The Broken Carousel: Twilight Sparkle Interlude 2

Jan 27th, 2018
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  1. PART 1:
  3. >You are awakened by the familiar sound of your alarm clock ringing from across the room.
  4. >It is early morning in Canterlot, and you are Twilight Sparkle.
  5. >You know this because you are one of the only ponies who gets up at this, what other ponies would call ‘unsunly’, hour.
  6. >Your left eye snaps open, and with a small glow of your horn you shut off the alarm with telekinesis.
  7. >You slowly sit up in your bed, covering your mouth with hoof as you let out a long yawn.
  8. >Time to see what’s on the agenda for today. You grab your personal planner off of your nightstand
  9. >Flipping it open, you check today’s date.
  10. >...
  11. >Oh. Right. You sigh.
  12. >Today’s the day you promised Pinkamena you’d go with her to the Crystal Empire to meet your respective matches.
  13. >You certainly COULD blow it off, but that’s not fair to her. Might as well bite the bullet.
  14. >You roll off the bed onto your hooves, and begin your morning routine.
  15. >Stretches followed by some basic exercises. Just because the war is over, doesn’t mean you don’t have to stay in shape. It’s healthy after all.
  16. >You trot over into the bathroom and look into the mirror.
  17. >Really, it’s amazing how much has changed for you since the war.
  18. >There’s a definite hardness to your face that wasn’t there before. There’s a scar and deep bags under your left eye. There’s also the obvious fact that you’re missing your right eye.
  19. >You could have gotten a glass eye, and you considered it. In fact, your parents and Shining were all for it.
  20. >But you decided against it for a number of reasons. One, even the best glass eyes were noticeable. No offense meant to the ponies who make them for a living.
  23. >Two, it almost felt… disrespectful to the memory of when you lost the eye, and to the war in general. Everypony lost something or someone to it, so why should you try to hide what you lost?
  24. >So once again, you pulled your favorite black eyepatch out if the cabinet and wrapped it in place.
  25. >Basic hygiene came next. You brushed your teeth, flossed, and rinsed with mouthwash.
  26. >You’d gotten into the habit of not brushing your mane during the war, and that persisted afterwards unless you had to go to a formal event.
  27. >You asked Cadance, and she said this counted. So you went the extra mile and brushed it into the neat style you usually wore it in before the war.
  28. >Breakfast was easy. Frozen waffles that you popped into the toaster and had with syrup and tea
  29. >You put on your dog tags, and a magenta scarf over them. It was still pretty cold in the Crystal Empire.
  30. >You grab your saddlebags, and leave the apartment.
  31. >The plan was for Pinkamena to hop the river east of her family’s rock farm, and walk to Appleloosa. She’d catch the earliest train to the Crystal Empire. You’d meet up with her when the train stopped at the Canterlot Station, and ride the rest of the way together.
  32. >If everything went according to schedule, you had about two hours before Pinkamena's train would reach you. So you had a little time to burn.
  33. >You could stop by the memorial for a few minutes with some flowers and then talk to your parents until it was time for you to go.
  34. >You admire the view of the Celestia’s morning sun rising in Canterlot. Thankfully, it was one of the few places that wasn’t directly hit by Sombra’s forces.
  35. >Not for lack of trying of course. However the Princesses and Shining had erected a magical barrier around the city that kept Sombra and his army from entering whenever it looked like they were going to attack. The four of them would take turns maintaining it with their own magic reserves and swap out when they were too exhausted to continue.
  38. >Still, that didn’t mean the war didn’t affect Canterlot in other ways. There were sons and daughters who went off to battle only to never return. Funding was redirected from nonessential areas into the war efforts, such as the emergency bunkers that were built in case the barrier field and Sombra got in. Thankfully they never had to be used but...
  39. >You snort at the sight of a Flim Flam Industries billboard on top of another apartment building. Commercialism had found its way from cities like Manehattan and Fillydelphia into Canterlot. A city that had once been the cornerstone of all things classical Equestria, now had a bit of a modern bent to it.
  40. >There are few ponies out at this time. There are the Royal Guards, who salute you as they pass by and you salute them in return. You aren’t one of them (yet anyways…) as the Equestria Armed Forces and the Royal Guard were technically two separate organizations, but both of them fought on the same battlefields against the same enemies. As you’d been nationally recognized for your exploits in the war, a number of them were bound to know of you.
  41. >The various divisions of the army had been either repurposed for peacetime function like how the Air Squadron went back to being the Wonderbolts, or completely dismantled like your own Spellbreakers after you’d all finished defusing the last of Sombra’s helmets.
  42. >Princess Celestia didn’t like the idea of retaining a proper army after the war ended, and you can’t say you disagree with her. It’s like charging a spell without aiming it at anything. It’s unsettling to Equestria itself, and to the neighboring countries.
  43. >There are also the store owners and market stalls gearing up to open for the day. You smile as you spot your first destination, and pick up the pace.
  44. “Good morning, Lily.”
  45. >Lily Valley tiredly looked up from arranging her flowers, before smiling in return.
  46. >”Oh, hey Twilight! Good morning. Early as always.”
  49. >The earth pony mare was originally from Ponyville, a rural town that had gotten hit by Sombra’s forces. Luckily, they had received advanced warning and managed to evacuate most of its inhabitants ahead of time. However, that didn’t stop the mind controlled horde from just destroying the buildings as they passed through.
  50. >Lily and her sisters ran a flower stall, which had gotten destroyed along with their shared home in the attack. So the three of them decided to try their luck elsewhere, and ended up gaining a dedicated customer base in Canterlot.
  51. >”Here for your usual?”
  52. >You nodded. She turned around and went to work arranging your order.
  53. >The flower salespony always had what you needed for this occasion. It’d be hard not to, in these times…
  54. “So how are you doing?”
  55. >”Business is fine. It’s been over a year and I’m still getting used to running this place by myself, y’know?”
  56. >A crooked smile comes across your face.
  57. “Daisy and Roseluck still bothering you about settling down?”
  58. >Lily rolls her eyes.
  59. >”Ugh, don’t you know it. I swear, those two are the biggest advocates for the Initiative outside of Princess Cadance herself. I’m happy that they’re happy of course, but having alien brothers-in-law and half-alien nephews soon enough is still weird to me.”
  60. >The pink mare huffs, “They keep asking me, ‘Oh Lily you should totally go sign up for the Initiative. You won’t regret it!’ But I’M the one that’s helping keep us all financially afloat while they’re on maternity leave. I can’t afford to settle down.”
  61. >You smirk.
  62. “Preach it, sister. I totally hear you.”
  63. >In a few minutes, she turned back around with two bouquets of flowers. Pink roses and white carnations.
  64. >You take out the bits for your selection, and she takes them.
  65. “Thanks. I’ll see you later.”
  66. >”No problem, and same to you Twilight!”
  69. >With a wave, you depart for the next destination.
  70. >It doesn’t take very long for you to get there. It’s near the castle. A large stone memorial with thousands of names engraved upon it’s surface.
  71. >On top of it was a statue of a small group of soldiers holding up the Equestrian flag.
  72. >They called it the Liberation Memorial.
  73. >The engraved names were those of the thousands of brave mares and stallions who gave their lives in defense of Equestria from Sombra and his army.
  74. >You liked to get here before everypony else did. No one to see you get lost in memories…
  75. >Your eyes trace the names of the memorial to find the ones you’re looking for.
  76. >Lyra, Moondancer, Twinkleshine, Lemon Hearts, and Minuette. They were your closest friends before the war started. When you told them that you were going to enlist they decided to follow you into that almost literal Tartarus.
  77. >You were surprised. It’s not like you were a particularly good friend back then. But they told you that you’d probably get yourself killed reading books in the middle of combat without somepony watching your back. Which honestly wasn’t too far for from the truth.
  78. >They were with you in basic training, and though you all weren’t assigned to the same unit, the six of you made sure to try to keep track of each other when you happened to cross paths on the battlefield.
  79. >One by one, they all died. Because you nearly lost your mind in the middle of the fight. Because you weren’t there. Because you just weren’t good enough.
  80. >You had made other friends by that time. It’s hard not to when you all go through that same kind of madness together. Some of them lived to see the war’s end like Rainbow Dash, Pinkamena, Maud, and Gilda. Others weren’t so lucky.
  81. >Your eyes search for the next set of names. Sour Sweet, Lemon Zest, Sugarcoat, Indigo Zap, and Sunny Flare.
  84. >When you had been promoted to Corporal, they were assigned to you. They were… difficult ponies to get along with at first. They didn’t like you, you didn’t like them and they didn’t really like each other. They chafed under your inexperienced command. It wasn’t until you got the opportunity to ask Shining for leadership tips that you really started to bond together as a unit.
  85. >Soon enough though, they died too, Because you made the wrong call. Because they trusted you. Because you just weren’t good enough.
  86. >With your telekinesis, you place the two bouquets at the bottom of the statue, alongside numerous others.
  87. >As the memories start to flow forth in your mind, you shudder with emotion. Every gruesome image, every grave injustice, and every mistake you’ve made. This is why you push forward.
  88. >You pull out your dog tags. On them is your name, ‘TWILIGHT SPARKLE’. This was followed by your date of birth, blood type, rank, and unit.
  89. >A tear rolls down your eye. You just stand there, and take a moment to remember.
  91. PART 2:
  93. >”Pffft.” Pinkamena politely tried not to laugh, but a giggle slipped out of her mouth.
  94. >You resisted the urge to scrunch up your face in annoyance.
  95. >You are Twilight Sparkle, and you really wish your mother hadn’t forced you to put on makeup before you left your parents’ house.
  96. >You barely managed to avoid getting a dress thrown onto you!
  97. >As it was, your mane was done up into a bun while mascara and eyeshadow ‘enhanced’ the appearance of your left eye as she called it.
  98. >’You’re going on a date, the least you could do is look nice!’ she said. When you tried to protest that it wasn’t a date, she pointed out the Cadance’s Initiative was essentially a government-run matchmaking service.
  99. >When you tried to say that you had no intention of seeing this alien after this mandatory first meeting, she just rolled her eyes and said that it still wasn’t an excuse not to look your best.
  100. “It’s not that funny, Pinkamena…”
  101. >”I’m sorry Twilight, but it is. Especially when you look so angry about it.” Pinkamena giggled again
  102. >After escaping from your mother’s hooves, you ran to Canterlot Station.
  103. >Right now the two of you were sitting next to each other on the earliest train to the Crystal Empire.
  104. “How is it funny, when you’re even more dressed up than I am?!”
  105. >Not to say that it was a bad dress, quite the contrary. You’re not a fashionable pony by any means but even you could tell the dress was rather nice in a old-fashioned sort of way.
  106. >However, like many of the dresses Pinkamena wore… It just didn’t suit her. You couldn’t explain it. There was almost something inherently wrong. Not with Pinkamena herself, of course. But when it came to the pink earth mare you always had the feeling that she was a round peg desperately trying to force herself into a square hole.
  110. >It probably had something to do with her lack of cutie mark. Perhaps when it finally appeared she’d feel more like the pony hiding underneath a rock farm upbringing.
  111. >You get the feeling you’d really like to meet her someday.
  112. >Pinkamena shrugged, “This dress has been passed down for generations in my family. It’s a tradition.”
  113. >Okay, fair enough.
  114. >But you aren’t going to admit that so instead you just scrunch your nose and sit there looking grumpy.
  115. >It takes a few hours for the train to finally make it to the Crystal Empire. More than a few times you doze off only to be woken up by a sudden jerk of the train or the [spoiler]horrific nightmares of your own failures that you try to pretend don’t happen half the time you close your eyes.[/spoiler]
  116. >Still, the chill in the air was unmistakable. You had arrived.
  117. >”Let’s go.”
  118. >You tighten the scarf around your neck as you and Pinkamena move to exit the train. What you see upon exiting the car is a country stuck in a perpetual winter. Sombra was gone, but the aftereffects of his reign still remain just as they do in the rest of Equestria.
  119. >Cadance had told you that in ideal conditions after Sombra had been defeated, all they would need to do to banish this cold is a strong burst of love and friendship to counteract all the fear and hatred that had consumed the Empire under Sombra. Naturally, these weren’t ideal conditions.
  120. >The war was horrifying enough when you were fighting against Sombra, but when you had to LIVE under his banner? When the Royal Equestrian Army was finally able to get into the Empire after Sombra was slain, what you all saw would forever haunt you.
  121. >There were so many emaciated ponies with just absolutely dead looks in their eyes. Their bodies were still (barely) alive but their minds were as good as gone. They had been forced to work in completely inequine conditions to keep Sombra’s madness going.
  125. >Further exploration had uncovered mass graves for those who just… couldn’t survive that was happening to them.
  126. >Needless to say, things like that don’t disappear in a day. Cadance was doing her best, but the Empire would need time and love to be fully restored to its pre-Sombra state.
  127. >At the very least, things are starting to look up.
  128. >The two of you walked around town to see businesses, proper housing, and a whole bunch of other things that weren’t there the last time you’d seriously stepped hoof in the Empire two years ago.
  129. >In fact…
  130. >“There’s a lot of humans here.” Pinkamena notes before you do, as you watch a not insignificant number of human-pony couples going about their daily lives.
  131. “It makes sense. Cadance had to focus the Initiative here first because all these ponies are probably Sombra’s greatest victims.”
  132. >You head towards the Empire’s center, Prism Castle. Here you would meet the human that the Crystal Heart deemed to be the most romantically compatible with you. Other ponies might even say your soulmate. You still had misgivings about this.
  133. >Your former babysitter knew what she was doing, you didn’t doubt that, but how could she think YOU were at risk for mental breakdown?! You’re a little more (okay A LOT more) dour and serious than you used to be, but you weren’t mentally unstable, right? At the very least you willingly socialize a lot more than you used to… albeit primarily through gratuitous amounts of alcohol.
  134. >... Maybe you do have a problem.
  135. >You mentally shove down those thoughts as you and Pinkamena enter the castle, walking up a long stair well. Once again, you notice there a lot of humans walking around inside. You suppose they had to wait somewhere until it was their turn to be matched.
  136. >The two of you reach a large circular area, and your eyes can’t help but widen a little in surprise.
  140. This place looks like the lobby to a hotel or something! The crystalline architecture remained the same, but there’s a front desk, chairs, and everything!
  141. >”Wow... “ Pinkamena shares your awe as the two of you look around the room.
  142. >You walk up to the front desk, where you see both human males and ponies working. You go to the nearest one that isn’t busy with another pony or human.
  143. “Excuse me?”
  144. >It’s a male human, dressed in a similar red uniform as his coworkers. He looks bored as he looks up from whatever he was reading, and quickly molds his expression into a plastered-on smile.
  145. >“Yes? Welcome to Prism Castle, headquarters of the Equestrian Recovery Initiative and home of Her Royal Highness Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”
  146. “I’m Twilight Sparkle and this is my friend Pinkamena Diane Pie.”
  147. >You gestured to your friend with a hoof.
  148. “The two of us are scheduled to meet our matches today?”
  149. >The human nods, “Okay, just let me take a look here at today’s list.”
  150. >He takes out a clipboard and runs his… you don’t know the proper word for the thin appendage so you’ll call it a claw for now, down it as he mutters under his breath.
  151. >His eyes widened, “Oh.”
  152. “Is something wrong.”
  153. >The human shakes his head, “Nothing miss. Yeah you’re both on the list, but you’re marked as a VIP. Hold on, let me call the Princess.”
  154. >He presses a button on his desk, and it buzzes. Well that’s odd, how does he expect to call Cadance her with just that?
  155. >*BAMF!*
  156. >You stand corrected. In a flash of light blue magic, the pink alicorn herself appears in the middle of the room.
  157. >’She looks exhausted’ you think to yourself, noticing the deep bags under her eyes. Was she getting enough sleep?
  158. >When she sees you, her eyes light up and a wide smile spreads across her face. You can’t help but smile a little yourself.
  159. >She trots over to you, and you meet her half-way, nuzzling your former foalsitter.
  162. >“Twilight, it’s good to see you again! I’m glad you decided to take my advice and come to the Initiative.”
  163. >You roll your eyes.
  164. “You didn’t really give me a choice. That and I’m primarily here for my friend Pinkamena.”
  165. >”Still! I thought I’d have to come get you myself for how angry you were when you first got my letter.” she turns to look at the pink earth mare, “And hello to you too.”
  166. >Pinkamena walks forward and does a deep bow, smiling as well. ”Thank you, Your Highness.”
  167. >”You’re welcome. Now that you’re both here, let’s cut right to the chase. Follow me, please.” Cadance trots off towards another staircase leading up, and the two of you follow.
  168. >Soon enough you two reach a crossroads. One sign pointing to the left reads ‘Psychiatric Department’, while the sign pointing to the right reads ‘Meeting Rooms’. Fitting that they’re both so close together, all things considered…
  169. >Cadance leads you to the right.
  170. >You pass through a set of double doors, and you’re greeted by a long hallway with at least eight doors on both sides. Once again you find yourself drawing hotel comparisons as you notice the dark grey carpet and soft lighting. The doors are larger than most you’ve seen as well, presumably for the humans. Cadance takes a clipboard of the wall and looks at it.
  171. “Are these all the rooms for match meetings? It seems kind of small.”
  172. >The pink alicorn shakes her head, “Oh no. This is just the first wing. There’s at least two-hundred more meeting rooms. I’m just trying to see if there’s a vacant room here so we don’t have to go that far.”
  174. >”And we do have one here! Room 11. Which of you would like to use this one?” Cadance turns around with a smile on her face, looking between you and Pinkamena.
  175. >Pinkamena looks nervous, “M-Maybe you should go first, Twilight? I still kinda have… cold hooves.”
  179. >You frown.
  180. “Pinkamena, you’re the one who wanted to come here in the first place.” you can’t help but point out.
  181. >”I know, it’s just…” she glances back towards her flank, and you immediately know the problem. You walk over to her and give her the most comforting hug you can.
  182. “It’s like Rainbow said: Cadance wouldn’t put you with someone who’d reject you or make of you for that.”
  183. >The pink alicorn herself looks a bit confused, but politely says nothing.
  184. >The earth mare sighs, then seems to gather her courage as she detaches from the hug. “You’re right.. I-I just need to have faith is all.”
  185. >She turns to Cadance, “I’d like this room, please.”
  186. >The alicorn nods and smiles, “Okay, I’ll have the staff alert your match and he’ll meet you here as soon as possible. You won’t regret this, Miss Pie.”
  187. >Your friend nods, and you give her a smile as she walks into the room. Once the door closes behind you, Cadance gives you a questioning look, but you shake your head. It’s not your secret to tell after all. She nods in acceptance and the two of you continue walking as you search for the next available room.
  188. >It is a silent for a moment, between the two of you.
  189. >”You know, Twilight. I’m surprised you didn’t do our usual greeting when I teleported into the lobby. Care to explain?” your ex-foalsitter asks in a teasing tone.
  190. >What? Oh.
  191. >You can feel heat rushing to your face.
  192. “Sorry. I kinda forgot.”
  193. >”Then shall we? Nopony’s around if that’s what you’re worried about.”
  194. “Lets.”
  195. >The two of you assume the starting position, staring intensely at each other. Waiting for other to make the first move. Your eyes focus, bringing up your training and experience to spot even the most minute of twitches on Cadance’s body as she likely did similar while watching you.
  196. >Then it happens.
  200. “Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake~!” the two of you sing in unison as you do the accompanying dance.
  201. >You and her giggle as the greeting comes to a close. You realize that you had missed this. Just… innocent fun with a good friend.
  202. >Cadance smiles, ”Okay, let’s continue!” she looks at the clipboard again, “Ah, here we go. Room 56.”
  203. >The walk to the room is filled with mundane chatter as the two of you catch up. You ask how Shining’s been doing, and how everything’s been going with the Empire and the Initiative. She asks you how your research has been going, if you’ve been socializing more, and how you felt about getting rejected from the Royal Guard.
  204. >You pretend to ignore the smug look on her face when she asked you that.
  205. >Soon enough, you’re at Room 56.
  206. “Before you go, I have to ask. My match. What kind of human is he?”
  207. >”He’s… interesting.” The pink alicorn replies in an even tone.
  208. >You give her a deadpan look.
  209. “That doesn’t tell me anything.”
  210. >Cadance shrugs ”I’ve found that everything flows more naturally between matches if they don’t know that much about each other beforehand. Of course if you really want to, I’ll tell you, but that’s just my opinion on things.”
  211. >You sigh.
  212. “Fine. Whatever.”
  213. >Silly matchmaking princess.
  214. >You open the door, and you’re not surprised to find-.
  215. “Cadance, I could accept the lobby and the hallways, but why are the meeting rooms literal hotel rooms?!”
  216. >The youngest princess actually looks embarrassed at the question, “Well, that’s funny actually. You see, sometimes the matches get a little… ‘over-enthusiastic’ when they meet each other for the first time. The cleaning staff got tired of trying to clean the stains out of the couches.
  217. >What.
  218. “Wait, so they actually-?”
  222. >”Yes. You have NO idea how many bits we’ve saved by doing this instead of having to buy new furniture when the smell from the old furniture gets too much.”
  223. >You facehoof.
  224. “So how long will it be until my match gets here?”
  225. >“It shouldn’t take too long. Once he knows you’re here he’ll probably sprint over as soon as possible.”
  226. >Well at least you know he doesn’t like to keep ponies waiting. You felt the same way.
  227. >”There are drinks in the mini-fridge and snacks in the cabinet. Enjoy yourself~” Cadence says, winking at you as she leaves.
  228. >You roll your eyes and enter the room. You grab two granola bars out of the cabinet and munch on them. Then you take a seat on the couch and see what books are on the bookshelf.
  229. >You grab the nearest one with your telekinesis and levitate it to you.
  230. >It’s grey with a simple picture of a tie on it. ‘Fifty Shades of Neigh’. Probably some cheap romance novel knowing Cadance, but while you’d definitely gained an appreciation for physical exercise from going to the gym with Rainbow and Gilda on occasion the idea of spending your entire waiting time doing that sounds unappealing to you.
  231. >So trashy romance novel it is.
  232. >*WHAM!*
  233. >Before you can even open the cover, the door slams back open loudly. It triggers something in you.
  234. >You act on instinct. Your head snaps towards the source of the noise, firing a weak stunner spell. Your roll off the couch and pounce, tackling the intruder to the ground before they can attack.
  235. >You start raising your right foreleg back in preparation to strike at the intruder’s face when you break out of your combat trance.
  236. >You realize that the being you tackled was a human, who was staring up at you with wide eyes.
  240. Out of the corner of your eyes you notice that he’s holding a bouquet of flowers in his left… appendage. You really should learn the name of tho-
  241. >Oh wait. Flowers. This human must be your match. Horseapples.
  242. >”Y’know,” he begins talking, “Princess Cadance warned me this might happen, but I don’t think it sunk in until now.”
  243. >You can only smile sheepishly in response.
  244. “Sorry.”
  245. >"It's fine. I probably shouldn't have barged in instead of knocking."
  246. "No, no. I shouldn't have flipped out like that over nothing. I'm Twilight Sparkle."
  247. >"I'm Incognito. If nothing else, I think this is going to be the start of something fun."
  248. >You don't know why, but... You think you can believe that.
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