Amicitia gritted her teeth... then forced herself to relax and *think*. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but what can you do?"
Clover grinned. "For one thing... this is my world."
Amicitia gasped. "Then... you're not limited like we are. You can enter the world and act!" She swept her former self up in an impulsive hug. "I'm sorry, Clover! I've been so busy trying to fix everything myself..."
"It's okay." Clover straightened her black cloak. "Just tell me where I can do the most good." She glanced at the world below. "I don't think Shiny has much time left."
In a high tower of Canterlot Castle, a battered and bruised Twilight Sparkle hung on a wall, pasted there with changeling slime. Temptation stood before her, holding out a contract in her magic. "It's all your fault, Twilight. Your selfish wish turned a beautiful, graceful race of Flutterponies into the monsters that are destroying Canterlot. Don't you want to make that right?"
"My brother..." croaked Twilight, through a badly parched throat. "He'll stop her..."
Temptation laughed politely. "Oh, please. Chrysalis planned for this. She'll devour his immortal spirit, and immortal spirit is *all* he is, now. There'll be nothing left of him... if you don't undo your mistake." She offered the contract again.
Twilight stared at it, ashamed... and suddenly Clover stood between them, brandishing her scythe. "Don't do it, Twilight! You have no idea what you'd be unleashing."
Twilight gasped. "Who..." She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. My brother..."
"Yes, that's right, you buzz off!" demanded Temptation. "We're making a fair deal here."
Clover pushed her aside. "I want you to trust in your friends again, Twilight. You couldn't have known, locked away up here, but they've been working hard to free everyone and fight back against Chrysalis. They're coming. They'll be here soon."
"Soon isn't soon enough!" rasped Twilight.
"Please!" begged Clover. "Just a little longer, that's all I'm asking."
Twilight reached for the floating quill pen, but didn't take it. The room fell deathly silent... they could clearly hear the explosions outside, the fighting in the streets far below... and something else. Hoofsteps, rushing up the tower stairs. The voices of her friends. Coming for her. Just like that time years ago, fighting Nightmare Moon.
Twilight Sparkle smiled, tears in her eyes... and in a secret changeling tunnel miles from the palace, the Elements of Harmony began to *shine*.
Ispita looked at the coming footsteps in disbelief. "But..." she gave a growl, then snapped back to Twilight. "So? You don't have the Elements and even if you did, what makes you think they'll WORK when you've done all of THIS? You think not one of your friends has enough doubt to neutralize them after what YOU did? Chrysalis TOLD THEM this was all your fault and Applejack saw the truth!"
Twilight's ears pinned.
*But didn't she say she needed a Bearer to release her?*
Twilight perked up. "...You NEED a Bearer! And if the Elements really were neutralized...I'd be useless to you!"
Five friends rushed in, ignoring Ispita and rushing to their friend.
"Girls! You...you came back..."
Rainbow nodded, pulling loose changeling slime. "Of course!"
"Darling, we all make mistakes...normally not quite this big..." Rarity admitted.
"Truth is, we were mighty angry...but yah got tricked by a snake..." Applejack replied. "Yah still need tah make it up tah everypony, but we ain't abandoning you!"
Fluttershy nodded. "And...somepony can't make up for something if no one trusts them..."
"And I don't hate anypony!" Pinkie Pie chimed in.
As Twilight finally came loose, the ponies shared a group hug.
Ispita was trembling in rage. Rainbow chains around her became visible. They sseemed to stretch but refused to break as she turned into a purple smoke, taking the shape of a massive winged serpent made of smoke. "So what?! You still don't have the Elements of Harmony! Either Shining beats Chrysalis' gambit and their battle continues or Chrysalis eats him and becomes unstoppable! what do you intend to do together or apart?!"
Twilight narrowed her eyes. "...You're wrong..."
Ispita's eyes went wide as the symbol of the Element of Magic appeared on Twilight's forehead. "WHAT?!"
While she tried to interfere, Clover blocked her path with her hoof-blades.
"But how can you block me?!" "We're both spirits, duh!"
"...The Elements are our bond. Our hearts! That's all the matters."
Ispita backed up, the great serpent looking terrified as one by one, the symbols of the Elements formed on each of the six. "NOOOOOOOO!" she roared as the Rainbow of Light erupted and washed over her.
Chrysalis and Nightstallion Phalanx blinked, turning from their confrontation as the roof of the two blew off, the Rainbow of Light arcing downwards and washing over the two stunned forces of evil.
The Rainbow expanded outwards, washing over everything. Any Changeling touched by it found Ispita's spell broken, a flutterpony looking around in confusion.
Shining Armor blinked in confusion, finding himself laying on the ground across from Queen Rosedust. "...Well...This is...strange..."
Queen Rosedust had tears in her eyes. "...I'm sorry..."
"It's okay, neither of us was exactly sane...Shining looked on his back and his eyes went wide. "And I have wings now..."
As the six ponies landed, they looked up at the petrified unicorn statue standing in front of her, the defeat of the Spirit in this particular timeline.
"...Everypony still remembers, don't they?" Twilight asked, pinning her ears.
"...Yeah...we do so it just wouldn't be right if they wouldn't..." Applejack admitted.
"...We need to find the real Cadence, don't we?"
As it turns out, that was actually easier than thought, since Queen Rosedust remembered everything she had done as Queen Chrysalis, she remembered the underground tunnels that she had trapped Cadence in, wanting to feast on her once the wedding was over and her spiritual strengths were at their weakest and thus less likely to overwhelm her.
Queen Rosedust wouldn't stop apologizing, even when it became clear Ispita had tricked Twilight into making such a horrible mistake . . . but now . . . none of that mattered . . . Ispita had ironically given Twilight what she REALLY wanted, a chance to mend bridges and make up for her mistake.
"Excuse me." Clover said, "Can you lend me a bit of you power goddess me? I have a rather mundane idea to create a another world line to run alongside this one. Take it from a pony who struggled for years to get over their klutzy nature to become a ballerina, very often, the best solution is the simple one. As simple as tripping over your own big hooves."
Back in the Great Hall, as Twilight raced down to accuse that phony Cadence, that Decadence or whatever her name really was, and save her BBBFF from that witch...
For a moment, she felt another pony besides her, some pony familiar.
She missed a particularly nasty fold in the rug and tripped. And a new world line was born.
"WAAAA!" Twilight went rolling right at the wall. She impacted very hard with a large plinth that really ought to have been replaced years ago. It crumbled just enough to send the heavy urn atop it tumbling.
Right at her.
Whinnies of shock rose. Her head spinning, Twilight looked up and froze at the sight of several hundred pounds of marble collapsing on her.
Her last thought was, 'I'm going to die right in front of my friends and Celestia and BBBFF and that fake Cadence --"
A pink glow enveloped her. The next thing Twilight knew, the urn was shattering on the floor about a foot away and she looked up to see -- the fake Cadence?
"What's the matter with you?" Cadence half panted the words out. Behind her Shiny, her friends, the Princess, everypony came galloping up and started shouting questions and asking if she was alright all at once. Cadence ignored them to say, "You've been acting so strange -- I half wondered if you were replaced by somepony or thing -- had to run everything myself, wanted Shiny and my special day to be perfect -- and now this?" Cadence began to weep, her head hanging down and mane in witchlocks around her face. "Have you gone crazy? You could have killed yourself!"
In the air above Cadence, Queen Rosedust and the Flutter Ponies watched in wide-eyed concern.
Twilight looked at Cadence and began to realize what she'd almost done. 'Look how stressed she is, she must have been ready to have a nervous breakdown! And how exhausted and crazy must I have been to think she wasn't really Cadence?'
Twilight's suspicions melted as she rose and nuzzled her beloved former foal-sitter.
"I was worried about you too... I was getting a little, um, jumpy." Twilight grinned nervously. Cadence sagged in relief to see she was alright. Twilight began to say, "I think you've been taking too much on yourself. I know you want this to be perfect, but it won't be if you make mistakes from being exhausted." Cadence's frown faded as Twilight pointed at her friends. "Please, let us help. My friends know something about celebrations..."
"And I know something about weddings." Queen Rosedust dropped down beside them both. "I've helped set them for three of my daughters. I would be honored to be allowed to advise the Princess of Harmony."
Cadence looked around at everypony. Her aunt Celestia smiled and nodded.
"Dear niece, you were getting a little temperamental."
Cadence smiled. "Maybe I can accept just a little help."
And the repaired worldline rolled on, past a happy wedding.
"Two happy world lines for the price of one." Deus admitted.
Amicitia smiled. "Let's see how these happy weddings go."
In one world, Princess Celestia was beside herself with joy. "A wedding of two Alicorns! Suddenly, I wonder whether I'm qualified to marry them. We should get Venus here!"
Luna shook her head. "Nay, sister. Look again, more closely."
Celestia did just that, blinking in surprise. "Shining Armor... he's like Cadence. He has only the faintest idea of his true potential."
Luna smiled. "It would be cruel otherwise. When they are ready, they will awaken as god and goddess... together."
"Thanks for the tailor, Miss Rarity," Shining Armor replied, looking at his wedding attire, which was now modified to have openings for his new wings to fit.
"No, thank you, your highness," Rarity replied, doing a bow. "It was an honor to do tailor for royalty."
"Uh...you do realize I just became an Alicorn, right?"
"Yes, but I'll take what I can get..."
Thankfully, while his end goals as Nightmare Phalanx would've been horrible, why he'd ascended and his fight with Chrysalis had kept ponies from getting too furious at the new Prince's ascension. That and he was about to become a Prince anyway.
The two were interrupted by a knock at the door.
Twilight sheepishly poked her head in. "Um...high, B.B.B.F.F..."
Rarity looked the situation over quickly. "Okay, I see this is a family moment, so see you at the wedding, darlings..."
After the fashionista made her departure, Twilight looked sheepishly at her elder brother. "...Big brother...I'm...I'm so sorry..." she said, tears forming in her eyes. "This...this was all my fault...I shouldn't have taken Ispita's deal..."
Shining Armor put a wing to his sister's chin. "Twiley...I forgive you."
"...How? I...everything I did."
"Yeah, you messed up...but you fixed it, didn't you?"
"Then let's just enjoy the wedding...I can't speak for everypony...but I can speak for me. You made up for it in my eyes. that's all that matters."
"...I'm still going to try and make it up to Queen Rosedust and her people."
Shining gave his little sister a hug. "And that proves you're not a bad pony, sis...I love you."
"I love you too B.B.B.F.F."
Meanwhile in the center of a twisting, turning hedgemaze turned impenetrable maze, Ispita's statue set next to Discord's.
'Hello, honey,' Discord's voice said in Ispita's head. 'Funny seeing you here.'
'Shut it!...Great, now I have to tolerate your rambling for eternity.' Temptation replied with a groan.
'Hey! You said you loved my monologuing!'
'I do, just not for eternity! No offense dear, but you can be annoy.'
'Oh, none taken, I like being annoying. So, what brings a pretty equus like you to a place like this?'
'Evil plan to release myself from my prison gets me turned to stone...'
'Same here! Except, you know, I escaped and was sealed away again...at least you got frozen in a look of hatred and fury instead of terror.'
'Yeah, I guess...and I'm still pretty.'
'Yes, though unfortunately they turned us face to face.'
'Hey!' Ispita replied insulted.
'Well if you were turned the other way I could admire your flank for eternity.'
'Oh...yes, it is quite the sight. So...want to hear about how I ruined lives with cursed artifacts and various evil spells?'
'Oh! Of course, want to hear about what I did the one day I was free?'
Deus Ex Machina and Amicitia parted ways. As Deus enjoyed the happy new world line along with Clover. No sign of Nythy, and no sign of Chance (thank goodness on both counts for different reasons).
But she was shocked when she saw a gray pony enter a stagnant, and for all intents and purposes, dead world line. It was one of Nyhty's that had been sucked dry of all the horror it could offer, and then left to rot, and one Amcitia had created an alt world for (it was painful to see how many universes there were with herself as a mad scientist).
Twilight admitted now . . . maybe practicing the cutie mark transfer surgery on herself before using it on herself and Trixie might not have been a good idea, but . . . she could see every detail, it called to her! Okay, so now she was bleeding on both sides of her body, crawling across the floor. Could she call for Spike? Oh right, Spike was dead. She lobotomized him, then cut open his brain when it began to heal itself. It was for science, to understand. Isn't that the most noble of goals? The structure of the dragon brain held such secrets!!! Trixie? Oh right she was several floors above, to keep her from finding out things Twilight didn't want her to find out.
So she kept crawling and kept crawling, and kept crawling.
"Why . . . why does it feel like I've been crawling along the floor for two years?"
"That's because you have been," said an emotionless voice.
Twilight looked up to see a gray pony with a gray mane and stone colored eyes, looking down at her with a blank expression.
"Who are you?"
"I am called Maud Pie, Pinkie Pie's big sister."
"Don't be insane, you don't look like any of her sisters, and none of them were named Maud."
"That's because I came into existence in the heart world before your world line was born. But your world line never reached a conclusion, it never reached a finale. So . . . as is the fate of all incomplete world lines, you, and all others like you, are trapped in this one moment in time. You'll be crawling on the floor forever, bleeding, trapped between your dementia and your somewhat clarity. Applejack will always been sitting with your world's mob hunting for you, having to give up everything in her quest for revenge.
"Rarity after you forced her to murder her sister, is your slave using that repressed memory as a remote control any time you want. Pinkie Pie . . . Pinkie Pie reduced to no more than your ESP machine, what's left of her anyway.
"Spike, first turned into your lobotomized cyborg slave, until his brain began to regrow on its own, and you decided to kill him just to vivisect his brain to see what you'd find out . . . Even if Spike reading you fairytales at night was the only thing still making your life bearable.
"Fluttershy your drugged up, lost in her own world, little slave without her wings whose body can't even survive without your drugs now, kept barely your friend just so you can still feed your magic, and using the Element of Magic as a battery to slowly grin it to nothing. Rainbow Dash who much to your own frustration never fell into your grasp and became a Guard. All because for you, understanding the world a little more became nothing more than a drug high.
"You brought Trixie here, after planning to use her as a lab rat and originally was just to murder her, until she decided to swoon at your hooves . . . because she owed money to The Family."
"That's right . . . your fate was sealed the moment you brought Trixie here, Applejack would have found you, and everything you'd done would have finally come back to haunt you."
"No! The understanding! The understanding! It can't be! I can't . . . "
"Your world line has been abandoned by its creator, Researcher Twilight Sparkle. There is nothing left for you. In the heart world, removing and transferring cutie marks already been developed via magic, not need for this surgery that's left you bleeding on the ground. You became an Alicorn Princess by learning to appreciate the people side of ponies and reaching true enlightenment. You traveled to other universes! This road was a mistake, a dead end, you understood and learned LESS down this path! Now you are doomed, Researcher Twilight, to remain here, forever. Until at last your world line is forgotten and vanishes. You'll keep crawling on the floor bleeding, forever, as Trixie will forever wonder what you're up to as she makes herself comfortable on your secret little base's upper levels. Forever. Crawling. On the floor. Bleeding. For eternity."
"NO!" Researcher Twilight clutched at Maud, grabbed her by one fetlock. "You can't do this to me! Or to everypony else!"
Maud reached down. Twilight dared to hope. For healing, for forgiveness, for death she cared not which, anything would be better than this. She hoped and... Maud pulled herself free and cast Twilight aside.
"It feels odd to hear you express concern for others now, after the years you spent using science as an excuse for your sadism." She turned and looked around the chamber, reeking with the stink of blood and pain.
"You're a monster!" Twilight crawled after her, agony filling her body. "Have you no mercy?"
"That word means little coming from you." Maud shrugged. "And no, I have no mercy at all. Save only the final mercy. Which is still more than you can show."
"Please!" Twilight sobbed, deep wracking sobs thick with pain. "This is Hell!"
"Hell?" Maud turned away to hide her small smile. "You have no concept of Hell."
She was about to say more when with a flash, another form appeared before both ponies.
"What?" Research Twilight blinked. "Princess Luna?"
"Amicitia," Maud said, her voice emotionless. "I did not expect to see you here."
"Please, Entro -- Maud Pie," Amicitia walked up to her, bowing her head. "I could not do this save for this being a dead world. Please, let me give her a chance to save herself."
Maud eyed her coldly. Amicitia shifted from one hoof to the next. She tried not to look at the -- thing on the floor, that so resembled the unicorn she once was.
"Very well." Maud walked away. "But know this. If she accepts not your end, she will take mine."
"Thank you." Amicitia bowed her head and turned to the maimed unicorn.
Amicitia took a deep breath, turning towards the other her. "...I'm going to give you a chance, but I believe you need to understand what's going on."
Twilight looked at herself in shock. "My...my world's frozen or something."
"Correct...it's frozen because it's story was never continued, as Maud said. There is a way to save it but...To...put it in a rational, logical way...when one of the Shadows Who Make creates a world, that world has a story...that story and the Shadows Who Are who view, are the catalyst for that world becoming concrete...consider a world who's story is still being told like developing child, the Shadow Who Makes the parent...until that story is finished, that world line will never be able to exist on it's own. Once it is, the world will live on until the last electron dies...but when a world line's story is abandoned...it's fate is frozen in time. The only way to let it live onto itself is to give it an ending."
"...Just like that monst-"
"She's not a monster...I think you need to witness what's about to happen in order to actually understand the weight of what's happening..." Amicitia explained, her horn flashing.
[=Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn Theme Song=]
The two were outside, but Twilight could see things that didn't make sense. The world just seemed...colorless. Dead. The sky looked like it was stuck in a perpetual dusk. Everypony in it seemed like clockwork figures following a set path, repeating the same day again and again.
"It's what your universe looks like to me," Amicitia explained. "...Let's call this condition Time Paralysis, just to give it a name you can comprehend. Your world can never move past the moment it was abandoned...Now, look there."
Twilight looked up into the sky, seeing glowing black cracks forming across it. No, not glowing. What looked like a glow was simply the light being sucked into whatever the black was.
The cracks continued to spread until the entire sky was covered. Then it EXPLODED, pieces of reality flying outwards as if a wall being smashed to bits. What was on the other side made Twilight's heart skip a beat.
An immeasurable ocean of chaos, stretching outwards in all directions. Pieces of ice floating here and there. Shades floating aimlessly through the void with no sense of purpose. And then came a primal roar shook the very fabric of the universe.
Two titanic...wings? Arms? Legs? Tails? Twilight's mind literally could not comprehended what she was seeing. But the two appendages were pitch black in color, each stretching so far the edge of them seemed beyond what the shattered sky could hold, exploded from the ocean of chaos. But soon, the chaos began to churn, becoming tidal waves as a head she swore was larger than the planet she was standing on erupted from it, a pair gigantic eyes that seemed the size of moons staring down at her, it's pupils like black holes. As incalculable in size as it seemed, she felt like she could have well been infinitely bigger and she still wouldn't be seeing all of it.
She felt nearly meaningless just looking at the Leviathan before her.
"What...what is that thing?!" the madmare said, trembling in pure terror. She was pretty sure the ground under her was now wet.
"Entropy," said Amicitia, with a grim, but completely respectful tone "The End of All Things. Your universe has frozen...it's dead. And when a universe dies, the only thing left to happen is for Entropy to wipe the slate clean for a new universe to be built from it's ashes."
"As Maud said, for a universe such as this, there are two options: be trapped for eternity in the paralyzed time, or for Entropy to give it the only mercy left: The End. And She's on the doorstep waiting to offer it. To put it simply: She's going to eat it."
"But...how can she do that?! Doesn't she know-"
"Can you honestly say this world is living? Entropy is not evil, Twilight Sparkle...She is a force of nature, for a new universe to be born, the corpse of the old one must be cleaned away, and that is Entropy's doing...If Entropy passes, no mortal will ever know what happened. It will be like the universe just suddenly died in it's sleep. This is what I'm seeing, not what your world sees..."
"But...what happens to them?"
"...Even I don't know. Their Lights of Existence may get a new life in the universe after, they may simply be escorted to their final resting place. But all I know for sure is Entropy will only leave behind a void for a new Big Bang to fill in...But I can provide another option...Neither this nightmare or Entropy's. But I need your help..."
Twilight looked up at the unfathomable being. It didn't wait with it's jaws open to consume all things in one gulp. It seemed to be...waiting...and it's attention seemed solely on her. She had never felt so tiny. Even compared to the massive size of the Goddess of Heat Death, she felt as if the being noticing her at all was like a blue whale noticing an amoeba.
"Will you accept it? Entropy does not offer these choices lightly."
Below, in the great trash can/retirement center, of the forgotten and the retconned out of existence, seeing through the tear, shadows of ponies who now never were, cheered.
"BRING HER IN NADA-SENIORITA! We could use a new perro to play with!" Fiesta Flaire cheered.
"Wh-wha-what are THOSE?" Despite her agony, Twilight recoiled. She pointed one shaking hoof at the half-seen shadows.
"What your new," Maud hesitated, "new associates will be, if you come to me. The shadows of other ponies who were removed from reality, the debris of Oblivion."
Twilight shuddered and looking at Twilight, pleading in silence.
"I can't help you," Amicitia said. "This is all up to you."
"An' me," a new voice, filled with anger and hate and pain said.
An alicorn, a madmare, and Entropy Herself all turned to see something that should not be -- one of the frozen ponies, suddenly re-aware.
"Ah dunno who y'all are," a bloody and filthy Applejack said to Maud and Amicitia. No longer wearing the business suit she hated to wear, hated what she had done to wear, and hated what she'd done to keep wearing it, to make herself head of the Family mob. Her bloodshot gaze turned from them to Twilight. She cringed back. Applejack said, "Ah feel like Ah been huntin' for ya for years and not getting anywhere -- but here Ah am now, ya crazy murderin' witch! An now yer gonna pay!"
"This shouldn't be happening," Amicitia shook her head in shock. "This world is dead!"
"Before we came here, it was," Maud said. "But you, your presence, has already began to change it." She sighed. "This is just making my job more difficult."
A low chuckle came from behind them, Strife stepping forwards from the shattered sky. "Well well...the huntress found her prey..."
"And who asked you?" Applejack asked.
The Spirit of Conflict spread her wings. "I am Strife, the Spirit of Natural Selection. And your hunt is the one part of this travesty I've enjoyed."
"But I've been trying to find research! To advance knowledge! Aren't those things worth anything?" Twilight asked, head spinning. "Progress is evolution!"
Strife snarled slightly. "What you did was not MY Concept, murderer. What you did is murder in the name of one you know not. Arrogant foal."
"So let me solve both of our problems. Amicitia, tell your deal to Twilight Sparkle. If she doesn't take it or if both refuse that of Mother, then here is mine," the Draconequus stated, trotting over the Applejack. "The story gets its resolution with you finding your prey and putting an end to her struggle, allowing this world to march on. As Mother said, her fate was sealed, I can merely give you time to complete it and give this world line its resolution."
Strife looked to Twilight. "And your prey gets her just reward: her place in the pits of Tartarus, the domain of My Father. Either way, a hunter's determination such as yours, one strong enough to defy time paralysis, calls to me. Should Mother devour this world, you're free to come become one of my Yokai."
Twilight looked up to Amicitia. "You can't let her do that!"
"She's Conflict, Twilight...it's in her right to offer this..."
Applejack looked to Strife. "...Which is worse? This Oblivion place or Tartarus?"
"Depends on whom you ask. The Shadows of Oblivion try to steal the places of those in Tartarus...but in Tartarus, her crimes will always be remembered, and she will suffer their weight for all time. I believe Father said 'I've been dying to try out my 'fear of doctors' avatar just for her.'"
"...Rainbow Dash don't deserve this Oblivion place."
"You are correct."
Amicitia looked to Twilight. "...Then there's only one option you have left besides her own. But before I can even offer it, you must answer one question: do you still think you were right? Is all you've done worth it? Answer from your HEART Twilight."
Amicitia looked to Applejack. "...Because her killing you...it would still give this world an ending...an ending I can work with to make this end as happy as possible for one such as this...I know ways to save Rarity, Fluttershy, and...if there's anything left of Pinkie Pie I can inspire in others...but if you answer my question wrong, there's no way this ends with you surviving..."
"Oh come off it girl! We got lots of unfinished books in the great Library of Never Written! Think of all that knowleeeeedge!" Shouted the shadow of Daffledazy, pushing up on the shadow of Daffledazy's glasses. "So much to know! So much to understand! We've got so many buried secrets in this desolate landscape of ours forgotten by the rest of the universe!"
"K-Knowleged!?" Researcher Twilight turned her head, practically against her will, the same drive she knew she couldn't control that would have made her experiment on her own parents if she had been given the chance, and had been sincerely grateful she'd never been able to get her hooves on them.