora and exit their office.
  4026.  
  4027. >Lotus looks to Aloe. “Sister, do you think he’ll come back?”
  4028. >”I hope so, Sister. He’s the next best thing to owning a slave.”
  4029.  
  4030. >It’s getting a little late…
  4031. >You decide to head back home, but after considering how you could use a bit of direction now, you get the idea to knock out two birds with one stone and take the “shortcut”.
  4032.  
  4033. Velvet Room, Evening
  4034.  
  4035. >You take your usual seat, but it seems Igor’s Alicorn Assistant, Elizabeth, is the only one present besides yourself.
  4036. >”Welcome to the Velvet Room.”
  4037. >”I apologize, but my Master is away on business at the moment.”
  4038. >”Worry not, he has taught me well in his ways. I should be able to assist you however is necessary.”
  4039. >”Let’s see then… ah, here we are.”
  4040. >”You have established three new bonds since we last met. The Sun, Death, and Fortune Arcana have each opened a new path of power for you.”
  4041. >”The Persona Zhar-ptitsa of the Sun Arcana, and Pale Horse of the Death Arcana have formed fully in your mind… though it seems that your bond representing the Fortune Arcana may need a bit more time to settle. Not to worry."
  4042. >”Now then… perhaps it is time for another reading to help guide you along your path.”
  4043.     >Three cards magically float from the deck on to the table.
  4044.     >”Allow me to read the actions of your past…”
  4045.     >The first card on the left flips over by Elizabeth’s magic.
  4046.     >”The Star Arcana, upright.”
  4047.     >”This card has brought itself forth due to a positive event in your past.”
  4048.     >”Like the stars coming out to light the way in the dark night, something good has happened to bring about a period of growth.”
  4049.     >”You remember drawing a future of reversed Death last time, yes?”
  4050.     >”There was indeed something preventing a necessary change, wasn’t there?”
  4051.     >”And now that this change has passed, the Star has come out to light your way and give you an opportunity to build off of. I hope that this will allow you to recognize how your past has created positivity for you.”
  4052.     >”On to the next card. Let us see what your present is like…”
  4053.     >”Oh.”
  4054.     >”Oh my… that is most unusual.”
  4055.     >The second card has flipped to reveal one you haven’t seen before, numbered XI and reading “The Lust”
  4056.     >”This card… is it supposed to be here? I was not aware that this card was among those in play.”
  4057.     >”Perhaps it is our mistake…”
  4058.     >”Nevertheless, it has appeared before you for a reason.”
  4059.     >”We are all filled with desires. Each of us has a ‘lion’ inside of us. The wild beast… it may even be right to say that this card shares much in common with a Shadow.”
  4060.     >”Denying your inner desires means to fight this Lion for control.”
  4061.     >”Perhaps it would be better instead to allow this Lion control. But of course, then it may threaten those around you.”
  4062.     >”This card is attempting to call attention to the existence of your desires. Whether you choose to control them or embrace them is up to you, but they can not be ignored.”
  4063.     >”But perhaps your next card shall provide us with insight on how to tackle this problem in your future..."
  4064. >The last card flips over.
  4065. >”Ah, the upright Hermit.”
  4066. >”Wisdom is needed. This could mean deep introspection and solitude… or perhaps it represents another who holds great knowledge which could help you with your troubles.”
  4067. >”I hope that these cards will show you the proper path.”
  4068. >”Well then, was my interpretation to your satisfaction?”
  4069. >”I wish only to assist you however I can.”
  4070. >”Oh… hm. I wonder though…”
  4071. >”Do you suppose it makes a difference that I drew the cards instead of you this time?”
  4072. >”Perhaps I was accidentally reading my own fate rather than yours…”
  4073. >”Oh well, I’m sure it’s fine. It probably doesn’t make a difference.”
  4074. >”Whatever the case, just try your best and give 66.6% repeating!”
  4075. >”Why so low?”
  4076. >”Well if you gave 100% at all times, when would you sleep?”
  4077. >”And giving 110% is patently ridiculous on many levels. We wouldn’t even entertain the notion.”
  4078. >”Come back again if you are ever in need of assistance.”
  4079. >"I wish you luck in finding a suitable profession.”
  4080. >”You know, I considered changing careers recently.”
  4081. >”I managed to convince my master to acquire for me a “basket ball” and a “ball basket” for the Velvet Room.”
  4082. >”With these new wings and magical powers, I easily broke the standing record of 5,221 consecutive free throws.”
  4083. >”But… alas, I inadvertently pierced the sports ball with my horn during an attempt at celebration.”
  4084. >”And my Master made it quite clear that he would not be buying me another one.”
  4085. >”Well then, until next time… fare the well.”
  4086. >”But… if you can find the time, perhaps you could do me a favor and ask the denizens of this world if they know how to play H.O.R.S.E.?”
  4087. >You exit the Velvet Room into Twilight’s Library.
  4088.  
  4089. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  4090.  
  4091. >You haven't spoken with Twi since last night.
  4092. >You're not sure what to say.
  4093. >Perhaps the cards were trying to help you here.
  4094.     >Actually, you decide not to go see Twilight just yet.
  4095.     >You go back the way you came through the Velvet Room, appearing in Ponyville once again.
  4096.     >You’ll take the long way home, and on the way stop by Rarity for some friendly advice.
  4097.  
  4098.     Carousel Boutique, Evening
  4099.  
  4100.     >You knock on the door and hear Rarity’s voice from inside. “Come in~!”
  4101.     >Opening the door, you see Rarity sitting by a large drawing pad filled with rough sketches and notations in handwriting too small for you to read.
  4102.     >Her little sister, Sweetie Belle, is in a corner sitting on a comfy looking red pillow chewing on the end of a pencil while staring at a textbook.
  4103.     >Sweetie Belle looks up and lets the pencil drop to the floor. “Mister Anonymous!”
  4104.     >Rarity turns from her drawing pad. “Oh, good evening, Anon! What brings you here so late?”
  4105.     “Rarity, how do I into romance?”
  4106.     >The purple maned unicorn just stares for a moment. “Would you care to run that by us again, darling?”
  4107.     “It’s uh, about Cheerilee among other things… There’s sort of some questions I need to ask you.”
  4108.     >Sweetie Belle looks up excited, “You’re dating, right? Are you gonna kiss her?”
  4109.     “That’s part of the question.”
  4110.     >”Sweetie Belle, I believe Anon might need to have an adult conversation with me right now. Could you do your homework upstairs?” Rarity speaks to her sister authoritatively, even placing the emphasis on the first syllable of the word ‘adult’ so you know it’s serious.
  4111.     >”But I wanna hear about it too…” the foal whines.
  4112.     >”Sweetie Belle, do I have to remind you what happened last time you attempted to involve yourself in Miss Cheerilee’s personal affairs?” She asks with a slight venomous glare.
  4113.     >”Uh yeah… maybe I’ll just get my cutie mark in going upstairs and being really quiet. What would that look like?” she wonders aloud as she takes her homework up the stairs.
  4114.     >Rarity waits until she’s sure Sweetie Belle is upstairs before pulling up a seat for you.
  4115.     >”Now then, what’s on your mind?”
  4116.     “What DID happen last time?”
  4117.     >”She and her friends fed a dangerous love potion to Miss Cheerilee and Applejack’s brother. She seems to have learned her lesson though. I hope. But enough about her, I can tell this is something quite important.”
  4118.     “You can?”
  4119.     >”You’re sweating, fidgeting awkwardly, you won’t make eye contact, and you speak like you’ve just gotten out of the hospital for head trauma.”
  4120.     “Actually I do most of those things regardless.”
  4121.     >”Oh.”
  4122.     “But I do need advice. And explanation.”
  4123.     >”Well I’m all ears then. Go on, Darling. What do you need to know?”
  4124.     “Stuff like… romance… and dating… and marriage. Between Ponies. How does it work?’
  4125.     >”Oh.”
  4126.     >”Well this is… yes, it’s natural that you might be confused, coming from another world… my goodness, I’m honestly not entirely sure where to start. Do you really not know anything?”
  4127.     “That’s the problem, I don’t know that I don’t know anything. I know how relationships work in my world I think, but relationships in this world are a complete mystery.”
  4128.     >”Wasn’t Twilight teaching you about the… culture of our world? She hasn’t spoken to you about relationships yet? I’m sure she would be happy to give you a more… academic explanation of how things work.”
  4129.     “I… can’t exactly ask her.”
  4130.     >Rarity gasps loudly. “She did not… YOU did not…”
  4131.     “Hey, we didn’t “anything”, okay? She was drunk last night and I said she was cute, and she called me cute. That’s it.”
  4132.     >”She just said you were ‘cute’? And that’s why you don’t want to ask her about relationships?”
  4133.     “Well… I think we might have almost kissed.”
  4134.     >”Might have almost kissed? What does that mean exactly?”
  4135.     “It means we closed our eyes and our lips were moving towards each other, and then she stabbed me in the face with her horn.”
  4136.     >Rarity looks at your bandage and winces. “Not exactly a storybook moment.”
  4137. “Not exactly.”
  4138. >”But you said towards ‘each other’.”
  4139. “Yeah, and?”
  4140. >”So you were trying to kiss her too?”
  4141. “... yeah, I guess I was.”
  4142. >”So you like her too?”
  4143. “That’s… sort of a complicated question. I think it’s too soon to answer.”
  4144. >”The heart wants what it wants, darling.”
  4145. “But I still don’t know anything about myself. So how can she know enough about me either to actually like me like that?”
  4146. >Rarity smiles comfortingly. “She’s not asking you to be her King, you know. It’s all right to be “interested” in somepony you haven’t known for too long. Why, I’m a strong believer in love at first sight myself!”
  4147. >”Which… not everypony would entirely agree with. And… I haven’t exactly had much success in relationships myself. Goodness, I’m starting to wonder if I’m qualified to be giving you advice here.”
  4148. >You briefly picture your other friends, Spike, Dash, Gilda, Pinkie…
  4149. “I think you’re probably still my best option. Unless you can think of someone more suitable to explain this stuff to me.”
  4150. >Rarity sighs and lays back. “If it were advice on how to properly woo a Mare or conduct yourself in a proper manner… well I suppose we ought to start with the basics. Tell me how it works in your world so I can get a better idea of what you know.”
  4151. “Well, usually when a Man likes a Woman, he’ll ask her to go out with him on a date. Something like getting coffee, going to dinner, going to see a movie, or doing something else they enjoy together. If they enjoy it, he’ll ask her out again, and at some point the woman will decide that they’re actually dating and they’ll make it official that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend. Then they’ll keep dating, eventually they’ll start having sex, sometimes they’ll move in together. After a few years or so, He’ll ask her if she wants to get married. And if she says yes, they get married and stay together until they die or get divorced.”
  4152. >Rarity seems a little confused. “I can’t help but notice that in your scenario the woman is making all the decisions. Do you come from a society where men are considered inferior to women?”
  4153. “No, it’s kind of the opposite.”
  4154. >”That doesn’t make any sense.”
  4155. “I know.”
  4156. >”Well then keep going, what else is there?”
  4157. “Uh, sometimes it’s a Man and a Man. Or a Woman and a Woman. But it’s only 2% of the time. And they can’t get married.”
  4158. >”They can’t? Why?”
  4159. “Law says so.”
  4160. >”What sort of sick tyranny is that?”
  4161. “You know, I said the same thing about a few things in this world.”
  4162. >”Celestia would never forbid love… and you say that only 2% of the population of your world are interested romantically in the same sex?”
  4163. “Something like that.”
  4164. >”They’re at least physically interested, aren’t they?”
  4165. “I don’t think so.”
  4166. >”Preposterous… all the beings in your world have never let their eyes wander in the locker rooms, stealing a glance at your friend from behind, at first out of curiosity but then your mind begins to wander… never cuddled up after a long pillow fight, sharing the warmth of your body and giggling because it tickles, and you can’t tell if it’s the pillow touching you or their leg, but you don’t care so you start to move against it without them noticing and… then they start moving against you… and even though you’ve never even had your first kiss you know this feels good and you just want to keep going because at that moment nothing else matters but scratching that burning itch inside you because you’re just so swollen and aching with passion…”
  4167. >Rarity notices your staring and flinches as if snapping out of a trance. “I- ahem. I mean… who hasn’t had something like that?”
  4168. “I made the right decision tonight.”
  4169. >”Oh? Did that help?”
  4170. “In many ways. So you’re saying same sex relationships are okay in this society?”
  4171.     >”There will always be certain types of ponies who believe love ought to be only between Mares and Stallions, or that only monogamous marriages should be allowed because you can’t really love more than one Pony, but their opinions don’t matter. What’s important is how you feel, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
  4172.     “Back up.”
  4173.     >Rarity tilts her head and takes a step back.
  4174.     “No, I mean go back to what you said about mongamous marriages.”
  4175.     >”Some ponies think they ought to be the only kind allowed?”
  4176.     “There’s other kinds allowed?”
  4177.     >”Of course. Polygamous marriages are necessary so that rights can be distributed equally among multiple partners.”
  4178.     “I can do that? Ponies are okay with that?”
  4179.     >”You poor thing… what sort of oppressive society did you live in where you were judged so harshly for who you were sexually attracted to?”
  4180.     “Imagine everything other than what I told you was either looked down upon or outright forbidden. Tell me more about what I can do here.”
  4181.     >”Well… there are many types of relationships, depending on whether your relations with somepony are purely physical or romantic. Physical pleasure and romantic affection are not strictly linked. There’s nothing wrong with having a relationship that’s simply one or the other. As for having an open relationship, so long as you properly communicate with your partners as to what you expect out of it, there shouldn’t be any hard feelings, and if there are you simply do your best to resolve those issues by talking to them. Interspecies and homosexual relationships aren’t uncommon either. Griffons and Ponies, Donkeys and Ponies, and you wouldn’t be the first Human Twilight felt attracted to.”
  4182.     >You reach out and bring Rarity into a hug.
  4183.     >”O-Oh!”
  4184.     “Rarity, this may be the best thing I’ve heard."
  4185.     >Except for maybe that last part but you decide to keep quiet for now and enjoy the good news.
  4186.     >After a moment, Rarity returns the hug, wrapping you tightly in her forelegs. “You must have been so miserable and oppressed in that old world of yours… well you’re free to love whomever you please here.”
  4187.     “I’ll be honest, Rarity. It was a lonely existence.”
  4188.     >”You know, if you ever need to know more, perhaps you could ask Twilight if you could speak with her Sister In Law.”
  4189.     “Princess Cadance, right?”
  4190.     >”That’s her. She understands love better than anypony in Equestria. If there’s anypony who could really give you some answers, it’d be her.”
  4191.     “I think you did a pretty good job of it.”
  4192.     >”If you say so. But I’m sure Twilight would love to introduce the two of you.”
  4193.     “She’d probably have Princess Cadance give me a 2 hour lecture on the subject.”
  4194.     >Rarity chuckles, “Oh, that sounds like Twilight all right. She certainly would be focused on the “academic” side of things. But I think you’ll find Princess Cadance is much more practical. And she’s in a very healthy relationship with Twilight’s brother.”
  4195.     “Thanks for the tip. And for helping clear up all that stuff for me. I should be getting back to the castle now though. Twilight’s probably waiting for me.”
  4196.     >”Well it won’t do to keep a lady waiting. Especially Twilight. She can get a bit… anxious about the unknown.”
  4197.     “Yeah I kind of get that feeling from her. I guess I’ll see how things go.”
  4198.     >”Well however it works out, you can rest assured I won’t speak a word of what you told me tonight to anypony else. My lips are sealed.”
  4199.     “Thanks for talking to me, Rarity. I’m glad I can count on you.”
  4200.     >Rarity smiles proudly. “It’s my pleasure, Anon. To be honest… I welcome the distraction.”
  4201.     “Distraction from what? Is there something bothering you?”
  4202.     >”Well… it’s just that I haven’t had many new orders in some time, and now three of my friends have fallen victim to SIHN. When I haven’t got anything to do, I tend to worry."
  4203. >”I’m just one of those ponies who can’t feel comfortable sitting still. It’s been cutting into my beauty sleep.”
  4204. “You’ve been having trouble sleeping?”
  4205. >Rarity shakes her head, “Don’t worry, it isn’t related to all this, I’m sure. Princess Luna herself spoke to me about it. She assured me it was just restlessness in my daily life causing some nasty dreams.”
  4206. “All right. Take care of yourself though. If you ever start feeling strange, let someone know.”
  4207. >”Yes… yes, of course. Thank you, Anon. I’ll be just fine I think. But… some company might be appreciated every once in a while. I’ve already burned through most of my current projects and I seem to be stuck in a bit of a creative rut. But you… you’re something new. Something I’ve never created clothes for before. Everything about you is a new challenge filled with new possibilities…”
  4208. “So you want to make me more clothes is what you’re saying?”
  4209. >”Well, just something to work on would be nice. Unless you don’t want any?”
  4210. “Trust me, I’d love to be wearing something other than a suit on some days. Could you make me something more casual, like a T-shirt and jeans?”
  4211. >”A T-Shirt for your body type? How does that even… hmm, no I think I see.”
  4212. >Rarity holds up her hooves, visualizing the design. “Yes… I think I could make one. Do you have any requests for the style or the material?”
  4213. “Yeah, I’d like it to say something, could I borrow your pencil?”
  4214. >Rarity floats a pencil and paper to you.
  4215. >You draw up some large block text that reads
  4216.  
  4217. KAWAII IN THE STREETS
  4218.  
  4219. SENPAI IN THE SHEETS
  4220.  
  4221. >”... interesting. Print shirts… well I’m sure in your world they’re considered very stylish. What does it mean though?”
  4222. “It’s an ancient proverb used by my people referring to the duality of a charismatic person’s ability to be outwardly amiable and charming but act with authority and great leadership.”
  4223.     >”... interesting. Print shirts… well I’m sure in your world they’re considered very stylish. What does it mean though?”
  4224.     “It’s an ancient proverb used by my people referring to the duality of a charismatic person’s ability to be outwardly amiable and charming but act with authority and great leadership.”
  4225.     >”Aha, I see. So then Princess Celestia would be… ‘Kawaii in the streets, Senpai in the sheets’ is that correct?”
  4226.     “Pretty much. So can you do it?”
  4227.     >Rarity flips her mane dramatically and laughs, “Darling, just who do you think I am? I’ll get started right away.”
  4228.     “Sounds great then. I’ll look forward to it. Thanks again, Rarity.”
  4229.     >”Thank you, Anon. Good luck!”
  4230.     >You wave goodbye and leave Rarity for now.
  4231.     >After taking another quick shortcut through the velvet room, you’re back home for reals this time.
  4232.  
  4233.     >Twilight’s Castle Library
  4234.  
  4235.     >After walking to your usual spot, you find Twilight sitting down intently reading a book.
  4236.     “Evening, Twi.”
  4237.     >Twilight quickly looks up as the book she was reading magically flies off the table and hides in another book pile.
  4238.     >”Anon! You took a while to come back tonight… is everything okay? How is your head feeling?”
  4239.     “It was just a little scratch, Twi. Sorry I took so long though. I had some questions I needed answered. But I’m here now.”
  4240.     >Twilight nods her head and awkwardly shuffles her hooves before saying, “Listen, about last night…”
  4241.     >”Sorry again for injuring you, but… well, I was pretty drunk, so I don’t remember exactly what I said or did other than hitting you with the face with my horn.”
  4242.     >”So I’m not sure if I said what what I think I said… or if I said more than what I think I said… or if I didn’t say anything at all.”
  4243.     >”Anon, what… did I do?”
  4244.     >This is an important decision.
  4245.     >It’s up to you to choose the path your relationship with Twilight will take.
  4246.     >What do you tell her?
  4247.  
  4248.     >You’re not sure you’re ready for this…
  4249.     >But you won’t go back on your word.
  4250.     >This is what you have to do.
  4251.     “Well… when I came in and saw you drunk like that, you were just kind of laughing and enjoying yourself. So I told you I thought you were cute.”
  4252.     >”Oh… and then?”
  4253.     “And then you said you thought I was cute too. So I said you were cute again.”
  4254.     >”So that’s what I said… heh, it’s not as bad as what I thought I said.”
  4255.     “Yeah, but there’s more.”
  4256.     >”Oh… okay then. What happened next?”
  4257.     “Well, we just kind of stared at each other… and then… I think we tried to kiss. But then you kind of stabbed me in the face and… well I think you remember the rest.”
  4258.     >“Do you... “ Twilight begins to speak up, but hesitates.
  4259.     >”We…”
  4260.     >Twilight looks down, unable to make eye contact with you.
  4261.     >”You… you said, “we” tried, right?”
  4262.     “That’s… what it looked like.”
  4263.     >Twilight turns around, pacing awkwardly.
  4264.     >”... So you wanted to kiss me?”
  4265.     “I… probably. I’m sorry if that’s not what you wanted. I mean, you were drunk and everything too so… I don’t know.”
  4266.     >Twi looks at you nervously. She seems to want to say something, but can’t quite bring herself to say it.
  4267.     “You don’t have to answer for anything you did last night. I’d understand if you want to just put it behind us.”
  4268.     >”No!”
  4269.     >”I mean…” she looks away, flustered. “it’s true I wasn’t… entirely myself that night.”
  4270.     >”But… it’s still true what I said.”
  4271.     >It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off your chest when she admits that.
  4272.     “Well… it’s true what I said too. I do think you’re cute.”
  4273.     >She looks at you again, blushing slightly. “Heh, cute… it’s starting to sound like it’s not a real word anymore. But… I do think you’re kind of cute in your own way. You act really tough when you’re fighting, but then you mess up and get embarrassed. And I guess it's cute."
  4274. “So we both think the other’s cute. But is that all?”
  4275. >”Well, I… how do you feel?”
  4276. “To be honest, I’m not sure, Twi. I mean… I still don’t know anything about myself. Everything about me is just a Blank Canvas. The only thing I know for real is fighting. I do like you. But I just don’t know what someone like me has to offer you. I don’t know if this would work, and I don’t want to screw up and ruin my relationship with someone I really care about.”
  4277. >Twilight reaches out and touches your shoulder.
  4278. >”Aren’t you the one who told me not to expect too much of myself?”
  4279. >”I don’t want somepony who has everything about their life figured out.”
  4280. >”I’d rather they be just as screwed up, lost, and awkward as me.”
  4281. “Twi…”
  4282. >”It doesn’t matter to me what you’re missing, because I’ve seen what you have.”
  4283. >”You’ve accepted the parts of me I’ve spent so long denying. You’ve always put your life on your line for me and my friends. You stood up for me and gave me the courage to make my relationship with Celestia better than ever. You care about me. And I care about you too. Plus you’re cute. What more could I possibly want from you?”
  4284. “So… you really like me as more than a friend?”
  4285. >”I guess it took a bit of an awkward situation for me to realize it, but yeah. I do. And what about you?”
  4286. “... I do. But… I’m still new to a lot of this stuff. I’d like to be more than friends, but do you mind if we take it a little slow?”
  4287. >”Slow is fine with me, Anon.”
  4288. “And… I talked with Rarity a bit about this and she told me… uh, well, I should ask you in advance how you would feel if I saw other mares at the same time as you.”
  4289. >Twilight smiles cheerfully, “Of course I’m fine with that. Like I’d try to keep the only human in Equestria all to myself?”
  4290. >”Besides, I want you to figure out who you really are. You wouldn’t be able to explore your true feelings with me tying you down."
  4291. “That’s… good to hear. And I guess I should also tell you I accidentally kissed Derpy this morning.”
  4292. >Twilight starts cracking up with laughter. “Ahahaa! Oh my gosh, she stole your first kiss too?”
  4293. “T-Too? You kissed her?”
  4294. >“No, but that happens to ponies all the time. I’d almost wonder if she does it on purpose if I didn’t know how clumsy she was. Still, getting your first kiss stolen by Derpy… that’s the kind of thing that makes you cute, y’know?”
  4295. “All right, then fine. Who’s your first kiss?”
  4296. >The smile immediately vanishes from Twilight’s face as it turns red as a lobster.
  4297. >”It… uh… it was… we were just playing house, okay?”
  4298. “You were playing house with who?”
  4299. >”With whom. A-And it… I mean does it even count?”
  4300. “Me and Derpy kissing was an accident, so yeah I think your’s counts too. Who was it?”
  4301. >”... Shiny.”
  4302. “Who?”
  4303. >”My brthrlrh…” she mumbles into her hooves.
  4304. “I don’t speak Mumblican, Twi.”
  4305. >”My brother, okay?” She says before promptly burying her face in a pillow.
  4306. >You lean down to the embarrassed alicorn and whisper softly to her.
  4307. “QT 3.1415926585937525...”
  4308. >”Last six digits are wrong. It’s 897932.” she mutters from the ground.
  4309. “You’re absolutely adorable.”
  4310. >”S-Shut up…”
  4311. >She acts annoyed, but you can see her smiling.
  4312. >You sit down and put your hand on her mane, beginning to stroke it softly.
  4313. “Is this okay?”
  4314. >”Hmm… hold on.”
  4315. >Twilight gets up and climbs onto you, snuggling her head against your chest and laying against you contently.
  4316. >”How’s this?”
  4317. “Perfect.”
  4318. >You smile and continue to run your fingers through her hair and hold her close for the rest of the night until you both fall asleep together in the library.
  4319.  
  4320.  
  4321. Tuesday, November 8th
  4322.  
  4323. Twilight’s Castle Library, Morning
  4324.  
  4325. >When you wake up next morning, Twilight seems to be gone.
  4326. >In her place is a warm blanket, and a note.
  4327. >You take the note off the table and read it.
  4328.  
  4329. Dear Anon,
  4330.  
  4331. Sorry I had to go, but I’ve got work and I didn’t want to wake you. I just wanted to let you know I won’t say anything about last night until you do. We’ll do this all at your pace, so you don’t have to worry. That’s all. Enjoy your day!
  4332.  
  4333. Love,
  4334.  
  4335.  
  4336. Twilight Sparkle.
  4337.  
  4338. >You get a little tingle reading the last part of her letter. Once you’re finished, you fold it up and put it in your pocket.
  4339. >Taking a moment to think over what you want to do today, you figure there might be somepony who could help you look for a job.
  4340. >One of the guards informs you that the mail hasn’t been delivered yet, but they expect the mailmare to stop by soon.
  4341. >You wait outside for about 15 minutes or so before you’re startled by a crash, and the sound of something breaking.
  4342. >Rushing over to the source of the sound, you find the gray mailmare collapsed on the ground in a pile of leaves and broken branches, her mail scattered nearby.
  4343. “Derpy! Are you okay? Damn it, SIHN reappeared already?”
  4344. >”You shouldn’t use bad words, Anon…” the gray pegasus says cheerfully as she shakes herself off and rises to her feet.
  4345. “Oh… I’m sorry. I thought you got hit with SIHN while you were flying… what happened then?”
  4346. >”Oh, I just flew into a tree. Happens all the time!” Derpy looks up at you and smiles as one of her eyes drifts downward.
  4347. “You sure you’re okay?”
  4348. >”Well they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I get into a lot of accidents like this, so I’m pretty strong by now.” she says proudly.
  4349. “Well… doesn’t look like you’re bleeding or anything. If you’re sure you’re okay.”
  4350. >”It’s fine, I just wasn’t paying attention. So how are you, Anon?” she asks as she begins to collect her scattered mail.
  4351. “I’m pretty good, actually. But I was wondering if you could help me with something.”
  4352. >”I’d love to! What do you need?”
  4353. “I’m kind of looking for a job. Twi’s supporting me right now, but I’d like to be able to do that myself without relying on her so much. So do you know of anyone that’s hiring for a job I could do? Or just anyone that could use some help? Twilight said she’d be willing to help with a paycheck if they can’t afford to hire me.”
  4354. >Derpy sits down and thinks. “Hmm… who needs help…”
  4355. >”To be honest, I think Cheery could use some help. She’s always so overworked, and there’s a lot more she wants to do, but she just doesn’t have the time. She really wants to be able to give extra help to the students who are behind. Maybe you could help her out with that?”
  4356. “Hmm… I may not be a genius but I could probably tutor some foals. Probably not with social studies though.”
  4357. >”You seem plenty smart to me! And... you know, what’s really important about being a tutor is that you always believe in your student. Even if they seem like they don’t get it… a good teacher doesn’t give up, you know?”
  4358. >The smile fades from Derpy’s face and she gets a far off look in her eyes.
  4359. “Derpy?”
  4360. >”Oh, sorry. I got distracted… that happens sometimes. Anyway, you look pretty strong too, so maybe there’s something else you could do. There’s this Cranky guy who wants to do some work on his place… he used to be a foreman, so he knows how things are done, but he’s getting up there, you know? So he can’t do all the heavy lifting and hard work that he’d like to. Maybe you could learn a thing or two from him!”
  4361. “Some /diy/ eh? Could be worth checking out. Anything else?”
  4362. >”Nothing I can think of right now that might work for you… but if you have any other ideas, or if something else comes up, we can talk about it again.”
  4363. "Thanks a lot, Derpy."
  4364.     >”No problem!”
  4365.     “So how are you?”
  4366.     >”How am I? Well… I got chewed out a bit yesterday for that little mix-up… I kinda wasted a lot of time and ended up being really late on my route.”
  4367.     “Sorry to hear that.”
  4368.     >”It’s fine, I kinda deserved it this time. Actually I usually deserve it. I’m always getting lost, or crashing into things because I noticed something cool on the ground, or spending too long talking instead of doing my job… oh.”
  4369.     >”I’m… doing that right now, aren’t I?”
  4370.     “It’s not your fault, I wanted to ask you a question and you were just being polite. I’m the one who should apologize.”
  4371.     >”Aww, don’t feel bad! Talking with everypony is why I love this job so much! I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to do it as long as I have. But you’re right, I should get going. And hey, any time after work you wanna hang out, I’d love to see you!”
  4372.     “Yeah, don’t let me keep you. See you around.”
  4373.     >She quickly picks up the last of the mail and runs over to the guards to deliver it before flying off.
  4374.     >What a nice Mare. She didn’t even comment on the fact that you didn’t shower before coming out here.
  4375.     >You decide to go take care of that first, then head straight over to the Hospital.
  4376.  
  4377.     Ponyville Hospital, Afternoon
  4378.     >It’s a little confusing at first since the ponies at the hospital don’t know your human form, but eventually you name drop your way into Gilda’s room.
  4379.     >She looks pretty much the same as you left her. Hooked up to a lot of machines, with two of her limbs and her wings in casts.
  4380.     >She turns her head quickly when you open the door.
  4381.     >”Geez… took you long enough, asshole. I was starting to think you weren’t gonna show up again.”
  4382.     “Sorry, I know it’s almost been a week, but there’s been a lot of stuff I had to deal with. Since you’ve been here, there were two more major outbreaks of SIHN. I had to help deal with them.”
  4383.     >"Only a week? Damn... feels like ages."
  4384.     >”The worst part about this is really just how boring it is. There’s just… nothing to do but lie here and think. Reminisce about all those good times.” she says sarcastically.
  4385.     >You take a seat next to Gilda.
  4386.     “You’d probably think I’m lucky then. I can’t remember a single thing about my past.”
  4387.     >Gilda stares at the ceiling. “Yeah… there’s a lot of shit I’d like to forget.”
  4388.     “But I don’t remember anything good either. There was no one in this world I had any love for. Everything is different from my world. I don’t remember what I’m good at, or what makes me happy, or if there’s anyone waiting at home for me to return. Or if I even have a home.”
  4389.     >”It’s not like I have anything I care about left in this world either.”
  4390.     “There has to be something.”
  4391.     >”It’s not like being a pony where you’ve got magic that spells out what makes you special and tells you that you have a place in this world.”
  4392.     >”All that crap about destiny and everyone being a special snowflake… Griffons aren’t like that. You’re either one of the carnivores or you’re one of the herbivores.”
  4393.     “Didn’t you used to have a dream? Or even just… something you really wanted to do?”
  4394.     >Gilda sighs. “I used to, I guess. I had something I cared about. Something I believed in.”
  4395.     “Was it… her?”
  4396.     >The Griffon remains stony faced and silent for a few seconds. “How much do you know?”
  4397.     “It’s not like I was trying to dig into your past or anything. To be honest, I overheard her talking to herself. But I know you used to be friends. And that you wanted to be more, but she didn’t. And that she promised to go away with you but went back on that and stayed with her friends here.”
  4398.     >Gilda’s expression is that of someone who just swallowed some bitter medicine.
  4399.     >”... Yeah, I thought you might find out about what happened sooner or later. I used to care about her. But that's over now. She's not a part of my life any more."
  4400. “So you don’t care about her anymore, huh?”
  4401. >”Why should I care about her? She treated me like shit! What kind of bullshit is that, “I’m not gay” after all those times? Straight chicks don’t fucking moan like that, that’s for fucking sure! And then she tells me she “needs me” and that she wants to stay friends, and I fucking buy it… and then she turns around and fucking replaces me with that… that bimbo!”
  4402. “What bimbo?”
  4403. >”What, like she’s not chasing Dash’s tail 24/7 now that I’m gone? Pink, huge fucking flanks all the ponies drool over but nothing going on upstairs?”
  4404. “Pinkie Pie… is a bimbo?”
  4405. >”Yeah, and like there’s any other reason Dash hangs out with a mudpony like that… I wonder if Dash is telling her she’s not gay either.”
  4406. “I probably still have a lot to learn about relationships, but I’m pretty sure they’re not banging. They’re just friends, I think.”
  4407. >”Just friends?” Gilda asks incredulously.
  4408. >”Dash wasn’t exactly the kind of pony that made a lot of “friends” when I knew her. Especially ones without wings.”
  4409. >Gilda seems very upset…
  4410. >You must think carefully about how to confront her with this tissue.
  4411.  
  4412. “I can believe that Dash was an egotistical self-centered bitch who didn’t get along with other ponies. In some ways, she still is. And yeah, you deserved way better than the way she treated you. But you said you loved her because you saw past all that. You saw the good parts in her. She’s got at least 5 other friends that she cares about as much as pinkie. One of which is a young male dragon. I don’t think she’s sleeping with all of them, I think she’s friends with them because they’re able to look past that just like you did. And you may not have been around to see it, but she’s changed. She cares about her friends and she knows when to put them ahead of herself now. And we went to her house when she had SIHN, I saw a lot of pictures with you in them and none of them with her new friends. So I think she still cares about you.”
  4413. >”Fuck off.” Gilda growls.
  4414. >”You’re full of shit. You think I’m gonna believe that crap?”
  4415. >”She doesn’t care. She used to, but she’s different now! I want the old Dash back! Back when she used to be cool, and back when she actually understood me!”
  4416. “You want the old Dash, who broke your heart, instead of the new Dash who came down with SIHN and nearly died because she couldn’t stand not having you as her friend?”
  4417. >”Fuck right off, asshole!”
  4418. >”Don’t act like you fucking get what I’m going through!”
  4419. “I know Dash cares about you now more than ever. You may not want to hear it because you’re hurting, but it’s the truth.”
  4420. >”Shut the fuck up!”
  4421. >Gilda reaches behind the bed and pulls out a thick green book, hurling it at your head.
  4422. >You catch it with ease and glance at the cover.
  4423. >There’s a picture of a tan-colored pegasus swinging on a vine over an alligator infested swamp on the cover.
  4424. >The title reads “Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone.”
  4425. >On the bottom you see a scribble reading “Property of Rainbow Dash.”
  4426.     >You tried doing this the easy way.
  4427.     >But this isn’t easy.
  4428.     >Holding on to the book with your left hand, you march towards Gilda.
  4429.     >You raise your right hand and swiftly strike her across the cheek, whipping her head to the side with a loud slap!
  4430.     >Gilda is momentarily stunned as she touches her cheek with her free talon.
  4431.     >”You… you son of a bitch… hitting me when I can’t hit you back? Is that what a fucking man like you does?”
  4432.     “I thought you were the one who said you didn’t want any pity. What’s wrong with hitting a child that’s acting like a brat?”
  4433.     >”I’m not a fucking child you prick!”
  4434.     “Then quit acting like this is fucking flight school! You talk tough but you don’t even have the balls to tell the truth!”
  4435.     “You’re telling me you don’t give a damn about Dash anymore, and she’s changed, but then you’re saying she hasn’t changed and she’s still a selfish jerk? Which is it?”
  4436.     “And if you really don’t care about her, why the fuck are you keeping her book by your bed?”
  4437.     >”It’s not hers! Why would I keep her fucking book? That stupid thing just proves how much she doesn’t get it! The nurse just brought that shit!”
  4438.     “It has Dash’s name on it, Gilda! I know it’s hers!”
  4439.     >Gilda looks like she’s seen a ghost, and quickly averts her gaze nervously.
  4440.     >”I-I knew that, damn it…”
  4441.     “If Dash doesn’t get it, maybe it’s because you just keep lying to everyone instead of being honest about how you feel!”
  4442.     >”Shut up…”
  4443.     “If you wanna shut me up, then tell me the truth like an Adult, damn it! Because I’m not doing anything a bratty teenager is telling me to do!”
  4444.     >”You wanna know the fucking truth?”
  4445.     “Yeah, I wanna know the fucking truth!”
  4446.     >”I CAN’T READ, JACKASS.” she yells with tears in her eyes.
  4447. “... okay, so you can’t read. I don’t know how common that is here, but… is that really it? Dash gave you a book, and you can’t read, and that’s why you’re so upset at her?”
  4448. >”It just proves how much she doesn’t understand me. I thought she was the only person who got me, but she just… she just doesn’t get it. Yeah, she could read, but she didn’t “do it”. She used to always tell me reading was for eggheads. And now she shows up with a book for me… what the hell is that? Did she ever really understand me?”
  4449. “It… kind of is hard to understand how she could go through school with you and not know you couldn’t read. Seriously, how did you get as far as you did?”
  4450. >”If you’re good enough at sports nobody cares. Everyone expects the jocks to not care about their assignments.”
  4451. “Of course.”
  4452. >”And it’s not like I can’t read “any” Equestrian. Just… not much. And it takes time.”
  4453. “Equestrian?”
  4454. >”Yeah, as in the language we’re speaking right now? Griffons don’t speak Equestrian natively. And our writing is completely different. I was an exchange student and… I never learned when I was young. After a while it was too late. I just couldn’t do it. So I just acted like I didn’t care, and if I ever needed to write an assignment I just bullied some fucking dweeb into doing it for me.”
  4455. >That Gustav guy you bought meat from with Spike that one time comes to mind.
  4456. “Now that you mention it, the only other Griffon I’ve met had a pretty heavy accent. But so what if you can’t read this language? It’s impressive enough that you can speak another language.”
  4457. >”Because it just proves I don’t freaking belong here! I don’t… I don’t belong with Dash.”
  4458. “Then why are you keeping a book that you can’t read?”
  4459. >Gilda just looks down, unable to answer.
  4460. “You don’t want to let her go, do you?”
  4461.     >”... I tried moving on after her, you know. After we ended our friendship I hooked up with this unicorn chick. Heh, she wasn’t really a fan of the ponies here either.”
  4462.     >”Things were pretty good, or… so I thought. But I kept pushing her to be more like me. And eventually she got fed up with it. She told me I was toxic and hateful, and that I’d never stop clinging to the past. And she didn’t want to end up like me. So I told her to fuck off, and that was that.”
  4463.     >”I guess she was right.”
  4464.     “No, she wasn’t. You can prove her wrong, Gilda. You can always try again. Dash hasn’t given up on you. And I haven’t either.”
  4465.     >”... I said some pretty shitty things to her.”
  4466.     “So did she. And so did I. We’re all assholes here. But I know she already forgives you. So can’t you forgive her?”
  4467.     >”I… I want to. But even if I do, things aren’t going to be the same. I don’t know if I can handle being just friends with her.”
  4468.     “She’s just as confused as you are. But even if you can’t be like that, she cares about you. She wants to understand you. Isn’t somepony like that worth keeping in your life?”
  4469.     >Gilda sighs. “I just don’t know… can I have some time to think about it?”
  4470.     “As long as you’re really thinking about what you want, then yeah. Take however much time you need. Also, I’m sorry for hitting you.”
  4471.     >Gilda shakes her head. “Don’t pussy out now. I was acting like a bitch, so you smacked me like one. Sorry for throwing a tantrum at you.”
  4472.     “You’ve got every reason to be upset, Gilda. I just want to see you face your problems. You’re better than that. You’re too cool to beat yourself up over that kind of bullshit.”
  4473.     >She just smirks, “Trying to call me cool when I’m looking like this? Cut that shit out, you sound like a chapter from a bad self-help book.”
  4474.     “Whatever, Bitch.”
  4475.     >”That’s more like it, Dickbag. Now fuck off outta here for now. But you better come back, you got that, Asshole?”
  4476. “Read you loud and clear, Angel.”
  4477. >”Oh you really are a motherfucker.”
  4478. >You give her your best shit eating grin and walk out of the hospital room.
  4479. >Somehow you spent longer in there than you thought. The sun is already starting to go down.
  4480. >You decide to head home and see Twi.
  4481.  
  4482. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening
  4483.  
  4484. >Twilight sits in her usual place, reading a book.
  4485. “Hey, Twi.”
  4486. >”Welcome back, Anon!” she greets you happily, placing the book neatly to the side.
  4487. “How was your day?”
  4488. >”Oh, not bad. I helped Pinkie out a little bit prepping her for Fantasia. I was hoping to be able to point her in the right direction for training how to fight, but… it’s a little more difficult than that.”
  4489. “What, is she not a good fighter?”
  4490. >”Oh, she’s good. And her Persona is pretty crazy. It uses fire magic, and it’s weak to wind magic. But it’s also got physical attacks, enhancing magic, disabling magic, and even restorative magic. It’s just that I… can’t really find any books in the library that can teach her proper weapon form for a… party cannon.”
  4491. “Wat.”
  4492. >”I mean, it’s not the first time she’s fought alongside us with it.”
  4493. “You can’t be serious… we’re going in with serious medieval weaponry and she… what even IS a party cannon? Why didn’t you tell her to pick a real weapon?”
  4494. >”I tried to! So… I told her if she could beat me in a duel with that, she could keep using it.”
  4495. “And she beat you?”
  4496. >”Yeah… not my proudest moment. Tell me the truth, do I still have confetti in my mane?”
  4497. >You sit next to her and carefully pick through it with your hands. Your fingers catch a little shred of pink paper which you flick out.
  4498. “There. Got it.”
  4499. >Twilight sighs and slumps against you. “At least she didn’t use any glitter. That stuff’s impossible to get out.”
  4500. “At least nothing got damaged except for your pride.”
  4501. >”Let’s talk about something else. How was your day?”
  4502. “Uh, a bit hectic I guess. But I talked to Derpy this morning about a job. She told me there’s a Cranky old guy that needs help with some construction…”
  4503. >”Cranky Doodle Donkey?”
  4504. “Of course that’s someone’s name. Yeah, him I guess. And also she said I should ask Cheerilee if I could tutor her students.”
  4505. >”That sounds wonderful!” Twilight exclaims, flapping her wings.
  4506. >”It’s so rewarding to help young minds grow. Do you think you want to do it?”
  4507. “Maybe. I’m not really sure yet. Derpy seemed pretty keen on the idea too.”
  4508. >”Well I’d say it’s worth a try. But it’s the kind of thing you only do every once in a while. Probably not enough for full gainful employment. But I think if you took both of those jobs you could maybe work something out.”
  4509. “As long as I’m making myself useful. I don’t want to be the kind of boyfriend who just hangs out and mooches off his girlfriend while sleeping on her couch and smoking pot all day. Though that does sound pretty sweet.”
  4510. >”I’m sure your cooking isn’t that bad, Anon. But… about that, I actually wanted to ask you something.”
  4511. “Sure, what is it?”
  4512. >”I know it’s actually a little backwards now that you’re my coltfriend but… what would you think of moving out into your own place?”
  4513. “My own place?”
  4514. >”It’s not that I don’t want you around, I just feel like you really should have some space if you want this to work. Plus, if we want our relationship to be open, you might want a place of your own to bring home other mares instead of bringing them to the castle’s guest room.”
  4515. >”You’d also be able to feel more responsible and independent. I’ll help you with rent if you need me to, and I know there’s vacancies in town that could work for you. But… I mean, we also don’t know how long you’ll be here. Or if you even want to think about staying here long term. So if you want, my guest room will still be open to you."
  4516. “I think… that sounds like a great idea, Twi. A place of my own? I’d love to.”
  4517. >”Glad to hear it. Well then, if you’re going to be moving out, I’d better not hold back while you're here.”
  4518. “Oh yeah?”
  4519. >”Yeah… you’re gonna be studying extra hard tonight. Good thing you’re home early.”
  4520. “Come on, can’t we just make out?"
  4521. >Twilight smiles playfully, “Sorry, Marefriend Twilight isn’t here right now. Just Teacher Twilight.”
  4522. “In that case, can you teach me Sex Ed?”
  4523. >”Of course! It’s very important for you to understand the physiology of your partner. I wasn’t intending on covering it tonight, but we can make some time since you’re taking an interest. I suppose I’d have to modify the curriculum somewhat from what I’d normally teach since you’re not a pony yourself, but then again I suppose it’s still important that you get a full education on both the male and female sex, especially since I don’t know what you identify your sexuality as, and you might not even know yourself because of this curse. Hm, is there any animal you know of in our world that you might expect to be biologically similar to? I could use a good reference point. Given my own experiences as a human, I’d been guessing that they were some sort of primate, though if you don’t remember due to your amnesia I suppose I could always ask Sunset Shimmer about it.”
  4524. “Uh, Twilight?”
  4525. >”Yes, Anon?”
  4526. “I wasn’t actually asking for a lesson. I was trying to be sexy.”
  4527. >”That… wasn’t sexy for you?”
  4528. “... I may actually need a different teacher for that kind of stuff.”
  4529. >Twilight blushes. “I think I might need to go back to school on it too.”
  4530. >The two of you practice avoiding eye contact for a while until you break the awkward silence.
  4531. “Let’s… keep teacher Twilight separate for now.”
  4532. >”Good idea. So, history then.”
  4533. “History's good."
  4534. >You sat through a long history lecture, then parted ways with a hug and went to bed.
  4535.  
  4536.  
  4537. Wednesday, November 9th
  4538.  
  4539. Twilight’s Castle, Morning
  4540.  
  4541. >You pretty much confirmed with Twi that you’ll be moving out last night.
  4542. >You’d better follow up on those job openings today.
  4543. >Twi would probably get upset if she found out you didn’t do anything after she went through the trouble to offer you all that.
  4544. >You take a shower, put on your nice suit, and go outside to wait for the mailmare.
  4545. >After a few minutes of standing outside, you hear a loud crash.
  4546. >You quickly walk over to investigate, finding Derpy on the ground again.
  4547. “Morning, Derpy. Did you uh, crash into the tree again?”
  4548. >Derpy shakes her head emphatically. “Nope! Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I won’t get fooled again.”
  4549. “Oh. Then what happened?”
  4550. >”I crashed into the ground. There was this really interesting looking bug I thought I saw… but it’s gone now. So what’s up?”
  4551. “Remember how you told me yesterday about that Cranky guy? I was going to ask him about that job today, but I don’t know where he lives. Could you help me out?”
  4552. >Derpy thinks… “You know where sugar cube corner is?”
  4553. “Yeah, is it near there?”
  4554. >”Well, if you run into the door of sugar cube corner, you turn left until you crash into that big stone statue of princess celestia, then you go right until you fall into the river, and then go left along that river until you see the big gray house with all the “No Soliciting” signs.”
  4555. “You have a unique way of giving directions… but uh, I guess I’ll figure it out. Anything I should know about him?”
  4556.     >Derpy closes her eyes and assumes her thinking pose for a few seconds. “Well his full name is Cranky Doodle Donkey, but don’t call him Doodle whatever you do. Only his dear Matilda can call him that. He met her at the Grand Galloping Gala many years ago, and searched all of Equestria for her until he finally was reunited with her here in Ponyville thanks to Pinkie Pie! But they didn’t get married or anything, and they still get their mail delivered to separate addresses so they’re not living together. He’s also really really bald, but he’s embarrassed about it and doesn’t want anypony to know, so he wears a toupee to cover it up. He also doesn’t care for most ponies except for Pinkie Pie. Especially not me! I don’t consider my day complete unless he calls me a menace, or a flying disaster, or a ponified typhoon… he’s really creative about it, so I guess his mind is still in tip top shape!”
  4557.     “He doesn’t exactly sound very nice.”
  4558.     >Derpy smiles innocently. “He’s just Cranky. That’s the way he is! He may get upset a lot, but he only yells at me for things that are my fault. He never makes fun of me for being different. So I’ll accept his differences too!”
  4559.     “You’re a really sweet mare, Derpy.”
  4560.     >The mailmare giggles and rubs her forelegs together happily. “Aww, thanks, Anon! You’re sweet too for saying that.”
  4561.     “One more thing, can you tell Cheerilee when you see her that I’d like to have dinner tonight? I’ve kept her waiting for a few days, and I’d like to ask her about tutoring as well.”
  4562.     >”Sure thing! You should come check on her at 7:00. That’s usually when she takes a break anyway. I think she should be free though.”
  4563.     “Good to hear. Thanks for the help, Derpy.
  4564.     >”See ya around, Anon!” Derpy waves goodbye as you set off to follow her directions and find this Cranky Donkey.
  4565.  
  4566. Cranky’s House, Morning
  4567.  
  4568. >Strange as they were, Derpy’s directions were pretty accurate.
  4569. >The grass is neatly maintained, but the signs reading “No Solicitors” in big red block letters cancel out the one part of this place that looks halfway decent.
  4570. >The gutters are rusty, the wood is painted uneven shades of shabby gray, and the tattered roof is coated in thick clumps of moss.
  4571. >Seems like if you looked “fixer-upper” in the dictionary, you’d get a description of this house.
  4572. >You wouldn’t get a picture though.
  4573. >When was the last time you had a dictionary with pictures in it?
  4574. >Maybe the big ones, but yeah, as if you own one of those.
  4575. >You only own the clothes on your back and the pouch of bits in your pocket your Sugar Mama gave you.
  4576. >Unwilling to face the thought that you may or may not be a manwhore, you decide to quit dicking around and knock on the door.
  4577. >You wait about ten seconds with no response before knocking again, louder this time.
  4578. >”Hold your ass! I’m coming!”
  4579. >The door rattles with the sound of chains and locks being undone.
  4580. >The lower half of the dutch doors swing inward and you see a patchy gray muzzle stick out and stare at your shoes before swinging in the top half to reveal the brown gangly-looking donkey with a coarse unkempt coat, sky blue eyes, and an ostentatious blonde toupee parked on his head.
  4581. >He stares at your featureless face and frowns.
  4582. >”Well you’re either Death, or the IRS. Either way, make it quick. You interrupted me in the middle of some very important sitting on my ass.”
  4583. “Uh, actually, Sir, I’m neither. My name is Anonymous, I’m-”
  4584. >”Stop, stop.” he raises his hoof.
  4585. >”I know who you are. Pinkie already told me everything when she invited me to your Welcome to Ponyville Party.”
  4586. “Oh. I didn’t see you there.”
  4587. >”Yeah, I pulled off this neat little trick called, ‘I didn’t go.’ Very useful when you don’t want to be seen.”
  4588. “Fair enough. Well, sir, it’s nice to meet you and uh, I was kind of hoping you could… I heard you were needing someone to help you fix some things around the house, and I don’t have much experience, but I’d be willing to learn and I’m very eager to work for you. Is the position still available?”
  4589. >”Why the heck are you wearing a suit for? Who died?”
  4590. “Uh, no one, but I figured I should dress nice if I’m going to be asking for a job.”
  4591. >”Haven’t you heard about dressing for the job you want? I don’t need you to embalm me, I need you to fix up this place into something respectable! Where are your work clothes? You can’t get your hooves dirty in your sunday best.”
  4592. ”I don’t own any other clothes. I just have suits. Most stores don’t actually sell something in my size.”
  4593. >”Then go bare! You’d look like an ass trying to do hard labor in a suit!”
  4594. “Uh, I can’t. It’s sort of… uh…”
  4595. >”Uh-uh-uh-uh what’s all that? That how you speak to your elders? If I could see your eyes I bet you wouldn’t even be making eye contact! You want this job with no experience, no name, and no idea how to act respectable?”
  4596. ”Sorry, sir.”
  4597. >”Quit saying “Sir”. Makes you sound like a kiss-ass if you don’t really mean it!”
  4598. “Well I’m sorry, but I’ve only existed for tendays, and I barely know a thing about etiquette. I called your ruler “Princess Sunbottom” right to her face. But I’m trying to improve, and I may not be respectable by your world’s standards but I’m willing to learn.”
  4599. >Cranky shakes and lets out a wheezing laugh, “Ehhheheheheh! Princess Sunbottom… now that’s something! Maybe you’ve got a backbone after all!”
  4600. “So are you willing to think about it?”
  4601. >”Feh! Don’t get ahead of yourself, kid!”
  4602. >Cranky paces in a circle around you, staring critically with a disappointed frown.
  4603. >”Look at you… you’re an even bigger fixer-upper than this old hovel I live in!”
  4604. “So that’s a no then?”
  4605. >”What’d I just say about getting ahead of yourself? You’re no Jack LaMane, but I’ve been looking for a good project to sink my dentures into for some time now! And you, kid, will require a LOT of work. I may not have the strength or dexterity to whittle, but I think I can handle molding a big green blob of clay like you into something worthwhile.”
  4606. “Thanks… I think.”
  4607. >”Don’t give me lip, kid! I know you haven’t got much but a pair of lips on that head of yours, but I’m hoping you’ve at least got a brain somewhere in there. Normally I’d have tossed you out on your ass and told you not to come back, but Pinkie Pie tells me you saved her life, so I’ll give you a chance and make you into my apprentice!”
  4608. >You give deep bow.
  4609. “I will be honored to serve you, Master Cranky.”
  4610. >”Master, eh? I like the sound of that, kid. Now let’s see, where should I have you start…”
  4611. >You hear a loud crash and the sound of something snapping.
  4612. >The two of you rush over to investigate, finding Derpy collapsed on top of Cranky’s now destroyed mailbox.
  4613. >”All right, start by fixing up my mailbox. DERPY! Was your daddy a meteorite?! Look at what you did to my mailbox!”
  4614. >”Sorry, Cranky! Here’s your pension check!” Derpy rubs the back of her head with her hoof and holds out a letter.
  4615. >The donkey quickly snatches the letter away. “All right, now scram!”
  4616. >”Sorry! Hi, Anon! Bye, Anon! Oh, and Cheery says 7:00 is fine, meet her at the schoolhouse!” Derpy calls out as she flies away backwards, plowing straight through the branches of a tree and getting her mane covered in leaves before floating away.
  4617. >Cranky shakes his head. “Well at least she’s keeping you in business. Let’s get to work. That post was rotting anyway, so I’m gonna have you cut up some lumber for a new one. Then you’re gonna sand it, prime it, paint it, and bolt it back on to the box so Derpy can destroy it tomorrow.”
  4618. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy some wood at the general store?”
  4619. >Cranky frowns at you. “Easier, yes. Quicker, yes. Less prone to rot or weather damage, yes. But there’s the easy way to do something, and there’s the right way to do it, and I ain’t paying you to prance your ass down to Barnyard Bargains and pick up a post made by some Chineighse Unicorn in a sweatshop who did all the work for you! You understand me, kid?”
  4620. “Loud and clear, Master Cranky.”
  4621. >”That’s more like it. Now come on out back, I’ve already got some logs you can split.”
  4622. >The old Donkey puts you to work, constantly watching and judging you for everything you do wrong, but he’s never unfair in his criticism. He gives you clear instructions, and though it takes most of the day, you end up with a neatly painted white post to drive into the ground.
  4623. >Cranky watches with a very subtle smile on his face as you pound in the nails to affix the box to the post.
  4624. >”Well, I certainly won’t be paying you hourly with that kind of pace, but you put in a hard day’s work, kid. You’re pretty good with those fingers.”
  4625. “Is it going to hurt this much every time?”
  4626. >”You sound like a high school filly with that kinda bellyaching. And I’ll give you the same answer. It hurts ‘cause you’re not used to using those muscles, but I’ll break you in soon enough.”
  4627. “Ugh…”
  4628. >”Ehheheheh… relax, I’ll give you a lighter load tomorrow so you don’t get too sore. Tuesday through Friday, same time. Think you can handle that?”
  4629. “Gotta earn my keep somehow.”
  4630. >Cranky tosses you a small sack of bits, which you catch.
  4631. >Show Cheerilee a good time."
  4632. "Thanks. I will."
  4633.  
  4634.  
  4635. >!
  4636.  
  4637. ————————————————————
  4638.  
  4639. Thou art I… And I am thou…
  4640.  
  4641. Thou hast established a new bond…
  4642.  
  4643. It brings thee closer to the truth…
  4644.  
  4645. Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Hermit Arcana.
  4646.  
  4647. ————————————————————
  4648.  
  4649.  
  4650.     >You say goodbye to your new boss and head back home to clean up and take a quick shower since you’ve got time.
  4651.     >After making sure you’re as presentable as you’re going to get, you head off to the schoolhouse.
  4652.     >On the way there, you notice a cart selling flowers.
  4653.     >As you recall, Derpy mentioned that Daisies are Cheerilee’s favorite.
  4654.     >You pick up a few of them and hand over some of the bits you got from Cranky before continuing down south to the school.
  4655.  
  4656.     Ponyville Schoolhouse, Evening
  4657.  
  4658.     >The sun is down, but there’s still enough light to make your way to the schoolhouse by 7:00.
  4659.     >You look around, standing on the grass outside, but Cheerilee doesn’t seem to be around.
  4660.     >Curiously, you decide to try to knock on the door.
  4661.     >From inside, a Mare’s voice calls out. “I’ll be right there!”
  4662.     >The door opens, and you see the smiling face of the cerise coated mare greeting you.
  4663.     “Good evening, Miss Cheerilee.”
  4664.     >”Just Cheerilee is fine. ‘Miss’ is what my students call me.”
  4665.     “You look nice.”
  4666.     >You say that, though her appearance is pretty much identical to how you first met her.
  4667.     >Unlike you, she hasn’t dressed up at all for this dinner, instead remaining au natural.
  4668.     >Although you do detect a faint floral scent emanating from her. Perhaps roses… but you’re not exactly a flower expert.
  4669.     “Oh, these are for you.”
  4670.     >She takes the Daisies in her hoof. “Oh, thank you! Did you get these because of my Cutie Mark? Or did Derpy tell you?” she asks slyly.
  4671.     ”Uh, the second one, actually.”
  4672.     >”No need to be embarrassed. I asked her about the kind of food you like too. So I won’t be sharing any daffodil sandwiches unless I want to poison you.”
  4673.     “Daffodils are poisonous?”
  4674.     >She looks slightly worried. “You didn’t know?”
  4675.     “Uh, no. How did Derpy know that?”
  4676.     >”Well… Derpy said that Lyra said that Twilight said that Sunset Shimmer said to her that she once ate some wild daffodils in the human world and fell ill."
  4677. “It’s kind of scary that Derpy knows more about me than I know about myself.”
  4678. >Cherilee giggles, “Oh, she knows that about a lot of ponies. I think she might know even more about everypony than Pinkie Pie.”
  4679. “How does she manage that?”
  4680. >”Well… Derpy is a very special pony, with a very special mind. She may have to try harder than some ponies at certain things, but she never forgets something she learns about somepony.”
  4681. “She really is something special.”
  4682. >”You don’t have to tell me. I went to school with her. We even got our cutie marks together!”
  4683. “Oh really? What was that like?”
  4684. >Cheerilee pauses, considering what to say before responding, “Sorry, but that’s a little secret between us.”
  4685. “Huh. She told me something like that too.”
  4686. >”Cheerilee just smiles. “I think we should get to the restaurant before they close on us.”
  4687. “Oh, good idea. Lead the way.”
  4688.  
  4689. Honey & Clover Cafe, Evening
  4690. >Cheerilee leads you to a Cafe you’d seen in passing a few times. Usually there’s ponies sitting together in the outdoor seating during the afternoons, but it seems they have indoor seats as well.
  4691. >Though they’re less “seats” and more “piles of hay.”
  4692. >It’s a little convenient for you though, since you can thin out your pile to get a seat lower to the ground and be more at Cheerilee’s height.
  4693. >After studying the menu for something you can eat without poisoning yourself, you decide on the spinach quiche, while Cheerilee orders a kale salad with apples and walnuts.
  4694. >”It must be difficult to have these sorts of dietary restrictions living in our world. Your bodies just don’t process raw plant matter as well as ours do it seems. How are you adjusting?”
  4695. “I usually just eat a lot of junk food, since sugar is vegetarian. But Twilight also gave me this necklace that lets me turn into a Pony when I put it on, and if I use that then your stuff tends to taste okay. Hayburgers are kind of nice. I still miss steak though.”
  4696. Cheerilee shudders. “Oh, I couldn’t imagine going to a world where everything was just filled with meat… the smell of it alone is rather off putting. But we can’t even process it well. It just makes us sick.”
  4697. “But you really don’t eat any meat at all?”
  4698. >”Some ponies eat fish occasionally, but the sort of red meat you might be used to isn’t really eaten commonly. Though there’s always the odd place serving it as a Griffon delicacy. But personally I just can’t see the appeal. Though I do find the differences between our species interesting as an educator. I’ve never gotten the chance to speak to an omnivore like you.”
  4699. “I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t really remember much beyond some general facts about humans. Any time I try to think about something more specific, my mind just can’t seem to hold on to it.”
  4700. >Cheerilee giggles, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I didn’t bring you here to write a thesis paper on your biology, I just wanted to show my gratitude for the way you helped out my girls.”
  4701. “Right, how are they doing? It must have been a bit scary for them. They were really freaked out when I came across them in the clubhouse.”
  4702. >Cheerilee rolls her eyes, “Oh, they all bounced back quite quickly. Scootaloo became a little bit of a celebrity among her peers for a few days, soaking up some attention from the other fillies while Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle kept dramatizing the story of what happened more and more each time they told it. I believe the current version involves you jumping through a second story window carrying her in your arms like a princess. And then the building explodes while you walk away.”
  4703. “Hey, sounds pretty accurate to me. At least she’s doing okay.”
  4704. >She smiles briefly, but then looks concerned. “I wish I could say the same about Diamond Tiara.”
  4705. “Diamond… she was part of the third group, wasn’t she? The one that stayed under for over a day?”
  4706.     >The purple mare nods sadly. “She hasn’t come to school all week, even though she woke up Saturday night. Apparently she’s still recovering.”
  4707.     “It was that hard on her? But that Vinyl Mare was well enough to at least show up to that party the next day…”
  4708.     >”Well… it might just be that it affects foals more severely than adults. But I’m worried about all the school she’s missing now. Her grades have already been slipping for a while. She can’t afford to miss class on top of that. I tried speaking to her father, but he just shuts me down and tells me that his little princess isn’t coming to school until she’s absolutely feeling at 100%.”
  4709.     “How long do you think that’ll take?”
  4710.     >The teacher sighs and shakes her head. “I have no idea. But if this keeps happening, she’s going to get behind, and then she’s going to get even worse grades on her tests, and then her Father is going to ask me why his princess isn’t getting good grades like she deserves, and then I’m going to try to explain, and then he’s going to blame me, and then he’s going to complain to the administrators, and then they’re going to listen because he’s Filthy Rich, and then I’m going to get in trouble for having a student that isn’t learning in my class, and then I’m the one getting punished.”
  4711.     >Cheerilee rests her head on the table in frustration.
  4712.     “Wow. That… sounds really terrible.”
  4713.     >”Sorry for dumping all my troubles on you. You probably don’t want to hear about all my issues right now.”
  4714.     “Actually I do. I mean for one thing I kind of expect it to happen at this point, and also I’d kind of like to help you out.”
  4715.     >Her head snaps up as she stares at your blank green face. “Help?”
  4716.     “I hope so. What subjects is she having trouble in?”
  4717.     >”She’s quite good at Social Studies, and she’s managing to keep up in Science, but her Math and Equish skills need work.”
  4718.     “If that’s all, then what would you think if I offered to work as a tutor? That way she can keep up with the rest of the class until she’s ready to go back to school, and you don’t get yelled at.”
  4719.     >”That… that sounds like a wonderful solution! But are you sure? I mean, I love all of my students, but… Diamond Tiara can be a bit of a handful.”
  4720.     “If I can’t handle it, then it’ll be my fault, not yours.”
  4721.     >She smiles warmly at you. “It’s very noble of you to try to take the blame, but I only worry about Diamond Tiara’s future. Still… this might be my only chance to go that extra mile for the poor girl.”
  4722.     “I can’t promise any results since nearly everything I do is the first time I’ve done it, but I can promise that I’ll do everything I can to help your student.”
  4723.     >”Then I think you’ll do wonderfully. That’s all an educator should really think about. Just… be patient with her. She can be difficult.”
  4724.     “You make her sound like she’s some kind of devil child.”
  4725.     >”When I let her be the head of the school newspaper she blackmailed Apple Bloom and her friends into writing a tabloid gossip column which violated the privacy of dozens of Ponies including Princess Celestia.”
  4726.     “Wow.”
  4727.     >”In fact I wouldn’t mention your friendship with those three around her if I were you. She’s… a bit of a bully towards them about the fact that they haven’t gotten their Cutie Marks yet.”
  4728.     “Wait, so you know she’s bullying them?”
  4729.     >Cheerilee winces as if your words pierced right through her heart. “I… I try doing what I can. They’re just girls… they’ll grow out of it eventually, I know… but I just can’t do anything about it because of her Father.”
  4730.     “That Rich guy?”
  4731. >She nods. “Filthy Rich holds a lot of sway in this town. He owns most of it, and what he doesn’t own he might as well with all the “donations” he gives out. Nearly everypony is in his pocket… and if I give her detention or punish her or try to discipline Diamond Tiara in any way, Flithy Rich will march right down to the school and start yelling about how he had to take time out of HIS busy schedule to see me, and how his daughter could never do something as terrible as what I claim. And the administrators will take his side because he’s the one that buys us blackboards and textbooks and hoofballs and I’m just a lousy teacher!”
  4732. >Cheerilee nearly clocks the waiter in the face with her angry gesticulating as she rants. “Oh. Sorry…”
  4733. >The waiter simply lays your food on the table and walks away.
  4734. >The magenta mare turns an even deeper red from embarrassment as she begins to silently munch on her salad.
  4735. “It’s really not easy being a teacher, is it?”
  4736. >”You must think I hate it with how much I complain… but honestly, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
  4737. “You like being a teacher even after all the things you go through?”
  4738. >”Of course! I may not be a fan of our educational system, but well... when you’ve really put your heart into teaching somepony and then you get to see them succeed and grow, there’s really just nothing else like it.”
  4739. “I think Twi said something along those lines too.”
  4740. >”Yes, she gave some extracurricular lessons to Apple Bloom and her friends for a while. Unfortunately it turned into a bit of a disaster when they started using their status with the Princess to become popular… I’m not sure if they still go. Anyway, she’s absolutely correct. And I’d love to see you have that experience too.”
  4741. “You think I should use my relationship with Twi to become popular?”
  4742. >"No, I- Relationship?"
  4743. "Yeah. As in... Marefriend."
  4744. >"Oh. Should I keep that a secret?"
  4745. “I don’t mind you knowing, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone else. Or rather, I think Twi would appreciate it.”
  4746. >”I understand. I’d hate to turn something nice into “Celebrity Drama”. Your secret is safe with me. And congratulations. Getting to be the Princess’s coltfriend… I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little jealous.”
  4747. “We aren’t exclusive. Just ask her out and I’m sure she’d say yes.”
  4748. >Cheerilee chokes on her water slightly and begins to cough and sputter for a few seconds until she catches her breath.
  4749. >”You. Are mean. I’m going to have to rethink my opinion on you now.”
  4750. “And what opinion was that?”
  4751. >Cheerilee wipes her mouth with a napkin and smiles. “I was just starting to think that you were a very kind and noble soul that wouldn’t stand idly by if they saw somepony in need. But now I see you’re the kind of human that likes to tease poor old mares like me.”
  4752. “Maybe you were in need of some teasing.”
  4753. >”You might actually be right. I’ve been working so hard lately I end up sleeping at the schoolhouse because I can’t bring myself to walk home. It feels good to talk like this and unwind.”
  4754. “Everyone needs a break sometime. Glad I could give you that excuse. But uh, can I ask you a question? I mean I’m sorry if it sounds stupid, but I still don’t know a lot about this world or its culture.”
  4755. >”As a Teacher, it’s classroom policy that there are no stupid questions.”
  4756. “But we’re not in the classroom.”
  4757. >Cheerilee chuckles, “I know. So you’ll have to make this one at your own risk.”
  4758. “Well… would you actually… ask Twilight out? What do you think of… that stuff?”
  4759. >”If you want to know if I find Twilight attractive, the answer is yes. And we share many common interests, so I’m sure that we may enjoy each other’s company. But would I actually ask her out on a date? I’m think not. It’s just that she’s… a bit out of my league, I’m afraid.”
  4760. “You look just as beautiful as her to me.”
  4761. >Miss Cheerilee blushes intensely and looks away, “Come on, is that something you should be saying about your Marefriend?”
  4762. “I actually don’t know. I’m still clueless about all this, so all I can really do is be honest.”
  4763. >”I… I’m flattered that you think I’m attractive as well, but I think you really can’t compare the two of us. Twilight’s a Mare in the prime of her youth. I’m just… on that downhill slope.”
  4764. “I don’t know how much age matters to her, considering I’m 10 days old and she’s immortal.”
  4765. >”It’s not just that. I mean, I’d thought about asking her to dinner a few times when she first moved here, but I just never really had the time to form that kind of connection to her where I felt comfortable asking. And then I tried something with Big Mac for a little while, but it never really had that spark, so we decided to end it together. And then before I knew it, she grows wings and suddenly she’s an Alicorn Princess? Now that’s just… something I can’t quite match up to.”
  4766. “I think you match up just fine, Cheerilee. Twi would never turn someone down because of her status as a Princess. She’s not like that. She still sees herself as the same pony she was when she came to Ponyville.”
  4767. >She laughs softly and shakes her head. ”Heh, you know… maybe you are a kind and noble soul after all… but you might have the wrong idea here. I’m attracted to her, and it might be nice to have a marefriend like her, but I just don’t feel a romantic connection to Twilight, silly.”
  4768. “Oh. Sorry about that.”
  4769. >You hear her chuckling gently. “Don’t worry, I understand that things are different in your world. You need time to learn about how things are done here. I’m sure you’re quite the Casanova back in your own world.”
  4770. “No I’m at least 100x more awkward and lame back there.”
  4771. >Cheerilee cracks up with bubbly laughter.
  4772. "Now look who's mean."
  4773.    
  4774.  
  4775.  >After some refreshing laughter, Cheerilee puts on a reassuring smile. “Well at least here you’ve got an excuse.
  4776.     “I guess so. It’s a new start then.”
  4777.     >”I hope your new life here is wonderful. You’ve done so much for us here. And while you may not be the perfect Hero… the best kind of Heroes are the kinds that are just like us.”
  4778.     “Just like you, huh?”
  4779.     >”Well maybe not “just” like us, but… you know what I’m saying, right?”
  4780.     “I do. And I’m glad you said it. I’d been worried that a lot of ponies might react to me, well… the way you did when you first saw me. But hearing you say I’m just like you? I guess it means a lot when I think about it.”
  4781.     >”I think that’s the way it is. You’re not some shining paragon or wicked monster, just a guy trying to do his best for everypony, isn’t that right?”
  4782.     “I’m not nearly as impressive as someone like you.”
  4783.     >She looks confused. “How am I impressive? I’m just a school teacher.”
  4784.     “Maybe. But even after all the things you have to deal with, you do something that really impresses me. Something that a lot of other teachers don’t.”
  4785.     >Cheerilee gives you an interested smile, “And what’s that?”
  4786.     “You actually give a damn about your students.”
  4787.     >This pony sure blushes a lot.
  4788.     >She covers her mouth with her hoof demurely. “Anon…”
  4789.     “I’d have probably thrown that Filthy jerk out of the window years ago if I had to put up with half of what you go through. But you seem to care more about his daughter’s education than he does. And even though I was big and scary, you were ready to fight me if I even dared hurting one of those kids.”
  4790.     >”You’re saying too much, Anon…”
  4791.     “It’s just the truth.”
  4792.     >”No, I mean using the D-word. Ponies are starting to look.”
  4793.     >You glance around at the concerned diners.
  4794.     “Uh, Sorry. Cultural differences.”
  4795.     >The teacher lets out another entertained laugh, and the two of you finish your meal together.
  4796. “That was good… pretty relieved to know I can still find good tasting food that won’t kill me in this town.”
  4797. >”It would have been a pretty disappointing end to our night. Speaking of which, I should get going…”
  4798. “Would you like me to walk you home?”
  4799. >”Well, I suppose these are dangerous times. I’d certainly feel a lot safer if you were there with me.”
  4800. “I was really just thinking I’d like to spend just a little more time with you.”
  4801. >It takes a moment for Cheerilee to think before she replies, “I think I’d like that too.”
  4802. >The two of you walk together in a comfortable silence, enjoying the cool winter air and the clear night sky.
  4803. >”This is my place.” she says as she reaches a rather cozy looking single story house.
  4804. >You’re tempted to say she might have more room sleeping in the schoolhouse, but that might actually hurt her feelings.
  4805. >Either way you can’t help but feel she deserves better. But you remain quiet.
  4806. >The petite cerise mare looks up to you. “I want you to know I had a very good time tonight.”
  4807. “I did too. Thank you for the dinner. Next time maybe it could be my treat?”
  4808. >”Next time?”
  4809. >She pauses. “Yes, next time. Let’s do this again, shall we?”
  4810. “For sure. But I’ll try not to get you on a school night. So we have plenty of time."
  4811. >Cheerilee looks to the side nervously. “I suppose this is my turn to be a bit direct. Do you… want it to be a date?”
  4812.  
  4813. Do you want it to be a d- oh who am I kidding.
  4814.  
  4815. “Yes.”
  4816. >Her face lights up. “Then it’s a date! I’ll see you around, Anon. Oh, and Derpy will tell you if I can get Rich to sign off on your tutoring idea.”
  4817. “Sounds great. Good night then, Cheerilee."
  4818. >”Good night, Anon.”
  4819. >As she walks away and enters her home, you notice the lights are already on inside.
  4820. >Still, Cheerilee doesn’t seem to pay it much mind.
  4821. >You ponder why that could be as you walk home alone under the starry night sky.
  4822.  
  4823. Twilight’s Castle Library, Evening.
  4824.  
  4825. >You see Twilight writing into a large brown book with an orange and yellow sun on the cover.
  4826. “Evening, Twi.”
  4827. >Twilight’s quill floats down onto the table, and her purple aura surrounds the book, closing it and setting it down on a nearby pile of books.
  4828. >”You’re back!”
  4829. “Was I interrupting something? You working on a novel?”
  4830. >”That’s not it. I mean it IS National Novel Writing Month, but I just don’t have the time for something like that. I was writing to my friend, Sunset Shimmer.”
  4831. “I know you can be verbose sometimes, but you might have trouble fitting that in an envelope.”
  4832. >Twilight rolls her eyes. “It’s not like that. This diary is magically linked to the one Sunset Shimmer is holding in the human world. Whenever I write something in it, it appears there, and vice-versa.”
  4833. “Wait, so you… have texting?”
  4834. >”That’s what humans use instead of letters with those cell phones, right? But this is different. It can only send information between the two linked books.”
  4835. ”Science one, magic zero.”
  4836. >”Science and magic work together just fine. It’s not a competition between the two. Magic can be scientifically studied and understood through fundamental proofs and theorems. It follows consistent laws of what it can and can’t do. Just because it’s difficult to understand doesn’t mean it can’t be understood. Everything has a logical explanation.”
  4837. “... that’s bullshit. But I believe it.”
  4838. >”Language.”
  4839. “Sorry.”
  4840. >”If you think it’s… illogical, then ask away and I can explain how things work."
  4841. “You probably shouldn’t. In my world, there was once a man who attempted to explain the existence of magic with intelligent microscopic organisms he claimed dwelled within living beings known as “midichlorians."
  4842. >Twilight just stares, unimpressed. “Anon, I’ve seen the Star Horse movies."
  4843. "Oh."
  4844. >Suddenly, the book she was writing in begins to glow and shake.
  4845. “I think it’s for you.”
  4846. >Twilight floats the book over and opens it up to read.
  4847. >You curiously lean over to try to catch a glimpse, but Twilight quickly pulls it out of your sight.
  4848. >”No peeking. This is private girl talk.”
  4849. “Is it about me?”
  4850. >”N-No.”
  4851. “Yeah it is.”
  4852. >”It’s… other things. Girls. Shoes. Okay, it is about you. I wanted her advice on how to handle things with you, since she lives in the human world.”
  4853. “In that High School, right? Spike told me a bit. So what’s she saying?”
  4854. >”I’m actually not sure. Half of her writing is in some kind of code. Probably because she’s worried about what might happen if someone else in the human world ever finds it.”
  4855. “A code?”
  4856. >”Yeah, like… I’m not sure what this message means.”
  4857. “Maybe I can decipher it.”
  4858. >”I doubt it. If you’re really that curious, look at her last message. But JUST the last message, okay?”
  4859. >You stoop down and take a look at the last line.
  4860.  
  4861. OMFG Twi you so cray I cant even ^.^;; #smh
  4862.  
  4863. “Means you don’t have to worry about me reading your conversations with her anymore.”
  4864. >”What is ‘cray’? Is it short for crayfish? Is she comparing my relationship with you to the mating habits of freshwater crustaceans?”
  4865. “It’s short for crazy. She finds your behavior too vexing to form a reasonable response.”
  4866. >”How in Equestria did you figure that out?”
  4867. “It’s not easy.”
  4868. >Twilight shrugs and begins writing again. “I will continue our correspondence at a later date… as my coltfriend has arrived and I wish to speak with him.”
  4869. >The book vibrates again shortly after and she reads aloud. “Say hi to your… bae… for me… #jelly…”
  4870. >Twilight closes the book and puts it back in the pile. ”... she says “hi”. I think. Anyway come sit by me. How was your day?”
  4871. >You take a seat on the pillow and put your arm around the purple pony.
  4872. “Really good, actually. Cranky said he’s giving me a job monday through thursday, and Cheerilee is going to ask Filthy Rich if I can tutor his daughter Diamond Tiara.”
  4873. >”Way to go, Anon! I knew you could do it!”
  4874. “That’s not all though.”
  4875. >”There’s more?”
  4876. “Yeah, when I was out to dinner with Cheerilee we ended up talking a lot… and I feel like we got a little close. So I ended up asking her out again at the end of the night. As a date. And… she said yes. Is that okay with you?”
  4877. >Twilight nods. “Absolutely, Anon. Cheerilee’s a great Mare! I’m so glad to hear you hit it off with her so quickly. You really are a charismatic kind of guy.”
  4878. “I think it’s actually that I’m so uncharismatic everyone just ends up feeling comfortable around me.”
  4879. >”Don’t sell yourself short. You can say some really romantic things every once in a while. You told her about us, right?”
  4880. “I did. She’s not telling anyone else for now, but she’s okay with the situation. In fact she had a lot of good things to say about you. She seems to think you’re way out of her league.”
  4881. >She blushes, “Come on, I’m not all that special. Just because I’m a princess and all.”
  4882. “You’re very special, Twi.”
  4883. >”Y-You think so?”
  4884. “In fact, you’re more than special…”
  4885. “You’re T to the WI, LIGHT, and ain’t no other pony and ain’t no other pony beat up shadows like ye. You’re Twilightlicious.”
  4886. >Twilight hides her face in her hooves and blushes. “I-Idiot. Like you’re so cool.”
  4887. “I know I’m not. But hey, that’s what we like about each other, right?”
  4888. >She shakes her head and looks up, smiling. “Yeah, that’s right.”
  4889.     >You return the smile and stare into her deep purple eyes.
  4890.     >”Hey… could you close your eyes for a second?”
  4891.     “I don’t have any, remember?”
  4892.     >”You know what I mean.”
  4893.     “All right.”
  4894.     >You “close your eyes” and wait for her.
  4895.     >”Don’t move, okay?”
  4896.     “I won’t.”
  4897.     >...
  4898.     >”... you ready?”
  4899.     “Heh, yeah, I’m ready, Twilight.”
  4900.     >You feel Twilight’s forelegs wrapping around your shoulders as she gets a good grip on you.
  4901.     >Her body is close to you. You can feel her nervous breath against your chest.
  4902.     >As she presses against you, there’s a faint rapid thumping coming from her.
  4903.     >A nervous heartbeat, mirroring your own.
  4904.     >Anticipation builds as you stay like this for one very long moment, feeling each other’s heartbeats… until finally there’s a soft, wet feeling against your lips.
  4905.     >The sensation is worlds apart from your kiss with Derpy.
  4906.     >There’s a tender shyness to it, but at the same time an intense desire for closeness.
  4907.     >Your chest swells with a warm sort of feeling.
  4908.     >It’s overpowering in its intensity. It envelops you and sends your mind to a place where nothing matters except this moment.
  4909.     >Even when you finally pull away and open your eyes, every inch of your body still tingles.
  4910.     >Twilight’s full red cheeks tells and dreamy half-lidded stare tells you she feels the same way.
  4911.     “Wow…”
  4912.     >”Yeah, wow…”
  4913.     >Neither of you has anything better to say.
  4914.     >So you decide to just kiss again. And again. And again. For a very long time. Until you’re both too exhausted to do anything but lay down on the pillows together.
  4915.     >”Mmm... you better not be doing this to get out of your lessons.”
  4916.     “Heh, you started it.”
  4917.     >”I can't focus on teaching you when you get home like this. Let's start spending some time during the day, okay? Take me on a real date some time.”
  4918.     "I will, Twi."
  4919.     >”That's better.” She smiles and closes her eyes. Soon you find yourself drifting off together with her, falling asleep to the sound of her gentle heartbeat.
  4920. Thursday, November 10th
  4921.  
  4922. Twilight’s Castle Library, Morning
  4923.  
  4924. >There’s another note for you this morning.
  4925. >This one simply reads:
  4926.  
  4927. Good luck at your job today!
  4928.  
  4929. Love,
  4930.  
  4931.  
  4932. Twilight Sparkle
  4933.  
  4934. >You fold the note into your pocket and head to your room.
  4935. >After a shower, you change into your other set of clothes and head out to work.
  4936.  
  4937. Cranky’s House, Morning
  4938.  
  4939. >As you arrive, you see your boss waiting for you in a wooden rocking chair.
  4940. >”Bout time your lazy ass showed up! Come on out back.”
  4941. >You follow him to the rear of the house to an old wooden deck, covered with leaves and moss with heavily discolored wood.
  4942. >”See this?”
  4943. >Cranky pushes on a board with his hoof, causing it to bow and bend.
  4944. >”That board’s no good. Weak, soft, green. Kind of like you. So you’re gonna fix that. Take out the old wood, measure it, cut a new piece, sand it down, etcetera etcetera. It’s pretty much the same thing you did yesterday, just a lot larger. Think you can handle it, kid?”
  4945. “Leave it to me, Master.”
  4946. >”Good. Now I’m going to go take a nap. Don’t slack off just because I’m asleep, you hear?”
  4947. “Of course. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my paycheck.”
  4948. >”Spoken like a true contractor. Now quit flappin’ yer gums and get to work!”
  4949. >You apply the skills you picked up yesterday, but the size is making it take a lot longer.
  4950. >It’s a bit frustrating without any kind of electric tools, but to his credit the tools Cranky gives you are all well maintained and get the job done.
  4951.  
  4952. >Some time during the afternoon, there’s a loud crash as Derpy plows into a tree, sending a rain of autumn leaves down on your working space.
  4953. >”IS IT THE END OF DAYS OUT THERE OR IS THAT JUST THE MAIL?”
  4954. >”Just the mail, Cranky!” Derpy calls out seemingly unfazed by her earlier collision.
  4955. >Cranky stomps out of the house and Derpy hands him his mail.
  4956. >”You’d make a great alarm clock if you ever delivered the mail when we wanted it. Now git!”
  4957.     >Derpy salutes him with a smile. “Oh! Anon, Cheery says she’ll talk to Rich today after school. And she had fun on her date!”
  4958.     “Good to hear. Thanks, Derpy.”
  4959.     >The mailmare soars away while Cranky frowns.
  4960.     >”Well, I’m up I guess. Let’s see… looks like you’re doing not bad, but you could certainly be doing a lot better. Show me how you use that wood plane.”
  4961.     >You demonstrate for him, and he shakes his head. “No, not like that… you need to push it with even pressure. It’ll be easier if you do it like this…”
  4962.     >He spends some time instructing you in the proper technique.
  4963.     >After a while, you decide to try to make conversation.
  4964.     >There’s something you’ve been thinking about lately… might not hurt to bring it up.
  4965.     “Master, can I ask you a question?”
  4966.     >”Yeah, what is it?”
  4967.     “I want to do something nice for my girlfriend. I was going to take her out somewhere fun, and maybe give her a gift. I’ve been trying to think of what kind of gift might be good. Do you have any suggestions?”
  4968.     >Cranky sits back and lets out a deep breath.
  4969.     >”A gift, eh…”
  4970.     >”Well the fact that you care enough to ask someone like me tells me you want it to mean something, don’t you?”
  4971.     “Yeah, I do.”
  4972.     >”If that’s the case… all right, listen up. If you want to get your gal a gift that really means something, it has to be a gift from you. A gift that matters because it’s you giving it to her and not anypony else. Don’t get her anything like flowers or chocolates or jewelry. Anypony with more bits than sense can buy a fancy rock, and I ain’t paying you well enough to piss away money like that. Give her a gift that only you can give her. Something that wouldn’t mean the same thing coming from anypony else. You don’t have to make it yourself, but it has to be something important to you.”
  4973.     "Something important to me?"
  4974.     >"To both of you. Those are the gifts you treasure forever. Got it, kid?"
  4975.     "I got it. Thanks, Master."
  4976.     >"Now get back to work!"
  4977. >You spent the rest of your day working hard to repair the deck until Cranky says it’s quitting time.
  4978. >You decided to head back to the castle and see if Spike felt like doing anything today…
  4979.  
  4980. >Twilight’s Castle, Late afternoon
  4981.  
  4982. >You knock on the door to his room, and Spike answers quickly.
  4983. >”Hey, Big Guy. What’s up?”
  4984. “Just got off of work. Want to hang out, Little Man?”
  4985. >”Do I? I got the perfect thing to do together! Come on in, it’s time for us to discuss the next activity for the Guys’ Club!”
  4986. >Spike turns around and you follow him into his room as he heads to his closet, digging through it and tossing junk out onto his floor.
  4987. >”All right, big guy. So hear me out. I think I know what we did wrong last time. Why we didn’t feel any maniler.”
  4988. “You think so?”
  4989. >”Yeah, and I know just how to fix it. We need to do things ourselves like real men! That’s why we’re gonna grab our rods and go down to Ponyville Lake together!”
  4990. “Uh, is that legal?”
  4991. >”Yeah, you don’t need a license or anything. I checked. Rarity’s dad does it all the time. Aha, here we are!”
  4992. >Spike pulls out one long fishing rod and one short one.
  4993. “Fishing! Yeah, that could be interesting. So we need to catch the food ourselves.”
  4994. >”You got it! Real men do it themselves. They catch it, gut it, cook it up, and then eat it. Once we do that, we’ll both be real men.”
  4995. “It’s usually a pretty many sport. And you don’t have to exercise to do it.”
  4996. >”Or be tall.” Spike adds.
  4997. “So you have everything we need here?”
  4998. >”Yeah, I even read through some of those books Twilight forced on me after I told her I wanted some bits to buy these at Barnyard Bargains. Just grab that tackle box and let’s go.”
  4999.  
  5000. Ponyville Lake
  5001.  
  5002. >Once the two of you make it to the lake and start to open up the tackle box, you quickly begin to feel overwhelmed.
  5003. >”What are all these for?”
  5004. “I have no idea… I thought you read the books?”
  5005. >”I… skimmed them. Real men don’t need books, right? I’m sure we can figure this out.”
  5006. “Yeah…”
  5007.  
  5008. 10 minutes later...
  5009.  
  5010. >”Look, see? The books were written by pretty manly looking guys, so it should be fine.”
  5011. “Yeah, it’s fine…”
  5012. >”Getting started… okay, the line goes… uh huh, like that… geez, how are you even supposed to do this without magic or fingers?”
  5013. “I ask that a lot about the things these ponies do. So I put it through here and tie it like that, right?”
  5014. >”Right.”
  5015. >You work closely with the book, and together you manage to put your poles together with a hook and lure on the end.
  5016. >”Okay, so now we just have to cast our lines!”
  5017. “Right. You go first.
  5018. >Spike raises his rod high and swings it at the lake!
  5019. >... but nothing happens.
  5020. >”Why doesn’t the line go out? That’s how I always see them do it.”
  5021. “I think it has to do with one of these buttons on the rod.”
  5022. >”Well which one, there’s like fifty!”
  5023. “I dunno… this metal thingy flips over… no, not that… didn’t it come with a manual?”
  5024. >”The manual’s all the way back at the castle… we don’t have to get it out far, we just have to get it into the water.”
  5025. >After experiment a bit, and find a trigger on the grip that makes the line extend.
  5026. ”Aha! Got it. Watch this. You hold the trigger and…”
  5027. >You raise the rod in your arms like a Samurai holding his sword…
  5028. >You hold down the trigger with your fingers…
  5029. >And bring it down with tremendous force, slicing through the air!
  5030. “PERSONA!”
  5031. >The entire spool of fishing line falls out it’s place in the rod and plops into the lake.
  5032. “God… damn it.”
  5033. >”It’s okay, Big Guy. Look, if I press it like this… it just kinda slowly falls out.”
  5034. >It doesn’t look like how you were supposed to do it, but Spike’s rod manages to drop its hook into the lake and sink down.
  5035. >”Aha! Success at last! Want another spool?”
  5036. “I think I’ll wait to read the manual.”
  5037. >”Well there’s always next time. So now… according to the book, we wait. And it says ‘This is can either be the most exciting moment or the least exciting of your fishing experience...’ what does that mean? Which is it?”
  5038. “Well it means we have a chance to talk. I’d been wanting to do that with you for a while, Little Man.”
  5039. >”You have? Oh…”
  5040. >Spike looks a little pleased to hear that.
  5041. >”Well, all right. What did you want to talk about?”
  5042. “A lot of stuff. Like… Twilight. What do you think of her?”
  5043. >”What do I think? Could you be more specific?”
  5044. “Just like… in general. How do you feel about her?”
  5045. >”Uh, I dunno what you’re getting at but… well, she’s a good boss and all. There’s nopony in Equestria I’d rather be working for. She’s always really fair to me. She lets me make my own mistakes, and she’s always given me what I need if I just ask for it. Still… it is kind of intimidating. She might not see herself as anything big, but that doesn’t mean she’s not. Twilight doesn’t really get how important she is. Or maybe she does, but she’s just too uncomfortable with it to really face it head on. But how are you supposed to compete with that? Next to her… it really can make a guy feel worthless even if she tries really hard to be humble about it.”
  5046. “Your shadow did seem pretty upset about it.”
  5047. >”He did. And I know whining about it isn’t going to change things, but… it’s just hard, you know? Everypony else knows where they come from. They can see others like them… like their parents. And they can follow in those paths to try to be like them. But I’m different. I’m a dragon, not a Pony.”
  5048. “You could do whatever you want, Little man. Just because you’re not a pony doesn’t mean you can’t do anything they can do.”
  5049.     >He shakes his head. “I know that, but… I don’t want to limit myself to doing just what ponies do. I want to be as great as I should be. I’m a dragon! But… I don’t even know what that means for sure. And all the dragons I have seen? I don’t want to be anything like them. They’re all just a bunch of greedy self-centered bullies ”
  5050.     “Sounds pretty rough. So you don’t want to be an assistant for the rest of your life then?”
  5051.     >”I guess. I mean, I like it and all, but I feel like one day I’m going to have to really strike out on my own. When I’m really self-reliant and don’t have to depend on Twilight anymore. You know… I think maybe that’s what my shadow was so angry about. I don’t hate Twilight, I’m just upset about the fact that she’s such a huge part of my life. Blaming her is just an excuse to ignore that I’m not doing enough for myself.”
  5052.     “Well look at you now. Spike, Fishing Master.”
  5053.     >”Yeah, think I’ll save that title for after I’ve caught a single fish. Oh! But… you wanted to talk about Twilight, right? I got side-tracked and started talking about myself…”
  5054.     “It’s good, little man. I wanted to talk about you too.”
  5055.     >”Oh. Heh, thanks then. So… why’d you bring up Twilight?”
  5056.     “Well… a few nights ago, we kind of agreed to start a relationship.”
  5057.     >”You and Twi are dating?!”
  5058.     “Uh, maybe not so loud. We’re not super public about it yet.”
  5059.     >”Oh, sorry. But really? You and Twi?”
  5060.     “Yeah, but we haven’t actually gone on a real “date” yet.”
  5061.     ”So… are you okay with it?”
  5062.     >”What, you and Twi dating? Why wouldn’t I be?”
  5063.     “I just needed to make sure. You seem pretty close and all.”
  5064.     >”Yeah, but you’re a super cool guy! I mean if any guy out there’s good enough for Twi it’d be you. And you’re better than Flash Sentry at least.”
  5065.     “I keep hearing that name. Who is Flash Sentry and what does he want with Twilight?”
  5066.     >”You know, that's a really good question."
  5067. “You’re saying you don’t know who he is either?”
  5068. >”I’m saying I don’t think Twilight knows who he is. Really, who is he? He’s just some… strange human Twilight barely knows, and suddenly they’ve got a crush on each other after like, a day? What are his interests? Does he even like books? Can he even read books? He’s just kind of… awkward, but then he acts cool too? What’s his deal? Does anyone even know?”
  5069. >A disturbing thought comes to mind.
  5070. “Twilight doesn’t know those things about me either… oh god is that why she likes me? Is that her… type?”
  5071. >”Settle down there, big guy. You just lost your memory. Flash, on the other hoof, or well… hand, doesn’t have that excuse. Besides, he belongs in the human world. And even though you’ve lost your identity, I already feel like I get you way better than anyone gets him.
  5072. “Thanks, Little Man.”
  5073. >”No problem. I think Flash is just a crush. If you’re that worried, you can ask her yourself. But I don’t think it’ll be a problem. You’re a good guy. And you and Twilight will be good together.”
  5074. >You smile and sit with Spike for a while longer, waiting for a bite.
  5075. >”Darn... nothing. And the sun’s down already.”
  5076. “Ah well. At least we had a good time.”
  5077. >”Yeah… let’s do this again, okay?”
  5078. “Sure thing, Little Man. Let’s go home.”
  5079. >”Uh, hey… before we go? One more thing.”
  5080. “What’s that?”
  5081. >Spike nervously holds out his clenched fist to you.
  5082. >”I guess it’s a little strange since Twilight’s so close to me and all but… guys are supposed to congratulate each other on something like this, right? And I’m really happy for you, big guy.”
  5083. >You reach out and touch his knuckles to yours in a manly fistbump.
  5084. “Thanks, little man.”
  5085. >The two of you walk home together, then part ways as you head to the library.
  5086. >When you get there, Twi is gone, but she left a note instructing you what to read.
  5087. >You read until it's time to go to bed.
  5088.  
  5089. Friday, November 11th
  5090.  
  5091. >Cranky told you that you didn’t need to go into work this morning.
  5092. >You feel like seeing Pinkie Pie today… but it’s probably better to wait until later when she’s off of work.
  5093. >Instead you wait outside to hear the news about your other job offer.
  5094. >This time you wait a little bit further out to see if you can spot the mailmare as she comes.
  5095. >Soon, a gray streak soars through the sky towards you, and you wave it down.
  5096. >The flying mailmare swoops down towards you…
  5097. >And promptly plows directly into your chest like a ton of bricks, sending the two of you tumbling away in a heap.
  5098. >”Sorry! I’m so sorry, Anon!”
  5099. >You cough loudly trying to regain your breath.
  5100. >”I was just trying to remember what I needed to tell you, and I sort of forgot how to land right.”
  5101. “M-my ribs…”
  5102. >Derpy’s big golden eyes look like they’re about to burst into tears. “D-Did I hurt you? I didn’t mean to Anon… it was an accident…”
  5103. “I’m… okay…” you lie.
  5104. >”Okay! In that case, Cheery wanted me to tell you that she managed to get Rich to agree to a tutor. So you should probably head down to their mansion soon so he can meet you. Isn’t that great news?”
  5105. “So happy…” you wheeze.
  5106. >”And if you’re happy, I’m happy! Well I’m going to go deliver the Princess’s hate mail. Enjoy your day!”
  5107. “H-Hold on a sec.”
  5108. >You climb to your feet and take a few deep breaths.
  5109. “Twi gets hate mail?”
  5110. >”Twi gets more hate mail than anypony I know! But they say all publicity is good publicity, right?”
  5111. “How could she get that much hate mail? I thought everypony in town loves each other or something.”
  5112. >Derpy looks a little sad. “They’re all very loving but… not everypony agrees with the things everypony else does. Lately, a lot of ponies have been upset about the travel ban.”
  5113. “Travel ban? What travel ban?”
  5114.     >”You didn’t know? Ever since Nightmare Night, the trains have almost completely stopped running. I mean, I guess it makes sense… if a conductor or an engineer comes down with SIHN while they’re driving the train it could be dangerous. One of the earliest victims was a ticket taker, Crimson Express. And while it wasn’t dangerous for her, it makes sense that the other staff at the train station could be at risk as well.”
  5115.     “So nopony is allowed in or out?”
  5116.     >”Pretty much. There’s been some members of the press that have come in, but they still haven’t left. And… well, a lot of ponies were only in town for Nightmare Night, but now they’re stuck here. So it’s natural that they’re pretty upset.”
  5117.     “Sounds… pretty drastic. Can’t they just put extra engineers on the train in case something happens? Or put extra guards?”
  5118.     >Derpy shrugs. “You’d have to ask her. She hasn’t been really public about all this. Cheery says she’s lacking trans parents.”
  5119.     “Transparency?”
  5120.     >”Yeah, that was it. Anyway, I gotta go. See you later, and good luck!”
  5121.     >Derpy runs off to the guards and hands them the mail.
  5122.     >You recall that Pinkie Pie alluded to something like this being in place, and Spike mentioned that Griffon had passport issues, but this is the first you’ve really heard of how far it’s gone.
  5123.     >Perhaps you should speak with Twilight about this…
  5124.     >You’ll have some time to consider it during your day. For now, you decide to check in at the Rich Mansion after changing and showering.
  5125.  
  5126.     Riches Estate, Morning
  5127.  
  5128.     >There’s a large gate at the front, and a stone wall surrounding the obsequiously large home.
  5129.     >It’s not quite as large as Twilight’s castle, but still.
  5130.     >Wow.
  5131.     >What a mansion!
  5132.     >Though you question the point of having a wall in a world populated by Pegasi, Unicorns, and Earth Ponies of incredible athletic prowess.
  5133.     >You press the button by the intercom at the front and wait for a response.
  5134.  
  5135. Next part -----------------> http://pastebin.com/6jqrre08
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