A grainy black and white camera flickered on.
Being held up by little hooves, was an obviously hoof-drawn sign reading:
'Cutie Mark Crusaders' Journal of the unexplained'
A trio of little cute fillies came into view, whose reputation for bringing mass destruction on Ponyville in their quest to gain their cutie marks was rather exaggerated.
This exaggeration was more obvious now that two of them had now earned their cutie marks in an epic adventure against Queen Chrysalis that had ended with Cadence the new Queen of changeling and an end of hostilities between Equestria and the Changeling Swarm.
Apple Bloom, the still remaining blank flank of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, was the one holding of the camera, looking into the lens.
"Howdy everypony! Ah don't if this there thinga-jig is workin' or not! But we're the Cutie Mark Crusaders! And this here is our Journal of the Unexplained!"
"Whooooohoooooo!" Sweetie Belle waved her hooves.
"Sweetie," Scootaloo said.
"Now that Pinkie Pie has closed up her show for the time bein', we figured she wouldn't mind if we borrowed without askin' her stuff she used to send pictures to a whole buncha ponies out there. Me and mah friends got together, that's Sweetie Belle, and that's Scootaloo, and here in mah bedroom at Sweet Apple Acres, right next to Everfree Forest! The forest that always seems to have somethin' new and strange in it that nopony has ever heard of even though they should have! And my friend Zecora lives there all the time!"
"Apple Bloom, everypony in Equestria knows Everfree! Clouds move by themselves, animals take care of themselves, and plants grow without earth pony magic . . . the place is creepy!"
"You left out the pony-eating monsters and the zombies, uh, sorry Apple Bloom!"
"It's okay . . . You see folks, As of 0145-a, Ah found Mah big sister's secret special somepony is a werewolf!"
"Actually I don't think he counts as a werewolf," Sweetie Belle said looking through a book titled 'Creatures That Don't Exist, Especially Zombies' that was hundreds of years old, and Twilight had put in the fiction section, but had given it away because Spike was having trouble sleeping with the ominous green glow it gave off in the presence of virgins(whatever those were). "He isn't trying to infect anypony, I think he's closer to that Everfree Firebreathing Timber Wolf the poison joke turned you into during the Tartarus break out."
Scootaloo said, "Actually I think he's one of those 'totem spirit channeler' ponies, like NightTimberWolf from PonyKombat. Since he's friends with a weird ghost wolf."
"The point is girls!" Apple Bloom said to them before looking back at the camera. "There's a lot of weird stuff in the Everfree Forest! And all around Ponyville! And it's about time somepony started to explore some of it! Ah'm gonna face my fears with my friends and we're gonna explore Everfree and all the weird and strange stuff in it!"
"And we borrowed this from Pinkie Pie's studio too!" Scootaloo tapped her hoof on what looked like an old rabbit ear TV with a crank on it. It also had a plug, that was not plugged in.
"Be careful Scootaloo," Sweetie Belle said.
"Oh don't worry about it, I don't think I'm gonna dent it with just a few whacks."
"Forget about that things girl! We're gonna explore the Everfree! AFTER DARK! Isn't it exciting!?"
"It's ALWAYS dark in the Everfree!" Scootaloo waved her hooves.
"Still . . . " Apple Bloom replied. "With our video camera, we also borrowed from Pinkie Pie, we're gonna march into the Everfree without mah big sister or her friends knowing, and see what there is to see in the Everfree!"
"Cutie Mark Crusaders Journalists Of The Unexplained! YAY!" The trio cheered.
That was when a letter appeared out of nowhere and floated down among them.
"Don't worry girls, I think these are supposed to happen." Apple Bloom assured her friends. She saw the letter had the seal of Princess Luna. The girls gave out a tiny gasp, and slowly opened it. Apple Bloom read.
"Greetings my little ponies. It is an honor to see ponies so loving of my night that they are living to brave the Everfree in my domains . . . even if they are foolish, thick-headed, and reckless little fillies.' HEY!" Apple Bloom frowned but kept reading.
"Since your 'expedition' is still in the seed stage, and yet to fully mature, we can not foresee all the rules that shall emerge from what is to come. But we can foresee, you three may come to . . . conclusions that only the esoteric will consider happy. Since there is no force in creation that can stop you from this fool's errand, we have instead called in a favor from our sister, Rota Fortuna, Goddess of Fate and Free Will and the granter of cutie marks, and no, she can't give you yours early Apple Bloom.' -Dangit!- Ahem. 'With our combined authority as the goddess of fate, and the goddess of dreams and the night, we have arranged it so you will return to your 'starting point' upon these conclusions. These may manifest as you suddenly seeing yourselves on the what-if machine, or waking up as I move the results into the dream world with my sister's help.'
"'Due to the incomplete nature of this 'world seed', the finer details have yet to be finalized. You may in the Everfree encounters yourselves who had met with previous conclusions you recall, or ones you don't remember at all, but don't worry, the same fate should not be, normally, possible to happen twice to you. Your 'predecessors' should phase into their own worldlines upon your return home after you have 'successfully' explored the Everfree and returned home. This is a one only gift. Do not get used to it.' Good luck my little ponies, explore Everfree to your hearts' content this night. It shall last for you
until you had explored Everfree to your content. If you attempt to abuse this boon for say, 'holding off' your exploration for the sake of other venture, it shall be negated. Good luck little fillies.
-- Her Nighesty Princess Luna Nyx Serena Equestria
P.S. Do note, ponies and other creatures WILL remember any and all encounters they had with you, it is YOU who are getting reset, NOT the world!'
The room was silent.
"So . . . " Sweetie Belle asked. "Are we still doing this?"
Scootaloo looked at her like she was crazy. "What do you think?"
-A Little While Later-
"And here we are girls! The Everfree Forest!" Apple Bloom declared, holding the camera. Each girl with their saddle bags.
"Why did you say that? It's not like we don't know where we are," Scootaloo pointed out.
"Dunno, just felt right to say."
"Hey girls, if we run into a cockatrice, and we don't get away, I want you to know you can retrieve my statue for art class!" Sweetie Belle said. "I'll be sure to strike a good pose. And I'll help you carry me."
"Uh, thanks." Apple Bloom said unsure.
The foal marched into the even more creepy than normal Everfree Forest, the girls made certain to steer clear of the Poison Joke, well, it was just TOO obvious. Applebloom also made sure they didn't go down the path to Sunny Town. She'd like to see Ruby again, but Applejack had been so mad when she suggested visiting there. True she'd likely be mad now if she knew, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Applebloom thought about all the places they'd visited in Everfree so far . . . and picked a random direct and went, being sure to keep the compass out, they didn't want to get lost after all.
Then the compass began to act strange and spin around random and point in a new direction.
With the sense of self preservation of extra on StarTrot, the fillies followed the way the arrow now pointed, actually making sure not to step the nest of something unpleasant with lots of teeth.
What the fillies came to . . . was a relatively large circular clearing, looking more like the trees had been pushed out of the way then cut down. There was also a rings of stones with glowing runes that if the CMC had known, resembled those used for the world mirror.
And at the center was a glowing purple spell circle on the ground.
But that wasn't what got their attention.
What got their attention was . . . Applejack? Rainbow Dash? And Twilight Sparkle?
Applejack was wearing trinkets around her neck and had a small set of glasses on her nose, and most notably she had a limp on her back legs. Her cutie mark was a Zap Apple inside of a Rune Circle.
Rainbow Dash didn't look as athletic as Scootaloo knew her to be. And her mane a little bit better taken care of, not as rough and tumble, but still not girlie girl. Her wings' feathers had a zigzag pattern to them. They weren't crippled like Applejack's leg, but didn't looked as devloped. Her cutie mark was a rainbow colored flame or crystal with six sparks around it.
Twilight Sparkle didn't look THAT different . . . except of course maybe that she had a horn (nothing odd there) and WINGS (very ood)! The way she moved was Twilight Sparkle enough, but something about it trigger calls she's learned from both Rarity and Chryssy, an pure absolute confidence that one was right and others were entertainingly ignorant.
"You misunderstand me, I'm not saying unicorns are MORALLY superior, or SOCIALLY superior, unicorns just have advantages Earth Ponies and Pegasi don't have, and those few unicorns who study magic are able to use spell to replicate say Earth Pony Super Strength, and Pegasus flight, seapony water breathing. And earth ponies can't replicate flight or telekinesis on their own, and certainly can't breath underwater. And same for pegasi. All ponies are unique, unicorns are simply more unique. It's an accepting of facts, not saying unicorns have any 'rights' that other pony types don't have. After all, more earth ponies and pegasi wish to be unicorns than unicorns wish to be earth ponies or pegasi." Twilight never lost that smile on her face.
"And Ah say that's a hooey. And Ah don't trust your statistics." Applejack said, her accent still there, but not as pronounced, and with a bit more Canterlot elegance to it. "And Ah really prefer my Twilight to you. She's just a unicorn and a library, but she's happy and my best friend."
"Really? Mine is part of the royal guard and our Element of Loyalty," Rainbow Dash said.
"Really? What about say Rarity and Fluttershy?" Applejack asked. "What do they do for a living?"
"Oh the Rarity of my world is a sculptor. And Fluttershy is a foal consoler and psychologist."
"That is all very interesting." Twilight said, and meant it. "But it's off topic."
"Ah'm of the school of thought that the difference in abilities between the three Ponyville tribes is an illusion of biology, once you get to the level of skill and power we have." Applejack said.
"You're the only one of that school of thought."
"Then let's find out."
"Just a friend magic duel. No hurtin' each other. Just testin' our magics."
"Girls. We're all Elements of Magic here. You're both clearly skilled, learned, have EARNED everything you have and held your groups together and helped save your worlds . . . the last things I want is to humiliate you." Twilight said the last part meaning it completely.
"Actually, that doesn't sound so bad. It's just an experiment." Rainbow Dash said. "A test of our magics. We're all at our peaks. We ARE magic itself in the guise of a pony."
"There are some things that just don't happen. For instance. Scootaloo of my world can never fly, the doctors declared it was utterly impossible. I don't know about any of yours, but that's just the way it is. It would be like an earth pony jumping off a cliff and expecting to suddenly be able to fly. You girls are being unrealistic. You should just accept what you've done with your gifts instead of thinking a blizzard can warm you."
"And I think you're letting your mind be limited on your preconceptions of what is and what is not." Applejack said. "It opened my eyes when I first hatched Spike."
"Same here," Rainbow Dash said. "I wanted to name him Deathwing, but Celestia insisted it was a family name."
"Fine." Twilight sighed. "Don't say I didn't warn you. A two on one Magic Duel then? Standard rules? You two will rotate on accepting or giving challenges. We trade back and forth, the first one to be unable to match the effect of the other loses. And since you two are playing together, if either of you loses, you both lose."
"Fine." They said together.
"I'll go first." Twilight said.
"And I'll match you first." Rainbow said.
"Alright then. Water breathing." Twilight magicked herself up some gills, and telekentically placed a bubble of water around her and Rainbow's heads.
Twilight got ready to pull it away in chase Rainbow did sometime dumb like try to breath water with her lungs, but instead . . . "What are you doing?"
There were tiny bubbles forming around RD's mouth!
"Clouds are just water. I'm using my magic to manipulate the hydrogen and oxygen in the while recycling my nitrogen. So I can breath underwater."
"But! The challenge was to BREATH WATER!"
"You didn't get very precise. And I am breathing the water, it just turns into air just before I breath it."
"I can do this perpetually! You fall unconscious and you drown!"
"That wasn't part of the challenge was it?"
The Cutie Mark Crusaders stayed silent as the magic duel continued.
"Now I'm going to show you a thing or two!" boasted Rainbow Dash, jabbing a wing feather at Twilight. "If that's okay with you, AJ."
"Heh, be mah guest."
Rainbow spread her wings and concentrated, each individual feather twitching into some kind of arcane alignment. A cold gust of wind made the others shiver, and mist rose from the ground.
Twilight arched a brow. "Fog? I expected more." She put on a smug smile. "Or rather, perhaps I shouldn't have expected more."
"Wait for it..." said Rainbow. The fog covered her completely, then blew away, revealing a powder-blue *stallion* with a spiky rainbow mane. "Say hello to Rainbow Blitz, ladies," he spoke in a deep velvety-smooth voice. "Can you explain this?"
Applejack's jaw dropped. Twilight's wings snapped open, fully spread.
Apple Bloom giggled, peeking out from the big rock they were hiding behind. "Gosh, they sure are bein' silly. Hey Scootaloo, how come your wings are spread too?"
Scootaloo blushed. "Sh- shut up!" she hissed.
Sweetie Belle stuffed a hoof in her own mouth, resisting the urge to burst into song.
Twilight glared at her wings, needing several more tries to get them folded again. "That's impossible."
Applejack smirked. "Giving up already, sugarcube?"
Twilight chuckled. "Let me be more precise. It would be impossible to perform a gender change without a full spell ritual... unless you had access to Alicorn magic like mine, which I don't believe is the case. Therefore, that is not a gender change. It's an illusion!" She paced around Rainbow, studying "him" from several angles. "What if... oh, of course! You made the fog with ice crystals to cast your illusion. And the voice change must be air pressure modulation."
Rainbow scoffed. "She didn't even cast a spell to see if she was right."
"But I am right, aren't I?" said Twilight, more smug than ever.
Rainbow leaned closer to Twilight, "his" voice a throaty purr. "You are as lovely as you are insufferable, Princess."
Twilight's wings promptly snapped open again, making her groan.
AJ shuddered. "Okay, quit horsing around. It's Twilight's turn to challenge me."
"Uh, wait one minute," Rainbow replied. "Twilight, you haven't matched my spell yet."
Twilight's eyes widened. "Wait...no! You can't be serious!"
"You made the rules. You refuse, you lose."
Twilight sighed. "Fine!"
Using an illusion spell, Twilight transformed into a male version of herself, blushing so much one might mistake his coloration for red. "Satisfied?"
"You bet, but it looks better on me. But isn't Twilight Sparkle a girl's name?"
"...Then my name's Dusk Shine..." 'Dusk Shine got a smirk. "My challenge...let's see Applejack pull of this spell too. Nothing in the rules that in THIS kind of Duel I can't do that, right?"
Applejack chuckled. "Alright, yah asked for it..."
Applejack put a hoof out to the side, a rune circle forming from ambient mana in front of it. It slowly moved over her, as it did so turning her into a big muscular stallion like Big Macintosh. "How's this?"
Applebloom's eyes widened. "But...Ah...Mah sister...ugh...Ah don't think Ah can unsee this..." she said, covering her face in embarrassment.
Twilight's jaw was nearly to the floor...and for some reason her wings popped open again. "...N-Name?"
"But that's the same!"
"Yeah, but it's also gender neutral!"
Twilight, or Dusk, gave a half-hearted and blushing glare at the stallion that had replaced the earth pony mare. "F-fine, you can make a very convincing illusion of being a stallion."
Applejack smirked. "It ain't an illusion, Sugarcube."
"Don't try and claim you did it for real; the illusion is certainly impressive, that's true, but I already explained that you would need alicorn magic to change genders without a full ritual."
"Or be as skilled at earth pony magic as Ah am." He brushed a hoof off on his chest. "After all, it's all about life. Ah just shifted around mah chromosomes a bit, and here Ah am fer all to see.
"Now, Ah believe it's mah turn to challenge ya." He put his hoof to his chin in thought, then smiled. "Here's a trick on o' mah Twi's other friends showed me once." Runes appeared around his hoof as he concentrated; a few moments later, several spheres of pure magic (each a different size) appeared in air.
"That's hardly a complex trick," Dusk said.
"Ah ain't done yet." The runes altered slightly, then the sphere's began to vibrate, producing notes based on their size, which soon turned into a haunting music.www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQemvy…
"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on the Glass Armonica
The glass spheres faded away as Applejack finished his performance, and he took a small bow. "Yer turn, Dusky."
The eerie music had a surprising effect on Sweetie Belle. Her coat twitched from head to hooves. "That song... It's so..." Her cutie mark actually shimmered. Without warning, the filly got up on her rear hooves, twirling and dancing.
"What the hay are you doing?" hissed Apple Bloom. "You'll give us away!"
"I'm telling Applejack you said that!" said Scootaloo. "I mean, your Applejack, not him."
"Can't you feel it? It's like a heart song without words! I have to dance!" Sweetie Belle nearly danced right out of their hiding spot, until the other crusaders tackled her. "Let me go!"
Scootaloo flapped her wings to keep from getting thrown off. "Not until you get a grip!"
"Don't make me wrassle like Ah mean it," Apple Bloom warned her. Suddenly, the three of them fell silent, realizing that the music had stopped some time ago.
Then the whole boulder glowed purple and rolled aside. "What are you three doing out of the castle?" demanded Dusk Shine. The "stallion" blinked. "Huh, I sounded pretty intimidating just now! Perhaps this illusion does have its uses."
Rainbow Blitz hovered over them, forehooves crossed. "Never mind the castle, whatever castle you're talking about... What are you three doing in the *Everfree Forest*?"
"And at night, no less," said a scowling Applejack.
Sweetie Belle gulped. "Um... we were just..."
"We're perfectly safe!" insisted Apple Bloom. "We just... can't really explain why. But you know we're telling the truth, right sis?" Sweetie and Scootaloo gave her funny looks. "Ah mean, of course she... he..." She stamped a hoof. "Of course mah big brother will believe me. Ah mean, my big brother right here, not mah other big brother."
Applejack laughed, not so angry now. "And just how would Ah be so sure yer telling the truth? Ah ain't no Honesty." Their ears drooped.
"We-ell..." Applebloom said. "If y'all have ta know..." Speaking as quickly as she could, Applebloom and her friends told the three 'stallions' an edited version of their plans. The trio didn't look entirely convinced, but they nodded at the end of it.
"So you're protected by Princess Luna?" 'Dusk Shine' said. "Ugh! This voice!" She undid the illusion on herself. "That was getting awkward."
'Rainbow Blitz' rolled her eyes. "Spoiled sport."
"So, uh, just think of us as an audience!" Scootaloo grinned. "Nothing wrong with that!"
"And if THREE super powerful ponies are here, that means we're safe right?" Sweetie Belle grinned.
"So let's just stay here and watch, pleeeease?" Applebloom asked.
"You know . . . " Princess Twilight said. "Since you're here, I think this might be a good lesson for you, AND THEM." She looked at the other two Elements of Magic. "First, let's get this little trick out of the way." Twilight summoned up a series of crystal musical instruments.
-Beethoven's 5th Symphony-www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4IRMY…
"Wait," Music adapt Sweetie said. "That's Octvia's style!"
"That was just a magical recording you did!" 'Rainbow Blitz' protested.
The Princess grinned. "I got the same end results with my spell, so that counts, remember?"
"And just how would . . .WAIT!!! You have your cutie mark!?"
The three Magics gasped in shocked.
"And so do! Ta-da!" Scootaloo did a florish in the air.
"CONGRADUATIONS SCOOTALOO!" 'Blitz' hugged and gave her noogie, "Wait! This you can fly too?!"
"I got my cutie mark and flew at the same time for the first time."
"THAT MUST HAVE BEEN AWESOME!"
"Well I was rescuing Sweetie Belle from a swarming of changelings carrying her through Canterlot's buildings while she was unconscious."
Sweetie Belle blushed. Scoots proved intelligent enough NOT to mention she had jumped out a window high above the ground. She didn't want to get spanked again.
"How about you APpleboom?" The male AJ asked.
"Uh . . . I don't have mine yet."
"Oh . . . well, don't worry, it'll come ta ya in time, no problem." Male AJ and Sweetie nuzzled. "Ah'd change back, but that takes magic, and I don't wanna run outta mana before Princess Purple Pants does."
"That is uncalled for." Princess Twilight said. "Now excuse me, it's my turn. Ahem. Applebloom, you have inspired me. Stand still."
"HEY! Wait!" 'Blitz' said.
"Bystanders are fair game in a magic duel."
"That CAN'T be standard rules!"
Twilight's horn glowed, and a bright flash blinded Applebloom . . . and her shadow grew . . . and grew . . . and grew . . . glowing yellow eyes and mouth formed.
Applebloom slowly turned at the grinning thing that was come out her.
"Wha-what is that?!""I am your shadow, our true self!"
Applebloom shadow said in a distortion of her own voice. "And we don't want to get our cutie mark."
"T-that's not true!"
The other fillies gasped. Twilight smirk. The other Elements of Magic were in shock at seeing the fillies' private feelings laid bear. "You fear everything that comes with getting a cutie mark, what a cutie mark will make you."
"Ah'm not yellow! Ah'm not a coward!" "Yes you are. I fear that there is no point to the cutie mark crusaders with cutie marks, you can't keep figuring out what a cutie mark means forever. I fear what happens if its a destiny I don't WANT! We fear what getting a cutie mark not related to apples would make our family feel about us. I don't want to be special, we just want everypony to accept us and not have to worry about the status quo changing. We fear what'll happen if we keep not getting ours while Sweetie and Scootaloo now have theirs."
Applebloom broke down sobbing.
Princess Twilight just kept smiling. "There there." She looked at the others Magics. "Your turns. We have two more fillies to expose their repressed flaws and insecurities for everypony here to see."
Sweetie and Scootaloo felt a little afraid, split also on what they were supposed to do with their friend as her shadow loomed over her.
"You girls wouldn't let Applebloom go through this and not go through it yourselves would you?" Twilight asked. The two fillies stiffened.
'Rainbow Blitz' reverted to Rainbow Dash of the Element of Magic and snarled. "How about we make YOU face YOUR shadow instead?"
She didn't flinched. "But there's two of you, and only one of me. You'll have to make ONE OF THEM face their own shadow. Which for little foals, is rather testing, isn't it Applebloom?"
The filly only responded with a whimper as her own self loomed over her.
"I was actually hoping she'd scream 'you're not me' excuse me, 'ya ain't me' and cause it go on a rampage, that would have made a challenge."
Rainbow said, "We don't have to lose the duel OR make them go through that if we make you face YOURS and one of us have the other face THEIR shadow!"
Princess Twilight eyes narrowed in annoyance at them finding a way out of her trap. "Fine. I have no secret or hidden monsters. I completely accept myself. Go ahead."
"But first, time out." Male AJ said.
"I'm pretty sure there are no time outs in magic-"
"I SAID TIME OUT!" The Element of Magic knelt besides her alternate reality little sister. Her shadow still with her. "Applebloom, can ya hear me?"
Applebloom nodded, still shivering, and turned her head. When she realized that Applejack was looking right at her, she gasped and quickly looked away... but then she blinked several times and looked again. "Your eyes!"
The stallion tilted his head, seeming amused. "What about my eyes?"
Applebloom looked right into her sort-of-sister-sort-of-brother's bright green eyes. "They're just your eyes. There's no Truth in them." More than that, looking at Applejack as a stallion, wearing that hat... it was like she was standing in front of her pa, or at least, this was how she'd imagined their pa must have looked. Applebloom blinked again, and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. That must of sounded bad."
Applejack chuckled. "Ah get the picture. Your big sister, your Applejack... she has the Element of Honesty in your world, not Big Mac like in mine. Hard to imagine..."
The filly fidgeted her hooves. "Actually... my Big Mac is a Bearer of Honesty too! And so is Miss Rarity's sister Red Gala."
AJ stared. "Sugarcube, Ah don't even know any Red Gala. We really do live in different worlds."
Applebloom sat up, forgetting her fears for the moment. "Say, is your Big Mac a werewolf like my Applejack?"
"What?!" Applejack snorted. "What kinda crazy question is that? Werewolves are an old mares' tale."
"But she is, Ah saw it! Her and that weird stallion Snow Bound."
"Nonsense. Although, come ta think of it... Mah Big Mac does have this mare friend, Snow Drift." AJ smirked. "Who he swears is *just* a friend."
Twilight the Alicorn tapped a hoof irritably. "Is this 'timeout' going to take much longer? We're waiting."
"Cool your jets," said Dash, underscoring her words with an ominous rumble of thunder... produced with a simple wave of her hoof. "Ooh, I can't wait to conjure up *your* shadow."
Applejack looked into her (or his as the case may be) sister's eyes. "Apple Bloom...listen tah meh, not tah your demons over there.""Hey!"
yelled the Shadow.
AJ took a deep breath. "Listen close, sugarcube. Ah reckon that the mean things your shadow told ya are true." When Applebloom shivered and drew back, she quickly added, "Because it wouldn't hurt so much if they weren't. Maybe Ah don't have any magical truth-telling powers, but Ah like to think we Apples are basically honest folk, and ponies who are used to facing up to hard truths." She sighed, turning so that Applebloom could see her limp. "Like me, when Ah had to admit that Ah'd never be any good at applebucking."
Applebloom scowled. "So, what... Ah should just accept that Ah'm gonna get a cutie mark Ah hate and lose mah friends? Ah can't do that!"
"Ah'm not asking you to!" said AJ quickly. "Look at mah Cutie Mark."
Apple Bloom teary eyed looked at the spell seal with a zap apple. "...Yeah?"
"...Ah'm an Earth Pony who got a magic Cutie Mark, Ah can do it...have yeah ever heard of any other Earth Pony that can?"
tah do magic. Ah studied mah flank off tah get there...Ah was just so gosh darn stubborn that Ah did the impossible. If Ah can get THAT kinda Cutie Mark, do you think your shadow is right yah should be afraid of gettin' a cutie mark yah don't want?"
Applebloom gasped. She didn't notice, but her Shadow seemed to shrink."You're a special case! One pony who's different proves nothing!"
"Then explain her," Applejack said, pointing to Rainbow Dash. Notably, 'he' looked right at Apple Bloom, not her shadow. "Ah've seen six different mes from six different universes, and none of 'em had mah mark...we are who we choose tah be, and all a Cutie Mark is an expression of that."
Applebloom blinked. "So...so Ah can get whatever Cutie Mark Ah want?"
The Shadow shrank down again."We might still get a Cutie Mark our family doesn't want!"
the Shadow hissed, growing bigger as Apple Bloom whimpered. "We might be disowned by them. We might just be Bloom, not Applebloom anymore."
"Unlikely..." Applejack said, smiling. "Ah admit, some members of the family think Ah'm a bit of a wimp...but Big Mac and Granny Smith aren't them...And neither are you...The family didn't disown meh. If Big Mac rejected meh, we'd not be able tah use the Elements together..."
"...Really?" Apple Bloom sniffled.
Scootaloo said, trotting over. "...I was scared too when I got mine that you'd feel like that to me...but you weren't, were you?"
"...N-No, Ah wasn't..."
"And you weren't with me either, were you?" Sweetie asked.
"...So yah were scared of those things, weren't you?" Applejack asked.
"..." Applebloom looked scared for a moment."Calm now, little sister.
You're loved by all you know.
You'll never lose your friendship,
no matter where you go.
There ain't no call to worry,
so don't you cry or fret.
A cutie mark won't change you,
no matter what you get,"
sang the big broter, hugging her.
Applebloom was quiet for a second. "...Ah...Ah guess Ah was..."
She looked to her Shadow. "...Yer right...Ah was afraid...Ah guess yah are part of meh...but yah ain't a part Ah'm lettin' control meh...So long as Ah'm mahself, Ah guess Ah got nothin' tah be scared of."
The Shadow smiled, not in the same evil, psychotic way it had been, but a content one. "Those words are all Ah needed tah hear."
"Ah'm you, and yer me." The Shadow slid back into Applebloom, a light popping up around the filly for a moment. "...That was weird."
Applejack turned back to Twilight, glaring daggers. "Yah hurt mah sister."
"Sorry about that, I apologize. I was thinking of my Applebloom when I did. This one isn't my slave, so I guess that was out of line."
"...Rainbow, Ah'm doin' this spell on her."
"Yah, she just made it personal. Besides, Ah've had tah deal with more dark stuff in mah life than most ponies,, what with livin' with this bum leg and bein' 'unnatural' by some ponies definition...Ah've had tah face mah demons every day. Ah'll be fine."
"My shadow isn't going to be anything big," said Twilight, smirking confidently.
"If yah think that, then yah forget one thing: the ones who say think shadow is tiny, tend tah be the ones buryin' the most horseapples."
"You should know, the only reason my Applebloom and her friends are my slaves is because they accepted an offer for 'cutie marks' after I had just read them three precautionary historical accounts written by a griffin on recklessness: of an earth pony filly jumping out of a tree thinking she'd fly if she'd believed hard enough, and broke her neck and died. Of not accepting what you are: a pegasus with stage magic as a talent who wasn't satisfied with that and made a deal with Gorgar to have arcane magic and brought death to much of Equestria before they were stopped and banished to the sun. And how to apply yourself the right way: a unicorn in a community of earth ponies allergic to the idea of her using her unicorn magic to help on the farm, so instead used her brains to make the farm more efficient. And they still didn't get the message. And this was AFTER I brought them in after they built an atomic bomb just for trying to get a cutie mark in bomb making, and then disarmed it when it began to go off. It was for their own good, and the safety of the town."
"...Mah Twilight would do a lot of things. She'd tell them a lot of precautionary tales, but she'd never make 'em SLAVES. And she'd never do what yah just did tah Applebloom. And she sure as Tartarus ain't racist."
"I don't believe unicorns are SUPERIOR. Just more POWERFUL. Is it wrong for Super-Stallion to say they're more powerful than HawkPony? Or Gunslinger? Besides, all I did was bring her emotional problems to the surface, that you just helped her with."
"...Let's see what yer Shadow says. One thing Ah've learned about a lotta racists? And BELIEVE MEH, Ah've seen a lot of 'em. They tell themselves a lot of pretty little lies tah justify things to themselves. If that's what you were doing, you wouldn't have complained when Ah stopped tah help her. In fact, yah'd have told meh tah do it."
"Just a lesson in how abusing the rules can backfire on you."
"...Nothin' justifies hurtin' a child that bad. If winnin' means that much tah yah, Ah know yah ain't gonna like seein' your shadow."
Applejack held out 'his' hoof and formed a spell circle that made another one appear under Twilight...and her shadow started expanding...and expanding...and expanding...
Ominous shadows rose, looming over Twilight... and then they coalesced into a thick, encyclopedia-sized book, which fell to the ground with a thump. Twilight approached cautiously, stooping down to read the silver letters on the book's black cover. "Embracing Your Inner Darkness: for Dummies, by Princess Twilight Sparkle? My inner darkness is a self-help book?"
"I can believe that," said Rainbow Dash. AJ and the fillies glared at her. "What?"
Twilight grinned smugly and started to walk away. "I told you it wouldn't be very big." That's when the book flew open, pages flipping by themselves. She froze, then turned, just in time to see a shadowy Twilight emerge from the book... the unicorn Twilight, as she'd been when she first came to Ponyville."Dear Princess Celestia,"
recited Shadow Twilight, striking a pose. "Right from the start of my journey, I insisted that studying was far more important than making friends... and I was absolutely right."
"Huh?" said Twilight the Alicorn, oddly at a loss for words.
"Ah've got a bad feeling about this," muttered AJ. He quietly put up a spell ward around Applebloom and her friends, hiding them from view before they could protest.
Shadow Twilight paced, as if addressing a lecture audience. "I have to admit, princess, your scheme was brilliant. Six ponies just happening to meet, at that time and place, with exactly the right personalities to unlock that particular set of ancient artifacts? The odds of that occurring by chance are so low, it's not even worth calculating. Not only did we save Equestria, but you also gave me my first taste of real power, and you also taught me how other ponies can be of use to me, even if they're of inferior species or mentally deficient, or even both!"
"Now wait just a minute," stammered Twilight."Now, now, Twilight, you'll have your turn to speak later. I will admit, they were endearing at times. The mud farmer, the lazy Wonderbolts fangirl..."
The shadow grinned brightly, rolling her eyes. "the useless wallflower, the walking affront to the laws of nature... poor Rarity, wasting her magical potential on sewing dresses! And how could I forgot Spike? All that little brother stuff? Please... I said whatever he needed to hear to keep him slaving away for me."
Twilight tried to interrupt again, and this time the shadow lit her horn, summoning bands of black magic to muzzle her.
Dash leaned close to AJ and whispered, "I know I wanted her to get what was coming to her, but... I can't watch this! Can't you cancel the spell?"
AJ nodded and gestured... then gestured again, brow furrowing. "It's not working!""But it was all worth it in the end!"
said Shadow Twilight brightly. "Because..."
The shadow grew larger, dramatically spreading her wings. "I finished that senile old fool Starswirl's spell and got these! I was a princess... no, an immortal goddess, ready to learn all of the magic of Equestria! And... I trotted around the same boring little town, naked as anypony else, as if nothing had changed at all. Logically, there was only one conclusion."
Now she grinned darkly. "I was being held back... by my feelings for my so-called friends!"
Twilight finally managed to dispel the muzzle, panting from the effort. "All right, you! I've just about had it with you, talking about my life and my friends that way!"
The shadow actually waggled a hoof at her. "Oh, now you care about your friends? Maybe you should have thought of that before you took their little sisters and made them your slaves. Yep, you've pretty much burned those bridges."
Twilight's jaw dropped, whatever snappy retort she was preparing lost."But hey, it's not like they're any use to you now, after Discord 'accidentally' forced you to give the Elements back to that stupid tree. Whoops!"
The shadow trotted over, cheek to cheek with her other self. "Admit it, you know he's turned Fluttershy cruel again behind everypony's backs."
"Shut up," said Twilight, unable to look the shadow in the eyes."That giggling and moaning coming from her cottage at night. All the little squeals and shrieks..."
"Shut up!""But if you called him on it, he couldn't keep giving you what you need. Teaching you chaos magic..."
Twilight sobbed. "Stop it! You're horrible!" She gasped. "But... you're me. I'm horrible... I'm a horrible pony..." She sat down heavily. "Oh Celestia, what have I done?""Oh, but you've come so far! Don't give up now... you're so close!"
Twilight's Shadow grew even larger... her eyes turned slit-pupiled... her smile grew fangs, and her wings turned bat-like. The Crown of Magic appeared on her head, and darkness swirled over her, forming into heavy royal barding. "So close to having everything you ever wanted."
"I say we blast her now, while she's monologing!" hissed Rainbow Dash.
"Blast what?" said AJ. "She's just a shadow. Unless..." He gulped.
Twilight shrank back from the Nightmare. "This isn't what I wanted! Not like this!""Isn't it?"
crooned the Nightmare. "All the magic! All the knowledge! The power to make this world whatever you want, and put all the fools and lesser races in their place once and for all. Take the book, and it's yours."
The cover of the book had changed... now it simply read "Nightmare Eternal Twilight," over a photo-negative image of her cutie mark.
Twilight's eyes grew wide... she reached for the book, hunger in her eyes... And then she stopped. "And then what? After I've gotten everything I want and trampled all my friends underhoof to get there? What then? Who do I share that with? Maybe... maybe I was wrong this whole time."
The Nightmare frowned suddenly. "What... no! You're right! You can prove it, logically and mathematically! What else could you be but right?"
Twilight lit her horn and charged a spell, choking back a sob. "I spent so much time looking down on my friends, when really... maybe I'm the one who wasn't worthy of *them*." With a ragged shout, the Alicorn shot a fireball at the shadowy book, setting it ablaze!
The nightmare Twilight screamed, a sound of rage intermingled with pain, as the book she had offered to her physical self burned. Flames suddenly kindled around her as well, scorching her as if she were made of the same paper as the book itself. Parts of her turned black and her mass shrank, slowly dwindling into a pure back alicorn that was little more than a shade of its former self. Glowing embers formed a set of eyes and a mouth as the image looked at the real Twilight."Now you know the truth, and accept it. All that leaves is what you do with that knowledge."
The embers died as the shadow shrank back into its normal form, and Twilight sat down, looking at it with her back to the others.
Applejack waited several more moments, then dropped the veil protecting the CMC. It didn't look like anything else was going to come bursting out yet.
Rainbow Dash cleared her throat. "Okay, um, I guess that means it's my turn then." She shifted her wings, the feathers moving into a new alignment, but before she could gather up the necessary mana for such a spell...
Twilight's word was quiet, but it cut through the night just as clearly as if she'd shouted it.
"No more spells... I concede the duel."
Applejack and Dash looked at each other for a moment. "So," AJ said. "Yer admittin' we're yer peers then?"
Twilight shook her head. "No," her voice cracked and she turned to look at both of them, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You're my betters, both of you. You know so much more... about friendship, about the magic in it, about being a good and decent pony... I... I..." She flung herself to the ground, outright sobbing now. "I'M SO SORRY!"
Twilight lay on the ground, bawling like a foal, letting out years of pain that she'd hidden behind justifications and half-truths. "I never meant for it to be like this, I never wanted to hurt anyone! I just wanted to know! I thought that if I was smarter, if I learned more, I could be a better pony! I thought I could make friends! I- I-" She just gave up on talking and cried some more, it was all just too much to bear!
Then, she felt a hoof on her shoulder, just above her wing.
Twilight looked up, seeing Applejack shift his form back into that of a mare, a kindly smile upon her face. "It's okay, Sugarcube. You just go head and get it all outta ya. Look like yer long overdue fer a good cry."
Another hoof touched her on the other side.
Rainbow Dash, looking every bit as confident and friendly as she'd always known her to be, smiled down at her. "Yeah, we'll still be here when you're done."
"B-b-but... after everything I've said... everything I've DONE! How- how can you... just..."
"Friendship lesson number 1, Twi:" AJ said. "Friends forgive." And both of the elements of magic knelt down, and pulled their fellow element into a small group hug.
The CMC watched, 'Aww'ing' simultaneously as the three bearers of the Element of Magic seemed to fade away.
"I guess that nasty version of Twilight learned her lesson," Sweetie Belle said. "Maybe that was why we were supposed to meet her? So she could learn better?"
"Maybe," Scootaloo said, as swirling pale silvery mists whipped upwards and hid the three grown mares from view. "And it was cool to meet 'another' Rainbow Dash. I wonder if maybe I can learn super-secret pegasus magic like her one day?"
"An' hey! If meetin' wrong-headed Miss Twilight was why we got here, an' we did help her..." Applebloom looked at her flank. She frowned furiously to see it still as black as a foal's. "Doggone it! What'm Ah gonna have ta do, make a deal with Pony Satan ta get mah cutie mark?"
There was a hollow boom and a puff of yellowish smoke that reeked of rotten eggs. Standing before the fillies with a nasty smile was a colt-sized version of Morning Star.
"That can be arranged," he said to Applebloom with a leer. Glowing from his magic, he held out a pen like a feather, with the barbs of steel sharp enough to draw blood, and a scroll of paper that unrolled to hit the ground and keep right on rolling to nudge Applebloom's hooves.
"Uh, no thanks, sorry," Applebloom backed away. Colt Morning Star scowled. Her two friends nodded as she said, "We don't want nothin' ta do with ya."
"Besides, didn't you get beat up and sent back to Tartarus by your two big sisters and Applejack?" Scootaloo said. Morning Star's brow turned black as a thundercloud as she said, "You kinda have a lousy track record."
"Yeah, even I stepped on you a couple of times, and those witches you turned loose only did it so they could control you." Sweetie Belle said, fighting down a giggle at the look on the demon-colt's face. Colt Morning Star looked ready to explode as she said, "You're not all that impressive. You had to use those human witches to be scary."
The three fillies turned to leave, only to stop as Morning Star roared behind them:
"Not impressive?!? Lousy track record??" He ran in front of them, his eyes literally blazing and his wings on fire. "Hydia and Somnambula were nothing! I'll show you what I can do with some REAL witches!"
He reared and smashed his forehooves down against the ground. A sheet of flame leaped up and obscured everything from the three fillies' view
"Dang it, Sweetie, did ya have ta make fun of him?"
And the flames cleared. Colt Morning Star was gone, but the Everfree was there -- looking scarier then they remembered from before, but it was still there.
The three gaped at what they saw before them.
It was a pony, a pony they thought they recognized.
"Miss Twilight?" Sweetie said. "Is th-that you?"
She looked up at them, and all three flinched back.
"I... really don't think so." Scootaloo said with a gulp.
Twilight looked nightmarish, in every sense of the word. Her coat was a mixture of blacks and purples, with amethyst eyelids lowering over bloodshot slit-pupil eyes. Her purple and crimson and blue mane and tail both hung limp and in tatters.
The other Twilight, the alicorn, had looked groomed to perfection, the soul of vanity. This one looked like she only cleaned herself when she could be bothered to remember.
Her eyes widened as she saw the fillies. She set a book aside, old and immense and bound with rusty iron hasps. The fillies caught a glimpse of the writing; the letters looked like worms crawling together.
"Girls?" She took a few steps forward. The CMC backed away, only to stop as her horn glowed and they hovered before her eyes. "Applebloom? Why do you look alive? Sweetie, I mean, I mean, Sinner Belle? I thought I left you in the sabbat chambers inside the Black School -- and Scootaloo?" The little orange pegasus gulped as Twilight looked her over. "How did you become a filly again? Aren't you Outside the Neverfree with Dash in whatever Discord left of Equestria? Wait, how is any of this happening?" She set them back down and began to weep. "Ugh, I'm dreaming again, aren't I? Back before Nightstallion Thorn, back before the Svartaskoli, the Black School and before I," she lifted a hoof, looked at it and snorted, "became this?"
"Ugh," Scootaloo groaned. "Why do we always gotta find places like this?" She looked up as did the other two. They gulped to see a broken and shattered moon in the sky, and what looked like a small crimson sun. Clouds passed overhead that resembled bags of writhing snakes. They saw a full grown dragon dodging one, only for an immense tendril to whip out and pull it in.
"I know," they turned back around as Twilight giggled, her voice brittle. "I'll just knock my head against the nearest tree and wake up THAT way! It always works!" She backed off, lowered her head to set it in line with a nearby tree that looked like it was made out of shivering and twitching fungus, and prepared to charge.
"Miz, Twilight, no!" Applebloom and her friends threw themselves on the ebon unicorn. She stopped as all three gagged.
"Eee-yuck!" Scootaloo held her nose. "No offense, but when did you last take a bath?"
"Cleanliness is next to alicorn-ness," Twilight said, as though quoting someone, "so we don't bathe here."
"Really?" Applebloom took a deeper whiff and stuck her tongue out. "Ewww! Ah ain't complainin' about taking baths ever again!"
"Wait, wait," Twilight looked at the three fillies, something like sanity in her eyes. "You're all REAL? Not some trick or illusion or," she gulped, "something Master Thorn is doing to test my loyalty?" She shivered. "No. If you're real, prove it."
The fillies looked at each other. Scootaloo asked Applebloom, "Okay, how?"
They heard a pained whinny from Twilight. When they looked, they saw her rubbing her nose where Sweetie had just slapped it.
"You're real," Twilight said wondering. Her voice began rising in wild glee as she said, "And not from here. Nopony would dare to swat Twilight Terror unless they were going to kil -- try taking my place." She almost yelled, "You're REAL!"
She reared up above the fillies as they shrank in fear.
And the next moment found them enveloped in a hug as tears streamed down Twilight's cheeks.
The fillies tried recoiling from the horrid stench as Twilight hugged them and wept for joy.
"Okay," Sweetie choked out. "Who's got the next bright idea?"
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Can you feel it, Sweetie?)
'Huh?' Sweetie Belle asked, blinking. 'What are you doing here?!'
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Pinkie Pie's doing something that's...freed us up a lot. We're trying to catch up on some of Momma's work she left us...But do you feel something about Twilight?)
Sweetie Belle looked to at Twilight and blinked. She felt something. Something like what Chryssy had taught her. It was MUCH worse. Much more awful...she felt like it was chains around Twilight's mind and heart. "Twilight, you don't want to be like this, do you?"
"...No...but I don't know how to..."
"...Would you do anything for me if I could help you?"
"Yes..." the pony SOBBED.
Sweetie looked her in the eyes and touched horns. "Then let me in!"
Sweetie was a unicorn, Changeling mind magic wasn't something she could easily use...but she UNDERSTOOD it thanks to Chryssy. She knew the best way to effect someone was by being let in.
She felt the bad magic holding Twilight and hers touch, and used everything she could think of that Chryssy taught her to FORCE it back, trying to drive it out of her friend's heart...But it started pushing back. She felt it begin overtaking her.
'No! This wasn't a-'
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Don't give up, Sweetie! Does it make you mad that Twilight had this happen to her?!)
'...Yes! It does!'
Sweetie pushed back, but she still felt the magic pushing its way into her.
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Chryssy said that you had a bond with her, right?)
Sweetie thought back to that...to how she, Cadence, and Chryssy were all connected to each other. 'If Chryssy is strong...if Cadence is strong...then I am too, right?'
She felt something in her heart UNLOCK. She for some reason remembered being a comet freeing another friend from the web somepony had caught their mind in...
A mix of white and dark magic of the benevolent sort magic burst forth, forcing the corrupting magic all the way out of Sweetie...then WASHING into Twilight, snuffing out the corruption like a light shining into a dark room.
Twilight staggered back gasping as the black washed out of her fur and her colors, that weren't from actual gunk on it, returned to normal. She blinked her eyes open like she was awakening from a dream. Her eyes were no longer slits.
Sweetie Belle looked to her friends, who were both staring with their jaws on hung wide open. She then almost collapsed from exhaustion and made them catch her.
Twilight's eyes filled with tears. "How...Sweetie Belle...you...the Letters of Cold Fire...how did you..."
"Um...our Chrysalis...she kinda taught me this kind of magic and how to control it...I'm not bad, but I know how to use that magic for good...does that make sense?"
Twilight hugged Sweetie Belle tightly, Sweetie had to hold her breath, considering the mare still stunk. "T-Thank you..."
"Who DARES?!" roared a voice. There wasn't any portal or flash of teleportation... the huge black Nightstallion was simply there before them. He wore ebony barding over an even blacker coat... his jagged blood-red cutie mark was the only color on him.
The Crusaders cringed, but Twilight actually cried out in terror, barely able to stay on her hooves. "No... no, no, no! We have to get away!" She started to cast a spell, but the glow of her horn fizzled out.
The Nightstallion flexed bat-like wings and licked a disgusting grey tongue over his fangs. "You think that you can come into my world... Rowley Thorne's world, and take what you like? Yours shall be the next world I conquer."
"Didn't we just do this?" stammered Scootaloo.
Applebloom gulped. "Somehow, Ah don't think this one's gonna go away just cause we burned a book. Ah sure wish Rainbow Dash and mah big sis had taught us some of that magic before they left!"
Thorne laughed, stalking towards them. "Three little girls... how did you ever think you could challenge a god? There are so many ways I could dispatch you. I could have you torn apart by the living dead, or made faithful Lyra's plaything... Perhaps the budding young witch will be my apprentice in place of Twilight."
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Sweetie, do you trust me?
Sweetie Belle blinked. "What? I... I guess I do. Why?"
(Interviewer's Notes (Dawn): Use your magic, and say what tell you!
The unicorn filly gritted her teeth and gathered power in her horn, even though she wasn't sure what for yet. "I call to the void!" Immediately, Thorne drew back, watching and wary. Sweetie Belle shivered and continued. "Hear me, R- Rota Fortuna! Let this twisted Fate be undone!"
Then Sweetie gasped, straining from a sudden magical drain... she had more magic in her than she could ever remember having before, but the summoning still took everything she had, both light and dark. Her saddlebags rustled, suddenly heavier ... and Blanky poked his head out, growling.
Thorne stared, and began to laugh again. "A puppy? You've called on a puppy... to fight ME?" He stamped a hoof, pawing at the earth. "I would spare you and make you my courtly jester, but my kingdom is no place for idle merriment."
Applebloom and Scootaloo looked around in confusion. "Puppy?" said Scootaloo. "Where? What kind of spell was that?"
Blanky hopped out of the saddlebag and started pacing in a circle, sniffing the ground. He paid no attention to Twilight, but when he caught the Crusaders' scents, he started snarling. Sweetie Belle shuddered. "Dawn, why did you tell me to do that? We're not in our own world! He'll eat *us*!"
And then Blanky's ears laid flat. He spun to face the Nightstallion instead, yipping and howling.
The Nightstallion froze. "The Wolf?" He shook his head, backing up. "No, that's impossible! Discord promised. He killed the Wolf, so it could never harm me!
"My duty," snarled the little white wolf pup, in a voice that echoed *before* he spoke. "Goes beyond death."
Twilight, Scootaloo, and Applebloom could only watch, bewildered, as their deadly enemy cowered before nothing at all that they could see. "Just keep still," Sweetie Belle urged them. "It'll all be over soon." Her own mind was racing, though. Blanky... where had he disappeared off to, during Pinkie's last show? The other white wolf, the bigger, more grown up one... had that really been Blanky too? Where was the Blanky of her own world now... why had she forgotten about him until just now?
"Halt, creature!" demanded Thorne. "I am a god now, and by your own laws, you may not touch me!"
Blanky took another step closer. "Arrogance. Invader. Corrupter! You are no Concept."
Thorne fired a seething black bolt from his horn, but the magic seared the ground without ever touching the Wolf. He flung a massive boulder with his telekinesis, and the Wolf passed right through it. “Holaha! Eroyhe!" he begin to chant, desperate. "Strong Alector! Somiator, sleep ye not! I made my wish...”
The Wolf was gone... Thorne had no target to curse. He started to spin around, too late... The Wolf pounced him from behind, claws sinking into his back. "Disappear."
The three fillies backed away as the huge Nightstallion vanished from existence with a shriek of "Not again!"
Sweetie felt her hoof bump against something that seemed to snatch at it.
"Ahh!" She looked down to see the book Twilight had been carrying before. The cover looked to be made out of animal hide with the hair still on it. For one imaginative second she could swear that the hairs clutched at her.
"Hey girls, look at this." When her friends didn't respond, she looked. They were still watching Twilight. Twilight went closer to where Thorn had vanished, shivering in fear. She looked around, curious, and said some nasty-sounding words.
Sweetie saw how she blinked and suddenly focused on Blankie.
"You, the Wolf! Master," she gulped, took a deep breath, and said, "I mean, Thorn told us you could never come here. Why weren't you ever able to do that before?"
"Because he hid behind the shield of Discord's power," the Wolf said. "It made him 'smell' like something that belonged in this world." He paused, head tilted. "How do you see me, anyway?"
"Thorn taught us a spell to see spirits..."
Sweetie turned away with a sniff to look back at the book. She blinked. She could swear that the title was indecipherable before, but now it stood out in silvery letters, as plain as day.
"Huh, The Letters of Cold Fire?"
She reached out for it.
"...I have sent him to meet the masters he tried cheating and falsely served," the Wolf said. "Havoc and Morning Star will have some words for him, and not kind ones either. Can I trust you to handle the students at the Black School, and the undead of Sunny Town."
"I suppose, yes," Twilight said with a shudder. "Lyra and Sinner Belle will be difficult, but they'll probably just run away when they find out that Thorn's gone. The students aren't very brave or powerful either, and Applejack and Applebloom will be happy to set the Sunny Towners free..."
"Who's she talking to?" Scootaloo said.
"Beats me," Applebloom said. "An' hey, where's Sweetie?"
"Hey, what kind of words are these?"
Everypony and -wolf turned to see Sweetie with the Letters
open before her.
Twilight's eyes went wide with horror; the Blank Puppy growled, bristling in anger and fear.
Innocently oblivious, Sweetie began to read: "Awake ye now, Mikaded, Tuma, Lilith, Moloch, Sombra of the Shadows...""NO!"
Sweetie jumped with a startled whinny as Twilight snatched
the book away from her and tossed it to the Blank Wolf. "Don't ask, just get rid of it NOW!"
One swipe of his claws and the book was gone.
"Huh?" Sweetie shook her head. "I feel kind of funny. Was I saying something? I can't remember!"
The Puppy growled.
"I wish Havoc would keep a better eye on what books he allows Ispita to borrow and lose."
Twilight blinked, looking around them. The forest began to revert back to how it was supposed to be...but instead of turning chaotic, it began to simply return to how it should be. "But...Discord...how..."
"The Letters of Cold Fire
are no more, and all their power is gone," said the Wolf simply. "Thorn is now nothing more than a mortal man in the jaws of Havoc..."
Twilight gasped. "Of course...that spell only NEUTRALIZED the Element's sealing spell...with it gone, Discord must have turned back to stone...still, a lot of repairs we need to make..."
"Ugh..." Sweetie Belle shook her head to clear it. "...Chryssy warned me about that. She said that the nasty kind of dark magic tends to backfire when it's canceled out."
Twilight gave a sigh of relief. "...Thank you three...I don't know how I can ever repay you..."
"...Can we have cake?" Sweetie Belle asked, smiling.
"...As soon as we fix things."
"...Come on, I think I'll need Sweetie's help to stop herself...our Sweetie...ugh..."
The Blank Wolf looked to them. "You're lucky Mother gave you permission to do things like this. Though I know not how to send you home without erasing you..."
"Uh...didn't Luna say something about-"
"That?" Applebloom finished...
The Crusaders blinked, watching themselves on the What If Machine still talking to that other Twilight as they sat in Applebloom's bedroom.
Suddenly, hell fire and brimstone erupted up next to them and Morning Star in his colt form appeared, looking absolutely furious. "You...you...you..."
"Saved an alternate universe?" Sweetie Belle asked. "Thanks for helping us do that!"
Morning Star's eye twitched. The embodiment of evil calmly trotted over to the wall and pounded his head against it while screaming profanities until skeletal hands burst from the floor and dragged him back to Hell.
"...This unit believes you broke Pony Satan..." said the What If Machine itself.