Hail, Hail, The Gang's Almost All Here

Once I had recovered enough to do things, I decided to go check up on Anon's trial. According to Gilda, I'd only lost two days to that experience. (Two days?! It had felt like I was stuck in the last one, where they'd used a reforming spell on me, for years. But that's how dreams work, after all, and I shouldn't have been surprised.) And then I'd lost two days to my recovery and journaling. Thankfully the trial was still going on. She'd been monitoring it with the Panauricon, since Blueblood was wearing an ear on his ear. Apparently Anon had finally gotten a chance to speak in his own defense, and, no surprise, had blamed me. Apparently, because I hadn't told him she was a child, and I hadn't told him she was a slave, it was all my fault that he had hacked her to death. This is, even by my standards, ridiculously illogical. "I'm sorry, officer, I didn't realize she was underage" might fly when the infraction in question was a bit of dirty dancing, not a gruesome murder of a helpless opponent. And yet, not only did this argument seem to be swaying the ponies... it sounded from what little Blueblood could hear of their conversation with each other that Starflame and Ember were actually taking the argument somewhat seriously as well.

I could understand ponies. Ponies are terrified of dragons and don't understand them very well. Tell a pony that someone killed a huge, winged dragon in combat, and moreover a huge, winged dragon that had been protecting an evil tyrant ruler of a nation of slavers and rapists, and I could well see how ponies could start from the assumption that this was probably a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and then fail to reality check their initial assumption after being told the dragon in question was a slave and a child. But how could dragons think this was an acceptable argument? This was Anon all the way. I knew I was going to have to drop in on Ember and Starflame, to reinforce their understanding that murdering enslaved children is bad against the press of Anon's mind control.

Much as I wanted to check up on Trixie, I had to deal with this or risk Anon being found innocent. I mean, that was probably going to happen anyway, but I wanted to put up as much of a fight as possible.

However, when I dropped in, Blueblood completely derailed me. The day's arguments weren't over, so instead of being able to go speak directly to Ember and Starflame, I had to meet up with Blueblood first... who immediately dragged me out of the trial. "There's somepony here to see you," he said.

"To see me?" I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to meet with Twister, unless they recognized me from the xenophiles' club and wanted some action, and that was certainly not a good enough reason to interrupt my plans to watch my enemy's humiliation. On the other hand, nopony knew I was Discord... presumably. "Why?"

"Someone who's identified certain problems with society, problems that you and I have already observed and are aware of the cause of, and who would like to be involved in ending those problems."

I raised an eyebrow. Blueblood was being very circumspect, presumably because we were still relatively in public. He led me out of the palace entirely. "Where are we going?"

"I have a safe house. Where I bring... friends when I don't want the paparazzi harassing them."

Ah. Where he brought the one-night stands he didn't want to be publicly linked to, then. "If you just told me where it was, I could teleport us there."

"Do you actually know the location of streets and street numbers in Canterlot? A thorough knowledge of the addresses in a city doesn't seem particularly chaotic."

"I tend to navigate by landmarks, as a general rule."

"Then it'll be easier for me to take you there than it would be to explain."

We were trotting at a good speed, so it didn't take very long to reach the townhome Blueblood apparently stashed his conquests in. A servant of Blueblood's family opened the door for us, and there was a mare sitting in the parlor. I did a doubletake. Aside from the large quantity of eyeshadow she was wearing, the dark grey mare was incredibly dull-looking, her straight purple mane cut in a precise, bland bowl cut with the back grown out, but even though she was so boring that looking at her made my brain want to shut down, I recognized her. It was Maud Pie, Pinkie's sister.

"Blueblood, what is Pinkie's sister doing here?"

"She has a story to tell you," Blueblood said. "It sounded to me as if the events she related to me could be the work of Anon." He nodded at her. "I'll go back to the trial while you discuss with her."

"I'm not entirely certain how Anon could be responsible for this," Maud said as Blueblood left. "But Prince Blueblood told me you could explain."

It is very difficult to describe Maud Pie's voice because there are not enough synonyms for "boring" in the Equestrian language, and I hate repeating myself. There is no emotion at all in her voice, or her face, or her ears, or her tail. None. Ninguno. Zip. It's hard for me to understand her, since I'm in danger of falling asleep every moment she's speaking. The verb "drone" doesn't begin to convey how monotone she is. I decided I needed to get a reaction out of her, so I transformed into my true shape and leaned my face into hers, extending my neck even farther than it normally extends. "Well, what seems to be the problem, little pony?"

I was deeply disappointed. Lately I've been meeting a lot of brave ponies who stand up to me despite being obviously terrified. But Maud didn't even blink. No reaction at all. "My sister forgot that I existed, and forgot our other sisters' names."

"Forgot you existed?" That one made me blink. Anon had done any number of terrible things, but making Pinkie forget her sister – who, unlike me, was not a villain, and had never done him any harm – seemed to be a new low. Amazing how every time I thought he'd sunk as low as possible, something like this happened.

"My sister is Pinkie Pie. I'm told you know her."

I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic or not. "Oh, no, I've never heard of her," I said. Now me, I was definitely being sarcastic.

"She's one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony. They turned you into stone, which must have been an improvement."

"It really wasn't."

"Adding rocks to anything is an improvement. Aside from pastry products."

"Mm, we're going to have to agree to agree that you're stupid," I said. "Go on and tell me your story."

"Pinkie and I are very close," Maud said, showing no reaction to my insults. In fact, pretty much throughout this encounter she showed no reaction to anything. It's unnerving. "I'm at university studying for a doctorate in geology. Pinkie calls it my 'rocktorate'."

"She would."

"She used to send me a letter every week. In the last letter I received, she told me that she and her friends had met a new friend, named Anon, that he was a member of a previously undiscovered species, and that he was a lot of fun and she would tell me more about him next week but this week she and her friends had to attend Twilight Sparkle's brother's wedding and she would be working on the reception. The next week I didn't receive a letter."

"Anon has been known to erase memories, but I thought he only did it to his enemies."

"I thought perhaps she had forgotten, but I didn't receive a letter the next week either. Or the week after that. I assumed that for some reason she was sending them to our parents' home, but when I returned home for break, I found that she had not sent me any letters there, either. Also, she referred to my sisters Limestone and Marble as Inky and Blinky."

I was beginning to see a pattern here. Inky, Blinky and Pinky are the names of enemies in a famous human video game, and in the episodes I saw, the only time any relatives of Pinkie were shown, it was only two of her sisters. Maud wasn't present. Anon, therefore, didn't know Maud Pie existed... so Pinkie didn't either.

This both fascinated and horrified me. Fluttershy's brother wasn't shown in the series, nor was his existence even hinted at. Had she forgotten his existence? (He was a highly forgettable fellow, if you ask me. A complete loser with an utterly unwarranted sense of his own self-worth and an overblown sense of entitlement. Still, he was her brother.) Only Rarity, Twilight and Pinkie had had their parents appear on the show, but Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash both had both parents living and healthy; did Anon make them forget their parents because there was no evidence they had any in the episodes he'd seen? Celestia had remembered she had a father, and it was entirely reasonable for Anon to assume her father was dead, but he'd completely rewritten the manner of his death and the sisters' relationship to me, in their heads. Did Rainbow and Fluttershy think their parents were dead? Estranged? Or did the fact that logically, every living pony has had parents make him assume they had some, somewhere?

"What happened when you talked to Pinkie about it?" I asked, assuming that of course Maud would have talked to Pinkie about it.

I wasn't disappointed. "She was obviously very surprised to see me," Maud said. "At first she still didn't seem to recognize me. When I pointed out that I am her sister Maud, she behaved as if she had known this all along and was joking with me... but Pinkie doesn't make jokes that make ponies feel hurt and neglected. Additionally, she claimed that her nicknames for Limestone and Marble were jokes, but our sisters are very sensitive and Pinkie knows this. She wouldn't make a joke that implies she cannot remember their real names, and she wouldn't give them random nicknames with nothing to do with their personalities or appearances." Maud paused. From her, with her total lack of emotion, it seemed as if she was applying great weight to her next statement. "I am not convinced Pinkie recognized me even then," she said. "She attempted to cover it, but I detected that she was still confused."

"You don't seem like the kind of pony who's exactly an expert on the mental state of other ponies."

"I prefer rocks. They're easier to understand. But Pinkie is my sister. I know her moods very well."

So. Pinkie hadn't remembered her own sister because Anon hadn't known she had a sister, and even after it had been explained to her that she had a sister, she might possibly not have remembered. This seemed less some semi-deliberate act on Anon's part and more a side effect of how his powers worked. "So you met her and she seemed confused about who you were. Is she writing you now?"

"Yes, but all she talks about is her partner, Anon. Occasionally some details about one of her herdmates slips through, but mostly it's Anon."

"Were you surprised to hear Pinkie was herding with her friends?"

Maud paused. From her, the seconds of silence seemed like high drama. "Pinkie has always been polyamorous," she said. "But I am afraid she'll get hurt. She seems to think this new fad for herding will last forever, but it arose so quickly, I believe it will disappear equally quickly when ponies get tired of it, and then Pinkie's partners will leave her for monogamous relationships. She will be heartbroken."

I nodded. Maud's fears seemed realistic. And then I realized something. "Wait. You know herding is new?"

"My family follow traditional ways, but I go to university. I'm exposed to other lifestyles. It isn't our way to judge those who live by different traditions. But I didn't know any ponies in a herd, and then suddenly everypony I knew was in one. I'm not sure when this new fad started, but it's obviously one of those things that suddenly becomes popular overnight... and those things usually don't stay popular."

I blinked. "You know," I said, and I meant it to sound normal but it came out in almost a reverential whisper. "You know it wasn't always like this! You remember!" I couldn't stop myself from coiling in circles around her in excitement – not touching her, just spinning in circles around her head. "Anon's mind control didn't alter your memories! But how?"

"I don't know. I didn't know Anon had mind control powers. Pinkie doesn't seem to know that."

"Tell her! If you can, please tell her!" Had I found a way in? Could Maud break through Anon's information wall and reach Pinkie? "Right now!" I conjured her a scroll and a pencil – earth ponies tend to prefer them to quills, they're thicker and easier to pick up with a mouth or tactile telekinesis.

"All right." Maud started writing, reciting as she wrote. "Dear Pinkie, I'm concerned about your herdmate Anon. I've heard that he killed a dragon and is now on trial..." Her expression actually changed, turning just very slightly more scowly. "That was not what I meant to write."

My heart sank. "Try again," I said, but I already knew it wouldn't work.

"Dear Pinkie, Anon seems like a very attractive... no. No, that isn't what I'm trying to say. Dear Pinkie, I've heard that Anon might be facing extradition to... No. Dear Pinkie, mind control abilities are held by many unicorns, so be careful when... What's happening?" She looked up at me. "I know what I want to say, but when I write it, I write something else."

I sighed dramatically. "And I had such high hopes, too. It's part of Anon's powers. You can't tell anyone he considers close to him that he even has powers." My fists clenched. "And you can't tell him anything he'd rather not hear. That's why that dragon died. I tried to tell him, and Luna, that she was a child, and a slave. But Anon wouldn't have wanted to know he was attacking a little girl, so I couldn't tell him. Or Luna. Every time I tried to say it, it came out as something completely different."

"That seems as if it would have to be a very powerful spell."

"It doesn't seem to be a spell at all. I can detect magic. I can't detect any from Anon. The only thing I've noticed is magic is – hey. Hey, I didn't think of this! Do you know any mares that used to be stallions?"

"About half the stallions in my class are now mares," Maud said. "I don't judge."

"And it didn't occur to you that that was strange? That that's a really high number? That it was odd that they never made reference to their old lives?"

"I don't judge," Maud repeated. "I didn't know it had any relation to Pinkie, so I didn't care. Ponies' gender aren't my concern."

"No, all you care about is rocks."

"No. All I care about are rocks and my family."

I slumped back in one of Blueblood's fancy chairs, the back of my lion paw to my forehead. "The only other sapient being I've met who was resistant to Anon's changes, and she's stunningly unobservant and incurious about anything other than rocks."

"Why is Anon mind-controlling Pinkie to forget me?" Maud asked.

"He's not... exactly. He... how to explain this." I summoned a copy of a television – those crystal screens that show the little films, in the human world. "This is from Anon's world, and this—" The show, which is called My Little Pony, started playing its inane theme music. "This is like a movie, about your sister and her friends, and their adventures."

Maud was staring at the screen. I'd never seen her show that much interest in anything. "Is that a liquid crystal?"

I glanced at it to check what it was made of. "Yes," I admitted, "but what does that have to do with anything?"

"I prefer rocks with more varied structures than simply crystalline, but crystalline rock is interesting also. And liquid crystal is unusual. I don't usually see it outside of complex magical applications."

"Fine. Now pay attention." The theme song was over and an episode was starting. I'd grabbed a Pinkie episode, the one where she made extra copies of herself. "Anon saw these episodes in his world, so he had preconceptions about what our world was like. When he came here... somehow, he has the power to alter reality so that it makes him appear to be a big hero, makes mares fall in love with him, stallions respect him, and more to our point, reshapes Equestria into what he thinks it is. So the herding fad, as you describe it, came about because Anon thought there were fewer stallions than there actually are – the show is aimed at fillies in the human world, and they think boys are icky, so they just don't show as many stallions. And so Anon had this idea that ponies herd, because on his world they have horses, and horses herd. A shortage of males, experience with what unintelligent animals that bear some resemblance to ponies do, and the desire to have your sister and all of her friends fall in love with him, and voila, suddenly ponies herd a lot. And a lot of stallions wake up as mares."

"Pinkie wouldn't approve of someone who changes stallions into mares without their permission. Ponies are unhappy when they're the wrong gender, and Pinkie most wants ponies to be happy."

"She doesn't know he's doing it. He doesn't know he's doing it, as nearly as I can tell, and his magic won't allow us to tell him, or anyone close to him. That's why you couldn't write Pinkie and tell her Anon is mind-controlling her."

"Why would he make her forget me, though?"

"Because you aren't in the show." I pointed at the screen. "In the episodes I've seen – which I think are the ones Anon has seen, I don't know if there are any more but I think these are all the ones that came out before Anon came here – you don't appear. Pinkie's family life appears briefly in the episode about how she got her cutie mark, and you weren't there."

"But I was there."

"When Pinkie first showed your parents and sisters her party?"

"Oh. No, that's correct. I was investigating a vein of feldspar at the far end of our acreage. I heard Pinkie call us – she was very loud – but I wanted to finish my observations first. When I reached our home, Pinkie had already started her first party." Maud blinked. Really, I cannot overstate how boring this pony's body language was, and how shocking it was every time she showed any sort of expression. "I didn't like it. It was too loud and the colors were garish, but I endured for Pinkie's sake. But then all she wanted to do was throw parties and I couldn't endure that even for her. I told Mother – I only wanted her to explain to Pinkie why I couldn't attend all of her parties, but Mother and Father told Pinkie to stop having them, and then she left home. I blamed myself, but luckily, we were able to reconcile our relationship as sisters after I followed her to Ponyville and found that she had become a bakers' apprentice."

"That's a touching story," I said, dabbing my eyes with a convenient handkerchief. "But completely irrelevant to the situation with Anon."

"But I don't understand why a film about Pinkie's life wouldn't show any of that."

"It's not about Pinkie's life. It's about her adventures with her friends as a Bearer of Harmony. There are some flashbacks showing the childhoods of the Bearers, but each flashback is less than five minutes. You weren't in the one bit of Pinkie's childhood Anon has seen... so he didn't know you existed. And my guess is, he actively thought you didn't exist – that is, he had his own interpretation of what he'd seen that led to strong beliefs about what Pinkie's home life was like. And in that interpretation, your sisters' names were Inky and Blinky, and you didn't exist."

"Why would a stranger have such strong opinions about something he knows nothing about?"

"To him, it was just a story. No one in the human world knows our world is real. You can have ideas about fictional stories, that's not – usually – a thing that hurts anyone or anything."

"I don't," Maud said.

"Don't what?"

"Have ideas about fictional stories. I am not very interested in fiction, personally. Pinkie loves it. She used to make up stories and play pretend all the time when we were fillies."

"Well, Anon may be the most boring human on his entire planet, but he manages to have more imagination than you, somehow. Unfortunately that imagination has led to some horrifying things, since he can impose his imagined ideas about what our world is like on our world, and no one knows he's doing it, even him." I scowled. "You got off easy. He thinks I'm some sort of irredeemable horrible villain, so he made the ponies I spent my childhood with think I'm a monster who ate their father."

"Why was I immune to this mind control? You seem to be saying that you and I are the only ones, but my parents and sisters are also aware that herding is a fad. You're a very powerful magical entity; we're only rock farmers. Explain this."

I ran a paw over my forehead. "I can't," I admitted. "Not exactly. I have hypotheses, though. Your family lives on a rock farm, right?"

"We are rock farmers. It should go without saying that we live on a rock farm."

Rock farming is not quite as ridiculous as it sounds. On our world, the magic that permeates the entire planet is found in rocks as well as in everything else, and in fact because of the ley lines that pull magic down under ground at the poles, where it then travels through the magma layer and spews out in volcanos, rock is generally thoroughly saturated with magic... which is held in a static form, because it's rock. Crystal releases the magic more easily, which is why it's the preferred food of dragons – they can't extract magic from regular rock through digestion nearly as easily – and why ponies and other magical sapients prefer to use crystals as a battery. Rock farmers have a talent for accessing the magic in the rock, though.

The process of rock farming adds dirt, which earth ponies in general can infuse with the life force needed to support plant life, to the rock, solidifies it into more rock, and at the same time draws magic out from the rock to bring it to the surface, making it easier to release. The result is a rock that radiates life force into the land it's deposited on. Unicorns who want to start a settlement somewhere without a substantial number of earth ponies, and earth ponies who want to have a settlement in an area where nothing should grow, such as a desert, buy rocks like this to support their farms and make sure there's enough circulating earth magic in the dirt that they can get good crops. Pegasi buy smaller ones for their cloud homes to make their houseplants and their aquaculture plants grow well.

The process is insanely boring, though. It involves a lot of digging for rocks and then rolling them around on the dirt, every day. Because all the life energy in the dirt is being redirected into the rocks, rock farms don't have anything green growing on them most of the time – a tree or two, maybe, but even grass dies on rock farms. So they're monotonous beyond belief to look at. Trixie, not being an earth pony, was probably employed either digging the rocks or breaking them, as especially large rocks need to be broken to make the magic at their centers more accessible. When earth ponies roll the rocks over the dirt, their natural earth magic draws life force out of the dirt and into the rock, but you need to have specialized talents and actual magical ability with your earth pony magic to be able to solidify the dirt and mud that the rocks collect into more rock. Pinkie didn't have this specific talent, which made her fairly incompetent at rock farming. Maud and the rest of her family, obviously, did.

Because rock stores and absorbs magic, it's a stabilizing force. The kind of pony that farms rocks now would have been the kind of pony, back in the days when the tribes warred with each other, who would have built cairns and fortresses that absorbed magic from the air, significantly weakening any unicorns in the area. I'd already guessed that the reason I had been immune to Anon's changes was that I'd been trapped as rock at the time, the same reason that I hadn't been able to wield any of my own magic – magic is absorbed by rock, and it can flow through rock but only in its purified form, absent of the intentional elements that make magic actually do things. Could being earth pony rock farmers, standing on the land of a rock farm, have surrounded the Pies with enough magic stabilization and protection that it had shielded them from Anon? "Were you on the rock farm at the time?"

"At what time?"

I sighed. "Were you aware of the royal wedding?"

"Pinkie wrote to say she would be part of it. That was her last letter to me before I confronted her and re-introduced myself."

"So, during the time period that she said she would be in a wedding, were you on the rock farm?"

"No." I know I'm getting repetitive here, but I'm falling asleep just trying to record what Maud said, because she didn't do anything but talk. No facial expressions. No change of tone. No body language. She could have been disembodied words on a typewriter and she would have conveyed just as much emotion. "I was inside the Canterhorn doing geologic assays on the cave system." Her voice perked up very, very slightly. "Did you know that the Canterhorn is one of the only places in Equestria where you can find all three major geologic categories together in significant quantities? There's igneous rock, which establishes the Canterhorn as an inactive volcano – either dormant or extinct, we're attempting to determine that by assaying enough rock to establish a time frame for the last eruption – and of course there's sedimentary rock, as you would find in any cave system, but there's also—"

"That's fascinating," I interrupted, yawning ostentatiously, "but let's stick to the subject, please. Were any of your classmates in the cave system with you?"

"No," Maud said, frowning very slightly. Or maybe I was imagining it. You know how if you stare at a blank wall for long enough you start seeing things on it? Actually, I don't, because I've never stared at a blank wall for more than a few seconds, tops, but I did spend a thousand years staring at literally nothing because I didn't have working eyes. Maud's face was almost more boring than having eyeballs made out of rock. Almost. "They were supposed to, but my partners decided that there was an event happening in Canterlot that was more interesting to them than our project, and they asked me to postpone and come with them. Technically speaking I was not supposed to be in the cave system by myself without backup, but I had Boulder, so I felt that I was safe to continue the project on my own."

"An event happening in Canterlot like a royal wedding?"

"I didn't pay sufficient attention when they told me. An event with ponies that doesn't involve my family can't possibly be more interesting than a cave exploration expedition."

"You do know that your sister was at that event, right?"

"Mmm." Maud's expression didn't change. "That hadn't occurred to me until you pointed it out just now."

And if she had attended, Anon would have known of her existence and Pinkie wouldn't have forgotten her, but if my theory was correct, she'd have been in complete approval of Pinkie's romantic life. It sounded as if she didn't have any strong disapproval of Anon anyway, just misgivings based on the fact that she thought herding was a fad rather than a permanent change to Equestrian society imposed by a reality warper. If Pinkie was genuinely polyamorous, she was quite possibly the only one of Anon's "herd" who wouldn't have needed to be mentally altered to accept and enjoy such a relationship. And if all she knew of Anon was Pinkie's glowing reports, of course she'd have no real reason to hate the guy. I aimed to change that.

The caves under the Canterhorn and the catacombs under Canterlot Palace might actually be the same thing; I don't care enough about caves to have ever bothered to explore either one. Catacombs are typically pony-made and caves are natural, but if I could trust the cartoon, the catacombs I'd seen in the show didn't look like they were made with any particular purpose... which meant they could be natural caves, or caves expanded by pony power.

Anon's magic sword had been in the catacombs within the Canterhorn. Maud had been immune to the changes he made, only a trot or so below him within the same mountain. This meant something, I felt sure, but I didn't know what. Was it a coincidence? Was it Maud's rock farming magic that had protected her, as it had protected her family? Or had her family been protected by the rocks on their property, and Maud by the Canterhorn, somehow?

Trixie had been on the rock farm at some point. I decided I needed to ask her exactly when. If she'd been on the rock farm when Anon's changes had happened, she might have been immune to them too... a hypothesis I'd have rejected out of hand before I'd seen the rest of the cartoon and realized that Trixie really was that narcissistic and ridiculous that she'd been obsessed with revenge on Twilight without Anon's influence. The trouble would be getting a straight answer out of her about what she thought and felt in the past. Trixie was now protected by the Element of Deception, and would remember the way Equestria used to be, but could I trust her to remember what she thought before I gave her the Element, or would she just make things up to match what she now knew to be true to make herself look less fallible?

Reluctantly, I decided the latter was probably true. I could question Trixie but I probably wouldn't get a useful answer. If she did, miraculously, confirm that she was affected by Anon in the past, then I'd know it was rock farmer magic and the Canterhorn was irrelevant. If she claimed that she'd always known that herding was a new thing and that mares she knew used to be stallions... that wouldn't prove anything because she could be making it up to make herself look better.

Lest you think this sounds like I was succumbing to analysis paralysis, chasing my own tail with little Twilight Sparkles dancing around in my eyes, I didn't carefully think any of this through; it just all came to me as Maud told her story. I don't know whether it's my affinity for chaos or natural superior intelligence, but generally speaking, I don't need to analyze anything because the implications and ramifications just appear obvious to me. (The disadvantage, of course, is that when they don't just pop into my head, I have difficulty getting to them by thinking things through long-ways.)

Sooner or later I was going to have to explore those catacombs, maybe the entire cave system. I made a face. I wasn't looking forward to that. I haven't been too thrilled with caves ever since Tia, Luna and I went exploring some in the area that is now the Everfree and found it full of draconequus skeletons, who'd died huddling together for warmth as the world froze. There are no more random draconequus skeletons in caves anymore, thanks to moi, but that is the kind of experience that leaves a mark on an impressionable young mind.

I decided it was time to wind this up. Maud was entirely too boring for me to spend very much time with. "So. Does this answer all your questions?"

"Not entirely. How do I make Pinkie remember me again?"

I had to shrug at that. "I have no idea. You say she can identify you now as her sister, and she writes to you, but you think she may have lost the memories of the two of you as foals?"

"I don't know which memories she's lost, but she has forgotten things. Our tradition of exchanging rock candy, for example. Any time that I tell her about a thing she shouldn't have forgotten, she claims either that she just forgot, that she knew but she was testing me, or that it's a joke and she was pretending to forget, but I know that all of these behaviors are abnormal."

"The only way I can think of to make sure Pinkie gets her memories back is to defeat Anon," I said. "We need to show Pinkie and the others what he truly is."

"Which is what, exactly?"

"A person who alters reality to meet his whims. A person who can make a pony forget their beloved sister because he has strong opinions about what her family is like." I shook my head. "He's not good, or kind, or loving. He's an utterly selfish idiot and the last I checked, he was making Pinkie miserable because she was convinced that he didn't really love her." I wasn't going to tell Maud that it was actually my minion Diamond Tiara who set off that bomb.

"If he were to cease to exist, would Pinkie get her memories back?"

I entertained a brief, lovely fantasy of earth pony strength pummeling Anon into bone jelly, but reluctantly dismissed it. "Most likely, but unfortunately, it'll be more difficult than you might think to make that happen. His powers protect him. If you attempt to kill him, his powers will probably brainwash you into thinking you're brainwashed into hating him, so he can be a big hero and free Pinkie's sister from some magical malign influence, and then you'll end up one of his best friends."

"All of that seems implausible."

I shrugged. "I'm not telling you not to try it. Go ahead, see how far you get. If I'm wrong, I'd be delighted."

"If he dies, and it does not immediately make the mind control go away, Pinkie would be heartbroken. So that isn't a good solution regardless of whether it can be accomplished or not."

"There is that." I coiled up into an upright position. "Well, this has been loads of fun, but I'm afraid I must take my leave of you now."

"You intend to kill Anon, don't you?" I think that had a question mark after it.

"If that's what it takes to free the world from what he's done."

"You can do what you want with Anon. But if you do anything that causes any harm or even distress to my sister, I will hunt you down, tear off your antlers and poke out your eyeballs with them."

This hyperbolic threat was said in the same even, flat tone that Maud had said everything else in, and despite myself, I shivered. An earth pony was no serious threat to me, but the fact that Maud said it so calmly... that was terrifying, no matter how well I understood that Maud was no match for me. I felt like she genuinely meant it.

But I couldn't let her think she'd genuinely gotten me, so I said, "You mean like this?", removed my own antler and horn, and poked them into my eyes, removing the eyes and then toasting them like marshmallows over a small flame.

"Yes," Maud said, "but with less chaos magic involved."

Having regenerated my eyes, I summoned up graham crackers and chocolate. "Smores?" I asked, offering her one of my toasted eyeballs.

"No thank you. I am not fond of sweets."

I popped the impromptu Smore into my mouth. "You're missing out," I said, and teleported.

I wanted to go check up on Trixie, both because what she was doing was hilarious, and because I wanted to ask her about what she'd believed about the world before I gave her the Element of Deception, but I knew I had to go have a conversation with Starflame and Ember first.

They were staying in the palace; Celestia actually had rooms that could accommodate a dragon Starflame's size, though Torch would be out of the question. Starflame hissed at me, and Ember snarled, "Chaos Lord! I noticed you conveniently left out that you could have told Anon that Faith was a child, and you never did!"

I tried to say that I tried, but of course it came out wrong. "Why did Anon need to be told not to murder an intelligent being?"

"He thought he was defending slaves from a tyrant, and he thought that Faith was a free dragon who chose to help that tyrant. What would you expect a warrior to have done?"

"Excuse me?" I goggled at her. "You're making excuses for a dragonslayer? What kind of dragon are you?"

Ember scowled. "I can be fair and evaluate the evidence," she said.

"Well." I landed in front of her. "I was there, Ember. She was down. Injured. Out of the fight. He didn't need to keep going."

"He was raised in a society where dragons are seen as monsters—"

This was serious. A dragon, of all creatures, empathizing. With a dragonslayer, no less. I leaned into her face. "Do you want me to show you?"

I couldn't travel in time right now – Anon's powers locking down dimensional travel applies to the fourth dimension as well. But I could still summon up images from the past. So I did.

Ember and Starflame both watched, fire literally rising in their eyes, as Anon brought Faith down and then kept hacking at her when she could no longer fly, and then when she could no longer walk, and finally he put his sword through her scales and ribs into her heart.

All the empathy for Anon had fled the room.

"We should present this as evidence," Ember said coldly. "This human needs to be brought to dragon justice. Even if he didn't know she was a child, there is no possible reason why he should be allowed to live."

"Yes, but how would we do that?" Starflame asked. "We can't present evidence that was shown to us by Discord; they'll just claim it was made up to discredit Anon."

"Which is a good point." Ember glared at me. "We know Anon is your enemy and you want to destroy him. How do I know you didn't make up this horrible incident just to make us want to kill him?"

"I suppose you don't," I said, "but do I look like the kind of creature with a sufficiently horrid and yet mundane enough imagination to construct a scenario like that?" It's not as if I haven't dreamed up some absolutely awful things; I spent a significant portion of my time in stone imagining various apocalypses to wipe out all of ponykind. But they were things like killer tomatoes rolling over them and eating them, sentient shower curtains rising up to tangle around ponies and suffocate them, giant spiders spinning webs of fire, gravity spontaneously ceasing to work and all the ponies falling into space... nothing as mundane as anyone hacking at anyone else with a sword.

"I mean, you look like a ridiculous goofball that nodrake should take seriously," Ember said, "but you wiped out the dragons of Neighropa two thousand years ago. So I don't think what you look like is important here."

"The pattern of her injuries was consistent with what Discord has shown us," Starflame said. "While he may have motive to lie, I don't see any evidence that contradicts what we just saw."

"Huh. Well, then, that's what we can say. You did a forensic analysis of Faith's body and then we present what Discord showed us the human did to her as something we figured out from her injuries."

"That sounds like a marvelous plan," I said. "You ladies go to it!"

And now I was going to get to go check up on Trixie.

In the show, Trixie had set herself up as an absolute monarch over Ponyville, demanding that the two colts who'd woken up an Ursa Minor to test her the first time she'd come to Ponyville service her every whim, which included being carried around in a wagon without wheels because she'd claimed she hadn't trusted wheels. She'd also thrown Pinkie's mouth in a trash can, which I found hilarious and wished I'd been able to see happen in real life. The Element of Deception doesn't allow Trixie significantly more power than she naturally has, and even with it, maintaining an illusion that Pinkie has no mouth would be difficult, so she hadn't tried that one.

Instead, I found, she'd turned Pinkie's voice into the tweeting of a bird. She'd invented a number of "evil" things to force the population to do, since the goal was to look like a villain to Anon. She'd told Applejack that she wanted to bathe in applesauce, and demanded that she and her family crush enough apples to make that happen. (In the show, she'd only wanted an applesauce facial. Apparently what Trixie really wants when she's a villain is less extreme than what she thinks a villain would want.) She was still making Snips and Snails pull her everywhere, but in a cart that she'd decorated to look like an exotic Eastern palanquin, with wheels. She kept tormenting Rarity by making her dresses change to horrible colors (well, colors Rarity considered horrible; I rather liked some of the combinations.) And she was making the townsponies put up statues of her everywhere, because apparently that is a thing villains do. I have to object to that – I put up images of myself everywhere (I try to avoid statues per se, to be honest) and I'm not... no, wait, I actually am a villain. I may not be evil but I am definitely a villain. Never mind! Carry on, Trixie!

I spoke into her earring to get her to go someplace alone and use her illusion power to block anyone from being able to see us. She picked the Golden Oaks Library, because of course she did.

"Trixie has driven Twilight Sparkle from Ponyville and ruled the town as a cruel tyrant," she boasted to me, obviously very proud of herself. "When will Anon be coming?"

I laughed. "He's still on trial for his life. I'm not sure when he's going to be able to show up."

Her face fell. "As pleasant as it is for Trixie to finally get the recognition she deserves... this is getting somewhat boring. Could you at least bring Twilight back so I could demonstrate my superiority to her again?"

I shrugged. "I dunno, I think you've proven your point. If you want to magnanimously give Ponyville back to its citizens and move on, I wouldn't object."

"But doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of having Trixie do this in the first place? I thought our goal was for Trixie to fight Anon!"

"It's actually to make him think I am plotting villainous things so that his powers don't force me to do stupid villainous things," I said. "If you want, we could do a big reveal where you're shown to be my ally and then I unleash some chaos on Ponyville and then I bet Anon would show up."

"Trixie does not wish to be upstaged," she said stiffly. "You are more powerful and your tricks are very showy."

I was surprised the Great and Powerful Trixie could actually humble herself to admit that I was better than her at her chosen skill – not that it wasn't self-evidently true, but Trixie's narcissism didn't seem like an attitude overly conducive to recognizing one's betters. "You have a point. Ponies aren't likely to look at you while I'm around."

"That isn't what I—"

"Let's see how this plays out. They might take a recess after today to let Anon come fight you. If it goes on another day or two and Twilight doesn't come back and Anon doesn't show up, feel free to tell them how much the town bores you, and then threaten to take over Manehattan or something and get out of here."

"I could take over Manehattan, couldn't I?" This was less a question than a villainous musing, the kind where if I'd been saying it I would have been steepling my fingers, but of course Trixie couldn't do that, lacking fingers. Did I mention lately how much I love having hands?

"Eh, probably not. The place is too big and the population too jaded to be cowed by illusions. But if you went out west and attacked Appleoosa, then Anon would be drawn in because that's Applejack's family out there."

"Yes, but then Trixie would have to go out west. There's almost nothing out there!"

"Well, there are plenty of places in Equestria that aren't Manehattan and aren't Appleoosa. You might be able to take over Fillydelphia or Baltimare, at least to the extent of taking over City Hall, or you could go with a smaller town like Ponypsie up near Manehattan." Somepony knocked on the door. "I suppose that's my cue to head out now."

"Yes!" Trixie called to the door. "The Great and Powerful Trixie will be with you momentarily!"

"It's Snips," a colt's whiny little voice said through the door.

Trixie sighed heavily. "Why are you bothering me?"

"There's a filly in the town square saying you can't really do anything, it's just illusions! You need to come and prove how strong you are to her!"

I raised an eyebrow. This sounded promising. "Go on, then," I said. "I'll be invisible, but I'm definitely going to watch this."

It was Diamond Tiara. Of course it was Diamond Tiara. Elements of Disharmony conflict with each other when forced into proximity, and the Element of Cruelty conveyed a certain degree of resistance to mind control just like all the others did, though not as much so as Arrogance. She was standing in the middle of the town square, alone, although her sycophant was a safe distance away.

"Who dares challenge the Great and Powerful Trixie?" Trixie demanded as she appeared in the town square in a puff of smoke. (She hadn't teleported. She'd trotted under an invisibility spell, and then dropped the spell as she entered town square.)

"'Great and Powerful Trixie,'" Diamond mocked in a nasal sing-song voice. "Is that name supposed to be impressive?"

"You are a child," Trixie intoned, "and therefore beneath my notice. Otherwise I would crush you like a bug for daring to question me!"

"Really? 'Cause I think you can't. I think you were here in Ponyville once before and your entire show was about how great you supposedly are and then we all found out you were a fake and a loser. Unicorns don't suddenly become supreme masters of magic when they started out as pathetic as you were, so I wondered, what's really going on? Where are you getting this power from? And then I remembered, oh yeah, you're an illusionist! So you learned some new techniques to do some really good illusions, but you can't actually hurt anypony."

This was hilarious. I had to surround myself with a thin layer of vacuum so that there was no possibility of anyone hearing my hearty guffaws. Diamond didn't actually know that I had given Trixie the Element of Deception, but she'd deduced logically from the abilities Trixie had demonstrated the last time that what Trixie was doing now had to be illusions.

"Do you truly wish to test the Great and Powerful Trixie? I would never want to harm a child, but if you insist on proof, you may leave me no choice!"

"Yeah, Diamond, you'd better back down! You don't want Trixie to turn you into a baby!" one of the two colts who follows her around, the short blue one, said.

The other one, the tall, skinny yellow one, said, "She turned me into a baby."

Diamond gave him a look of deep skepticism. "You don't look like a baby now."

"Well, I got better."

By now a few other ponies had gathered to watch, mostly other foals such as the Cutie Mark Crusaders, though there were one or two adults in the mix.

"I think you're lying. I don't think the 'Great and Powerful Trrrrrrrickusie' can turn anypony into a baby. It's all tricks, not magic!"

"Yeah, well, we're unicorns and you're not, so we know more about magic than you do!" the blue one said.

"Please," Diamond said, tossing her head. "You guys can barely lift a quill, and you expect me to believe you're experts on magic?" She trotted over to the little blue one, sneering down at him. "You two are even bigger pathetic losers than Trashcan here; at least she can do some magic. All you can do is look up to a unicorn who's lying to you about how great she is and think, 'wow, I wish I was that unicorn, because I'm so pathetic that I can't even fantasize about being a decent unicorn, I gotta imagine that I'm a washed-up street performer'—"

"Trixie is not a street performer!"

Diamond pointed with one of her forehooves at the stage Trixie had used to perform when she'd first come to Ponyville. "That's on the street. You performed there. That makes you a street performer. If the horseshoe fits, wear it."

Probably emboldened by the lack of Trixie smiting Diamond Tiara, her friend Silver Spoof trotted over to her. "Yeah! You don't really have any special powers!"

"Yes, she does!" the blue colt insisted. "I know a lot more about magic than either of you!"

"Yeah? What kind of magic do you know?" Diamond sneered.

"I know how to do this!" the colt yelled, summoning a pair of scissors out of... somewhere (I think he had it on his person, not hammerspace, but I truly do not want to know where) and going after Diamond Tiara's mane with it. Diamond spun around and bucked the scissors, knocking it out of the colt's control, and it flew across the field and nearly stabbed a passerby.

"You see? That could have hurt somepony!" Diamond yelled, ignoring the fact that if a pony had gotten hurt, it would have been because of her actions. "You two are traitors to Ponyville! You live here, you go to school here, but you side with this lame-brain who's already been proven to be a fraud!"

"Yeah, traitors!" Silver Spam said.

"Now just wait one moment here," Apple Bloom, who had so far been silently watching, spoke up. "I don't agree with Snips and Snails working for Trixie but that doesn't make them traitors. In case you didn't notice, Trixie's been threatening ponies to force them to work for her!"

"Yeah, you can't hold that against them – Trixie made them join her as soon as she defeated Twilight!" Sweetie Belle added.

"Oh, so you blank flanks are on Trixie's side too? I should have known you'd be willing to sell out Ponyville! After all, you're the ones who are super best friends with a weird monkey from the Everfree Forest!"

"That's the dumbest thing I've heard you say this week," Scootaloo said.

"Anon isn't from the Everfree Forest, he's from another dimension!" Sweetie Belle retorted.

"Ooh, 'another dimension.' Look who's a dictionary!" Diamond said to her sidekick.

"ENOUGH!" Trixie yelled, using her magic to amplify her voice loudly enough that even Diamond paid attention. "You have gone far enough, little filly! Apologize to the Great and Powerful Trixie for doubting her powers right now, or I will make you disappear!"

Diamond snickered. "Oh, yeah, I'd like to see you try it!"

Trixie, ever the showmare, made swirls of smoke darken the air, spinning over her head. "Powers of the ancient unicorns, let this rude foal begone!"

From the perspective of Diamond Tiara, nothing happened, and she giggled about it quite loudly. From the perspective of everyone else, aside from me of course, Diamond was now invisible. Silver Spud wailed in shock. "Give her back!" she screamed.

"Silver, I'm right here. What's wrong with you?" Diamond said, but her friend couldn't hear her. Trixie had just enacted a little trick I like to call a "ban", where the victim can see and hear everyone, but no one can see or hear her. It was ruthless, cruel and well within the powers of the Element of Deception. I applauded. No one could hear me directly inside my vacuum bubble, but I had air on the inside of it because vacuum just does terrible things to my mane, so Trixie could hear me through the earring. I'd been wondering how Trixie was going to deal with Diamond.

"Perhaps, if you serve Trixie adequately, I will return your rude friend from the dimension I banished her to," Trixie said pompously. "Why don't you shine my hooves?"

Apple Bloom, quietly enough that maybe Trixie might not hear her, said to Scootaloo, "Get Rainbow Dash to go get Anon. Trixie has to be stopped before she disappears anypony else."

"I'm on it!" Scootaloo hopped on her scooter and drove away, while Diamond Tiara got increasingly distressed that no one was listening to her or looking at her.

"Guys! Guys! I'm here! I'm still here! It's an illusion, just like I said!"

I appeared to her, and only to her. "Diamond, Diamond, Diamond. I would have thought you'd realize. An illusion that you can't be seen or heard is a spell that makes it seem like you're not there."

"She turned me invisible?!" Diamond screamed. "How do I turn back? Turn me back!"

I chuckled. "I'm not taking sides, here," I said. "Trixie is also working for me, just like you."

"But it's not fair! Daddy can't get goods out to market because nothing can come in or go out of Ponyville! She has to be stopped! Why are you letting her do this to us?"

"To make Anon come, of course. And now that she's made you vanish, I think that will probably happen very soon."

"But you can make me visible again!"

"I caaaan, yes." I twirled around her in the air. "But I'm not gonna. What's happening serves my interests... and yours, if you want to take down Anon."

"I don't want to be invisible!"

"Well, you've been such an excellent minion, I'll give you a little hint. Fight illusion with illusion."

And then I teleported away. It'll be interesting to see if Diamond Tiara figures out my hint before Anon shows up.

I headed up to Chrysalis' hive with a present for her, but for some reason, didn't manage to teleport into the hive, but some distance from it. This was definitely unusual and worth investigation. I tried riding a construct giant spider into the area, but the spider disappeared, leaving me to fall hard on my poor tuchis. I still had all the magic I normally have in my body, but the moment I tried to use it, nada. I actually tried snapping my fingers a few times, the way you might shake a jar of crystallized honey to try to make it liquefy, despite the fact that that is not going to happen and you know it.

Since no one could see me, I went to four legs, and zipped in and out of the barrier, identifying exactly where it was. It wasn't actually suppressing my magic, whatever it was; it was just eating it the second I tried to use it. Eventually I found that there were half a dozen large black rocks situated in a circle around the hive, which seemed to be fantastically absorbent to magic... except for changeling magic, which they were reflective to.

These were big, heavy black rocks. I'm strong, but I'm not that strong. There was no way I was moving those rocks, and within the circle they described, any magic I tried to use would just disappear into them. It's why I hadn't noticed them before; something that suppressed my magic would have been obvious, but something that just ate my magic as fast as I generated it left me frighteningly helpless.

So I backed away, and concentrated on the land under the rocks, describing a semicircle around the hive. I reached down, down into the dirt, down into the rock, until I was working at a level that was far enough below the offending rocks that my powers worked.

My first thought was to break the rock, to create a chasm that the dirt and rock and the six black stones would fall into, but firstly, that would generate an earthquake powerful enough that a lot of the crystals that everything in the Crystal Empire was made of might shatter, and secondly, there were Umbra trapped down there in the rock and I didn't want to risk either freeing or killing them. So instead, I turned it to water. As the bedrock sank into the water, it too was far enough away that I could work with it, and I kept it up until there was a moat around the hive and the magic-absorbing rocks had fallen to the bottom, allowing me to turn a lot of the water on the top back into rock and dirt... which fell to the bottom of the moat, blocking in the magic-absorbing rocks.

Then I teleported into the hive, wearing a red winter coat with white trim and reindeer antlers, impersonating the legendary flying reindeer Klaus, who supposedly brings presents to all the good children of Neighropa. (He actually has a team that does that, and they operate on the principle that all kids are good kids, so they aren't really spying on the behavior of foals and griffin chicks and lambs and all the other young creatures that live in Neighropa.) "Ho ho ho!" I bellowed, making it snow in the hive. "Hearth's Warming greetings to all!" Yes, technically Yule, a Neighropan holiday, is not Hearth's Warming, but come on, they're generally within a week of each other and a lot of the celebratory traditions are the same or similar.

Changelings screamed and scattered, morphing into the walls to hide from me or running away. I kept up the performance until Chrysalis showed up. It had been less than a week since I'd last seen her, or maybe just over a week, who can keep track of the time? Not me! So she wasn't much more recovered than she'd been, although a good bit more of her carapace had healed; she must be getting plenty of love. Good.

"Discord. What are you playing at?" she shouted, head lowered with her horn pointed at me in a pose of challenge.

"Ho ho ho! I came to bring you a Yule present, Chryssie!" I showed her a fancy decorated box with plenty of wrapping paper and ribbons. I held it out in my hands toward her, but when she tried to take it, I snatched it back. "Except it seems that someone has been a bad girl!"

I transformed, the red coat vanishing to display me in all my furry glory, holding a bag of screaming foals and larvalings that kept sticking hooves or heads out of the bag and yelling things like "I'll be good! I'm sorry!" This was the (hopefully entirely fictional) dark mirror to Klaus, the Krampus, who supposedly steals and eats bad children of all races. Most Changelings come from Neighropa so I thought there was a good chance Chryssie would get the reference.

"What are you talking about?" This queen was made of stern stuff; she didn't even blink at my bag of screaming children.

"You tried to block my magic," I said in a dark tone, leaning down into her face. "That wasn't very nice of you."

Changelings can't go pale with shock, but her eyes widened. "That's—what did you do with the defense barrier? Find what he did to the barrier!" she yelled out to her changelings, who could probably hear her despite having run away and hidden from me. Changelings communicate by voice because it's an easy way to compose and focus their thoughts, but they're actually projecting communication via their horns, which in the ordinary drones don't work to cast magic unless they're impersonating a unicorn.

"Your barrier did not entertain me," I said in my best cat-stroking Imposing Supervillain voice. "And when things don't entertain me... I dispose of them."

"That was our protection against the ponies! You sent our hive to the caves around the Crystal Empire! The alicorn who has most reason to hate us and the most paranoia about us rules this place!"

"And whose fault was that? You didn't need to kidnap her and take her place."

"I wouldn't have any concern, but the hive is still not back to full strength. We needed that barrier!"

"And I need to be able to teleport into your hive and come chat with you, and it blocked my teleportation." I wasn't going to admit that it blocked all of my powers. "So I'm afraid those rocks are at the bottom of a new moat now. On the plus side, your moat is very, very deep and if you stock it with piranha, only pegasi will be able to attack you! Well, except in the one area where I left it contiguous with the land around here, they could come that way, but still, it's a strategic advantage! You should be thanking me."

"And you don't think ponies are going to be shocked by the appearance of a ring-shaped body of water that appeared out of nothing?!"

"Given that I gave you meat trees to feed your dogs with, I think if ponies are up here looking at the surroundings of your hive, you're already in trouble."

"Pegasi flying over can't see the meat trees, but they can see a moat!"

"Oh, stop whining, Chryssie." I turned back into Klaus. "I brought you a present! Remember?"

This time I let her take it. She ripped the wrapping paper off the box, to find that it was actually a cube made of wrapping paper. I snickered as she had to tear through reams of wrapping paper to finally get to the amulet. "This... is for me?"

The Element of Hatred is an obsidian pony-shape surrounded by stylized flames of gold and copper and dotted with tiny red gems, because hatred turns ponies dark and sets the world on fire... I guess. Honestly I don't know what Eris was thinking when she made these things, they're so over the top sometimes. "Yes," I said. "The thing you had before that you tragically misused, what you called the Amulet of Illusion, was my Element of Deception and I've given it to someone who's so much better at using it than you are, it'd make you cry with envy to watch. This is another of the Elements of Disharmony – the Element of Hatred."

Chrysalis made a face. "Changelings feed on love. Hatred is putrid to us. Why would you give me something with powers related to hatred?"

"For exactly that reason." I dropped the Klaus costume, and floated above Chrysalis' head, looking down at her from a sphinx-like position. "You hate Anon, don't you?"

"With all my heart."

"Then you can use it. But you won't overuse it and tear pony society apart and send mobs to attack each other, because so much hatred would sicken your Changelings." I leaned back. "If you're smart, you'll figure out a way to use it against our mutual enemy. If you're stupid, which you might possibly be, I'll probably end up having to take it away from you because you'll make yourself and your Changelings sick."

She stared at it. "What does it do?"

"Well, for starters, it makes you stronger when you're feeling hate. Physically, magically, mentally. It helps you resist mind control, which might help if Anon uses his powers to make you stupid – well, stupider than usual. It makes it easier for you to find weaknesses in anyone you hate, and it makes it easier for you to inspire and direct hatred. Sombra used it to tear the Crystal Empire apart before taking it over."

"I thought he just mind-controlled everyone."

"He didn't develop that technology until nearly the end of his reign. It was the mind-control helmets and mind-control spells that led Celestia and Luna to decide his flank needed a good kicking." You'd have thought they'd have taken action when he murdered Princess Amore, but in the dear girls' defense, I may sort have been still around and kicking and causing major interference in communications, so it's quite likely they didn't even know about Amore until they heard about the mind control and investigated. Sombra was smart enough not to implement mind control anything while I was still unruling Equestria; he knew me well enough to know that the kind of mind control that destroys free will and makes a person into a puppet is anathema to me. Much as I enjoy the vision ponies had of me as a master puppeteer, I work by manipulating ponies' emotions so they want to do the things I want them to do, and I don't directly control exactly how they do them. "He used the Element of Hatred to make the pegasus and earth pony populations turn on the unicorns, and support his rise to power over Amore despite his looking like a unicorn, and then he used it to set them against each other, and then he used the resulting hatred and conflict to fuel his dark magic."

I twirled in air around her, slowly. "Make no mistake, Chrysalis. This is dangerous. Misuse it, and you could end up stirring up a pogrom against Changelings... or cause ponies to be so distrustful of each other, your harvesters can no longer safely function. But if you choose to be an authorized Bearer, you will have the power you need to get revenge on Anon, take over Forgotten Sky hive or at the least dominate them, and protect yourself from the crystal ponies and their pretty pink princess." I mock, but I've seen what Cadance would have been, in the other timeline. She and Shining Armor flung the changelings into the distance, possibly killing a large number of them (or possibly not, they can fly, but they didn't come back for a rematch in the third season), and then she and Spike worked together to destroy Sombra. She can be absolutely ruthless. Chrysalis was right to be wary of her.

"You say 'your' Element. Do I become your slave, then? Your minion?" She glared a challenge up at me.

"Mmm, 'minion' is a better word than 'slave'. You're working for me, and I can take your power back if I don't like the job you're doing... but I'm not a fan of micromanaging. I won't tell you what to do or when to do it; you'll cause more chaos if you're independent of me." I manifested a cheerleader outfit and pom-poms. "You and the rest of Team Disharmony all despise Anon for your own reasons, and I can trust all of you to work toward his destruction. I want to cheer you from the sidelines, not coach you."

"Do I have to work with these others, then? The way Twilight Sparkle and Anon and their insipid little friends need to work together for their power to activate?"

I laughed. "What part of 'disharmony' says 'yay, friendship?!'" She continued to glare. "No. In fact Bearers of Disharmony can't work together. If you met one of the others, you'd probably despise them and feud with them for no particularly good reason, because that's what happens when Bearers of Disharmony try to work in each other's proximity, let alone together."

Chrysalis smiled. "Oh, well then. If I have full autonomy to do as I like with this bauble, as long as I'm targeting Anon... then yes. I'm happy to be the Bearer for your Element of Hatred." She made a hissing sound. "There's no shortage of hatred in my heart for Anon."

"Don't kill any of the other Bearers. Then the Elements of Harmony would reset and I'd have to go to all the trouble of figuring out who the new ones are and watching my back. But if you can kill Anon, go for it! I doubt you can pull it off, but if you succeed I'll throw you a party."

"I don't need a party, I need your lack of interference. If I kill Anon, will I keep this Element?"

"Mmmmaaaaaaybe," I said, meaning no. Once Anon's dead I won't need to have Disharmony Bearers anymore; I can take back all my Elements, and probably destroy and remake them or something. New names and powers, definitely. "Hatred" and "Deception", so passé. I'd go for the Element of Mean Girls and the Element of Passing Notes In Class and the Element of Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful, Hate Me Because I'm Better Than You and so forth.

"Then I accept."

She put the amulet around her neck. Immediately the copper turned green, the gold turned white, and the shape of an obsidian pony changed to the shape of a Changeling queen, holes in legs and all. I whistled. "Nice! It likes you!" Now the flames looked like the fire of a Changeling transformation.

"Will you get rid of that moat?"

"Oh, picky picky. You know, some ponies would sell their own mothers for waterfront property." I manifested a rocket jetpack. "Toodles!" The rocket fired as if it was about to take off, but then I teleported.

So. All Elements disposed of! Job well done, me! I'm taking the rest of the day off to show Gilda some seriously bad monster movies from the human world.

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash came up with a plan to sneak out of Trixie's "force shield", which of course is actually an illusion that makes you think you are walking in the opposite direction; Fluttershy got some beavers to bring in a hollow log. No one seems to have noticed that if beavers can walk straight through the shield without bumping into anything, it plainly means there isn't really a shield. I don't know whether that's Anon-related stupidity—Trixie's his Designated Villain for this matchup, so nopony can just defeat her – or Trixie's nifty use of her Element. Either way, they put the log straight through the force shield and had Rainbow crawl through, and Rainbow headed to Canterlot.

I suspect very strongly that Anon's going to be here tomorrow. Can't wait to watch the show!