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Game Night 17: Celestia Game Night (Part 5)

By twilightgamenight
Created: 18th December 2020 10:16:26 PM

  1. >A flicker of movement catches your eye.
  2. >Something more substantial than the phantoms that inhabit the ruined world you find yourself in.
  3. >Damn, this dream again.
  4. >It’s not identical to the one you had last night, but it’s the same city, the same situation.
  5. >Another flash of movement, a swish of a white tail as its owner rounds a corner.
  6. >Some instinct makes you chase after it.
  7. >Perhaps a desire to just not be *alone*.
  8. >You never see the white tail again – or any other part of the creature – but you know you’re heading the right direction.
  9. >Not even the familiar buildings distract you from your chase.
  10. >Not even the realization this is Canterlot.
  11. >There’s the donut bar… and a few turns later, the restaurant you and Twi ate at.
  12. >And then… you don’t know what that place is, but you *know* it. Another restaurant, though not as fancy as the last. A small, family style restaurant with a striking blue and orange color scheme.
  13. >You would have remembered it if you had seen it before, but it feels so familiar as you run past it.
  14. >There – another flash of white.
  15. >You take the corner too fast, almost tripping.
  16. >Almost, but not quite.
  17. >It’s hard to trip on nothingness.
  18. >The fall stuns you – mostly because you expected to wake with a start before you hit the ground.
  19. >You are helpless as the buildings on either side of the gaping hole come crashing down, leaving you pinned.
  20. >It doesn’t hurt, but panic takes hold and you begin clawing desperately at the rubble pressing against your chest and legs.
  21. >No matter how much you fling aside, you never get any closer to freeing yourself.
  22. >Your frantic movements stop as a dark cloud drifts into your line of sight.
  23. >Ah.
  24. >DreamLuna is getting pretty damn pushy for a figment of your imagination.
  25. >If it’s the real Luna fucking with your dreams like this, she’s getting bumped down several places on the Best Princesses List.
  26. >The cloud drifts – no, that word lacks the urgency to properly convey how it moves.
  27. >The cloud rushes towards you in alarm, solidifying into a galloping –
  28. “Twilight!?”
  29. >”Oh my gosh, are you okay?” she asks, digging at the crumbled masonry and snapped wood with the same success you were having.
  30. “Yeah.”
  31. >Her concerned expression makes you feel uncomfortable enough you have to explain, even though she is just a fragment of your own mind.
  32. “It’s just a dream.”
  33. >Meh, it’s not so bad, talking to yourself.
  34. >At least you don’t feel so alone.
  35. >Is… is that why you imagined Twilight here?
  36. >”I *know* it’s just a dream,” your princess scoffs, bending low to nuzzle your face, “but I can’t help but be worried about you.”
  37. “Why?”
  38. >You know you’re safe – she should as well.
  39. “What is there to be worried about?”
  40. >Twilight pulls back slightly and looks away awkwardly.
  41. >“Are… are you really happy?” she asks softly. “Happy with her?”
  42. “Who?”
  43. >”You told Princess Luna you weren’t alone…”
  44. “Because I have you, dork.”
  45. >”Oh.”
  46. >A pause.
  47. >A giggle.
  48. >Another little nuzzle.
  49. >”Our *wonderful* communication skills at work yet again,” she titters softly. “I *really* shouldn’t be surprised.”
  50. >Twilight leans down again and kisses forehead.
  51. >”I’ll see you soon,” she murmurs into your ear. “I can’t wait to finish our Bn’B game.”
  52. “Well…”
  53. >You shrug as best you can with most of your body encased as is is.
  54. “… shouldn’t take *too* long.”
  55.  
  56. >Your marefriend rolls over in her sleep, shaking you awake.
  57. >Poor girl fell asleep still reading – the tablet lies on the bed where it fell when her magic faded.
  58. >The screen lights up as you reach over her to grab it.
  59. >It might only take one simple magic spell to fix a cracked screen, but you’d still rather not have to go through that. Mostly the part where she apologizes over and over for something that is – realistically – nothing.
  60. >Out of curiosity, you check to see how far she got before sleep claimed her.
  61. >Oh.
  62. >You look back down at her face, at the thin film of dried tears.
  63. >A pang of guilt hits you even as your heart soars - *because* your heart soars.
  64. >Still, it’s nice to know that – for once – you weren’t the reason Twilight was crying.
  65. >You twist slightly, setting the tablet down on the nightstand where it will be safe.
  66. >It’s probably best that she stopped at the end of Blood Reaver.
  67. >From what you remember, the third book had a sad start.
  68. >While still reaching around for the nightstand in the dark, you can feel movement behind you – by the time you turn back, Twilight has fully twisted around to face you.
  69. >Still asleep, though.
  70. >As she should be – as *you* should be. You can’t see any clock, but that alone is proof enough it’s too early to be awake.
  71. >You put your arm back around Twilight, running your hand up your marefriend’s spine and between her wings all the way up to the base of her neck.
  72. >From there, it’s easy to turn her head and pull her closer until her cheek rests against your collarbone.
  73. >She snorts once in her sleep, an almost-snore.
  74. >Not very dignified or princess-like, but perfectly acceptable for a little nerdling like her.
  75. >You’re happy Pinkie brought you here.
  76. >It’s nice not being alone.
  77. >You try to stay awake partially to relish the sensation of her body pressed against yours, but also to avoid that bizarre dream world. Just like your waking self, your dreams tend to latch on to one thing and obsess on it – the ruins of Canterlot are still there, just waiting for you to close your eyes.
  78. >It doesn’t scare you – and if it did, there’s no fucking way you would ever admit it because you’re a man, dammit – but it *is* slightly unnerving.
  79. >Unfortunately, your body doesn’t give you much of a choice.
  80.  
  81. >The dream never comes – one minute, you’re dreading sleep and the next…
  82. >When you wake, Twilight is still snuggled up to your chest.
  83. >Sunlight streams in through the window; the sun cleared the horizon hours ago.
  84. >Hopefully, your uninterrupted sleeps means that was the last of those dreams.
  85. >You shake your head slightly, trying to clear the last of the cobwebs from your mind.
  86. >”Good morning.”
  87.  “Oh, you’re awake?”
  88. >”I have been for a while now,” your princess murmurs, nuzzling your neck. “Just waiting for you.”
  89. “I thought you’d be on your hooves and dragging me out the door as soon as you woke up. Nothing you had planned for this morning?”
  90. >”I*had* plenty planned,” your marefriend giggles softly, “but – remember – you *lost* my guidebook.”
  91. “You threw it away, so don’t blame me for that.”
  92. >She giggles again.
  93. >”I’m only delegating.”
  94. “What the heck are you delegating? *You* threw the book away.”
  95. >”The blame.”
  96. >Twilight smiles at you innocently.
  97. “I – fine.”
  98. >Though she leans forward to meet your kiss, that smile never actually disappears from her face.
  99. “It’s my fault. We’ll just have to spend the morning doing what I want to do, I guess.”
  100. >”Oh…?” Twilight asks, batting her eyelashes at you. “Does that mean what I think it means…?”
  101. “Depends…”
  102. >”We’re going to hunt down a god, slay it, and devour its power to become gods ourselves?”
  103. “Well, I *guess* I can share.”
  104. >Your marefriend sighs and stretches slightly in your arms.
  105. >”Isn’t there anything you want to do *here*?”
  106. “Celestia is only one room over, and she’s probably asleep. I can slit her throat and be back in five minutes tops.”
  107. >She can’t help but laugh even as she groans at you.
  108. >”Don’t be an idiot,” your marefriend chides. “She’s not a god. Anyway, I *know* humans don’t eat raw meat –
  109. You would have to cook her –“
  110. ”You’re right, that does sound like a lot of work.”
  111. >” So shouldn’t we maybe get some breakfast first?”
  112. “Have something in mind?”
  113. >One of her hindlegs slips between yours.
  114. >”Well…”
  115. >She pauses, licking her lips hungrily.
  116. >”… I *was* thinking of some protein…”
  117. “Eggs?”
  118. >”Not… quite…” she giggles. “I was thinking of something a little more… at hoof.”
  119. >Her leg moves up, coming to a stop just south of –
  120. >Oh.
  121. >”But since you’re an idiot, I guess we’ll be going out.”
  122. “Wait, we could stay –“
  123. >”Nope, too late,” Twilight sighs, slipping free of your embrace and crawling off the bed. “Now I actually *am* hungry.”
  124. >Eh… you would have felt weird wrecking this bed anyway. Celestia would certainly find out and that would just be weird.
  125. >At least, that’s what you’re going to tell yourself.
  126. >”Besides, if we hurry, we can beat the rush,” your princess explains with a guilty smile. “All of the locals have already had breakfast, and we’re probably the first con-attendees awake.”
  127. >Excluding those who never went to sleep.
  128. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
  129. >Despite your profound and crippling disappointment, you somehow find the strength to roll out of bed and crawl over to your suitcase.
  130. “Just let me get some clothes on and I can see about getting my Paladin costume from Rarity…”
  131. >”Put on some normal clothes for now and don’t worry about the costume” your marefriend tells you as she tries to run a brush through the mess you left of her mane. “Let’s just have a normal breakfast, just you and I.”
  132. >Ah.
  133. >Your little marefriend is trying to cram an entire relationship’s worth of dates into a weekend.
  134. “Sure thing, Twi.”
  135. >She gives you a happy little smile before turning away and digging into her own suitcase.
  136. >Though you look away at that moment, rapid hoofsteps and a slammed door tell you she has gone into the bathroom – or the kitchen, but that seems unlikely.
  137. >You hoist your suitcase up onto the bed and fling it open, narrowly avoiding the hammer that falls out and nearly smashes into your foot.
  138. >Oops.
  139. >You had forgotten about that costume idea… a glance down at the crumpled suit shoved in a corner is enough to convince you it will never happen.
  140. >Oh, sure, a wrinkled suit would be pretty damn appropriate, but Rarity would have a fit if she saw how you treated the clothes she made for you.
  141. >Besides… it doesn’t really feel necessary any more.
  142. >”Hey!” Twilight calls out from the bathroom. “Are you getting dressed? I don’t hear any dressing sounds!”
  143. “Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.”
  144. >You kick the hammer under the bed.
  145. >She probably doesn’t need to ask questions that would lead to you explaining a plan to sneak into Celestia’s chambers and beat her fucking skull in.
  146. “I was just staring at my hammer!”
  147. >…
  148. >Dammit.
  149. >There’s a moment of extremely uncomfortable silence before your princess speaks again.
  150. >”That hammer *better* not be your penis, Anon!”
  151. “Or what?”
  152. >”Or… or… I’m not sure yet.”
  153. >She throws open the door and emerges from the bathroom, wearing another dress similar to what she wore yesterday. The only difference you can note is the color – this one is a pale yellow. There’s probably a dozen other differences, maybe the straps are slightly longer, maybe the belt is wider – did yesterday’s dress even have a belt? – or maybe it’s slightly shorter. Maybe. Honestly, you have no idea.
  154. >But it looks nice.
  155. >Not fancy as such, but *nice*.
  156. >So this *is* a date.
  157. >She’s never really bothered with clothes before and you doubt this is a Canterlot thing. Even that high-class place she took you to last night had plenty of naked diners.
  158. >”Does… does it look okay…?” your princess asks, suddenly timid. “I hope it looks okay…”
  159. “Yeah, it looks fine.”
  160. >She smiles and does a little spin for your benefit.
  161. >You’re pretty sure this one *is* shorter.
  162. “Hey, twi? Are you part basilisk?”
  163. >”What? No, why?”
  164. “Because one look at you and I’m rock hard?”
  165. >You gesture towards your crotch and Little Anon obligingly jumps up and waves at your marefriend.
  166. >Actually, you’re just kind of pelvic thrusting and waggling your dick around, but that doesn’t sound as cute.
  167. >”I’m dating a foal,” Twilight groans, planting a hoof in her face. “Just… just get dressed…”
  168. >She waves a hoof in roughly the right direction of your suitcase.
  169. “Fiiiiine.”
  170. >You pull on your boxers, but – damn that little flap in the front – Little Anon pops right on through.
  171. >Sometimes you wish you’d been wearing briefs when you arrived in Equestria.
  172. >Not as comfortable, but at least they keep everything in the right places.
  173. >Maybe you’ll ask Rarity to sew a button on them or something.
  174. >Nevermind. Maybe you’ll sew a button on them yourself.
  175. >”Really?” Twilight gasps in exasperation.
  176. >You look up – she’s watching.
  177. “Um… I guess so…?”
  178. >You give a guilty little laugh and try put on your trousers, but –
  179. >”I swear, you’re such an idiot sometimes,” Twilight playfully snarls. “You’ll never get those buttoned with THAT hanging out.”
  180. “It’s… not my fault…?”
  181. >She rolls her eyes and… smiles?
  182. >”Just sit down,” the grumbles leaping over the bed and pushing you over when you don’t immediately follow her instructions. “I swear, I have to do everything around here.”
  183. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing last night.”
  184. >You sit back up, chuckling to yourself, only to see a very focus Twilight staring at your dick.
  185. >*Very* focused.
  186. “Only it was about me, not you.”
  187. >You can’t help but tease her.
  188. >Because you’re an asshole.
  189. >Yesterday, you just knew that Today Anon was going to be a cunt, and boy were you right.
  190. >”I’m going to have to punish you for that,” Twilight whispers, barely shifting focus.
  191. “How?”
  192. >Yes, very smart. Piss of and annoy your marefriend while she’s staring angrily at your cock.
  193. >You’re about to be gelded, you just know it.
  194. >She leans forward, mouth open –
  195. >Oh fuck, she’s going to bite off Little Anon!
  196. > – and drags her tongue along your shaft from base to tip.
  197. >And then she stops.
  198. >And waits.
  199. >And more waiting.
  200. >Okay, that is a pretty effective punishment.
  201. >Dammit.
  202. >Her second lick catches you by surprise.
  203. >And again, she pulls back.
  204. >”Don’t get anything in my mane,” she tells you with a smirk. “Or on my dress. Or my face – I don’t want to go take a shower again. And don’t –“
  205. “Just cum in your mouth?”
  206. >”Yes, please,” she answers gleefully before her head bobs down again.
  207. >Not just a lick this time – she takes your entire shaft in her mouth.
  208. >Well, she tries to.
  209. >Not entirely successfully, but you’re not complaining.
  210. >Her head jerks up – and then down.
  211. >Further this time.
  212. >Again, not all the way, but damn near close.
  213. >Her third attempt doesn’t make much more progress, but the fourth –
  214. > – oh, gods, the fourth –
  215. >She tries to hold it, her tongue snaking out to flick your sack.
  216. >*Something* you do makes her smile when she comes back up.
  217. >You’re not sure what.
  218. >You’re not *really* paying attention to what *you* do right now.
  219. >”Liked that?” she gasps.
  220. >You must have nodded, because you sure as hell didn’t say anything before your princess’s head dives down.
  221. >She tries to reach that depth again, rapidly and furiously bobbing her head up and down, but just can’t. Not quite.
  222. >With an annoyed whine that tingles, she shifts slightly and brings a forehoof up to play that part instead.
  223. >With you sitting on the edge of the bed, there’s not much room for it to do its job, but Twilight manages.
  224. >She pulls her head back one more time, a thin string of saliva still connecting her to you.
  225. >”Remember,” she says sternly. “In. My. Mouth.”
  226. >You think you nod.
  227. >Her mouth bobs down again.
  228. >Over and over.
  229. >Faster and faster.
  230. >You barely notice when she tries to reach between her hindlegs – it’s the absence of that hoof rubbing against you that actually alerts you.
  231. “Careful. I thought you didn’t want to mess up the dress.”
  232. >She groans – in disappointment, you assume – sending another pleasurable tingle through you.
  233. >It’s just enough to send you over the edge.
  234. >Her eyes flare wide as you release and she clamps down in panic to keep anything from leaking out as Little Anon dances his happy little jerky dance in her mouth.
  235. >Your princess lingers there, not moving for long seconds before audibly swallowing your load. Still, she lingers there with your now flaccid cock in her mouth.
  236. >Almost makes you wonder if she’s trying to decide if she should keep going.
  237. >When she does pull free, she does so slowly, making sure to lick your shaft clean.
  238. >”There,” she grumbles with unconvincing indifference. “*Now* can you get dressed?”
  239. “Sure thing.”
  240. >”Good.” She jerks her head towards the door. “I’ll be waiting for you out there.”
  241. >You give her a little nod.
  242. >Your marefriend trots out of the room with a wide smile.
  243. >Closed, but wide.
  244. >And looking particularly satisfied.
  245. >You quickly get the rest of your clothes on – including the trousers that had given you so much trouble earlier.
  246. >They go on easily now, thanks to Twilight’s efforts.
  247. >You look around for your things – you can’t just go out with empty pockets.
  248. >After several minutes of searching dirty clothes and looking around, you remember that Trixie still has your wallet.
  249. >Meh, your marefriend will just have to pay for breakfast.
  250. >Well, she would be, anyway, since most of your money came from her.
  251. >…
  252. >Fuck it, you’re going into engineering like Twilight suggested.
  253. >As ready as you can be, you slip out the door.
  254. >Your princess is waiting for you, looking curiously at the pony sleeping on one of the sofas.
  255. >“Trixie is *still* avoiding Fluttershy?”
  256. >She’s stretched out on the sofa, using the costume Rarity lent her as a blanket.
  257. “Either that or she got locked out.”
  258. >Twilight sighs, her eyes shifting back and forth between the sleeping mare and Fluttershy’s door.
  259. >She wants to help.
  260. >She feels it’s her duty to do something.
  261. >It is, but everypony is asleep.
  262. “Leave it, Twi. We can take care of them later.”
  263. >Despite what you just told your princess, you step closer – ah, there’s her saddlebags, slumped on the floor.
  264. >You reach in and fish around for your wallet, finding it after only a *slightly* awkward amount of time spent searching.
  265. >Trixie shifts slightly, whining slightly in her sleep.
  266. “Just getting my wallet, Trix.”
  267. >She can’t hear you, but you say it anyway.
  268. >It seems to calm her down.
  269. >Or more likely, she got comfortable again.
  270. “We’ll talk to them when we get back.”
  271. >Twilight nods hesitantly, but doesn’t move.
  272. >It’s not in her nature to leave problems unsolved.
  273. “Remember, *I* haven’t had breakfast yet.”
  274. >”Well, I’m sure one of Princess Celestia’s guards could help you out with that,” your marefriend giggles, only for her face to turn serious almost immediately. “But don’t do that. Seriously, don’t do that.”
  275. “Then let’s get going.”
  276.  
  277. >Like the night before, Twilight has a particular restaurant in mind. She leads you past that the donut bar, looking at you impatiently when your pace slows.
  278. “Sorry, I thought we’d be eating there.”
  279. >She raises an eyebrow.
  280. “Donuts are a breakfast food, Twi!”
  281. >”Do you want to eat there?”
  282. >She seems to have a different destination planned, so you give a slight shrug and follow up with a shake of your head when your marefriend doesn’t continue walking.
  283. >After another few minutes of walking, you pass the restaurant you had dinner at.
  284. >”There are quite a few restaurants around here,” Twilight says, though you didn’t ask. Just making small talk, you guess. “We – I mean, some of my classmates and I – spent a *lot* of time in these places.”
  285. >Or maybe she’s trying to share something from her life with you.
  286. >“Not *together* or anything, but… I mean, I’d see the others…”
  287. >Twilight stops abruptly, smiling happily.
  288. >”I just *knew* it would still be here!” she cheers, pointing at a blue and orange building that looks familiar.
  289. >Of course it would, you’ve been back and forth through this area all weekend.
  290. >You’ve probably seen it a dozen times by now.
  291. “What is?”
  292. >”My lucky diner!” Your princess’ eyes gleam as she bounds up the sidewalk towards it. “I *always* did my last minute studying here and I *always* passed my tests!”
  293. “You probably passed because you’re the kind of egghead to study while eating.”
  294. >”Well, maybe, but I always thought it was just too risky to actually run a study with a control group and everything,” she yells back, turning to smirk at you. “What if I actually *failed!?”
  295. "No cafeteria at the school?"
  296. >"Well... yeah..." Twilight admits with a slight shrug, "but it was always so loud. Once I was old enough I could leave campus, I *never* ate there."
  297. >Your marefriend shifts from side to side impatiently, her hooves doing that rapid four-beat tap she always does when she's really excited.
  298. >As cute as it is to watch, you quicken your pace. It's always a little unnerving when your princess begins to act like Ponks.
  299. >Besides, she wants to share this place with you - why *wouldn't* you let her?
  300. >Because it's fucking creepy, you remind yourself.
  301. "This place looks familiar..."
  302. >"Hmmm?" Twilight grunts, looking at you curiously.
  303. "Did we pass by it last night?"
  304. >"No..."
  305. >She gives you a little shake of her head.
  306. >You look towards the mountain, just in case, but the view of the waterfall is blocked by a tall tower.
  307. >It was practically always in sight during your little jaunt through town.
  308. >You take another look at the diner and sigh.
  309. >Celestia probably did something. You don't know what, but you feel safe blaming her.
  310. >That bitch.
  311. >Oh well.
  312. >You jog on ahead, just two or three steps. Just quick enough to open the door for Twilight before she can reach for it..
  313. >A weird thought strikes you at Twilight smiles gratefully and walks through.
  314. >Maybe LARPing isn't *so* bad.
  315. >After all, you *are* pretending to be a proper gentleman right now.
  316. >Boffers can still go fuck themselves.
  317. >A weird thought, but a quick one.
  318. >You follow Twilight through the entry without pause, ducking slightly to avoid the lower than normal doorframe.
  319. >Your marefriend doesn't wait for a hostess/greeter/waitress/whatever to show you to a table, immediately trotting with purpose towards the table in the far corner.
  320. >And you can see why - sandwiched between a window and a lamp, it will have good light at any time of day. Essential for a little egghead with a stack of books to burn through.
  321. "Spent a lot of time here, huh?"
  322. >"Mhm!"
  323. >There's not a lot of extra room at the table, but it's just right for the two of you.
  324. >Even though you *do* have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed.
  325. >Twilight continues to stand , pushing aside the low seats to stand next to you.
  326. >It isn't long before a waitress takes your drink order - Twilight was right, this place is basically dead right now.
  327. >Your princess doesn't even look at the menu she's offered, just pushes it in your direction.
  328. "Full?"
  329. >She rolls her eyes at your smirk.
  330. >"I already know what I'm getting, jerk," she answers, sticking out her tongue at you - *after* a brief check to make sure nopony was looking her way.
  331. >You can't let that stand, of course, returning the gesture and following up with a shoulder bump, drawing an indignant squeak from Twilight.
  332. >"Stop, stop, stop," she laughs. "Just pick out what you want to eat!"
  333. >She stares over your shoulder as you search through the four-page menu for something you can eat.
  334. >Pretty standard fare, really – the Equestrian version of Denny’s or IHOP. Come to think of it, this place *does* look like a chain restaurant. From the menu to the décor, it just feels formulaic.
  335. >Probably why it feels so familiar – it’s *meant* to feel familiar, despite the loud color scheme.
  336. >Hell, if there isn’t one in Ponyville, then there’s definitely another location somewhere in Canterlot.
  337. >That *has* to be where you saw it before, and the bright colors kept it in your subconscious where your dream pulled it from.
  338. >”Hey? Are you okay?” your marefriend asks, giving you a little nudge. “You kinda zoned out on me there.”
  339. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
  340. >No sense bothering her with trivial crap like your complete inability to remember anything until it’s too late.
  341. “Just trying to find anything my stomach won’t hate me for.”
  342. >You flip to the next page – more of the same.
  343. >Dammit.
  344. >In many ways, Equestira is a lot like the American South – they’ll deep fry *anything*, but that doesn’t make it fit for human consumption.
  345. >Hayfries, haybrowns, hayburgers and haygrits – actually, hay-anything – doesn’t do a damn thing for you.
  346. >And unfortunately, every single item on the menu has at least one of those or something similar.
  347. “If I get the eggs and haybrowns –“
  348. >Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with fucking potatoes?
  349. >Fucking ponies.
  350. “ – would you eat the haybrowns?”
  351. >”Not feeling hungry?”
  352. “Not hungry enough to eat those.”
  353. >Twilight smiles and nods.
  354. >Quite eagerly, actually.
  355. >”Definitely, then! I haven’t had haybrowns in *forever*.”
  356. >She frowns at your dubious glare.
  357. >”Well, in about a year…”
  358. >You continue to stare at her in silence.
  359. >Just because you know it will provoke her to say something more.
  360. >”You know…” she giggles nervously, “my diet has actually changed quite a bit with you around…”
  361. “Too much pizza?”
  362. >”No!”
  363. >Of course not – there’s no such thing as too much pizza.
  364. >”I mean, we had to change the kinds of foods we brought to our game nights.”
  365. >Right, you ruin everything.
  366. >How could you have forgotten?
  367. >”And then with you cooking all the time…”
  368. “Only these past two weeks.”
  369. >”No, you were cooking for us before then,” Twilight corrects. “Maybe not *full* meals, but snacks and the occasional appetizer.”
  370. >You don’t argue further – not because of some suddenly uncovered wellspring of self-worth, but because the waitress is back.
  371. >She places your drinks in front of you and pulls out a ticket pad.
  372. >”Ya’ll ready to order, darlin’s?”
  373. >While your princess rattles off her order, you try to sneak a peek at the waitress’s cutie mark, but it’s covered up by her apron/skirt/waitress-dress-thing.
  374. >Fuck, you don’t know what it’s called.
  375. >Even when she unexpectedly turns and trots away, it’s out of view.
  376. “Um, wait, uh…”
  377. >”I ordered for you,” Twilight sighs, “while you were staring at her rump. I don’t need to get jealous, do I? Please tell me I don’t.”
  378. “No!”
  379. >Gods, no!
  380. “I was just trying to see if she was an Apple.”
  381. >”Oh,” your princess snorts. “Probably. She *is* an Earth Pony, and if we go by the percentages...”
  382. >She pauses for a second.
  383. >”Don’t tell Applejack I said that.”
  384. “Sure thing. We don’t want to start an impromptu family reunion, after all.”
  385. >Twilight laughs – she can’t help herself.
  386. “So, aside from casual racism –“
  387. >Another similarity to the American South.
  388. “- what do you want to talk about?”
  389. >She looks over at you, then past you – through the window – and sighs.
  390. >And leans against you.
  391. >And sighs again.
  392. >”Anything. I think I used up all my small talk last night.”
  393. “Then tell me about this place – or about when you were in school, or… your penpal…?”
  394. >”Oh, *that*,” Twilight groans with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “Digging for more material to torment Shiny?”
  395. “No, she just seemed really hesitant to talk to you. When did this happen?”
  396. >”All through school… and after,” Twilight answers, looking away in embarrassment. “Like I’ve told you, I didn’t really have any friends or anypony to play games with…”
  397. “So you went with play-by-post?”
  398. >”Mhm. There were others involved, but… well…”
  399. >Twilight shrugs slightly.
  400. “Yeah, I know how that can go. It’s hard enough in person, but add that extra distance and it can make things impossible.”
  401. >”I guess,” Twilight sighs. “I was so sad when she stopped answering my letters a few years ago. I even tried checking in on her – I mean, we’d never actually met. We *tried*, but…”
  402. >Another sigh.
  403. >”I moved to Ponyville just as she moved to Canterlot, and there just never was time to visit. When she stopped answering my letters after Chrysalis’s attack, I went to her address, but…”
  404. “Gone?”
  405. >Your marefriend nods.
  406. >”I thought maybe she had died…” Twilight says softly. “Princess Celestia made sure the number of deaths weren’t heavily publicized. To prevent panic, she told me.”
  407. >She pauses again, this time to flash you a guilty smile.
  408. >”I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
  409. “It’s okay, I’m listening.
  410. >Another, more genuine, smile.
  411. >”Was she worried I would hate her because she was a changeling? Is that why she didn’t talk to me earlier?”
  412. “That, and you kicked her in the face.”
  413. >”OH MY GOSH, I SHOULD APOLOGIZE!”
  414. “She was trying to kill you at the time.”
  415. >Your little princess makes a face that makes you think she’d just tried to divide by zero.
  416. >Possibly successfully.
  417. >”Oh,” she grunts after several long seconds. “I guess she deserved it, then. But she still should have talked to me!”
  418. “Yeah, but that seems to be a problem we all have.”
  419. >”Huh?”
  420. >Twilight sits up slightly, pulling her head off of your shoulder.
  421. “I mean, you and I – our communication skills aren’t that great either.”
  422. >She even told you so in your dream.
  423. >Well, *you* told you so.
  424. >”Yeah…”
  425. >Twilight sighs, leaning against you again and threading a foreleg around your arm.
  426. >She stays that way, tightly gripping your arm without speaking.
  427. “Did you two… uh…”
  428. >Get past the whole murder/self-defense thing?
  429. >You’re smart enough not to ask *that*, but not smart enough to think of what you *should* ask.
  430. >”Yeah, I got her new address,” Twilight answers, solving your problem neatly. “I just… why would she try to kill me?”
  431. “Maybe she didn’t, I don’t know. She didn’t know you were… well… *you* until she saw you at the con.”
  432. >FUCK.
  433. >YOU’RE RUINING HER DATE. YOUR DATE. WHATEVER. YOU’RE FUCKING RUINING IT.
  434. >CHANGE THE TOPIC, SHITBISCUIT.
  435. “Anyway, I…”
  436. >Don’t talk about Trixie.
  437. >Don’t talk about the fillies.
  438. >Don’t talk about the human room.
  439. >Don’t talk about… actually, that might as well just be your motto right now.
  440. >Don’t talk about stuff.
  441. “I… um… I had this weird dream last night…”
  442. >It's okay to talk about this - it's not real.
  443. >And DreamTwilight's assessment of your communication skills was spot on.
  444. >They're just dreams and they don't mean anything, but she should know.
  445. "Actually, I've been having a lot of weird dreams."
  446. >Twilight's mouth curls in a concerned frown and she puts her other forehoof on your leg.
  447. >"Have you said anything to Luna?"
  448. "Yes... no."
  449. >You shake your head slightly.
  450. "No, I don't think it was her I spoke with."
  451. >Blabbing about Chrysalis assuming the place of both princesses would probably be a bad idea.
  452. >Twilight nods slightly, understanding what you mean, but her frown deepens.
  453. >"What are they about...?"
  454. "You're there sometimes, I think, but it's usually Luna and Celestia. I think somepony else might be there, too, but I never actually see them."
  455. >You half-expect Twi to make some lame joke about being jealous, to try to laugh it off somehow.
  456. >She doesn't.
  457. >And that worries you more than anything that's actually happened or been said in the dreams.
  458. >Your little princess is taking this seriously.
  459. >"But what are they *about*?" she asks again.
  460. "I think - I think I'm going home."
  461. >Her leg immediately tightens painfully around your arm.
  462. "I mean, that's what the dreams are saying. I thought... that's why I hit Cel - uh - *her*. I thought she was threatening to send me home."
  463. >Her grip loosens, but only slightly, as if that will somehow keep you in Equestria.
  464. "I wouldn't, Twi. Never. I promised."
  465. >Your marefriend nods silently - you *did* promise.
  466. "But it didn't feel like I was really being given a choice."
  467. >She continuing to listen silently as you tell her about your dreams, about the conversation with Discord, about the utter impossibility of you being here - or being sent back.
  468. >That last part doesn't reassure her at all, not that you expected it to.
  469. >Why would it?
  470. >It doesn't sound particularly reassuring to you.
  471. >You glaze over Ponka's part in things - mostly the little talk the two of you had last night.
  472. >Twilight doesn't seem particularly surprised at her friend's involvement. In fact, despite her deathgrip on your arm, she looks rather emotionally detached. You know this look well - it's the same look she gets every time she cracks open a new rulebook.
  473. >Getting worked up would only detract from her ability to sift through and process the information.
  474. >Only when you tell her about the details of last night's dream does her mask slip.
  475. >"Oh," she giggles, interrupting your rambling. "*That* explains your reaction to this place."
  476. >You can feel her tensed body relax almost instantly.
  477. >She stays quiet as the waitress returns with your food, nuzzling your neck gently when the other mare leaves.
  478. >"Want to hear about a cake I forgot to get?" she asks, blinking up at you excitedly. "It's relevant. I *promise*."
  479. “Tell me.”
  480. >Mostly, you’re curious how the hell that could be relevant.
  481. >Twilight takes a few bites of her meal – as do you.
  482. >Not your meal – hers.
  483. >If you had *seen* onion rings on the menu, you might not be regretting your order right now.
  484. >”Well… a few years back, I *kinda* forgot about picking up a cake for Spike’s birthday party, and everyplace was already closed…” Twilight grins in embarrassment. “So I… um… I started… please don’t think I’m an idiot for this…”
  485. >She buries her face in your sleeve.
  486. >Rarity is going to murder you for the grease stains Twi leaves.
  487. “Why would I?”
  488. >”Because I started scrying alternate universes for one where I accidently brought *two* cakes.”
  489. >Sounds like a typical Twalot overreaction to you, so you pat her head reassuringly.
  490. “And you figured one Twilight wouldn’t mind helping out another.”
  491. >Makes sense. In a roundabout way.
  492. “Discord told me that bringing things over from other universes is hard, so I’m guessing things went wrong?”
  493. >”It’s the only time I’ve tried,” your marefriend grumbles, stuffing your haybrowns into her mouth.
  494. “And…?”
  495. >”You said that he told you that things can come over… incomplete?”
  496. >You nod.
  497. >”The frosting was stale.”
  498. “Doesn’t sound *too* bad.”
  499. >”The cake was raw batter.”
  500. “Oh.”
  501. >”Yeah,” Twilight hisses. “So *of course* I had to try it again –“
  502. “Of course.”
  503. >Twi wouldn’t let some silly spell get the better of her.
  504. >”Found another alternate universe, tried to bring the cake over…”
  505. “And?”
  506. >”And I got an empty plate with crumbs,” she sighs.
  507. “And then?”
  508. >”And then Pinkie Pie reminded me she could just bake a cake.”
  509. >Your princess huffs angrily – at herself, you suspect.
  510. >It’s not the first time she overlooked the simplest solution.
  511. “And this is relevant because…?”
  512. >”Because *time* is one of the most common mistakes. On my first attempt, I got the cake before it had been baked and the frosting long after it had gone bad. The second, I ended up with an empty plate because somepony in that universe had already eaten it.”
  513. >Great.
  514. >Just fucking great.
  515. >Pinkie Pie dragged you through the fucking Warp to bring you here.
  516. >You’re just lucky you didn’t arrive with the ability to taste Tuesday.
  517. >”You recognized this restaurant in your dream because you had been here before,” Twilight laughs nervously – you suspect that she doesn’t completely believe her own explanation.
  518. “When?”
  519. >”Today!”
  520. >She tries to take a victory sip of her coffee, but fumbles and almost dumps the entire mug. Attempting to look nonchalant just took too much of her attention to leave anything for actually getting the mug to her mouth.
  521. >Nothing actually spills, but that’s only due to the magical power of… uh… magic.
  522. “Explanation?”
  523. >”NOT RIGHT NOW!” you’re pretty sure you can hear Ponks screeching somewhere nearby. “I STILL NEED TO FIND A JAPANEIGHS FILLY AND A RABBIT SUIT!”
  524. >… the fuck…?
  525. >”Just pretend we didn’t hear that,” Twilight says, pointedly NOT looking out the window. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with us anyway.”
  526. “And if it did, we’re too late to do anything about it.”
  527. >”Yeah. *Anyway*, whatever she did to bring you here worked remarkably well.”
  528. “Except for me forgetting my name and who knows what else. And – from what you’re suggesting – getting some of my memories out of order?”
  529. >”I… I think so,” Twilight answers with conviction she just doesn’t feel. “It requires the fewest assumptions.”
  530. “Is this a chain restaurant?”
  531. >”Yes, but they don’t have a location in Ponyville.”
  532. >You quietly munch on your toast, thinking it over.
  533. “Does that also mean I will be sent away…?”
  534. >Twilight smiles shyly and snuggles up against your side.
  535. >”Doesn’t matter. You promised you would come back.”
  536. >She gives your arm a tight squeeze before releasing it and digging into her food full force.
  537. >Right.
  538. >It’ll be nearly cold by now.
  539. >Damn.
  540. >You follow her example, but can’t help but think about what the two of you had just discussed.
  541. >A mind without purpose will wander in dark places, and now… now you actually have something to lose.
  542. >Now you actually have a reason to stay.
  543. >Of course your traitorous brain is going to obsess on it and replay worst case scenarios over and over.
  544. >And if you’re wrong – if it *is* a memory and you *are* going to be sent back somehow – now you know to expect it.
  545. >Now you can fight against it.
  546. “Do you really think it’s nothing to be worried about…?”
  547. >You just can’t quite convince yourself, but you’re not sure why you’re asking Twi – she can’t convince herself, either.
  548. >While she thinks it over, you steal another onion ring.
  549. >Damn little things are tasty.
  550. >”I think there’s no point worrying,” she eventually answers. “Discord told you that ideas cross the boundaries between worlds naturally, and...”
  551. “It wouldn’t do any good, so we should just keep going on?”
  552. >Twilight gives you a slight nod, more to acknowledge that you said something than because she agrees with what you said.
  553. >She’s too lost in thought to really hear you.
  554. >”You promised you would come back,” your little princess mumbles. “No matter what, you would come back. Therefore it doesn’t matter if your dreams are future memories, because I believe in you.”
  555. >That logic doesn’t quite work out, but you aren’t going to ruin that for her.
  556. >You ruin everything else, but you can at least not fuck *that* up.
  557. >…
  558. >Surprisingly – like, actually, seriously, praise the dark gods miracles just happened – you keep your fucking mouth shut.
  559. >You pull your arm free from between the two of you and put it around her withers.
  560. “I promised, Twi. Neither of us will ever be alone again.”
  561. >As you expected, she closes her eyes and cuddles up even closer to you.
  562. >The perfect opportunity to steal her last onion ring.
  563. >”You can have it,” she murmurs into your shoulder.
  564. >Correction – the perfect opportunity to be given her last onion ring.
  565. >She stays that way as you finish off the last of the food – both yours and hers.
  566. >Really, they could have just brought one big plate – it’s not like either of you respected the Plate Edge Treaty of… shit, when was that?
  567. >The Plate Edge Treaty of Maybe Three Months Ago, when Twilight had to use her Princess Authority to declare – in her words – “the edges of a pony’s plate are sacrosanct, so dammit, Rainbow Dash, stop eating all my fucking fries!”
  568. >You think she was kind of drunk that night.
  569. >That happened a lot back then.
  570. >Luckily, not so much now, though you still think Celestia and Luna were overreacting last night.
  571. >There can’t be any harm in Twi having a drink or two.
  572. >She’s still snuggled against your side when the waitress swings by to collect your plates. A slight smile plays over her face as she looks at your marefriend and she silently asks if you’re ready for the bill.
  573. >At least, that’s what you think she means by the slight tilt of her head and raised eyebrow.
  574. >You must have guessed right, because she pulls a slip of paper from her apron’s pocket and places it in front of you.
  575. >It’s not easy pulling your wallet free without disturbing your princess, but you give it a valorous attempt.
  576. >”Here, let me take care of that…”
  577. >A valorous attempt, but not a successful one.
  578. >Time for the backup plan.
  579. “Do mares *usually* pay for their date’s meals?”
  580. >”What makes you think I would know?” she giggles, but sits up anyway to let you have your little moment.
  581. >After a visit to the little filly’s room, your marefriend is ready to go, though not back to the castle like you thought. Instead, she leads you on another winding path through Canterlot’s streets and alleys.
  582. >No pauses to see where she is, no hesitancy when the road splits.
  583. >It’s a journey Twilight must have made so many times during her school days that she doesn’t even have to think about it.
  584. >You can only think of three places she might have gone after a long session of studying, and you doubt she’s taking you to her parent’s home or Celestia’s school.
  585. “Game store?”
  586. >”Mhm.”
  587. “Trying to show me all the important places in your life?”
  588. >”Mhm.”
  589. “Think it’ll be open, even though CanterCon is going on?
  590. >”Mhm.”
  591. >She doesn’t volunteer any more information – in fact, she still looks lost in thought.
  592. >It’s purely muscle memory moving her hooves right now.
  593. >Two more blocks pass before the silence is finally broken.
  594. >”It’s a small store,” she says unexpectedly, “but it’s never crowded. No gaming space, but I used to spend hours there, just going over everything.”
  595. “If there’s no gaming space, where did you play? Didn’t sound like your parents were very supportive, so I’m guessing not at home.”
  596. >”I *tried* running a game for some of my classmates back there –”
  597. >She jerks her head in the direction you have come from, towards the restaurant.
  598. >” – but that didn’t go so well.”
  599. “They didn’t like you playing there?”
  600. >”No, it was the players,” Twilight sighs. “Lyra was the only pony that could get into character, but the rest…”
  601. >She  shivers.
  602. “That bad?”
  603. >”Yes, but Lyra was worse – she *still* creeps me out,” she explains. “I mean, she’s *almost* normal now, but back then…”
  604. “Didn’t even show up with her own dice?”
  605. >There’s always that one slacker who can’t even be bothered with the simplest prep work, and you can’t imagine anypony more suited for that role than Lyra.
  606. >”No, she was always ready, with *pages* of backstory and art and it was just weird, okay?”
  607. >You wait, knowing she’ll explain the rest if you just give her the chance.
  608. >”And she insisted on using a home-made race template – some weird succubus unicorn satyr… thing. I *still* don’t know what she was trying to do.”
  609. >There’s always one of those, too.
  610. “She’s gotten better. At least, I never saw her do anything like that.”
  611. >Twi takes the next corner before the last words are even out of your mouth, leading you between two buildings. There’s a door at the end of the alley – wow, Twi was right. This place *is* small.
  612. >If you were the sort of person who thought puns were acceptable in mixed company, you might even call it a hole in the wall.
  613. >Luckily, you are *not* that kind of person, which is why Twilight still loves you.
  614. “So, is there a secret knock or password?”
  615. >You’re still an asshole, though.
  616. >Why *does* she love you?
  617. >”Oh gosh, I *hope* they didn’t change the secret knock,” Twilight gasps in horror. She reaches for the door with one hoof and pushes it open. “Nope, still works.”
  618. >Your snarky little princess steps back and waves you ahead of her, magically holding the door open. You have to duck to get through, not quite bent over double - not even close, actually - but it feels like it.
  619. >To your surprise, once inside you can stand with no problem.
  620. >A glance back shows why the door is so low - every inch of wall is covered in merchandise. Apparently, they need that extra foot or so of space for... um...
  621. >It's hard to read through the thick coat of dust, but you think they're Burrows and Basilisks novels.
  622. >About all you can really tell is that they're the right shape and size for pony-sized paperbacks.
  623. >The floorspace of the shop is hardly less crowded, with narrow aisles between tall shelves packed with games and books and miniatures.
  624. >And despite the overabundance of merchandise, there aren't any comic books or displays catering to the filthy casuals and the pop culture fads. A couple Daring Do books over in one corner, but none of the tie-in merch that seems to make up the bread-and-butter of other pony nerd stores.
  625. >"Howdy there!" a voice calls out from somewhere in this mess. "Come on in!"
  626. >You're still trying to figure out where the voice is coming from, but Twilight nudges you aside with her shoulder and trots in without any hesitation.
  627. >Twilight returns the greeting, leading to a short - but loud - conversation that goes on between the two.
  628. >"Don't bother trying to find him," she pauses to whisper to you as your head frantically swivels about trying to catch a glimpse of the other pony. "You won't."
  629. >"Oh? You brought somepony with you, little Sparkle?" the voice laughs. "Trick another classmate into trying out our hobby?"
  630. >That brings a little flush to your princess's face.
  631. >"Actually, he's my f-"
  632. >Twilight cuts off suddenly, her head jerking up to stare at you with her wide, shining eyes.
  633. >Like she's wondering if she'd gone too far, said something she shouldn't have.
  634. >Silly pony.
  635. >It seems odd - possibly even hurts a little - to be refered to as a friend instead of her coltfriend, but you're sure she has her reasons.
  636. >You give her a slight nod.
  637. >After all, you don't think you're *that* insecure.
  638. >She smiles at your gesture.
  639. >"He's my fiance."
  640. >wat
  641. >You hide your surprise well, if only long enough to pat her head, ruffle her mane, and turn away as if some treasure caught your eye.
  642. >"Never would have expected that from little Sparkle!" the voice laughs. "Well done!"
  643. >Yeah, you never expected that either.
  644. >Aren't you supposed to propose or something?
  645. >Isn't a ring be involved?
  646. >Shouldn't you have maybe listened when Twilight was trying to teach you all this stuff when you were first sent to her for "rehabilitation"?
  647. >The first two thoughts you're not sure about, but the third - yes, you really should have.
  648. >But no - you just had to act like you knew everything and ignore her lessons.
  649. >She finally gave up on instructing you on Equestrian ettiquete and that's how you unexpectedly end up getting engaged in a game store.
  650. >It's shock rather than protest that sends you wandering off through the maze of gaming supplies.
  651. >You almost grab a bag of dice off a shelf to leave a trail in case you get lost, but by the time you think of it, you've already lost sight of the dice - and all hope of ever finding them again.
  652. >Twilight is continuing her shouted conversation with the other pony, and while you still cannot pinpoint the stallion's location, your marefriend's voice begins to move around as she starts roaming as well.
  653. >Here and there, you can see new products - items with less (or no) dust.
  654. >Some you even recognize, but the vast majority of the products are old.
  655. >Probably out of print when Twi was a filly.
  656. >"So this is where you ended up."
  657. >You don't jump and scream in surprise.
  658. >Really, you don't.
  659. >It's kung fu.
  660. >That's right, you know kung fu.
  661. >And nopony knows anything about chinese martial arts so they can't contradict you.
  662. >"Sorry," Twilight giggles. "Did I scare you?"
  663. "IT'S KUNG FU!"
  664. >"Sorry," she repeats, rolling her eyes. "I didn't mean to scare you."
  665. "DON'T SNEAK UP ON A MAN WHEN HE'S EXAMINING -"
  666. >You look down at the book that somehow ended up in your hand - LETHAL.
  667. >Yeah, no.
  668. >Equestria is ruined forever.
  669. "Just don't sneak up on a man."
  670. >"From the way you screamed, I'm pretty sure I didn't."
  671. >The book flies out of your hand in a blur of magenta.
  672. >"Let's just not, okay?" she sighs, but gives you a playful nudge with her shoulder. "There are *plenty* of other things here to look at than a horrible system like that."
  673. >True enough.
  674. >There's more in here than you could look at in a lifetime.
  675. "Holy shit."
  676. >You hold up the box you just found for Twilight to see - a small box, made of plain brown cardboard with an even small piece of lineart depecting the model inside.
  677. >"What...?"
  678. "I just - wow. I saw these at the con, but..."
  679. >She squints, staring at the tiny picture to take in all the details.
  680. "I can't believe they're in stores here."
  681. >"Um, yeah," she grunts. "I can't believe it's in stores, either. Not where anypony can see it. Maybe if it was behind the counter, *that* would be fine."
  682. >Not what you meant, but you understand.
  683. >No single monster needs *that* many dicks.
  684. >"Put that down," your princess grumbles when it lingers in your hand.
  685. >You're not considering getting it, though. You're just trying to remember how bad the models you got from the vendor room are.
  686. >Not five-dicks-bad, you're pretty sure.
  687. >Pretty sure.
  688. >Maybe.
  689. >But if they are, they're now Trixie's problem. You're just going to pretend you weren't the one that bought them.
  690. >You put the box down, though Twilight's attention drifted in the meantime, and your princess is now looking over a shelf of old second edition Burrows and Basilisks books instead of scowling at your hand.
  691. >Nothing really catches her, though, so the two of you wander the store. Like Twilight had said, it does feel like it's here just for you - not *once* do you see or hear another customer.
  692. >And while actually *seeing* anypony else is an impossibility in this mess, you should at least have been able to hear them.
  693. >You end up carrying a few items for your marefriend. The longer you walk, the larger the burden. Not much, really, not in the grand scheme of things. Some new shiny gemstone dice for Rarity, a few boosters of some old Wizardry set (still at the original retail price).
  694. >For Spike, she explains.
  695. >A few more trinkets here and there, but it's really not much. Not compared to what you've seen others, both pony and human, buy in a single trip.
  696. >Twilight is laughing as you approach the teetering pile of poorly-stacked books next to the register.
  697. >You don't panic for long - apparently they don't interest Twi - she's there just for the register. Somehow, bits exchange hooves without you ever catching sight of the shoppony.
  698. >"Huh, *really* didn't expect a human," he grunts disapprovingly. Apparently he can see *you*... so you should be able to see him.
  699. >Right...?
  700. >"I could understand if it was... oh what *is* her name? Lyre?"
  701. >"Lyra?"
  702. >"Oh, right. Of course it was. I can imagine her shacking up with a human, but not you." He pauses just long enough for you and your marefriend to share an uncomfortable look. "Also can't imagine those wings."
  703. >"Oh, come on, Old Hammer," Twilight laughs. "Don't tell me you didn't hear -"
  704. >"I heard," he answers, "but you know me and how I hate change. Now you kids get outta my shop before I start my old stallion rambling about how things were better back in my day and you lose your chance to escape!"
  705. >Twilight practically skips out the front door, laughing the whole way. You follow along at a slower pace, stopping to tip your imaginary hat in what might be the stallion's approximate direction.
  706. >She keeps up the energetic pace all the way to the road, but stops there for you to catch up.
  707. >"Don't worry," she says, giving you a reassuring smile. "He's always like that."
  708. "Wasn't so bad, really. Or bad at all."
  709. >You think the shop might rival CanterCon's Vendor Room, if only for collectables and rare books.
  710. >With that kind of variety, it's not much of a surprise that your princess bought more there than she has at the con.
  711. >So far, at least.
  712. >There's still time.
  713. >"We should probably be heading back," Twilight sighs, interrupting your train of thought. "Everypony will be up soon."
  714.  
  715. >Sooner than she expected, apparently, because Shining Armor is chatting with Cheerilee and Applejack in the guest wing's sitting area when you come through the archway.
  716. >"I totally expected somepony to make a move, but you wouldn't believe what happened next!"
  717. >Shining Armor pauses for dramatic effect - the sudden silence making your marefriend's hoofsteps sound louder than they really are.
  718. >Her brother turns partially in his seat and smiles.
  719. >"Heya, Twily! You won't believe what Spike did last night!"
  720. >"I probably would," Twilight sighs. “I wish everypony else had just a little faith in him. He’s not just a pet or something, you know.”
  721. >Shining Armor’s head twitches back, the stallion caught by surprise by his sister’s unexpected rebuke.
  722. >”Yeah, I know that,” he grumbles. “Little guy is the closest thing I have to a brother. I’m just saying – I was expecting to have to put down a war, but he did it for me!”
  723. “Somebody give him a ton of bits and point him in the direction of the enemy?”
  724. >”Uh, not quite…”
  725. >Silly ponies.
  726. >It’s like they haven’t even tried to think of ways to weaponized Spike.
  727. >With just one check (and enough zeroes), you could turn a pocket-sized dragon into SPIKE THE OMNIDESTROYER. Of course, you immediately filed that idea under Stupid Anon Tricks and resolved to never do it unless you *really* wanted to fuck the world.
  728. >Shining Armor grins sheepishly and rubs the back of his neck with one hoof.
  729. >”He… uh… apparently had preregistered for the late-night Wizardry tournament and managed to knock the top griffon and yak players out of the running.”
  730. “Shit, how did he manage that?”
  731. >Twilight coughs uncomfortably and tries to excuse herself, but it’s too late – her brother has a hoof outstretched, pointing in her direction.
  732. >”He said Twily optimized the heck out of his deck, and helped him get some hard to find cards.”
  733. >You knew your princess could be a dirty little pony, but not like this.
  734. “Since when do you play?”
  735. >You can’t help but ask.
  736. >There are just some things that a mare should tell her coltfriend, like if she’s a CCGer or has herpes.
  737. >”I don’t.” She takes a step back before steeling herself and stepping forward to jab a hoof into your gut. “But you need to learn to be a little more tolerant.”
  738. >Ow.
  739. “Well, I was just surprised. I mean, I know you have standards –“
  740. >”Ah’m pretty sure she don’t, sugarcube, or she wouldn’t be datin’ you.”
  741. “And fuck you, too, AJ.”
  742. >The mare laughs at your lone, raised finger.
  743. >For *some* reason, that gesture never really caught on, no matter how hard you tried to champion its cause in those first few months.
  744. “All I mean is it’s common knowledge that card gamers are only one step up from boffers.”
  745. >Ouch - another jab from your princess’s hoof.
  746. >”Anon, you’re going to learn tolerance if I have to beat it into you.”
  747. >She pauses, withdrawing her hoof to scratch at her chin.
  748. >”Actually, you’re going to learn tolerance if somepony else has to beat it into you.”
  749. >She loves you too much to hit you – yay.
  750. >Maybe you won’t end up on Cops! Equestria after all.
  751. >”AJ...?”
  752. >”Yeah?”
  753. >”That Queen-of-the-Hill game…”
  754. >There’s something a little too ominous about the way she says that.
  755. >”… yeah, it’s today,” Applejack answers your marefriend’s unfinished question. “We’re ‘bout to go get ready fer it.”
  756. >”Need another player?” Twilight asks, grinning viciously.
  757. “Please… no…”
  758. >”Actually, Ah reckon we could use a pair o’ ‘em, if Shiny here is free.”
  759. >You’re going to get shanked in the back so fast.
  760. >”WHAT!? NO, I’M GETTING READY!”
  761. >Great, Dash is going to be part of this, too.
  762. >Yay.
  763. >”LET GO, RARITY!” the pegasus’ shouting is coming from the unicorn’s room, but you can’t imagine –
  764. >Okay, yes, you can imagine. You can imagine very well.
  765. >Old Crusty herself bursts through the door, white cloth swirling around her.
  766. >”I don’t know why I can’t just wear that kimono from yesterday,” she whines at the white mare that follows behind, frantically trying to tuck things into place and finish up the last stitches here and there.
  767. >”Because if you ruin that *gorgeous* outfit…” Rarity sighs, “… I will *end* you.”
  768. >”I won’t –“
  769. >”Yes, you will,” the unicorn cuts her off harshly. “Now stop moving or your new kimono might end up with stains before you have even begun your little play-fighting!”
  770. >”Ho-OWWWWW!”
  771. >A small drop of red blossoms on the plain cloth.
  772. >”I told you,” Rarity says with a dark grin. “Stop. Moving.”
  773. >The pegasus freezes in place, allowing the unicorn to get on with her last minute costume.
  774. >”Anon, dear, your outfit is laid out in my room,” she calls out to you, never looking away from her work. “I am afraid my hooves are full at the moment, but if you could be so kind…?”
  775. “Uh, yeah. Of course.”
  776. >Do what she says and maybe you won’t get stabbed.
  777. >Just like she said, your costume is laid out and waiting for you.
  778. >On her bed – which is completely unmade. In fact, the entire room is more of a mess than you could ever have believed.
  779. >Scraps of cloth litter the floor – along with pins and thread and you don’t even know what else.
  780. >Was that a pencil you just almost slipped on? What the heck would she need a white pencil for?
  781. >Despite the chaos, the few remaining costumes are all carefully hung, laid out, or still fitted to mannequins.
  782. >You gather up your outfit, trying your best to be careful, but the armor is made of too many individual pieces for easy handling.
  783. >In the end, you resort to dumping all of the metal plates onto the cloak and carrying it out in a single bundle. You’re dead if she sees you, but you doubt Rarity will have any attention to spare.
  784. >You slip out the door and past the unicorn. Thankfully, Dash – always a bro – distracts her for you.
  785. >Not intentionally, but you knew you could rely on her to be loud enough to keep everypony’s focus off of you and she does not disappoint.
  786. >You dress quickly in the privacy of your room, though it takes several tries to get the right plates in the right places. Somehow, you think the power armor was easier to deal with – but a glance as the golden parts strewn about your room make you rethink that.
  787. >You’re still trying to buckle one of the thigh plates when Twilight nudges the door open and pops her head through the gap.
  788. >”Oh, good,” she sighs, coming all the way in and shutting the door behind her. “You’re almost ready?”
  789. “Physically? Maybe. But mentally…”
  790. >A peck on your cheek does a lot to help with that.
  791. >”Thanks for going along with this. I just thought if you and my brother could just…”
  792. >She smiles sheepishly, realizing just how silly that sounds.
  793. “Trying to force a fire-forged friendship?”
  794. >”I… uh… is it too late for me to take credit for that term?” your princess giggles and begins trying to struggle out of her dress.
  795. “Probably.”
  796. >She pauses, the yellow dress still half on – and completely covering her head.
  797. >”Wait, is that already a thing? Because I didn’t know it was a thing.”
  798. >When you don’t answer immediately, she finishes stripping off the outfit to stare at you with her big eyes.
  799. >”Because I’ve just had a great idea about promoting friendship among the royal guard!”
  800. >This won’t end well.
  801. “No, you can’t start a war just to make everypony like each other.”
  802. >Twilight giggles again, crawling over the bed to get at her suitcase.
  803. >”I’m pretty sure I can…”
  804. “Okay – you shouldn’t.”
  805. >”It’s kind of my *job*,” she counters in a singsong voice. “I just don’t know what you have against friendship, Anon.”
  806. >There’s no way for you to answer that – not safely, even if she *is* joking around.
  807. >Sometimes a noncommittal grunt and a shrug is the best response, and this is one of those times.
  808. >You noisily rattle your armor around before she can press the issue – not that you think she will.
  809. “Damn strap.”
  810. >”Need some help?”
  811. “No, almost… there.”
  812. >A little purple muzzle pokes over your shoulder
  813. >”Not exactly how I had envisioned Paladin,” your marefriend says softly, “but it gets the idea across.”
  814. >Nor is it how you saw him – you had spikier armor in mind, but it’s not like you gave her a sketch to go off or anything. Besides –
  815. “It’s still missing a couple things.”
  816. >The cloak goes on easily enough – though in the process, you notice it’s torn in places.
  817. >Gods, you hope you didn’t do that.
  818. >Probably not – the hem is ragged as hell and you couldn’t have done that much damage using it as an impromptu bag.
  819. >”Oooooh, that’s better,” Twilight comments, disappearing from your field of vision. “Just give me a second to get mine on.”
  820. “Wait for it. Still not done.”
  821. >Big Mac’s boffer sword barely fit in your luggage, making it a bother to bring along, AND it’s a bit embarrassing to be seen with it, since it’s a boffer sword and all, AND now you can’t skip AJs thing due to a lack of equipment.
  822. >All in all, that sword has been a pain in the ass.
  823. >But it makes the costume complete.
  824. >Not just complete, but perfect.
  825. >Dammit.
  826. >”Are you *finally* ready?”
  827. “If I say no, can I get out of this?”
  828. >”MmmmmmmmmmNo.”
  829. “Then, yeah, I’m ready. But I swear to all the gods living and dead, if I turn around and you have a beard -”
  830. >”Um… no? Of course not? Just… give me a minute…”
  831. >Your marefriend grumbles only mildly as she (presumably) pulls off the fake beard (that she definitely wasn’t wearing).
  832. >Mildly, but unnecessarily. She’s right, nopony *will* recognize her costume now, but the odds that anypony would know she was dressed as Zargon, the DM villain from an ancient boardgame from a different world, were pretty slim anyway.
  833. >More likely than you had thought, apparently, but still fucking unlikely.
  834. >The beard won’t make any difference, except you’ll love her slightly more now.
  835. >”Okay! Got my… um… collar all straightened out!”
  836.  
  837. >The others are waiting for you in the sitting area, just like you had left them.
  838. >Except in costume.
  839. >Bastards.
  840. >There’s no way they got dressed that fast. Particularly not Shining Armor, since he’s wearing more armor than you.
  841. >But despite the utter impossibility of it, they seem to have all gotten ready before you anyway.
  842. >Cheerilee is wearing the same scale-and-chain vest and bikini bottom that she wore on the first day and Shining Armor is also repeating his first-day costume with a suit of heavy plate armor. Rarity seems to have finished Dash’s kimono – and Dash seems to have stopped bleeding – but must have run off after that.
  843. >She’s gone to some cosplay event, the pegasus explains when you look at her with one raised eyebrow.
  844. >Good enough.
  845. >You knew Rarity had some of those to go to.
  846. >And AJ – no wonder AJ got dressed so fast – she’s wearing something that could almost be the twin of Cheerilee’s outfit.
  847. >Scraps of chainmaille and fur hang from leather straps that criss-cross her body without actually covering anything.
  848. >”Took yer time, didn’t ya?”
  849. “Sorry, it took so long, but I thought I would actually wear *some* clothes, AJ.”
  850. >To her credit, she actually blushes slightly.
  851. >”Hay, it’s more n’ Ah usually wear.”
  852. “I don’t know about that – your hat offers decent coverage compared to…”
  853. >You wave a hand in her direction.
  854. “… compared to *this*.”
  855. >”Stop looking at other mares,” Cheerilee scolds playfully.
  856. >You don’t for a minute believe she’s actually worried about that.
  857. >Your little princess is smart enough to know better, and the teacher knows it.
  858. >”Just ignore him,” Twilight tells the others with an exasperated sigh. “Anon gets argumentative when he’s cranky.”
  859. “I do not.”
  860. >”See?”
  861. >Dammit.
  862. >Now they’re all staring at you and trying to hold back laughter.
  863. >Fucking boffers, as if they have any right to laugh at *anyone*.
  864. >A door opens, thankfully, drawing their attention away from you.
  865. >A groggy Sunny Smiles pokes her head into the hall and blinks twice.
  866. >”Keep it down, maybe?” she slurs, still mostly asleep. The mare blinks again and squints in your direction. “Oh, right…”
  867. >She stumbles out of the room on unsteady hooves, followed seconds later by her only slightly more alive sister.
  868. >”Is it time for the third challenge?” the white mare yawns, coming to a swaying stop just a few feet from you. “I -”
  869. > – yawn –
  870. >“- wanna get it outta the way before the next -”
  871. >– another yawn –
  872. >“- costume.”
  873. “Uh, want to get some sleep before that?”
  874. >She shakes her head, almost throwing herself to the floor.
  875. >”Noooo, you’re wearing your armor now, human. Don’t wanna fuck you up *too* bad.”
  876. >Bitch.
  877. >Well, she fucking asked for it.
  878. >You lunch forward, hand outstretched, and boop her nose with an open palm.
  879. “I win.”
  880. >”Damn,” she murmurs with a smile. “Back to bed then. See you in a few…”
  881. >You watch the mare leave with the same perverse curiosity as you would a train wreck, but the manages to shuffle her way back into the room without accident.
  882. >”When *did* y’all get back?” AJ asks Moonbeam, who had been watching with the same total lack of concern as you. “Ah didn’t see ya when we got in.”
  883. >”An hour past, or near enough.”
  884. >Well, that explains Sunny’s exhaustion.
  885. “Up all night watching that show?”
  886. >Moonbeam’s head bobs once.
  887. >”Indeed,” she answers moments later. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
  888. “So it wasn’t complete shit?”
  889. >”Not at all, though…” she pauses, looking back at the room she shares with Sunny Smiles with something akin to pity on her face, “… we do not understand exactly why these “slice of life” shows appeal to our sister so.”
  890. >Probably because even with her little memory tricks and polymorph spells, she’ll never get a chance to have such ordinary experiences.
  891. >You don’t bother trying to explain that to Moonbeam, though. Even if you’re right, you doubt she’d get it.
  892. >”For the life of us, we could not identify the villain,” the mare sighs, “nor was there any resolution in a climactic battle between good and evil.”
  893. "That doesn't always happen in real life."
  894. >She really doesn’t get the base concept of that genre, does she?
  895. >"Then we pity thou, for thou must lead a terribly uninteresting life."
  896. >Moonbeam says it with such a sorrowful tone that you actually *do* feel disappointed in yourself for a minute, even after the mare returns to her room.
  897. >Dash has to bop your head with her sword before you snap back to reality.
  898. >”Hey, are you done with Ol’ Doom n’ Gloom there?” your friend demands. “We gotta go or we’ll be late!”
  899. >A little impatient, considering none of the others have risen from their seats, but what else should you expect from the fastest pony in Ponyville?
  900. >"Yeah, Ah reckon we should head on over," AJ agrees, sliding off her seat and onto all four hooves in one smooth motion. "Ya'll ready for this?"
  901.  
  902. >Cheerilee explains the event to you on the way to the Canterlot Event Center - it's a straight up boffer fight with no real roleplaying, with multiple teams fighting all at once over a single objective. The last team standing on the objective when time is called wins.
  903. "And you do this every year?"
  904. >"We try," the mare admits. "I thought we would have to skip this year, since Big Mac couldn't come, but Applejack volunteered to take his place as team captain."
  905. >"Volunteered my ass," the other mare grumbles quietly.
  906. >You probably weren't meant to hear that, and kind of regret that you did - all you can think of now is Big Mac actually volunteering his sister's ass, like some kind of sick boffer pimp.
  907. >"Usually, there's a few more of us," Cheerilee continues, derailing that disturbing train of thought. "From the Ponyville LARP group, I mean. But..."
  908. >She gives a little shrug.
  909. >"... I guess things came up, and now it's just me and some honorary members," she sighs. "Two years ago, we were able to field three teams -"
  910. "So there's a maximum size per group?"
  911. >Good, your little band might not be overwhelmed by sheer numbers immediatly.
  912. >"Yep! Five ponies!"
  913. >But... there's six of you...
  914. >Dash, Cheerilee, AJ, Shining Armor, you, and...
  915. "Sitting this out, Twi?"
  916. >"Of course!" she giggles. "Don't feel bad, though. I'll be in the crowd watching."
  917. >Damn.
  918. >If your marefriend is going to force you into this, the least she could do is suffer alongside you.
  919.  
  920. >There is a roped off area on the convention center's lawn, about the size of... big enough, you'd guess.
  921. >The rest of the event is still being set up, despite Aredee earlier worries about being late. She's just too damn excitable sometimes, and is now nervously flitting about your group in the air.
  922. >You're also far from the first group to arrive - small groups of armed and armored warriors are gathered around the rope in irregular intervals. Some even have banners raised and little pre-battle parties going on.
  923. >Others are somber. Surly bastards that will probably be fighting to win.
  924. >You'll try not to get hit by any of those fuckers - they probably won't be pulling their blows.
  925. >"Shit."
  926. >"Language!" Twi gasps in mock horror at her brother, only to echo it a second later after he points at one of the nearby groups.
  927. >Shit is right.
  928. >The Yaks he is pointing at look like they're out for blood. Shining Armor's, probably, but they don't look overly concerned about spilling anypony else's either.
  929. >They're arguing with one of the event's refs - something about minimum starting distance from other groups, from what you can hear.
  930. “Are those…?”
  931. >”The same ones that Spike trounced last night,” Shining Armor sighs. “I have a feeling they’re going to take advantage of this little coincidence to get some revenge.”
  932. >What a fucking stupid thing to do – going after somepony only tangent related to the dragon that humiliated them – but you can believe it.
  933. >Revenge usually is.
  934. >Except when you’re the one doing it - *then* it’s fucking brilliant and totally justified.
  935. >“WEAPONS CHECK!”
  936. >Joy.
  937. >Now the ref is over here, yelling at *you*.
  938. “Yeah, I got my weapon right here.”
  939. >You wave it in her direction.
  940. “Who would be stupid enough to come to one of these things without one?”
  941. >”Dangit, Anon, don’t be difficult!” AJ barks at you, holding out her sword for the ref to see. “She’s gotta make sure everypony’s weapon is safe!”
  942. “Seriously? It’s a fucking boffer sword! What more do you want!?”
  943. >You throw your arms into the sky in exasperation.
  944. >Seriously.
  945. >It’s fucking foam.
  946. >You couldn’t hurt anypony with this if you *tried*.
  947. >”Don’t give me this crap, not after I had to deal with those yaks,” the ref growls at you, doing some weird shit with AJ’s weapon before giving it back. “Not ONE of their weapons passed, but when threatened to throw them out, suddenly ‘found’ safe weapons.”
  948. “They’re foam.”
  949. >”With a stiff core, and not everypony is wearing metal armor like you and your buddy there.”
  950. >She points to Shining Armor, who doesn’t notice.
  951. >He’s busy trying to set Yaks on fire with his brain.
  952. “So it might sting a little. Maybe then you ponies will realize that clothing is a good thing.”
  953. >You really don’t get what the ref is doing with the weapons – or why she even *has* a ruler with her, but Cheerilee’s axe seems to pass the bizarre test as well. She doesn’t even check Dash’s. Maybe she’s given up –
  954. >”Desert Prancer’s work, right?”
  955. >Your friend nods, unable to give a better answer due to the long, foam weapon she has gripped in her mouth.
  956. >”Nice. Just keep yourself under the maximum speed, okay? We don’t need anypony getting gibbed because *somepony* thinks this is the time and place for a sonic rainboom.”
  957. >”Don’t worry, I told her all about it,” Cheerilee tries to reassure the other mare, but the ref is already holding her hoof out for your sword.
  958. “How can this even be a thing? It’s FOAM.”
  959. >Still, you hand the borrowed weapon over to her, so she can do *whatever* to it. Everything seems to be fine until she rears up and drives the sword’s point into the ground.
  960. >”A little on the stiff side,” the ref comments with deep frown. “More than a little, actually.”
  961. >She looks at yaks and the frown only deepens.
  962. >“It’ll be *just fine*.”
  963.  
  964. >Before too long, about fifteen teams are gathered around the roped off area. You’re not exactly sure, though. Far too many of the audience are in costume and carrying foam weapons of their own. It’s only when the refs wave you in that you actually get a good view of the opposition.
  965. >Sixteen groups.
  966. >You were close. Close enough.
  967. >AJ waves you forward, away from the rope.
  968. >”Come on, sugarcube, we need you n’ Shiny up front.”
  969. “Shouldn’t we leave the point position for the experienced players?”
  970. >”Eh,” Cheerilee grunts. “Just remember to pull your blows, and don’t slap anypony. You’ll do fine.”
  971. >She glances briefly at Shining Armor and chuckles.
  972. >”I don’t think I need to explain why you’ll do fine.”
  973. >”Pull my blows,” the stallion smirks. “Don’t start a war by curbstopping the civis. Got it.”
  974. >You twists his head back, looking over his shoulder at your marefriend.
  975. >”DON’T WORRY, TWILY! I WON’T EMBARRASS THE OTHERS TOO BADLY!”
  976. >Cocky bastard.
  977. >He’ll make a decent brother-in-law.
  978. “Question.”
  979. >Cheerilee cocks her head to one side.
  980. “Don’t *slap* anypony?”
  981. >Rather specific demand. Shouldn’t she have said not to use your hands, only your sword? Something like that?
  982. >”Well, that’s what you did to Princess Celestia, isn’t it?” the mare asks. “If you draw blood, you’ll be disqualified, so rein that human temper of yours in. I am *not* going back to Ponyville without that flag.”
  983. >She points her foam axe towards the center of the cleared area, where a large banner is waving in the breeze.
  984. >”Not again.”
  985. “Second question – do we have a plan?”
  986. >”Deal with the Yaks,” Shining Armor answers. “I don’t think they’re going to give us any choice. After that, capture the flag and defend it.”
  987. “Okay, reasonable I guess. Third question – how the hell do you actually *do* this!?”
  988. >The rules can’t be very complicated if *Aredee* can do it.
  989. >”Well there, sugarcube, there’s about… what…?”
  990. >”Fourty-seven guidelines,” Cheerliee volunteers.
  991. >”Right, fourty-seven of ‘em,” Applejack repeats, nodding her thanks, “but they all really boil down to three – hit yer opponents, don’t get hit, and listen to the refs. If they say you’re out, then you’re out. But if they don’t, you keep on swingin’! Got it?”
  992. >Some part of your brain convinces the rest of it that sassing her would be a bad idea.
  993. “Gee, I dunno. Want to run that by me again?”
  994. >Too bad your mouth tends to act on its own. Fucker.
  995. >She sighs heavily and rolls her eyes, but doesn’t answer – she already has her sword gripped in her mouth.
  996. “No, really, I’m not – whoah!”
  997. >You barely dodge her lunge, dancing aside from the unexpected attack.
  998. >“Seems like you got it, Anon,” Cheerilee chuckles. “Now… see the refs?”
  999. >How can you not? There’s a dozen or more of ‘em on the field now, wearing bright orange vests.
  1000. “Yeah?”
  1001. >”Form up. It’s about to start.”
  1002. “How long do we have?”
  1003. >A shrill whistle cuts the air.
  1004. >It trails off, only to be replaced by a deafening roar.
  1005. >The ground rumbles under your feet as the Yaks charge.
  1006. “Nevermind.”
  1007. >Every other group seems to have made a rush for the flag, but not those damn Yaks. And not your group – not even Dash.
  1008. >”Get your shield up!” Shining Armor yells, shouldering aside the barbarian babes to take his place at the fore. “We’ll stop ‘em here!”
  1009. “Are you fucking crazy?”
  1010. >You don’t care about their weapons – those are only foam, after all – but if you get knocked down and go under those hooves?
  1011. >Trampling is not the dignified death you were hoping for.
  1012. >”Just do it, soldier! It’ll work!”
  1013. >He sounds confident – maybe he *does* have an idea what he’s doing. Not a great idea, but an idea.
  1014. “Pretty sure it won’t.”
  1015. >He risks an angry glare in your direction.
  1016. “No shield.”
  1017. >His eyes flare wide in panic when he sees your empty hand.
  1018. >”Uh… Cheerilee…?”
  1019. >”RUN!” the mare screams at him.
  1020. >The stallion’s shield drops to the ground as he frantically darts aside, just barely avoiding the oncoming Yaks. The move turns into an awkward tumble towards the end, but the Yaks are too committed to their charge to take advantage of Shining Armor’s fumble.
  1021. >You have an easier time of it, dancing back three steps to avoid the Yaks, and another two to dodge their clumsy swings.
  1022. >Instinctively you counterattack, thrusting forward with your short blade. It’s too short to reach after the distance you’ve covered – you have to take several steps as you lunge forward to strike the Yak’s unarmored hindquarters.
  1023. >Too late, you remember you’re supposed to pull your blows, and some dim memory of thrusting being unsafe…
  1024. >Oh well, if it was dangerous to use this weapon like that, the ref wouldn’t have let you keep it.
  1025. >The strike lands, drawing a grunt of annoyance from the enemy, quickly followed by somepony – you have no fucking clue who – screaming out some number.
  1026. >Doesn’t matter – the Yaks have managed to get their momentum under control and come about for another go.
  1027. >Fine with you.
  1028. >”Do that again!” Cheerilee shouts from somewhere behind you as the beasts rumble forward.
  1029. >If she’s talking to somepony else, then it’s not your fucking problem.
  1030. >If she’s talking to you, great – after all, you plan on *not* getting hit. If you’re too sore to move tomorrow, it’s going to be because of Twi, not some godsdamned shaggy cows with boffer weapons.
  1031. >Four of the yaks veer off slightly, going after Shining Armor, but one comes straight at you. The one you hit, probably, but you’re not sure.
  1032. >One steak looks pretty much the same as any other to you.
  1033. >He seems to anticipate your dodge, leaning to the left at the same time you do.
  1034. >Too bad he’s too heavy to stop himself when you dodge right instead, not that he doesn’t try.
  1035. >You spin, swinging out with your sword and slap the foam blade against his spine as he stumbles under his own momentum. You continue the spin to keep an eye on your opponent, only to see him lurch straight into Cheerilee’s axe.
  1036. >Another number is shouted over the roar of battle, followed by a third and fourth as your sword connects again.
  1037. >With a sneer, the Yak spits out his weapon and shambles away – you raise your weapon, but Cheerilee shakes her head.
  1038. >Fucker must be out.
  1039. >You’re tempted to take the swing anyway, but…
  1040. >Oh, fuck it, you take the swing.
  1041. >Halfheartedly.
  1042. >You don’t even come close, but it’s enough to make him nervously shuffle sideways.
  1043. >”Don’t be so cocky,” Cheerilee spits out her axe to warn you. “Sure, they have padding on their horns, but if they connect…”
  1044. “Wait, those things are real?”
  1045. >”Yeah,” she answers. “Did you think they don’t have horns?”
  1046. “I don’t know, I maybe they’re in fucking Chaos Warrior cosplay or something!”
  1047. >She rolls her eyes and picks her weapon up again… after dropping it on the ground… ew.
  1048. >You’ll never get used to that, but for some reason when you scream “five second rule” and go for a fry that fell on the floor, *you* get the odd looks.
  1049. >Cheerilee doesn’t say anything else – of course she doesn’t with that axe in her mouth – and charges to the aid of your friends (and Rainbow Dash).
  1050. >Shiny is somehow holding off two of the Yaks on his own, even though his shield is now a –
  1051. > - holy shit –
  1052. > - a dented mess trampled into the dirt where he had dropped it.
  1053. >Your choice to ignore him and dodge suddenly seems very, VERY wise.
  1054. >Another Yak has gone full retard and is jumping over and over, trying to gore Aredee every time she dives.
  1055. >Sure, it drives her back every time, but it just looks undignified.
  1056. >Cheerilee gallops up to the fourth Yak, the one attacking Applejack, but it’s more aware of its surroundings than the last and easily turns to catch her ponderous swing on its horns.
  1057. >You dimly remember hearing somewhere that it’s better to swing from the hip or the wrist than from the shoulder, but even THAT has to be preferable to swinging from the neck.
  1058. >It’s just… awkward.
  1059. >There’s no other way to describe it.
  1060. >That’s probably why AJ is holding her sword with her hoof, even though it makes it almost impossible for her to move quickly. She’s able to parry and attack with a finesse that Cheerilee can’t even dream of matching.
  1061. >Of course, neither of them can hold a candle to your superior human design.
  1062. >The Yak tries to turn to face you as you charge in to help, - he even twists his head to the right in time to knock aside your first attack, a simple overhead swing you aren’t surprised doesn’t land.
  1063. >But that’s fine – not only does his parry leave him open to counterattack from your two companions, it also gives you a perfect opportunity to land a strike on his left shoulder. He looks surprised, like it never occurred to him that you could switch your angle of attack more easily than a pony.
  1064. >Huh.
  1065. >You don’t even have to *try* to feint – which is good, since you probably couldn’t manage that without telegraphing your moves.
  1066. >Simply pulling off more swings from more directions seems to work just fine.
  1067. >Less than a second after your sword connects, AJ’s flashes in, followed by Cheerilee dragging her axe along the length of the Yak’s side.
  1068. >Another series of numbers is called out and the Yak slumps in defeat. At some point, you might be curious enough to find out exactly what the fuck those mean and who’s saying them, but not yet. Right now, all you need to know is that it means another enemy is down.
  1069. >All three of you turn and run for Shining Armor.
  1070. >Briefly, you consider breaking off to help Aredee, but why?
  1071. >She can fly.
  1072. >If she gets hit, it’s her own damned fault.
  1073. >Besides, he has *two* Yaks –
  1074. >*Had.*
  1075. >They fall so quickly to your combined attacks that it’s over before you know it.
  1076. >Really.
  1077. >You land another hit on each one of them before you realize they’ve stopped fighting.
  1078. >Angry shits they might be, but at least they follow the rules.
  1079. >You guess.
  1080. >Considering you don’t have a clue what the rules are, you’re really not sure.
  1081. >Seems likely, though.
  1082. >The last Yak is still jumping into the air as you surround it.
  1083. >Dash is doing a great job keeping it distracted – or doing a great job just being her normal, abrasive self. You can’t make out exactly what she’s saying, but “shag carpet” seems to pop up frequently in her stream of abuse.
  1084. >Also something about shagging carpet. You don’t want to know, but whatever it is infuriates the yak to the point that a ref has to magically drag him off the field after you casually tap him several times with your sword.
  1085. >With them dealt with, you look at the disorganized mess of combatants surrounding the flag.
  1086. “What now?”
  1087. >”We fight our way to the flag,” Applejack answers.
  1088. “Or do we?”
  1089. >”Uh, *yeah*, we do.”
  1090. “Or Dash just plucks it off that pole and brings it back here.”
  1091. >”Nice try, but that’s against the rules, sugercube,” she snarks. “Any other great ideas?”
  1092. “Fight our way to the flag?”
  1093. >”Sounds like a winner to me!”
  1094.  
  1095. >It’s easier done than said.
  1096. >Really.
  1097. >With everypony focused on the objective, they leave their backs to you.
  1098. >Not the most honorable way to defeat the foe, but if they deserved an honorable defeat, they would have been facing you.
  1099. >At least, that’s how you’re going to justify it to yourself.
  1100. >It doesn’t seem to sit well with Shining Armor either, but that doesn’t stop him from joining in.
  1101. >Between the two of you, it’s VERY easy to fight your way to the flag.
  1102. >Holding it is harder, with everypony getting hit at least once.
  1103. >Every*pony*.
  1104. >Not you.
  1105. >Sure, it *might* be your fault that Shining Armor got hit twice, but he seems like the kind of pony that wants to be used as a shield.
  1106. >Too bad he’s not small enough for you to actually pick up and use as one.
  1107. >The press around the flag grows tight enough that AJ and Cheerilee end up rearing up and standing awkwardly on their hindlegs just to give themselves room to swing their weapons.
  1108. >Bodies seem to pile up at their hooves – unconscious players, or simply defeated players with no way to escape the crushing mess of others, you’re not sure.
  1109. >You’re also not sure which would even be preferable, but you find yourself being pushed away and go with it. There’s no room to dodge so close to the objective, so without a shield you don’t favor your odds of surviving there long.
  1110. >It’s much easier to attack from the periphery, though fewer ponies fall as easily as those defeated in the first charge. Those that remain are experienced enough not to let such a simple thing as being unaware of their surroundings lead to their defeat.
  1111. >You’ve just about worked yourself up to dive back in to make another attempt at the flag when the whistle blows and all movement stops.
  1112. >Almost all.
  1113. >Back to back at the flag, Cheerilee whoops and hollers in victory before grabbing Applejack and spinning the mare around for a deep kiss.
  1114. >It’s like something from some Eighty’s sword and sorcery book cover, if only both characters were female.
  1115. >And ponies.
  1116. >Don’t forget the ponies part.
  1117. "Gross. Aren't you kind of dating her brother?"
  1118. >"I guess, but we won," Cheerilee answers with a shrug, once she comes up for breath. “Had to celebrate. Besides, one apple tastes pretty much the same as another to me."
  1119. >"Unless they ain't ripe, o' course," Applejack pants, still dangling in Cheerilee’s legs.
  1120. >"That goes without saying,” the teacher grimaces. “No, really. Why would you even…?”
  1121. >She shudders involuntarily, almost dropping AJ.
  1122. >It’s rare to see Cheerilee’s zen-mask crack like this.
  1123. “You *do* spend an awful lot of time around fillies, Cheerilee.”
  1124. >Of course you’re going to take full advantage of the situation.
  1125. >”Because I’m a teacher!”
  1126. “Whoah, I’m not making any accusations!”
  1127. >You hold up your hands in mock surrender.
  1128. “It’s just strange, that’s all.”
  1129. >”Too weird for me,” Applejack grunts, slipping out of the other mare’s embrace. “Ah understand your need to celebrate and all, but that went weird *fast*.”
  1130. >”Because *you* made it weird!”
  1131. >”No Ah…”
  1132. >Applejack hesitates, casting a look your way. Cheerilee follows her gaze and nods.
  1133. >”Anon’s fault,” the two mares say in unison.
  1134. >Oh, godsfuckingdammit.
  1135. “I can make it weirder, if you want.”
  1136. >”Please don’t.”
  1137.  
  1138. >Cheerilee wasn’t joking about taking the flag back to Ponyville – apparently it *is* the prize for winning the event. She stuffs it into her saddlebags before scooting back to the castle to change. Applejack follows, attempting to ignore the comments you make about the two of them getting some alone time.
  1139. >”It ain’t like that,” she finally tries to explain. “It’s just that this is the thing the two of ‘em are always doin’ together, and – uh –“
  1140. >She gives up, at that point, chasing after the other mare as fast as her legs can carry her.
  1141. >Dash follows – and quickly speeds ahead.
  1142. >Did *nopony* other than you and Twi actually wear the costume they planned for today?
  1143. “I guess it’s just you and me left, Twily. What did you –“
  1144. >Shining Armor coughs politely, but insistently.
  1145. >Right.
  1146. “Sorry, Shiny, but I thought you’d be changing, too.
  1147. >”Why?” he asks, incredulous. “Just because everypony else is?”
  1148. “That, and if you’re trying to dress like Gleaming Shield, you make a pretty shitty mare. Rarity might have some makeup or something that could help you out a bit.”
  1149.  
  1150. >”Or I could just go like this.” He raises an eyebrow in suspicion. “Rarity is dressing as a female version of her character –“
  1151. >Well, that just makes sense.
  1152. >” – so why can’t I dress as a male version of mine? After all she *was* supposed to be a *he*.”
  1153. >Fair enough point, you guess.
  1154. >He huffs irritably as he climbs over the rope fence separating the field from the audience.
  1155. >”Did you just want some time alone with my little sister?” the stallion asks suddenly and without warning, as if the thought had just occurred to him.
  1156. >That hadn’t actually been on your mind at all. You freeze, one leg raised over the rope. He seems like a decent enough pony, but his mood swings *are* tiring.
  1157. >First he wants to be your friend, then he wants to murder you, then he’s just pissy at *everypony*, and now he’s friendly again?
  1158. >Is the entire family a bipolar mess?
  1159. >And to make things worse, his tone was just neutral enough that you don’t know how he’s feeling.
  1160. >”Worried he’s going to knock me up, *big brother*?” Twilight teases, coming out of the crowd to give Shining Armor a playful shove. “I think you can trust the two of us alone for a few hours, if there’s some show or tournament you want to catch.”
  1161. >The stallion’s face flares a bright red – yours would too, if your little sister said something like that to you. If you had a little sister.
  1162. >You might, for all you can remember.
  1163. >”No,” Shining Armor mutters softly, “I’m not exactly worried about that anymore.”
  1164. >”You shouldn’t  be!” your princess laughs. “Because humans and ponies are genetically incompatible, so all you have to worry about is - um, nevermind!”
  1165. >She prances away from him giggling, her tail bouncing with every step.
  1166. >”Yeah, I – uh – see you later.”
  1167. >He disappears into the crowd, and you don’t blame him.
  1168. >Every single thing Twi said was clearly meant to make her brother feel as uncomfortable as possible.
  1169. >”SO!” Twilight exclaims, hopping up to place her forehooves on the rope fence. It wobbles precariously under her, but she manages to keep her balance. “That, um, that looks awkward.”
  1170. “Yeah…”
  1171. >You’re still frozen with one leg raised to step over the rope, and she’s right – it is awkward as hell. You step over the fence, to join your marefriend in the audience.
  1172. >”So!” she repeats. “What now?”
  1173. >That’s a good question.
  1174. >You’re regretting throwing away her schedule –
  1175. >No, wait, *she* threw it away!
  1176. >Dammit, now Twi has you thinking that!
  1177. “Maybe we could –“
  1178. >“I guess I’ll just excuse myself,” Shining Armor bursts out of the milling ponies to grumble loudly in Twilight’s ear. “Maybe I’ll go check on Spike – SINCE NOT EVEN THE PRINCESS OF FRIENDSHIP WANTS TO BE MY FRIEND.”
  1179. >“Don’t be like that,” Twilight sighs back. “Anyway, did you really expect me to chase after you?”
  1180. >He steps back in surprise.
  1181. >”Well, no. I mean, I know you want to spend time with your coltfriend, and since we aren’t Apples…” He shrugs, leaving the rest of that unsaid.
  1182. >Probably a wise move, considering half the Earth Ponies in this crowd are probably part of that extended family.
  1183. >The other half are too, they just don’t know it.
  1184. >”You just wanted to make me feel guilty about spending time with Anon?” your princess smirks. “Sorry, but that won’t work.”
  1185. >Shining Armor smiles slightly, almost sadly, at his little sister.
  1186. >”Yeah. I know.” He turns slightly. “Anyway, I’m going to go check on Spike. Little guy made it into the Wizardry finals, and it would be nice to be there to support him.”
  1187. >Twilight looks at you, head tilted to one side in an unasked question.
  1188. >The conflict in your marefriend’s face is plain to see.
  1189. >While she wants to be with you – to be with you doing date-y marefriend and coltfriend things, you assume – Twilight can’t just abandon Spike like that. Not entirely.
  1190. >She’s leaving this up to you.
  1191. “All I had in mind was checking out the vendor room.”
  1192. >You shrug.
  1193. “That can wait, right?”
  1194. >After a moment’s hesitation, Twilight nods.
  1195. >Not particularly eagerly, but without regret.
  1196. >”If I’m remembering right, the finals don’t start for another half-hour,” she says, though you wonder why she added the qualifier. Of course she’s remembering right – she’s Twilight Sparkle. “There’s not much we can actually do for him once he’s playing…”
  1197. >Twilight drifts off.
  1198. >You wait patiently, but she wants *you* to say it. Because she wants you to take control of things for once, or because she’s passively asking for permission, you’re not sure.
  1199. “So we can slip away then?”
  1200. >”If you want to.”
  1201. >Your princess obviously does – she’s trying to hide her smile, but not doing it very well.
  1202. “Yeah, why not?”
  1203. >Your marefriend swishes her tail happily.
  1204. >"We didn't really get to see all of it on the first day," she tells her brother, as if trying to excuse your suggestion. "And you know how -"
  1205. >"Don't worry, you don't have to explain it to me," Shining Armor cuts her off with a chuckle. "I'm just happy you aren't totally forgetting about everypony else."
  1206.  
  1207. >The Wizardry tournament is surprisingly hard to find, though that may be because Twilight is letting her brother lead the way. When she begins to panic about the time, you just remind her that no gaming event in the history of anywhere ever began on time.
  1208. >It doesn't help, but at least you tried.
  1209. >Teeth gritted, she hisses instructions to Shining Armor to get him back on track. You're pretty damn sure this hadn't been on her itinerary. She doesn't know where the Wizardry finals are because she was actually interested in them - maybe because of Spike, but it's more likely she knows because she is Twilight Sparkle, and she knows everything.
  1210. >At least she thinks she does.
  1211. >Near enough, really.
  1212. >”Should have just let you lead the way in the first place,” Shining Armor laughs as his sister confidently strides up to doors of... uh…
  1213. >That fancy text on the plaque over the door is hard to read, but you think it says this is the Purple Dart Memorial Auditorium.
  1214. >Whoever that is.
  1215. >”Well, I don’t want to boast –“
  1216. >Twilight totally wants to boast.
  1217. >” – but I do know *everything*.”
  1218. >She politely steps aside and magically pushes open the double doors for you and Shining Armor to enter first.
  1219.  “Not quite as crowded as I expected.”
  1220. >Almost dead empty, actually.
  1221. >No players.
  1222. >No audience.
  1223. >Just a dozen or so ponies are at work on the stage, assembling set pieces and stringing up lights.
  1224. >”So…”
  1225. >Shining Armor waits for his sister to prance up beside him with her head held high before continuing.
  1226. >”… you *knew* you were leading us to the wrong room?”
  1227. >Twilight’s eyes snap wide open.
  1228. >”Um, well… so maybe I don’t quite know *everything*.”
  1229. >She giggles nervously, suddenly smiling as a pegasus jumps off the stage. He trots up the main aisle with an annoyed swagger that tells you he’s had to do this more than once today. He covers about half the distance before snarling angrily.
  1230. >”Can’t chu read? Or are ya’ll just so eager to watch tha lil’ filly’s show that ya’ll just can’t wait?”
  1231. >”Uh, well…”
  1232. >”Says right there in tha dang program the show ain’t seatin’ until six!” the stallion growls, coming even closer. “Unlike ya’ll we got work ta do, though Ah’m surprised as heck ya’ll can’t find somethin’ better ta do that get in our way!”
  1233. >”Sorry, wrong room!” Twilight gasps, backing up quickly.
  1234. >Not quite quick enough for the other pony, though.
  1235. >”Dang right ya’ll got the wrong room!”
  1236. >He flaps his wings angrily, bringing himself up off the floor to stare at you eye to eye. His gaze doesn’t linger there long – for some reason he’s picked out Twilight as the target of his ire.
  1237. >Another couple of flaps brings him closer to your princess – closer than you’re comfortable with.
  1238. >”Careful.”
  1239. >For a second, you wonder why your voice suddenly sounds like Shining Armor’s, before realizing he had beaten you it.
  1240. >You should have expected Shining Armor to say something, but it still catches you by surprise.
  1241. >”We just got the wrong room, that’s all. So if you’ll just get back to work, we’ll be leaving now.”
  1242. >His tone is even icier than last night, when you thought he was about to snap.
  1243. >That was passionate, really – he was worried about his baby sister.
  1244. >This… this is something else.
  1245. >Stern.
  1246. >Professional.
  1247. >Shining Armor isn’t her big brother right now – he’s the captain of the guard and he’s protecting a princess.
  1248. >”Naw, Ah don’t think you get it!” the stallion barks at him. “Ah’m sick n’ tired of all you lazy good-for-nothin’ ponies bustin’ in here like ya’ll own tha place. An Ah’m thinkin’ that maybe if Ah teach sum o’ ya’ll a lesson –“
  1249. >You’re not sure about Equestria’s laws on the use of force, but that doesn’t stop you from thrusting out your arm and clotheslinging the fucker when he darts forward.
  1250. >Your armor plated arm catches his dull-blue neck just below the jawline.
  1251. >Ow.
  1252. >Shit.
  1253. >That arm is going to be fucking sore in the morning.
  1254. >Strike that – it’s fucking sore *now*.
  1255. >But you don’t regret it one bit, even if it does break half-a-dozen pony laws or whatever.
  1256. >It’s not like Twi *needs* your help. Between her magic and her experience fighting gods-only-know how many ancient evils, you know your marefriend can take care of herself – and probably better than you can – but you’re not going to just *stand* there.
  1257. >He falls ungracefully, landing heavily on his back with both wings splayed out.
  1258. >Your mind blanks on a one-liner to spout.
  1259. “Just stay down. We’re leaving.”
  1260. >It’s the best you can manage.
  1261. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see Shining Armor nod approvingly, hopefully at your actions and *not* the one-liner.
  1262. >Maybe you won’t go to ponyjail after all.
  1263. >He backs up out of your peripheral vision, keeping his eyes on the pegasus the whole time.
  1264. >As do you, as you follow his lead.
  1265. >You’ve never seen a pony so…
  1266. >… so…
  1267. >… so bizarrely angry before.
  1268. >This is fucking marshmallow land – shit like this just doesn’t happen.
  1269. >”Ah don’t think you realize who yer buckin’ with!” he croaks, still on his back. “Me n’ mah crew –“
  1270. “No, I think *you* don’t know who you’re messing with –“
  1271. >”A bunch of assholes.”
  1272. >You look up at the new voice.
  1273. >Fuck.
  1274. >His “crew” have come off the stage, advancing in a rippling grey line –
  1275. >Well that’s just fucking weird. You’ve never seen so many ponies with such similar coloring together in one place. Sure, one’s coat is slightly reddish, another is a dusty green, but only barely.
  1276. >Fuck.
  1277. >And fuck boffing!
  1278. >Even if you arm yourself, the only weapon at hand is a fucking foam sword.
  1279. >You left the gun in your room, because what was the godsdamned point of carrying it?
  1280. >Besides trying to feel like a badass, there isn’t one.
  1281. >Wasn’t one.
  1282. >Not here.
  1283. >Not until now.
  1284. >You’re pretty confident in your abilities, but taking on a bunch of ponies with only a foam sword is *not* an ideal –
  1285. >BAMPFH.
  1286. >And now you’re suddenly surrounded by fucking CCG players.
  1287. >Yay teleportation.
  1288. >…
  1289. >Now you *really* wish you had your gun.
  1290. >”Sorry, sorry,” Twilight sputters at your side. “I somehow mixed up the auditoriums!”
  1291. >*That* is what she wants to talk about *now*?
  1292. >Doesn’t really seem important when there are some ponies out there that probably contracted a fucking hate plague or something, because you can’t think of any other reason for what just happened.
  1293. >”It happens,” Shining Armor murmurs distractedly, standing up straight and looking around. “I need to find some staffponies – or guards. Anon?”
  1294. “Yes?”
  1295. >”Take care of her.”
  1296. “Of cour –“
  1297. >”Oh, no you don’t!”
  1298. >Twilight lassos her brother with a strand of magic, bringing him to a halt before he can dash off.
  1299. >”You don’t need to go all overprotective-big-brother on them,” Twilight says unconvincingly. “It’s my fault! Just let it go!”
  1300. >Ah, that’s what this is about – calling the guards on them means admitting she made a mistake.
  1301. >Weird, though. Seems like a petty reason to let it go.
  1302. >”I have a job to do,” Shining Armor growls back. “And if I’m supposed to maintain the peace –“
  1303. >”Just let it go,” your princess begs – begs?
  1304. >She’s definitely begging.
  1305. >Shit, she almost looks like she’s about to cry, though her less than vibrant coat could be blamed on the dim lighting in here – most of the lights are focused on the stage where the games will be played, not on the audience.
  1306. “Twi, let him go. That was some weird shit that just happened.”
  1307. >”I know, sorry!” She sheepishly grins up at you. “I usually know everything. Can you forgive me?”
  1308. >Dammit, she’s not *this* insecure!
  1309. >Why the hell is she blaming herself?
  1310. “You *do* usually know everything.”
  1311. >She smiles sincerely as you run a hand through her mane – the strands catching the light and flashing bright purple as your fingers come free.
  1312. “And right now, you know you need to let Shining Armor do his job, don’t you?”
  1313. >Her head dips, but you just cup your hand under her jaw and gently lift it back up.
  1314. >She resists, but only for a fraction of a second, and when her eyes meet yours they shine brilliantly.
  1315. >”Yeah, I know,” your princess sighs, releasing the magical hold she has on her brother.
  1316. >”Thank *you*,” he grumbles, before dashing off.
  1317. >Twilight watches him push his way through the audience before turning back to you.
  1318. >”Sorry…”
  1319. “Don’t worry about it.”
  1320. >You’re worrying enough for the both of you.
  1321. “We’re here to support Spike, so let’s find the little guy and see how he’s doing.”
  1322. >A distraction would be good right now, for both her and you.
  1323. >Shining Armor is on the case, problem solved, blah blah, yadda yadda, time to get on with the day.
  1324. >”I’m sure his match already started,” she mumbles sadly, but looks around.
  1325. “No, look – the stage is still empty.”
  1326. >He’s got to be around here somewhere.
  1327. >Unfortunately, finding a two-foot dragon in a crowd of much taller ponies isn’t as easy as you’d think – not that you thought it would be all that easy to begin with.
  1328. >Dammit, if this was the other way around, he could probably spot *you* instantly.
  1329. >”Heya, Anon!”
  1330. >Fuck, yeah!
  1331. “Hey there, Spike! Congrats on getting this far!”
  1332. >The little dragon puffs out his chest in pride even as he squeezes between two ponies to get to you.
  1333. >”Well, thanks!” he answers as soon as he gets clear of them. “And – oh, wow, perfect costume for tonight –congrats on Paladin becoming a god!”
  1334. >wat
  1335. >”Dangit, Spike!” a voice calls out from the crowd. “Where’d you run off to?”
  1336. >From the annoyed grunts and angry hisses that follow, whoever it is must be plowing his way through the other ponies.
  1337. >”Oh, right, sorry!” Spike yells back, jumping up and down while waving his arms as if that would somehow help his companion find him. “I found Anon and Twilight!”
  1338. >Okay, that part probably helps.
  1339. >An orange stallion bursts out of the crowd, almost trampling the little dragon.
  1340. “Don’t disappear like that!” Dice Pool snarls at Spike, barely taking note of you or your marefriend. “Celestia sent me with you for a reason!”
  1341. >Spike chuckles nervously and rubs the back of his neck with one clawed hand.
  1342. “So, Paladin’s a god, huh?”
  1343. >”Aaaaand that would be the reason,” your DM sighs heavily. “Dangit Spike!”
  1344. >”Whoops?”
  1345. >The dragon gives a little shrug to back up his question.
  1346. >”*Big* whoops, Spike,” Twilight groans. “You’re just lucky only Anon and I heard.”
  1347. >She sighs and twists her head to face the changeling.
  1348. >”Don’t worry, you can trust us –“ her eyes flicker towards you “ – trust *me* not to take advantage of that knowledge during out game. And Anon –“
  1349. “I make no promises.”
  1350. >” – Anon will play along –“ her eyes turn on you again, harsh and narrow this time “ – IF HE KNOWS WHAT’S GOOD FOR HIM.”
  1351. >Threats?
  1352. >She knows how you respond to threats.
  1353. >”You *don’t* want to spend the next month on the couch, do you?”
  1354. >Um… you respond very obediently in this case.
  1355. >Twilight takes her eyes off you once you nod.
  1356. >”See?” she asks Dice Pool. “No harm done!”
  1357. >He gives Spike another frown before nodding in agreement.
  1358. >”Yeah, it’s not like the hints weren’t there anyway,” he mutters, rolling his head to shake his unruly mane out of his eyes. “The stars disappearing, but growing brighter; paladins abandoning their orders and wearing a new badge…”
  1359. >He gives a slight little shrug.
  1360. >”Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t notice it sooner. Well, I’m surprised *you* didn’t notice it, Twilight.”
  1361. >Cocky little shit.
  1362. >Spike’s head is jerking rapidly between the three of you – this can’t be good for him before a big match. Evidently your marefriend feels the same way, because she gives him a soft nudge with her hoof.
  1363. >”You’d better get on stage, Spike,” she says gently to the dragon. “It looks like things might be about to start.”
  1364. >Not really, but a good enough reason to send him running off.
  1365. “Good luck!”
  1366. >”Thaaaanks!” he yells back, slipping between ponies’ legs towards the stage.
  1367. >Once the Spike is gone, the changeling sighs again, rubbing his forehead with one hoof.
  1368. ”Babysitting, huh?”
  1369. >”It’s not like that,” Dice Pool answers. “Just, for SOME REASON – and I have no clue why – she thought he might talk about things he shouldn’t.”
  1370. “So why not keep him locked up?”
  1371. >Obvious solution is obvious.
  1372. >”And stop him from having fun?”
  1373. >Dice Pool gives you a *very* insulting look, though you suspect he feels *he* was the one being slighted.
  1374. >”You’re feeding, aren’t you?”
  1375. >Twilight’s sudden question catches him flathoofed – he blinks in surprise, then looks away guiltily.
  1376. >”Well, yeah, but… not off *him*. That’s not what this is about.”
  1377. >”Then what *is* it about?”
  1378. >”He… uh… he helped her out,” Dice Pool answers, still avoiding eye contact. “With the campaign, I mean.”
  1379. >Twilight snorts angrily and takes a step forward.
  1380. >”So she’s graciously letting Spike do what he wants because… why?” she asks. “Because she owes him?”
  1381. >”Because – and I’m only guessing here, because somepony like her wouldn’t tell somepony like me anything of the sort – because she thinks of him as a friend.”
  1382. >Funny way of pronouncing meal.
  1383. >Twilight’s head bobs in understanding – as the Princess of Friendship, nopony understands friendship better than her. It’s right there in the title - *nopony* is better at it than her.
  1384. >Except... like… everypony else in Equestria who isn’t a complete and total social outcast.
  1385. >But your princess is trying.
  1386. >That counts for something.
  1387. >”Look out for him, will you?” Twilight asks the changeling with a genuine smile. “Oh, it that one of the griffons talking to him?”
  1388. >Dice Pool spins and gallops away, cursing under his breath the whole time.
  1389. >He doesn’t even take the time to check the stage – sure Spike *is* talking to a griffon, but it’s definitely not one from the Bn’B group. And if even you know that, then there’s no way Twilight could have gotten them mixed up.
  1390. >Almost a year in Equestria and you’re still relying on colors to differentiate between one individual and another, and you’re pretty sure none of the griffons had a white patch on their chest like this one.
  1391. >Pretty sure.
  1392. >Maybe.
  1393. >It’s possible that you *could* be wrong.
  1394. >You don’t have a fucking clue, now that you’ve second-guessed that thought into oblivion.
  1395. >Luckily, a raised eyebrow is all it takes to make Twi explain.
  1396. >”Yeah, I know it’s not one of them,” she admits – YES, YOU WERE RIGHT! FUCK YEAH! “But I…”
  1397. >She looks around suspiciously, letting out her breath in relief when she doesn’t see whatever she was looking for. Or because she *did* see whatever she was looking for.
  1398. >You don’t know.
  1399. >”Just checking for other changelings,” she whispers. “I think it’s safe to talk.”
  1400. >Ah.
  1401. >You nod, as if you had known that all along.
  1402. >”What if… what if *they* caused *it*?”
  1403. “A little vague, Twi.”
  1404. >”I know,” she admits. “I mean, I just don’t know how – brainwashing, maybe? Did Chrysalis brainwash those ponies into trying to attack us?”
  1405. >Oh, right. Seems possible.
  1406. “Us? Or you?”
  1407. >They did seem to be focusing on her for some reason.
  1408. >”Oh, right…” Twilight agrees blankly. “Maybe… maybe Chrysalis is trying to eliminate me because I’m a threat…”
  1409. “And I’m not?”
  1410. >She smiles at you and pats your thigh.
  1411. >”Well…”
  1412. “Fucking power armor! I have a suit of fucking power armor!”
  1413. >”True,” Twilight grudgingly admits, “but not *quite* the same…”
  1414. “Power. Armor.”
  1415. >”You would have to kill them all one-by-one.”
  1416. “Oh, right. Nevermind. Sounds boring.”
  1417. >Your princess giggles briefly before continuing.
  1418. >”But I just don’t get *why* she would make a move *now*,” she sighs. “Why not earlier? Why not when I was alone with just you –“
  1419. “Because I’m a badass.”
  1420. >”Well, yeah, obviously. But with Shiny there, too, whatever she was planning just didn’t have a chance.”
  1421. “Didn’t anyway.”
  1422. >”And she seemed pretty intent on the game when I talked with her back at the castle, after you –“
  1423. >You can see the lightbulb turn on over her head.
  1424. >It’s not there – you know it’s not real – but you can see it anyway.
  1425. >”Oh, maybe it’s because you slapped her, but then why wouldn’t she go after *you*?”
  1426. “Because I’m a badass?”
  1427. >”I think we’ve already accepted that assumption,” Twilight smirks, though you can tell her patience is running thin. “Well, if it wasn’t her, then who? It’s not Discord’s style at all, Tirek is locked away, and I just can’t believe that a bunch of ponies would suddenly decide that attacking a princess is a good idea!”
  1428. >You’re drawing a blank – maybe if you’d listened a little more closely when Twi tried to teach you about recent Equestrian history – or ancient history – or anything, really –then *maybe* you could have at least thrown a name out.
  1429. >As it is, you’re forced to bluff.
  1430. “Except –“
  1431. >”Except they *didn’t* know I was a princess!” Twilight gasps. “Of course! Even if Chrysalis *had* brainwashed them, they wouldn’t have known who to attack!”
  1432. >Assuming the princess’ spell is still in effect.
  1433. >But since nopony else seems to have recognized her, it seems likely enough.
  1434. >”Maybe they were just having a bad day,” Twilight sighs, slumping against your leg. “Nothing else really makes sense.”
  1435. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
  1436. >Twilight shakes her head and sighs.
  1437. >”Thanks, Anon.”
  1438. “For?”
  1439. >For being a badass, of course.
  1440. >”Because you’re such a  great sounding board when you don’t have a clue what’s going on,” your princess giggles. “So silent and stoic.”
  1441. >Fuck… yeah…?
  1442. >”When you aren’t being a smartass, I mean.”
  1443. >Eh.
  1444. “Well, whatever’s going on, your brother will take care of it.”
  1445. >Distraction!
  1446. >”Mhm!”
  1447. “So, it looks like they’re about to start…”
  1448. >You wave a hand towards the stage.
  1449. >It really doesn’t, but you’d like to get out of here before the temptation to commit genocide becomes overwhelming.
  1450. >”Uh-huh, really?” Twilight responds with a smirk. “We should *probably* stay until Spike’s match starts. We can’t really slip away…”
  1451. “Why not?”
  1452. >Her eyes roam up and down your body until you finally get it.
  1453. “Right, yeah, too tall, easily spotted, curse my manliness and so forth.”
  1454. >You’re stuck here for who knows how long.
  1455. >You keep your eyes focused on stage, trying to ignore the filth of ponykind surrounding you.
  1456. >It’s possible – just barely possible – that you’re growling under your breath.
  1457. >”Stop that!” Twilight grunts, giving you a light shove.
  1458. >You upgrade that growling from possible to probable.
  1459. “I’ll try.”
  1460. >“Just what do you have against card games?”
  1461. “Too competitive.”
  1462. >She looks at you like you’re insane.
  1463. >You probably are, but she could at least pretend.
  1464. >”You’re pretty competitive yourself, you know…”
  1465. “And I can be worse. You don’t want to see me playing one of those games.”
  1466. >Her mouth curls downward into a half-frown.
  1467. >”Yeah, you’re right,” she sighs. “I don’t.”
  1468. >She shudders violently.
  1469. >”In fact, never – EVER – touch a deck of cards again.”
  1470. “Even Munchkin?”
  1471. >”Even solitaire.”
  1472. >Harsh.
  1473. >Twilight stares off into the distance for a few seconds before snickering loudly.
  1474. >Is she seriously laughing at her own joke?
  1475. >”You know what I think?” she asks, looking up at you askance out of the corner of her eye.
  1476. “That I’m pretty awesome?”
  1477. >”*I* think you just don’t like it when you aren’t the biggest jerk in the room.”
  1478. >Maybe.
  1479. >But you’ll never admit it.
  1480. “Bullshit.”
  1481. >”Oh?”
  1482. “I hang out with Dash all the time.”
  1483. >”Ah. Point taken.”
  1484. >Point taken and FORTIFIED.
  1485. >Twilight thumps her shoulder against your thigh and stays there, the constant pressure comforting to both you and her. It’s several minutes before she speaks again.
  1486. >”You’re not a jerk, you know.”
  1487. >You kinda are.
  1488. “I know.”
  1489. >Another long pause.
  1490. >”Sometimes you *act* like one, but you really aren’t.”
  1491. >You really are.
  1492. “Yeah, sorry.”
  1493. >Surprisingly, you are.
  1494. >Twi deserves to be happy.
  1495. >”Don’t be.”
  1496.  
  1497. >The matches start only a half-hour late – pretty damned good compared to most tournaments.
  1498. >As soon as Spike sits down, Twi is herding you out the doors.
  1499. “We should be back soon, right? In case he gets knocked out, I mean.”
  1500. >A shake of your marefriend’s head says otherwise.
  1501. >”No, he can get…”
  1502. >She groans, at a total loss for words.
  1503. >It’s another five paces before they come to her.
  1504. >”It’s Spike time,” she explains. “Even when I’ve tried to help him with his decks, it’s something he wants to do on his own.”
  1505. “To prove to you that he’s not completely worthless?”
  1506. >You know that feeling well.
  1507. >”Or to himself,” she corrects.
  1508. >Also a familiar feeling.
  1509. “Still –“
  1510. >”Or maybe he’s just ashamed to be seen with me,” Twilight snorts. “Maybe he wants everypony to think of him as a big, strong, independent dragon and not just my assistant.”
  1511. >She sighs loudly and veers into you.
  1512. >It’s hard to walk with Twilight pressed up against your leg like this – and it can’t be any easier for her – but it’s certainly a better option than trying to hold her hoof. You could pick your princess up and carry her like you do Ponks, but it lacks… something. It’s not that you mind carrying your friend, but you aren’t exactly equals in that setup.
  1513. >At least this is making it equally hard for both you and Twi to walk.
  1514. >You don’t press the issue about returning for Spike. While it seems wrong to not be there if he wins (or loses), you *really* don’t want to be. Besides, what Twi said makes a certain amount of sense. Spike didn’t tell you about making it to the finals or semi-finals, so maybe he doesn’t actually want you there.
  1515. >Low self-esteem does the rest, convincing you that the little guy is actually better off without your support.
  1516. >Twi’s sudden left catches you by surprise and you almost trip over her.
  1517. >If it had been anypony smaller, you probably would have.
  1518. >”Vendor room, right?” she asks you with one raised eyebrow. “Because it’s this way.”
  1519. “Right, sorry, lost my way.”
  1520. >Teleportation has that effect – when you’re suddenly popped into a place you’ve never been before, how the hell could you possibly know how to get back?
  1521. >At least your marefriend seems to know where she’s going.
  1522. >Then again, she did earlier, too, and that went splendidly.
  1523. >Evidence seems to be on her side, though, as you being to recognize parts of the con, or think you recognize them.
  1524. >You don’t get much further down that chain of thought before you see the familiar useless staff standing around a pair of double doors.
  1525. >”Let’s start at the back this time!” your princess suggests excitedly. “I know we didn’t actually get to see much of this half, but –“
  1526. “But we saw some of it, and who knows when some fun little emergency will pull us away.”
  1527. >”Mhm!”
  1528. >That unanimous decision doesn’t stop her (or you) from pausing to look at various booths as you make your way towards the back of the room, but nothing too in-depth. You can tell she’s mostly giving them a quick examination to see if she should return later, though a couple items seem to be must-haves and she immediately snatches them up without looking over the rest of the table.
  1529. >The little distractions and detours don’t take more than a few minutes in all, possibly because the booths are so bare compared to the first day.
  1530. >Not only is there less merchandise to look at, it’s much easier to see. No digging through heaping bins of random games to see if there’s a treasure somewhere inside. One the one hand, it makes this little shopping trip much easier. On the other, the hunt is always part of the fun.
  1531. >The further back you go in the room, the odder and odder the remaining merchandise becomes.
  1532. >Self-published splat books, out-of-print boardgames that are out-of-print for a reason, cosplay accessories and “energy drinks” sold by ponies that make Zecora look like a licensed medical professional.
  1533. “Is any of this stuff even worth buying?”
  1534. >”You never know what you’ll find unless you look,” Twilight answers, her head twisting in all directions as she tries to take it all in.
  1535. “Or who you’ll bump into.”
  1536. >You almost laugh at Twilight’s confused expression.
  1537. “To your right.”
  1538. >”It’s just a bunch of third party sourcebooks, Anon.”
  1539. >She doesn’t even look.
  1540. >”A couple might be interesting, but…” she gives a slight shrug. “I think we should check out some of the other booths first.”
  1541. >Doh. Your little princess is looking at *things*, not *ponies*.
  1542. “Turn right…”
  1543. >Eyebrow raised in curiosity and/or confusion, Twilight turns her body to the right, but keeps her eyes locked squarely on you.
  1544. >Eyes that are demanding an answer.
  1545. “Wait, let me rephrase - *look* to your right. Well to the direction that *was* to your right.”
  1546. >She does, her eyes roaming all over the tables and displays.
  1547. >”Uh-huh…”
  1548. >Twilight squints, her eyes finally locking on what you noticed – a bright rainbow tail snaking out from under a red cape.
  1549. >”Oh! Hi, Dash!”
  1550. >The tail thrashes briefly and disappears beneath the clothing, accompanied by the sound of your closest friend trying to turn the air blue.
  1551. >”When did you get here!?”
  1552. >Twi thinks she overlooked Aredee because the pegasus just arrived?
  1553. >Wow.
  1554. >First your princess leads you to the wrong auditorium, and now this?
  1555. >Might be time to start worrying.
  1556. >Would be, if you didn’t have so much faith in her.
  1557. >”I… uh…” the pegasus stutters, still looking away. Her costume – and where the hell *did* she get this new costume? – covers most of her, but there’s no mistaking that rainbow mane and tail, or the voice. “I’m not Rainbow Dash! I’m… uh… Rain…bow… Dash?”
  1558. “No, you’re a dumbass.”
  1559. >You snatch the hat off her head, revealing a very embarrassed and VERY Dash-like NotDash.
  1560. “Seriously couldn’t come up with anything besides your own name?”
  1561. >You lean over, looking at the book she’s holding in her hooves.
  1562. “Couldn’t even borrow the author’s name?”
  1563. >”Oh!?” Twilight darts forward, pulling the book from her friend’s hooves. Despite showing absolutely no interest only seconds before, now that one of her friends is interested…
  1564. >Actually, that’s not a bad thing for a DM.
  1565. >She probably should know what book Dash is looking at, so she can try to counter whatever brokenass crap is in there.
  1566. >Or on the off-chance that it’s not total shit, get a copy for herself.
  1567. >”You’re looking at a book for running human characters?” Twilight asks after a quick glance at the cover. “Why? Aren’t you always telling us that humans are boring?”
  1568. >”Well, yeaaaaah, but… look!”
  1569. >Dash grabs the book back and flips through the pages.
  1570. >And then back.
  1571. >And then forward again.
  1572. >And eventually finds the right place.
  1573. >”Look!” she repeats, holding out the book to your marefriend. “There are Pegasus Humans!”
  1574. >Still holding the book out, your friend turns to look accusingly at you.
  1575. >”You never told me there are Pegasus Humans,” Aredee complains. “Ugh, why does everything focus on boring Earth Humans!?”
  1576. “Um…”
  1577. >You scoot to one side, looking at the book over Twilight’s shoulder.
  1578. “Those are supposed to be angels, I think.”
  1579. >”NOOOOOoooooooooooo, it says *right there*,” Dash whines, jabbing at the page with her hoof. “Pegasus Human!”
  1580. “We’ve been over this before, Dash –“
  1581. >Frequently enough that you’re tempted to smack her and see if it sticks this time.
  1582. “– there’s only one kind of human!”
  1583. >Basically.
  1584. >They don’t need to know the details.
  1585. “There’s no such thing as Pegasus Humans or Unicorn Humans or any of that!”
  1586. >”Nuh-uh!” Aredee argues – if that can even be called arguing. Just a childish whine, really. “Of course there are! It says so right in the book!”
  1587. >She waves her hoof at the page again, as if that will somehow make it all true.
  1588. >Godsdammit.
  1589. “Twi, think you can talk any sense into her?”
  1590. >Your little princess screws up her face.
  1591. >”I… uh… well –“
  1592. >Yeah, you expected that.
  1593. >Your marefriend knows it’s impossible to correct Dash once she’s gotten something set in her mind.
  1594. >”Well…” she gives you a pitying look, “… it *is* in the book…”
  1595. “Fucking seriously?”
  1596. >”HECK YEAH!” the pegasus shouts in victory, jumping up into the air and thrusting a forehoof skyward. “Face it, Anon – you’re wrong!”
  1597. >You really doubt that.
  1598. >”Aww, don’t feel so bad,” she mocks, flittering over to pat your shoulder. “You probably just forgot about the Pegasus Humans, along with your name and everything else.”
  1599. >If she wasn’t your friend, you’d be tempted to swat her out of the air.
  1600. >Wait, why *is* she your friend?
  1601. >Huh.
  1602. >You raise your hand slowly, trying to not spook her.
  1603. >It would be a shame if she dodged your swing.
  1604. >”Oh. Interesting.”
  1605. >You both freeze at the sound, waiting for Twilight to continue.
  1606. >She’s examining the cover of the book intently.
  1607. “Yes…?”
  1608. >Twi doesn’t answer immediately – instead, she flips open the book again to look over the title page.
  1609. >”Huh.”
  1610. >Dash spins around in midair to glare impatiently at your princess – smacking you in the face with her tail as she does so.
  1611. >”Well!?”
  1612. >Friend or not, you’re going to tear off her wings.
  1613. >”This book is *really* informative,” Twilight answers slowly, magically flipping through a few more pages.
  1614. >”Well, *yeah.*”
  1615. >”I mean, wow. If I hadn’t seen this…” she pauses, bringing to book up closer to her face, practically burying her muzzle in it “… I *never* would have realized –“
  1616. >There’s no way she actually believes anything in there.
  1617. >She just can’t.
  1618. >” – that anypony could actually be so gullible!” Twilight laughs, dropping the book back onto the table. “It’s just all so ludicrous!”
  1619. >”But it’s in the book!” Dash whines again.
  1620. >Tongue first, *then* you’ll rip off her wings.
  1621. >That way, you won’t have to listen to her idiocy.
  1622. >”The book is full of shit,” Twilight smirks back. “Even if Anon doesn’t remember anything, I’ve been living with him, remember? I’m pretty sure I would know if… um… one sec…”
  1623. >She giggles nervously as she opens the book back up, searching for a particular passage.
  1624. >”Yeah. I’m fairly certain Anon isn’t deathly afraid of iron, nor does he burst into flames when exposed to sunlight.”
  1625. >You’d probably remember that, too.
  1626. >”WELL MAYBE HE JUST DOES IT WHEN YOU’RE NOT AROUND!”
  1627. >”Yes, Dash,” Twilight answers flatly. “Anon burns to death every time I’m not looking at him.”
  1628. >She pauses, as if suddenly struck by an epiphany.
  1629. >”Though… that might explain why he’s so antagonistic towards Princess Celestia…”
  1630. “Or maybe she’s just a bitch sometimes.”
  1631. >Twilight’s eyes flare open wide, shimmering in the harsh light of the vendor room.
  1632. >”Sometimes?” she gasps. “You said sometimes! That means you don’t *always* feel that way! Are you two becoming friends again!?”
  1633. “No.”
  1634. >Definitely not.
  1635. >No way.
  1636. >Fuck.
  1637. “She’s not such a gigantic cunt when she’s pretending to… you know… uh…”
  1638. >Dash doesn’t know about the whole Princess Shell Game, does she?
  1639. >Thankfully, Twilight understands what you were getting at and nods.
  1640. >”Feel free to tell yourself that,” she smiles at you. “But even Dash knows it’s a lie.”
  1641. >”What does *that* mean?” the pegasus snarls back. “I’m smart!”
  1642. >Twilight looks in the book again before responding.
  1643. >”Yes,” she grunts after a second of searching. “Very smart. Smart enough to believe humans will be bound to your will if you know their true na... uh… Anon can eat garlic! He always gets that on pizza!”
  1644. >”What was that first part?” Dash asks suspiciously with narrowed eyes.
  1645. >”Anon can eat garlic…?"
  1646. >”No, no, befoooore that.”
  1647. >The pegasus waves a hoof around.
  1648. >”Well, it’s a supplement for a fictional game,” Twi huffs. “An *unofficial* supplement. You can’t actually believe any of it is accurate.”
  1649. >Rainbow Dash huffs back, crossing her forelegs and rolling her eyes.
  1650. >”Of course I don’t,” she snarls, “but it’s not like there’s a ton of options for running a human character outside of the third-party stuff.“
  1651. >True enough. You’ve run into a few problems in the past trying to roll up humans, which is why most of your power builds are ponies or griffons instead.
  1652. >”You could always write one yourself,” Twilight suggests – but you have no clue why. Rainbow Dash? Write? She doesn’t even know how.
  1653. >”And it would be any better?” Dash sneers back. “Not everypony gets their own personal human to play with – I mean, you’re the only pony who even knows what parts the book got wrong wrong, so unless you want to share –“
  1654. “No, no sharing. I’m good with no sharing.”
  1655. >”- then I guess *you* have to write one, Twilight,” the pegasus finishes. “And since I know you’re too busy –“
  1656. >She drops back to the floor and reaches for the book.
  1657. >Twilight’s mouth opens – she wants to accept the challenge – but she knows her friend is right. There’s just no way; she barely has time enough to play. Certainly not enough to write a new source book.
  1658. >You could, though.
  1659. >Maybe.
  1660. >Might be better to just ask Celestia to do it.
  1661. >It *is* her setting after all.
  1662. >She probably won’t though.
  1663. >That bitch.
  1664. >”Why the sudden interest in humans…?” your princess asks. “You’ve always complained about them before – and not just in the game, either.”
  1665. >It catches both you and Dash by surprise. The pegasus didn’t think anypony would actually notice her interest, and you thought the reason why was too obvious for anypony to overlook.
  1666. >Boobs.
  1667. >If you had to guess – and you don’t – you’d say it was boobs.
  1668. >”I… uh… I just am, okay? I mean, that thing we watched was *kinda* cool, so I just thought…”
  1669. >Aredee drifts off, embarrassment doing what nothing else in this world or the next could do – shut her up.
  1670. >”Yeah, that *was* fun,” Twilight agrees obliviously. “I really wouldn’t mind making movie night a regular thing. Or, semi-regular. Too bad it’ll be pretty much impossible to find more human films. Sure, Pinkie Pie can, but…”
  1671. >Your princess shrugs, as if to say there’s nothing a *normal* pony can do.
  1672. >Even an alicorn.
  1673. “Well, actually…”
  1674. >If she wants more, you can show her where more are.
  1675. >But should you?
  1676. >Fuck it.
  1677. >You said you’d be back for that book.
  1678. “Twi, Dash – if you’ll follow me…”
  1679. >"But..." your princess whines softly, looking around the room quickly, "... nevermind, we can come back later."
  1680. >Or you could show her the other room after thism but Dash is already rocketing up into the air and yelling at the top of her lungs before you can offer.
  1681. >"IS THERE A MORE AWESOME BOOTH!? I DON'T SEE ANYTHING!"
  1682. >Godsdammit.
  1683. "It's not here, dumbass"
  1684. >"THEN WHERE!?"
  1685. >Even screamed at full volume, it doesn't hit you half as hard as your princess' whisper.
  1686. >"Did you find a way back after all...?"
  1687. "What!? No!"
  1688. >"IT HAS TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE, WHATEVER IT IS! BECAUSE EVERY OTHER BOOTH IN HERE SUCKS!"
  1689. "SHUT UP YOU FUCKING TWAT!"
  1690. >She doesn't, but the con staff have finally noticed her.
  1691. >Sure, they're mostly (totally) ineffectual - they don't care if you forget your badge, scream, carry live weapons, sacrifice foals to your dark gods, whatever. They don't care.
  1692. >But *fly*?
  1693. >Inside?
  1694. >That's a safety hazard.
  1695. >You leave them to deal with your friend and cheerfully ignore everything she says.
  1696. "I didn't find a way home, Twi. I'm not looking for one."
  1697. >"I know," she sighs, her lips trembling. "But..."
  1698. "R-"
  1699. >She doesn't need to know who showed you the room.
  1700. "Somepony showed me another vendor room. One with things from my world - or one close enough, anyway."
  1701. >"Oh."
  1702. "If you wanted to look for some more movies or anime, we could -"
  1703. >"Sure."
  1704. >She answers too quickly, her smile too wide.
  1705. "Honestly, Twi. It's just a room with stuff for sale. Nothing to be worried about."
  1706. >She spins away from the booth, her tail swishing angrily under her red cape.
  1707. >"Then why didn't you tell me about it yesterday?" your princess asks. "You wouldn't have hidden it from me without a reason!"
  1708. >Fuck. So much happened. Yesterday -
  1709. "Yesterday was a crazy day."
  1710. >"I - I know."
  1711. >Hell, she was the one that said it first.
  1712. "But you're still worried."
  1713. >"Of course I am," Twilight mumbles. "I'm worried that those dreams - that they might be from the future."
  1714. "You said as much during breakfast, but it didn't seem to bother you then."
  1715. >Or more accurately, she hid it better.
  1716. >Not well enough that you didn't know, but better than she is now.
  1717. >"It doesn't."
  1718. >Lie.
  1719. >She knows she can't lie to you, so why is she even trying?
  1720. >"I mean, you promised, so why would I have anything to worry about?"
  1721. >Maybe because she's not lying to you.
  1722. >Maybe she's lying to herself.
  1723. >You can pressure her all you want, but it’s not going to make her open up to you. Not here, not now.
  1724. “Well, nothing from that room was in my dreams, so it should be safe enough for us to do a little shopping.”
  1725. >Twilight doesn’t quite nod, but she doesn’t protest.
  1726. “Shall we…?”
  1727. >You gesture back towards the door.
  1728. “Or would you prefer to wait and check out everything here first?”
  1729. >”No, we can go,” she mumbles half-heartedly. “Maybe we can find something cute to watch tonight. And something to watch it *with*.”
  1730. “That part shouldn’t be a problem.”
  1731. >Tia has to have a DVD player around here somewhere.
  1732. >You expect Twilight to question you, to ask why it wouldn’t be a problem or what other secrets you’ve been hiding from her, but she just sighs.
  1733. >”Sorry. I know you’re trying – no, you *are* doing something nice, but I just…”
  1734. >Another sigh.
  1735. >”Sorry,” she repeats. “I don’t know why, but I just can’t feel excited. I should, but –“
  1736. >You understand the feeling.
  1737. “Better than my reaction.”
  1738. >Twilight’s head snaps up.
  1739. >”What.”
  1740. “I wanted to kill somepony.”
  1741. >”WHY!?”
  1742. “Because…”
  1743. >Why had it made you *that* angry?
  1744. >Some amount of rage would have been justified, but wanting to kick Rarity to death?
  1745. >That’s a little far.
  1746. >A little too much.
  1747. “… Equestria has a black market for human goods that had been hidden from me for about a year, and that hurt.”
  1748. >”Then –“
  1749. “Because you said you wanted to make movie night a regular thing, Twi. I just thought… maybe…”
  1750. >You shrug for her benefit. Certainly not for yours – you already know you’ve run out of words.
  1751. “I don’t want to hide anything from you, but if you don’t want to go –“
  1752. >”No, we should.”
  1753. >You wait, expecting her to waver, but she doesn’t.
  1754. >Twilight has made up her mind, and now your course is set.
  1755. >”Worrying won’t solve anything,” she says adamantly. “We should go.”
  1756. >Her smile is more genuine now. Slightly sad, but real.
  1757. >You turn to lead her away, but she calls out.
  1758. >”Wait… oh, I’m going to regret this…”
  1759. “Really, Twi, we don’t have to go.”
  1760. >”No, I just… we should get this book for Dash.”
  1761.  
  1762. >Aredee is waiting for you outside the vendor room doors, a staffpony keeping a careful eye on her.
  1763. >Her wings flutter excitedly as Twilight shoves the stupid splat into her hooves.
  1764. >”It’s just so wrong,” your princess mumbles, “I figure it’s good for a laugh.”
  1765. >Big mistake.
  1766. >Dash keeps trying to read it as you lead them to the human room – not an easy thing for any pony to do while walking, and damn near impossible if that pony isn’t a unicorn. Twi eventually resorts to floating the book for her friend, dangling it in front of her like a carrot before the… uh… pony.
  1767. >The pegasus is so involved in the book’s lies and bullshit that Twi could probably float it over a cliff’s edge and Dash would simply follow.
  1768. >That would probably have more of an impact if she couldn’t fly.
  1769. >Your memory of the con’s layout isn’t quite up there with your princess’ – you manage to find the right room on your fourth try.
  1770. >Maybe you should start paying a little more attention to things.
  1771. >You hesitate at the door – is it the right color? You’re pretty sure that this is the right room, but you were pretty sure about room number two, and relatively certain about room number one.
  1772. >Room three was a random door you picked on the off chance you’d get lucky.
  1773. >You didn’t, though Twi had a good laugh about the janitor closet you’d just discovered.
  1774.  
  1775.  
  1776. >Oh well, if this isn’t it, you’ll definitely find it on the fifth try.
  1777. >Because you’ll ask for directions.
  1778. >The door swings open at your touch – aaaaaaaand yes, this is it!
  1779. >Fuck yeah!
  1780. >AND DOUBLE FUCK YEAH!
  1781. >The tables seem just as well stocked as they had yesterday, unlike the “real” vendor room.
  1782. >Selection seems to have changed a bit, though, but from what Celestia had told you, that isn’t surprising.
  1783. >A decent number of transactions are probably trades.
  1784. “Right through here, ladies.”
  1785. >You sweep your arms towards the open door, your heart tingling slightly as Twilight gasps in amazement.
  1786. >That better be because of all the awesome in that room, not because you *finally* found the right place.
  1787. >”Where do we start?” she asks timidly. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
  1788. “Neither do I.”
  1789. >Except –“
  1790. “Still have that book?”
  1791. >The salespony from yesterday looks up in… fear? Pride? Joy?
  1792. >”A book?” Twilight asks quietly.
  1793. >”Quiet, trying to read,” Dash grumbles. “Just tell me when we get there.”
  1794. >Your princess is a creature of remarkable patience – she doesn’t use Dash’s own book to smack her even once.
  1795. >Not.
  1796. >Even.
  1797. >Once.
  1798. >You’re kinda disappointed in her.
  1799. >”Yeah, of course,” the salespony answers you, bending down to grab the book from somewhere behind the table.
  1800. >”What book?” your princess asks.
  1801. >You step forward and pull it from the pony’s mouth, showing the cover to Twilight.
  1802. >”The Lost and the Damned?” she reads off, with a slight – and fleeting – frown. “What am I going to do with you, Anon?”
  1803. “What? What’s wrong with it?”
  1804. >”Just seems dark,” she sighs, “that’s all. Would it kill you to actually like something cheerful?”
  1805. “Maybe. If you *really* want to risk my life, we can try some experiments, but I’m not feeling particularly hopeful.”
  1806. >Twilight groans and pushes you aside.
  1807. >”How much?” she asks the other pony. “I would hate for my coltfriend to die because he didn’t get his daily dose of depressing.”
  1808. >”Nothing,” the salespony answers. “Nopony will touch it now. Not now that *he* has.”
  1809. >Twilight raises an eyebrow – not at the other pony, but at you.
  1810. >”What did you do?” she demands. “No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”
  1811. >Her mouth is a clenched line – undoubtedly, she remembers what you said, that you were furious enough to kill.
  1812. >She looks more scared than angry, though.
  1813. >That may or may not be a good thing.”
  1814. >”Really, let me pay you for this,” your princess insists, though she doesn’t take her eyes off you. “How much?”
  1815. >”Nothing!” the salespony insists, shaking her head vigorously. “I sold way more than I expected to, thanks to him!”
  1816. >Huh?
  1817. >”A *real* human was at my booth!” she explains without any prompting. “Of course everypony would want to buy from me!”
  1818. >Creepy.
  1819. >Despite the other mare’s protests, Twilight pushes a disturbingly large number of bits in her direction.
  1820. >”What’s this book about?” your marefriend mumbles to herself, cracking it open and flipping through the pages. “Oh.”
  1821. “Yeah, it’s Warhammer stuff.”
  1822. >She flips through a few more pages – the rules are radically different than any edition you’d ever tried to explain to her, but she seems to get the gist of it quickly.
  1823. >She’s Twilight Sparkle, after all.
  1824. >”So… your character…”
  1825. “Mhm?”
  1826. >”Death is basically the ‘good’ ending, isn’t it?” she asks, still nose-deep in the book. “Because otherwise, he becomes either a daemon or a spawn. If I’m reading this right, I mean.”
  1827.  “I’d prefer daemonhood, but yeah, basically you’re right.”
  1828. >She sighs loudly and floats the book into your waiting hands.
  1829. >”You really do like depressing things, don’t you?”
  1830. >”Don’t bitch about that,” Rainbow Dash mumbles from behind her horribly inaccurate sourcebook.
  1831. >"Why not!?"
  1832. >“Because it’s why he’s dating you.”
  1833. >The book Dash is reading snaps shut with a bang, right on the mare’s muzzle.
  1834. >Twilight’s magical aura has it clamped so tight around the pegasus’ mouth that the her panicked screeching is nothing more than a muffled yelp.
  1835. >You love your marefriend.
  1836. >”I *really* doubt that,” Twilight sighs, rolling her eyes at her friend. “Why would he even…”
  1837. >She stops mid-sentence, eyes flicking over towards the book in your hands then up to your face.
  1838. >Her gaze lingers there for a minute before drifting away with a sigh.
  1839. >”Is that –“
  1840. “Complete bullshit? Absolutely, Twi.”
  1841. >”But everything you like is sad or depressing or –“
  1842. “Not everything.”
  1843. >”Close enough,” she murmurs, head slumping. “Even the things you think are happy are actually sad, like –“
  1844. “Gurren Lagann?”
  1845. >Your princess nods slowly.
  1846. >”I still don’t understand how you can possibly think that was a happy ending,” she says after a few seconds of silence. “Even the characters *were* happy – even if they *did* expect it – it was still sad! They were able to spend some time together, but all Simon was left with were memories.”
  1847. “Would it have been a happier ending if he had lost those, too?”
  1848. >”NO!” she all-but screams. “No!”
  1849. >Twilight shivers slightly, the thought of that chilling her soul.
  1850. >”I don’t even want to *imagine* that.”
  1851. >Neither do you, but it happened anyway.
  1852. >It’s your own special talent – the ability to think horrible things.
  1853. >Worst talent ever.
  1854. >But helpful, at times.
  1855. >You know the worst thing you can do is just stand there, so you reach over and pull Twi close to you.
  1856. >With her head resting against your abdomen, you gently stroke your hand over her shoulder.
  1857. >Over and over.
  1858. >You know the worst thing you can do is keep silent, to let her think horrible thoughts of her own.
  1859. “Do you know why I am dating you?”
  1860. >She doesn’t answer.
  1861. >Maybe she doesn’t actually know.
  1862. >Maybe she’s thinking that Dash is right, and the more depressed she is, the more you will love her.
  1863. >Silly pony.
  1864. “It’s because you make me happy, Twi.”
  1865. >”Then why aren’t you dating Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash?” she mumbles into your hip.
  1866. >As if you ever could.
  1867. >Does Ponka even know what a relationship is?
  1868. >She definitely doesn’t know about sex.
  1869. >Not as far as your sanity is concerned, regardless of the reality of the situation.
  1870. >And Aredee…
  1871. “They’re my friends.”
  1872. >A part of your soul withers and dies at admitting that Dash is your friend.
  1873. “I have fun with them and they have fun with me, but they don’t make me happy. Not the way you do. They don’t need me –”
  1874. >”So you’re only dating me because I’m so pathetic?” your princess whimpers. “Because I *need* you?”
  1875. >Dammit.
  1876. >”Because I *need* you to make me happy?”
  1877. “You’re putting the emphasis in the wrong place, Twi…”
  1878. >She looks up at you with wet eyes – she’s not quite crying, but close.
  1879. “Because you need *me*. Because it’s *me*. And I’m happy because of *you*. That’s the important part – not the need or even the outcome, but that it’s *us*. I can have fun with Dash or Ponks or Cheerilee, but it’s not the same. They aren’t *you*.”
  1880. >Twilight smiles slightly, though you’re not sure she’s convinced.
  1881. >Maybe just the fact that you’re trying to cheer her up is enough to do the job, even if what you’re saying isn’t.
  1882. >”You love me because you make me happy?”
  1883. “Yes.”
  1884. >”So if I said I wasn’t happy with you –“
  1885. “I’d know it was a lie.”
  1886. >She snorts in amusement.
  1887. >”Dash is full of shit.”
  1888. “She always is.”
  1889. >You glance over in the pegasus’ direction.
  1890. >Shit.
  1891. “She’s… um… she’s turning blue.”
  1892. >”Dash *is* blue,” Twilight mumbles, nuzzling your side lightly. “Seriously, how could you have forgotten th-“
  1893. “No, I mean it. She can’t breathe.”
  1894. >With the book clamped around her muzzle as it is, both her nose and mouth are sealed dangerously shut.
  1895. “Serves her right,” your princess answers, but the magenta glow disappears from the splatbook and it falls to the ground.
  1896. >Her eyes still wide with panic, Dash gasps in air like… well, there’s no “like.” She was suffocating, and now she’s not – of course she’s gasping for breath.
  1897. >”ASSHOLE,” she growls insistently, once she can.
  1898. >”Yes, you are,” Twilight coos back. “But that’s okay. I forgive you.”
  1899. >”No, you twat! I mean –“
  1900. >Dash’s face twitches. Worriedly, you look around for any other magically glowing objects to see what your princess is threatening her with now, but find nothing.
  1901. >”Yeah, okay,” your friend grumbles. “*Maybe* I deserved that.”
  1902. >Huh.
  1903. >So that expression was a rare moment of introspection for the pegasus?
  1904. >You can’t quite believe that, but one way or another it seems to be true.
  1905. >Even if it was only her realizing that pissing off Twi isn’t the best idea, that’s still more thought than she puts into most of what she says.
  1906. >You run your hand through Twi’s mane, a gesture that you suspect brings more comfort to you than her, though she does lean into it.
  1907. “Should we look around and see if there’s anything you want?”
  1908. >”Yeah,” your princess sighs. “That would be nice.”
  1909. >As she pulls away slightly, you raise your eyes to check out the room. You were hoping to find a booth or two that stood out, but the first thing to catch your attention is a teal unicorn staring at you in total disgust.
  1910. “Something wrong?”
  1911. >Quite a few things, really. You did just have a weepy moment in public with your marefriend and she nearly killed one of her friends, if only by accident.
  1912. >Hopefully by accident.
  1913. >”Yeah,” the unicorn snaps back. “The costume is awesome and everything, but you can’t stay in character at all.”
  1914. >His lips curl into a disgusted sneer.
  1915. “Uh, I’m not –“
  1916. >”Don’t even bother if you can’t do it right! I am so sick and tired of everypony playing humans as noble, misunderstood barbarians!”
  1917. >Fucker is trolling you.
  1918. >He’s gotta be.
  1919. >Even if he thinks you are really a pony, he’s obviously trying to provoke a fight.
  1920. >Why couldn’t this have happened yesterday?
  1921. >Twi just sighs and shakes her head at the stallion’s actions.
  1922. >”How about that one, Anon?” she asks, pointing at a booth with the TV.
  1923. >You recognize what it’s playing today, though the name escapes you. Some harem anime with chainsaws and vampires and flying whales.
  1924. “Yeah, looks good.”
  1925. >The stallion tries to follow, tries to provoke you, but you ignore him.
  1926. >His ramblings don’t last long, anyway. One hushed whisper from a salespony and he suddenly stops talking.
  1927. >When you look back over your shoulder, he’s gone.
  1928. >The pony behind the table meets your look and smiles.
  1929. >”I guess he couldn’t handle meeting the real thing,” she explains. “Something about liking his internal organs on the inside.”
  1930. >Makes just enough sense that you nod in thanks.
  1931. >Enough ponies have reacted to you with fear that it’s not overly surprising, though the salespony’s acceptance is. Welcome, but still surprising.
  1932. >”Anything in particular you or your lucky marefriend are looking for?”
  1933. >Twilight stops suddenly, turning her head away from the other mare to snicker quietly.
  1934. “I don’t think so. We’re just looking.”
  1935. >”Maybe searching for something from home, Anonymous?” the salespony asks eagerly. “A favorite book or movie, perhaps? I can see if I have anything! Free for you, of course.”
  1936. >Is it your imagination, or is she actually batting her eyelashes at you?
  1937. >”Thanks,” Twilight answers politely, but pulls you away with her magic. “We’ll be sure to check out your booth as soon as… uh… we look at this thing over here!”
  1938. >Anonymous?
  1939. >That random pony new your name?
  1940. >Well, what you use for a name here, at least.
  1941. “Twi? I… uh…”
  1942. >She doesn’t even look up at you, quietly, but insistently, herding you towards the table she had pointed to earlier.
  1943. >”Human fetishist,” she hisses quietly at you. “In certain circles, you’re *very* well known.”
  1944. “Oh.”
  1945. >Huh.
  1946. >After a few seconds of deafening internal screaming, you nod.
  1947. “So, this place…”
  1948. >You wave your hand at the table with the TV set up on it.
  1949. >Damn, you still can’t remember the name of that show.
  1950. >That’s going to be bugging you all day.
  1951. “Mostly DVDs, it looks like.”
  1952. >”Anything cute?” Twi asks, her head swaying back and forth as she reads over the titles. “Or with an actual happy ending?”
  1953. >”Silly filly,” the stallion behind the table laughs. “These are *human* movies. You won’t find many happy endings here.”
  1954. >Your princess frowns, as do you.
  1955. >For different reasons, you suspect.
  1956. >”Yeah, I’ve kind of noticed,” Twilight responds, pulling out one of the cases to read the back.
  1957. “Not that one.”
  1958. >She glances at you curiously, but slides it back without reading.
  1959. >Your little princess doesn’t need to see Slither. Maybe some day in the future, but not today. Not now.
  1960. >Not when she’s looking for something cute.
  1961. >Odd, then, how her eyes always come to rest on something you really wouldn’t describe that way.
  1962. >Even the ones you haven’t seen – and there are a lot of those here – you can just tell aren’t right.
  1963. >It’s like the damned ponies raided every used DVD show for all the crappy films that no one would ever actually watch. There’s a few blockbusters or acceptable offerings, but for every Watchmen you see, there’s at least a half-dozen Troma films or other C-list movies.
  1964. >”I’m not sure this is the right table for me,” she eventually mumbles, though that doesn’t stop her from checking out Hobo with a Shotgun. One muzzle scrunch later, it’s been slid back into place. “Wow, maybe I was wrong about humans after all.”
  1965. >Meaning maybe you are all murderers and rapists and child snatchers.
  1966. >You look around trying to find something that would be even remotely acceptable, if only to prove to your marefriend that not all human media ends in death, destruction, and a hero’s death.
  1967. “Hey, let’s check out the next table.”
  1968. >From the sign taped to the table’s edge, it should be a little more cheerful.
  1969. >Rom-coms usually are.
  1970. >But Twi just shakes her head at everything you show her. Too trite, too obvious, too derivative (of what, you’re not sure, since she hasn’t actually SEEN any human movies).
  1971. >She sighs and moves on to the next – and last – of the vendor’s tables.
  1972. >Solid anime, it looks like.
  1973. >Wheeeeeee.
  1974. >She’ll *definitely* find her cute, happy ending here.
  1975. >Actually, she just might.
  1976. >A quick glance over the titles reveals mostly children’s shows. Nothing you’ve ever seen, of course, because you’re a grown man and grown men don’t watch cartoons for little girls, but from the name alone you’d be willing to bet your life that Little Snow Fairy Sugar isn’t grimdark.
  1977. >Like the other tables, there are a few good offerings – you can see the second and third  Berserk movies, as well as several Gundam DVDS. But most of them look like the kind of shows children grow out of pretty quickly and never return to, even out of nostalgia.
  1978. >You reach for a few of them and look them over, but nothing seems quite right.
  1979. >”What about this?”
  1980. >Your marefriend floats a case over to you for approval.
  1981. >You haven’t seen it – at least, you don’t remember having seen it – but you’ve heard of it.
  1982. >And apparently Luna doesn’t think it has a happy ending.
  1983. “I think we can pass on that.”
  1984. >Even though Tia enjoyed this Something Something Madoka Something, you’re not going to risk it. Not when her sister disagrees.
  1985. >You promised to fix *everything*, and if that means looking over every single fucking DVD to find the perfect thing to show Twi, you’re going to do it.
  1986. >Oh.
  1987. >There.
  1988. >Perfect.
  1989. >Ponks *did* say she’d been meaning to show your princess The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and here it is.
  1990. >Not some silly pony version, but the real thing.
  1991. >Fuck yeah.
  1992. >It may not end with “happily ever after” written across the screen, but even Twilight will have to admit it has a happy ending.
  1993. >You yank the case from the table and thrust it in front of your princess, almost slamming it straight into the case she’s floating over to you.
  1994. >”Have you heard of this one?” she asks, taking Tylor from your hand at the same time.
  1995. >You pluck hers from the air and check out the front.
  1996. >Ah.
  1997. >This really shouldn’t be a surprise.
  1998. “Yeah, Read or Die is pretty good.”
  1999. >Not exactly light and cheerful, though the main character does her best.
  2000. >Pure adorkableness.
  2001. >”Does it have a happy ending?” she asks eagerly, because of course she would. It’s about a girl who loves books almost as much as your little princess, so there’s no way she wouldn’t.
  2002. “Not really.”
  2003. >”Huh.” Twilight jerks the case out of your hand to stare at the back cover again. “Coming from you, I bet everypony lives.”
  2004. >Fucking serio –
  2005. >She tries to hide her giggle behind the case.
  2006. > - oh, she was joking.
  2007. “No Twi, it’s actually pretty sad.”
  2008. >It doesn’t make you cry, because you’re too manly for that, but for some reason it always starts to rain towards the end.
  2009. >”But it’s good…?” she asks hesitantly, looking up at you.
  2010. “It’s silly, it’s cute, and it’s sad, but it never tries to disguise it.”
  2011. >Twilight’s eyes drift down to the case again.
  2012. >”Well, I *did* want to watch something cute,” she says with a little smirk. “And it’s short – if I’m reading this right…?”
  2013. >She turns the case so you can see the back cover and points to something towards the bottom.
  2014. >”Runtime of ninety minutes, so it’s only an hour and a half long, right?”
  2015. “Yep.”
  2016. >”So if it’s as depressing as I assume it is, we’ll have time to watch this other *super* depressing show that you picked out,” she laughs and sticks out her tongue at you. “But it’s not, is it? Because I don’t think I’d want to deal with that.”
  2017. “Panks loves it.”
  2018. >”That doesn’t mean anything, because she loves everything,” Twi sighs. “Well, except meanie-pants, promise breakers, and – okay, she loves *almost* everything.”
  2019. >But after only a quick glance over the cover, she’s waving to the vendor.
  2020. >”Excuse me, but we’ll take these two!”
  2021. >You knew you loved her for a reason.
  2022. >As your princess pays for the two DVDs, you let your attention drift. You’ve already picked over this booth pretty well, so it’s time to find your next target. Maybe that one over there with the action figures? Or the one with Equestrian-bound books?
  2023. >Yeah, that one.
  2024. >The books are definitely of Equestrian origin, but ponies are swarming the booth same as any other here.
  2025. >If nothing else, you’re curious why.
  2026. >Twi nods when you point it out to her and begins trotting that way – you didn’t even have to ask.
  2027. >The salespony is busy with another customer when you approach, giving you time to look over the merchandise.
  2028. >Like you’d thought, all the books are obviously from here. Fine, easily-readable hoofwriting covers the pages. They look nice, but why are they *here*?
  2029. >You look through several different volumes – all seem to be stories featuring humans, but does that make them any different from any other fantasy novel?
  2030. >It’s only when Twi nudges your leg with her knee and points to the book she’s reading do you figure it out.
  2031. >Imperial Guard.
  2032. >God-Emperor.
  2033. >They’re books about –
  2034. >”It comes to me in my dreams!”
  2035. >FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.
  2036. “Oh, hi.”
  2037. >Damn, you are one cool bastard. That mare will never know just how close she came to kung-fu inflicted death – it’s a minor miracle you managed to keep your ninja-like instincts in check.
  2038. >”You’re the one that was dressed up as the Emperor yesterday, right?” the mare asks, her face still uncomfortably close. “Then you should recognize these! Maybe!”
  2039. >She grabs the book out of Twi’s hooves and shoves it in your direction.
  2040. >”I know it’s weird, but I have these dreams, and I started writing them down and ponies seem to love reading them so I decided to come to CanterCon and see if I could sell any because all of my manuscripts have been rejected by publishers and I’ve sold a lot so maybe they’ll pick up my books now and that would be really awesome because all this writing cramps my hooves and printers are just so expensive but oh wow a real human I meanyouarearealhumanrightsoanyw-“
  2041. >At some point, she just becomes impossible to listen to.
  2042. >You nod along without paying any attention to her.
  2043. >No, your mind is focused on far more important things, like trying to figure out what would happen if you introduced Ponks to this mare.
  2044. >Lots of talking, definitely, but possibly more humorous things as well.
  2045. >You have no clue *what*, exactly, but nopony ever really does once Ponks is involved.
  2046. >”Ooooh, okay! We’ll take that one!”
  2047. >That voice – Twilight’s voice – you’ll always pay attention to.
  2048. >Thankfully, it also gets the other mare to finally shut up, if only long enough for Twi to pay.
  2049. >You don’t even have a chance to scurry away before she starts up again. Not that you let it stop you. You also don’t let the book in your hands stop you – hopefully it’s the one your marefriend bought.
  2050. >”Where next?” Twilight asks, her eyes twinkling with excitement.
  2051. >This may not be the room she was expecting, but she seems to be getting the experience she was looking for.
  2052. ”Um… how about over there?”
  2053. >”Where Dash is?”
  2054. >Crap, you hadn’t seen her.
  2055. “Yeah!”
  2056. >You’ve clearly lost control of the situation, so now it’s time to just go with the flow.
  2057. >Besides, Dash seems preoccupied with something on the table. She keeps poking at it with one hoof. A bizarre, almost scary grin is spread across her face, growing wider and wider with each poke.
  2058. >”So, you gonna buy that?” the vendor asks your friend. “Or maybe just play with it all day?”
  2059. >”Oh, I’m buying it!” Dash snaps back. There’s no way I’m not taking this baby home with me!”
  2060. >Dash’s hoof hides the item from you, but the rest of the table makes you cringe as you approach.
  2061. >The merch looks like the contents of an otaku’s bedroom, complete with half-naked figures of anime characters and – oh, yup, some of them are totally naked. There some non-weeboo stuff – cheap action figures and children’s toys. Some Legos – fuck yeah, Legos!
  2062. >Overall, a far too wide variety of human crap, displayed with the same characteristic lack of coordination that the rest of the vendors share.
  2063. >Damn, with each new booth you visit, you’re starting to think of this place more and more as some kind of twisted cargo cult.
  2064. >”Find something awesome?” your princess asks as she approaches, without a single trace of her earlier anger.
  2065. >”Heck, yeah!”
  2066. >The pegasus lifts her hoof so Twilight can see the item.
  2067. >”It’s a… uh…” Dash stumbles over the words, her eyes narrowing. “Hey, what is this thing called again?”
  2068. >”It’s a mouse pad,” the vendor sighs. She’s probably had to tell your friend at least twice already. “And it’s ten bits, so either pay up or go away.”
  2069. >As Dash digs into her saddlebags for the money, Twilight hesitantly reaches out and… oh, my… gently nudges the two massive “wrist supports”.
  2070. >”So, that’s Yoko, right?” she asks, giving the boobs another poke. “From that anime Pinkie Pie showed us?”
  2071. >”YEAH! ISN’T IT AWESOME!?”
  2072. >Awesome?
  2073. “Not quite the word I would use.”
  2074. >Dash sighs, looking at you out of the corner of narrowed eyes.
  2075. >”Yeah, yeah, whatever,” she grumbles. “Don’t be that guy, Anon.”
  2076. “The guy that knows tacky when he sees it?”
  2077. >”The guy that badmouths everything because he’s seen it before.”
  2078. >Her lips curl in a slight sneer.
  2079. “Oh, seriously? Do you not know what that is?”
  2080. >”It’s a mousepad!”
  2081. >She sounds so very proud to have remembered that.
  2082. “A mousepad with *boobs.* Gods, you are such a pervert, I’m surprised you’re not buying a bodypillow to go with it.”
  2083. >”A *what*?”
  2084. “A body pillow – you know… a long pillow with a picture of Yoko or someone else on it. Probably naked.”
  2085. >”Oh, *those*,” she sneers back, cringing slightly. “Why would I buy one of *those*?”
  2086. >Good.
  2087. >She has *some* sense of shame.
  2088. >Not much, but some.
  2089. >”Why would *anypony* buy something like that?” Dash asks, shaking her head in disbelief. She sighs, then waves a hoof over towards – ah, yep – the nearby bin stuffed full of body pillows. “They’re way too flat to be any fun.”
  2090. >And yes, many of the characters on them are totally naked.
  2091. >Some even show signs of wear.
  2092. >Ew.
  2093. >You’re not sure if this makes Dash more or less of a pervert, but either way it’s just too weird.
  2094. >She’s already poking at the mousepad again, pressing down on the wrist supports with one hoof.
  2095. >”Aren’t these fun to play with, Twi?” the pegasus asks, grinning like a maniac. “I can’t even imagine what full-sized ones would feel like!”
  2096. >”Hehe, yeah, well…” Twilight twists her head away from her friend, but that does nothing to hide her blush from you. Or the way she’s biting her lip. “Yeah, they kind of really are fun to play with.”
  2097. >You have a suspicion that she’s just agreeing to get her friend to shut up.
  2098. >”So what are they called, again?”
  2099. >The mare behind the table sighs angrily.
  2100. >”Like I said, it’s a Celestia-damned mousepad! Don’t even ask me what it’s for, because I don’t know.”
  2101. >Dash shakes her head – that wasn’t what she was asking about – but the vendor doesn’t even look in her direction.
  2102. >”No, no *these* things,” the pegasus clarifies, pointing at the wrist supports that make up Yoko’s breasts. “Twilight, you know everything – what *are* they?”
  2103. >She pokes at it again, causing it to jiggle slightly.
  2104. >Your marefriend seems a little busy dying from shame – and you would be to, if you hadn’t spent so much drunktime with Aredee. You don’t think it’s possible for her to embarrass you at all anymore, so you answer for your little princess.
  2105. “Tits, breasts, boobs, hooters –“
  2106. >”Yeah, I remember what they were called, but what *ARE* they?”
  2107. >”The human equivalent of teats or udders,” Twi answers quickly. “Humans’ aren’t vestigial, not like ours.”
  2108. >”Oh,” the pegasus grunts. “Huh.”
  2109. >She dips her head down, sticking it as far between her forelegs as possible to be the crude little shit she always is.
  2110. >”Really?” Dash asks, presumably staring at hers. “Wow, I guess there *are* a few things about humans that don’t totally suck. But only a few.”
  2111. >She’s frowning when she brings her head back up.
  2112. >”Why the heck did we have to get Anon,” she grumbles, waving a hoof at you. “Why couldn’t we have gotten somepony *nice.*”
  2113. “Fuck you, too, dickshit. Don’t blame me – it’s not my fault you’ll never be able to play with someone’s boobs.”
  2114. >Twilight’s face is burning bright red – maybe you’re being a little too crude.
  2115. >Even if nopony recognizes her as Princess Twilight Sparkle, she can’t help but be embarrassed at how you’re acting.
  2116. >Fair enough. You’re being almost as bad as the Blue Dumbass.
  2117. >You loop an arm around her neck and pat her gently, but it doesn’t seem to offer much comfort – she fidgets nervously as soon as your hand touches her.
  2118. >As always, you fuck everything up.
  2119. >”Personally…” Twi whispers quietly, “… I… um… I *think* it would be more fun for somepony to play with mine – if I had any, I mean – than to play with somepony else’s.”
  2120. >Dash stares at her like she’s never heard such utter insanity before.
  2121. >After several long seconds of awkward silence that you wouldn’t break for anything, the pegasus sighs and shrugs.
  2122. >”To bad you don’t have any, then,” she groans. “We could both have some fun if you did.”
  2123. >Did she really just…?
  2124. >Oh, whatever.
  2125. >It’s Dash – she doesn’t actually know what she’s saying.
  2126. >”Maybe you should try to learn some poly-whatever magic,” the pegasus suggests innocently, as if she actually thinks –
  2127. >Who the fuck are you kidding?
  2128. >She doesn’t think.
  2129. >”Yeah, maybe,” Twi mumbles, “but I don’t think that would *really* be appropriate.”
  2130. >”Why not?” Dash asks, leaning closer to your princess. “What’s wrong with friends having fun?”
  2131. “Just… no. Stop. Stop talking.”
  2132. >She probably doesn’t even think of them as anything sexual or have the faintest clue what she’s suggesting, but hell no.
  2133. >Even – and this is the unlikely best case scenario, or worst case – fuck no!
  2134. >You don’t dare let your thoughts linger too long on Dash basically propositioning your marefriend, lest your brain self-destruct.
  2135. >”*Fine*,” the pegasus growls. “Be that way. I thought we were friends…”
  2136. >”Why do you think it would even work?” Twi asks with an overly wide smile. “It probably wouldn’t. I mean, there’s no way. Polymorph magic? Haha, what is that? I don’t think it even exists!”
  2137. >”Huh? Of course it does! Don’t tell me you haven’t seen any of the… oh!”
  2138. >Her wings flitter excitedly, bringing her a few feet into the air.
  2139. >”See!?” she asks, pointing demandingly towards the doors. “SEE! It exists! And she’s not the first I’ve seen this weekend!”
  2140. >You turn slightly, looking over your shoulder in the direction she’s pointing.
  2141. >Fuck.
  2142. >In all your time in Magical Marshmallow Land, this is the first time you’ve seen anyone you’d describe as sultry.
  2143. >Sexy?
  2144. >Sure.
  2145. >Cute?
  2146. >You’re dating cute incarnate.
  2147. >Beautiful?
  2148. >Hell, you can think of several ponies that qualify.
  2149. >But *sultry*?
  2150. >The dusk-skinned beauty that slides through the open doors can’t be described without using that word.
  2151. >”See!?” Dash insists. “She’s polymorphed as a human!”
  2152. >That she is, and very accurately at that.
  2153. >She even as an almost-human skin tone, something your princess didn’t even come close to.
  2154. >Though you have every expectation that she’ll get it right next time.
  2155. >But *this* pony – and it has to be a pony, because you’re the only real human in equestrian – she has it down damn near *perfectly*.
  2156. >As far as you can tell, anyway. Her dark green cloak does cover pretty much everything below the chin.
  2157. >”Now *this* is more like it,” she hisses happily, looking around the room. “It’s so nice to *finally* be free.”
  2158. >Her green eyes come to rest on you, and the lopsided smile she flashes shows off a hint of her teeth, just enough for you to wonder if they might be a bit *too* sharp.
  2159. >”Well now,” she mumbles, shifting her weight to emphasis her figure as best she can under that cloak, “I haven’t seen you here before.”
  2160. “Ah… nope.”
  2161. >”Somepony new?” she asks. “Or somepony with a new persona?”
  2162. >Her rapid strides cover the distance between you two quickly, each step ringing out loudly.
  2163. >She’s wearing heels, you realize.
  2164. >Has to be, to make that noise.
  2165. >Her cloak is more form fitting than you had thought, because it doesn’t hide a single movement. The swaying of her hips is almost hypnotic – might actually be, you dimly realize as her hand brushes across your cheek.
  2166. >Though you never looked away, she managed to cross the distance without you even realizing it.
  2167. >Her raised arm causes the cloak to part slightly. Enough for you to make out the spikey, segmented armor she’s wearing underneath.
  2168. >What little of it she *is* wearing.
  2169. >”Ooooh,” she moans softly, her tongue snaking out to lick her lips hungrily. “Somepony *new*.”
  2170. >You might never have looked away if Dash hadn’t come crashing to the ground that very moment – your head whips around instinctively at the thud of pony-hitting-floor.
  2171. >A sound you are far too used to hearing when Dash is around.
  2172. >The other woman – mare? – hisses angrily as you break eye contact with her, but you barely notice. It’s just another annoying noise from another annoying female.
  2173. >Good, at least Dash didn’t land in a pile of her own puke this time.
  2174. >”I’m fine!” she moans painfully from the ground. “Wings cramped, that’s all!”
  2175. >Both of her wings are stretched out as far as they can extend.
  2176. >You’d never thought of the dangers of mid-flight wingboners before now.
  2177. >Apparently, neither had Dash.
  2178. >”Yeah, cramps,” Twilight grumbles at your side. “Sure it was.”
  2179. >Another angry hiss from the newcomer draws your attention back to her, but all thoughts of telling her off drop away from your mind as your eyes meet hers again.
  2180. >”It’s so nice to see somepony else put as much effort into their human persona as I do,” she whispers loudly. “It’s a shame you’re dressed as one of those pathetic paladins, but I’m sure we can still manage something…”
  2181. “Something…?”
  2182. >”For the photographers,” she answers, inclining her head to her left.
  2183. >Your eyes flicker in that direction, but not quite far enough to see them.
  2184. >Not quite far enough to actually look away from her.
  2185. >”Don’t tell me that nopony has asked to take your picture yet…”
  2186. >Despite the armor, you can somehow feel the finger she runs down your chest.
  2187. “I’ve been busy.”
  2188. >”What a shame,” she sighs lustily. “Well, shall we…?”
  2189. >She steps back and throws her cloak aside.
  2190. >Given a clearer view of her “outfit”, all your befuddled brain can identify it as is the twisted lovechild of a legionary’s lorica segmentata and the Witchblade.
  2191. >Huh.
  2192. >Or is it more similar to the armor worn by Games Workshop’s Dark Elves?
  2193. >Maybe something from Confrontation?
  2194. >No, a little too spiky for that.
  2195. >”Well!?” she hisses at you. “Are you just going to stand there!?”
  2196. “Quiet. Busy.”
  2197. >Reaper definitely put out a few minis wearing armor like this, but – frankly – what *haven’t* they put out?
  2198. >Besides decent plastics.
  2199. >Maybe something from an anime?
  2200. >It does have the irregular, impractical design of 80s/90s anime design, so that might be it.
  2201. >There’s an almost organic quality to the thin armor bands that encircle her limbs – and very nearly cover her crotch and torso without actually managing to do so at all.
  2202. >It’s a little too rounded in places, not the sharp, hard edge you’d expect from a metal plate.
  2203. >For the life of you, it reminds you as nothing so much as an insect’s carapa-
  2204. “Ah, got it!”
  2205. >Changeling.
  2206. >Fucking changeling.
  2207. >She’s a motherfucking changeling.
  2208. >”Did you just geek out?” Twilight giggles, drawing your eyes down to her. “You just geeked out trying to identify her armor, didn’t you?”
  2209. “Uh, yeah, how did you figure it out?”
  2210. >”Because I *know* my coltfriend wouldn’t stare that long at another mare without a good reason.”
  2211. “Not *that* long, no.”
  2212. >The cosplayer groans in disgust, taking another step back.
  2213. >Her lips are curled up, revealing what are definitely fangs and not just sharp teeth.
  2214. >”Who, or *what*, is *that?” she asks, her eyes locked on your princess.
  2215. >It isn’t really possible that she hadn’t seen Twilight, not unless she was just too big of a bitch to acknowledge the existence of other mares.
  2216. >Though, pretending that she hadn’t seen her makes her a pretty big bitch anyway.
  2217. >”I’m Prin –“
  2218. “She’s my marefriend.”
  2219. >The changeling isn’t asking for your princess’ name or title – she’s asking what her relation to you is.
  2220. >As if she doesn’t know already.
  2221. >”Your *marefriend*?” the changeling asks, feigning curiosity. “But… you *must* be Anonymous, the only true human in all of Equestria.”
  2222. >Definitely a changeling.
  2223. >Just seconds ago, she had no idea who you were, but now she knows your name.
  2224. >Only changelings have acting skills that horrible.
  2225. >Well, them and Twilight.
  2226. “And that matters because…?”
  2227. >You shrug, suddenly missing your power armor.
  2228. >Well, you’re always going to miss your power armor, but the pauldrons seemed to exaggerate shrugging from a mere gesture to pure fuck-if-I-care made manifest.
  2229. >”Because *I* heard you weren’t a horsefucker,” she chuckles softly. “Isn’t that what you told everypony?”
  2230. >She steps forward quickly, laying her armored palms on your chest.
  2231. >”Isn’t that why you and Celestia –“
  2232. >”*Princess Celestia,*” Twilight corrects with a bored yawn.
  2233. >The changeling’s lower lip pushes out, pouting at the interruption, though it is the only acknowledgement she makes of it.
  2234. >”Wouldn’t you prefer somepo – some*one* who can actually give you what you want?”
  2235. >Are all polymorphers lust-driven and/or total assholes?
  2236. >First Tia – or, actually, Twi – and then… wait…
  2237. >Are they all changelings or alicorns?
  2238. >Every single one you’ve met so far has been one or the other, and it really wouldn’t surprise you if they’d spread misinformation to make it seem like it was actually a common thing.
  2239. >Might explain their reputation as being douchebags, since changelings are selfish little shits and princesses are worse.
  2240. >Yours excluded, of course.
  2241. >The changeling frowns – you think she wants to stomp her heels in frustration, but knows that would be as good as admitting defeat.
  2242. >”Don’t you want to feel me under your hands, Anonymous?” she asks, almost pleadingly. “Not the disgusting fuzz of a pony’s coat, but the smooth skin of another human?”
  2243. >She takes another step forward, even though there’s no room for her to do so.
  2244. >Like you thought, the armor she’s wearing isn’t metal.
  2245. >Metal wouldn’t conform to your body as she pushes hers up against you.
  2246. >”I – uh, well, she *does* make a good point, Anon,” Dash speaks up from her place on the ground. Probably still crippled by her wingboner.
  2247. >”I knew you were a closet human-fetishist,” your princess snarks at the pegasus. “It’s only surprising that I didn’t notice earlier.”
  2248. >”I am NOT! I’m totally not attracted to Anon!”
  2249. >”Doesn’t mean anything except that you’re a carpet muncher.”
  2250. >Twi is remarkably nonchalant about this weird-bitch crawling all over you. Disturbingly so, considering you feel like flailing and screaming for an adult.
  2251. >Too bad that would break the “cool guy” persona you’ve been cultivating since forever.
  2252. >”Listen to the little pegasus,” the cosplayer coos. “Wouldn’t it be nice to be with someone you don’t have to get on your knees to kiss?”
  2253. >Maybe.
  2254. >A little.
  2255. >”Or who can hold your hand… or… do *other* things with hers?”
  2256. >Eh… telekinesis is pretty spectacular.
  2257. >”How can you stand being with *her*,” the changeling asks innocently, batting her eyelashes at you, “when you don’t even find ponies attractive?”
  2258. >She pauses to bite her lower lip in what might have been a seductive fashion.
  2259. >Might have, except her fang makes it look painful.
  2260. >Eh.
  2261. >Okay, it’s a little seductive, and she knows it.
  2262. >She knows that *you* know it.
  2263. >”Why not be with someone who can be what you want?” she asks, the corners of her mouth curling up in a harsh grin.
  2264. “Because I want to be with someone I love.”
  2265. >That definitely gets a reaction from her – you expected it. You were counting on it.
  2266. >You weren’t counting on her looping one leg around yours.
  2267. >”But don’t you deserve to be loved, too?”
  2268. >As if a changeling could even do that.
  2269. “I’m pretty fucking sure I am.”
  2270. >Curse you for being too much of a beta gentleman to throw this whore to the ground and kick her skull in!
  2271. >”I’m sure she *tries,*” the cosplayer comments, giving you a far too toothy smile, “but you can’t say that her duties haven’t gotten in the way, can you?”
  2272. >Of course they have, but it’s not a one-sided issue.
  2273. >You can’t think of anypony else that has blown off a day of work to spend that time researching polymorph spells for your benefit.
  2274. >Actually, you’re kind of grateful that there isn’t anypony else.
  2275. >That would be a little weird.
  2276. >”And while I have my own responsibilities…”
  2277. >She stops to brush an errant lock of hair out of her eyes.
  2278. >”… I *promise* that I would never put *anything* before you.”
  2279. “Sorry, but I don’t even know your name, so I’m afraid –“
  2280. >”You can call me Chrissy.”
  2281. >Chrysalis!?
  2282. >Is this the fucking bug queen herself trying to seduce you!?
  2283. >Why!?
  2284. “Yeah, still going to pass your offer, *Chrissy*, particularly now.”
  2285. >”And why is that?” the cosplayer smirks, apparently not believing you. She shifts slightly, rubbing her barely-covered breasts across your chest. “Don’t you believe me?”
  2286. “Doesn’t matter if I believe you, because I live my life by two rules. The first doesn’t really apply –“
  2287. >Actually it does, because you would have to go full retard to abandon your princess, but the other is more applicable.
  2288. “ – and the second is to never stick it in the crazy.”
  2289. >”I’m… crazy?” she giggles. “You think I’m crazy?”
  2290. “You go from being nice to hating me to ignoring me to trying to fuck me, so yeah. Are you schizophrenic or something?”
  2291. >”No, I’m *fickle*.”
  2292. >She drops away from you, letting her cloak fall back around her.
  2293. >”And now I’m tired of this,” she sighs. “It might have been fun if you had given in, but we knew that would never happen. We *told* her it wouldn’t.”
  2294. >We?
  2295. >Her?
  2296. >“Then why even try?” Twilight asks curiously.
  2297. >”Because I do what my queen tells me to do,” the cosplayer answers with a shrug. “And she was told to make this happen.”
  2298. >…
  2299. >Shit, she’s *not* Chrysalis.
  2300. >”Told by whom?” your princess asks.
  2301. >”That… I was told not to say,” the changeling answers with a smirk. “It would be a shame if you guessed, *ladybug*. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I earned the day off by doing this, so I’m going to go check out – oooooh!”
  2302. >Fickle indeed.
  2303. >Your eyes follow for just a second as she darts away towards whatever shiny toy or butterfly caught her attention.
  2304. >Not watching, or anything.
  2305. >Just confirming that she actually is leaving.
  2306. >”You seemed remarkably calm about that whole thing,” Twilight comments.
  2307. “As did you. I was expecting you to flip out at any second.”
  2308. >”Silly colt,” she giggles, “I’m used to mares crawling all over you!”
  2309. >Huh?
  2310. “When does this happen? Is it when I’m asleep? Because that’s kind of creepy and we should start locking the doors.”
  2311. >”No,” she laughs. “I mean you and our friends. You let Pinkie Pie literally climb on you all the time!”
  2312. “Yeah, but that’s a little different. She’s not trying to –“
  2313. >”Do you think I could see the difference a few months ago?” your marefriend sighs. “You would barely talk to me, but you were always letting Dash and Pinkie Pie do whatever they wanted with you.”
  2314. >Carrying a pair of drunk and lazy ponies all over Ponyville doesn’t really equal up to some bimbo trying to fuck you in front of your princess, but you can almost see her point of view.
  2315. >Well, not really, but enough to feel guilty about doing it without thinking how your marefriend felt about it.
  2316. >”Don’t worry, I got over that little bit of jealousy *long* before we started dating.”
  2317. “Long before?”
  2318. >”A few weeks?” she chuckes nervously. “Okay, last week?”
  2319. “But we’ve been dating for two –“
  2320. >”Shut up, don’t question it.”
  2321. “Shutting up.”
  2322. >Twilight giggles, looping a leg of her own around yours.
  2323. >”Besides what could she offer that I couldn’t?”
  2324. >”Um…” Dash clears her throat noisily. “Do I *really* have to point it out for you?”
  2325. >Dammit.
  2326. >One of these days, you’re going to sew her mouth shut.
  2327. >No, that would be silly.
  2328. >You’ll ask Rarity to do it.
  2329. >”Like I said,” your princess growls, ignoring the pegasus, “there’s nothing she can offer you that I can’t.”
  2330. >”Except, you know, BOOBS!” Dash screeches, waving a hoof in the direction of the changeling. You can’t help but look that way – it’s just instinct.
  2331. >When Dash points at something, it’s generally a good idea to know what she’s about to pick a fight with.
  2332. >But not in this case.
  2333. >It’d be hard to imagine anypony trying to pick a fight with the woman stooped over a table full of anime, humming off-key.
  2334. “Yeah, not really bringing anything new to the table.”
  2335. >Your princess can’t sing worth a damned either.
  2336. >”But –!”
  2337. >Dash stops short, her eyes widening at the sudden realization.
  2338. >“I need to hear this story.”
  2339. >Twilight gives the other mare a patronizing grin.
  2340. >”No, I really don’t think that you do.”
  2341. >”Dang it, Twilight!” Dash huffs. “You can’t tease me like that!”
  2342. >Oooooooh, so *that* is what your marefriend was doing.
  2343. >Good for her.
  2344. “Sure she can, if you’re going to be so stupid. You *know* she’s learned some polymorph spells already.”
  2345. >It was before you arrived, but you’ve heard the stories.
  2346. >Mostly from Fluttershy.
  2347. >Occasionally, she’s actually a decent source of information. Sometimes, when every fourth word isn’t an apology. In the few rare cases when you can get her to speak loud enough for you to hear her.
  2348. >And she’s sober.
  2349. >”What?” Dash demands, ears stiff with surprise. “When? How!?”
  2350. >Twi’s muzzle scrunches up, though she still has that smile on her face – things have almost crossed the line from amusing to annoying.
  2351. ”Why are you so surprised?” your princess sighs. “I can’t even… ow, I think my brain hurts. You were *there*!”
  2352. >”WHAT!?”
  2353. >Your marefriend reaches up to massage her temple before answering – crap, you hope Dash didn’t break her.
  2354. >”Don’t you remember when I turned us all into breezies?”
  2355. >Aredee blinks three times and lets her head slump off to the left, as if she’s forgotten to hold it up. Even her rigid wings slowly relax and begin to droop.
  2356. >”Oh,” she grunts softly, “that was real?”
  2357. >”YES!”
  2358. >Another two blinks.
  2359. >”Huh. I thought I was on drugs or something.”
  2360. >”Do you even *use* drugs?”
  2361. >”Heck no!”
  2362. >She won’t risk it, not with the Wonderbolt’s strict rules.
  2363. >”But even you have to admit it, Twilight. Some of our adventures are pretty dang trippy.”
  2364. >Not the first time you’ve heard somepony from Ponyville say that – the town *does* just get weirder and weirder every day. It was a relief to find out it’s always been that way and not a result of your presence.
  2365. >First time you’ve heard one of Twilight’s friends say it, though.
  2366. >”Maybe,” your princess answers with a shrug, “but are you really going to complain about that when…”
  2367. >She jerks her head towards the changeling in a not-so-subtle gesture. The cosplayer is still digging through the tables of DVDs, and seems to have built up quite a pile of loot.
  2368. >”They may be weird, but usually seem to end in our favor,” Twilight teases her friend. “So…”
  2369. >Dash’s head flips between the two several times before she finally comes to a decision.
  2370. >”Dangit,” she grumbles, reaching out for her pervy new toy and shoving it into her saddlebags. “See you at Rarity’s thing, right?”
  2371. >”Of course!”
  2372. “Rarity’s thing?”
  2373. >”She means Sweetie Belle’s thing,” Twilight sighs, watching her friend trot up to the changeling and…
  2374. >You don’t want to think about what Dash is doing.
  2375. “Sweetie Belle’s thing?”
  2376. >”Mhm.”
  2377. “Going to explain?”
  2378. >Twilight shakes her head slightly, not looking away from the unfolding scene for even a second.
  2379. >Dammit, it took her less than five minutes to ship a couple.
  2380. >New record.
  2381. >”I put all the information in the handouts –“
  2382. “The ones that said not to fuck the princess in public?”
  2383. >She blushes.
  2384. >That’s a yes.
  2385. >”So you *did* read it?” your princess asks rhetorically – she knows you didn’t. Not really. “I guess that means I don’t need to tell you about it.”
  2386. >Admitting that you didn’t – even though she already knows it – is impossible.
  2387. >Not your way.
  2388. “Oh, *that* thing.”
  2389. >”Yes, Anon. *That* thing.”
  2390. “Sorry, I just forgot –“
  2391. >”To read it?”
  2392. >…
  2393. “Yeah?”
  2394. >”So it wasn’t intentional?”
  2395. >This is getting awkward enough that you pause to risk a glance at Dash – it’s an excuse to remain silent and can’t be half as cringeworthy as the direction this conversation is heading.
  2396. >The pegasus has reared up and is leaning against the table, trying to – fuck, you don’t know. Look cool?
  2397. >She just looks like a douchebag.
  2398. >Well, every piece of information you’d ever read about picking up chicks said to just be yourself. Apparently, Dash got the same advice.
  2399. >”Well, Anon?” your marefriend presses, hugging your leg with hers. “Was it?”
  2400. >She’s smiling – she’s just teasing you, but you still can’t admit it. Or lie about it.
  2401. “Think she knows?”
  2402. >”Who?”
  2403. “Dash. That she’s hitting on a changeling.”
  2404. >”Of course not.”
  2405. >Well, duh.
  2406. >It’s Dash.
  2407. >”But does it really matter?”
  2408. “Um. *Changeling.*”
  2409. >”So?”
  2410. >She squeezes your leg tightly.
  2411. >”They aren’t all monsters,” Twi answers slowly. “Not *all* of them, and she seems sweet enough.”
  2412. “Really? She tried to seduce me. While. You. Watched.”
  2413. >”Yeah,” your princess answers, nuzzling the hand you reach down to pat her with. “And she was nice enough to tell me Cadence was behind it.”
  2414. >wat
  2415. “What.”
  2416. >”What?” Twilight raises an eyebrow at you. “You *didn’t* notice?”
  2417. “Uh, NO. She flat out stated that she couldn’t say.”
  2418. >Your marefriend gives the muddled groan of marefriends and girlfriends everything, in this universe and all others. The groan that tells you she wants to laugh at you, but is just too disappointed to find it funny. That she can’t believe your incompetence, but knows it’s her own fault for expecting anything less than total failure from you.
  2419. >That you’re lucky you’re so lovable and cute, or she’d tie you up and toss you into a river somewhere and no court in the land would convict her, and *not* just because she’d be the one presiding over the trial.
  2420. >Once she gets it out of her system, and it takes a while, Twilight *tries* to explain.
  2421. >”She called me *ladybug.*”
  2422. “And is that a pet name Candyass uses?”
  2423. >”No, but…”
  2424. >Twilight drifts off, shaking her head in disbelief.
  2425. >”Oh, nevermind,” she laughs softly, “and you shouldn’t call her that.”
  2426. “I shouldn’t do a lot of things.”
  2427. >You shrug guiltily, prompting another groan and eyeroll from Twi.
  2428. >”No, probably not,” she agrees, “but there’s just no stopping you sometimes.”
  2429. >Nope.
  2430. >You’re fucking unstoppable.
  2431. “Okay, but *why*?”
  2432. >”I don’t know, not for sure,” Twilight admits. “Probably to test you.”
  2433. “But –“
  2434. >”Yeah, silly, I know. Maybe Shiny put her up to it?”
  2435. “Maybe.”
  2436. >Seems like an overprotective brother kind of thing to do.
  2437. “Shapeshifting aside, is that why you didn’t freak out? Because you suspected her all along?”
  2438. >Twi’s a clever mare – it’s possible she picked up on something you had overlooked.
  2439. >Anyway, you have the excuse of changeling hypnosis or whatever clouding your thoughts.
  2440. >True or not, you’re using that excuse if necessary.
  2441. >”No, I just thought she was a *super* hardcore human fetishist.”
  2442. “So you just had faith in me?”
  2443. >“She was just too cheerful,” Twilight laughs in response. “You only like depressing things.”
  2444. “Nah. I like pizza, too.”
  2445. >It’s the best comeback you can come up with.
  2446. >Too much of your attention is Dash and her continued attempts to convince the changeling that she’s an idiot.
  2447. >Dash, not the changeling.
  2448. >She can’t *really* be hitting on the cosplayer, right?
  2449. >Knocking down her stack of DVDs, stuttering like a special needs kid, tripping over her own tail…
  2450. >If your friend wasn’t always so prideful, you’d think she is trying to convince the changeling to pity-date her.
  2451. >No, this is just nervous awkwardness at its worst.
  2452. >It’s so bad, you can’t look away.
  2453. >In its own way, it’s more hypnotizing than the changeling’s magic.
  2454. >”Come on,” Twilight hisses. “This is only going to get more painful, so let’s – wait, what?”
  2455. >The changeling is laughing and nodding eagerly.
  2456. “Huh.”
  2457. >”Yeah,” your princess murmurs. “Did not expect that…”
  2458. >Dash throws a wink your way as she trots past with the changeling at her side, chattering about who the fuck knows.
  2459. >You’re in shock.
  2460. “Should – should we stop her? That changeling is going to feed on her, right?”
  2461. >”Well, yeah, but a slight headache is the worst that will happen after one night,” Twilight answers, still staring after the pair. “No long term effects. Which is more than I can say for the poor changeling. Who knows what she’ll catch…”
  2462. >As the pair leave the room together, you and Twilight share a glance.
  2463. >”I’m kind of curious what’s going to happen,” your marefriend admits.
  2464. “Should we follow them?”
  2465. >That’s the kind of thing that happens in Marshmallow World and rom-coms, right?
  2466. >She looks at the door for a second, just long enough to make you think she’s going to say yes.
  2467. >Not long enough that the shake of her head surprises you, though.
  2468. >”No, we’ll see Dash in about an hour anyway. That’s not enough time for her to get into *too* much trouble.”
  2469. >Your princess gives your leg one last squeeze before dancing free.
  2470. >”Let’s look at some of these other booths! What about that one over there with all the miniatures?”
  2471. “Looks good, Twi.”
  2472. >You happily accompany your princess over to the booth she had indicated.
  2473. >Before you know it, you’ve covered at least half the room, loyally following your marefriend as she eagerly skips from one table to the next.
  2474. >After the first few, she seems to be hunting for something in particular.
  2475. >Or, at least, some particular type of thing.
  2476. >Something *not* gaming or nerd related.
  2477. >Twilight seems to find it at your somethingth stop – you’ve lost count, but you’re pretty sure you’ve visited more booths than there are in this room.
  2478. >Your princess hugs the elementary-grade geology textbook to her chest when she pulls it free of the pile.
  2479. “Why…?”
  2480. >She looks up at you in shock, as if she can’t understand why you would even ask that.
  2481. “Equestrian geology can’t be all that different from Earth’s. It’s *geology* - it’s not like…”
  2482. >Not like there are random faceted gemstones scattered throughout the topsoil in concentrations high enough to make any African warlord slaughter every pony in his path.
  2483. >”It’s about your world, Anon,” Twilight mumbles softly. “It would be nice to know something about it.”
  2484. >You’re already digging into your costume’s pouches for your wallet.
  2485. >Twilight wants it – that’s reason enough.
  2486. >Plus, as far as you know, the geology of this world is absolutely nothing like your own.
  2487. >You’ve never actually looked into it, just like you haven’t with so many other things.
  2488. >Might need to fix that.
  2489. >Eventually.
  2490. >After paying, you move towards the next booth, but Twilight catches the tattered hem of your robe with her hoof.
  2491. >You look back quizzically – that can’t be the *only* thing she was looking for, and there’s still so much more to see.
  2492. “Aren’t you having fun?”
  2493. >”I am,” she answers sweetly, flashing you the most genuine smile you’ve ever seen in your life, “but it’s time.”
  2494. >Twilight sighs and stuffs the book into her saddlebag.
  2495. “Time?”
  2496. >”Past time,” your marefriend amends. “For Sweetie Belle’s show.”
  2497. >Oh. That.
  2498. >You still have no idea what it really is.
  2499. >Probably something to do with singing, though.
  2500. “It hasn’t started yet, has it?”
  2501. >Because if it has, you might as well stay here.
  2502. >”No, but we don’t have much time to get back… there…”
  2503. >Assuming Shining Armor hasn’t leveled it.
  2504. >The same thought is running through Twilight’s mind at the same time – you can see it in the way she squints her eyes.
  2505. >BAMPFH.
  2506. >The sudden teleportation catches you off-guard.
  2507. >Didn’t she say teleporting around a place this crowded is dangerous?
  2508. >You’re pretty sure she said it was dangerous.
  2509. >It was only two days ago.
  2510. >But not as dangerous as arriving late, apparently.
  2511. >She managed to drop you into the only open space in the hallway outside of – a quick look confirms it – the Purple Dart Memorial Auditorium.
  2512. >You can’t help but smile at your princess – and her desperate need for everything to be *perfect*.
  2513. >”Oh, *there* you are,” an unfamiliar stallion wearing calls out to your princess. “I was beginning worry you would not make it in time!”
  2514. >He hesitantly makes his way through the crowd, giving other ponies a wider berth than necessary.
  2515. >It instantly reminds you of yesterday, of how you moved in the power armor.
  2516. >He’s moving as if he doesn’t know how large he actually is.
  2517. >”Darling, I am *so* glad you’re here!“
  2518. >Or she. The right pronoun would be “she”.
  2519. >”We wouldn’t miss it for the world, Rarity,” Twilight responds quickly, though she gives a minute shrug when you look at her questioningly.
  2520. >Ah.
  2521. >Your marefriend had no clue either. She only picked up on it a heartbeat or two before you had.
  2522. >Rara-he flashes the two of you a quick smile.
  2523. >”I never thought that you would,” she fires back, “now is there *anything* you can do about these dreadful guardsponies?”
  2524. >A pair of them stand by the doors, one on either side.
  2525. >From the looks of their spears, con rules against live weapons don’t apply to the Royal Guard.
  2526. >Of course, considering your claws yesterday, they don’t actually apply to *anyone*.
  2527. >”I’m… afraid not,” Twilight answers her friend slowly. “There was a bit on an incident earlier –“
  2528. >”And there shall be an incident *now* if Sweetie Belle’s debut is delayed!” Rarity protests. “This is simply the worst. Possible. Thing!”
  2529. >She raises a leg as if to swoon, but instead stomps the floor with such intensity you expect tile to shatter.
  2530. >You should have known better – she doesn’t even scuff the finish.
  2531. >”So… uh....” Twilight stutters, looking around. Probably for her brother. “I’ll look into that…”
  2532. >BAMPFH!
  2533. >Dammit, she left you behind.
  2534. >After an awkward minute of Rarity staring angrily at the guards and you staring awkwardly at anywhere but her, you can’t take it any longer.
  2535. >Poorly timed and perhaps inappropriate, you have to ask.
  2536. “Did you have that planned all along?”
  2537. >”Have *what* planned?” Rarity growls. “Ruining my darling sister’s future by –“
  2538. “No, the… uh….”
  2539. >You flap a hand loosely in her direction.
  2540. “I mean, that outfit looks specifically tailored.”
  2541. >Indeed, the leather straps holding on her assorted pouches and weapons all fit snuggly, but not tight. Not like they would if she had made them to fit a mare.
  2542. >Similarly, the fur collar – it can’t be *real* fur, can it? – is just the right size to properly frame a stallion’s head, but not a mare’s.
  2543. >”Oh. No.”
  2544. >She dips her head quickly, but not quick enough to hide her blush.
  2545. >”I thought about it,” the fashionista admits, her eyes doing more damage to the floor than her hoof had. “Authenticity is so important, don’t you think?”
  2546. “Well, yeah, but you could have just not changed your character to a stallion.”
  2547. >”I *could* have, but it was… *difficult*… coming up with an outfit for a barbarian that was feminine without being…”
  2548. >She raises her head to give you an embarrassed smile.
  2549. “Slutty?”
  2550. >”I would *not* say that…”
  2551. “Which is why you made me say it?”
  2552. >”Of course,” she answers. “Such a thing has a time and a place, I admit, but it would have felt out of place for *this.”
  2553. >No surprise she feels slutwear has a time and a place – she apparently felt that CanterCon days one and two were appropriate enough for those kinds of outfits.
  2554. >That makes you try to imagine what her current costume would look like on a mare, and all you can imagine is some kind of bondage getup.
  2555. >She might have a point.
  2556. >BAMPFH!
  2557. >Twilight reappears at your side, prompting you to now think about what it would look like on *her*.
  2558. >”Shining Armor is *almost* done,” your princess reassures her friend. “Don’t worry, we still have some time before it’s scheduled to start. He promised to be done before then.”
  2559. >Rara nods in thanks, though her – his? – meh, *her* mouth is clenched tight.
  2560. >”Honestly, Rarity,” Twilight insists, “he’ll wrap it up soon.”
  2561. >”Good.”
  2562. >The fashionista doesn’t relax, though she does at least stop staring pure death at your princess.
  2563. >Twi, on the other hand, can’t look away from her friend.
  2564. >Is she hot for a stallion?
  2565. >Shit, Twilight probably thinks Rari-he is hot.
  2566. >Not good.
  2567. >Or is it?
  2568. >No, not –
  2569. >”Um, Rarity…?” your princess timidly starts. Crap. Here it comes. “How is this possible?”
  2570. >Oh, not what you expected, but you’re not sure if you want to know why *she* wants to know, but –
  2571. >”The costume? Like I was telling Anon, it was genius crossed with luck.”
  2572. >Twilight tilts her head, examining the unicorn closely.
  2573. >”Well, it’s not an illusion,” she says slowly, as if expecting the magic to fade at any second. It doesn’t. “But polymorph spells can’t *do* things like this.”
  2574. >”They *can*,” the not-so-busty barbarian answers firmly. “Sunny Smiles and Moonbeam –“
  2575. >Ah.
  2576. >That bitch.
  2577. >You don’t really need to hear anything more.
  2578. >It’s not enough of an answer for your princess, though. It never is, not until she has all the details, the theory behind it, and at least one peer-reviewed paper to back it all up.
  2579. >She listens eagerly as Rarity explains, but your attention drifts.
  2580. >You don’t know anything about magic, so the technical terms fly over your head anyway.
  2581. >”But that’s impossible!” Twilight insists at one point, the sheer intensity of her outburst snagging your attention back. “Things changing species – those are difficult, but feasible. All they’re doing is –“
  2582. >And back to technical terms.
  2583. >All you really take away from it is your princess can turn into a human, but she can’t change how she’ll look – the spell literally rewrites her existence as if she were human.
  2584. >Whee.
  2585. >Even if that means she can’t alter her human body to have larger – or smaller – anythings, hopefully she can do something about the purple skin in the future.
  2586. >Exotic is fun and all, but…
  2587. >”Well, so very sorry to be living proof, darling,” Rari-he eventually grumbles, spinning himself around to display every angle to your princess, “but it *is* possible. I am surprised that a pair of cosplayers would know more about this than you, but apparently…”
  2588. >She leaves the insult hanging, but you’re fairly certain Twilight’s frown has less to do with that and more to do with the idea that her knowledge on a subject is incomplete.
  2589. >Also, that Celestia must be keeping certain magics hidden from her.
  2590. >That must sting.
  2591. >Almost as much as –
  2592. >”Apparently they do,” Twilight grudgingly concedes. “I’ll just have to have a little chat with ‘Sunny Smiles’ about this.”
  2593. >”Well, if you are tired of arguing the impossibility of the *very* possible, they should be somewhere over there,” Rari-he sneers, pointing down the hallway with his hoof. “Or you could do something *productive* and see what is keeping that horrid brother of yours!”
  2594. >Twilight’s jaw drops in shock at Rarity’s tone, but she recovers swiftly.
  2595. >Anger can do that.
  2596. >”He’s doing everything he can, Rarity,” she growls back. “I think I *will* go have a chat with your new friends, because mine current ones aren’t being very fun to talk to right now.”
  2597. >She prances off quickly, leaving Rarity gasping in dismay.
  2598. >Her bright red cape makes her easy to track in the crowd, so you don’t follow immediately.
  2599. >You *did* promise to fix everything.
  2600. “Look, Rarity, you know how she can be. It’s just –“
  2601. >”Oh, do shut up and just chase after her like the loyal little puppy you are.”
  2602. >Okay, fuck her, you tried.
  2603. >You’ll fix that later.
  2604. >It’s easy to catch up to your marefriend – not only is she highly visible, she also stopped to wait for you.
  2605. >That probably helped.
  2606. >”Can you *believe* her?” Twilight hisses once you’re at her side again.
  2607. “Well, she *does* have a cock now – presumably. I didn’t exactly check. – so, yeah, I guess –“
  2608. >”Not that, Anon,” your princess snaps. “I mean her attitude!”
  2609. >Actually, you can.
  2610. >Rarity has been under a lot of stress, all leading up to this day.
  2611. >She’s worried about her sister.
  2612. >She’s worried that all of her hard work will be for nothing.
  2613. >She’s probably got unfamiliar hormones throwing her brain chemistry off or something.
  2614. >You’re also smart enough not to say all of that to Twilight.
  2615. “Actually, I can.”
  2616. >Or maybe you’re not.
  2617. >She frowns at you, but waits patient – or more actually, her body language *demands* – for you to explain.
  2618. >Her anger slips away bit by bit as you do so, and in the end she is nodding along.
  2619. >”That… makes sense,” she sighs. “But I thought she would understand…”
  2620. “And she thought that *you* would understand.”
  2621. >”She *told* you that?”
  2622. >You smile sheepishly before answering.
  2623. “Not exactly, no.”
  2624. >”I thought not.”
  2625. >Twilight sighs and glances back over her shoulder – she can’t see Rarity with all of the other ponies in the way, but you don’t think she was really expecting to.
  2626. >Maybe just hopeful that her friend had followed to apologize or something.
  2627. >There’s not flash of white, no bright purple mane bouncing through the crowd, nothing to make Twilight pause any longer.
  2628. “Don’t worry about her. Everything will be –”
  2629. >”How am I supposed to do that?” Twilight huffs before you can finish. “You made some extremely valid arguments.”
  2630. >Dammit.
  2631. >She lingers a moment longer before sighing again.
  2632. >”Let’s find ‘Sunny Smiles’,” she mutters dejectedly. “Maybe she can answer a few questions.”
  2633. "And by that, you mean ask her to teach you that spell."
  2634. >Or at least the magical theory behind it.
  2635. >"No."
  2636. >Huh?
  2637. >"No," your princess repeats with a forlorn sigh. "I want to know why we were taught those kinds of spells can't exist when *obviously*..."
  2638. "Oh."
  2639. >This could be interesting.
  2640. >To put it one way.
  2641. >"More importantly, it makes me wonder just what else she..."
  2642. "Lied about?"
  2643. >"... didn't fully explain," your princess corrects.
  2644. >That probably is a better way to put it.
  2645. >Tia might even have a valid reason.
  2646. >"Of course, that's not the first bit of impossible magic I've seen this year." She bumps her flank into your leg and gives you a tiny smile. "And that didn't turn out so bad, did it?"
  2647. "No, it didn't."
  2648. >Twilight's eyes sparkle when you return her smile.
  2649. >Just as enthralling as the changelings. More, because this isn't just some random pony - this is your princess.
  2650. >And she's happy.
  2651. >Maybe because you're here, maybe because she's about to learn something new.
  2652. >Doesn't matter.
  2653. >She's happy.
  2654. >You're so lost in her eyes that it catches you completely off guard when she surges forward
  2655. >"Come on, Anon!" she calls out. "Let's see what else she can teach me!"
  2656. >You shouldn't be surprised.
  2657. >You *aren't* surprised.
  2658. >And yet - somehow - it comes as a shock. You can't help but laugh at yourself as you stumble after her.
  2659. >You move through the mass of ponies easily - it's not as dense as it appears, but the nervous pacing of the waiting ponies makes it feel twice as crowded.
  2660. >Several of your friends are amongst them - probably *all* of your friends, but you only see Trixie, Aredee and Ponks, and only in passing.
  2661. >They're all preoccupied with other things - Trixie's entire focus seems to be on preventing anypony from trampling her overly-flouncy blue dress, and Ponka is - as always - busy being Ponka.
  2662. >Only Aredee seems to notice you.
  2663. >At least, you're pretty sure that smug little shit-eating grin was meant for you.
  2664. >"Do you see them anywhere?" Twilight calls back to you from just up ahead. "I don't - oh!"
  2665. >She nearly runs into Sunny nose-first.
  2666. >You try not to laugh.
  2667. >You're a *good* coltfriend.
  2668. >Because you tried.
  2669. >And that's important.
  2670. >"Looking for somepony?" the larger mare asks jovially as her sister coughs violently behind her.
  2671. >"Looking for... uh... you, actually," your princess answers, leaning to one side to peer past Sunny Smiles. "Um, is P - um - L - uh - your sister okay?"
  2672. >She doesn't really look okay.
  2673. >Can ponies get tuberculosis?
  2674. >Because from where you're standing, it looks like ponies can get TB.
  2675. >Except -
  2676. "Check out her costume, Twi."
  2677. >Your marefriend dances back a few steps and eyes the wrong sister carefully, taking in the winged helmet and scale armor.
  2678. >”And…?”
  2679. >”I think he meant Moonbeam,” Sunny Smiles chuckles, stepping aside to give Twilight a clearer view.
  2680. >”She’s wearing red robes…?” Twilight asks, not quite understanding, though you can see it dawning on her face almost as soon as the words leave her mouth. “Oh, you’re dressed as – wait! What? Those aren’t red!”
  2681. >Indeed not – Moonbeam’s outfit is actually black, though cloaked in an illusion.
  2682. >”That’s pretty shoddy spellwork,” your princess comments almost immediately. “I only had to look for a few seconds to see through it.”
  2683. >”But you know who we are dressed as today?” Sunny asks her ex-student, pleasantly surprised. “And here I was, thinking that you were too… um…”
  2684. >”Innocent?” Moonbeam recommends in a harsh rasp. “Or maybe blind?”
  2685. >Sunny considers the suggestions, but shakes her head.
  2686. >”A little strong, sister,” she answers. “No, it just caught me surprise. I thought I knew everything about my little Twilight Sparkle, but –“
  2687. >”You’re a fool if you think that still,” Moonbeam hisses. “Particularly after everything you’ve learned these past few days.”
  2688. >Twilight looks at you with one eyebrow raised while the sisters are bickering.
  2689. >”Soooo, *are* they dressed as who I think they’re dressed as?” she asks you. “And if so, why are – um – Moonbeam’s robes actually black?”
  2690. “Yes, and –“
  2691. >”If you answer that, you will spend the rest of your impossibly long life in complete agony!”
  2692. “ – spoilers, Twi.”
  2693. >Your little princess groans adorably.
  2694. >”Calm down, sister,” Sunny laughs, stepping between you and Moonbeam, “but I’m guessing that means you haven’t read the third book, Twilight?”
  2695. >Your princess paws at the floor nervously – she’s worried she may have just spoiled something for herself.
  2696. >”No… I’ve… had trouble getting my hooves on that one,” Twilight answers after a few seconds.
  2697. >You look around frantically, expecting Pinkie Pie to bounce out of the crowd and fling the book in Twi’s general direction – but nothing happens.
  2698. >You even check your pouches, remembering how she got the first book, but there’s nothing in them that you didn’t put there yourself.
  2699. >”Sister?” Sunny calls back to Moonbeam. “Do you know what happened to our copy of -?”
  2700. >”No.” When the white mare continues to look at her expectantly, Moonbeam continues. “You probably ate it.”
  2701. >Twilight sighs loudly and kicks at the floor with more force than before.
  2702. >”Sorry,” Sunny grins apologetically at your marefriend, “maybe… well… how *did* you get the first two?”
  2703. >Twilight looks at you askance – she got the second book on her own, probably from Pinko, but the first came from you.
  2704. >And you never did explain where it came from, just that it was one of the books you grew up reading.
  2705. >Maybe it’s just pride speaking, but you want to keep that air of mystery.
  2706. >Ponks slipped you the book in secret, so that when you handed it to Twilight it would be a gift from *you*.
  2707. >That feels important.
  2708. “We have our ways.”
  2709. >”Pinkie Pie,” Moonbeam immediately growls.”
  2710. >”Pinkie Pie,” her sister agrees.
  2711. >”I *told* you that mare would be trouble!”
  2712. >”And I never disagreed!”
  2713. >Well, fuck that plan.
  2714. >"I disagree," Twilight cuts in firmly, the steel of her tone instantly quieting the other two mares.
  2715. >She stares at them in silence, waiting for - what? an apology? - until it grows too awkward for even Princess Antisocial herself.
  2716. >"We know that she is your friend, Twilight Sparkle," Moonbeam says, not quite apologetically, but honestly, "but there are some things -"
  2717. >"If it wasn't for her, Anon wouldn't be here!" your princess shouts. "And I don't like what you're implying!"
  2718. >Luna - not Moonbeam, she's not pretending anymore - Luna bristles as your marefriend's accusation.
  2719. >"You. Don't. Know -"
  2720. >"Oh."
  2721. >Luna's mouth snaps shut at Celestia's soft gasp.
  2722. >"You found out?" the princess of the sun asks softly.
  2723. >Her eyes are firmly locked on the floor, but you know - you just know - that she's not talking to Twilight. Spend enough time alone with somepony and you learn them pretty well.
  2724. "Yeah, Tia. We know."
  2725. >Celestia doesn't acknowledge your inclusion of Twi. In fact, she barely responds at all, just sighs deeply and loudly and with a distinct stutter.
  2726. "She told me last night, but..."
  2727. >You shrug slightly, but the gesture is wasted - Celestia still refused to look up.
  2728. >"I - I hope you weren't too angry with her, my human..."
  2729. “Angry? At her?”
  2730. >The bitch princess looks up hopefully.
  2731. “Why would I be angry at *her*?”
  2732. >”G-good.”
  2733. >She tries to fake a smile.
  2734. >Not very convincingly – she’s a bitch, not stupid, and knows exactly what you meant by that – but she tries. She tries to put on a happy face and pretend and that counts for something.
  2735. “But why would you even try to keep that hidden from me?”
  2736. >Even as you ask, a dozen thoughts flit through your mind –
  2737. > – because you were angry –
  2738. > – because she was worried about what you might do –
  2739. > – because she thought she was safe from your anger –
  2740. > – because she couldn’t admit she didn’t know –
  2741. > – because pride wouldn’t allow someone else to have the credit
  2742. > – or the blame –
  2743. >Is Tia really *that* arrogant?
  2744. >”And why would you teach us that polymorph spells can’t alter an individual’s appearance?” Twilight adds when the other princess doesn’t answer. “I – I mean, I’m *sure* you have a reason –“
  2745. >Celestia always has a reason.
  2746. >She’s too clever to *not*.
  2747. >”Perhaps now isn’t the right time for this discussion, Twilight,” Tia murmurs, casting her eyes about meaningfully.
  2748. >”Not when there’s so many more interesting things to talk about!” Pinkie Pie agrees loudly.
  2749. >Fuck!
  2750. >Where did she come from!?
  2751. >The mare effortlessly dodges your ninja-like flailing as she bounces past you and around each princess in turn.
  2752. >”Like, did you know Rarity had a ding-a-ling now!?” she asks, sounding something between horrified and entrigued. “How does that even happen!?”
  2753. >”That *was* what we were talking about, Pinkie Pie,” your marefriend grumbles. “Before you interrupted us.”
  2754. >”Oh, was I too late?” the earth mare pouts. “Then how about those costumes?”
  2755. >She shoves her nose into Sunny Smile’s scale-clad chest.
  2756. >”We’re all dressed as our Burrows and Basilisks characters,” Ponka says quickly. “Why aren’t you?”
  2757. >Not exactly the most pressing question.
  2758. >But an interesting one.
  2759. >”Well, we *were* going to change before the game,” Sunny explains, “so –“
  2760. >”Oh, is that why Moonbeam has an illusion on her costume!? Oh, wait, no, she’s… um… what are you playing?”
  2761. >”Not a wizard.”
  2762. >”Oh, then why -?”
  2763. “Their costumes are themed, Ponkie.”
  2764. >”Oooooh.” She prances back a few steps to take in both of the sisters’ costumes side-by-side. “I don’t get it.”
  2765. “Panty and Stocking are sisters.”
  2766. >Ponks nods.
  2767. “Stocking betrays her sister and cuts her into pieces.”
  2768. >”Okaaaaaay.”
  2769. “Leman Russ and Lion El’Jonson are brothers.”
  2770. >”Well, duh!”
  2771. “The Lion stabs the Wolf in the heart. They make up, but…”
  2772. >Sunny Smiles nods, an embarrassed smile playing across her face.
  2773. >”I don’t want to hear this last one, do I?” Twilight asks before you can continue, but she doesn’t move away.
  2774. >”You’re a smart mare,” Moonbeam answers. “You should have already figured it out by now.”
  2775. “And as for their current costumes… going to cover your ears, Twi?”
  2776. >She shakes her head.
  2777. >”Why bother?” your princess sighs. “Raistlin betrays Caramon, doesn’t he?”
  2778. >”There’s… more to it than that,” Moonbeam answers with surprising timidity. “But yes.”
  2779. >Sunny nods again.
  2780. >”Corn Cob and Fastball aren’t related,” she explains to the little pony, “so we were only going to wear those costumes for the game.”
  2781. >”Ooooooooooooooh!”
  2782. >Almost immediately, Ponks tilts her head to one side and stares at the two questioningly.
  2783. >Dammit, and you thought she understood.
  2784. >”Okay, but why?” the mare asks. “Seems a liiiittle dark.”
  2785. >”And Anon dressing as the Old Man Henderson, the God-Emperor, and Paladin isn’t?” Moonbeam scoffs. “At least two of our sets have somewhat happy endings, but his…”
  2786. >She waves a hoof at you accusingly.
  2787. >”… none of his do. Not really.”
  2788. >”Leave it, sister,” the other mare objects. “We chose these costumes for a reason –“
  2789. >She pauses to wink at you.
  2790. >Why…?
  2791. >Shit.
  2792. >They were hints, weren’t they?
  2793. >They wanted you to know who they were.
  2794. “Do you always dress like this?”
  2795. >”As… siblings?” Sunny asks coyly. “Yes. The other part – that was a –“
  2796. >Dammit, she’s smiling. It was definitely a hint.
  2797. >Should *not* have taken an explanation from Discord for you to figure this out.
  2798. >” – a one-off thing,” she finishes. “Next year, we were thinking about coming as Ui and Yui from K-on.”
  2799. >”But we need at least four more ponies,” Moonbeam argues. “Besides, it would be creepy if we dressed up as schoolfillies –“
  2800. “But you always dress as siblings?”
  2801. >”Yes.”
  2802. “Adult siblings?”
  2803. >”Preferably,” Moonbeam answers quickly, though her sister shrugs apathetically.
  2804. “Firefly?”
  2805. >”Dibs on River!” they cry out in near-unison.
  2806. >You’re not sure which of the sisters spoke first, but neither are they.
  2807. >”We will discuss this later,” Moonbeam firmly tells the other mare. “*Later*.”
  2808. >Probably at great length.
  2809. >A tug on your tattered robe draws your eyes back to your princess.
  2810. >”Firefly…?” Twilight asks.
  2811. “Um… later?”
  2812. >Tia *has* to have a copy of that back at the castle.
  2813. >”I’m guessing this ‘Firefly’ is a human thing?” your little princess asks cautiously. “Yet another sad ending?”
  2814. “I…”
  2815. >”Yes,” Sunny Smiles answers.
  2816. >”No,” her sister contradicts.
  2817. >Not the first time they’ve disagreed like that, but this one you’ve seen.
  2818. “Both.”
  2819. >”Bittersweet, then,” your princess sighs. “Is that the best I can ever hope for from human media?”
  2820. >”There may be some sad moments,” Sunny tells her softly, “but they do the impossible –“
  2821. >”*Another* pattern I’ve noticed.”
  2822. >Twilight doesn’t seem to mind that particular trend, though.
  2823. >How could she?
  2824. >You’ve promised to do it for her.
  2825. >And she believes in you.
  2826. >”Fine,” Twi grumbles quietly. “But *after* we watch something genuinely cheerful.”
  2827. >That shouldn’t be a problem – not with your recent purchases.
  2828. >Not with one of them, at least.
  2829. >The other…
  2830. >She was warned that it had a sad ending, so it’s not your fault.
  2831. >You’ll still be blamed for it anyway.
  2832. >Oddly enough, you’re okay with that.
  2833. >Sunny shifts uncomfortably, coming closer to your princess.
  2834. >”I suggested to your coltfriend that you two stay a few extra days,” she whispers, trying to keep Ponks from hearing for some reason. “Maybe we could share a few of our favorites with you.”
  2835. >Your princess frowns slightly.
  2836. >”As appealing as that is, I have an awful lot of work to do.”
  2837. >”I – I know, but – “ Sunny’s eyes flicker towards you meaningfully “ – sometimes, it’s more important to make time for others.”
  2838. >Something she never fucking seemed to manage doing for herself.
  2839. >Despite delegating damn near everything to one favored student or another, she still couldn’t find the time to “rehabilitate” you herself.
  2840. >Bitch.
  2841. >”I know that,” your princess snaps back. “In fact –“
  2842. >You shake your head frantically.
  2843. >Tia doesn’t need to know Twi blew off her assigned work to research polymorph spells.
  2844. >” – just three days ago –“
  2845. >Craaaaaaap.
  2846. >”It would also be an excellent opportunity for you to get some answers,” Sunny Smiles taunts playfully.
  2847. >Or is it more of a pleading whine?
  2848. >Twilight sighs heavily and looks up to you, silently asking for your opinion.
  2849. >You nod – answers would be nice, not that you really expect any.
  2850. >”Fine.”
  2851. >”Excellent!” Sunny cheers, followed by a cautious look towards Ponks.
  2852. >She needn’t have worried about the other mare trying to piggyback on the invitation – sometime during the hushed whispers, your friend must have gotten bored and wandered off.
  2853. >At least, she’s not where she was, nor can you see her anywhere close by.
  2854. >You do, however, catch sight of Lyra and Octavia.
  2855. >Thankfully, both look sober.
  2856. >Unfortunately, one of them is still Lyra.
  2857. >They notice you at the same time and wander over – or already had and had been coming your direction before you saw them.
  2858. >Octavia is wearing an actual costume today, not just a change of bowtie. Large, black armor slabs cover her body.
  2859. “Hey, I recognize that costume! You’re dressed as Bass!”
  2860. >Another borrowed bit of human culture – ponies don’t have game consoles, so they can’t possibly have a – a *MegaPony* franchise.
  2861. >Right…?
  2862. >”Ugh,” Octavia scoffs. “Call me by the *original* name – Forte. So much more refined.”
  2863. “Whatever you want, *Bass*.”
  2864. >The musician’s tail lashes angrily and she turns towards your marefriend.
  2865. >”Princess, would it trouble you greatly if I killed him?”
  2866. >Okay, maybe she’s not *totally* sober.
  2867. >Either that or you managed to hit her weak spot.
  2868. “Bring it, little pony.”
  2869. >You’re fairly certain you can take her, even without your power armor.
  2870. >It’ll probably depend on how well she’s hiding her drunkenness right now.
  2871. >Fairly certain, despite Lyra’s panicked gestures.
  2872. >She must be worried you’ll injure her friend, because the opposite is unthinkable.
  2873. >”Um, not *really* okay with this,” Twilight growls, cautiously eyeing the grey mare. “I don’t want anypony to get hurt.”
  2874. >“Well, worst case scenario, you could have his corpse stuffed,” Moonbeam suggests dryly.
  2875. >Ah.
  2876. >Classic Luna humor at its best.
  2877. >”Don’t worry, Princess,” Octavia laughs menacingly. “I’ll keep it above the waist.”
  2878. >”Above the waist!?”
  2879. >”So he can keep *you* stuffed,” the musician leers.
  2880. >”WHAT!?”
  2881. >What in-fucking-deed.
  2882. >”Every mare needs a good dicking, now and again,” Octavia growls, “and from what I’ve heard –“
  2883. >Your princess’s face turns a lovely shade of I-will-fucking-murder-you-all-and-get-away-with-it-because-I’m-a-princess-and-Luna-is-NOT-excluded.
  2884. >”Well, if you’re too chicken…” the angriest little boozer mocks “… then –“
  2885. “Yeah, let’s go with that.”
  2886. >You’re not about to disappoint your princess, not now.
  2887. >Or ruin Rarity’s thing.
  2888. >Whatever it is.
  2889. >You’re still not entirely sure about that.
  2890. >Octavia growls as Lyra steers her away from you, but doesn’t fight against her friend’s guidance.
  2891. >”You’re lucky she’s still mostly sober,” the unicorn hisses in your direction. “Otherwise –“
  2892. >“She’s sober?” Twi asks incredulously. “I really –“
  2893. >Lyra cuts her off with a shake of her head.
  2894. >”*Mostly* sober,” the unicorn corrects.
  2895. >”How can you tell?”
  2896. >”Well – I mean – you can understand what she’s saying, can’t you?” Lyra answers with a slight frown.
  2897. >That… uh… that’s actually a pretty good way to judge her drunkenness, judging from the handful of times you’ve met the mare.
  2898. “Relatively speaking, Twi, she’s probably barely buzzed.”
  2899. >”I –“
  2900. >Your marefriend’s response is cut off by the booming thud of doors being slammed open.
  2901. >”RARITY!”
  2902. >Shining Armor does *not* sound happy.
  2903. >”MISS RARITY!” he calls out again. “IS MISS RARITY HERE?”
  2904. >Despite the obvious gravity of the situation, your princess can’t help but smile in amusement.
  2905. >Just imagine her brother’s face when he finds out that Rarity is –
  2906. >”Ah, there you are!”
  2907. >Or nevermind, apparently he already knows that she is currently a he.
  2908. >Twilight makes a confused grunt as you push your way through the crowd, but follows. She’s taller than most ponies, but not tall enough to see.
  2909. >From your vantage point about, oh, two to three feet above everypony else in the crowd save Moonbeam and Sunny, you can see the captain of the guard approaching your friend.
  2910. >He does not look happy.
  2911. >Concerned, maybe angry, perhaps even furious, but certainly not happy.
  2912. >Neither does Rarity.
  2913. >This will not end well.
  2914. >You have no idea how the hell your presence could possibly help – you usually make things worse – but Twilight… she should be able to do *something*.
  2915. >He’s going to cancel the show, isn’t he?
  2916. >It’s an active crime scene.
  2917. >For all you know, there’s a pile of corpses in the auditorium – there’s plenty of guardsponies around, but you don’t see a single prisoner or anything to explain what happened to the ponies that threatened Twilight earlier.
  2918. >It’s unlikely, but –
  2919. >”What’s happening?” your princess ask, straining to see over the other ponies.
  2920. “Nothing, yet.”
  2921. >”Hopefully things stay that way,” Sunny adds – you look over your shoulder in surprise. Good, Moonbeam and Sunny are coming along, too.
  2922. >The more princesses the better.
  2923. >Even if Luna has a sour expression.
  2924. >She obviously thinks her sister wish is wasted.
  2925. >Your little convoy reaches Rarity just moments behind Shining Armor – the two are already arguing quietly.
  2926. >As you expected, he’s shutting down the event.
  2927. >”But why!?” Rari-he hisses softly, yet intently, as you come up beside her. She barely gives you a glance – probably not even registering your presence – before stomping her hoof and pressing the issue. “If there’s no danger –“
  2928. >”I didn’t say that,” Shining Armor answers with a brusque shake of his head. “Only that it didn’t *seem* dangerous.”
  2929. >”Then why!?”
  2930. >”Miss Rarity –“
  2931. >The stallion hesitates – his eyes sweep the crowd and he notices you, or more accurately, the princesses with you and he relaxes slightly.
  2932. >”Miss Rarity, if you would come with me…” he says, jerking his head towards the auditorium door. “We should probably speak in private.”
  2933. >”No.”
  2934. >She stomps again for emphasis – her hoof slams into the tile with such a crash that heads turn in surprise. Even she seems a little stunned by the loud noise.
  2935. >Problems with having a new body, you suppose.
  2936. >Still, she seems determined to get answers – and *now*.
  2937. “Rarity, you’re making a scene.”
  2938. >”I –“ she glances aside and sees the other ponies watching intently. “Oh, bother. Lead on, you brute!”
  2939. >Shining Armor nods and turns. Some small gesture from him sends the pair of guardsponies at his side dashing off in opposite directions down the hallway, followed by the majority of the others stationed around the area.
  2940. >The only ones left are those standing guard over the auditorium.
  2941. >They jerk the doors open for their commanding officer and your friend.
  2942. >Rarity disappears into the room, immediately, but Shining Armor pauses just inside the threshold.
  2943. >”Should we…?”
  2944. >Twilight doesn’t finish the question, but you know what she’s asking.
  2945. >Should you follow.
  2946. >Her brother answers that for you – he looks back through the open door impatiently.
  2947. >Twilight canters out of the crowd and you follow at a quick walk.
  2948. >Shining Armor is still looking expectantly in your direction, but you’re – oh – you look behind you.
  2949. >Moonbeam and Sunny Smiles haven’t moved.
  2950. >The larger mare points at her scale-clad chest and shakes her head slightly.
  2951. >Dammit.
  2952. >Right.
  2953. >They’re in disguise.
  2954. >Rarity might not mind if you and Twi join her, but two mares that are little more than acquaintances would be too much.
  2955. >Shining Armor is frowning as you walk through the open doors.
  2956. >Shit.
  2957. >Whatever is going on, if *one* godly alicorn princess can’t solve it…
  2958. >Bah, he’s probably just trying to avoid involving his sister.
  2959. >Kind of funny how he still has to be so protective of her. You’re not even sure how many times she’s put her life on the line for Equestria and come out alive.
  2960. >He really needs to accept that his little sister has grown up and is – for all intents and purposes – an all-powerful goddess.
  2961. >Not quite, but close enough.
  2962. >She might have to do some experimentation and make several attempts, but your princess never fails at anything she sets her mind to.
  2963. >Whatever is going on, she can handle it.
  2964. >The doors snap shut behind you, leaving the four of you alone in the cavernous room.
  2965. >No stagehands, no guards, no piles of corpses.
  2966. >”Well?” Rari-he barks, not bothering to keep her voice down now. “What in Equestria could *possibly* justify ruining my darling little sister’s debut performance!?”
  2967. >”Miss Rarity – your sister is missing.”
  2968. >”What!?”
  2969. >Big surprise. Those three are always running off to try to earn their cutie mar- well, they could be trying to help Scootaloo with hers.
  2970. >”She is *late!?*” Rarity all-but-screams. “This is *unacceptable*! After all the hard work I – and *everypony* - have put into this production, the very least she could do is –“
  2971. >”No,” Shining Armor tells her firmly. “She’s not late.”
  2972. >”Then –“
  2973. >”We’ve swept the con, Miss Rarity. Nopony can find her, or her two friends.”
  2974. >Shit.
  2975. >Who knows where they’ve wandered off to.
  2976. “Better start sweeping the city, then. Those three can –“
  2977. >”Has anyone told Applejack?” Rarity cuts in. “No, on second thought, we shouldn’t. We can find them –“
  2978. >Her eyes gleam as she looks at your marefriend.
  2979. >”Twilight, darling, surely you can cast some spell.” The loose hoof-waving gesture she makes just doesn’t look right with a stallion’s body. “Something to find them before it is too late! We still have – well, if it starts *soon*, it will not be *too* late.”
  2980. >It’s denial – you’ve seen it before.
  2981. >From both sides.
  2982. >She’s close to panicking. Truly panicking, not her silly little fainting spells and “worst possible thing” act.
  2983. >But she has a point – that’s why Twilight is here, isn’t it?
  2984. >All-powerful alicorn magic?
  2985. >Your marefriend is considering it, her eyes staring vaguely into the distance as she tries to think of some spell that might be useful.
  2986. >”Miss Rarity,” Shining Armor sighs, “the guard are searching for her and her friends, but –“
  2987. “But?”
  2988. >Rarity is too busy pleading with Twilight to answer.
  2989. >”We have…” he pauses, searching for the right word. “We have witnesses that have told us some *very* - I don’t even know. The fillies were fighting –“
  2990. >”They are at that age,” Rarity snaps back, barely paying attention. “And two of the darlings just acquired their cutie marks! While distasteful, it is no great surprise that they would – well, *you* know what that age was like.“
  2991. >”Maybe,” Shining Armor responds with a frown that would do the great Dredd proud. “With any luck, she was just exaggerating.”
  2992. >Regardless of what he said, he doesn’t seem to put much hope in it.
  2993. “Who?”
  2994. >He looks at you like you’re insane.
  2995. >”Swee –“
  2996. “No, the witness.”
  2997. >If it’s somepony from Ponyville, you’d know them better than he does.
  2998. >Possibly.
  2999. >If it’s one of… maybe twenty ponies.
  3000. >He looks you up and down once, then nods grimly.
  3001. >Looks like you pass inspection.
  3002. >Again.
  3003. >You *are* basically Twilight’s Captain of the Guard – and Sweetie Belle is – maybe? – one of her subjects.
  3004. >Her physical territory is vague, to say the least.
  3005. >”Another filly and a stallion,” he tells you. “Berry Pinch and –“
  3006. “And some brown stallion who always somehow managed to avoid telling you his name?”
  3007. >He nods grimly.
  3008. >”I wasn’t sure what to make of his statement, plus he managed to slip out of custody quickly,” Shining Armor continues, “but from what they said, Sweetie Belle wasn’t late. She was here early, in fact. Arrived before we accidentally stumbled in here.”
  3009. >Shit.
  3010. “Those stallions. They didn’t –“
  3011. >He shakes his head.
  3012. >”No, that’s about where things stopped making any damn sense. The filly said Sweetie Belle did *something* to them, but somepony of her age shouldn’t have even been able to cast that kind of mind-control magic –“
  3013. >”What kind of magic?” Twilight asks suddenly. “Maybe it wasn’t… her…?”
  3014. >She doesn’t know how much to say in front of her friend, and you give her a quick nod of approval.
  3015. >No sense outing the changelings.
  3016. >A riot would only make the fillies even harder to find.
  3017. >”We don’t know,” Shining Armor answers. “And no, Twily, you don’t need to examine them. Believe it or not, there are a few guardsponies that are actually decent at what we do.”
  3018. >A weak attempt to lighten the mood – you think the brief smile he flashes his sister does more good.
  3019. >Twilight might not have much faith in the guard – and neither do you – but you have faith in her.
  3020. “You didn’t –“
  3021. >Shit, what’s the term for it?
  3022. >Whatever, you’ll wing it.
  3023. “You didn’t sense anything affecting them when they threatened you, right?
  3024. >Her eyes pop open.
  3025. >Silly little bookpony.
  3026. >She hadn’t even thought of that.
  3027. >”Nooooooo?”
  3028. “So whatever it was – assuming she didn’t just say something that put them in a bad mood –“
  3029. >”She knows better than that!”
  3030. “Sorry, Rarity, no insult intended. But whatever it was can’t have been anything you would have recognized on sight, like…”
  3031. >You have no idea, but your marefriend can fill in the blank on her own.
  3032. >”Well, *whatever* it is, you all have the wrong impression of my darling little sister!” Rarity huffs angrily. “If you will not help me look for her, then I shall just have find her myself!”
  3033. >”We’re helping, Rarity,” your princess tries to comfort the ma-stall-uh – marshmallow. “We’re just trying to figure out what exactly is going on.”
  3034. >”You do that,” Rarity snorts, trotting towards the door. “I am *sure* they are just playing around in some corner somewhere.”
  3035. >The mare trots towards the door.
  3036. >Twilight reaches out to her, but her brother pushes her leg down.
  3037. >”Let her do what she feels she has to do,” he tells your princess. “She certainly won’t do any good here. Not like this.”
  3038. >Seems to fly in the face of any police drama you’ve ever watched, but since when have those things ever been accurate.
  3039. >Rarity’s blue aura wraps itself around the door’s handle, jerking it open before she even reaches it.
  3040. >Seems news of the show’s delay was not taken particularly well by the crowd – they weren’t particularly loud before, but now the roar is deafening.
  3041. >You feel sorry for whatever poor guardspony had to deliver that particular bit of good news.
  3042. >At least they don’t seem to be rioting.
  3043. >A potted plant flies past the open door, corrected that little assumption of yours.
  3044. >Shit.
  3045. >”On second thought…” Rarity mumbles, barely loud enough to be heard over the clamor outside. “No, I shan’t hesitate! This is all the more reason to find my sister before something truly horrible –“
  3046. >And then it’s too late.
  3047. >In a rush of wind and discordant noise, the entire length of the wall bursts inward, throwing jagged fragments of wood through the air.
  3048. >It happens in an instant.
  3049. >There’s no time to even recognize what is happening, let alone step between your princess and the oncoming debris, but somehow you do.
  3050. >You’re wearing armor – and even costume pieces you’re wearing offer more protection than her cloak.
  3051. >You feel some small amount of satisfaction and pride, before all you feel is –
  3052. >- nothing.
  3053. >No, not quite nothing.
  3054. >You feel annoyed.
  3055. >Possibly even pissed off.
  3056. “LUNA!”
  3057. >The shout echoes through the ruined Canterlot dreamscape you suddenly found yourself in.
  3058. “GODSDAMMIT, LUNA! I’M NOT ASLEEP!”
  3059. >A wisp of black smoke curls up from the corner of your eye – you try to turn to face it, but find yourself trapped. Just like the last dream, your legs and chest and buried in rubble from collapsing buildings.
  3060. >The smoke drifts into your field of view, solidifying into the princess of the night.
  3061. “I. Am. Not. Asleep. Luna.”
  3062. >”Thou art not,” she admits with a slight incline of her head. “Not exactly.”
  3063. “Then what?”
  3064. >”If our timing is correct –“
  3065. “If you fucking tell me that I’m dying and this is my last chance to see Twilight, I swear to whatever dark gods rule this realm –“
  3066. >”- thou art unconscious.”
  3067. >Oh.
  3068. “Nevermind.”
  3069. >“However –“
  3070. “GODSDAMMIT!”
  3071. >You throw a chunk of masonry at her head.
  3072. >Not your finest moment, you admit.
  3073. >Though it misses, Luna is *not* amused.
  3074. >”However,” she repeats in a low rumble, “this *may* be your last chance to see Twilight Sparkle before –“
  3075. “Before you send me back?”
  3076. >”WILT THOU EVER SHUT UP!?”
  3077. >It’s doubtful, but you try.
  3078. >”As we were saying,” Luna growls after several miraculous seconds of silence, “this might be thine last chance to speak with your beloved for now. Savor it.”
  3079. >You try to sit up, impossible though it is with the debris piled on your lower body.
  3080. >And – to an extent – you succeed.
  3081. “Care to expla – ow.”
  3082. >Fucking OW.
  3083. >You clutch at your chest, trying to find the source of the sudden pain, but your hand comes away clean.
  3084. >No blood.
  3085. >No gaping wound in your dreamself.
  3086. >The intensity of the pain grows to almost unbearable levels.
  3087. >Worse than anything you can imagine.
  3088. >”Worry not,” Luna tries – in her own detached way – to comfort you. “Tis only your mortal body suffering some discomfort –“
  3089. “*Some* discomfort!? I think I *am* dying, dammit!”
  3090. >Heart attack, maybe?
  3091. >Or more likely, wooden stake to the godsdamned chest.
  3092. “If I wake up and I’m impaled on something, I swear –“
  3093. >”That thou shalt pull the offending object free and exact righteous vengeance?”
  3094. >You nod – speaking is too much to ask right now.
  3095. >”No matter the impossibility of it?”
  3096. >Another nod, shallower this time.
  3097. >Just moving hurts.
  3098. >”Of course thou would,” Luna sighs, but with a slight smile. “It is what humans do. The impossible.”
  3099. >She pauses for a second, her expression turning soft.
  3100. >”That, and sacrifice thyself for those thou love.”
  3101. >Who wouldn’t?
  3102. >”Savor these last few moments with Twilight Sparkle,” the mare says sadly, “but keep hope in thine heart, for thou shalt be home soon. We art –“
  3103.  
  3104. >”Anon!”
  3105. >Oh godsdammit, you *hurt*.
  3106. >You’re awake, and you *HURT*.
  3107. >”Twilight, get off the man,” a gentle voice urges. “You are crushing him.”
  3108. >”I have to see if he’s –!”
  3109. “I’m fine, Twi…”
  3110. >Maybe.
  3111. >You don’t feel fine, but you don’t want her to worry.
  3112. >Her face is hovering over yours – flecks of red speckle her face like –
  3113. >Oh, that’s blood.
  3114. >Probably yours.
  3115. >Hopefully yours and not hers.
  3116. >She shifts slightly, raising herself up – and you scream.
  3117. >Not scream – that’s not manly.
  3118. >It’s more of a – uh –
  3119. >No, you scream.
  3120. >”Twilight,” Sunny Smiles says urgently, “you are stepping on him –“
  3121. >”OH!”
  3122. >With a flutter of her wings, your princesses hops off your chest –
  3123. >It feels somewhat blasphemes to think this, but thank the stars.
  3124. > - and the pain – the vast majority of it, anyhow – disappears.
  3125. >You still ache all over, but you can breathe with only mildly excruciating agony.
  3126. >Broken rib, maybe?
  3127. >You have no clue – you’ve never had a broken rib before.
  3128. >Sitting up is difficult, but you manage.
  3129. >Getting to your feet is another thing – one best left for later.
  3130. >A single attempt is all it takes to convince you of that.
  3131. “Twi.”
  3132. >The entire wall is gone.
  3133. >Rarity is –
  3134. >Whatever happened, she was right there. At least you had *something* between you and – and – you have no idea what.
  3135. “Twi, what the fuck happened.”
  3136. >”You nearly died, dumbass!” she chokes out, smacking your shoulder with her hoof.
  3137. >Lightly.
  3138. >Good, she remembered to do it lightly.
  3139. >Thank the stars for small mercies.
  3140. “Good thing I got in front of you, huh?”
  3141. >”What? No!”
  3142. >Another jab, this one more forceful.
  3143. >Ow.
  3144. >“I was *barely* able to shift the shield to protect you from the worst of – of *it* -“
  3145. “Right. Omnipotent godpony.”
  3146. >Shit, you *are* a dumbass.
  3147. >”Why did you move!?” she sobs. “You shouldn’t have moved! If you hadn’t –“
  3148. “Then I’d feel like shit –“
  3149. >You *do* feel like shit, but that’s different.
  3150. “ – because it means I didn’t even try to protect you.”
  3151. >Dealing with the physical pain is one thing, but *that*?
  3152. >You’re glad that you tried.
  3153. “What happened to Rarity? Where  you able to shield her, too?”
  3154. >Your marefriend shakes her head sadly.
  3155. >”She’s… alive. We think,” Sunny answers ominously. “Twilight, you know he’s safe now. We need to –“
  3156. >”Find Chrysalis,” your princess says darkly. “She did this.”
  3157. “You think?”
  3158. >”Of course she is,” your marefriend answers. “Who else –“
  3159. “No, I mean Rarity. You *think* she’s safe?”
  3160. >Sunny steps towards the shattered wall – towards the empty hallway and ruins beyond.
  3161. >”Yes, we think,” she answers softly. “Whatever happened – and no, I *don’t* know – it was *powerful*.”
  3162. >Sunny yanks her winged helmet from her head before turning back to face you.
  3163. >Oh, her horn is back.
  3164. >She isn’t Sunny anymore.
  3165. >”Ponies should have died, Anon,” she says softly. “My little ponies. It happened so fast, I couldn’t do anything to stop it – all I could do is close my eyes and hope for the best. But when I opened them…”
  3166. >She jerks her head towards the hallway.
  3167. >It really isn’t that, not anymore.
  3168. >Just an area with slightly less debris.
  3169. >But no bodies.
  3170. >Not one.
  3171. >No blood, either.
  3172. >Not that you can see, at least.
  3173. “Vaporized in the blast…?”
  3174. >”No, somehow I think not,” Tia says hopefully. “I doubt even I could have survived such a thing unscathed.”
  3175. >She looks back out over the ruins of the convention hall.
  3176. >”I think – I hope – that you were the only one injured, Anon,” Tia says softly. “I don’t know how, but –“
  3177. >There’s not a scratch on her.
  3178. >Nor on Twilight.
  3179. >The blood mottling your princess’ face all yours.
  3180. >This is impossible.
  3181. >*Something* protected everypony –
  3182. >Everypony.
  3183. >Every *pony*.
  3184. “Applebloom.”
  3185. >What if it wasn’t a game?
  3186. >You’re jumping to the wrong conclusion, but it fits.
  3187. >”Applebloom?” Tia repeats in confusion. “What does that filly have to do with this?”
  3188. >“Hopefully nothing,” Twilight answers for you. “Hopefully…”
  3189. >Twi is probably right.
  3190. >She usually is.
  3191. >Not always, but close enough.
  3192. >”I should…” Celestia mumbles softly, looking out over the wreckage. “*We* should…”
  3193. >She staggers over the remnants of the wall, looking around as if she expects somepony to reveal themselves at any second.
  3194. >Nopony does, though dozens could easily be hidden by the wreckage.
  3195. >Twilight follows, muttering unhappily as you lurch to your feet and accompany her.
  3196. >Walking isn’t as difficult as you expected it to be – it seems the hard part was simply getting up.
  3197. >Your feet easily clearing the jagged studs and planks that jut out from the ground, only to stumble on somepony’s abandoned saddlebags.
  3198. “We should what?”
  3199. >”We should find Chrysalis and stop this,” your princess answers. “The sooner we stop her, the sooner everypony will truly be safe.”
  3200. >”I told you, my little pony,” Tia responds immediately, though distractedly, “she isn’t behind this. She can’t be.”
  3201. >”Then who?”
  3202. >”I don’t know, but –“
  3203. >The rest of it is swallowed up in a dissonant roar. Though Twilight instantly throws up a magical barrier to protect the three of you from the shockwave, the noise alone is enough to send you crashing back to the floor clutching your head.
  3204. >Not even the princesses are immune – Tia winces at the disharmonious sound, and your princess screams her own roar of anger back.
  3205. >It’s tiny and adorable and you really wish you were experiencing it for the first time in other circumstances that didn’t involve quite so much pain.
  3206. >The cacophony doesn’t die away, only quiet to a soft background noise. With it fades the rush of wind.
  3207. >As the force dissipates and she can allow her shield to drop, Twi dashes the four or five steps to be at your side.
  3208. >Instinctively, you go to wave her off – you can get up on your own – but –
  3209. >She helps you sit up – and puts a hoof on your shoulder to stop you from trying for anything else.
  3210. >Your princess is right – you shouldn’t even try.
  3211. >”Twilight…”
  3212. >”You *do* know, don’t you?” your marefriend growls at her mentor. “You *always* know.”
  3213. >”I… have an idea…” the white mare admits. “When Luna –“
  3214. >Where *is* Luna?
  3215. >The other princesses are still here, so why…?
  3216. >”Then what is it!?” your marefriend demands. “If we know –“
  3217. >Dammit, you missed whatever Tia was saying.
  3218. >”But we *don’t* know, Twilight.”
  3219. >”We can’t just stand here and hope Princess Luna can deal with it!”
  3220. >Of course not.
  3221. >What the hell can Luna actually do?
  3222. >Hope the bad guys fall asleep and murder them like Freddy Kruooooooooh, that’s not a bad idea.
  3223. >”I know,” Tia sighs. “Twilight Sparkle – assemble the Elements of Harmony. If - *IF* - my suspicions are correct –”
  3224. >She pauses and shakes her head.
  3225. >”No, my little pony, it does not matter. Whatever we face, I know we can overcome it as long as your friends are at your side.”
  3226. >Your princess nods hesitantly, but doesn’t budge.
  3227. >”What about Anon…?” she asks quietly, glancing in your direction more obviously than she intends. “He’s in no condition to be moved.”
  3228. >”I will stay with him.”
  3229. >”Can’t I?” Twilight asks almost pleadingly. “You could –“
  3230. >Celestia shakes her head.
  3231. >”I am afraid not, Twilight,” she answers. “The others would perform valiantly without you, but all six Elements will be needed together, working in unison.”
  3232. >”How would I even find them?”
  3233. >”Fly high,” Celestia answers. “They can’t have been moved far – Luna said she could still feel everypony nearby.”
  3234. >Oh, so Luna was here.
  3235. >”You should be able to see everypony from the sky,” the princess of the sun continues. “I don’t need to warn you that teleportation –“
  3236. >”Would be far too dangerous right now,” your marefriend finishes the statement. “I know.”
  3237. >”Then go, Twilight. As you said, the sooner we confront this…”
  3238. >Twilight’s head slumps, but she gives a slight, little nod.
  3239. >She leans down to nuzzle your face gently.
  3240. >”Don’t do anything stupid,” she whispers in your ear. “Just stay here.”
  3241. >With a shrug of her shoulders and a little magic, her costume and saddlebags drop to the ground.
  3242. >Unencumbered, her wings flare out and flap tentatively.
  3243. >Not taking flight, just stretching.
  3244. >She doesn’t want to leave.
  3245. >You don’t want her to leave.
  3246. >But she has to.
  3247. “Be right back?”
  3248. >She nods.
  3249. >Your princess doesn’t waste any more time, rocketing into the air and out through a massive hole where the ceiling had completely caved in.
  3250. >You wait only a few seconds before trying to get back to your feet.
  3251. >Twi told you not to do anything stupid, but she also knows you.
  3252. >You’re human – stupid is your thing.
  3253. >”Don’t,” Tia cautions. “You’re hurt, just stay –“
  3254. >You hiss in pain as *something* grinds together in your chest.
  3255. >Okay, you *won’t* get up.
  3256. >Not quite yet.
  3257. “Yeah, why not. I’ll rest here for a bit.”
  3258. >”Good,” the mare replies. “There’s nothing you can do –“
  3259. “Because I’m only human?”
  3260. >”Because you are hurt,” Celestia answers with a slight smile. “Just rest, and I will watch over and protect you for my little Twilight Sparkle.”
  3261. “Fuck off, Tia. The Emperor protects, not you.”
  3262. >”I know,” she answers, her smile slightly wider, “but having an alicorn princess stand guard never hurt either.”
  3263. >Fair point.
  3264.  
  3265. >You must have drifted off – not to sleep, but in a daze – because when you hear voices, the dull background cacophony has grown to deafening proportions.
  3266. >Even with Tia’s wings wrapped around you as a barrier.
  3267. >”That is excellent news, my little ponies,” you can hear her saying. “The other Elements will be here soon?”
  3268. >”Yeah.”
  3269. >Dash.
  3270. >It’s Dash.
  3271. >”Hopefully soon enough.”
  3272. >Fluttershy.
  3273. >You can barely hear her over the fragmented music – oh, it’s music making that noise.
  3274. >Like someone blowing too hard into a flute, all you really here is noise with the occasional, *accidental* moments where two or three notes come out true.
  3275. >”They *better*,” Dash adds. “That – that storm or whatever it is seems to be coming this way. I don’t know why Twilight could just teleport all the slow-pokes –“
  3276. >”Oh, no!” Fluttershy gasps. “With all the dreadful wreckage everywhere, that just wouldn’t be safe!”
  3277. >”Well, neither is us getting caught in a damn – uh, sorry princess - *dang* tornado!”
  3278. >”No need to apologize, Rainbow Dash,” Celestia giggles, sending her wings rustling against each other. “Even a princess has to admit that in certain dire situations, strong language is very appropriate.”
  3279. >Dash sighs audibly in relief.
  3280. >”And yes, my little ponies,” Tia continues, “if you were caught in this storm, you most certainly would be fucked.”
  3281. >”Princesses can’t swear!” Fluttershy gasps. You can’t see her, but you can imagine her physical reaction – flailing her forelegs in pathetic indignation, her little wings fluttering uselessly.
  3282. >”Uh, Fluttershy, you *do* know that Twilight swears all the time, right?”
  3283. >”Oh she does, does she?” Tia chuckles softly. “Well, at least I can comfort myself with the knowledge my most promising student’s greatest sin is to swear. At least she is not a raging alcoholic.”
  3284. >Huh?
  3285. >If Tia didn’t know, they why was she so uptight about Twi having a drink last night?”
  3286. >”Um.”
  3287. >Godsdamnit, Fluttershy!
  3288. >”Actually…”
  3289. “Don’t you have more important things to worry about, Flutters!?”
  3290. >Apparently, she does. Because she screams.
  3291. >Wails?
  3292. >Squeaks politely in abject terror?
  3293. >Yeah, that last one.
  3294. >”What is that!?” the little pegasus moans.
  3295. >Tia spreads her wings apart, just enough to let her see you.
  3296. >”Don’t worry,” she reassures Flutters, “Surely Twilight Sparkle told you –“
  3297. >”Anon!” the pegasus squeaks again, darting through the gap in the princess’ wings to fuss over you. “You’re hurt!”
  3298. “Gee, really? I couldn’t tell.”
  3299. >”Oh, no! If you can’t feel the pain of your injuries, then –“
  3300. >She starts dabbing at you with a handkerchief.
  3301. “No, I can feel it, and – ow, dammit, stop. Just stop. No. Stop! NO MEANS NO, DAMMIT!”
  3302. >She’s still trying to clean you off when Celestia grabs Fluttershy with her magic and lifts her away.
  3303. >The little pegasus is straining to reach you with her now-bloody handkerchief long past the point where she could reach you. She only gives up when Tia sets her down several feet away.
  3304. >”He *is* okay, right?” Aredee asks, peering at you curiously. “He looks kinda…”
  3305. “*He* is just fine, douche. It’s just a flesh wound.”
  3306. >More like half a dozen.
  3307. >And a broken rib.
  3308. >Maybe a concussion.
  3309. >”Are you sure?”
  3310. “Yeah, Dash. Everything is fine.”
  3311. >”Not everything, human!” a jet black pegasus mare roars, her abrupt landing sending gravel and dust flying. “You must flee! All of you.”
  3312. >Must be a member of the Royal Guard.
  3313. >She’s wearing armor – they’re the only ponies that wear armor.
  3314. “Don’t worry. The Elements –“
  3315. >”The Elements can do nothing, Anonymous!” she shouts. “Sister, take him and flee!”
  3316. >Celestia has two sisters…?
  3317. >”Nightmare Moon!” Dash bellows courageously, though the way she rapidly backs away steals much of the impact. “We should have known!“
  3318. >Oh, right.
  3319. >Black as the night sky, alicorn, spiky armor – though not as spiky as you expected.
  3320. >Of course it’s Nightmare Moon.
  3321. >Duh.
  3322. >”No, my little pony,” Celestia tells her sadly. “*New* Moon. For now, at least.”
  3323. >New Moon?
  3324. >Does this mean you’re all still going to die?
  3325. >”Don’t worry, Celestia,” the black alicorn responds with a harsh smirk. “I won’t let that happen again. Now run while you can – I can only stall the nightmare for so long!”
  3326. >”Um… wait, so, excuse me,” Fluttershy chimes up with surprising boldness. “I understand that we’re supposed to be fleeing in terror – and … um… for what it matters, I wholly agree with that plan – but it’s not from *her*?”
  3327. >Yeah, that parts kind of confusing to you, too.
  3328. >Didn’t she…
  3329. >Well, you didn’t really pay attention during those lessons, but you’re relatively certain Nightmare Moon did *something* pretty bad.
  3330. >”As long as you run, it doesn’t matter why,” the black alicorn snorts. “If I have to play the villain to make that happen…”
  3331. >”That won’t be necessary, sister,” Tia grimly answers. “But, you think you can only stall her? Is there no hope?”
  3332. >”There’s always hope,” Luna says reluctantly. “But all too often, it is nothing but a lie.”
  3333. >”Sister…” Celestia warns in a growl.
  3334. >”Maybe – *if* we’re lucky – that little troublemaker can pull off another impossible miracle.”
  3335. “Twilight…?”
  3336. >Is Luna calling your princess a troublemaker?
  3337. >Do you have to kick her ass?
  3338. >Because you’ll kick her ass if you have to.
  3339. >”No,” the princess of the moon laughs, “though I had not thought of her. Twilight Sparkle has not failed my sister yet.”
  3340. >She gives a slight shrug.
  3341. >”There’s a chance your marefriend might yet save the day, Anon. Now run, if you want to live long enough to see that happen.”
  3342. >A single flap of her wings sends her shooting into the sky.
  3343. >She doesn’t even bother to point herself towards one of the gaping holes in the wrecked ceiling, instead powering straight through the plaster and wood purely with the strength of that single wingbeat like something from a godsdamned anime.
  3344. >Celestia raises her wings to shield you from the falling rubble created by her sister’s departure, at the same time dipping her head to bring it close to yours.
  3345. >”She used to be Equestria’s greatest hero,” the princess whispers, her words meant only for you. Such measures seem unnecessary; you doubt her soft voice carries the short distance to where the pegasi stand over the ambient roar of the storm. “Long ago, she wished for the strength to do what had to be done.”
  3346. “About a thousand years ago?”
  3347. >”A little longer than that, but yes,” Tia answers, smiling sadly. “Whenever she got like this, she wanted to be called New Moon, but…”
  3348. >Silly Luna.
  3349. >Everypony knows that wishing for power is a horrible idea and can only lead to tears. Hell, it’s one of the primary themes of the Burrows and Basilisks novels –
  3350. >Which, in retrospect, makes absolute perfect sense if Tia is the one that wrote them.
  3351. >Come to think of it, even the Bn’B rulebooks suggest that DMs… well, you wouldn’t say *punish*, but definitely point out that characters that seek out power for the sake of power should be considered evil and remind them to be careful of alignment violations.
  3352. >It’s one of the few parts in the core book to actually recognize that the DM and her players were actually on opposite sides of the table. The only other you can think of is the suggestion that DMs twist the results of the Limited and Unlimited W -
  3353. “Is she why Wish spells are so dangerous?”
  3354. >Her choice of words earlier can’t have been a coincidence.
  3355. >Nothing Tia does is accidental – she’s always playing some game, advancing some plot of hers.
  3356. >”What?” she asks, feigning confusion – the mare is smart enough not to fake innocence. “That doesn’t have –“
  3357. “You’re Six Sider, right?”
  3358. >”I – yes.”
  3359. >Smart pony.
  3360. >She doesn’t try to mislead to you this time.
  3361. >”Why?”
  3362. “Then I’m guessing the rules for Wish spells are based on what happened to Luna, aren’t they?”
  3363. >”Yes, my human,” Celestia sighs, “you are absolutely correct. Wishes *have* to be specific. And small in scope. You are correct; I did learn that from my sister.”
  3364. >She pauses, eyes flitting up to glance through the narrow gap between her two wings. You follow suit, suddenly worried that she saw something, that some piece of debris was about to fall or… or something.
  3365. >Something dangerous.
  3366. >The way her body stiffened, the suddenness of the action – everything about the way the mare looked up practically screamed for caution.
  3367. >You don’t see anything.
  3368. >Well, you see *things*, but nothing dangerous. You don’t relax, however – your thinking might be a little clouded from your injuries, but not so much that you don’t realize it. If Celestia thinks there is reason to be cautious, then you trust her instincts.
  3369. >You hold your breath – you don’t realize you are until you’re suddenly gasping for air.
  3370. >Tia’s eyes flicker down at the noise, a slight frown creasing her face at her own lack of focus.
  3371. >She looks up again, and this time you see it – she’s watching your friends.
  3372. >Neither of the pegasi are paying you or the princess any attention - Fluttershy looks scared, but is helping a frantic Dash scrabble around searching for something.
  3373. >The yellow mare keeps glancing at the holes in the ceiling in fear – justifiably, you think.
  3374. >The sky is visibly darkening as you watch.
  3375. >The two continue looking, moving further and further away from you and Celestia.
  3376. >The princess relaxes slightly – ah, she was worried for them, she was worried they might overhear.
  3377. >”It was my fault, Anon,” Tia continues once she knows her confession is safe from other ears. “An eternity is a long and boring time to live, Anon, and while I was content to live life vicariously through my borrowed stories and – and – and my little ponies –“
  3378. >She brings a forehoof up and gently brushes it across your cheek.
  3379. >Creepy.
  3380. >” – Luna needed adventure. I tried to give her what she wanted, but… that was the first mistake. Her wish was the second. The least I can do is try to prevent anypony else from making the third, but… I’m sure you’ve noticed a pattern, Anon.“
  3381. >A drop of liquid falls on your face.
  3382. >If the rain has reached you, the full force of the storm can’t be much further.
  3383. >And while the ceiling directly above you still looks sound, it won’t be that way for long.
  3384. >”I wasn’t lying when I told you it was my fault you were dragged here against your will,” Tia says. “If I hadn’t let that monster loose in Equestria, none of this would have happened.”
  3385. >She still thinks you’re a monster…?
  3386. >No, somepony else is a monster?
  3387. >It’s hard to even think over the noise and the pain, let alone hear the mare.
  3388. >Does she mean her sister?
  3389. >She has to be talking about Luna.
  3390. >”And now we have monsters running free all over the land,” she sighs. “Ones we cannot fight.”
  3391. >But…
  3392. “If your sister is so powerful, she should be able to stop whatever is going on, right?”
  3393. >Twi doesn’t need to risk herself.
  3394. >There’s no reason for her to get involved if Luna can deal with it.
  3395. >Set monster against monster – let Nightmare Moon be Equestria’s Godzilla.
  3396. >“Hers is a strength born of insanity,” Tia argues, shaking her head. “My sister tries to compartmentalize it, to limit its control over her, but that in turn limits her power. I have no doubt she could defeat whoever it is that threatens Canterlot right now, but doing so would only make her into an even bigger monster.”
  3397. >Spiral Nemesis?
  3398. >”Yes, Anon,” the mare responds with a nod. “Exactly like the Spiral Nemesis.”
  3399. >Oh. You hadn’t realized that you had said those words out loud.
  3400. >Even then, you’re surprised she even knows that they mean.
  3401. >”When she gives in to her darkness, *that* is Nightmare Moon. The *true* Nightmare Moon, not the creature your friends defeated. I think – somehow – Luna managed to crawl back over the brink by herself while in exile. It’s impossible, but she must have been too insane to know it.”
  3402. >A slight smile plays across her face, gone almost before it happens.
  3403. >”So very human of her, don’t you think?”
  3404. “I… guess?”
  3405. >Tia suddenly giggles,
  3406. >”And – like you – she knows how to hold a grudge, long after she has actually stopped being angry.”
  3407. “I don’t –“
  3408. >”SHIT!” Dash shouts to be heard over the noise. “It’s starting to rain!”
  3409. >Starting to?
  3410. >It’s been raining for a few minutes, stupid pony.
  3411. >”FLUTTERSHY! HAVE YOU FOUND IT YET!?”
  3412. >The yellow mare’s response is swallowed up by the roar of the oncoming storm.
  3413. >”FUCK!”
  3414. >But you can guess she said no.
  3415. >”NO WAY! I JUST BOUGHT THAT THING!”
  3416. >You and Tia share a moment – a brief, mutual exasperated eyeroll.
  3417. >”Do I want to know what Rainbow Dash is looking for?” she whispers just loud enough for you to hear. “I don’t, do I?”
  3418. “Probably not.”
  3419. >*You* don’t want to know.
  3420. >Thankfully, you don’t have a clue.
  3421. >”I HAD TO HAVE DROPPED IT SOMEWHERE AROUND HERE!”
  3422. >”M-maybe we should go!”
  3423. >Shit, if Fluttershy raised her voice enough for you to hear, things must be getting pretty serious out there.
  3424. >Maybe she saw a spider or something.
  3425. >A small one.
  3426. >Yeah, that would probably scare the shit out of her.
  3427. >Or the sky.
  3428. >It’s starting to scare the shit out of you.
  3429. >”WHAT ABOUT TRIXIE’S BAG?” Dash sneers. “OR HAVE YOU GIVEN UP ON THAT, TOO!?”
  3430. >”I…”
  3431. >The rest of Fluttershy’s words are lost to the storm’s song.
  3432. >It’s not a roar, not anymore.
  3433. >Never was, actually, you just couldn’t hear it clearly.
  3434. >Now you can almost pick out the melody behind the noise, but every time you think you understand the pattern, it changes.
  3435. >Doubling back, inverting, swapping completely.
  3436. >Like an orchestra out of sync or a band…
  3437. >No, those are stupid comparison.
  3438. >This is the worst fucking freeform jazz solo ever played.
  3439. >At times soft and slow, at others loud and incoherent.
  3440. >You only hear the one voice in the storm, though it seems to change as frequently as the song.
  3441. >Rarely at the same time, though.
  3442. >Even the voice tells you to run, warns you that you are running out of time.
  3443. >”Anon, can you stand!?” Celestia yells in your ear. “We have to leave!”
  3444. >No, wait, that wasn’t the storm.
  3445. >It was her.
  3446. >Should have known from the overlap.
  3447. >You don’t think you can stand.
  3448. >You *know* you can’t stand.
  3449. >You do it anyway.
  3450. >Tia has to help you, but you do it anyway.
  3451. >”WHAT DO WE DO, PRINCESS?” Dash yells to be heard over something that resembles latin chanting. “THE OTHERS AREN’T HERE!”
  3452. >Celestia frowns – you try to limit the weight you’re putting on her, but it’s hard.
  3453. >She doesn’t complain, though after a second or two of thought she does shake her head sadly for some reason.
  3454. >”HOW FAR BEHIND YOU WERE THEY?” she yells back to the pegasus. “IF THEY ARE CLOSE…”
  3455. “We should leave. Meet up with them. Regroup.”
  3456. >It’ll be faster than just waiting for the other elements here.
  3457. >”That’s not really an option, my human,” the princess answers with another shake of her head. “Think of me what you will, but I won’t leave anypony behind.”
  3458. “I didn’t say –“
  3459. >You can barely stand.
  3460. “Nevermind.”
  3461. >You can’t walk out of here, not without slowing them down too much.
  3462. “But maybe Fluttershy and Dash…?”
  3463. >Both pegasus ponies have come closer; they had to if they were going to hear you or the princess.
  3464. >”No, you’re hurt,” Fluttershy argues with a stubborn set to her jaw. “I can’t just leave you behind, even if the princess *is* with you.”
  3465. >Fuck.
  3466. >Of all the times she could have grown a spine, she chooses now.
  3467. >”Well, if she’s staying, I might as well,” Dash shrugs. “I’m gonna keep looking for my stuff!”
  3468. >Nevermind, you’ll all just die here then.
  3469. >That’s cool.
  3470. >Aredee turns away to look for her… whatever… but Fluttershy catches the other mare by the shoulder.
  3471. >”Wait!” she yells. “Look!”
  3472. >She points off to her left.
  3473. >You can’t see who she’s pointing at without turning – and you don’t trust yourself to turn without falling – but you can hear the characteristic boing of Ponka springing along.
  3474. >How, you have no fucking clue, but you can hear it.
  3475. >”WE’RE HEE-HEEEEREEE!” the party pony shouts – you can see Dash’s face light up for a second.
  3476. >Then come crashing back down.
  3477. >”WHERE’S EVERYPONY –“
  3478. >”TRIXIE!?” Fluttershy screams over Aredee’s question. “WHY ARE – YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”
  3479. >”NOPONY TELLS THE GREAT TRIXIE WHERE SHE CAN AND CANNOT GO, PEGASUS!”
  3480. >Fucking beautiful.
  3481. >Everypony dies here.
  3482. >Nopony lives.
  3483. >Who’s next?
  3484. >The crusaders?
  3485. >With any luck, they’re far away from here, but experience tells you that they’re usually right in the center of the trouble.
  3486. >You hope they’re somewhere safe anyway, even if it *is* wasted.
  3487. >”EVERYPONY ELSE IS ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEHIND US, DASHIE!” Ponks screams at her friend, painfully loud.
  3488. >Ah, because she’s bounced up beside you.
  3489. >”You look like crap, Nonny,” she says solemnly. “Don’t worry, we’ll have a BIG party afterwards to celebrate –“
  3490. “It must be hard, always being that happy.”
  3491. >”Silly Nonny, it’s not hard!” Ponks laughs. “It just hurts, that’s all.”
  3492. “Hurts?”
  3493. >Her grin drops for a moment, but returns quickly.
  3494. >”Yeah! After several hours of smiling, my face aches!”
  3495. >Bullshit.
  3496. >That’s not what she meant, but you don’t have the strength to argue it right now.
  3497. >Besides – as the storm quickly reminds you by ripping off what remains of the ceiling – this is neither the time nor the place.
  3498. >The wind screams through the shattered building, tearing at your cloak and almost throwing you to the ground.
  3499. >Even Celestia sways momentarily, but is able to hold herself – and you – up.
  3500. >Lucky ponies.
  3501. >Curse your relatively high center of gravity.
  3502. >”HOW LONG, PINKIE PIE?” the princess asks with concern. “PERHAPS –“
  3503. >She pauses, looking at you.
  3504. >Tia doesn’t get a chance to finish her thought – or for you to figure out what it was.
  3505. >Even with the storm raging, Ponka has to fill the silence.
  3506. >”NOT LONG! JUST A FEW MINUTES!” she repeats. “TWILIGHT WOULD BE HERE, BUT RARITY AND APPLEJACK –“
  3507. >”THEN WE SHALL JUST HAVE TO ENDURE!”
  3508. >Celestia looks around, the movement not doing you any favors as far as letting you keep your balance.
  3509. >”Ah, there!” she says to herself when she spots a mostly intact section of wall. “We need to get you into shelter, Anon! Can you walk –“
  3510. >You try before she even finishes the question, but your knee buckles.
  3511. >Tia only just manages to catch you with her magic before you completely tip over.
  3512. >”T – TRIXIE?” she shouts at the closest pony. “COULD YOU GIVE ME A HOOF WITH ANON?”
  3513. >You don’t know why she can’t just do it herself with her magic. That would be much –“
  3514. >”I CANNOT MOVE HIM *AND* KEEP THIS SHIELD UP!”
  3515. >Oh.
  3516. >Come to think of it, the sky does seem the weirdest shade of gold.
  3517. >The unicorn scowls, but stops what she was doing and canters over to you. Between her magic and Celestia holding you up, they get you over to the fragile shelter of the wall. Tia even remembers to throw your marefriend’s saddlebags over her own back.
  3518. >It’s not much, but it helps.
  3519. >Your friend gives you a momentary look of pity, but doesn’t stay –
  3520. >”HAVE YOU SEEN MY BAG?” she yells at you. “I LOST IT IN THE FIGHT!”
  3521. >What fight?
  3522. “No.”
  3523. >You don’t ask.
  3524. >Talking is bad.
  3525. >Sitting is good.
  3526. >Yes, sitting is very good.
  3527. >You sink to the ground with your back pressed against the wall, Celestia gentling cradling your descent with her magic.
  3528. >Sitting is very, very good.
  3529. >She sets Twi’s saddlebags next to you.
  3530. >Right, you’d almost forgotten about those.
  3531. >You’ll thank her later.
  3532. >What fight?
  3533. >Oh, right – that fucking riot that was going on in the hallway.
  3534. >Trixie certainly looks like she’s gone a few rounds with somepony – her blue dress is shredded and that’s probably not your blood on her side.
  3535. >She didn’t actually touch you, and from the freshness of it...
  3536. >As you watch, a gust of wind tears away some of her costume, revealing small, curved gouges along her back.
  3537. >Fucking teeth marks?
  3538. >You aren’t the only one to see the injury – Fluttershy gallops over to her with all the frantic worry of… of… Fluttershy.
  3539. >Fuck, you hope this doesn’t involve zombies.
  3540. >That would suck.
  3541. >Though, considering pony’s head-to-body ratio…
  3542. >”YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!”
  3543. “Way to go, spineless wonder.”
  3544. >Celestia looks down in surprise at your hushed whisper.
  3545. >You hadn’t meant to say it – you hadn’t meant for her to hear – but you can’t bring yourself to care.
  3546. >”You should have seen her at the Grand Galloping Gala a few years back,” the princess chuckles suddenly. “You wouldn’t believe how long the ponies at court –“
  3547. >She sighs suddenly, shaking her head.
  3548. >”I’ll tell you that story later.”
  3549. >You nod.
  3550. >Could be an amusing story, but paying attention is too hard right now.
  3551. >Flutters yells something at the unicorn again – you hear the sounds, but they don’t make any sense as words.
  3552. >That’s… not good.
  3553. >Whatever she said, it wasn’t the right thing to say. When she opens her mouth to speak again, Trixie shoves the little pegasus roughly.
  3554. >“THEY AREN’T WORTH YOUR LIFE!” Fluttershy screams from the ground. “WE CAN ALWAYS FIND THEM LATER, OR – OR YOU CAN PAINT NEW ONES! I’LL BUY YOU NEW ONES!”
  3555. >”NOT THE SAME!” Trixie screams back. “I PUT MY HEART AND MY SOUL INTO THOSE MINIATURES!”
  3556. >”THEY’RE JUST TOYS!”
  3557. >”NOT TO ME!” the unicorn roars, deafeningly loud. Loud enough to drown out the storm’s song. “IF YOU’D *EVER* BOTHERED TO *ACTUALLY* LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT ME, YOU WOULD KNOW THAT! IF YOU’D EVER DONE *ANYTHING* -“
  3558. >She’s magically amplifying her voice – a good trick for a stage performer – but she lets the spell go before finishing her rant.
  3559. >”Why bother?”
  3560. >She’s just close enough, just enough of the magic lingers, just long enough for you to hear it.
  3561. >You’d help her look, but…
  3562. >There are many things you would like to do right now, and that actually ranks fairly low on the list.
  3563. >Cuddles by the fireplace back at Twi’s castle is number one.
  3564. >You could use some cuddles right about now, and to hell with your tough, manly image.
  3565. >The wall rocks under a sudden barrage of noise – Tia’s wing shoots up to cover your head with wing, protecting you from the splinters and nails the wind shakes free.
  3566. >”Are you okay?” she asks. “I mean –“
  3567. “Yeah, no worse than I already…”
  3568. >… was.
  3569. >You’re out of breath before getting to the last word, but Tia nods grimly.
  3570. >She understands.
  3571. >Fuck.
  3572. >Where’s a goddamn medic when you need one.
  3573. >Or Rarity.
  3574. >A body is basically just one big biological machine – a mending spell should work, right?
  3575. >Might be beyond Celestia’s talents, but Rarity should be able to fix this, right?
  3576. >She – he, whatever – will be here soon.
  3577. >Just a few more minutes, and you’ll be feeling good enough to punch the shit out of whoever is behind this.
  3578. >”A-ANON!”
  3579. >Here she is.
  3580. >Everything’s fine now.
  3581. >”ANON!” Rarity screams again, shuffling towards you quickly. “YOU’RE HURT!”
  3582. “Any chance you…”
  3583. >Pause.
  3584. >Breath.
  3585. “… can help me out with that?”
  3586. >”AH TOLD YOU, MY MAGIC DON’T WORK ON HUMANS!” she sobs.
  3587. >Huh.
  3588. >It always has.
  3589. >Like that time…
  3590. >Well, something happened.
  3591. >”AH’M SORRY, ANON!” she sobs into your lap. “IF AH HADN’T BEEN AN IDIOT AN’ WASTED MY WISH LIKE THAT –“
  3592. >Tia, already on edge, stiffens.
  3593. >”Wish, Apple Bloom?” she asks – no, demands. “What wish?”
  3594. >Apple Bloom?
  3595. >Right, Rarity isn’t this color. Or this small.
  3596. >They sound almost the same, though.
  3597. >At least, you’re going to tell yourself that.
  3598. >”Ah wished Ah could protect everypony,” the littlest Apple cries. “But he ain’t a pony!”
  3599. >Just as confusing as it was the first time you heard it.
  3600. >Even Tia frowns severely.
  3601. >Huh, you thought that she – of *anypony* – would have a clue what Apple Bloom was talking about.
  3602. >Apparently not.
  3603. >You try to pat the filly’s head reassuringly, but your hand comes away wet.
  3604. >It must be raining.
  3605. >”It isn’t your fault, Apple Bloom,” another filly – Scootaloo? Yeah, it’s Scootaloo – tells her as you examine your hand. “It’s *hers*.”
  3606. >Weird.
  3607. >It’s raining red outside.
  3608. >”*Sweetie Belle* is the one doing this,” Scootaloo growls adorably, “not you*.”
  3609. >”You’re hurt, too, my little pony,” Tia gasps. “How –“
  3610. >Yeah, you already know you’re hurt.
  3611. >Thanks everypony for pointing it the fuck out.
  3612. >You’ll be sure to put the fucking cover pages on those fucking TPS reports from now on.
  3613. >”It ain’t nothing,” the filly in your lap answers with a shake of her head. “Better n’ it looks, believe me.”
  3614. >Tia nods slowly – she doesn’t believe the little filly.
  3615. >*You* don’t believe her.
  3616. >Not sure why, but you don’t.
  3617. >”And you, Scootaloo?” Celestia asks softly. “Did you…?”
  3618. >”No,” she barks back. “Just her and Sweetie Belle.”
  3619. >The filly pauses, looking back at the mares busy searching for… stuff.
  3620. >”*And* Pinkie Pie,” she adds disdainfully. “But she –“
  3621. >”She does things her own way,” the princess says abruptly, reminding you for all the world of a teacher. “It may be odd, but she –“
  3622. >Another barrage of noise and sound and fury hits with enough force to shatter the golden sky.
  3623. >Shards of flickering yellow are blown away with the rush of air, catching what little light remains as they dissolve.
  3624. >Tia’s shield, you realize as the blaring song of the storm doubles in volume.
  3625. >That’s only an estimate, but it goes from fucking loud to FUCKING LOUD AS FUCK.
  3626. >Loud enough to make you forget that you hurt and remember only how fucking angry you are right now.
  3627. >Ponks is pressing her forehead against yours before you know it, pushing you back down.
  3628. >What were you going to do?
  3629. >Doesn’t matter. Sitting is good.
  3630. >”Ain’t there anything you can do, Pinkie Pie?” Apple Bloom asks from your lap. She looks tired, too.
  3631. >And – crap – you think you might have bled on her a little.
  3632. >Shit.
  3633. >You’ll apologize for that later.
  3634. >”Not… I’m…”
  3635. >You don’t think you’ve ever seen Panko at a loss for words before.
  3636. >”She’s doing everything she can, child,” Celestia answers for her. “Her powers work best just out of sight, I’m afraid.”
  3637. >She smiles slightly at some secret joke.
  3638. >”Ah can close my eyes,” the littles Apple murmurs quietly. “Would that help?”
  3639. >”Yes… sugarcube,” Tia answers gently. “It can’t hurt.”
  3640. >Apple Bloom shifts slightly and shuts her eyes tight.
  3641. >”Just – just let me know when it’s all over,” she mumbles as a golden glow flickers over her.
  3642. >”What did you do to her?” the other filly asks quietly.
  3643. >Nothing. You didn’t do anything.
  3644. >”Your friend needs sleep,” Celestia tells her. “All I did was help her with that.”
  3645. >”Is she going to be okay? She was bleeding pretty badly…”
  3646. >Silly filly.
  3647. >That’s your blood on her.
  3648. >”She will be fine,” the princess answers with a calm smile. “So long as she still has hope.”
  3649. >”Ooooooooooooh,” Ponka moans. “*That’s* why you told her to close her eyes!”
  3650. >”She still believed in you,” Tia sighs. “I think that is the only thing that kept her from –“
  3651. >Her eyes flicker towards Scootaloo.
  3652. >”You can say it,” the tiny pegasus snaps at her. “It’s not like I haven’t already seen it happen once today!”
  3653. >”Then there is no need to say it,” best princess responds with a dip of her head. “I am sorry, my little pony, I truly am.”
  3654. >”Say waht?” Rainbow Dash mumbles, clutching her new mouse pad in her mouth.
  3655. >She must have joined this little group sometime when you… something.
  3656. “Really inappropriate timing, Dash.”
  3657. >She tilts her head in confusion, so you raise your hand from Apple Bloom’s head to point at Yoko’s firm boobs.
  3658. “Playing with your sextoys in front of the fillies?”
  3659. >”That’s just *wrong*, Dashie,” Ponks nods in agreement. “If I didn’t know you better…”
  3660. >The mare raises an eyebrow, letting the pegasus’ thoughts finish that threat for her.
  3661. >”Hine,” Aredee sighs around the mousepad. “I’ll hut it ahay.”
  3662. >For some reason, that involves shoving it into Twi’s saddlebags.
  3663. >Doesn’t she fucking have her own?
  3664. >”Sorry, left mine behind so I could fly here faster,” she explains in response to your hard stare. “*And* my costume, though I’m starting to wonder why I even bothered.”
  3665. >She looks over her shoulder as if expected to see somepony.
  3666. >There’s nothing, of course, not even the remnants of the building – everything outside the immediate vicinity – oh, outside of the new shield Tia put up – is a flattened wasteland.
  3667. >It’s harder to see through this one – like it’s thicker or something.
  3668. >Stronger?
  3669. >It turns the few remaining features into little more than silhouettes.
  3670. >Still, Trixie keeps skirting the edges of the bubble, trying to find…
  3671. >Trying to find something.
  3672. >Something important, you think.
  3673. >”I can’t keep this up much longer,” Tia mutters softly, grimacing from the strain.
  3674. >The shield must be slipping – the sounds are getting louder again, more complex.
  3675. >Among the gentle aria turned screaming rock ballad, there’s a new sound, like a key being scraped along a piano wire.
  3676. >Might just be wreckage – surely there was a piano *somewhere* in the fucking convention hall.
  3677. >Had to be.
  3678. >You hope.
  3679. >And not that this is some new development on the storm.
  3680. >”WAIT, I THINK I SEE THEM!”
  3681. >Somepony give Dash a fucking metal and tell her to shut up.
  3682. >”But… there’s only two…” Fluttershy adds. “Where’s Rarity…?”
  3683. >”I don’t think it’s them,” Ponka answers excitedly. “See, that’s obviously a stallion –“
  3684. “That’s Rarity.”
  3685. >”It’s not a unicorn,” she responds, staring at the two shapes through the golden bubble. “I have NO idea who, but it’s not Rarity!”
  3686. “If he’s brown…”
  3687. >That sounds racist.
  3688. “Throw him back.”
  3689. >Fuck it.
  3690. >”He’s not a fish, Nonny,” Ponka giggles.
  3691. >”And that wouldn’t be very nice now, would it?” that fucking asshole comments, sticking his head through the barrier. “Not after I came all this way to help!”
  3692. >”Who the FUCK is this!?” Dash bellows, waving a hoof in the stallion’s direction. “Oh, come on! Is everypony EXCEPT Twilight going to show up!?”
  3693. >She snarls when Ponka gives her a little nudge with her shoulder.
  3694. >”Hanging lampshades, Dashie?”
  3695. >”What the fuck you talking about?”
  3696. >Ponka blinks twice in surprise.
  3697. >Damn, Aredee is on fucking edge.
  3698. >”Oh, whoopsie!” Panky giggles. “I just did it too! Lampshades for everypony!”
  3699. >”Well, let’s see about saving the day and then we can have the biggest party this side of… wherever we are,” the stallion tells her with a smile, waving his companion through. “I quite like lampshades. Decent hats.”
  3700. >The other pony comes through.
  3701. >”See, Derpy?” the stallion says almost patronizingly. Or lovingly. Fuck. Who knows. “I told you he wasn’t behind this! Humans aren’t *that* scary!”
  3702. >”I’m beginning to think that,” the mare responds slowly, eyeing you – or the princess, it’s hard to tell. “He gets beat up more often than I did as a filly.”
  3703. “Fuck you, it’s only been…”
  3704. >Twice?
  3705. >Three times, counting Applejack?
  3706. >Does she know about that?
  3707. >”Half the time I see you,” the mare finishes your sentence.
  3708. >That gets you a lot of questioning looks from your friends.
  3709. “Later.”
  3710. >Much later.
  3711. “I’ll tell you later.”
  3712. >Hopefully they all forget.
  3713. >You don’t want Fluttershy getting you a helmet like you’re some kind of special needs kid.
  3714. >While the idea kind of appeals at the moment, you *do* still have some shreds of dignity left.
  3715. >And a suit of power armor that you are NEVER going to take off.
  3716. >Assuming you live long enough to put it on.
  3717. >The ponies stare at you curiously, but one by one nod or look away.
  3718. >Good.
  3719. >You don’t really feel like telling anypony about Twi smacking you in the face.
  3720. >Don’t want to give them any more reason to freak out.
  3721. >They seem busy.
  3722. >Trying to… you’re not sure, but they seem to be arguing.
  3723. >About the storm?
  3724. >Probably.
  3725. >Apple Bloom is still in your lap.
  3726. >Little filly must be tuckered out by today’s excitement.
  3727. >You pat her head gently, trying not to wake her.
  3728. >Which makes patting her head something of a stupid idea.
  3729. >Not like she can feel it, unless you wake her up.
  3730. >Still, it’s comforting to you.
  3731. >And apparently she can feel it, fidgeting uncomfortably as your hand makes contact the third time.
  3732. >She shifts on your lap, turning on her side.
  3733. >Wasn’t her cutie mark orange?
  3734. “Why is her cutie mark black?”
  3735. >”A trick of the light, Anon,” Celestia breaks off from her conversation with the stallion to answer. “Do not worry about it.”
  3736. “Oh.”
  3737. >”Now, what do you mean that Twilight Sparkle will not reach us in time?”
  3738. >Huh?
  3739. >Of course Twilight will be here.
  3740. >”I mean the storm is too dangerous for anypony to reach us,” the brown stallion answers grimly. Oh, she wasn’t talking to you. Good. “Not until –“
  3741. >He pauses, looking cautiously first at Scootaloo, then at Apple Bloom.
  3742. >”You can say it,” the orange filly grumbles.
  3743. >”Not until the… the eye of the storm reaches us,” he continues after a moment’s further hesitation, “and then I fear it will be too dangerous.”
  3744. >”If it’s so dangerous, how the heck did *you* get here?” Aredee demands. “What makes *you* so special?”
  3745. >”We have a rather… *special* method of transportation.”
  3746. >The blue mare waves a leg at the golden shield and groans.
  3747. >”And you can’t just use it to go get her!?”
  3748. >The stallion shakes his head, not even giving it a second’s thought.
  3749. >”We only just made it here,” he answers. “It would be impossible to go back, what with the storm being worse and all.”
  3750. >Bullshit.
  3751. >He just doesn’t want to.
  3752. >You friend throws her forehooves into the air and screams in frustration.
  3753. >Overreacting, isn’t she?
  3754. >You agree with her, but still…
  3755. >”I take it you have a plan?” Celestia asks the stallion, ignoring the pegasus’ drama.
  3756. >”Not exactly, no.”
  3757. >”He *never* has a plan,” Derpy elaborates with a sigh. “Would be nice IF. HE. DID. SOMETIMES!”
  3758. >”Nah, ruins my style.”
  3759. >Cocky bastard.
  3760. >”But the way I see it,” the stallion continues, “we have a narrow window between the storm lifting and us all dying horribly.”
  3761. >”And that’s a good thing…?” Fluttershy asks quietly. “Well, I *guess* it means we won’t suffer long…”
  3762. >”What? No! Yes!” He’s a little confused, isn’t he? “Of course it’s a good thing!”
  3763. >”yay,” the little yellow pegasus cheers halfheartedly.
  3764. >”Oh, don’t be like that,” the stallion admonishes her. “It means –“
  3765. >”It means we have a chance,” Celestia speaks up, bringing everything to a crashing halt. “If… maybe…”
  3766. >”No.”
  3767. >Everypony looks at Ponka in surprise.
  3768. >”Don’t even think about that,” the mare says forcefully, doing her damnedest to stand eye to eye with the princess. “Think happy thoughts!”
  3769. >Tia sighs, turning her head away from Ponks.
  3770. >”No, you’re right,” she sighs. “I’m sure… surely…”
  3771. >She’s floundering.
  3772. >Lost.
  3773. >It scares you to see her like this.
  3774. >Tia the schemer. Tia who always has a plan, who always has a solution.
  3775. >Who always has somepony in place to save the day.
  3776. >Always.
  3777. “Twi will be here in time.”
  3778. >She has to be.
  3779. “Don’t worry.”
  3780. >She always is.
  3781. “Have faith.”
  3782. >She’s never failed.
  3783. >You don’t like the way the stallion looks at you.
  3784. >Something sad about his eyes.
  3785. >There always was, but this is different.
  3786. >”We can only hope,” he says after a painfully long silence.
  3787. >You expect him to continue, to explain, to… something, but he doesn’t.
  3788. >He can’t even hold your gaze, looking away abruptly to stare into the sky.
  3789. >”Oh, no,” he murmurs. “No. No! NO!”
  3790. >He throws himself at his companion, knocking the mare to the ground seconds before Tia’s shield implode again.
  3791. >Among the golden shards and dust and debris, a dark body flies past you.
  3792. >The magical barrier, meant to hold back sound and wind, couldn’t hold Luna’s body for even an instant.
  3793. >You can hear the sound of her wings breaking as Luna slams into the ground back first, but you know it’s just your imagination.
  3794. >There’s no way you can hear anything over the screaming wail that fills the air.
  3795. >Inertia sends the mare skidding along her back until she’s out of view, though that’s not saying much.
  3796. >You though Tia’s bubble was obscuring everything outside, but no – between the darkness and the dust, you can’t see anything beyond a few feet.
  3797. >Not even the ponies that had been by your side seconds ago are visible – blown away in the rage of the storm or simply beyond the light, you’re not sure.
  3798. >It’s just you and Apple Bloom and the darkness and the unfettered anguish of the storm.
  3799. >The noise crashes down on you in physical waves, jarring broken bones with every note.
  3800. >It’s possible – just barely possible – that you scream.
  3801. >You don’t know.
  3802. >You can’t hear anything beyond the song of chaos.
  3803. >You can’t feel anything but the pain in your chest.
  3804. >And the small filly still sleeping in your lap.
  3805. >How…?
  3806. >Panic overcomes the pain, drives the shadows from your mind, blocks the roar of the storm.
  3807. >Is she –
  3808. >No, her chest is still moving.
  3809. >Slowly, shallowly, but she’s still breathing.
  3810. >She’s still alive.
  3811. >You have to get her out of here.
  3812. >You have to get *everypony* out of here.
  3813. >If there’s even anypony else left.
  3814. >You look up, trying to see through the impossible darkness.
  3815. >Another little miracle – you can see further than before.
  3816. >The wall of darkness has moved on far enough for you to see Tia’s crumpled form pinned under her sister’s charcoal grey body.
  3817. >The wind has calmed, the noise quieted to a dull boom, enough for you to think and – and maybe enough for you to stand.
  3818. >Not quick enough to do more than catch a glimpse of a streak of orange dash past you. Not quick enough to stop her.
  3819. “We need to stick together!”
  3820. >Your voice is barely more than a harsh croak, even if Scoots heard you, she doesn’t come back.
  3821. “Scootaloo!”
  3822. >Nothing.
  3823. >Dammit, it’s not safe for her to run off alone like that.
  3824. “LUNA! TIA!”
  3825. >They’re out – or worse.
  3826. “DASH!”
  3827. >The fastest pony alive doesn’t answer.
  3828. “TRIXIE!?”
  3829. >”WHAT!?”
  3830. >The mare stumbles out of the darkness, or it passes her as she struggles to her hooves.
  3831. >She looks around in surprise, not quite believing that the storm is over.
  3832. >”What!?”
  3833. “Scoot –“
  3834. >A painful cough interrupts you.
  3835. >You can’t –
  3836. >You can’t speak.
  3837. >With your hand, you gesture behind you.
  3838. “S-scoots – help –“
  3839. >She takes one look at you – that’s all – and chases after the filly with speed you hadn’t expected of the mare.
  3840. >But not quick enough.
  3841. >Gently, you slide Apple Bloom off your lap – if she can sleep through the storm, she can sleep on the cracked floor – and crawl over to the princesses.
  3842. >If you can wake them, there has to be something they can do.
  3843. >Something.
  3844. >You’re not sure what.
  3845. >Luna’s wings are broken in… you don’t waste time counting how many places they’re broken in.
  3846. >Tia isn’t in much better condition. Her wings are fine, as are her forelegs, wrapped tight around her sister’s barrel, but her hind legs are a mess.
  3847. >Like Luna’s wings, you don’t look at them long.
  3848. >A glance was enough to turn your stomach.
  3849. “Tia!”
  3850. >You reach for her shoulder, giving her a nudge.
  3851. >Even as you do it, you ask yourself why you’re even bothering – it’s not like that will wake her –
  3852. >The princess groans and shakes her head.
  3853. “Tia!”
  3854. >”Y-yes?”
  3855. >She tries to –
  3856. “Don’t move, Tia. You’re hurt.”
  3857. >”So are you, my human,” she mumbles. “At least Luna…“
  3858. >She winces in pain as she shifts, trying to get a good look at her sister.
  3859. >”Not my wisest move,” she admits with gritted teeth, “but she’s my little sister. I had to try to catch her.”
  3860. >Ah.
  3861. >”What about everypony else?” she asks. “Where is Scootaloo?”
  3862. “Gone.”
  3863. >”Safe?”
  3864. “Away from the storm.”
  3865. >”Good,” the princess mumbles, relief and guilt warring in her eyes.
  3866. >Why…?
  3867. “I’m going after her.”
  3868. >”No!”
  3869. >The force with which she grasps your arm almost pulls you over.
  3870. “Why not!? Trixie can’t catch her!”
  3871. >”And you can, Anon?”
  3872. “I can try!”
  3873. >The mare shakes her head frantically.
  3874. >”No!” she repeats. “She’s running deeper into the eye of the storm!”
  3875. “All the more reason –“
  3876. >You double over, coughing up – fuck, that can’t be good – coughing up blood.
  3877. >Shit.
  3878. >Once you can actually speak again, you continue.
  3879. “You can’t walk, Tia. Luna – I’m surprised she’s even still alive. There’s only me.”
  3880. >”Twilight will be here soon!” the mare tries to reassure you. “As long as –“
  3881. >”All the more reason he needs to come with me,” the brown stallion says appearing out of the darkness.
  3882. >Derpy follows a few steps behind him, remarkably unscathed.
  3883. >”He *can’t*,” Tia insists. “It’s not safe!”
  3884. >Her head turns back to face you.
  3885. >”It’s not safe,” she repeats. “You can’t!”
  3886. “I have to.”
  3887. >”But you promised her,” Tia pleads. “What if something happens to you!?”
  3888. “Then… then take care of her for me.”
  3889. >The alicorn’s grip loosens, her foreleg dropping to the ground like a dead weight.
  3890. >”I – I will, Anon. I’ll take care of b-both of them for you.”
  3891. >Good.
  3892. >Somepony will need to look after Scootaloo.
  3893. >”Just go,” the princess mumbles into her sister’s mane, “before I change my mind.”
  3894. “As if you could stop me.”
  3895. >”As if I could,” she repeats.
  3896. >She’s looking away, so you can’t be sure, but you think she smiled.
  3897. >Slightly.
  3898. >The brown stallion holds out a leg to help you up, and after a moment’s hesitation, you grab it.
  3899. >You take a deep breath.
  3900. >This is going to hurt.
  3901. >But if you can breathe, you can stand.
  3902. >If you can stand, you can endure.
  3903. >It hurts – it hurts like you’re dying – but you get yourself to your feet.
  3904. >”We don’t have much time,” the stallion cautions you while you try to catch your breath. He looks over his back and frowns. “We need to hurry.”
  3905. “Yeah, I know.”
  3906. >She ran into the eye of the storm.
  3907. >Towards Sweetie Belle.
  3908. >You have to catch her. Bring her back. Keep her safe.
  3909. >”D-derpy?” Tia calls out as you shamble your first few steps. “Please, try –“
  3910. >”There’s nothing I can do, princess” the mailmare answers in a dead voice. “We’ve already had the exact same conversation.”
  3911. >The pegasus knows she can’t stop you.
  3912. >Not even if she pulls a gun.
  3913. >”Derpy?” the stallion says softly, pointedly not looking back at her. “One last favor…?”
  3914. >”I know,” the pegasus sighs. “Don’t worry, I’ll try.”
  3915. >”Thank you.”
  3916. >He ambles forward, trying to help support your weight.
  3917. >It’s slow going, but he doesn’t complain, nor does he look back.
  3918. >You do.
  3919. “Why is Derpy crying?”
  3920. >”Because I can’t run forever.”
  3921. >More cryptic bullshit, but walking doesn’t leave you with any breath for further questions.
  3922. >You’ve almost hobbled back to the shattered wall, back to the still sleeping Apple Bloom, when you gesture for the stallion to stop.
  3923. >There’s one last thing you have to say.
  3924. “Tia?”
  3925. >”Y-yes?”
  3926. “If Twi gets here before I return, tell her… tell her I’ll be right back.”
  3927. >One way or another.
  3928. “I don’t want her flying into the eye alone to save me.”
  3929. >”That will not stop her,” Celestia reluctantly responds. “She would do anything for you.”
  3930. >”I’ll make sure she knows,” Derpy answers slowly. “Don’t worry about her… Anon.”
  3931. >That might be the closest the mailmare has gotten to treating you like a person.
  3932. “You aren’t coming with us?”
  3933. >”No.”
  3934. >”She has something she has to do here,” the stallion explains grimly. “Something you or I can’t.”
  3935. >True, somepony needs to look after Luna and Tia.
  3936. >And your pony first-aid skills are crap.
  3937. >Damn, it would have been handy to have a flyer with you, but it can’t be helped.
  3938. “Okay.”
  3939. >You give the mare the slightest of nods.
  3940. “Let’s get going.”
  3941. >The stallion moves cautiously, but it still hurts.
  3942. >He’s trying his best to help you along, but he’s just not tall enough. Maybe if it was Tia or Luna, you could manage.
  3943. >It’s easier to walk upright than to try to lean on him.
  3944. >He looks at you with concern as you straighten.
  3945. >”You sure?” he asks. “I don’t mind –“
  3946. “Doesn’t hurt as much this way.”
  3947. >More likely you’ll lose your balance on the rubble, but that’s a problem for future anon.
  3948. >He nods slightly, but doesn’t stop watching you.
  3949. >Good, maybe he’ll be able to catch you if you fall.
  3950. >The uneven footing and pain in your chest keep you quiet for… you’re not sure how long you walk in silence.
  3951. >All that matters is putting one foot in front of the next, moving forward and not falling.
  3952. >”You didn’t bring the gun, did you?” he asks suddenly.
  3953. “How…?”
  3954. >How does he know about it?
  3955. >”Derpy is a dear, dear friend.”
  3956. >He got it for her, didn’t he?
  3957. “How?”
  3958. >”I have my ways.”
  3959. >Asshole.
  3960. >You keep shambling forward, but you can’t miss the sidelong glances me keeps giving you.
  3961. >”So, you *didn’t* bring it, right?”
  3962. “No.”
  3963. >You forgot.
  3964. >”Perfect.”
  3965. >Asshole.
  3966. >He must have seen the annoyance in your face, because he quickly dances around to face you, walking backwards carelessly.
  3967. >”No, I’m serious,” he insists with a wide smile. “Wasn’t quite sure how you’d solve this little problem, what with you being human and all –“
  3968. “We don’t always –“
  3969. >You have to pause to catch your breath.
  3970. ”- don’t always use violence.”
  3971. >”Naaaah, I know that, but – you *do* have to admit –“
  3972. “Wouldn’t do any good anyway.”
  3973. >What’s a handgun going to do to something that can fling Luna like a skipping stone?
  3974. >”I suppose not,” the stallion admits, slowing his backwards trot to allow you to catch up. “Still…”
  3975. >His smile drops and he spins around.
  3976. >”We’re almost there. Almost to the center.”
  3977. >Almost to Sweetie Belle.
  3978. >Indeed, the sun is shining brightly above your head – not one scrap of wind blows against your face – if it wasn’t for the dark ring off in the distance and the flattened rubble under your feet, you wouldn’t have any clue a storm was violently tearing its way through Canterlot. And the faint, whispered song that drifts lazily through the air.
  3979. “I don’t see anypony.”
  3980. >A few chunks of rubble rise above the leveled field – Trixie and Scootaloo could be sheltering behind one of those.
  3981. >Or maybe Trixie caught Scootaloo and dragged her to safety.
  3982. >Might as well imagine the best-case scenario if you’re going to waste your time with fantasies.
  3983. “TRIXIE!?”
  3984. >The stallion shoots you a harsh look, but the two of you stick out already thanks to the dubious virtue of *standing*.
  3985. “SCOOTALOO!?”
  3986. >The song lurking in the background swells – nevermind, yelling was a bad idea. A bad, *bad* idea.
  3987. >”There,” the stallion barks, pointing towards the bright remains of a distant food cart.
  3988. >It takes you – no, nevermind, you don’t see anything.
  3989. >Not a damn thing.
  3990. >But he seems positive, galloping off towards the cart, so you follow behind as quickly as you can.
  3991. >Which is not very quickly at all.
  3992. >You need a doctor.
  3993. >As soon as everypony is safe –
  3994. >”See!?” the stallion gloats, as the loose fabric of cart’s shredded umbrella is thrown back to reveal a blue and red and orange mess.
  3995. >Oh, gods.
  3996. >”Trixie did as you asked, human,” the mare mumbles, her voice barely loud enough for you to hear over the distance. “I have her.”
  3997. >Indeed, wrapped in her legs is Scootaloo, the little mare fidgeting and fighting against her captivity with all the strength her tiny body can muster.
  3998. >”Anon!” she screams. “Make her let go!”
  3999. >You want to ask why, to make some snarky comment to lighten the mood, but you save your breath for walking.
  4000. >”I CAN STOP HER, ANON! I CAN SAVE SWEETIE BELLE! DISCORD TRAPPED HER UNDERGROUND, SO WE HAVE TIME –“
  4001. >”We have time to *escape*,” Trixie hisses. “I don’t think we can rely on him or the princess to save us again.”
  4002. >The filly begins thrashing, lashing out with her legs and kicking Trixie repeatedly – the mare only tightens her grip.
  4003. >”WE DON’T NEED THEM!” Scootaloo screeches, tears streaming down her face. “I CAN DO THIS!”
  4004. >Trixie shakes her head again.
  4005. >”No, you *can’t*. You heard what Luna said –“
  4006. >All you hear is the song growing louder and louder.
  4007. >Loud enough to distract you from your next step.
  4008. >Shit.
  4009. >That’s about all you have time to think as something slides out from under your foot and sends you crashing into the ground.
  4010. >” – not even the Elements can bring your friend back!”
  4011. >The stallion – almost to the mare and filly – looks back at the sound of you hitting the ground.
  4012. >A sound that is remarkably similar to a scream.
  4013. >”THAT’S WHY IT HAS TO BE ME!” the Scootaloo sobs violently. “SHE DOESN’T WANT TO COME BACK, SO I HAVE TO – I HAVE TO…”
  4014.  >The stallion  looks at the your friend, then back to you.
  4015. >He has those eyes again.
  4016. >Those sad eyes.
  4017. >You can’t hear what he says to Trixie – the song peaks, drowning out even your thoughts.
  4018. >Not far from the trio, the ground begins to bulge and shake – you can’t blame the stallion from running away.
  4019. >You hate him for it, for leaving your friends.
  4020. >For rushing to your side, as if you were the only one worth saving.
  4021. >You can’t blame him for running away, but for the guilt?
  4022. >You hate him.
  4023. >He mouths two words – ”I’m sorry” – as the screaming lullaby tears through the ground.
  4024. >>A – a –
  4025. > – a thing you can’t comprehend or describe bursts through the dirt and detritus, taking to the sky in a chorus of pure hatred.
  4026. >The sound fades as the *thing* flies up into the sky, distance muting it for the moment.
  4027. >”I’m so sorry,” the stallion repeats. “We were too late.”
  4028. “Bullshit! We can still – still…”
  4029. >The barrage of noise is growing steadily louder.
  4030. >*It* is coming back.
  4031. “There’s still time –“
  4032. >”I’M READY!” Scootaloo screams into the sky. “I HAVE MY WISH!”
  4033. >”I’m so very, very sorry,” the stallion says, putting a hoof on your shoulder as if that would be any godsdamned fucking comfort.
  4034. >”ARE YOU THERE!?” the filly screams, frantically trying to kick her way free of Trixie’s legs. “I SAID I KNOW WHAT I WANT TO WISH FOR!”
  4035. “Don’t.”
  4036. >Wishes never end well.
  4037. “DON’T!”
  4038. >“I WISH –“
  4039. “NO!”
  4040. >”I CAN DO THIS, ANON!”
  4041. >She can hear you.
  4042. >You can still –
  4043. >”I SAW HOW IT ENDED!”
  4044. >How what ended?
  4045. >”I CAN DO THIS!”
  4046. >No.
  4047. >”I JUST HAVE TO BE SMART ABOUT IT!”
  4048. >A little white creature dashes through your field of view, its tail lashing with every leap and bound.
  4049. >No.
  4050. >It comes to a stop in front of the filly, its tail flipping back and forth.
  4051. >”I WISH –“
  4052. >No.
  4053. >”I wish,” the filly repeats, “I wish that everything was as it should be!”
  4054. >The creature flicks its tail one more time.
  4055. >It won’t work.
  4056. >Her wish won’t work.
  4057. >It’s too vague.
  4058. >Whatever happens, it won’t be what she wanted.
  4059. >It won’t give her the happy ending she’s expecting.
  4060. >Scootaloo is grinning so impossibly wide – she thinks she’s done it.
  4061. >She thinks she has saved her friend.
  4062. >She’s smiling as a cutie mark flashes into existence on her flank – a purple spiral.
  4063. >Still trapped in Trixie’s arms, she looks around proudly.
  4064. >And sees the thing that was once her friend.
  4065. >”Why…?”
  4066. >”Because she was a magical filly,” the creature explains with a tilt of its head. “It’s only to be expected that she should become a nightmare.”
  4067. >You can identify the exact moment when Scootaloo realizes her mistake – it’s not the wide-eyed vacant look or the gaping mouth, nothing that mundane.
  4068. >Her cutie mark – the cutie mark she’d earned by daring to do the impossible – the beautiful purple swirl – it darkens.
  4069. >Not slowly, not immediately – it moves at the speed of thought, taking just long enough for you to realize what just happened.
  4070. >What *she* just realized.
  4071. >The filly’s scream overpowers the song.
  4072. >She screams in frustration until she can’t scream any longer.
  4073. >She screams until her cutie mark is the same color as nothingness.
  4074. >She screams until the color has spread to her entire body, from mane to tail.
  4075. >She screams until she ceases to be the little filly you knew.
  4076. >And still, the creature that was once Scootaloo screams.
  4077. >Until it, too, is nothing.
  4078. >A slowly growing hole in reality that tears at the corners of your soul.
  4079. >Scootaloo is gone.
  4080. >Trixie is gone.
  4081. >That creature is gone.
  4082. >Seconds later, the impossible thing that was once Sweetie Belle is absorbed into it.
  4083. >You stare at it in confusion until the first book flies through the air to disappear into the void.
  4084. “What…?”
  4085. >”I’m so very, very sorry,” the stallion mumbles, “but in a way, she got her wish.”
  4086. “To – to not exist!?”
  4087. >”To fix this world,” he answers with a frown. “She was a brave filly.”
  4088. “She was an idiot.”
  4089. >That wish – how could she even think that would solve *anything*?
  4090. >”She was a child –“
  4091. “Even a child should have known better!”
  4092. >“– and she was brave.”
  4093. >The stallion holds out a leg – you hesitate, but take it and he pulls you into a sitting position.
  4094. “She always has been.”
  4095. >Dash couldn’t teach the little filly to fly, but she *did* teach her something far more valuable.
  4096. “Loyal to her friends to the end.”
  4097. >”And beyond.”
  4098. >Fuck.
  4099. >Another book flies past you, its pages rippling, followed by a DVD.
  4100. >Fuck.
  4101. >FUCK.
  4102. “She’s still in there, right?”
  4103. >”I don’t know.”
  4104. “What about the others? We can still do something, can’t we?”
  4105. >”I don’t know.”
  4106. >You have to find your friends.
  4107. >They have to be safe.
  4108. >”Best case scenario – and I do mean *best* case –“ he pauses, staring at you intently until you nod. “Best case, everypony and everything that is drawn in will reappear in its proper place once enough damage has been fixed. Your little friend will destabilize and collapse under the paradox of her current existence. Best case scenario, of course.”
  4109. “What the fuck does that mean!?”
  4110. >He looks prepared to launch into a Sparkle-level lecture, but a glance at… at…
  4111. >It’s not Scootaloo.
  4112. >Not anymore.
  4113. >But whatever it is convinces him to skip the full presentation.
  4114. >”It *means* those two fillies *should* exist in this world. Them missing unbalances things more. So – and this is pure guesswork –“
  4115. “Unbalances things?”
  4116. >the fuck?
  4117. >”Ideas and beliefs, those cross the boundaries between worlds easily. But things? No.”
  4118. >He gestures with a hoof towards a set of books zipping into the void.
  4119. >Ah.
  4120. “And not living creatures.”
  4121. >”Never living creatures.”
  4122. >Another handful of books flutter through the air like a flock of birds towards the rift – the unexistance lurches for them.
  4123. >Hungrily.
  4124. >”We shouldn’t be here. It’s going to keep going, you know,” the stallion says quietly. “Just keep expanding until a balance has been reached. Until its hate and shame can’t keep it going any more.”
  4125. >A streak of red catches your eye.
  4126. >Dash is going to be pissed that her mousepad is gone.
  4127. >Followed by your brand-fucking new copy of Lost and the Damned.
  4128. >Fuck.
  4129. >And Twi’s new DVDs.
  4130. >Shit.
  4131. >You were going to watch those tonight.
  4132. >”You and I,” the stallion says with a flourish of his hoof, “we’re too fixed, too solid for it to take on its own.”
  4133. “You…?”
  4134. >He gives a slight little shrug, brushing away the question.
  4135. >”It’s just as hard to send us back as it was for us to get here.”
  4136. “So… we’re safe…?”
  4137. >You can deal with losing all trace of that other world, as long –
  4138. >”As long as you keep ahead of the rift,” he answers quickly, “and don’t give a damn about anyp – any*one* else. I don’t know about you, but…”
  4139. “What?”
  4140. >”Memories cross easily,” he says with a sad little smile. “And they go just as fast. I don’t want those I care about to forget me.”
  4141. >What?
  4142. >”In that brief second before your friend was swallowed up by that *thing*…” he stops to sigh, or sob quietly. He keeps his face turned away, so you can’t be sure. “In that impossibly short moment, she forgot everything about you and your world. It can’t take us, not unless we actually touch it, so it’s reaching out –“
  4143. >As if on que, the nothingness bubbles outward to snag an action figure out of the sky.
  4144. >”Things, memories, anything it can draw in. Gone in the blink of an eye, until the balance is restored. That’s why I asked Derpy to stay behind.”
  4145. “So she wouldn’t lose her memories of you? That was the favor you asked her for?”
  4146. >”No.”
  4147. >He doesn’t explain further.
  4148. “And then, once everything’s fine?”
  4149. >”And then everypony will be safe and your friends will return  and nopony will ever forget you.”
  4150. >He takes a step towards the nothingness that used to be a filly you cared for very much.
  4151. >”I hope.”
  4152. “You *hope*?”
  4153. >He’s not sure?
  4154. >”I have to.”
  4155. >The stallion takes another step.
  4156. >”I won’t force you to come –“
  4157. >He’s going to walk into the void based on nothing but *hope*.
  4158. >He is, isn’t he?”
  4159. >” – but if you’re the kind of man I think you are, you’ll do anything to protect your family, won’t you?”
  4160. >Of course.
  4161. >You would do anything for your princess.
  4162. >But… asking you to step into oblivion and just hope for the best?
  4163. >Is he mad?
  4164. “I don’t want to go.”
  4165. >”Neither do I,” he says ruefully. “I like this world. Particularly how every problem can be solved in half an hour…”
  4166. “I don’t want to leave Twilight.”
  4167. >”If you don’t, it’ll keep stealing away every trace of your world until nothing remains,” the stallion says, his voice suddenly full of caged fury. “Do you want your princess to lose all her memories of you, because it *will* tear every speck of you from her mind and body.”
  4168. >He glares angrily at you.
  4169. >”But that won’t be enough. No, then it will take you. And in the end, she won’t even know what she lost.”
  4170. >She won’t even remember your name.
  4171. >Not that *you* can.
  4172. >Not your real one.
  4173. >But –
  4174. >Twilight might – might –
  4175. >She *might* be able to rationalize losing you.
  4176. >Your princess might be able to carry on without you at her side.
  4177. >No, she *can*.
  4178. >But with parts of herself missing?
  4179. “I…”
  4180. >You sigh.
  4181. “I know what that’s like.”
  4182. >And you can’t.
  4183. >You just can’t.
  4184. >You can’t hurt her any more, not after everything you’ve done to her already.
  4185. >She said it herself – losing her memories of you is something so horrible, she can’t even imagine it.
  4186. “What will happen to us if…?”
  4187. >You gesture towards the rift.
  4188. “… when we…”
  4189. >What’s the right word?
  4190. >”Does it matter?” he asks with a flippant grin.
  4191. >A fake grin.
  4192. >He knows what you mean.
  4193. “No.”
  4194. >Not really.
  4195. >Not if it keeps your Twilight safe.
  4196. “I guess it doesn’t.”
  4197. >You’ve finally found your purpose in Equestria.
  4198. >”With any luck, you’ll end up back in your world around the time you disappeared,” he answers you anyway, talking another step towards the void. “One way or another, it’s time you made your decision, Anon. Derpy can’t stall your princess forever.”
  4199. >Stall her?
  4200. >Was *that* the favor he was asking of her?
  4201. “Why?”
  4202. >”To give you time, of which we are probably just about out of, so if you’ll make your choice -”
  4203. “I don’t really have one, do I?”
  4204. >”I said I wouldn’t force you.”
  4205. “But you’re sure trying to – you’ve spouted vague and ominous bullshit, but nothing I can actually *use.*”
  4206. >How are you supposed to find loopholes and twist the fucking laws of nature when all you know is bad things will happen OR you leap into this… *thing*… that used to be Scootaloo and maybe they won’t?
  4207. “Shit, what even makes you think that sacrificing ourselves by jumping in would even stop it?”
  4208. >”Like I said, you and I shouldn’t be here,” the stallion snaps back, as if it’s the most basic thing in the fucking world.
  4209. >Fucking prick.
  4210. “So why would they even remember us if we -?”
  4211. >You fling a hand towards the nothingness – and, painfully, it bulges in your direction.
  4212. >Like Scootaloo is reaching out to take your hand.
  4213. “What’s to say it would even stop!?”
  4214. >If it doesn’t, if Twilight won’t remember you anyway… then *why* would you go through with this lunatic’s scheme?
  4215. >You could be with her until…
  4216. >It would be worth it.
  4217. >She wouldn’t remember it and you might not exist, but it would be worth it.
  4218. >Time spent with her is never wasted.
  4219. >”Your little friend wished for things to be the way they should be, and infuriatingly vague and pointless as that was – I mean, who is even supposed to decide how things *should* be?”
  4220. “You seem cocky enough to try.”
  4221. >Asshole’s possibly even more arrogant than you are.
  4222. >Maybe not.
  4223. >He hasn’t claimed to be a god yet.
  4224. >Still a cunt, though.
  4225. >”I – no, not anymore,” he visibly falters. “Regardless, she gets her wish. It obviously didn’t go as she was intending, but the filly gets her wish.”
  4226. “And that means no us in Equestria.”
  4227. >”We shouldn’t be here. A certain amount of crossover between worlds is natural, but not us. Not that creature, not the things these fillies became, but memories, ideas, thoughts… those are fine. They *should* remain untouched.”
  4228. >He gives you a slightly apologetic smile.
  4229. >”But that’s just me saying that. For all I know, her wish is going to turn everypony into bipedal carrots because some quirk of evolution – well – long story short, we don’t know what *should* happen, because we don’t know whose idea of how things should be this wish is trying to accomplish.”
  4230. >Fucking wishes.
  4231. >It’s better to just walk away.
  4232.  >Find your own solution to the problem, don’t rely on some quick, magical answer to save the day.
  4233. >Like erasing yourself from Equestria so that Twi can keep her memories of you.
  4234. >The void doesn’t seem to be growing *that* quickly, though it is steadily increasing as it absorbs more and more junk.
  4235. >Eventually, Equestria will run out of human books and DVDs and Legos, but until then, you can be together.
  4236. >It doesn’t even have to end with you being sucked up along with her memories of you.
  4237. >Twilight will find a way to stop it.
  4238. >All she needs is a little time.
  4239. >”You need to make a choice, Anon,” the stallion pressures you, “because, like I said, my companion can only –“
  4240. “I’m staying.”
  4241. >”What.”
  4242. >He didn’t expect that.
  4243. >For all his talk of not forcing you to do anything, he certainly didn’t think you would say no.
  4244. “Look, as long as I stay away from it – and keep Twi away – she’ll remember me.”
  4245. >”But eventually –“
  4246. “Eventually, she’ll find a way to stop it.”
  4247. >You try to shrug, but the gesture hurts too much.
  4248. “She’ll even find a way to bring back Trixie and the fillies – I know she will.”
  4249. >”And just how do you plan to keep her away?” the stallion argues. “Because isn’t that her, you idiot!?”
  4250. >You points off into the distance – sure enough, a speck of purple is speeding your direction, followed by a corkscrewing speck that has to be Derpy.
  4251. >Shit.
  4252. “So, *maybe* she’ll lose a few memories, but –“
  4253. >Another book whizzes past your face, narrowly missing you.
  4254. >Not all of her memories of you are pleasant ones.
  4255. >Maybe… maybe, that would be for the best.
  4256. >Regardless of what she told you back in the human room, maybe losing her memories wouldn’t be all that bad.
  4257. >Not entirely.
  4258. >Not enough to make you think of it as a *good* thing, more of a silver lining to a shitty situation.
  4259.  “ – but that just means we can make new ones.”
  4260. >”Oh, so *that* is your answer!” the stallion roars in frustration. “Just dispose of the old and unwanted things and make new ones! So very like you humans!”
  4261. “Not exac-“
  4262. >”So, tell me,” he shouts over you, “are you also just going to make a new child?”
  4263. >wat
  4264. >”I wasn’t joking when I said this nothingness will tear every speck of you from her mind *and* body.”
  4265. >Not possible.
  4266. >”Don’t expect it to be as resilient as us – we’re both fully grown beings with lives and history and the weight of *existence* pinning us down. But that small being growing inside your marefriend? Just looking at it wrong would be enough to destroy that future! Right now, it’s only about a dozen or cells – but maybe that’s why you’re so willing to sacrifice it to spend a few more minutes with somepony who won’t even know who you are!”
  4267. “She’s… pregnant?”
  4268. >”Or maybe you weren’t aware,” the stallion seamlessly amends semi-apologetically. “I suppose that could have something to do with your attitude.”
  4269. “How?”
  4270. >You’re not a pony.
  4271. >”The usual way, I assume. Though I suppose…”
  4272. >She’s not human.
  4273. “But that’s impossible.”
  4274. >She said so herself.
  4275. >”Isn’t that what you humans do?” the stallion answers snarkily. “The impossible?”
  4276. >But Twi isn’t human.
  4277. >Just that once, but –
  4278. >Impossible.
  4279. >Why wouldn’t she tell you?
  4280. >She doesn’t know.
  4281. >She can’t.
  4282. >So how does *he* know?
  4283. >There’s no reasonable explanation for how the stallion knows half of the shit he does – and yet, he somehow left just the right book out in just the right place for just the right filly.
  4284. >Hopefully, Berry Pinch didn’t get caught up in… in this mess.
  4285. “You’re sure?”
  4286. >”Overheard it from Celestia and Luna themselves. Don’t quite think they knew I was there.”
  4287. >Huh.
  4288. >And how did they know?
  4289. >Doesn’t matter.
  4290. >Stay, and Twilight loses more than just you.
  4291. “I promised I would never leave her.”
  4292. >”In a way, you aren’t,” the stallion answers, nervously looking at the approaching alicorn. “A part of you will always be with her.”
  4293. >Her memories of you.
  4294. >Her love for you.
  4295. >Your child.
  4296. >They’ll still be with her, so long as you walk into the void now.
  4297. >If you stay…
  4298. >You made a promise to fix everything.
  4299. “Help me up.”
  4300. >As you struggle to your feet, another book flies past you – briefly, you consider trying to snatch it out of the air.
  4301. >Rip out a blank page or two.
  4302. >Leave Twi a note.
  4303. >But it would just be pulled into the void.
  4304. >Not like you have anything to write with, either.
  4305. >Never thought that you would think this, but you’re momentarily disappointed that your bleeding seems to have stopped, otherwise…
  4306. >No, that’s stupid.
  4307. >There’s nothing you need to tell her.
  4308. >She’ll know.
  4309. >Leaning on the stallion for support, you hobble towards the nothingness.
  4310. >You aren’t leaving her.
  4311. >Not really.
  4312. >Twilight knows what to do.
  4313. >The void reaches out for you eagerly – despite coming to a decision, it’s unnerving.
  4314. >You can’t help but falter as nothing screams into your mind.
  4315. >”Are you ready for this?” the stallion asks, almost sounding like he gives a fuck.
  4316. “Y-yeah. The sooner we do this, the sooner everypony can get back home.”
  4317. >You take a deep breath.
  4318. “I made her a promise.”
  4319. >You take another step forward.
  4320. “I’m not going to break it.”
  4321. >Another step and –
  4322. > - nothing.
  4323. >A vague sensation of falling, though that could just be your memories of… of… where were you?
  4324. >It was a place.
  4325. >But you can’t remember its name.
  4326. >Bright colors stream away from your field of vision, the whole of it growing dark.
  4327. >With no light, and nothing to reflect light, all you see is blackness.
  4328. >You’re definitely falling now, though you have nothing to see or feel to give that a proper frame of reference.
  4329. >You just know it.
  4330. >The same as in a dream, when your body *knows* that it is falling, even though it’s unmoving on your bed.
  4331. >And out of that nothingness, a purple hoof reaches out for you, almost brushing your hand.
  4332. >Huh.
  4333. >That’s new.
  4334. >It misses by a hair’s breadth.
  4335. >You wake with a start, bolting upright like some character from a damn anime.
  4336. “The fuck was that…?”
  4337. >Falling, blackness, a feeling of doom, a vague feeling that someone or something was coming to rescue you - but the hoof?
  4338. >That’s never happened before.
  4339. >You’ve had the same dream every night without fail for nearly a year, ever since your accident.
  4340. >Accident.
  4341. >That’s a *nice* way to put nearly mowed down by a hit-and-run driver.
  4342. >You don’t exactly remember what happened – or anything at all – nor did the police ever find the guy, but at least you were better off than –
  4343. >You smell breakfast cooking.
  4344. >Godsdammit.
  4345. “Did you burn the fucking toast again?”
  4346. “IT BURNED ITSELF!”
  4347. >At least you were better off than the woman he hit.
  4348. >Not only did she not remember a fucking thing, she…
  4349. >Shit.
  4350. >In this day and age of miracle toasters, how the hell does she burn toast?
  4351. “GODSDAMMIT, BEE! DON’T EVEN BOTHER TRYING TO MAKE BREAKFAST!”
  4352. >”I CAN DO THIS!”
  4353. “JUST... GO SIT DOWN. I’LL MAKE BREAKFAST FOR US IN A SEC!”
  4354. >Dead silence.
  4355. >”WAFFLES, PLEASE?”
  4356. “HAVE YOU DONE ANYTHING TO DESERVE WAFFLES?”
  4357. >”HEY, I ASKED POLITELY!”
  4358. “I KNOW THAT’S ONE HELL OF AN ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR YOU, BUT IT’S NOT QUITE WAFFLES LEVEL!”
  4359. >Some days – usually the days she tries to make breakfast – you *really* regret letting her come to live with you once you both got out of the hospital.
  4360. >Some days, you wonder how the hell that even happened.
  4361. >Who on earth would let some random guy take home a random woman with no memory?
  4362. >Maybe it was because everyone seems to think you’re siblings.
  4363. >You have no fucking idea why – you don’t look a thing alike.
  4364. >Act alike, maybe.
  4365. >Everyone seems to think you’re both assholes.
  4366. >You swing yourself out of bed and pull on some clothes.
  4367. >Enough to feel decent around your roommate.
  4368. >It hadn’t taken you long to make that a habit.
  4369. >Only two or three bruises before you realized that pants were no longer optional.
  4370. >You sleepily shuffle out of your bedroom and down the hall past hers.
  4371. >Still in a bit of a daze, you turn left – no, wait, right.
  4372. >Left was the old one-room apartment – this new one has the kitchen on the right.
  4373. >The term “new” being used very liberally – the two of you moved into this place six or seven or… nine(?) months ago so your roommate would have an actual room of her own, instead of sleeping on your sofa.
  4374. >You try – with some limited success – to blink away the sleepiness.
  4375. >On the third or fourth try, you finally make out a blurry vision of your roommate – is she… is she holding the toast at arm’s length with fucking *tongs*?
  4376. “I *really* don’t know how you manage that, Bee.”
  4377. >”It’s just my special talent, I guess,” she hisses, dropping the charred… *thing*… into the trashcan.
  4378. >Sounds like a fucking brick when it hits the bottom.
  4379. “Just… go sit down. I’ll whip something up.”
  4380. >”Eggs?”
  4381. >You give her a little nod – about as much as you think you can without accidentally tipping yourself over.
  4382. >You can do eggs.
  4383. >When you cook ‘em, bitches eat ALL the eggs.
  4384. >Don’t even have to tell them – they do it on their own.
  4385. >Scrambled eggs were the very first thing you cooked for her, probably because your body still hurt too much to do anything more complicated.
  4386. >They’ve kind of been her comfort food ever since.
  4387. “Yeah, I’ll make eggs. You don’t have work today, do you?”
  4388. >More importantly, you don’t have work today, right?
  4389. >Shit.
  4390. >What day is it?
  4391. >”No we’re both off,” she reminds you. “It’s Friday.”
  4392. >Right.
  4393. >Friday.
  4394. >Bit macabre taking a four-day weekend to “celebrate” not getting killed by in a fucking hit-and-run, but you had been the one to suggest it.
  4395. >Not seriously, of course, but you couldn’t back out after she had put in the time-off request.
  4396. >Deep down, you suspect she knew all along.
  4397. “Then I’ll make breakfast and you can make lunch.”
  4398. >”In that case, I think I’ll go shower,” she smirks. “Give you some time to clean up.”
  4399. “Or you can clean up the mess you made before –“
  4400. >Oh, fuck it.
  4401. >Too late.
  4402. >She’s already sprinting down the hallway.
  4403. “IF THESE ARE DONE BEFORE YOU’RE OUT, YOU’RE EATING THEM COLD!”
  4404. >The only answer is the sound of running water.
  4405. >Dammit.
  4406. >Cleaning up the kitchen won’t take long – there’s only…
  4407. >Shit, how many utensils did she get dirty just burning some fucking toast!?
  4408. >With a deep sigh, you get started, making it almost halfway through before you just lose all will to continue.
  4409. >You’re almost grateful for the knock at the door.
  4410. >And luckily, you’re already dressed somewhat appropriately for door answering!
  4411. >Once was enough to teach you the necessity of pants when opening doors.
  4412. >The young woman you see through the peephole looks vaguely familiar.
  4413. >About a foot, foot-and-a-half shorter than you, with ambiguously light brown skin and jet-black hair and an oversized brown coat with far too many pockets.
  4414. >Maybe a friend of a friend?
  4415. >Yeah, probably.
  4416. >Would explain why she seems so familiar.
  4417. >She doesn’t *look* like she’s going for a home invasion, so you open the door. The bundle tucked into the crook of her arm is a little suspicious, but… meh.
  4418. >About the size of a two-liter bottle of soda, and this wouldn’t be the first time your friends invited over extra people for game night.
  4419. >And she looks like the kind of spastic know-it-all that would mix up 7PM and 7AM.
  4420. >She smiles up at you – the expression so real and genuine that it can’t help but stir up half-remembered feelings.
  4421. >”Well, Anon, I’m here.”
  4422. “Hello…”
  4423. >The way she fidgets nervously makes the sun dance across her hair. Might just be your imagination, but it almost looks purplish, like…
  4424. >Like…
  4425. >Something you know…
  4426. >”You forgot about me, didn’t you?” she pouts slightly – only slightly, like she expected it, but still found it unacceptable.
  4427. >Oh.
  4428. “Never. Not in my dreams.”
  4429. >You always knew she was coming.
  4430. >You knew before you left Equestria.
  4431. >You knew that she would find you.
  4432. >”They weren’t dreams, Anon,” she responds, smiling once again.
  4433. >You think she wants to kiss you – you don’t give her the chance, leaning forward and kissing her first.
  4434. >It lasts only a second – there’s so much to say – but you do put your arms loosely around her and pull her towards you.
  4435. ”They weren’t dreams, but they were about a year too early.”
  4436. >”I –“
  4437. >She blinks.
  4438. >”I’m such an *idiot.*”
  4439. “No you’re not.”
  4440. >”It’s okay,” she mumbles into your chest. “I’m an idiot and so are you.”
  4441. >Ow.
  4442. >Right in the self-esteem.
  4443. “You weren’t *going* home,” she continues with a slight – and very satisfied – smirk. “You’re *coming* home.”
  4444. >You try to squeeze her tight against you, but she turns to keep the bundle –
  4445. >Oh.
  4446. >You are an idiot.
  4447. “Boy or girl?”
  4448. >You hold out your arms for your –
  4449. >”A girl.”
  4450. > - for your daughter.
  4451. >You aren’t sure what you were expecting – a foal? Some satyr half-breed? – but she looks like a perfectly normal human infant.
  4452. >”A side effect of coming to this world,” Twilight tells you before you can even ask. “And part of the reason it took me so long to find a way to reach you.”
  4453. >You barely register that she spoke.
  4454. “What’s her name?”
  4455. >The little child nestled in the crook of your arm coos happily, waving around her hands energetically.
  4456. >”Ten Sider.”
  4457. >You raise an eyebrow questioningly.
  4458. >”I… um…”
  4459. >Your princess blushes, the expression so much more pronounced on her human face than it ever was as a pony.
  4460. >”I *almost* went with Decima…”
  4461. >Your little nerd princess.
  4462. >You kiss her again, longer this time.
  4463. “It’s good to finally see you again, Twi.”
  4464. >Understatement of the year.
  4465. ”So what now?”
  4466. >”The other princesses can hold the gate open for only so long,” Twilight answers. “So now… we go home.”
  4467. >She hesitates, then wraps her arms tightly around your chest.
  4468. >”You *do* want to go back to Equestria, right…?”
  4469. “Why would you even ask?”
  4470. >”Because Pinkie Pie insisted that I had to.”
  4471. >Good for her.
  4472. “I’m guessing she lost her reality-warping powers?”
  4473. >Otherwise, she could have just dragged you back herself.
  4474. >”Kind of,” Twi answers with a giggle. “Apparently breaking the laws of our reality is just one of her innate abilities, but *only* our world.”
  4475. “And… the fillies?”
  4476. >”All fine, though they don’t remember a thing.”
  4477. >Probably for the best.
  4478. >”Are you ready?”
  4479. “Almost.”
  4480. >You hand your daughter back to Twi and take a step back inside.
  4481. ”BEE!”
  4482. “BEATRIX!”
  4483. “TRIXIE!”
  4484. >”WHAT!?”
  4485. >Good, she’s out of the shower.
  4486. “IT’S TIME TO GO!”
  4487. >”GO WHERE!?”
  4488. “HOME!”
  4489. >”What!?”
  4490. >She shuffles into the entryway, still dripping wet but with an old t-shirt clinging to her body.
  4491. >”Shit!” she hisses, ducking behind the sofa at the sight of the open door. “You could have warned me you had company!”
  4492. >”I don’t need to be jealous, do I?”
  4493. “Not at all, Twi. She’s just a little pissy about how she’s dressed when meeting new people, WHICH IS WEIRD BECAUSE SHE USED TO STRUT AROUND WEARING NOTHING BUT A CAPE AND A HAT!”
  4494. >A head pops up from behind the sofa, eyeing the both you and Twilight carefully.
  4495. >”Sparkle,” your roommate grudgingly mutters, her memories returning at the sight of your princess.
  4496. >”Trixie.”
  4497. ”So, are you coming with us?”
  4498. >”Yeah, might as well,” your friend sighs. “Breakfast is ruined anyway.”
  4499. >She doesn’t stand, though, still staring at Twilight suspiciously.
  4500. >”I… I can come back, though, right?”
  4501. >”It’s difficult to open a portal, but it *can* be done –”
  4502. >”Be right back!”
  4503. >Trixie dashes off towards her room, probably to start packing all of… everything.
  4504. >Not a bad idea, really.
  4505. >After another kiss, you make a break for your room, though you only grab one thing.
  4506. >You can always come back for the rest later.
  4507. >Which is exactly what you yell at Trixie as you walk back to your princess.
  4508. >She yells something, but fuck it.
  4509. >You can always come back for her later, too.
  4510. >She *probably* won’t mind.
  4511. >This world isn’t the utopia she was imagining, but… it wasn’t all that bad for her.
  4512. >Twilight is still waiting patiently by the door, playing with your daughter.
  4513. >Hands seem to be a novel experience for both of them – the infant eagerly grabbing on to Twilight’s fingers.
  4514. >”Will she be long?” Twi asks, looking up and smiling at you.
  4515. “Nah, I’ll go drag her out right now. But first –“
  4516. >You hand her the book.
  4517. >”You remembered?” she gasps.
  4518. “Yep.”
  4519. >You couldn’t remember *why*, only that you had to.
  4520. “Buying it was one of the first things I did.”
  4521. >After you got out of the hospital, of course.
  4522. “You – you *haven’t* read it already, have you?”
  4523. >”No,” she answers softly. “I… I didn’t even think of it.”
  4524. >She slips Dragons of Spring Dawning into one of her coat’s pockets as a breathless Trixie runs up behind you, a full bag slung over each shoulder.
  4525. >Twilight doesn’t even notice her.
  4526. >”Let’s go home, Anon,” she says, leaning over and resting the side of her head against your chest. “If we hurry, we should just be able to make it in time. Barely.”
  4527. “In time for what?”
  4528. >”CanterCon’s opening ceremonies.”
  4529. >Your princess is a total nerd.
  4530. >Thank the stars.
Twilight Sparkle Anon Mane 6 Tradtional Games Romance /tg/ Complete Nerds Author Went Off The Rails NSFW

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