~ Act II ~ 08 ~ The Dreams of Alicorns ~Monochromatic
“Tell me more about her, North,” she asked as they walked under the night sky.
“About her?” he asked, clearing his throat. “About my Frost Flower, you mean?”
“Yes,” she replied, and he noticed she always asked about Frost Flower when she seemed to be missing her Princess the most. “You’ve told me so little of your adventures with her.”
He laughed. “Our adventures! We had many, indeed. Did I tell you the story of the bar we destroyed in Eventide Isle?”
“There’s so many of them,” observed Princess Twilight Sparkle, her muzzle pressed against the window and her eyes glued to the dozens of cloaked foals in front of the doors of the Dreamland waiting for her.
Rarity, having returned from her cleaning duties downstairs, trotted over towards Twilight and peered down the window. “That’s not all of them,” she said, ignoring Twilight’s concerned whine. “There’s still several missing.” She then glanced at Twilight and smiled with mischief. “I’m sure they’ll be along any minute now for the royal event.”
Twilight looked back towards the children, just as Pinkie opened the entrance doors and allowed them to pour in, creating a commotion loud enough she could hear it all the way up to where they were.
Rarity jumped off the cushions and onto the floor. “Well then! Shall we head down? In my experience, it is not wise to keep them waiting,” she warned as she trotted towards the door.
“Wait!” Twilight blurted out, following after her. “What am I supposed to do?!”
Rarity turned back, blinking. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know!” Twilight exclaimed, not understanding how what she meant wasn’t obvious. “We didn’t establish a protocol for this situation!”
There was a moment’s pause before Rarity smiled teasingly. “Darling, not everything in this world needs to have a protocol in place, you know?” she mistakenly said before trotting off, missing Twilight’s remark that yes, they did need a protocol, Rarity!
“The protocol is to act as yourself, then,” Rarity replied without missing a beat, to which Twilight had no rebuttal.
Bested, she followed the unicorn all the way towards the stairs, her growing apprehension only increasing at the sight of the entire lobby filled to the brim with kids holding welcome signs and makeshift princess crowns.
And yet, out of all of the ponies gathered downstairs, the single most excited one wasn’t one of the foals, but Pinkie Pie herself.
“Come ON!” Pinkie both somehow whispered and screamed as she rushed up the stairs, bouncing in place at the top of the stairs. “What’re you two waiting for?!”
“Moi? Nothing at all,” Rarity declared, trotting down the stairs and brightly greeting several nearby foals.
“And you?” Pinkie asked Twilight, staring at her with almost disturbingly wide eyes, enough so that they intimidated the alicorn into quickly following after Rarity, Pinkie right behind her.
The reaction was immediate.
As soon as she was in view of the lobby, silence swept over the young crowd. Mouths hung open, their conversation quickly forgotten; chalk drawings on the wall were left unfinished, the talented young artists dropping the chalks so as to stare; Incantation pouted, her transformation of a quinticorn fast forgotten in favor of the very real alicorn waving awkwardly at the foals.
And Pinkie, again, seemed fit to burst.
“Everypony, everypony!” she announced beside Twilight, barely contained giggles filtering in through her every spoken word. She put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and exclaimed, “Meet Princess Twilight Sparkle.”
It all went by in a blur. One moment, Twilight was clearing her throat, preparing to formally greet the children; the next, she was backing away in panic as a crowd of thirty or more foals charged towards her, belting out what sounded like a war cry.
They filled the stairs, pushed past Pinkie, backed Twilight up to the wall and then gave her a dose of her own medicine by barraging her with questions, including but not limited to: were her wings real; did it hurt if they were pulled on; why wasn’t she wearing a cloak; what was it like to be a princess; did she really live in a library for a thousand years; was it boring; could she do magic while flying; could she fly while doing magic; yes, there was a difference; how did she escape; did she beat somepony up; did she meet the Spirit; did she beat up the Spirit—
“All right, children, let her be!” Rarity finally said after five merciless minutes, and nearly all of them immediately obeyed and backed away, much to Twilight’s surprise. Only Dusk and Rhinestone remained firmly planted near Twilight’s side.
“She’s just as pretty as you said she would be!” a filly excitedly told Rarity, sitting down and admiring Twilight as though she were a precious painting.
“Of course she is! When have I ever told a lie, Princess Pumpkin?” she asked, and then a nearby colt giggled.
“During the big map hunt,” he said, and other foals partook in his giggling. “You said the Dragon Gauntlet wasn’t in Princess Luna’s observatory, and it was!”
Rarity scoffed. “What?! Don’t be silly! You know very well that doesn’t count!” she protested as she moved towards Twilight. “If I told you it was there, you would have found it and then the game night would have been over in the first ten minutes!” She then cleared her throat and gestured to Twilight. “Princess Twilight has arrived at our little shop after a long trip, so she’ll only be answering a few questions today, all right?”
Immediately, more than thirty forehooves shot up into the air, including Pinkie’s and Incantation’s.
“A few,” she repeated with a raised eyebrow. She then glanced to Pinkie and Ink. “From the children.”
Only Incantation lowered her hoof, transforming into a filly and then raising it again.
Rarity let out a rather long sigh.
“It’s all right,” Twilight said in reply. Now that the foals had settled, her trepidation had all but vanished, and she was eager to find out how exactly flying while casting magic was different from casting magic while flying. She licked her lips, scanned the crowd and raised a hoof. “Why don’t we start with… uh…”
A raspy voice interrupted.
“May I have the honor of the first question?”
The owner of the voice revealed herself to be an elderly pegasus mare standing near the entrance of the Dreamland, leaning on her cane as she fixed Twilight and Rarity with her gaze. Much like the foals, she too wore a cloak, and it was clear she was respected judging by how all the foals immediately greeted her.
“Elder Moonshine!” exclaimed Pinkie, and for a split-second, her cheer seemed to falter. “Welcome!”
“Why, Elder,” Rarity said next, smiling politely at the pegasus. “How nice of you to join us! We weren’t able to say our goodbyes before leaving with such short notice.”
“No, you didn’t, child. But now you’ve returned!” said the Elder, walking past the foals and all the way up to the stairs, her curious eyes focusing on Twilight herself. “And with a very interesting guest, no less.”
“It’s Princess Twilight, Elder!” Rhinestone exclaimed, tugging on the mare’s hindleg. “She’s free!”
“So she is!” exclaimed the Elder, and Twilight was very pleased to see some adult ponies did believe in her. The Elder bowed her head slightly. “Princess Twilight, an honor to meet you at last.”
Twilight stood up straight, smiling in kind. “The honor is mine, Elder,” she said. “Are you the leader of Hollow Shades?”
Elder Moonshine laughed. “You could say that,” she said with a wink. “Never ran for town council, but the only pony the villagers think has more authority than me is our crown Princess.”
“Well!” Pinkie exclaimed, wrapping her foreleg around Twilight. “Now there’s another crown princess!”
One of the foals waved his forehoof wildly in the air. “Are you going to help us rescue Princess Luna, Princess Twilight?” he asked.
“Are we going to fight the Spirit?!” Dusk asked next, tugging on Twilight’s foreleg. He then turned to the Elder, his wings flaring up. ”Can we, Elder Moonshine?!”
Elder Moonshine hummed, tapping her cane against the floor. “Only after I’ve spoken with Princess Twilight,” she said and then turned to the foals. “Alone.”
“Awwwwwwwwwwwww,” said the choir of disappointed foals, their little ears dropping and their eyes widening and filling with tears, all of them clearly having learned a thing or two from Rarity.
“Pinkie, dear,” Rarity said, looking to their friend, “I might be misremembering, but weren’t we scheduled to have our monthly free cupcake sampling today?”
Pinkie frowned. “We were?” she asked, and only when Rarity pointed to the elder did Pinkie continue. “I mean, we were! We totally super duper were!” At the sound of the foals gasping, she turned to the filly behind her. “Inky! You know what to do!”
“You got it, Chief,” said Ink, not bothering to turn back into a changeling as she trotted towards Princess Celestia’s Bakery and opened the doors, barely jumping out of the way of the tiny stampede that rushed past her.
The Elder chuckled, shaking her head and leaning on her cane. “One thing nopony can resist are your cupca—” She cut herself off, her eyes landing on Dusk and Rhinestone, the two siblings still firmly planted next to Twilight. “Don’t you two want cupcakes as well…?”
The two foals looked towards the door, and Twilight’s heart swelled a bit when they then pressed into her sides, shaking their heads.
“My, my. Look at that!” Rarity exclaimed, grinning at Twilight. “Two foals after my own heart.”
“Children,” said the Elder, affecting a more severe tone and gesturing to the bakery. “Please.”
“Aw…” Rhy said, head dropping.
“We can spend time together soon,” Twilight finally said, endeared by the two foals. They reminded her very much of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and she found herself missing the three fillies.
“Are you still going to be here for my birthday, Princess?!” Dusk asked. “I’m gonna be ten!”
Pinkie gasped. “Of course she is!” She turned to Twilight. “Aren’t you?!”
Twilight turned to Rarity, seeking some sort of confirmation. “Err… Will we?”
“I believe we will, yes,” she said, carefully enough Twilight could tell she was thinking of something else. “Your birthday is a few days after Seeking Night, isn’t it?” When he nodded, she noticed Pinkie and Rarity exchange a quick glance before she continued. “We will most definitely still be here, Your Highness.”
Dusk grinned, turning to Twilight. “Ha ha! Silver Note’s gonna be so jealous! Wait ‘till I tell him!” He rushed off, gesturing for his little sister to follow. “Come on, Rhy!”
“That’s not nice!” she protested as they ran off. “Princess Twilight is for everypony!”
“Mmm, I rather think some of us deserve a measure of exclusivity, ” Rarity murmured, low enough that only Twilight could hear as her tail brushed against the alicorn.
Once the siblings were gone, the Elder turned to Twilight. “So,” she said teasingly, glancing towards Rarity and Pinkie, “which one of them roped you into this?”
Twilight didn’t quite understand. “…Roped me into this?” she asked, and yet it was Pinkie who answered—or, rather, yelled.
“No!” she exclaimed with much more despair than Twilight thought was warranted, if only because she didn’t really understand what was going on. The mare stamped her hoof on the floor, ears clamping against her skull. “Elder Moonshine! She’s real! She wasn’t roped into anything!”
“Elder Moonshine,” Rarity interjected, calm and collected, “I can assure you this is the real Princess Twilight Sparkle.”
“Now, child, these fake wings are good, but not that good,” she said with a laugh and a wink, to which Twilight herself couldn’t help but reply.
“They’re not fake,” she said, rustling the wings against her for good measure. It was true that for a very long time she had hated them, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t defensive over them.
“Yeah!” Pinkie exclaimed, helping Twilight’s affirmation by grabbing the nearest wing and drawing a pained squeak from the Princess by tugging on the wing hard. “See! She wouldn’t say ow if they weren’t real!”
“Pinkie, that really hu—OW! Pinkie!”
Rarity cleared her throat. “Elder, we’ve told you several times that—”
The Elder waved her off. “That I’m under the influence of silly magic, yes, yes.”
Twilight stared. “Silly magic?”
Rarity kept her polite smile. “Chaos magic, Elder,” she said. “And yes, you are.”
Elder Moonshine sighed, leaning on her cane and giving Rarity a hard stare. “Rarity,” she said after a moment. “We’ve talked about this.”
Rarity’s smile, Twilight noticed, became slightly forced. “Elder, this isn’t about—”
“You have become a very important part of our town, yes,” the Elder interrupted, “but our traditions are our traditions, and they are absolute.”
“Elder, I do understand, and I am not trying to sway your opinion,” Rarity replied, “but Princess Twilight is free now, and with all the respect you know I hold for you, she is here regardless of whether or not you believe in her, or whether or not we can take charge of Seeking Night.”
Take charge of Seeking Night?
“I have always respected your decisions, Elder,” continued the unicorn, and now did her ears slightly lower. “I have never been here to impose my beliefs upon you.”
The Elder softened at that. “I would never think that of you, Rarity. If anything…” Her gaze landed on Pinkie Pie, whose chin she lifted with the tip of her cane. “I have you to thank for this little one not running off every other week, hm?”
Pinkie smiled brightly at that, and only afterwards did the Elder finally turn to Twilight.
“I don’t know if you’re truly who they say you are,” she said severely before smiling warmly, “but Hollow Shades is always open to anypony, regardless of what or who they are.”
“Unless you’re the Spirit,” Pinkie added. “Then you’re super not welcome!”
Elder Moonshine smiled. “Unless you’re the Spirit, yes.”
“Thank you, Elder,” Twilight said, bowing her head.
“Any friend of this little one is welcome here,” she said, adjusting her cloak and bowing her head. “I suppose I should let you go back to the children before we have a riot on our hooves.”
“Don’t you want cupcakes, Elder?” Pinkie asked, hopping in place. “We have your faaaaaavorite.”
The Elder grunted, pursing her lips. “…I don’t see why I can’t stay for one cupcake…”
“Hee! Nopony says no to my cupcakes!” Pinkie declared, jumping down the stairs and leading the Elder towards the bakery.
Once they were gone, Twilight turned to Rarity.
“What did she mean ‘take charge of Seeking Night’?”
Rarity sighed. “It was a… an idea I had, back when we thought you…. Well, you wouldn’t be free any time soon. I thought perhaps if I was allowed to organize the Seeking Night events here, I could, shall we say, influence the children in more positive ways, but Elder Moonshine is understandably less than thrilled by the idea of an outsider taking charge of the village’s most celebrated holiday.”
Rarity shrugged. “We just need to find another way, I suppose,” she said, trotting down the steps. “Things have changed now that you’re here, after all, so who knows what new options are available to us now.”
Twilight followed Rarity into Princess Celestia’s room and felt incredibly self-conscious when the previously loud room turned dead silent, dozens of eyes set on her save for the Elder’s, who was too busy regarding her six cupcakes. The Princess awkwardly strode through the room, smiling at the foals she walked past.
She found some brief reprieve when she finally reached the counter at the end of the room, upon which Pinkie set out a massive tray of multi-colored cupcakes with all kinds of designs. Some of them, she noticed, had her own cutie mark frosted upon them, and others bore the cutie marks of Princess Celestia and Cadance. Strangely enough, only one cupcake had Princess Luna’s cutie mark, and no sooner had she moved her forehoof towards it than Pinkie yelped and quickly picked it up.
“Oh, wait! Not that one! That one isn’t supposed to be there,” explained the baker, taking the cupcake and putting it aside on a plate. “That one’s for Princess Luna to eat.”
“For Princess Luna?” Twilight asked. “Isn’t she… Well… I mean…”
Pinkie blushed. “Oh! Uh, yes! She is, but you never know when she’ll be free! I make a fresh cupcake for her every day, just in case of a freemergency!”
Twilight giggled. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Pinkie. I’m sure Princess Luna will be hungry when she’s freed.”
She turned back to the tray of cupcakes, eventually settling on one that bore her own cutie mark, and when she turned around to eat it, she was again confronted with her expectant crowd.
“Oh. Uh. Yes. Right.”
No sooner had she spoken did dozens of hooves shoot up into the air, again including Pinkie and Ink’s.
From the back of the room, Rarity fluttered her eyelashes.
“Care to begin, Your Highness?”
Later that day, as she dragged herself inside Rarity’s workshop, her throat sore from talking, Twilight Sparkle internalized two new facts.
The first fact was that she had vastly, extremely and unbelievably underestimated just how exhausting it was to entertain thirty-something excitable foals.
The second fact was that her previous respect and admiration for Rarity had now tripled in size at the realization that she, along with Pinkie and Incantation, willingly put themselves through that on a constant basis.
“Well,” Twilight said as she threw herself on the pile of pillows and blankets, “that was something.”
“I thought you did splendidly for your first time,” Rarity’s said, the unicorn trotting into the room behind her. “The children were enchanted, and even Elder Moonshine seemed taken by you.”
“That’s good,” murmured the alicorn, “because I’m never doing that again.”
“Twilight, really, don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?” Rarity said with a teasing smile, arching an eyebrow and tilting her head to the side.
Twilight matched her teasing smile. “I’m sure you know all about being dramatic, Rarity.”
“Yes, I do, which is why I am the most adept at knowing when someprincess is being dramatic,” she replied. “Hm?”
“Well, I don’t think I’m being dramatic,” Twilight insisted, watching as Rarity trotted over towards a nearby desk and started folding fabrics. “I feel like I’m a hundred years old.”
Rarity laughed at that. “As opposed to being what you actually are, which is over a thousand years old?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “You know what I meant,” she said with a yawn, grabbing a pillow and snuggling against it.
“Well, there is one thing you should be thankful to them for,” Rarity said, putting on her glasses and threading string into a needle.
“You look like you’re about to fall asleep,” she pointed out as Twilight closed her eyes. “So your meeting with Princess Luna will be very soon.”
Twilight’s eyes flew open. “Oh, Princesses,” she said, and immediately she rolled around, clutching her pillow because she was going to meet Princess Luna now after a thousand years, and she had forgotten, but now she remembered, and she also remembered that maybe Princess Luna might be angry at her and—
“Darling, spiraling isn’t good for you,” Rarity noted, and Twilight turned around, indignant.
“I am not spiraling!” she protested. “Whatever that means!”
“It means you’re letting bad thoughts get a hold of you,” she explained. “And is that not what you’re doing right now?”
“No,” Twilight exclaimed. “Maybe,” she amended. “Yes,” she confessed, burying her face in the pillow and groaning.
She heard Rarity put down her things and trot towards her, and even despite her stress, Twilight was still more than happy when the unicorn climbed up and settled down beside her for a comforting nuzzle.
Princesses, she really was soft.
“My poor darling,” Rarity, stroking Twilight’s mane and giggling sweetly when the alicorn groaned. “Twilight, sweetest, I know you’re concerned, but I promise there really isn’t any reason to be nervous at all.”
“There are at least fifty-seven reasons I can think of right now, and if you give me another minute, I can think of another fifty-seven.”
“And I’m sure Princess Luna herself has fifty-seven reasons she’s nervous about seeing you too. In fact…” She craned her head towards the door and called out. “Pinkie? Pinkie, dear, come up here, won’t you?”
“Huh?” Pinkie said moments later, trotting into the room and gasping. “Are we having a cuddle party?! Can I join?!” Without bothering to wait for an answer, she rushed towards them, launching herself and landing on top of the two mares, burrowing her way between them and grinning. “So, what’s up?!”
“Somepony’s about to meet with Princess Luna,” Rarity said.
Twilight snorted. “Not anymore,” she said. “I’m not tired at all.”
“What? But falling asleep’s so easy!” Pinkie exclaimed, turning to Twilight. “Do you want me to show you?”
Twilight giggled. “I think I can remember how to sleep, Pinkie.”
“Really? Then let’s do it!” Pinkie exclaimed before closing her eyes. “One, two, three, and slee—!” Her sentence cut off mid-word, replaced instead with what sounded a bit too much like an actual snore.
One, two, three seconds went by before Twilight poked her.
“Pinkie?” she asked and again was met with a very convincing snore. She turned to Rarity. “Did she just…?”
“Rather remarkable, isn’t it?” Rarity noted, unphased by Pinkie’s apparent narcolepsy. “She can do it anywhere. I suppose it’s the unintended blessing of her unusual relationship with the Princess.”
Carefully, Rarity moved away from Pinkie and got off the couch, the lack of Rarity to hug prompting the sleeping pony to instead latch onto the alicorn instead.
“Where are you going?” Twilight asked, trying to move Pinkie into a more comfortable position.
“I’m going to help you sleep,” Rarity replied, a flicker of her horn switching on the nearby sewing machine. She grabbed her dress and then smiled at Twilight. “You did say it helped, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Twilight said, closing her eyes and relaxing into Pinkie’s embrace. Though it wasn’t entirely accurate to say Rarity’s sewing put her to sleep, it did help with relieving her stress as it was very easy to let the constant sound fill her mind and silence the swirling thoughts in her head.
Minute by minute, she focused on the whirring machine, the faint scent of batter and flour filling her nose, and the more she focused on the noise, the more her thoughts began to wane, until a yawn left her lips and sleep finally found her.
She slept, lost in her own world, in the heavy silence and heavy darkness, all the way up until she turned the page of her book.
In the depths of Canterlot Castle’s Library, Twilight Sparkle read a book, as was her usual routine most days of most months of most years. She read, and read, and read, and learned, and learned, and learned so she could assist her teacher in whatever way Princess Celestia deemed necessary.
After finishing the page, she allowed herself a yawn and stood up to stretch, not wanting her hours of reading to give her a posture worse than the one she already had. She noticed a mirror in the distance and smiled at the unicorn looking back at her, waving at her own reflection and giggling at the fact.
Her silliness done, she sat back down and turned to her book, intent on finishing it before her next lesson with Princess Celestia. Her smile vanished somewhat as her mind focused on the words and the meanings on and in-between the lines, her ears only barely picking up on the distant hoofsteps of the librarian moving around to put books back in their proper places.
They did, however, pick up on her name being called.
“Twiiiiiiiliiiiiiiight,” a voice called in sing-song, echoing through the library and drawing a smile out of the unicorn. “Where aaaaaaare youuuuuuu?”
Technically speaking, the polite thing to do would be to call out and point out her location, but considering just who was calling out, she felt it more appropriate to remain silent and keep reading.
Again, the voice called out, and her smile widened as her gaze went back to her book and moved along the words, only stopping when a voice spoke right behind her.
She turned around. “Hell—oh?” she asked, finding nopony in sight. “Where did—?”
“My, my! Reading about how wonderful I am, are you?” said the voice, and she turned back towards her desk and found a pocket-sized draconequus standing on top of her book, his arms crossed behind his back as he peered down at the book.
“Hello, Discord,” she replied with a playful smile. “And no, I’m studying for my exam on Magic Thermodynamics.”
“No, you’re reading about how wonderful I am. It says so right here,” he insisted, pointing down to the paragraph he was standing on.
“No, it doesn’t,” Twilight replied, peering down at the paragraph and finding that her former book on Aerial Thermodynamics was now a scientific thesis on Discord’s alleged wonderfulness. “Hey!” she exclaimed, levitating the book up to take a closer look and toppling the draconequus in the process, who rolled on the table until he bumped into an inkwell. “Discord! I need this book to study!”
Discord got up and dusted himself off before crossing his arms and sticking his tongue out at her. “I’m a much better thing to study!” he exclaimed, and so did two other pocket-sized versions of him which appeared inspecting the first Discord with magnifying glasses and taking notes. “And you’re always asking to study my magic!” The three Discords looked up to her. “Will you ever tell me why?”
A pang of guilt shot through Twilight. “I’m just curious,” she said quickly. “That’s all.”
Definitely not trying to find out her friend’s mortal weaknesses in case of emergencies, not at all.
He seemed unconvinced. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
“Is that even grammatically correct?” asked the second Discord of the third, who only shrugged in reply.
“Discord,” Twilight said, putting her book down and arching an eyebrow. “Why are you here?”
With two poofs in quick succession, the additional Discords disappeared and the original jumped into the air, his body growing and growing until a full-sized Discord now floated above her.
“Well, first of all, I brought you tea,” he informed, and with a snap of his fingers, a cup of tea and a cookie appeared on the table before her. “It’s your favorite. Cinnamon with honey and a useful surprise.”
“That’s your favorite tea,” she pointed out with a laugh.
“I have great taste,” he replied, “so it’s your favorite, too.”
Twilight lifted the cup and took a sniff. It smelled very good, it was true, but… “And what’s the ‘useful’ surprise?”
At that, Discord smiled. “It changes depending on the weather! If it’s cold outside, the tea is frozen, and if it’s hot outside, the tea is scalding!”
She frowned. “…Right. Useful. And what if it’s neither hot nor cold outside?”
He clapped his hands. “Then, clearly, it comes with a raisin cookie!”
Twilight giggled. “Clearly,” she said, taking a sip of the tea and finding it did, in fact, taste as delicious as it smelled. She then put the cup down and gave him a stare. “So, now will you tell me why you’re really here?”
“What?!” he gasped, a claw against his chest. “I’m just here to enjoy tea with my good friend!”
“All right, all right!” he said, crossing his arms. “I’m bored.”
Twilight smiled. “Really? And what am I supposed to do about that?”
“I don’t know!” he exclaimed, poofing onto the other side of the table. “Something!”
“I’m studying, Discord,” she reminded him, looking back to her book and being pleased to see it had returned to its proper state as a book on Spatial Thermodynamics. “Why don’t you go home and, I don’t know, make it rain chocolate milk?”
“Home?” he exclaimed with disdain. He snapped his fingers and ignored Twilight’s groan as her book disappeared and was replaced with a large map of Equestria. “This is Equestria,” he pointed out, gesturing to the large map before taking a nearby quill and circling a teeny patch of land north of Van Hoof. “And this thing is what the Princesses appointed as my home.”
“Discord, your domain is the size of a small village,” she said. “It should be enough for you.”
“Well, it isn’t!” he complained, crossing his arms and looking away. “I deserve bigger lands.”
“Then you shouldn’t have facilitated Chrysalis’ invasion of Equestria,” she rebutted, her voice losing most of its playfulness.
He continued to look away. “Well, nopony’s perfect, Princess.”
“I’m not a princess,” she said, turning back to the mirror and staring at her simple reflection once again. She had no crown to weigh her down and no wings to tether her. She was everything she wanted to be and nothing more.
“The Princesses defeated you, Discord,” she said as she turned back to him.
“No,” he replied, setting his yellow eyes on her. “You defeated me,” he added, tone undecipherable. “Fair and square.”
She did not reply and instead forced her sights on her book.
She felt sick.
“Wouldn’t you say it’s only right, Twilight?” he asked.
“That we reap what we sow,” he replied, and when she finally looked up to face him, horror struck her to see he was gone.
He was gone, but he wasn’t the only thing to be gone.
Gone were Canter Castle’s safe walls, gone were its library’s books, the ponies she knew and had grown up with, the home she’d once had. All were gone, and instead she found herself inside her underground library.
She stumbled back in shock, getting up on her hooves and looking around, trying to understand not just why, but how.
“Discord?” she called out in a panic, backtracking from the rows of haunting and towering bookcases. “Discord?!”
The sickness in her stomach grew and grew, horrified at the idea of being back in that library, and yet whatever discomfort she felt could not compare to the horror that filled her when she realized her backtracking had led her not to bump against a table, but through it.
Horror at the wings now affixed to her body.
Horror at the crown clinging to her head.
“No,” she gasped, tears filling her eyes as she backtracked again and again. “No, no, no, no, please, no.”
The words came out her mouth in rapid-fire, desperate and terrified and increasingly so when her backtracking led her through another table, and when her gasp of horror filled her lungs with no air.
“No, I was free!” she protested, blinking through tears and confusion because how was it fair that everything was going right and now everything had been taken away. “I was free! Please! Anypony!”
She looked around, at nothing and everything at once, until her eyes landed on the distant tunnel. One, two, three seconds went past before she galloped towards it, to leave the library as she had before, and yet agonizing pain tore through her when she collided against the barrier and it threw her back.
Silence suffocated the library.
And she stood, shakily, painfully, and her body thrust forward and collided against the barrier only to be pushed back again, and again, and again.
“Please!” she called, begged and pleaded. “It wasn’t my fault! I know it wasn’t my fault! Please, let me out, please!”
Yet the words felt hollow, and the barrier did not seem to cave or give in, and despair filled her because she had tried. She had tried to be better. She had tried to take responsibility.
Unfamiliar in its tone, strange in its diction, and chillingly familiar in its words.
With all the pain in the world, with every ounce of courage she could muster, Princess Twilight Sparkle stood up away from the barrier and turned around to face her cruelest enemy.
“Why?” she choked out, staring at the distant alicorn’s black eyes. “Wh—why are you still here? I… I overcame you!” Her hoof slammed against the floor. “I overcame you, I beat you, I left the library! Why are you here?!”
The alicorn simply repeated her statement.
“No!” Twilight protested, her horn lighting up. “Y—you get out! You don’t belong here! I don’t belong here!”
And the alicorn spoke again.
“Don’t we?” she said, and it was like a dagger to Twilight’s chest, the swirling thoughts that had plagued her for so long brought to the forefront once again.
She deserved her imprisonment, said a voice she could not stop, and more than everything that had happened, it was that thought that ripped her apart like no other.
The dawning realization that she was no better mentally than… than…
“I… I was better,” she insisted or pleaded, she could not really tell. Her voice fell to a whisper as she fell to her haunches and looked at her translucent forehooves. Why was she there? Why had she been taken away from Rarity, why had she been taken away from her home and the Dreamland and everything she had fought so hard to get back? “I was better, I was… I was f—free of this nightmare, I don’t underst—”
And the words caught in her throat.
It all felt like a nightmare, and the more she thought about it, the more she realized… the more she hoped that…
It actually was.
“Princess…” The word tumbled out of her mouth, somehow surprising her at doing so. The terrible thoughts in her head continued, hissed and snapped that that was no dream of any kind, but hope died last.
“Princess Luna!” she finally called out, loud and clear and backing away from the alicorn that merely continued to stare. She looked up towards the ceiling and continued to call out, almost beseeching the Moon Princess to descend from above. “Princess Luna?! Is this a nightmare?! Princess Luna!”
And a voice replied.
No, a voice sang, hummed a beautiful and echoing lullaby that seemed to both soothe and invigorate Twilight if only because of the crashing relief she felt upon hearing it.
A crackling noise hissed to life behind her, and a quick turn revealed the barrier was struggling to exist, expelling magic static and sparks until it fractured like a broken mirror and fell apart.
Her first instinct was to run, so she did.
Without much care or thought, she lunged forward and let out a shaky laugh when she dived into the tunnel, no barrier stopping her way. Victory flowed through her, the satisfaction of the win, and she wasn’t able to stop herself from turning around to throw her cursed self a defiant look.
But she couldn’t.
Her other self, now stood waiting by the barrier, yet there was no anger in her face. No signs of having been overcome, of having been defeated, no visible reaction that would allow Twilight some shred of satisfaction or catharsis.
She was still there, Twilight knew, and would still be there in her mind, dream or no dream.
Twilight turned around and rushed down the tunnel, wanting to get out of there as quickly as she could. She jumped onto the spiral stairs and ascended them, pushing open the trap door and breathing a lungful of relief when she came out into a bright, sunlit valley.
She turned back towards the tree, quickly closing the trapdoor with her magic, and after waiting a moment and ensuring no distorted version of herself would come through, she fell on her haunches and breathed.
“You did it!”
Twilight yelped in surprise at the high-pitched voice and nearly tumbled down to the ground. She turned around, at first alarmed and then confused when she found Pinkie Pie behind her, stamping her hooves on the ground with an excitement that matched her grin.
“P-Pinkie?” Twilight asked, thrown-off. “Are you—? I mean—! Are you part of my dream…?”
Pinkie nodded. “Uh-huh!” she exclaimed and then paused and shook her head. “I mean, nuh-uh! Or wait, yuh-huh?” She sat down and tapped her hoof against her chin. “Both?”
“Yep! ‘Cause it’s me!” she exclaimed, jumping up and grabbing Twilight’s face with her hooves. “See! I’m super duper real! But I’m in your dream, so teeeeeeeeeechnically, I am part of your dream! Or maybe…” She narrowed her eyes and leaned in, her nose touching Twilight’s. “You’re part of my dream, hmmmmmmm? Bet’cha’ didn’t think of that, huh, Princess Twi?”
“So, er, this is a dream, then?” Twilight asked, trying to speak through her currently squeezed cheeks. “I’m not actually back in Ponyville and I’m not displaced in time again, right?”
“Nope, and nope!” Pinkie exclaimed, letting go of Twilight and jumping back. “This is all a dream! And you did it! You figured it out! We knew you would!”
“‘We’?” Twilight asked, her heart accelerating in her chest. “…You mean Princess Luna?”
“Yup! See, ‘cause we saw your door cracking, and it was a really bad nightmare, and I wanted to come in here to help fight your meanie self, but then Princess Luna was all— Oh, wait! I can show you!”
She stopped talking, and instead, Twilight yelped as an almost comically serious Princess Luna herself appeared next to Pinkie, the older alicorn staring down at the pink pony.
“Pr-Princess Luna?” Twilight asked, panicked and horrified and feeling her anxiety very quickly escalating as she truthfully was not expecting her first meeting with the Princess to go, well, like that.
Pinkie blinked. “Huh? Oh, that’s not Princess Luna!” she quickly corrected. “She’s a dream construct! I made her up! Look, look!” She turned to the construct and put on a severe expression. “Princess Luna, who’s your best friend FOREVER?”
“Thouest arest myesth besteth friendeth FOREVERETH, Pinkie Pie,” boomed the alicorn in a deadpan voice.
Twilight frowned. “That… That wasn’t quite right.”
Pinkie gasped. “Whateth?! Yesesth, iteth waseth, thy sillieth-billieth!” she exclaimed. “Er, I mean, what?! Yes, it was, you silly-billy!” She let out a grand sigh and said, “Anyway, where was I?”
Twilight racked her memory. “Err… something about a door cracking…?”
Pinkie gasped. “The door!” She nodded her head and resumed her story. “See, your door was cracking ‘cause you were having a really super duper awful nightmare, and I wanted to come in to help you—” She gestured to the construct. “—but Princess Luna said—”
“If Twilight Sparkle is still the clever unicorn I remember,” a familiar voice replied behind her, as the sunny sky above turned into a beautiful starry night, “she will soon enough realize this terrible vision is naught but her own mind’s design.”
Twilight’s heart slowed.
“What?” Pinkie said, looking to somepony beyond Twilight. “That is SO not what you said! You said that you were concerned she’d be afraid to meet you, and I said it was more like you were afraid of meeting her, and you said no, and I said yes, and then I told you to just go and help her, and you said that—” She took a breath. “—you said ‘surely she will surmise this is a nightmare and wake up thus my intervention will not be necessary, and I will have more time to prepare’, and then I said ‘well, I’m going in’ and you said ‘do not go into her dreams, you foolish child’!” Pinkie took another breath and then continued. “And then you told me you would smite me and I was like, ‘WHAT?’ ‘cause I didn’t hear, and then I came here, and I found Princess Twilight and now this!” She breathed again and then blinked at Twilight. “What?”
Tears stung at Twilight’s eyes.
They stung at her eyes, and as if an altogether foreign being was taking possession of her, she began to giggle.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Luna thundered, and yet in her voice Twilight detected no anger, “we meet again for the first time in centuries, and you dare laugh at your Princess?!”
And Twilight continued to laugh, finally turning around to see Princess Luna, tears streaming down her eyes at the sight of the Princess, and she choked out, “You threatened to smite her?”
And she laughed and was overwhelmed with affection and relief and joy and many other things she could barely understand.
Princess Luna harrumphed. “In olden times, Twilight Sparkle, ponies would be honored to receive such a punishment,” she said curtly until her seriousness faded, a laugh left her lips, a smile shaped them, and joyful tears sparkled in her eyes “It is most pleasing to see you again, Twilight.” She extended her foreleg. “You were dearly missed.”
And Twilight could do nothing else but rush forward, burying herself in Luna and relishing a hug she could, for now, only receive in dreams.
“Oh, Princess Luna,” she whispered, her smile intensifying when she felt Pinkie rush in to join the hug. “I missed you, too.”
YYYYESSSSSS A WIN FOR THE ZANNA ZANNOLIN COMMUNITY! PRINCESS LUNA MY BEEEEELOVED! THEY ARE REUINITEDDDDDDD okay ahem sorry i got a little excited there. man this chapter was so good. it’s really frustrating to see the chaos magic at work but like, a good frustrating? i’m so fascinated with how it works in hollow shades. it’s so brilliantly sinister and seeing it in action again makes me shiver. it’s also super interesting to think about the long-term affects and attempts to fight it. deeply interested in that seeking night idea considering the beginning of the fic where it was alluded to that (perhaps) seeking night has been abolished. ohoho…..
twilight being so nervous to see princess luna but rarity and pinkie being there for her to help her through it…very important to me. So important. also i KNOWWW i’m supposed to be mad at discord. and i am. but also. he’s just so endearing sometimes like the entire exchange with twilight in the dream was so awww to me. he’s just so melodramatic i think he and rarity would get on like a house on fire if given the chance. they’re actually a bit similar in many ways (especially the drama) and it makes me wonder if that’s why he got on with twilight so well in the past before things went bad. because he could bring out the happier side of her. because he was a good balance to her personality. i’m going to think about this for hours.
also AHHHHHHHHH okay just twilight looking at this nightmare version of herself and saying “i was better” in a terribly confused way. it’s just. like okay maybe i’m digging a bit here but the soil is rich and soft. something about how healing is never linear and how you can and will have bad days and relapse and feel terrible and how it takes years and years to get better in many cases and just. you know. yeah.
also pinkie recapping everything luna said and seeing how nervous luna was to see twilight again is also deeply important to me like LUNA!!!!! she is so :(((( im so :(((( you know. it’s just important to me. the two of them. hugging. and crying. and luna threatening to smite pinkie and pinkie going in to help twilight and luna being scared as shit to see twilight and twilight being scared as shit to see luna but everything is okay!!!! i’m fine i’m FIIIINNNEEEE.