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Act II – Part 9:  The Plan

Twilight had never been to Manehattan before.

It was every bit as glamorous as described.  The S. S. Mooncatcher had cleared the distance from the Swayback Mountains to New Yoke City in a matter of hours.  As the airship approached the city limits, Twilight was caught by the beauty of the city.  Towers and spires springing up from the earth itself decorated the horizon.  Something itched in the back of Twilight's brain, but she couldn't place it, and it quickly became second in importance to the beauty of her surroundings.  She ignored it.

The Mooncatcher docked in a specialized port atop one of the tallest buildings in the city, and the occupants disembarked.  Madam Orange led, followed immediately behind by the two Twilights.  She seemed to be parading them, showcasing her star business partner for the world to see.  Neither Twilight was particularly comfortable with this layout.  The Twilight who was new to this universe was unsettled further by the guards.

The term Madam Orange used was "allies."  But they were definitely guards, devoted not to Madam, but to their jobs.  Their faces, while not expressionless, were by no means welcoming.  They had spent a good deal of time watching over both Twilights, perhaps because they saw the unicorns as the greatest threats, until Madam had specifically ordered them to give the girls some privacy.  Neither of the Twilights were eager to challenge the guards, though, as all of them were armed with swords.

Twilight had explained the situation to Orange on the ride, figuring that there was no point in denying the existence of the alternate universe when she and her counterpart were standing next to each other.  She had explained that their one desire was to return home, as soon as Rainbow Dash had succeeded in locating their lost companions.  Rainbow had voluntarily stayed behind in the mountain range, aided by two of Madam's pegasus guards.  The identities of these missing companions was a detail Twilight had intentionally obscured.  She wasn't sure how Madam Orange would react to the idea of her counterpart, and Twilight wanted to put this reveal off until she could find a good way to introduce it.  Throughout her entire explanation, she stressed the importance of returning home, but Madam Orange had another idea.

"In your time, you defeated the Nightmare Queen?" confirmed Madam Orange, impressed.  "How?  By exploiting a weakness of hers?"

And so Twilight found herself explaining the Elements of Harmony to a very attentive Madam Orange.

"We knew about the Element of Magic," explained Madam Orange when Twilight had finished.    "Supposedly the most powerful magical artifact in Equestria, kept safe in Celestia's vaults.  Or it was, until my Twilight stole it.  We tried to use it against the Nightmare Queen when she first arrived, but it didn't work.  We never figured out why.  And now you're saying that we had only one of six?"

Twilight nodded.  "All six are needed to bind Nightmare Moon's power.  But it's not just an issue of finding them.  You need the spark to activate them.  And for that, they need to be wielded by the right ponies."  Something about Madam Orange's story finally clicked.  "Wait.  Celestia had the Element of Magic?  The reference guide said the Element had been lost."

"And who do you think wrote the book?"  Madam Orange asked.  "Although, where did you find it, then, if it had been lost?"

"I had it.  Inside me, the whole..." her voice trailed off.

Celestia, you sly manipulator, she thought.  You had that planned the whole time, didn't you?

"I suppose the more pressing question," posed Orange, "is whether it needs to be the same six ponies that wield the Elements of Harmony."

"I don't know," confessed Twilight.  "I mean, I'm not the only pony who's ever wielded the element, since the princess used it one thousand years ago in her battle against Nightmare Moon."

"Regardless, it might do us well to locate the other versions of your friends.  If not for them to save the world, than at least to ease your mind concerning their safety."

Twilight agreed, having been thinking the same thing, but the ship had docked before they could discuss the matter any further, and Madam Orange, noticing their arrival, refused to talk to Twilight any more until she and her friends were, in Orange's words, "a good deal more presentable."

Twilight, realizing that she hadn't showered since she arrived in this reality, didn't argue.

On arrival, Madam Orange's top priority was the health and well-being of her guests.  Her first request was that they all get some cleaned and well rested for the trials they would undoubtedly face.  As Twilight quickly discovered, Madam Orange's definition of cleaning was more meticulous, and many times more expensive, than anything Twilight would have come up with.  She followed along, trying her best to enjoy the grooming and the spa treatment, but the itching in the back of her brain had returned.  Something strange and unidentifiable, floating on the edge of her awareness just out of reach, was preventing her from getting the most out of her experience.

All this, and Twilight still hadn't left the building they had docked in.  It began to occur to her just how incredibly wealthy Madam Orange must have been.  And it was while Twilight was having her hooves cleaned by a suave and sturdily built gray stallion with a foreign accent that she noticed the tapestry.  It was made from a material Twilight had seen before, but only in Celestia's castle in Canterlot, and it was made up of a series of still images.  Some of the features were easily recognizable.  A number of houses dominated the center of each image.  A small town, Twilight realized.  A number of ponies were standing around the town, their backs to it.  From the fringes of the tapestry, monstrous creatures, vaguely pony-like in appearance but with malformed muzzles and spindly elongated limbs, were clamoring toward the town.  As Twilight followed the series of images, the ponies fought bravely against the monsters, but by the time her eyes reached the bottom of the tapestry, the creatures had won.  In the last image, the town was completely gone, and only the monsters remained, scurrying away.  Awkwardly, unsure of the proper way to address the pony tending to her, she asked him if he knew anything about it.

He turned around to get a better look at it.  "That thing?" he asked skeptically.  "Some ancient  decoration that was dug up a couple years back.  Madam has a thing for antiques, so she scooped it up."

This explanation gave Twilight pause.  "Wait," she said slowly, processing the information.  "The tapestry belongs to Madam?  As in, Madam Orange Madam?"

"Yes'm.  So does everything in this building.  Including us."

The stallion probably meant she owned the salon, and that he just worked for her, but the words still made her jump.  Madam Orange wasn't just rich.  She was practically an empress.  The itch came again, and this time Twilight knew what it was.  How could this possibly be in the same world as the Ponyville she had been in only a day or two ago?  Why was it that a couple day's journey by hoof away, ponies were very nearly starving, and here she was getting every square inch of her body cleaned?  She suddenly had some more questions for Madam Orange.

"Is there any reason you're asking about the decoration, ma'am?"  The stallion startled her back to reality.  "Besides simple curiosity, I mean."

"No, not really.  It just looks really familiar, that's all.  Like I've seen it before, somewhere else.  What's it about?"

"It's an old mare's tale," explained the stallion.  "Beastly ponies, called Shades, are said to live in the Everfree zones.  Sometimes, according to the legend, at least, they'll venture out into the rest of the world, find a town or city, and devour the whole thing, including everypony inside.  When they're done, nopony would ever be able to tell there ever was a town there."

The story sounded vaguely familiar.  "If they eat everypony there, how do we know it was the Shades that did it?" asked Twilight.

The stallion sighed.  "Congratulations, miss.  You have discovered why this is a legend.  A fairytale."

"Where was it before it was here?"  Something about the tapestry was grabbing at Twilight's attention, and whatever it was, it was pressing, important.  But she couldn't figure out what it was.

The stallion narrowed his eyes confused.  "Nowhere.  It's always been here.  It was put on auction soon after it was discovered, and it's been residing in this room ever since."

Twilight thanked the stallion and closed her eyes, trying to enjoy the rest of the cleaning.  She failed.  There were just too many questions burning in her mind.  Some of them were for Madam Orange, yes, but during her time in the spa she had also created a small list of questions for her alternate self.  Two of them were more pressing than the rest.

How did I get here?  And the most important one:

What happened to Stone Wall?

The next time she saw either her other self or Madam Orange, they were together, and Orange had an unpleasant surprise for her.

"This is your bedroom," said Orange, waving a hoof at the open doorway and adding dramatic flair to her voice.

"For which one of us?" asked Twilight.

Orange paused, not prepared to answer the question.  Then, she repeated the motion.  "This is your bedroom," she said again.

Twilight glared, slightly disgusted, before peeking her head through the doorway.  The room inside was huge, and amazingly decorated, with giant patterned curtains covering a rose-tinted glass window that stretched from the floor up at least twenty feet.  And although even the bed was super-sized, there was still only one.

"Oh, it's just you," said Orange when Twilight pointed this out.  "How awkward could it be?"  Before either Twilight could respond, Orange turned, making her way back toward the stairwell.  "Now, you two should really get some rest," she said, looking back over her shoulder.

It was still five in the afternoon, and Moonlight told Madam Orange so.

"Still, both of you two are running dangerously low in the sleep department.  Don't try to deny it, darlings; you have exhaustion written all over the both of you.  This is your time to relax, get on the same page.  There's no point in trying to save the world if we're all too tired to think straight.  So sleep, and then we'll come up with a plan.  I expect you two have a lot of catching up to do."  She paused, stumbling over the words she said next.  "I'm really sorry about Zecora," she told Moonlight.  "She was a good mare."

Moonlight tensed, trying to forget the image of her friend's lifeless, partially consumed body.  "Yeah," she said softly.  "We need to give her a proper burial.  She deserves better than to lie about in some cave."

"And she'll receive better," assured Orange.  "We'll do it her way.  By her customs.  It's what she would want, don't you think?"

Moonlight nodded glumly and, without another word to either Orange or Twilight, turned away and crossed over the threshold into her new bedroom.  Madam Orange tried her best to smile cheekily at Twilight, but Moonlight's weariness weighed her down, and she soon gave up and departed silently.

When she was gone, Twilight followed Moonlight into the room, desperate to have her questions answered.  It only took one look at Moonlight's downtrodden face for Twilight to realize that now was not a good time to be asking these questions, but she knew she was going to ask anyway.  Nothing bothered her more than not having answers that were just out of her reach.  Knowledge was power, after all.

She tried to approach the subject cautiously, but she couldn't think of anything to say.  In the end, she sat down next to Moonlight, embracing her alternate self.

"I don't understand," bemoaned Moonlight.  "Who was that griffin?  Why did she want us dead?  What did Zecora do to deserve a fate like that?"

Twilight bit her tongue to keep herself from revealing that Zecora's only crime had been her association with Moonlight, that the unicorn was Gilda's intended target, not the zebra.  She imagined Moonlight wouldn't be able to handle the guilt.

"I don't know," lied Twilight.

"You should have let me be the one to break it," mumbled Moonlight bitterly.

Twilight didn't understand.  "Break what?" she asked.

"The news.  To Madam Orange.  I should have been the one to tell her that Zecora died.  You don't even know her."

"I knew the other her."

Moonlight bared her teeth, irritated.  "That's not the same thing, and you know it.  She was my friend, and there was a good chance her death was my fault.  I should have been the one to tell her."

"Agreed," said Twilight, trying to calm the other her.  "But you should tell that to Pinkie and Fluttershy, not me.  I wasn't the one that stole your moment."

Moonlight turned away, embarrassed.  Twilight used the silence to pose one of the less harmful questions she had been pondering, or so she thought.

"Why did I end up here?" she asked.  "You said we switched minds, but that doesn't explain why."  She saw Moonlight bury her head in her forelegs and realized she'd misjudged the severity of the question.

"I was jealous," answered Moonlight quietly.  "So I... stole you."

Twilight was about to express her surprise, but she stopped herself.  She tried to consider things from Moonlight's perspective, and she realized that, given the state of the world she was in, she would probably want to escape too.

"How does it work?" she asked, because of both genuine curiosity and a desire to steer the conversation away from Moonlight's confession.  "Do you have any diagrams?"

For the first time, Moonlight's eyes lit up.  "Would you like to see them?"

Ignoring Madam Orange's imposed curfew, the pair, with Moonlight in the lead, descended the stairs of the building into an enormous room filled with books.

"Madam Orange's personal library," said Moonlight as she gestured to it with a flourish.  "It contains some information you won't find anywhere else, like records of the spells I designed while working for her."

It didn't take long for Moonlight to find the scroll containing the memory-switching spell, and Twilight read over it with fervor.

"You're not moving memories," remarked Twilight as she read.  "You're copying them, with the expectation that the news ones will displace the old ones."  This was a frightening thought, or would be if it weren't for the fact that the displaced memories were also being copied and the fact that such a displacement clearly hadn't happened.  "Does this mean that every one of your old memories is still bouncing around in this head I'm using now?"

"Not intentionally...but yes, probably.  You can't recall them because your subconscious hasn't realized they exist yet."

"Is there any way I can extract them?"  She remembered the trick she had pulled with the Third Eye, but that was a glitch, and not something she could easily repeat.  She needed some reliable way to finish the scene that Silver Shield had interrupted.  She needed to figure out what had happened to Stone Wall without bringing back painful memories for Moonlight.

"Recall them from your head?  No.  But you could just ask me, you know."

Twilight tried to change the topic to Madam Orange's history, but Moonlight persisted.

"What did you want to remember?"

"It was nothing important, really."

"No it wasn't.  What did you want to know?  I'll tell you."

Twilight relented.  Moonlight, hearing the request, swallowed hard.

"I need to know the truth," clarified Twilight.  "I know you agreed to fake her death, but if she's alive, she's on my side.  It's something I need to know."

Moonlight mulled over Twilight's words before finally hanging her head in defeat.  "Close your eyes," she commanded.  "And show me your horn."

Twilight obeyed.  Moonlight brought their horns together, focusing on the memory she had hoped she would never have to experience again.

The jolt was sudden, and the shift nearly threw Twilight off balance.  She felt as if an eye inside her, which had until now been closed, had suddenly opened up.  At first, the sensations were meaningless chaotic flashes of emotion and sound.  Her mind had no way to interpret what she was seeing.  She forced herself to peer into the maelstrom, willing the pieces to come together in a way she could understand.

The cave.  She saw the same cave that had appeared so frequently in her dreams.  Against the far wall, amidst a mesh of crystals woven into a lattice pattern, a pegasus stood tall, her eyes closed in anticipation.  Two other figures, a unicorn and a zebra, stood at the control station ten yards away.

Both ponies were nervous, but the zebra was worse than either of them.  She kept murmuring under her breath, and then pulling the unicorn aside and speaking to her in hushed tones.  Twilight could not help but feel the gravity of Zecora's concern.  Still, she insisted, the subject was willing.  If Stone Wall had no objections, why should they?

It was a moment where, in hindsight, the outcome should have been obvious.  The lesson of exercising caution was clear to Twilight now, and she realized how much her counterpart must have beaten herself up over this incident.  She knew what was going to happen before the memory of her ever pulled the lever, and she discovered she had no desire to watch it unfold.

The machine activated, and for a second there was nothing but the soft hum of the mirror powering on.  The situation almost seemed hopeful, inspiring.

Then Stone Wall burst into flames.

Twilight, horrified, watched as the flames began on the pegasus's mane, charring it a dark black and staining parts of it gray with ash.  The fire quickly spread onto her coat, and she was no longer a pony, but a vaguely pony-shaped inferno.

Twilight tried to close her eyes and block out the horrific torturous image before her, but squeezing her eyes shut did nothing to stop the nightmare.  The image came not from her eyes, but from their magic.  She was seeing what the other her had seen, and the other her had kept her eyes open in terrified fascination.

Stone Wall took a step forward before collapsing to her knees.  And before anypony could rush to her aid, the sound of a large explosion rocked the lab, and Twilight similarly collapsed.

Her head was ringing, and her sight had become blurred.  She struggled to stand, to make her way over to the flaming pony, but Stone Wall was gone.  In her place was a couple chunks of flesh and singed hair, with half a wing sticking out of the gore seemingly untouched.  As Twilight approached, overcome with horror but unable to stop looking, she discovered that Stone Wall, or what was left of her, was looking back.  A single eye rested on top of the charred remains, and it seemed to be looking directly at Twilight.

Beneath the smell of the burnt hair, Twilight thought she detected something actually marginally pleasant, but she began to gag and recoil when she realized the smell was the odor of cooked meat.  Defeated, Twilight collapsed again.

Her entire face clenched up as she attempted to vent her frustration and rage, but she found no outlet.  The only pony that deserved her onslaught was herself.  Screaming incoherently, she levitated a rock from outside the cave and brought it smashing down on her backside.  How could she have been so stupid?  She lifted the rock and hit herself with it again.  This wasn't fair!  Another assault.  She should have been the one on that platform.  Maybe she'd use it on herself, just to get a taste of what Stone Wall experienced.

She felt a soft hoof on her shoulder, and she turned to watch Zecora wrap her into a hug.  And, not knowing what else to do, Twilight cried.

The image shattered, and Twilight was back in the library.  She realized that she really was crying, and she quickly wiped the tears away.  Moonlight wasn't faring much better.

"I'm so sorry," said Twilight after she had finally worked up the courage to say anything.  "I didn't mean for you to go through that again."

"I didn't know it had killed her, at first," replied Moonlight, pausing repeatedly for heavy breathing.  "I dared to hope she'd survived.  Zecora, your Zecora, found her, brought her back to her home.  But her injuries were too great.  Maybe, if there had been a mage on hand.  Unicorn magic is powerful.  It can even regrow lost limbs.  Not perfectly, but enough to save a life.  But there wasn't a unicorn to help her.  She died that night.  You deserve to know.  I take it you've met Silver Shield, then, if you knew about this.  It's not fair if he tries to hurt you for something I did."

Twilight nodded.  "So, were Stone Wall and Silver Shield..." she trailed off, the rest of the sentence obvious.

Moonlight nodded.  "Lovers.  Yes."

"Oh."  Twilight looked down, and then: "I can see why he wanted to kill me."

Moonlight shifted uncomfortably, making Twilight suspicious.  Was there something she wasn't being told?  That was the reason Silver Shield wanted her dead, right?  There was the whole jury setup, where Silver Shield had read Twilight her charges.  She still remembered his voice; she didn't think it was something she'd be able to forget.

"One count of royal theft; grand treason; one, no, now two counts of breaking and entering; witchcraft; and two counts of murder."

Two.  Not one, but two counts of murder.

"Moonlight," she spoke cautiously, not wanting to upset her counterpart further but knowing she likely would.  "What else is he blaming me for?"  Then she remembered something else.  Something Pinkamena had told her on the farm.  "A foal killer.  Pinkamena said Silver Shield told ponies that I killed foals."

Moonlight tensed up, but Twilight pressed forward.  "Why did he say that?"

By now Moonlight was biting down hard on her tongue.  She would occasionally open her mouth agape, as if she was going to speak, but it closed before words could come out.  Her breathing became even more intense, something Twilight hadn't thought possible.

"Never mind," said Twilight.  "This is probably really personal."

"No," came Moonlight's reply with a level of conviction Twilight hadn't expected from the distressed mare.  "I dragged you into this.  You deserve to know."  She paused, and Twilight waited tensely while she formed the right words.  "I didn't find out until later," she began.

She had to pause as she hung her head, trying and failing to combat the shame and choke back the tears.  Twilight embraced her.

"I didn't know at the time," she continued after she had calmed down a little.  "I had no way of knowing, I swear.  It was too early for it to be showing.  But after Stone Wall... was gone, after your Zecora and I had decided to bury her on both sides, Zecora made a discovery."

Twilight's jaw dropped.  She had not been expecting this.  But now, all of Silver Shield's rage made sense.  "Stone Wall was pregnant," she finished when it became clear that Moonlight might not be able to.

Moonlight nodded.  "Silver Shield wants me dead, wants you dead, because you didn't just kill his lover.  You killed his child."  She paused.  "I suppose that's why Stone Wall wanted to cross over so badly.  She wanted a safe home for her foal.  I wish now we'd been more careful, though…done more research.  Maybe, if we had, we wouldn't have tried to send her over, especially if we'd figured out the real reason your side still had the sun."

Twilight was confused.  "Because we defeated Nightmare Moon?"

Moonlight froze in surprise.  Twilight swore she very nearly smiled.  "What day is today?" she asked, with an air of cleverness that told Twilight she already knew the answer.  As she should; it wasn't a particularly challenging question.  At least, Twilight didn't take it for a difficult question until she racked her brain and realized that she didn't know.

"Well, it was the twenty-third of Armonia the day I first came here, and it can't have been more than a week.  The twenty-seventh, maybe?"

Moonlight tried to play up her actions to overcome the crushing moroseness of the previous conversation, but she never managed more than a slight curl of the lips or a soft chuckle.  "It's the fifth of Genidor.  Didn't you see the calendar in the lab?"

Twilight frowned.  "That can't be right.  That's still two months away.  I haven't been trapped here that long.  Please tell me I haven't been trapped here that long," she asked anxiously.  "I missed the Grand Galloping Gala.  The princess would be freaking out."

"Relax," assured Moonlight, but her flat tone did little to make Twilight obey.  "You've only been here around a week, at the most.  And a week ago, it was the twenty-seventh.  On your side, at least.  Time doesn't flow at the same rate across the dimensional border.  We didn't know that at the time, simply because it had never occurred to us to ask your Zecora for the date, or even the time of day.  When we saw the light streaming in from your world, it wasn't because Nightmare Moon had been stopped.  It was because she was still imprisoned."

Since nothing could be done to change the past, Twilight tried her best to change the topic of conversation again, and lift Moonlight's spirits.  The task proved much easier than either of them suspected.  They were the same pony, and as such felt immensely comfortable around each other, as if they had known each other for years.  Yet they clearly hadn't, so they had a lot of catching up to do.

Twilight intentionally posed her questions in order to uncover where Moonlight's life had differed from her own.  She discovered that Moonlight had failed the entrance exam to Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, and had attended the Hoofington School of Wizardry instead.

"How are Mom and Dad?" asked Moonlight, a question that gave Twilight a great deal of pause.  "You do keep in touch with Mom and Dad, don't you?  Even I still managed to keep in touch with Mom and Dad until they disappeared."

"Mom and Dad are missing?" asked Twilight, shocked.

"A lot of ponies are missing.  Probably dead.  But please tell me you at least try to maintain correspondence."

Twilight was silent.

"Really?  Celestia's School turned you into April."

April Bluff, Twilight's sister, had attended Celestia's school with her until she dropped out to live a life on the road, declaring "The bondage of society is too restricting to contain my undying spirit!"  That was the last Twilight had heard of her.

"I am not April in the least!" objected Twilight.  "For starters, I graduated."

"Your April quit school?" asked Moonlight, amused.  "Mine was top of her class.  Got a little too uppity, you could say.  Started demanding to be called The Great and Powerful Trixie."

If Twilight had been drinking anything, she would have choked.  "I guess I really have been out of touch with the family," she admitted.

Eventually, the conversation turned to Twilight's favorite topic, astronomy.

"You like astronomy too?" asked Moonlight excitedly.

"Of course!  We both did, back when we were little fillies.  Remember?  On our eighth birthday, Dad bought us that glow in the dark star chart for our bedroom ceiling?"

Moonlight finished the story.  "And we got mad and threw a tantrum because the size of the stars weren't to scale?"

"Yeah," muttered Twilight.  "We've grown since then, haven't we?"

"I still like the stars, though," added Moonlight.  "Most ponies will look out into the vastness of space and feel small.  The idea that there's so much out there that's out of their reach, that they can't touch and will never touch, makes them seem worthless and insignificant.  But I don't agree, because it's all a matter of scale.  I'm still the same size I was before I learned that I could fit inside the sun a million million times over.  The world is huge, and vast, and even though I could never see it all if I wanted to, that doesn't upset me.  Because it means that no matter how far I wander, there's always going to be some new sight to behold and knowledge to learn.  I don't have to be intimidated by the stars or the moon or the aurora when I can learn about them."

"Except the aurora isn't in space," interjected Twilight.  "It's in the atmosphere, created by solar... Oh, Celestia."

Moonlight peered at Twilight, awaiting an explanation.

"Oh, Celestia," Twilight continued, "of course.  How did I not see it?"

"See what?"

"This whole time I thought it was a riddle, but it never was.  It was always meant to be taken completely literally.  She wasn't trying to confuse me; she was telling me flat out what I needed to know, and this whole time I've been looking at it from a completely wrong angle."

By now Twilight had leaped to her hooves and was prancing around excitedly.  She managed to hold herself still long enough to give an order: "Me.  You know your way around this library, right?  Think you can find a specific book?"

Moonlight inspired by her counterpart's enthusiasm, responded promptly: "If not, I'm a failure to library science!"

"Good.  There's a book we need to find."  She paused, trying to recall the name of the book she had seen once, just a couple of days ago.  "Ecological Evolution: Equestria in an Age of Darkness."

Moonlight nodded and rushed to find the card catalog, but she stopped halfway across the room and turned, confused.  "That book shouldn't exist on your side," she remarked, confused.

"No.  But I found it in the Ponyville library."

Moonlight's jaw hung open, recognition showing in her eyes.  "Is that where you met Silver Shield?"  Twilight nodded.  "Alright.  But what's so important about that book?"

Twilight smirked.  "The cover."

Madam Orange, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy sat around half of the circular table that filled the meeting room.  Twilight and Moonlight stood tall at the other end, bags hanging underneath their eyes,  but they were too excited from their recent discoveries to be affected.  

"Darlings," said Madam Orange before the Twilights were able to begin their presentation.  "I thought I told you to get some rest, not spend the whole night planning some sort of show for us."  Fluttershy seemed to have lost her focus and was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.  Only Pinkie Pie seemed fully alert, her eyes bouncing around in her head as she anxiously awaited the report.

"We have a plan," began Twilight, trying to be as direct as possible.  "A course of action.  And while I can't speak for all of us, you should know that I am now fully committed to staying and helping you find a way to deal with Nightmare Moon."

As her planning session with Moonlight the night before had progressed, Twilight had become more and more certain that this was true.  She began to see Moonlight as an extension of herself, and she realized that even though she had been dragged into this misadventure against her will, her own misfortune didn't change the fact that there were ponies here that needed help and guidance that she could easily give.  The very least she could do would be to share her information on the Elements of Harmony.

"Firstly," Twilight continued, "I believe it's imperative to find out as much as we can about the differences between these two worlds.  If anything, this knowledge could serve as a clue to help us locate the First Divergence."

"The First Divergence?" asked Fluttershy, who figured she may as well try to figure out what was going on.

"That's what we're calling the initial split between worlds," explained Moonlight.  "We believe that at some point, these two worlds were the same, or very nearly the same.  But then something happened to send them down different paths.  We're calling this something the First Divergence.  And while we may not have the first clue what it is, my other self figured out a way to calculate when it happened."

Twilight stepped forward.  "Time doesn't flow at the same rate between worlds.  It's not the same date here that it is over there.  Yet clearly, before the split, there was only one side, with one date.  Using Madam's records of other me's correspondences with our Zecora, I was able to make a graph comparing the amount of time displacement in both worlds.  I connected the dots, extrapolated the lines, and got a date.  Ten years ago, which places it about two years before the rainboom which clearly didn't happen."

"Are you sure?" asked Fluttershy.  Stargazer claimed her birth was the cause of the disruption, but she was much older than ten years.  Of course, Fluttershy had promised not to reveal Stargazer's presence, which left her unable to explain her objection.

"Not with certainty," said Twilight.  "It's only a theory.  But regardless, the more we understand about our situation, the better.  Which brings me to the second point: there's a unicorn out there who's been giving me messages.  I don't know her, but she knows me, and she told me something important, that the sun's wind can reach where the sun can't."

"A guessing game?"  Pinkie Pie perked up at the possibility of a game.

"I thought so too, at first.  But it couldn't be clearer.  The sun's wind is solar wind, ionized particles from the sun.  When I figured that out, I remembered seeing this."  She slid the book across the table so that the others could get a good look at it.  "It's an encyclopedia of sorts, detailing changes to the Equestrian ecosystem after the Final Day.  What caught me, though, was the choice for the cover image."

Fluttershy leaned over the table so she could see the sparkling Aurora that danced across the book.

"All images in the book were taken after the rise of Nightmare Moon.  At first I thought the author chose that image simply because it was visually stunning, which it is.  Breathtaking, really.  But I now feel that there was a second reason, an ulterior motive, as a symbol of hope.  Can anypony here tell me where the Aurora comes from?"

Madam Orange was the only pony to answer.  "If you're going where I think you're going with this," she responded, "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess solar wind."

"Correct.  Creating an aurora is too complicated for a pegasus weather team to pull off.  Solar radiation gets caught in the planet's magnetic field and is carried off toward the poles.  Of course, as the wind approaches the poles, there's less room for the same number of particles, and they begin colliding with each other.  These collisions create the light that we know as the Aurora.  The point I'm trying to make is thus:  If there were no sun, where does the solar wind come from?  No sun means no Aurora, yet clearly the Aurora is still present, and so must be the sun."

Pinkie Pie raised her hoof and waved it frantically around as she jiggled around in her seat.  "So if the sun's not gone," she said when Twilight called on her, "where is it?  You can't just hide a big giant ball of fire in your pocket, you know."

"Exactly," said Moonlight, picking up where Twilight had left off.  "And it seems silly to think that even a being with the Nightmare Queen's power could make the whole sun vanish.  It's far too massive.  But there is one place you can hide it."  She gestured to Twilight, who placed their second prop on the table, a globe.  "The planet is round, but only half of it is habitable.  Thus, to shroud the world in eternal night, Nightmare didn't have to destroy the sun.  Only move it to the opposite end of the planet.  The antipode.  Celestia's sphere of influence would be limited to the section of the planet where nopony can survive."

"Very impressive dears," said Madam Orange, "but I don't see how that helps us at all."

Twilight, now longer able to contain herself, spilled the beans.  "I think we can talk to Celestia," she blurted.

"By journeying to the dead half of the world?  I'm sorry, darling, but not even my own guards are that eager to die."

"Not there.  Just to the Aurora.  If I can tap into the stream of the solar wind, I may be able to contact Celestia, no matter where she is, based on her connection to the sun.  If anypony will be able to help us in the battle against Nightmare Moon, it will be her."

"Then I think we should split up."

Twilight froze at Madam Orange's suggestion.  "Pardon?" she asked weakly.

"We already know that somepony's after your head.  I hope you won't mind me saying that time is of the essence.  Not to mention that the longer we wait, the more we risk the Nightmare Queen herself realizing that there are two of you, and that's an element of surprise I'd prefer to keep hidden."  Madam Orange stood, taking charge of the situation.  "The way I see it, our objectives are threefold.  Firstly, to communicate with our lost princess.  Secondly, to find the Elements of Harmony.  And thirdly, to find the ponies that can wield them."

"Actually," said Twilight, "neither of those last two should prove to be much of a problem.  We know where the Elements are.  Or, at least, where they were two years ago, in the old Palace of the Royal Sisters in the Everfree Forest.  As for the bearers, I've been fortunate enough to run into five of them already.  The only one we're missing is Rainbow Dash, and we'll probably want our Dash to help us track down yours."

"Three groups, then" suggested Madam Orange.  "The first group will travel to the Aurora in the Mooncatcher, and should consist of both Twilights, plus enough of my own men to fly the ship.  The second group will seek out Rainbow Dash.  That group should consist of your Dash, of course, so we'd need to wait for her to find your friends.  And they are?"

Twilight realized it was time to bite the bullet.  "Their names are Rarity and Applejack," she confessed.

Madam Orange smiled awkwardly in surprise.  "Really?" she said, impressed.  "So I've got a clone of my own to meet?  I suppose I'll be joining Rainbow Dash in her journey, since she'll need a guide that's familiar with this world.  I don't know how the other me will feel about meeting me, as keen as I am to meet her.  I suppose the remaining assignments are left up to personal choice.  We need a third group to venture into the Everfree Forest to claim the Elements of Harmony."

"That spooky woods sound like a barrel of laughs!" exclaimed Pinkie Pie.

"I'd like to stay with Twilight, if that's okay," said Fluttershy quietly.

"Then it's decided," announced Madam Orange.  "I hope you're all ready to save the world."

Applejack groaned as she regained consciousness.  The world seemed to be sliding around her, and she felt a rough friction on her back.  Her vision was mostly of stars, with the occasional tree or crag coming in from the side but quickly moving past.  It took her a few moments to realize she was being dragged through the mountains, carried on another pony's back.

"Hello?" she asked groggily, and the pony carrying her froze, nearly dropping her.  She craned her neck as far as she could, and she saw a dirty yellow coat beneath a matted pink mane.

"Fluttershy?"  The yellow mare recoiled at the sound of her own name, and this time she did drop Applejack, who landed painfully on the ground.  "What in tarnation?"  Applejack looked up at her friend.  She tried to stand up, but her broken hoof hindered her success.

Blasted hoof.  If it hadn't been broken and in a cast, she might have been able to regain her balance back when she was with the others.

"Wait.  You're not Fluttershy.  You don't have wings."

The earth pony backed away slowly, hiding her face beneath her mane.  This was definitely Fluttershy, Applejack realized.  But she was acting very strange.  She had no reason to be scared around her friends.

It clicked.

"You're the other Fluttershy, ain't you?  It's okay.  Please don't run.  You got no reason to be scared of me.  But how in blazes did you find me?"

Fluttershy stopped retreating and looked Applejack in the eye.  Applejack tried her best to take on a compassionate demeanor, as if to say, "It's okay.  You can trust me."  It must have worked, because Fluttershy opened up a bag at her side, removed a metal plate, and set it on the ground.  Applejack stared, confused, until Fluttershy pressed a button on the plate and a shimmering column of light sprang up between them.  Through it, Applejack saw clouds, and the sun shining brightly.

"Where did you find this?" she asked, but Fluttershy shook her head.  The time for asking questions had ended.

Applejack tried to stand, and she realized rapidly that more than just her hoof was injured.  Her chest was badly bruised, and a second leg refused to respond to any of her commands.  She had taken quite a tumble.  She resigned to let Fluttershy pick her up again and carry her.

After a while, Fluttershy began talking, without prompting.  She spoke slowly as if she wasn't used to it and had to get the hang of it back.  "I found it in a clearing," she explained.  "I looked through the light and saw a bunch of ponies.  You were one of them.  There was another who looked like Twilight, but she was missing the injuries she had when I treated her.  And there was a pegasus who looked like me.  I was scared.  Really scared.  But I was also curious.  So I started following you.  I followed you down to Sky Mirror Lake, and then you started showing up here, for real.  I almost ran, but I didn't.  I kept following you, at a distance.  When I saw you fall, I knew I had to help you."

"Where are you taking me?"

"You're really hurt.  You need bed rest, which is something I can't give you easily.  So I'm taking you to some ponies who can.  They're nice, nice enough that I can talk to them sometimes.  They'll help you."

"They?  What they?"

"They have a farm.  It's called Sweet Apple Acres."

Previous Chapter: [link]

Next Chapter: [link]

Chapter List: [link]

So, here we are. The end of Act II.

Not very overwhelming, is it? I didn't think so. The ending is pretty abrupt. I tried to give it direction as well as I could though. I wanted to give you something to expect for Act III so that I can make sure all your predictions are wrong. Because that's totally what I do, ruin predictions. This is all one big trolling scheme.

But imagine this: I originally had planned a really shocking plot twist for the end of this chapter, which would have explained a lot, like why Gilda is trying to kill Twilight. But then I thought, "No, it's not time yet," and I pushed it back into Act III. Sorry.

It was mindblowing, though, I assure you.

On the plus side, Act III is going to have a lot more structure. It's going to feel like one cohesive whole piece of the story, as opposed to just a random starting and stopping point.

On the down side, I predict Act III will be about the size of Acts I and II combined. Which is good for you, I guess, but bad for me.

Tune in next time for Act III: The Grandfather Paradox.
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KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
"This whole time I thought it was a riddle, but it never was. It was always meant to be taken completely literally.” Um, I forget… What was this “Riddle” Twilight’s talking about?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
Stargazer told Twilight that "The sun's wind can reach where the sun does not."

Twilight assumed it was a riddle.

It wasn't.
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
Thanks for telling me, but I just answered my own question by reading more of the story. Ug, I just hate it when that happens. Sorry for any inconveniences that you may have experienced.
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
Will we see the reactions to Fluttershy cutting off her own wings soon?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
The two Fluttershys will meet, eventually.

I don't think it's just Fluttershy that has some interesting meetings ahead of her...
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
"Armonia" What are the other months called?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
I don't remember. I have it listed somewhere.

The names of the months were inspired by the story "The Reports of Agent X", which unfortunately hasn't updated in a year.
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2012
Where can I read it?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2012
It's on Equestria Daily here: [link]
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
"Twilight glared, slightly disgusted" Why was she slightly disgusted?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
Perhaps disgusted is the wrong word.

Disturbed, because she still doesn't necessarily trust Moonlight, and Orange decided to give them one bed.
fotland42 Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012
I'm confused about some things. For example, why did Moonlight feel the need to say that seeing sunlight on sunside was because NMM was still imprisoned when even if she had managed to forget that NMM had been defeated on sunside, Twilight had just reminded her? Did Trixie dye her coat or is twilight just really bad at recognizing her own sister? If NMM is the current tyrannical ruler of Equestria, why does she apparently freely allow writing about Celestia and the sun and possibilities of Celestia returning and do nothing to suppress dissent against her rule?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
To clarify:

Time passes at different rates between the two worlds. As a result, the thousand year timer on Nightmare Moon's imprisonment expired Moonside first. When Moonlight first discovered the alternate realities, she assumed that NMM had been defeated Sunside, when, in reality, she was merely still imprisoned. She did not discover the truth until after she tried to send Stone Wall across. She then watched as the Mane 6 defeated NNM anyway.

Regarding Trixie: I've already gotten some flack about embracing what has turned out to be not a very popular piece of fanon. And the answer is that Twilight has become so distanced from her family that she simply failed to recognize Trixie. She also didn't know that Trixie was using a stage name (Which seems likely. The name "Trixie" does not fit normal Pony naming conventions.)

Finally, why does NNM allow ponies to speak ill of her?

Because she's powerful enough to not care. She is the most powerful being in Equestria, and she knows it. She's well aware that not even an army of ponies stand a chance of defeating her. As such, she's not going to waste her time crushing every dissenter, because they're not really a threat. The only serious threat is the Elements of Harmony.

However, there's no indication so far that NNM allowed the book to be published. Maybe it's a banned book being circulated in secret, Silver Shield has a copy because he's opposed to her reign, Madam Orange has a copy because she's rich and can afford to find a copy for her personal library.
Raxadian Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2012
Well, here you go with Equestria being "flat", And wit Celestia being in the "Death side of the planet" instead of sealed in the sun. But whatever...
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2012
Yes. World Without Rainbows is my chance to randomly toss out oddball theories about Equestria.

This is a world where the sun can just vanish without the entire planning shooting off into space, and the sun doesn't move without magical intervention. A Heliocentric astronomy just seems unlikely.
Truepikapuff Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012
Of course.
pinormous Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2012
This story is so gripping! Can't wait for Act III to get rolling!
Kingofsouls Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2011

Good chapter Freedom. I liked the pacing of it. Can't wait for the next chapter.
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2012
...What's so bad about The Grandather Paradox?
Alex999139 Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2012
twinkiepinkie Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
HOORAY IT'S BACK! What a wonderful Christmas present!
vsbloom Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
EmperorJewel Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
Still love this series!

Personally I am looking forward to Pinkie Pie meeting Diane Pie (Using Pinkamena doesn't seem right). Even if I have to wait a little while.
Shiboito1 Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
lewisbolland Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
Where did you get the name New Yoke? I've been pushing that one in every thread asking for pony place names for weeks now
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
It just kind of came to me. Usually I'm really bad at coming up with names, though.
qqq333 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2011
That's a good way to end it. I especially liked the Twilight/Twilight dialogues.

A couple of things I've been wondering about, and this chapter seems like as good a place as any to note them. What happened to Twilight's injuries? A couple of chapters ago it seemed like she should have been near death from the collective beatings she'd taken from Silver Shield and Gilda. When Madame Orange sees her, she's "looking sharp." Cartoon physics to the rescue?

More significantly, this chapter has me wondering where sunside Celestia is in all this - and Spike, for that matter, who seems to have disappeared after his last mention halfway through chapter eight. I can see the pony gang not thinking to contact the Princess, but after Lesson Zero I don't think it's disputable that Spike would inform her without hesitation if Twilight were in serious danger - which is precisely her situation as he understands it.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2011
Not cartoon physics. Just bad writing.

Spike has been left behind to care for Fluttershy's animals. This is no place for a baby dragon. It's not clear how much he knows about what's going on, but he would probably try to alert the Princess if enough time goes by.
pumpkin-tlof19 Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2011
Hrm...I'm noticing a bit of a plothole here, but if I'm right you pushed the reveal for that back to Act III, which is why I'm not seeing anything here.
Interesting name for the third act...and yes, it is good to hear that we're in for the story doubling in size. For us, at least. Let me know if you need someone to beta again, yeah?
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