Chapter Six - Distractions
“Let’s go. It’s time you fulfilled your end of our deal.”
Twilight galloped. She galloped with everything she had in her. She had no idea where she was galloping to, but it was all she could do. It tracked every teleport. Illusions proved useless. Barriers, meaningless. Offense, insignificant. Flight was the only option.
“I see all!”
That otherworldly voice pierced the forest Twilight had escaped into, proclaiming its superiority. The terrifying presence of its owner crept forward like a fog. It was playing with her, she knew, but what choice did she have but to keep on the move? So long as she kept its interest on this game of cat and mouse, she could survive.
“I know all!”
Twilight stumbled on a rotten log but recovered her stride with a well placed telekinetic push. Up ahead, she saw a clearing. Maybe that could save her if turned out to be the edge of the forest. Maybe she could outrun her pursuer on an open plain.
“I am all!”
The clearing did become wide, level ground as the trees thinned out with only a few scattered hills. The tall grass easily half her height at its shortest would get in the way, so Twilight incinerated a path through it in advance of her flight. She tried to weave her way between hills and met with significant success, but alas, the fastest way past one she quickly calculated to be over it. She lost time and ground there, yet after it there would be nothing but straight sailing.
As Twilight crested the hill, a dark blue figure crashed into her at an acute angle, no doubt fleeing the very same terror as she. They knocked each other to the ground with a grunt first from the collision and then another from the impact with the earth. The alicorn, as it happened, looked to be about a hoof or two taller than her and had a gorgeous mane of stars.
Twilight knew this alicorn’s identity at once. “Nightmare Mo–” Yet hadn’t Celestia described her sister as such and not the nightmare? “Luna?”
“You have the worst dreams, Twilight Sparkle.”
As much as she felt she should take offense, Twilight had to admit she’d not been having the best of luck getting restful sleep lately. Not that it really mattered right now with the pink one hot on her hooves. She wouldn’t be getting any sleep anytime soon.
A haunting giggle filled the air at a ghostly whisper. Both Twilight’s and Luna’s heads snapped back toward the forest to see a creeping mist approaching them. A small pink speck pronked forward from its depths, deceptive in its apparent playfulness.
In unspoken agreement, the pair fled together in the opposite direction.
Twilight awoke, fortunately, just before the dream Pinkie Pie captured herself and the dream Luna. She didn’t want to know what fate her subconscious had intended to throw at her. Nor did she wish to contemplate what it meant that she’d only been having nightmares lately. She usually didn’t sleep long enough to properly dream so she had no idea when this problem had truly started.
Really, it was Pinkie Pie’s fault. She knew who Twilight was now, thus eliminating the need to continue the masquerade around her. However, her persistent insistence on ‘sleeping properly’ because, and these were her own words, ‘her eyelashes were wiggling’ had worn Twilight down until she’d caved and agreed.
With a wide yawn, Twilight took a groggy glance at the clock in Pinkie Pie’s room. It looked like she had less than an hour before the Cakes would break for lunch. She rolled out of bed away from the balcony, arresting her momentum just before she hit the ground to set herself down gently. Lying there, she performed her daily magical ablutions – skipping the luxury of a shower or bath – to half of herself and then rolled over for the other half. She did consider doing it all in one go, but that sometimes interacted poorly with carpeting and ultimately require more work.
“Pinkie Pie,” Twilight moaned, “this was a bad idea.” When no answer came, she lazily lifted her head and looked around. “Pinkie? Where – oh, right. You have a job.”
Twilight clambered to her hooves, donned her saddle bags, got into character, and then finally moved to head downstairs. As she walked past Pinkie Pie’s mirror, she noticed her unkempt mane and took a moment to tie it into a braid before descending.
Walking up to the front counter instead of into the kitchens, Index addressed her host. “Cup Cake, what do you have in the way of sugar comas disguised as breakfast?”
“Oh, dearie, you look just terrible. Is there anything wrong with your bed? I know Pinkie likes to jump on it once in a while.”
“No, the bed is just fine” for something other than a cloud. Maybe she should drag one into Pinkie Pie’s room for her own use. “I just didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Well, I know just the thing for you. Carrot! Can you whip up a batch of zap apple muffins?”
Carrot Cake’s voice came back from the kitchens. “Sure as sugar is our business! I’ll have them ready in twenty minutes!”
Index’s ears betrayed her interest and perked up. “I didn’t know you could use zap apples to make anything but jam.”
“Oh, you’ll be in for a big surprise, then,” Cup Cake said with a hint of matronly mischief in her voice. “Why don’t you go ahead and take a seat. Would you like some coffee, tea, or something else?”
“I’d take some orange juice if you have it. Failing that, lemonade or water.”
“Sure thing. I’ll bring it out just as soon as I finish with the ponies behind you.”
Nodding, Index left the line and took a window seat overlooking the town market. It would seem that everypony’s daily business had started long ago. The square overflowed with ponies going to and fro with bags draped over their backs, hanging from their wings, or floating along nearby. As Sweetie Belle had put it, however, this was very much an earth pony town. At a very rough guess from what she could see right now and some lazy math, she estimated the adult pegasi population at around thirty with slightly more unicorns and a total population somewhere around a thousand.
“One cup of orange juice, as request,” Cup Cake said as she deposited the glass in question on Index’s table. “Need anything else?”
“Hmm, some sugar? I’m feeling really sluggish right now.”
“I already put a few cubes in. Why don’t you give it a try first.”
Index took a sip of her drink. “Yeah, that’s fine. Thanks for the thought.”
“You’re welcome,” Cup Cake said as she left to return to her post.
As she nursed her juice, Index returned to staring out the window as she planned her day. She had so much to do, so little time to do it, and she kept accruing more even though her time in Ponyville was supposed to have been the worst vacation ever. Instead, it just felt like business as usual.
What do I need to do today? There’s that Fluttershy mare that I completely forgot about yesterday after the stampede. Pinkie Pie said she lives on the outskirts of town near the Everfree, so I think I’ll save her for later. Hopefully that will go well. I just need to be understanding and patient.
Index frowned. Between Lyra and Pinkie Pie last night, she didn’t know how much patience she had left in her. It might be best to delay meeting Fluttershy if she found something else to do first.
What else? I need to get updates on the festival from Amethyst Star at some point. I can do that while wandering through town and asking ponies about Pinkie Pie. Maybe I can get some insight into her from the local gossip. Need to remember to research Pinkie Promises as well. I doubt anypony will find it odd if I ask around about either. Everypony at least seems to understand that she’s an anomaly.
On the subject of Pinkie Promises, I need to decide what to do about Lyra Heartstrings. Index buried her face in her hooves and let out a small, frustrated groan. A sea pony of all things. And a former archmage equivalent at that. What did I do to deserve that headache? At least she’s behaving. If the Pinkie Promise thing pans out, I should probably let her off with that for now until I can organize something more formal.
Ugh… Sugar… Index took a long sip of her delicious sugar water flavored with a hint of orange.
I need to follow up on Pinkie Pie’s ideas for bearers. That won’t be a fast process. How many can I do in a day? Especially starting this late in it. Cheerilee seemed decent enough. I should test her sometime. Bon Bon as well.
Hmm, I think I’ll push Bon Bon to near the top of the list. I need to touch up Lyra’s polymorph before it wears off if I don’t remove her suppressors.
I should probably check out the town in more detail while I’m investigating. I don’t really know anything about Ponyville.
“One order of zap apple muffins, hot out of the oven.”
Index jumped in place and got halfway to launching an offensive before she recalled where and who she was at the moment. She’d gotten so lost in her thoughts that, without her protective enchantments to warn her, Carrot Cake had managed to sneak up on her. He placed a plate with three muffins on it onto her table none the wiser to the hostile intent behind the glow of her snap-cast-happy horn. Beneath them, the napkin they rested on curled up on the sides and clung to the pastries with an ominously strong static cling. Indeed, she could hear a quiet electric crackle underneath the buzz of conversation in the bakery.
“Cup Cake tells me you’ve never had any zap apple delights before.”
“I’ve had the jam,” Index corrected.
“Ah, I figured you would have, coming from Canterlot. It’s rare outside of Ponyville, since it only grows near the Everfree and is a nightmare to harvest, but it usually makes its way up to the capital. Filthy Rich’s family first made its fortune selling it to the nobles.”
Index did her best to pay attention and not tune out the local trivia. She had, after all, literally just committed herself to learning more about Ponyville. “I’m not very familiar with the magics involved. Obviously, I was mistaken, but I thought zap apples were stable only in jam form.”
“Well, then you’d best eat your muffins before they vanish.”
“What?” It was too early in Index’s day for her food to walk out on her.
Carrot Cake winked.
“Oh. A joke. I see. How much do I owe you?”
“You’re a guest. It’s on the house so long as I get to watch you take your first bite. I love the first reactions.”
“Really? All right then.”
Her first nibble proved different than Index had expected. It was electrifying, of course, but that much had been obvious. What she’d not anticipated was the unique and amazing flavor it left behind. It was much like what she’d thought a rainbow would taste like before she’d gotten blasted into a vat of the stuff early in her career. Impassively, she held the muffin a centimeter away from her mouth. Then after a moment’s hesitation, she took a huge bite out of the remaining muffin and twitched as the discharge ran its way through her. “Honestly,” she began once she recovered, “I don’t know if the shock is good or bad. I’m certainly awake now, though.”
“I think you should talk to Big Mac out on Sweet Apple Acres. He’s the only other pony that’s reacted as calmly as you to our muffins. You might get along pretty well.”
Well, I suppose that’s another thing to do. Maybe not today, but sometime. We’ll see. Index nodded as she took another large bite with another twitch and then thanked Carrot Cake for the hospitality.
Oh, I wanted to meet the other two crusaders. Pinkie Pie’s stories made it sound like one of the group is a physics prodigy. Probably Apple Bloom. No surprise there that she hasn’t gotten her cutie mark yet. All she likely needs to do is take a step back to appreciate all of the projects she’s worked on. Abstract cutie marks are such a pain. Well worth it – Twilight wouldn’t trade hers for anything – but still a pain. I wonder what the third one brings to the table. The Crusaders are all really old to be blank flanks, so she’s probably in the same boat.
Now that I think about it, Flurry Heart is still a blank flank too, and she’s nine. Then a nightmarish vision of the future came to mind. Oh, no way. Not happening. Flurry Heart and Spike do not need to meet the Crusaders.
Anyway, I can meet Apple Bloom when I talk to that Big Mac character. They’re both low priority tasks.
Index polished off the last of her breakfast and downed what remained of her juice. She couldn’t think of anything else that she needed to do right now, so she rose to her hooves and set out to meet the day.
I need a notebook and a quill. I have research to do!
Ocellus felt the gentle nudge from her mother and queen in the hive mind to go about the task assigned to her. It was simple in nature, but she still wished she could have passed this off to someling else. What if she had the wrong pony? What if she didn’t? The archmage was not exactly the easiest pony to interact with. All she had to do was speak for her mother, which was all someling her age was really good for, yet–
Another mental push, this time a little more insistent and firm if still affectionate, came through the hive mind. Ocellus sighed and stepped toward the new pony in town who went by Index Code. When she finished speaking to another pony, her already heavy frown deepening, Ocellus saw her chance.
“Um, excuse me?”
Index Code turned her weighty gaze down upon Ocellus’s small pony form. There could be no question. This mare was indeed the archmage in disguise. “Yes?” she said simply before turning her eyes back upon the notebook floating in her magic.
“Her Majesty wishes to speak with you.”
Eyes alight with recognition, Index turned and ushered them both to a shady spot nearby where she cast a few minor spells. Ocellus didn’t recognize them, as her magical studies had only recently truly begun, but she expected they were to ensure their privacy.
Rather briskly, the archmage asked, “What is it?”
“Just repeat after me,” Chrysalis said encouragingly.
And so Ocellus did, if perhaps not with the same force of personality as her mother. “‘I’ve spoken with your princess. There are a few things you should know. The first and most important is that she all but declared you the head of state to me.’”
The archmage muttered something too quiet to parse.
“‘As such,’” Ocellus continued for her mother, “‘I’ll be dealing directly with you from now on. At least until after the solstice.’”
“Understood,” the archmage bit out.
Before the conversation between giants could continue, Ocellus, perhaps unwisely, broke from her role and asked, “Are you all right?”
The archmage’s expression twisted into one of befuddlement for a few seconds. “Oh,” she said. “Not Chrysalis.” After performing some strange breathing technique which had a remarkably calming effect upon her emotions, she said, “Yes. These last few days have just been…rough. May we continue?”
“Oh, yes, I’ll, uh, just…be quiet now. Sorry.”
To Ocellus’s relief, no reprimand came from either side of the conversation. All she felt over the hive mind was indulgent patience for a nymph out on her own, relatively speaking, in the world for the first time. It soon passed, however, and Chrysalis resumed speaking – with intent to mortify her, it seemed.
“‘You’ll have to forgive my heiress for the faux pas,’” Ocellus managed to repeat with not a little difficulty. “‘She’s young and inexperienced.’”
The archmage quirked an eyebrow at Ocellus. “Understandable,” she said. “And am I not here to make friends? It seemed an appropriate question to ask.” She looked fully at Ocellus rather than through her to Chrysalis on the other end of the hive mind. “She and I will have to converse some other time.”
“‘So long as you don’t drag her into your business with the Elements, feel free. It’ll be good for her.’”
“Perhaps a play date with Spike?” the archmage suggested.
Ocellus cursed her current pony form for allowing her to blush. Her mother found all this amusing, of course, as it seemed to be a universal trait amongst every species for parents to embarrass their children. It was a mercy, then, that when she put her hoof down, Chrysalis continued the conversation proper.
“‘Princess Celestia has requested that I fill in for the more practical aspects of your position while you’re away.’”
“That’s fine,” the archmage said, unconcerned in the least. “You may wish to coordinate with Moon Dancer, but I have no objections.”
“‘She’s specifically asked for me to discover Sunset Shimmer’s location.’”
That caught the archmage off guard. “Why?”
“‘My impression is that she’s looking for closure. It may also be that their infamous falling out had higher stakes than anyone knows.’”
The archmage said nothing for the longest time with a pensive, ruthful expression upon her face. “Don’t tell her anything,” she finally replied, now looking as weary as any mare Ocellus had ever seen and radiating emotions to match. “I’ll resolve the matter one way or another myself.”
“‘As you wish. I’ll leave you be, then, to return to discovering the power of friendship.’”
Chrysalis’s attention retreated from Ocellus in the hive mind while, in the physical world, the archmage snorted, not quite indignant but also distinctly unamused.
Not sure exactly what to do now, Ocellus said, “She’s gone, but if – well, I could bring her back if you want.”
The archmage waved a hoof dismissively. “No need.” She looked down at her notebook, then out to the market, and then her gaze returned back to Ocellus. “So, Princess of the Hive, eh?”
Ocellus nodded, slipped into short bob appropriate for what was the de facto Princess of Equestria as far as the hive was concerned, and formally introduced herself as she’d been taught. “My name is Princess Ocellus, Your Excellency. It’s a pleasure to meet the mare who mediated between Princess Celestia and our hive.”
“Twilight Sparkle,” the archmage replied. “I have more titles than I care for or bother to remember. Welcome to Equestria.”
It was the greater part of a decade too late for that, but Ocellus took it in the spirit with which it was meant.
“By the way, Chrysalis and I may have been teasing, but if you want to head to Canterlot to play with my son, feel free.”
That came as something of a surprise. The archmage was notoriously protective of her family.
“He gets on well with everyone,” the archmage continued. “I have no idea how I managed to raise such a mild-mannered young dragon, but there you go. Just be aware we don’t stand on formality behind closed doors when not acting in our official capacities. And sometimes even then.”
Ocellus considered the offer. She did want to see more of the world now that her mother was willing to give her a little autonomy. It would be nice to meet some people outside the hive, too. Perhaps she would take the opportunity and fly north up to Canterlot.
Index had promptly returned to work after her unscheduled meeting with Chrysalis, looking for a distraction, and a distraction she had found. She’d just finished another round of questioning and, secretly, checking her informant’s memories for signs of tampering. As with everypony before him, there were none.
I refuse to accept this. This is too much, even for Pinkie Pie. There has to be some simpler, unifying explanation.
The only possible explanation had to be a massive prank the entire village played on poor unsuspecting visitors. It had to be.
Pinkie Promises? Sure. I have a general idea how those could work. They’re not completely outside the bounds of reality as I know it.
Flipping through her notes at unnatural speeds, desperately searching for some glaring inconsistency in the stories she’d gathered, Index drew a lot of attention that she’d been trying to avoid upon herself. It didn’t help that she was lying on a public bench on her back with her head in her arms while using a scrying spell to read. Soon enough, she had no choice but to admit defeat.
I can’t deny it no matter how much I wish I could. All of the stories are consistent with each other. This is either the most elaborate joke in history or Pinkie Pie legitimately has precognition.
The worst part was with everything Index had seen Pinkie Pie do already, part of her brain wanted to carelessly log the ability to see the future under the same category and get on with her life. It was only Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie, after all. Did that mean she also had the power to make herself seem mundane?
It’s like somepony just randomly threw abilities onto her and sat back with a bowl of popcorn to watch the chaos.
Index set her notebook on the ground and brought out the Royal Breathing Exercises. She felt a rant coming on and wanted to head it off early before she completely lost it. When she rolled over to have room to do so, however, she discovered a simple fact she’d forgotten: benches were narrow.
The fall, while embarrassing, had at least reset her brain. Index lay unmoving for a minute to revel in the mild but distracting pain, exploring the sensation with an idle curiosity. Eventually, she grew bored, resigned herself to returning to work, and got to her hooves.
“Excuse me. Are you Index Code, the festival overseer?” The mare who’d spoken in a distinctly Canterlot accent was a unicorn somewhere in her twenties with a pure white coat and a purple mane and tail which could only be described as fabulous. Before Index could reply, she continued, “Oh, darling, you look terrible! Your eyes are all bloodshot, and your mane is a mess. Just look at all those split ends poking out of your braid. Ugh, and is that dirt on your coat? What happened?”
“Nothing. Just…” Not really wanting to get into everything with a stranger, especially one from out of town, Index dropped the subject. “What was it that you wanted? Did something come up with the celebration?”
“Hmm? Oh, no, not that. I am Rarity, Sweetie Belle’s elder sister.”
Oh, fantastic. Social climbers were, in many ways, more frustrating to deal with than the nobility. Index would withhold judgment for the moment out of respect for Sweetie Belle, but from what little she knew, this Rarity had all the warning signs.
“She told me how you saved her life yesterday,” Rarity continued, “and I knew right then that I simply must thank you for what you did.”
Although wary of Rarity’s true intentions with the offer, Index replied, “You’re welcome. I would say it was nothing, but I could really use a pick-me-up right now. What did you have in mind?”
“I was just on my way to the Ponyville Day Spa. Join me? My treat. No offense, darling, but you look like you would benefit from a little pampering.”
That sounded like a huge waste of time which Index simply couldn’t turn down. But the words that actually left her mouth were, “There’s a day spa in Ponyville?”
“Well, of course there is. Let me lead you there.” Rarity set off toward the center of Ponyville with Index following a step behind. “Where would this town be without a wonderful spa? Aloe and Lotus Blossom are the best masseuses outside of Canterlot. All those farmers would be a dreadful mess of tense muscles, dry hooves, and ghastly manes if their services were not available.”
“Right…” Perhaps this was just another idiosyncrasy of Ponyville Index just had to accept. “Wait. Is that a bowling alley? And an Equestria Games regulation high dive? That doesn’t make any sense. This is a farming village, isn’t it?”
“Yes, dear, but you see, both were a favorite past time of Granny Smith back in her youth, and the sports followed her here. She’s had a lot of influence over Ponyville as one of its principle founders. It also helps that she’s been the head of the Apple family for the longest time. All manner of odd things have sprouted up around her interests over the decades.”
“I guess that makes–” A far more inconceivable sight caught Index’s eye. “Why!” What idiot thought a shop dedicated exclusively to selling quills and sofas made for a cohesive business model?
Rarity followed Index’s gaze before adopting a somewhat sheepish expression. “Yes, well, I have no explanation for that one. But it’s not as though there’s any shortage of demand.” She looked back at Index as they passed by yet another odd store. “Not going to comment on Mr Breezy’s Fan Shoppe?”
“No. I already know the explanation for that one.”
Nonplussed, Rarity had no response to that.
“That was a lie, of course. This town is an endless source of madness.”
Rarity chuckled, seemingly not offended by the comment. Whether that be because she had the self-awareness to recognize the truth or no longer – or never had – considered this her home, who knew?
Regardless, the pair arrived at the day spa. It seemed to require an appointment for service, but Rarity performed some social magic to convince the receptionist to admit Index as well on her reservation.
As it was her first visit to a spa, Index had only a vague idea of what to expect. But between the massage, the hooficure, and the mud bath, she was beginning to think this was going to become a more frequent part of her life. There were times in the midst of her research when she could get a few contiguous hours where she could work purely from her thoughts with maybe just a bit of magic thrown in here or there.
Rarity tossed some water onto the sauna rocks. Once the hissing died down, now that they finally had a bit of privacy, she said, “Sweetie Belle tells me you work directly under the archmage.”
It begins. As there was little use in denying it, Index said, “Is that all she told you?” If Rarity pressed too hard for whatever she was after, Index would simply shut her down, leave, and hope Sweetie Belle didn’t take too much offense when her sister got blacklisted.
“Well, no. There were one or two other tiny details involved. I’m sure you already know how excitable she can be. It was…an ordeal to get her into bed last night.”
Index chuckled at that. She remembered those days. More often than not, Spike would…
It was then that Index recalled that Sweetie Belle had specifically used the term ‘guardians’ instead of parents. She eyed Rarity with a hint of cautious respect as she reevaluated what little she knew about the mare with this new piece of information.
“Anyway, you simply must tell me all about the castle. I hear it’s a marvelous work of architecture with some of the most exquisite art in the world.”
“I…suppose there’s some truth to that,” Index began hesitantly. “For the architecture, at least, especially at night. I don’t have the best eye for such things, but there’s something elegant about how it hangs from the mountain and the way water flows around it. There’s no magic involved, just engineering bedazzlement.
“Personally, I’m more impressed with the rest of the city. I don’t know what possessed Princess Celestia to build her capital on a mountainside, but the original settlers did a fantastic job getting it to spiral with the mountain face without making the streets steep or using too many stairs. Although…I do recall losing my favorite ball when I was two. It just rolled away, never to return. I spent the rest of the day inconsolable.”
Rarity hummed as she processed Index’s response. “I cannot say I quite understand your point of view,” she ultimately replied. “But if you said that to Apple Bloom, you would probably have a new best friend. I honestly don’t know how that filly has yet to acquire a cutie mark in some field of engineering.”
“It’ll happen eventually. She just needs some perspective or maybe a proper challenge to spark the process. Much like your little sister with magic.”
“Yes,” Rarity said uneasily. “I’ll be proud of her, of course, but at the same time, I’m not looking forward to that moment. She and her friends already cause enough trouble as it is. I dread to imagine what mischief they’ll engage in once they have a bit of focus.”
“My condolences,” Index said, not quite able to hide the laughter in her voice.
“Yes, thank you,” Rarity flatly replied. “But never mind my drama. Tell me, have you ever been to the gala?”
Had Index ever been to the Grand Galloping Gala? No, not once. But Twilight? Oh, she most certainly had. “Urgh, don’t remind me. My friend drags me there every year. She has to attend, and according to her, if she has to suffer through it, then so do I.”
“What? But the gala is the premier event in Canterlot! The society, the culture, the glamour!”
“The unqualified boredom.” Twilight snorted and then threw more water onto the sauna rocks. “Perhaps its different if you’re there to network. Me? I stand around and greet ponies I hate while I pretend to pay attention to the few words we exchange before the next arrives. Wash, rinse, and repeat the entire night.”
“That does sound rather dreary,” Rarity admitted. “I design ensembles for the gala every year, but I’ve never been myself. Perhaps you recall one of Fleur de Lis’s dresses over the past few years?”
“Fashion isn’t really my thing.”
When she was young and innocent, Twilight had presented herself at such events in all the formal attire expected of her. But as the years dragged on, she’d stopped caring entirely, opting instead to merely wear the regalia associated with her office. Who had she ever really been trying to impress, anyway? Society? Not a chance. A romantic prospect? She had a fair amount of evidence suggesting she was asexual. Celestia? She’d already won her mentor’s respect a thousand times over for far more substantial reasons than physical beauty.
“I don’t know. Have you made anything for Octavia Melody? I bump into her fairly often.”
“Darling,” Rarity said, drawing the word out, “I created her entire wardrobe.”
“Really?” Although only vaguely, Twilight did recall Celestia commenting positively just between the two of them on one of Octavia’s dresses. It was such a rare event that it’d stuck in her memory, and she knew Celestia had a discerning eye for, well, everything. “Do you make more than dresses?”
Rarity’s eyes were already alight. “What did you have in mind?”
For years now, Twilight had meant to make a few magical artifacts of her own design. She in particular wanted a combat robe she could throw on if caught flat-hoofed. It would only rarely address the specific threats she faced, but it could cover all of the common avenues of attack and had the distinct advantage of being undispellable. Artifacts had to be actively suppressed in a continuous process, starved of ambient magic, or outright destroyed to end their effects. All that had really stopped her from making it had been an ever present lack of time, but now a pony she could potentially outsource to had waltzed right into her life.
“Have you ever worked with thaumic thread?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what that is,” Rarity replied with some chagrin. To be fair to her, however, Equestria had only rediscovered the rather niche material in the last couple decades. “Oh, but I do love a challenge. Do go on.”
“Well, in short, you literally weave enchantments.”
Rarity shot upright from where she’d lain. A gasp slipped past her lips, and then she sang, “Idea!” Somepony was passionate about her work, it seemed. “Oh, where is my sketchpad when I need it?”
Although she rolled her eyes, Twilight obliged and pulled a blank notebook with a pencil from her subspace storage. Just in case, she also zapped it with a waterproofing enchantment. Rarity accepted the materials without question and immediately set to work on whatever designs had popped into her head.
“You may wish to wait a moment,” Twilight cautioned.
“Darling, inspiration waits for nopony.”
Twilight couldn’t resist another roll of her eyes. Was that what she was like when she got into one of her own moods? Surely not.
“But do continue,” Rarity insisted. “I’m listening.”
“Right, well, thaumic thread is made from solidified magic. It’s extremely expensive and, if mishandled, extraordinarily dangerous. Once the basic form is set, it’s my understanding that the fabrics must then undergo a special treatment to turn it from a deathtrap into a proper magical artifact. There’s a similar, more established process in metallurgy which you might want to look into. The Royal Guard uses it to make their armor.”
Rarity’s hum came off rather dismissively. “If this process works as I suspect, a rigid form would be much easier to work with, especially with a durability spell to prevent damage. The enchantments in my weave would have to adapt to the changing shape of the cloth. I imagine that requires spatial magic sewn into the final product. I’ve never had the knack for it with a horn, but no matter. I can stitch any pattern, or my name isn’t Rarity.”
“I can provide the spellwork required. Do you know how to read spell diagrams?”
“No,” Rarity admitted, “but Sweetie Belle does. I can borrow whatever book she learned from.”
Twilight’s eyebrows rose in some surprise. She’d thought to give that to Sweetie Belle as her next assignment to open every serious magical text to her perusal, but it seemed something else would be in order. But that would keep until later.
“I can also provide the thread. And some extra to experiment with, of course.” The main cost in the material’s production, as Twilight understood it, was the sheer raw magic required. She had no lack of it herself, and she also had Magic. At worst, it’d be an afternoon project to produce the necessary supplies. “Do you want the job?”
Aghast at the question, Rarity echoed, “Do I want the job?” She rose to her hooves and struck a dramatic pose. “Darling, this is the opportunity of a lifetime! Magic dresses! The very notion! I’d never even considered it. Oh, I simply cannot wait to turn my imaginings into reality!”
It was hard to argue with the eager. “I’ll try to get the spells and thread to you by the next moon. What were you thinking in terms of price?”
“Price?” Clearly, the thought had never occurred to Rarity. “Oh, yes. Give my parents a talking-to for me, and we’ll call it even.”
That…doesn’t seem even remotely fair? “I’m not sure I understand.” That said, Twilight did wonder exactly what the family dynamic was in Sweetie Belle’s life. The more she learned, the more complicated it seemed to become.
As Rarity retook her seat and relaxed once more, she let out a long sigh. “It’s…complicated,” she said, a fitting description. While she considered how to proceed, she added more steam to the sauna. “My parents leave my sister in my care often enough that I make most day-to-day decisions regarding her upbringing. Suffice it to say, the three of us have had some…disagreements. My lack of formal custody prevents me forcing the matter or even having an equal vote, and the idea of dragging the entire family through the courts is…”
“An unpleasant necessity you keep talking yourself out of?”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that,” Rarity said with an unease which belied her words.
While Twilight didn’t consider this exchange of favors a proper business transaction, she was certainly invested enough in Sweetie Belle to hear Rarity out. They could discuss payment for services to be rendered some other time. “What precisely is the nature of your disagreement?”
“It’s Sweetie Belle’s education. She deserves better than what Ponyville can offer her.”
“I’ve had the very same thought myself.”
“Oh, I’m so glad you agree,” Rarity said excitedly. “My parents don’t want her to be away from her friends and family. I volunteered to stay with her, of course. Canterlot would be ideal for both of us, to be perfectly honest, but I can move my primary place of business anywhere in Equestria. Apparently, that’s not enough for some ponies.”
“It does sound somewhat hypocritical. And you want me to…scold them?”
“I know what I’m asking is rather uncouth, but somepony of your position? Why, they’d just have to listen.”
Meddling in family affairs was never pleasant. Not that Twilight expected to need to be as heavy-hoofed with Sweetie Belle’s parents as with Cadance’s, but she had none of Celestia’s social grace. Maybe she could pull Cadance from Canterlot and just stand in the background with a disapproving glower. Calling in Celestia would be overkill in a bad way, she was sure.
“I don’t know, Rarity. I’m willing to try, but you might be taking the wrong approach here. At best, I can tell them things they, I assume, already know. At worst, I can show up in full regalia and cow them into submission.”
“If it takes a little intimidation, I…” As Rarity trailed off, she peered at Twilight with a scrutinizing gaze. “Do forgive me, dear, but I never asked. What exact position do you hold?”
Well, that question came out of no…where… Wait. What titles have true regalia again?
“Oh, ho!” Rarity smirked. “I smell a secret.”
Horseapples! How long had Twilight forgotten to stay in character? How many things had she let slip?
Heedless to Twilight’s internal panic, Rarity continued on with her ruminations. “Surely you’re not the princess or the archmage in disguise. They’re much too busy for this sort of small-scale intrigue. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza isn’t a unicorn, and you clearly have magic. Certainly not her parents, and last I heard, her husband was still in Canterlot. Perhaps somepony from Prince Blueblood’s line? No, they’re well accounted for with his birthday soirée approaching. Perhaps one of our ambassadors due to return home–”
“Rarity, what does it matter?”
“What does it matter? Why, darling, intrigue is the spice of life! Oh, but do rest assured, I’ll keep this to myself. There’s no fun in a secret exposed.”
Twilight heaved an exasperated sigh. I suppose she’s not likely to reveal me after what I’ve done for her sister. “Fine. But not a word to anypony not in the know, Sweetie Belle included.”
In a surprising move, Rarity voluntarily underwent a Pinkie Promise without prompting. It was then, to Twilight’s immense frustration, when she felt no particular stirring of magic upon its invocation. She had too many stories of it being a legitimate phenomenon to ignore completely, yet at the same time, she now had no idea how it worked – if it worked as advertised. Perhaps Pinkie Pie had managed to inflate her reputation beyond her actual abilities through some clever manipulations. It didn’t seem her style – or even like something she had the mental capacity for – but perhaps that was part of the ruse.
For the moment, Twilight pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. Science could wait. She had a dramatic reveal to deal with which she hoped to keep as undramatic as possible despite her audience’s obvious penchant for drama.
“You were a little quick to dismiss me from consideration. Honestly, other than Celestia, who else would you expect to be able to tutor Sweetie Belle? My brother?” Twilight scoffed. “He’d never make a convincing mare. The whole village would know within an hour.”
It took less than a second for Rarity to connect the dots. “Your Excellency!” As she scrambled to her hooves in a near panic to bow, she continued, “I apologise for my sister’s behavior and for my informality.”
Twilight cut Rarity off with a hoof. “Don’t. I’m here to get away from all that while I work.”
Although hesitant at first, Rarity acceded to the request. “If you insist.” And then the other shoe dropped. “Oh, Sweetie Belle will be so excited! She simply adores you, you know. You will tell her eventually, won’t you?”
“Most likely, yes.” It would depend on a few factors. How much did Twilight want to emulate her own mysterious first mentor? How would Sweetie Belle respond to Index disappearing without a trace? Would the likely inevitable search benefit her? Would it be safer for her not to know if Celestia lost? While Twilight was inclined to reveal her identity at some future point, she would need to think about it a little more.
Twilight rose to her hooves. “I should get going.” It would probably be best to let Rarity ride out her initial surprise and excitement on her own. “This was my first time at a spa, and I rather enjoyed it. You have my thanks for that. I imagine we’ll see each other again soon.”
“Hmm, the mayor is one busy little bee, isn’t she?” The new dossier in Index’s magic had substantially more details of the coming festival decided upon over only the past day. Most appeared minor and tedious at a glance but ultimately essential. “Is it fine if I stop by every day for a new copy?”
Amethyst Star, nodding with a bit of a laugh, said, “It’s no problem at all. Would you like another seven or eight copies? The mayor is pedantic about her paperwork. Everything is filed in triplicate and ready to duplicate at a moment’s notice. We keep one copy here, send one out of town to a secret storage facility, and lock a third underground at another site in Ponyville in case of fire or monster attack.”
Index quirked an eyebrow. “I guess I can’t fault her for having her priorities in order, but one is plenty for me, thank you. Give me the highlights?”
“There’s not much to tell. Fluttershy says her animal friends’ choir has agreed to participate in the festival. She’ll supposedly be conducting them as usual, but I’m a bit worried she may bolt or not even show up.”
Index cocked her head to the side and asked why.
“She’s terribly shy. Hence the name, I suppose. She has a few friends here and there but otherwise likes to stay out of sight. The last time a large group came through town, we didn’t see her until two days after they left.”
Well, good I know that in advance. I suppose that means I need to get one of her friends to come with me if I want to meet her. Pinkie Pie should work fine for that. It did occur to Index to wonder how that hyperactive pony hadn’t given Fluttershy a heart attack when initially befriending her. “Anything else?”
Amethyst Star shrugged. “Only if you find weather management interesting. Can’t stand the work myself. Dash finally got around to finalizing the weather schedule up to the festival. We’ll have a bunch of extra light showers and a heavier storm before then to compensate for a week of pure spring sunshine.”
With that, Index and Amethyst Star said their goodbyes. On her way past the mayor’s office out of town hall, Index noticed a line of ponies who looked like out-of-towners awaiting for an audition standing outside it. As I said, one busy little bee.
When Index stepped outside, she saw Pinkie Pie prancing across the square. She heard the mare wish each pony she passed a happy birthday in an arbitrary number of days, all of which were apparently correct judging by the positive responses from the ponies in question. What a strange pony.
Suddenly, Pinkie Pie’s tail started twitching in a manner oddly reminiscent of how she’d vibrated the last morning. Index knew at once what lay before her. A chance to observe the Pinkie Sense! She pulled out her notes on the pink enigma and started recording what occurred.
First, the more observant ponies in the area bolted away from Pinkie Pie as quickly as they could, some seeking shelter under buildings and some simply heading for the hills.
Second, the less observant ponies, after being shoved and jostled out of the way, picked up on the message and joined the first group in their flight.
Third, Pinkie Pie herself ducked under a nearby bench and covered her head with a novelty umbrella hat which she had, for lack of a more discernible origin, congealed from the aether when Index blinked.
Only moments later, the sound of something shattering carried through the air.
Index’s quill paused in its faithful labor. It may not have been the sound of Index’s world view breaking, but it certainly was confirmation that it had broken.
Shuffling that thought to the back of her mind as quickly as she could, Index returned to recording her observations. Denial, frustration, and likely some philosophical dread could come later. Looking toward where the sound had originated, she spotted a broken flowerpot a few houses down from where Pinkie Pie had taken cover.
While Index logged her findings, Pinkie Pie and the rest of the crowd returned to their normal business. This event worthy of hundreds of academic papers was, for them, nothing new nor unexpected. It was just part of their view of the world, something no less mundane than gravity.
Index slipped back inside town hall. Once she verified that there was nopony in the lobby, she concealed her presence from eyes, ears, nose, and horn with a few advanced spells. It was imperative she be allowed to observe her specimen in its natural habitat without notice – assuming Pinkie Pie didn’t have a Pinkie Sense to tell her when she was being followed. A pair of gossamer wings sprouted from Index’s back. They were fragile, but they would suffice to allow her to trail her subject undisturbed. She just needed to avoid bumping into pegasi to remain hidden.
Quill once more at the ready, Index stepped back outside, located Pinkie Pie, and set after her through the air for science.
On the outskirts of Ponyville was a cloud, and not just any cloud, but the Cloudominium. This was a massive structure built by and built for the most awesome pony in Equestria. Four stories high with rainbow accents in both liquid and vapor form and Cloudsdale architecture, only the best of the best could live there. Once, the Cloudominium had stayed closer to the ground. Ponyville’s postal service had refused to rent Cherry Berry’s hot air balloon solely to deliver mail to it or to provide other special accommodations. But ever since Derpy, their first pegasus postmare, had joined the service, it had soared unfettered high in the sky, far out of the reach of anything without wings, as the one and only cloud home in town.
Scootaloo pulled along a partially solidified cloud tethered to her magic to an advantageous position a few hundred meters removed from her idol’s residence. Upon it rested a bucket of water to be used for construction purposes. After every visit, Rainbow Dash cleared away the stairs she made to force her to practice her weather magic. It was annoying that her mentor continued to do so even now, but she couldn’t argue with the results. She’d mastered the art of cloud control far beyond what most pegasi were capable of under Rainbow Dash’s instruction.
Looking up and shielding her eyes from the sun, Scootaloo eyed the angle between her position and the Cloudominium. She judged herself to be in a decent position, neither steep enough to make for a difficult ascent nor so gentle that she’d run out of building material. As such, she started evaporating the water in her bucket and latched onto the vapor with her magic. She then waited until she felt she had an acceptable surplus as a safety net. It was, by this point, something she did on instinct. Rainbow Dash’s first rule of being awesome was to make sure that being not awesome, however unlikely, didn’t prevent you from being awesome in the future. She’d had that unbreakable law drilled into her head for years.
In all honesty, Scootaloo thought it’d mostly been for her friends’ benefit. She tended to be the one who kept the Crusaders from getting themselves killed. Apple Bloom could get carried away in their projects if left unchecked, and while Sweetie Belle was there to patch them up afterward and even sometimes bail them out in emergencies, she had little restraint when she got lost in her magic.
Now ready for the climb, Scootaloo took a step forward. A cloud leapt into being beneath her hoof, forming the first stair to the Cloudominium. She continued on this way up into the sky, tugging her bucket along to provide more water vapor as she went. It was so easy and natural these days, she could do it in her sleep.
Once Scootaloo reached her destination, a trail of tiny clouds dotted the sky behind her back to the ground. She left the cloud carrying her bucket behind and approached Rainbow Dash’s front door, whereupon she knocked. A minute passed, after which it opened to reveal the mare in question.
“Hey, Squirt. You’re early.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’ve got news.”
Rainbow Dash stepped aside. Scootaloo entered, found her usual spot, and grabbed a few sweets already set out for her.
“So what’s the news?” Rainbow Dash asked as she sat down across from Scootaloo.
“Get this. There’s a new pony in town who thinks she’s cooler than you.”
With a single beat of her wings, Rainbow Dash leapt to her hooves and said, “What! Who is this pony?”
“It’s that festival mare, Index Code. She came in and saved Sweetie Belle during that stampede, and now Sweetie Belle thinks she’s the best pony ever. I’d bet that the ponies that witnessed it think so, too.”
“Rescuing ponies is my job! I mean, it’s great Sweets is fine and all, but I gotta defend my turf. What does she look like?”
Scootaloo hadn’t gotten the best look at the mare, but she cast her mind back to the stampede. “Roughly your age, maybe a little younger. Light-yellow. White mane and tail. I think it was in a braid.”
The description made Rainbow Dash pale.
“It’s nothing,” Rainbow Dash hastily denied. “I guess I can’t be everywhere in town at once. Maybe I should think about getting a sidekick.”
“Hey! What about me?”
“I’d say you’re more of a protégé or a little sister.”
Scootaloo flushed and looked away. “W-well, I guess that’s fine too.”
“Anyway, you were right to bring this to my attention, Squirt. I’ll have to check out what’s going on tomorrow.”
“Nah. We’ve still got your lessons to take care of. I was thinking we’d go long today and eat out together when we’re done. We can go ahead and start if you’re ready.”
“Let’s do this!” Scootaloo set down the remains of her snack and hopped up from her seat with a happy buzz of her wings.
The pair of pegasi left for the collection of clouds the Cloudominium called a lawn. Rainbow Dash separated a small section of it around them and then, with practiced ease, commanded the platform to ascend further into the sky. They only stopped climbing when Ponyville below looked like an ant colony.
“You doing okay, Squirt?”
“No problem!” There had been a time not so very long ago when the chill of even mild heights would nip at her, but no longer.
“Awesome. Then in that case we’ll skip the basics and start work on the really cool stuff. How have you been doing with cloud condensation?”
“I’m still not fast enough for cloud hopping without a water source nearby, but I’m fast enough to keep myself from crashing into the ground. Usually.” One of the few things about being a pegasus which Scootaloo had always been able to take for granted was the lower density and crash resistance, but long falls still hurt.
Rainbow Dash hummed thoughtfully as she tapped a hoof to her jaw. “Keep working on that on your own for now, then. Cloud hopping looks really, really sweet when you get it down. We just need to keep building your magic up. For now, let’s work on your skating. You know what to do.”
Scootaloo focused her magic around her hooves, attracting some of the cloud around them into four fluffy balls which attached to her. Plucking her new skates out of the rest of the cloud, she took a step with each hoof into the air. She stayed fixed in place there, beaming.
“Not bad, Squirt. You’re getting a lot faster at that. Way better than you used to be, that’s for sure.” Rainbow Dash hopped into the air with a little assistance from her wings. Clouds appeared at her hooves, all four taking a much more stylish winged appearance than Scootaloo’s simple spheres. “You’ve gotten walking down reasonably well, so today we’re going to try proper skating. I suppose it’s more like running if you want to get technical, but you’d be smart to take a few cues from your accomplice. Now watch closely, because if you mess up your form, there’s no telling where you’re going to end up.”
A few minutes passed as Scootaloo watched Rainbow Dash’s legs intently. They lazily moved back and forth in a sweeping motion like a cross between a trot and the way Sweetie Belle skated. While Rainbow Dash traced circles around her, she made a few cautious movements and started forward slowly. Unlike the cloud walking she’d already learned, which required her to do nothing more than move normally, this was a smooth, flowing motion. When she made a mistake, instead of a jerky stop, she was sent flailing about with her limbs pulling her in every which way until Rainbow Dash stabilized her.
“Pretty decent for a first timer,” Rainbow Dash said. “Your goal right now should be to learn to keep your balance. Speed can come after that. If you completely wipe out, I’ll catch you, so just do your thing. You’ll probably be ready to start practicing on your own in a couple weeks, but until then, first rule of being awesome.”
“Make sure that being not awesome, however unlikely, doesn’t prevent me from being awesome in the future,” Scootaloo quoted flatly. “I won’t try this without supervision. Promise.”
Scootaloo started moving forward again, slowly improving her form until she managed to get to a constant, slow drift.
“All right,” Rainbow Dash began, “you’ve learned to crawl forward. Now it’s time to learn to turn. There’s a better way to do this, but we’ll start simple. All you need to do is lean into the direction you want to go.”
Rainbow Dash demonstrated the technique as she had before, but this time she made large, dramatic movements to better show off the principle. “Got it?”
“I think so…”
Scootaloo got her drift going again and tried turning only to end up spinning about her nose along her spinal axis straight toward the ground. Once Rainbow Dash caught her and halted her descent, she gave a sheepish, “Whoops.”
“No problem, Squirt. Just keep trying. We’re going to get you from here to town by the end of the day or die trying.”
Greetings from the weirdest place on Equus!
That really says it all, doesn’t it? Ponyville is…it’s like if you walked through a mirror and ended up in a strange alternate dimension. Did you know they have a store here that exclusively sells sofas and quills? Yeah. I don’t see the connection, and neither did my tour guide.
And that’s barely even scratching the surface! There are three blank flank fillies here who introduce themselves as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. I wouldn’t put them past being Discord’s offspring with the kind of chaos they create. At least two of them are brilliant. The third I don’t know much about yet. I accidentally tutored one of them (Sweetie Belle) after I saved her life before I realized who she was, so we’ll see where that goes. If Equestria is on fire by this time next moon, you know who to blame.
Speaking of, did you know ponds can burn? I sure didn’t. I suspect we’ll need to update our list of hazardous chemicals, but hey, I learned something about oxidation, and the Crusaders will likely have at least one academic paper under their wings once I nudge them in the right direction. Good times.
There’s a few changelings here. I actually met the princess of Chrysalis’s hive, which was neat. But (and to be honest, by now I don’t know what I was expecting) I also found an illegal immigrant from Aquestria. She put a hole right through my leg. I slapped a few suppressors on her horn in the end, but I’m still deciding what to do with her. I think I may extract a binding magical vow (see attached document) until life is less busy. We can talk it over together later. Her case is complicated.
The library here had a book specifically about the Elements of Harmony. It turned out to be pretty useless, but it was literally a reference guide for them. Not as detailed as the notes you gave me, but go figure.
I met Sweetie Belle’s older sister today. She was very different than my first impression of her suggested. I ended up commissioning her to make some magical clothing for me and then, to my chagrin, blew my cover with her. Still, she promised to remain silent, so all’s well that ends well. Probably for the best, anyway, if this is to be the start of a long business relationship.
Oh, we need check up on the state of the healthcare department. We may be slipping in rural areas or, if not that, then possibly with orphans. One of the Crusaders has malformed wings. I haven’t investigated further yet, but they didn’t look beyond repair at a glance.
Lastly, there’s this earth pony named Pinkie Pie who violated many of my (former) fundamental assumptions about reality. I’m currently sharing a room with her. I think we’re friends.
I would say more, but my field report will explain itself sufficiently. If you have any thoughts/ideas/suggestions please share.
P.S. My spymaster informs me that finding Sunset Shimmer has become a priority. What exactly happened between you two? From the silenced witnesses, your sister’s circumstances, and our own relationship, I have my suspicions, but I’d rather hear it from you than make assumptions.
Subject: Pinkie Pie (Pinkamena Diane Pie)
Scientific Name: Pinkius Pieicus (pending)
Nearest Related Species: Earth Pony(?)
Habitat: Urban Dwellings
A strange creature. From casual observations so far, Pinkie Pie seems able to survive purely on foods typically classified as desserts. She appears to suffer no negative effects from ingestion of other foods, but no long-term data could be obtained. Weak evidence is offered by the rest of Ponyville – her place of residence for nearly six years – from testimonials claiming that she has never been sick outside of one food poisoning incident which would send anypony to the hospital.
A ‘Pinkie Promise’ is a simple ritual wherein a pony recites the line ‘cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye’ with an accompanying gesture of sticking a cupcake in one’s eye. There is no consensus on which eye should be chosen or if it matters, nor which hoof. In so doing, a vow is made.
Witness testimony (see Appendix D) provides evidence for the consequences of breaking a Pinkie promise. As the provided testimony suggests, Pinkie Pie is somehow able to know exactly by who, when, and where a Pinkie Promise is broken. She does not seem to receive information concerning the circumstances nor the contents of the vow. However, her enforcement of oaths made in her name gives way to no excuses. Although oathbreakers live to see another day, they are not unchanged (see Appendix E). No testimony could be elicited from them as they outright refused to even acknowledge questions on the subject.
On a lighter note, further testimony reveals that one can be released from a Pinkie Promise with no further consequences. This is in keeping with Pinkie Pie’s belief that ‘losing a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend forever’. A promise need be kept only when it remains wanted. There are, of course, ways to abuse this system that seem to elude her worldview, but there’s little doubt her vengeance would be twice as fierce and turn on the transgressor if confronted with such.
Early hypotheses to explain the mechanics of Pinkie Promises (documented in Appendix A) have proven themselves unlikely to hold water.
The subject also exhibits many other odd behaviors and abilities, some of which may be attributable to ordinary earth pony magic.
Pinkie Pie is capable of near-teleport bursts of movement. This includes a superb sense of balance and a resistance to high accelerations. She has utilized this for a few observed purposes so far including but not limited to avoiding falling objects and preparing and cleaning up miniature parties. See Appendix B for a list of observed uses by witnesses.
Additionally, the subject is capable of retrieving and storing some objects seemingly from nowhere in a manner similar to subspace storage. The most frequent object to make an appearance is a cannon which fires, among other things, confetti. With smaller objects, she often uses her mane as a medium for this exchange, although nothing indicates that this is a necessary action.
Evidence also suggests the social portion of Pinkie Pie’s brain is highly advanced. She knows thousands of ponies on an individual level and purports to be friends with them all, showing no concern for the postulated Dunbar’s number, nor any higher value. The level of detailed knowledge of their lives she exhibits implies that these are, somehow, meaningful relationships on some level.
For future observation, Pinkie Pie keeps a toothless alligator named Gummy as a pet. No interesting phenomena have been observed with regards to him other than being an alligator.
Most troubling of all is the ability referred to as the ‘Pinkie Sense’. The Pinkie Sense allows Pinkie Pie to predict certain events which have not yet occurred. This suggests we have a fundamental misconception of the universe. The following procedure was performed to confirm the efficaciousness of the Pinkie Sense regarding falling objects.
Flip a bit. If heads, drop a flower pot near Pinkie Pie. If suns, take no action. Wait one minute, and then repeat for some sufficiently large number of trials.
The phenomenon known as ‘Twitchy Tail’ successfully occurred on twelve out of twelve heads and no ‘Twitchy Tail’ was observed on fourteen out of fourteen suns. The ‘Twitchy Tail’ event has a five second mean foresight with minor variance likely attributable to magical fluctuations or reaction times in the subject.
Note that deliberate contradiction of the ‘Twitchy Tail’ event was not attempted. Further extraordinarily cautious studies will need to be undertaken to determine what effect a paradox would have on the universe. It may be possible that time is cyclic and, by nature, disallows paradoxes. If so, the universe is very fortunate.
Among the many other events the Pinkie Sense reveals is the foreknowledge of doors opening unexpectedly, bee attacks(?), and shocking events (doozies). See Appendix C for a full list and details of alleged and confirmed Pinkie Senses.
It should be noted that the ability to predict any one event can be used to predict any other event through judicious application of the given event only in the presence of the desired alternate event in a controlled environment.
On a less professional note, I call dibs on all the casinos in Las Pegasus. I’ve always wanted my own pyramid, and I hear the castle there has a moat.
Fortunately, Pinkie Pie appears to be a benign creature mainly interested in celebrations, friendship, and the celebration of friendship. Her personality, in the absence of a deep deception, is suited for neither great evil nor mischief beyond foalish pranks. Every effort should be made to ensure she remains this way. For anypony getting bad ideas, it is important to stress that the Pinkie Sense would almost certainly make it impossible to capture or terminate her. Do not attempt.
Current hypotheses to explain the subject are the following:
Pinkie Pie has a deep understanding of earth pony magic on at least an instinctual level. Possible, as earth pony magic is by far the least studied of the three main Equestrian branches of magic.
Pinkie Pie is the offspring of Discord.
Pinkie Pie is not an earth pony and has somehow managed to confound my detection abilities. While this seems reasonable at first blush, a very strong brute force counter spell had no noticeable effect on her, nor did she react to it. Attempts to disable any artifacts in her possession met with similar results.
Pinkie Pie is the target of a grand global magic and receives aid and information from it.
Pinkie Pie is significantly smarter than the average pony and understands something about the universe we do not, exploiting it for her own amusement. Weak evidence for, given her observed, if unfocused, intelligence.
Further observations will appear in a later field report.
Apple Bloom stared mournfully at her clubhouse. Repairing the years of neglect since Applejack had last used it as a young filly was the first thing the Crusaders ever had done together. Every time they had to rebuild it, it lost a little of what had originally made it special. And now? Now its structural integrity was completely gone. She hated to admit it, but they would have to tear it down and start over from scratch. At least now they would have the opportunity to add in all the bells and whistles. That was something.
A long sigh escaped Apple Bloom as, having taken the measurements she’d needed, she turned away from her clubhouse. I need to get Scoots to ask Dash or Derpy to come by. Either should have the whole thing down in ten seconds flat. Big Mac can haul the wreckage away. Then we can start fresh. I need to remember to leave room for stairs up to a high tower for Scoots to start her glides off of. Though now that I think of it, she hasn’t been bothering me for one for a while now. Might need to ask if she still wants it.
What else? I’ll need Sweetie Belle to learn a few more spells to create all of the electrical components I’ll need. A continuous conjuration ain’t a long-term solution, so we’ll need something more permanent. Worst case, I guess we’ll have to mail order. Apple Bloom sighed at the costs involved. Electronics were such a niche field in Equestria with a small enough supply to drive prices through the roof. It was such a shame. Electricity scaled far better than magic.
At her workbench, Apple Bloom recorded the final measurements she’d needed to rebuild their clubhouse. They really should take the opportunity to move it out of the tree Applejack had originally built it in, but there was too much tradition and meaning to put it anywhere else. As she made some initial sketches, her thoughts turned back to what other major requirements she had to engineer around.
I’m gonna need to set up a generator. Potato power ain’t gonna cut it anymore. Powering it with magic is probably the easiest solution. I’ll need to ask Sweetie Belle if it’d be better for her to use something like a hoof crank or if I should build a steam engine for her to sink heat into. Thinking about it, it appeared to be a simple trade-off. The former had greater efficiency with no middlemare involved in the energy conversion. The latter, however, had superior ease of use. Sweetie Belle could cast and forget a warming spell, only occasionally adding more power into it.
Hmm, you know, I reckon steam is the way to go regardless. I can use it even when Sweetie Belle ain’t around if I install a firebox and set it up right. Either way, I need to know how much I can get from her before I start bucking an empty tree.
“Soup’s on, everypony!” came the distant bellow of Applejack.
Hesitating briefly, Apple Bloom set out for the main building and another round of cheek rubbing. Recently, a few too many members of the extended family had arrived for the reunion set to begin the week before the solstice, most of them old and needing more time to travel, recuperate, and do whatever it was old ponies did together. They also had an insatiable desire to fuss over the youngest member of the family present.
The usual series of benches for such a large gathering of hungry ponies were arrayed outside. Each overflowed with more apples and apple related grub than anywhere else in Equestria, and then, of course, there were the Apples themselves. They’d gathered in a circle at one end of the table and crowded around its presumed occupant. From the direction of her approach, Apple Bloom couldn’t see who was the center of attention.
“What’s all the fuss about?” Apple Bloom asked. “Did Babs turn up or something?”
Apple Cider, one of the few members of the family not compelled or even interested in treating Apple Bloom like a newborn foal, turned from her own conversation to answer the question. “Your sister dragged some fancy city pony here to sample our food for the festival. Think she said something or other about thanking her for something too.”
Ah, must be that Index Code Sweetie Belle went on about. Apple Bloom gave her thanks and found a safe spot at the table where she could eat a quick dinner in peace away from her overly enthusiastic relatives. And sure enough, when she managed a glance down the table, she found nearly every member of the Apple family present trying to feed Sweetie Belle’s new hero more than her own weight in secret Apple family recipes, and nopony was taking no for an answer.
Apple Bloom tried to ignore the problem. It was a dangerous world out there for a filly. But there was nothing else for it. She’d suffered the same fate only a couple days ago, and the hurt was too fresh not to sympathize. She’d passed mostly unnoticed so far, so she quickly stuffed the rest of her own meal into her mouth and then leapt to the rescue.
Once she’d pushed her way through the crowd, Apple Bloom called out, “Excuse me! Miss Index Code, I need to talk to you something urgent.” Ignoring the protestations of the rest of the family, she continued, “I have a message from the mayor.”
Those were the magic words. Index Code leapt onto the excuse with concealed enthusiasm and got the two of them safely out of there. Once they had found a quiet place to speak, she asked, “What does the mayor want?”
“Nothing.” Apple Bloom shrugged. “You just looked like you needed some help.”
The reminder made Index Code visibly force down the urge to retch. Fortunately, she managed to spare both of them from seeing her dinner a second time. “Ugh… I’ve never eaten so much before. Thank you for the help. I was about ready to snap back there. I have no idea how I kept myself under control that long. Anyway, you’re Apple–” She twitched and covered her mouth at the mention of apples.
“You can just call me Bloom for the moment, if you want.”
“Thanks. You can just call me Index as well. It’s what I usually go by.”
“Right, then. Sweetie Belle told me a lot about ya. I’d like to thank you myself for what you did. Uh, you know, rather than torture you.”
Index offered a strained smile.
“I hope you won’t hold what just happened against her. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only pony with a full bale of hay round here, and I’m sure you know how ridiculous that must sound.”
“Eh, even if she’d arranged this, a little overeager hospitality is far from the worst gratitude I’ve ever received. Besides, I don’t often get to meet fillies with real talent in magic. I’m eager to see what she makes of herself. That, and curious what particular form her cutie mark will take with all the fuss you Crusaders raise about it.”
“Huh?” That sounded an awful lot like Index meant – “Sweetie Belle’s supposed to get a cutie mark in magic?”
“Nopony is supposed to get anything. Does the pony cause the cutie mark, or does the cutie mark cause the pony? Is it choice, or is it destiny? You can debate the philosophy of it, but there’s no practical distinction. A pony gets the cutie mark best suited to them. It may not be what they want or expect at the time, but it does express a core, unchanging facet of who they are. Cutie mark dysphoria is rare for a reason, after all, and usually quickly resolved. The worst case I’ve ever seen was Starlight Glimmer. She collected ponies suffering as she did and made everything worse. What a mess that was. Turned out she just missed her friend and wanted something to blame.”
Apple Bloom blinked. “Right…”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry. I recently discovered a deeper aspect of meaning to my cutie mark which I’m unsure how to feel about, so I’ve been thinking about the subject perhaps a bit too much. The point is, with a little self-reflection, it’s usually not too hard to figure out what your cutie mark will be.”
“What!” Apple Bloom stomped her hoof hard on the ground. “My sister keeps telling me I’ll get it when I get it, but you’re telling me all this time she could’ve just told me what I need to do to get it?”
“Well…sort of. I more or less knew what mine was years before it finally appeared. I could likely guess yours myself from the stories I’ve heard.”
Apple Bloom opened her mouth.
“But,” Index continued, “that’s for you to discover.”
“Oh, come on!” Apple Bloom protested. “I’m way too old to be a blank flank.”
It was far too obvious that Index found this all amusing. “Trust me. It’s for the best. The actual biomagical process that makes your cutie mark appear has a psychological trigger. You don’t want to know what I had to do to get mine.”
“You’re just like everypony else! No help at all!”
Index smirked. “Have I not been?”
And Index just laughed. “At any rate, you don’t need to have a cutie mark in something to be good at it, nor does having a cutie mark in something mean you’ll be the best at it. You should probably share that little tidbit with the rest of the Crusaders.” She eyed the path back toward where the family had gathered for dinner. No shortage of inquisitive, impatient, or inviting looks were sent her way. “I’m going to get going while the coast is clear. I’ll see you another time, Bloom.”
Running off at a fast trot, not doing a particularly good job of pretending to be anything other than fleeing, Index left down the road back to Ponyville proper. She beat an odd path along the way. While much of it could be ascribed to a sore, bloated stomach, Apple Bloom suspected it had just as much to do with keeping herself out of line of sight as much as possible.
Then, with a start, Apple Bloom realized that she needed to disappear as well. Everypony was going to want to tan her hide when they found out she’d let Index escape before sampling their own special family recipe. And worse, once that was done, all of their attention would be back on her.
Please understand that I love you and respect you when I write this, but you can come home anytime. You have, so far, saved a filly, commented on the state of the nation, captured a criminal(?), read a book, commissioned your next gala dress, and composed a lengthy scientific document. I thought you said you were going to make friends.
On that note, however, congratulations on befriending a pinkius pieicus. I thought they went extinct during the great sugar shortage of 887. So many cakes never baked…
On a more serious note, I know of only a few very, very minor time magics, none of which approach the distressing magnitude of what you described. They all involve moving backward in time in a very limited manner, not forward. But then one direction is much the same as the other when it comes to closed time loops. Naturally, none of these spells are available to the public. They’re in my personal collection if you need them.
Moon Dancer and I have been getting along well. She finds the work we gave her as tedious as you do, but she has been very helpful. Our preparations at the Old Castle are coming along apace as well. Having a second horn go over the changes you made has proven invaluable.
I am distinctly unsurprised to learn Queen Chrysalis hid the existence of her hive’s princess from us. I assumed she had at least one but never considered it a matter worth pressing. I wonder if my conversation with her led to this reveal.
As for Sunset Shimmer…
You know me too well for euphemistic rhetoric. You are, of course, correct to assume that I groomed her to bear Magic before you. The mistake I made with you was in my desire to keep you close. The mistake I made with her was in my desire to keep my distance. She wanted more from me than I allowed myself to give. In hindsight, I fear I may have sent some mixed messages. The details are private and best consigned to the past. It suffices to say our falling out made me confront how little I’d changed since I drove Luna to madness.
As pertains to your quest, Sunset stole Luna’s crown. Regardless of how this conflict ends, it must be returned to the diarchy’s possession.
P.S. If you could donate some of your winnings to the treasury, Cadance has a delightful project she wanted to start up that needs initial capital to get off the ground.
Index had just escaped from the Feast of a Thousand Apples – she was going to have nightmares about that, she was sure – when Celestia’s reply to her letter crackled into existence in a burst of fire. The flame sending spell was ever so useful. Every unicorn should know the pony adaptation of that little bit of dragon magic, but sadly, so few bothered to learn it.
As she unsealed her letter, Index said, Let’s see what we have here… She harrumphed at the first remark and then frowned over the next. If even Celestia had never run into somepony like Pinkie Pie before, then the mare was a true aberration. “I swear, if she turns out to be her own mother or something…”
With a shake of her head, Index continued reading. It was good to hear Celestia was getting on well with Moon Dancer. But when she came to the section on Sunset, she gaped. The moment she recovered her ability to speak, a storm of obscenities forced their way past her lips. Sunset stole Luna’s crown! She had so many questions. How did Sunset do it? Why did she do it? How did she even know about it, let alone find it? Did anypony else know about it? How on Equus had Celestia even let this happen in the first place? It was the crown of a diarch of Equestria! If anypony found out about this, they’d be a laughingstock in the very best case scenario.
Index pressed both of her forehooves into her face in a vain attempt to make the nightmare go away. Why does everything get worse every single day? Discord is going to break free before this is over. I just know it.
As the letter contained nothing she needed to keep on record, Index burnt it to ashes and vanished the remains for good measure. She breathed deep and pushed the matter of Sunset from her mind for now. She could pop off to go say hello and maybe settle things peacefully later when she had a better handle on her primary quest.
Index’s next stop after the Apple family diversion was Lyra. She pulled her saddlebags from her bag of holding and, under the assumption that Bon Bon would be home as well, stuffed the Elements of Harmony inside them. Bon Bon easily qualified as tolerable and seemed like a good pony. If she could bond with an Element, that would make Index’s life all the easier.
She really needed something to be easy right now.
Sweet Apple Acres was aptly named thus. Since Index had little inclination to walk a quarter of its entire breadth again, she teleported most of the way back to town. From there, it was only a short distance to Bon Bon and Lyra’s house. Here’s hoping something goes right for once. Index knocked on the front door. At most half a minute later, Bon Bon opened it.
“Oh, good.” For some reason, Bon Bon wore a weary look about her as though she’d just escaped from Tartarus. “You’re here for Lyra, right?”
“Yes, actually. How did you know?” As far as Index could recall, she and Lyra had arranged no particular time for her return.
Bon Bon heaved a long sigh. “She told me to let her know as soon as you arrived. She’s locked herself in the master bathroom for four hours now. Apparently, she needs your help with ‘unicorn stuff’.”
“Unicorn stuff? What–” It occurred to Index then that she might have gotten a little distracted multiple times today. The magic sustaining the polymorph she’d cast on Lyra must have run out and reverted her back into seapony form. “Ahhhh,” she said, feigning more realization than she felt. “Sounds serious. I’ll just go check on her, then.”
Bon Bon let out another sigh. “Upstairs. Take a left. It should be the only door that’s closed.” And with that, she wandered off with a despondent air lingering about her like a storm cloud, head hung low.
Index made a note to check up on that once she was done with the seapony in the bathroom. She couldn’t keep the smirk off her face at that mental image. This was going to be fun. Up the stairs and down the hall, she found the door Bon Bon had described. She casually unlocked it with a bit of magic and, after applying a few minor privacy spells, walked right in.
As expected, the entire room was a mess. There were puddles of water scattered across the floor which hadn’t yet been able to evaporate. Treacherous soaps lay in wait for the unwary hoof. One lonely towel, well past the limit of its absorption, sat in a clump against a wall. Lyra the seapony floated in the bathtub in the midst of it all looking very put out and equally uncomfortable.
“Fix this. Now.”
“Such hostility. I wonder if I should.”
Lyra winced, likely from having tried to summon up her magic, and muttered a curse under her breath. “Now!”
“Is that how you ask for favors?”
A wave of water flung itself from the tub toward Index under the direction of Lyra’s powerful tail fin, but she just redirected it back toward its source.
“I don’t know your customs well, but that didn’t sound like a please.”
It was bitter and through narrowed eyes, but Lyra did bite out a muttered, “Please.”
“Oh, all right.” A quick flash of magic later and Lyra was once more a unicorn. “Better?”
Lyra sank lower in the tub with a sense of calm she’d not possessed even a few seconds ago. “Yes. Still mad, though.”
“Well then, I have good news to lift your spirits. I looked into the whole Pinkie Promise thing. I have no idea how it works, but I’m willing to just let it go for the moment and assume the local time mage is creating frivolous closed time loops to enforce them.”
“Time mage?” Lyra echoed. “Pinkie?” After a moment of reflection, she said, “That does make sense, actually.”
Not that it came close to explaining the full scope of Pinkie Pie. But that wasn’t what Index was here to talk about. “So here’s the deal. The princess and the archmage are very busy right now. Until they have time to sort out your situation, if you promise to obey Equestrian law to the best of your ability, neither take nor encourage another’s actions to impede your ability to do so, and keep yourself available for a summons, I’ll remove the suppressors on your horn.”
“Fine, whatever. It’s not like I was planning anything anyway.” Lyra ran through the motions of the Pinkie Promise.
As soon as Lyra finished, Index pulled out her notes on Pinkie Pie and began another entry.
“What are you doing?”
“Recording experimental data,” Index idly replied. “I expected a vengeful Pinkie Pie to be shouting retribution on her way here by now. You’re breaking Equestrian law, after all.”
Lyra’s eyes widened as she threw herself against the walls of her tub and tried to hide. “What am I doing wrong?”
“Illegal immigration. And probably a few property law violations. Your wards extend past the land Bon Bon owns, and I highly doubt you asked her permission to place them.”
“I…” Lyra had no defense against that.
“Interesting,” Index mumbled as she wrote. This was a tainted experiment, of course. She’d chosen a wording which would allow Lyra to stumble over obscure laws nopony remembered or cared about. But still, she could call this weak evidence that Pinkie Promises didn’t operate under the subjective truth of the pony who made them. Or if they did, then there was more nuance to them.
Index exchanged her notes for a folded slip of paper from her saddlebags. “Your visa.” Glancing around, she found somewhere dry and out of the way to deposit it.
“My visa?” A moment later, Lyra understood what had just happened. “Will you stop jerking me around!”
Eyes narrowing, Index snorted. “You put a hole through my–” She forced herself to bite her tongue. “–boss and friend. What do you expect?” With a huff that she swore found its way into her magic, she reached out and removed the suppressors from Lyra’s horn. “I’ll be downstairs with Bon Bon. You’ll need to remove or modify your wards as soon as reasonably possible.”
As Index left the bathroom behind, she tore down the privacy spells she’d placed upon it. She made her way to the living room where she found Bon Bon pacing back and forth and mumbling voicelessly to herself, seemingly locked in some internal debate.
“It’s okay, Bon Bon,” Index said. “Our tryst is over.”
Bon Bon faked a cough and, with an obvious blush, averted her eyes. “That’s not what’s bothering me.” She hesitated, reluctant, but ultimately asked, “What was keeping Lyra in the bathroom?”
“A lack of legs.”
The bemused look Bon Bon gave Index said everything for her.
“She stumbled over some poison joke earlier and turned into a seapony once the magic took hold. The nasty, psychopathic kind. I brewed an antidote for her.”
A few moments passed in silence as Bon Bon absorbed the explanation, one which offered a ready excuse in case Lyra ever blew her cover in the future. Index wondered why she hadn’t just told her marefriend something to that effect instead of acting so suspiciously and inviting the imagination to speculate over what secrets she could be hiding. Misdirection and half-truths were almost always easier to maintain than outright lies.
“Oh,” Bon Bon finally responded. “She’s already cured, then?”
Nodding, Index replied, “She’ll be down soon.”
“How unfortunate. I would have loved to see her as a seapony.” Bon Bon sighed at the missed opportunity. “Thank you for helping her. Lyra can be a bit…strange at times, but she’s a good pony.”
It may have just been her, but Index swore she’d heard a hint of emphasis on the last word.
“Would you care to stay for dinner?” Bon Bon continued.
Barely controlling her gag reflex, Index answered, “No thanks. I’ve already eaten.” Although she refused Bon Bon’s offer, she lifted her saddlebags off her back and laid them on the table. They ‘accidentally’ fell open, and an Element rolled out.
With a curious gaze far removed from the one Moon Dancer had previously displayed toward Magic, Bon Bon asked, “What’s that?” She tilted her head to better read the label. “Laughter?”
“I have no idea,” Index replied with a bit of indulgent exasperation. “Pinkie Pie gave five of them to me earlier and told me to carry them around. No explanation.” She rolled out the other four and, to her own surprise, found herself a little disappointed when Bon Bon didn’t react to any of them.
Sigh… With how wrong everything has been going, I don’t know why I expected this to be any different.
“Can I take a closer look?”
Index gestured for Bon Bon to go ahead with a hoof and fell into a chair. Maybe she would get lucky. Maybe Bon Bon just had enough mental fortitude to resist the call without displaying symptoms. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to let her run her hooves over them.
Taking the closest sphere, Bon Bon held it up to the light and looked inside it from every angle she could find. She went through each one, until she came to the last one, Honesty.
“So weird,” Bon Bon said. “I mean, this makes total sense for Pinkie in how little sense it makes, but I have no idea why anypony would want to make a set of orbs with a gemstone inside each.”
Meanwhile, Lyra had come downstairs and entered the room. “Hey, Bon Bon–”
Index whirled toward Lyra. That was the wrong tone of voice.
“–can I see that?”
Stunned, surprised, Index stood rooted to the ground as Lyra didn’t wait for permission. Her magic enveloped the Element and brought it over to her. The moment her hoof touched it, the same blinding light which had come from Magic’s awakening emanated from Honesty’s. When the process finished, a golden necklace lay draped over her hoof with an orange gem cut in the shape of a lyre inset as its centerpiece.
“No.” Index said.
“No!” Twilight shouted.
“No.” Twilight screamed in the Royal Canterlot Voice.
Twilight teleported away, taking the remaining Elements with her.