I wasn't even planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year.

This is (unintentionally) my project for Camp NaNo, as well as Pony Writing Month because it conveniently fits within the parameters of both events. It wasn't originally intended to be so - in fact, the original concept called for a short of approximately 12 000 words at most - but it has since spiraled out of my hands in the way that stories have a tendency to.

This is part of my first draft of the project. Yes, I know that the site rules advise against doing this, but I see this as a way of streamlining my editing process; a kind of open beta, if you will. At the very least I can assure you that it is nearly, if not totally, devoid of grammatical and spelling errors (using the Canadian lexicon, by the way).

So I hope you enjoy the story, as it stands, and I look forward to constructive criticism from all of you.

My Little Pony belongs to Hasbro.


It was a dark night. But then, the night is always dark, and in fact this night wasn't even all that dark when you think about it, illuminated as it was by a waxing gibbous moon that Luna had been rightfully pleased with.

And it wasn't particularly stormy, either, unless you count a slight easterly breeze. The storm wasn't due until next Tuesday morning, but it was going to be a particularly good one and the weather team was already gearing up for it.

So on a scale of dramatic atmosphere this night would rank comparatively low. Unfortunately, this is not going to stop the story from transpiring, and when you think about it a lot of world-changing moments have happened during perfectly normal days at perhaps mid-morning when there weren't any storms idling about and the weather was perfectly satisfied with being normal, thank you very much.

Okay, maybe an owl hooted once, over by the library. But he had his own problems and wasn't particularly concerned with the five ponies scurrying down the main road, whom we should have been paying attention to this entire time.

Only one was full-sized; the other four ranged from gangly adolescent to adorable young'un. They followed quickly behind the adult pony, who was the only one who knew where they were going. She kept a brisk pace that the children only barely managed to keep, and when she passed beneath streetlights her blue eyes glinted with worry from beneath inky black hair.

"We're almost there, kids," she said, her voice quick and quiet. "Not much further now. Stay with Mom."

She was not lying. Within seconds, their destination came into sight. It was hard to miss – it looked like something out of a fairy tale involving two kids and a wicked witch. Candlelight spilled from two windows – one upstairs, one downstairs.

"Is that where she lives?" asked the gangly adolescent one. "Seems appropriate."

"Yes, now shush, Shards," responded his mother. Her gaze was fixed on the oddly-constructed building, as if she was afraid it would disappear.

Presently they drew closer, close enough to see in through the casements. An older unicorn stallion with a white coat and a red mane peered back at them, and closed his book. He opened the door as they arrived.

"It's good of you to come," he said, quietly ushering them in. "She gets worse with every day. She doesn't look it, but as a doctor I can say there isn't long."

"Is Auntie gonna be all right?" asked the youngest child, an adorable little thing with a messy mop of rose hair.

Their mother didn't respond. She shrugged off her saddlebags and hung them on a nearby stand.

"I wish we could have gotten here earlier," she said with a sigh. "At least we're not too late. Is she up?"

"Ma'am, she's been up for the last three days straight. By all rights she should be unconscious half the time, but some sort of devilish energy has kept her going night and day."

"Good. Sounds like her. So maybe there's still a little time. Come on, kids, up the stairs."

The inky-maned mare ushered her charges up the gingerbread steps. They had never been there, but their mother knew the steps by heart, down to the noise the fourth step made when it creaked. They hit the second floor, and she led them to the right, up some wooden steps and through a trapdoor.

They emerged into light.

The bedroom was large and round, with a blue-grey wooden floor and beige walls. Much of the centre was taken up by an enormous pink rug, while around the room stood a small blue divan, a big stone fireplace, a combination mirror/cabinet, and a balloon-themed bed, in which rested-

"Surprise!"

A party horn blared, scaring the four children. They overcame their temporary fright, however, and charged towards the bed, laughing all the way.

"Auntie!"

"Hey, Auntie!"

"Great-Aunt Pinkie!"

Their mother followed behind them at a more sedate pace, smiling and shaking her head. Despite all the time that had passed, so little had changed.

"Aunt Pinkie," she said, drawing up a stool to the edge of the bed and seating herself. Her four children swarmed over their favourite elder, settling in various locations on or around the bed. "How are you doing?"

"Mm, to be honest I could be doing better!" declared the ancient pink pony. A face wrinkled heavily from years of smiling drew up in yet another grin. "There's this crazy pony downstairs, calls himself a doctor, but I dunno he seems kind of suspicious, know what I mean? He says I'm old and I should stay in bed! Crazy!"

The children laughed at her antics. Their mother chuckled softly and shook her head.

"Oh, Aunt Pinkie," she said with real fondness, reaching out and giving the old mare a hug. "I've missed you so much. I'm sorry I couldn't visit earlier. The farm…"

Pinkie Pie hugged her niece back. "That's all right, Pebbles! You're perpetually perfectly punctual all the time, and it's about time you were late for something!"

"I should certainly hope I'm not late for this," she said with a sad little laugh.

"Auntie Pinkie, Auntie Pinkie," said the smallest child, bouncing up and down at her perch on the end of the bed. Her pink mane flopped down over her eyes, and she pushed it out of the way. "Auntie Pinkie, Mommy says you're very sick and that you're soon going to go very far away and we'll never see you again. Is that true?"

"Of course not!" said Pinkie with a smile. "Your mom's being a silly-filly!"

The kids all sighed in relief.

"I'm dying!"

They all gasped, and their mother choked on air.

"What's that?" asked the second-youngest, who had a slate-grey coat and eyes like brilliant quartz.

"Aunt Pinkie, please-" began Pebbles.

"Nuh-uh, little Pebbles, let Aunt Pinkie do the explaining." She turned to the kids. "It's pretty much what your mom said, in practicalness, but it's a lot more permanent and a lot more mysterious."

"Uh, Pinkie, I think I'm the one who's supposed to explain this to them."

"Do you have any experience with it?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Well then as the one closest to it, I claim seniority!" Pinkie grinned cheerfully, like she'd just won a game. Pebbles shook her head ruefully; if Pinkie wanted to win an argument, then she would.

"All right, fine," she acceded. "I guess if anyone can handle this, it's you."

"Yay!" Pinkie clopped her hooves together and rounded on the kids. Then her expression suddenly turned serious. "Now, this is seriously serious big-pony stuff, so pay attention, 'kay?"

"Kay," chorused the kids.

"All righty." She made a hmmmm noise, deep in her throat. "Dying is what happens to ponies when they get really old or really sick or really hurt."

"Like you Auntie Pinkie?" asked the second-youngest.

"Silly Glint!" said Pinkie. "I'm not old!"

"Then you're sick?" asked the second-oldest, a filly with crystalline eyes that peeped out from under long, straight grey hair.

"Well, Mica…kind of yes maybe potentia-possibly." Pinkie smiled. "I've got this really weird sickness, makes all these wrinkles and grey hairs appear – poof! – out of nowhere!"

The oldest grinned, but said nothing.

"So anyway yeah, ponies get reeeaaaaalllly old or in my case, reeeaaaaaalllly sick. And then something really weird happens. And something strange. Weirdly strange. Or strangely weird?"

"I like 'weirdly strange'," piped up the youngest.

"Okay, weirdly strange…something weirdly strange happens. Suddenly, they're not there anymore!"

The younger kids gasped. The oldest just chuckled.

"Is it maaagic?" asked Glint.

"Well kind of. It's really weird, like I said. Their bodies stay behind, but the pony leaves!"

"How does that work?" asked Mica curiously.

"I don't know! It's like, there's this moment where it's like woosh, and then suddenly no pony!" Pinkie shrugged. "Don't believe me? 'Cuz I've seen it happen."

Pebbles smiled sadly.

"And you're goin' to disappear, Auntie Pinkie?" asked the youngest. Tears were welling in her eyes.

"Yes." Pinkie's eyes glinted. "What's the matter, little itty-bitty me?"

"I don' want you to leave." The little filly crawled up and hugged her great-aunt. "I'd miss you, Auntie Pinkie."

"Aw, don't cry." Pinkie patted her great-niece on the head and looked her in the eye. "What's your name, itty-bitty-filly?"

"Pinkie," said the filly with a sniff. She swept a tuft of violent pink hair out of her eyes. "Just like you."

"Yup! And you know what that means?" Pinkie grinned. "You gotta…smile!"

"I don' feel like smiling." Little Pinkie folded her front legs and pouted.

"Smiiile," insisted Pinkie, glaring her niece in the eyes.

"No."

"Smiiiiiiiiillllle," insisted the old mare, her glare turning fierce.

"Nuh-uh."

"Smile!" she suddenly barked, and the little filly was so surprised she fell backwards and nearly rolled off the bed.

Then Pinkie's face twisted into a goofy grimace, and the little filly burst into the kind of infectious giggle that only a child can manage. Her siblings could not help but follow suit, and even their mother indulged in a chuckle or two.

"You haven't changed at all, Aunt Pinkie," said Pebbles.

"Well, duh! Making people smile is my specialty. I mean, my Cutie Mark hasn't changed at all so I figure it's still my special talent, but I dunno maybe the balloons means I should've been a balloon maker, you know? Making balloons into funny shapes and stuff."

"You'd still be making people smile," pointed out the oldest, speaking for the first time.

"Little Shards, always seeing things." Pinkie reached out and ruffled her great-nephew's head. "You gotta talk more! And smile more! You're so quiet, it's creepy! Creepy-quiet! You're like a ghosty-ghost!"

"I try," he said with a smile. "Being a ghost is fun!"

"No, ghosts are scaaaary! But it would be fun to be a ghost, I mean think of the pranks you could do, I could pop up through the floor and go boo! Or I could hide in the toilet and go boo! Or maybe both at once!"

"Dat would be fun," said little Pinkie. She then yawned expansively. "You'd make the best ghost, Auntie Pinkie."

"Looks like someone's tired," observed Pebbles. "I think it's time to go to bed, kids."

There was a chorus of protests.

"Little fillies and colts need to rest," agreed Pinkie. "But you know what helps with putting them to dreamland?"

"Warm milk?" suggested Mica.

"No, a story!" said Glint.

"Yep!"

"Story, story, story!" said little Pinkie in a singsong, bouncing up and down on the bed again. Her siblings agreed enthusiastically; Auntie Pinkie was well-known to have the best stories.

"Okay, which one to tell you…" She put on a thinking pose, one hoof under her chin and her mouth pouted while her brow came down in a frown. "How about…a delicious mmmystery?"

"Is there a train involved?" asked Shards knowingly.

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"And a cake?" asked Mica.

"Pebbles, I think your kids are psychic."

"Tell me, tell me!" demanded little Pinkie eagerly.

"Okay, all right, quiet time, Auntie Pinkie's going to spin you a web of intrigue, lies, deception, and delicious sugary meringue!

"Once upon a time, right here in Ponyville, the Cakes – that's the people I worked for, they used to own this place – made this delicious cake for a cake competition in Canterlot! It was called the 'Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness', or as I like to call it, the 'MMMM'…"

Pinkie told her tale, and as she did, the world dropped away. Stories were just another form of entertainment, and Pinkie had spent years mastering it; her audience was entranced, their senses whisked away to another time, another place, on a train rattling through the night; even Pebbles, who had heard the story hundreds of times before, was once again hooked by it.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the shadows deepened.

The candles flickered, as if startled by a sudden breeze that was not there, and darkness danced around the room. The light dimmed, and suddenly there was only a small sphere of light surrounding the bed and the six ponies in and around it. Pinkie was the only one to notice, but she didn't dare stop in the middle of her tale.

A foreign set of hooves sounded on the steps, clopping hollowly, and Pinkie frowned when the fourth step didn't creak as it should. A cowled head emerged from the darkness, and turned to her.

She paid it no heed and drew out her story as long as possible, making her audience savour every word. When she had finished, she sagged in her bed; and, ignoring the accolades and praise thrown at her, she gave her full attention to the figure in the darkness.

It stepped forward then, into the light, and it drew the shadows along behind it. She saw it clearly: it wore a deep black cloak over a pale white body, and its tail was a near-transparent, ghostly grey. Of its face, she could see nothing in the darkness projected by the strange stallion's hood, save for the very tip of his muzzle and two glowing red orbs that were probably eyes.

On its flank was emblazoned a great golden hourglass, delicately worked in artful twists and curls. All the sand had run to the bottom.

MISS PINKAMENA DIANE PIE, it said.

"Yup," confirmed Pinkie. "That's me! What's up?"

"Mm, what's that Aunt Pinkie?" mumbled Pebbles, her eyelids dropping.

IT IS TIME, said the spectre.

"Oh, poop," said Pinkie irritably. "That's not fair! Can't you see I'm in the middle of something?"

"Auntie Pinkie, who are you talking to?" asked little Pinkie worriedly.

I AM SORRY, MISS PIE, said the spectre apologetically. THERE IS A SCHEDULE TO ADHERE TO.

"Pleeease?" begged Pinkie, putting on her best puppy-dog eyes. Oddly, even with her aged visage, it worked quite effectively. "Pretty pleeeease? Just a minute or two?"

…FINE. The spectral stallion stomped a hoof and snorted. YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES. USE THEM WISELY.

"Yes!" Pinkie pumped a hoof in the air, and winced as her joints creaked. "The puppy-eyes never fail!"

"Erm…Aunt Pinkie, are you all right?" asked Pebbles worriedly. "Here, maybe you should lie down…"

"No, I'm fine! Believe me, I'm fine," affirmed Pinkie, pushing her niece away. "Quick, all of you get together. Closer. Closer! Yes, just within hug-range! And…hugging!"

She squeezed all of her relatives together in one massive embrace.

"I love all of you soooo much!" she declared. "You're the bestest nieces and nephews a pony could ever ask for! And on top of that you're all soooo adorable, and that includes Pebbles even though she's a big pony, and Shards too even though I know he hates it."

They all laughed and murmured their thanks for this praise.

"All right, now that that's taken care of…Shards, remember to talk more, you gotta make friends and be friendly and stuff because friends are the most important thing ever! Mica curl your hair or something because perfectly straight bangs make you scaaaaary, how are you going to charm all the colts that way? Glint stop bugging Suzie who sits two seats in front of you or she's going to think you like her-"

"Hey, how do you know that?"

"Because Pinkie knows everything! And brush your teeth more often, so you'll have teeth like me!" Pinkie grinned widely, displaying pearly whites that, despite years and years of candy, glistened like new. "Little itty-bitty-mini-me, smile always and forever and laugh a lot and everything will be all right, 'kay?"

She paused for a moment then.

"And Pebbles…your mom always loved you, 'kay? Even if she never said it she loved you forever. And I will too."

"…Pinkie?"

"Smile for me, all right? I don't want to see a bunch of frowny-faces. And if you have to cry, cry, but remember to go get a good laugh afterwards. For me, okay?"

"Aunt Pinkie what are you talking about?"

Pinkie winked at the spectre standing at the foot of her bed. "All right, I think I'm good to go now."

"Who was that? Aunt Pinkie, who are you talking to?"

VERY WELL. The ghost stallion stomped his hooves. LET US BE OFF THEN.

"Aunt Pinkie? Aunt Pinkie, are you all right?"

"Auntie Pinkie!"

"Auntie Pinkie must be really tired…"

"No, Glint, no she's not, she's never tired, Aunt Pinkie never sleeps…Aunt Pinkie! Wake up! Answer me! Tell me another story, anything!"

"Auntie Pinkie!"

"Auntie Pinkie!"

"Auntie Pinkie!"

Time stopped.

Pinkie opened her eyes.

Her nieces and nephews were all about her, frozen mid-action. Pebbles was yelling, Glint was confused, Pinkie was pawing at her hand, Mica was just beginning to cry. Shards had drawn away from the others and was looking at her sadly.

She gave each one a kiss on the nose. And then she rose.

She waited until she was two metres above the ground, and then she turned around. The world had turned to shadow; colour had faded to tints of grey, and light and darkness were merely extensions of each other. Below her, her family was still frozen, and in the middle of them was herself, sleeping peacefully.

She turned again, and suddenly the ghostly stallion was next to her.

YOU ARE QUITE LUCKY, he intoned. THEY LOVE YOU GREATLY.

"Yeah," said Pinkie softly, and for once she didn't have anything else to say.

She floated over to the mirror, and examined herself. Her reflection grinned back at her, without a single wrinkle or grey hair. She made a face at it, and it made a face back, stretching its mouth wide and rolling its eyes. She jumped up the silliness factor another notch, and her reflection laughed at her.

THERE ARE NO LIES HERE, explained the spectre. NOW COME. WE MUST LEAVE NOW.

"Waitwaitwait!" interrupted Pinkie, turning away from the mirror. Her reflection kept giggling. "I have questions!"

YOUR QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED ON THE OTHER SIDE.

"Pleease?" She made the puppy-dog eyes again, and in her newly-rejuvenated state it was doubly effective.

…WILL YOU COME WITH ME IF I ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS?

"Maybe."

FINE. WHAT WOULD YOU ASK OF ME?

"Can your eyes change colour?"

The glowing orbs in question flared in what might have been a blink. WHAT?

"The red thingies. Can they change colour?"

…YES. WHY?

"Can you do blue?"

YES.

"Prove it, silly!"

The lucent orbs flashed briefly, and when they stopped they had transformed to a brilliant shade of azure.

"Ooh! Ooh! That's cool! Like really cool! Do green next!"

The phantom complied, and the spheres turned emerald green.

"Purple?"

They shifted again.

"Orange?

"Yellow?

"Turquoise?

"Gold?

"Silver?

"Pink?"

ENOUGH, growled the spectre, its rose-tinted eyes flaring dangerously. YOU ARE PLAYING GAMES WITH ME, MORTAL.

"Question. Mortal means I'm gonna die, right? So if I'm dead already…am I still mortal?"

YOU ARE… The apparition stopped. I AM NOT SURE.

"Good enough! Next question. Why's everything all frozen down there? Like, I pressed the pause button and the world went 'okay!' and now everything's stopped?"

TIME IS A LITTLE MORE…SUBJECTIVE ON THIS PLANE.

"Cool! Timey-wimey stuff! Who are you?"

I AM A PERSONIFICATION OF DEATH. The stallion drew itself up to its full height and puffed out its chest, trying to be impressive. I AM THE EMBODIMENT OF THE END, I AM THE GUIDE ON THE FINAL PATH, I AM-

"Is it hot under that hood?"

UM…NO.

"Why do you wear it?"

BECAUSE IT IS PART OF THE ATTIRE. Death shifted awkwardly. ALSO I THINK IT LOOKS COOL. DO YOU THINK IT IS COOL?

"I dunno, it's kind of scary."

I DO NOT WISH TO BE SCARY.

"That's too bad. It's kind of part of your job."

I AM NOT REQUIRED TO BE SCARY. WHAT COMES AFTER ME MAY BE QUITE FRIGHTENING, HOWEVER.

"Oh. Uh. That's great. Cool stuff, mister death-horse-dude! Hey, if there's only one of you, and animals are always dying all the time, I mean you must be reeaaaallly busy."

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE OF ME. Death shrugged. TIME IS ALSO SUBJECTIVE TO ME. AND I AM NOT REQUIRED TO OVERSEE ALL DEATHS.

"Ooh! I'm special! Yay!"

YES. YOU HAVE ACHIEVED A CERTAIN DEGREE OF IMPORTANCE VIA YOUR STATUS AS A WIELDER OF THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY.

"Also can you do something about those eyes? They're weirding me out. 'Specially 'cause they're pink, but pink suits you kind of. I think pink's your colour."

Death's eyes winked out, and it glared balefully at her from deep within the shadows of its hood. WOULD YOU HAVE ME DO A LITTLE JIG NOW?

"Ooh, that would be awesomely spectacular! Can you?"

Death went silent in a really awkward way.

…HAVE I ANSWERED ALL YOUR QUESTIONS? he finally intoned. WE CANNOT STAY HERE FOR ETERNITY, FOR ETERNITY IS WHAT I AM CHARGED WITH LEADING YOU TO.

Pinkie made a frowny-face. "Aw, but that's not fair! I can't go yet!"

WHYEVER NOT?

"Because I haven't seen my life flash before my eyes yet, that's why! Silly Death, I thought you'd know all about that!"

For the second time, Death was rendered speechless.

YOU ARE…QUITE SERIOUS ABOUT THIS, he finally managed to say.

"Well, duh, of course!" affirmed Pinkie. "It's only, like, the most important part! Everyone says it! It's in books and movies and video games and stuff, people are all like 'And then my life flashed before my eyes…' just before they're about to die, and then they don't but they're about to and everyone knows you have to see your life flash before your eyes before you die, it's practically required for you to die and I haven't seen it yet so I can't be dead yet, ooh that's a thought, am I supposed to be dead?"

YOU DO REALIZE THAT THAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN BEFORE YOU DIE, said Death, shifting uncomfortably, AND I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT YOU ARE DEAD AS YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE AS WAS WRITTEN OUT BEFORE YOU WERE EVEN BORN.

"So…if I'm supposed to be dead…but I haven't seen my life flash before my eyes…" Pinkie crossed her hind legs in midair and entered a thinking pose. Then her eyes suddenly flashed, and she grinned savagely. "You messed up!"

NO I DID NOT! Death's hooves shuffled uncomfortably. I HAVE BEEN PERFORMING THIS DUTY SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL. AN ERROR ON MY PART WOULD BE AN IMPOSSIBILITY.

"Everypony makes mistakes," said Pinkie soothingly, patting her guide on the head. "It's all right, I don't hate you for it."

I AM NOT A PONY, said Death, and the shadows beneath his cowl managed to look embarrassed.

"Pony, stallion, griffon, anthropomorphic personification of a metaphysical concept, we all make mistakes!" Pinkie flipped until she was floating upside down. "You just have to make the best of it!"

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

"Smile!" Pinkie put two hooves to her cheeks and pulled up her face into a manic grin.

Death's face, or what she could see of it, remained impassive. I AM SORRY, he said after several seconds. I HAVE TRIED TO SMILE, AND FOUND IT IMPOSSIBLE.

"Oh, there's no creature in Equestria that Pinkie can't make smile…" said the pink pony with a dangerous grin. "What to use on you? Jokes? Funny faces? Parties? Tickling?"

I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS, snorted Death. WE MUST BE OFF. YOU HAVE A JOURNEY TO MAKE.

"Party pooper!" huffed Pinkie accusingly. She crossed her forelegs in front of her. "I'm not budging! Not until I see my life flashing before my eyes! I have rights, you know!"

I HAVE AMPLE POWER TO FORCE YOU. For a moment the two crimson orbs flared again beneath Death's cowl. I AM THE MASTER OF THIS REALM.

"But you have a boss, right?" Pinkie's grin widened through some trick of magic. "I saw that twitch! There's someone bigger than you, isn't there! Oooh, you're done now! 'Cuz if I don't get to see my entire life played out before I go, then I'm gonna find your boss and we're gonna chat and you're gonna be in soooooo much trouble! And then I'll-"

ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT! Death stomped his hooves nervously. I'LL DO AS YOU PLEASE. JUST DON'T TELL THE BOSS ABOUT THIS. HE'LL HAVE MY COWL.

"All right! Yippee! This is going to be so exciting!" Pinkie clopped her hooves together happily. "You'll see, my life's plenty interesting! And funny, too! You'll have fun, you'll see!"

WE WILL SEE, agreed Death reluctantly. NOW BRACE YOURSELF. THIS MAY BE A BIT DISCONCERTING.

He reared back, and his fiery eyes blazed with ethereal power. And then he fell, and his hooves struck against the air, spraying multicolored sparks that shuddered and glinted with primal magic.

And the world twisted.

"Ohmigosh ohmigosh ohmigosh it's so pretty!"

Reality had disappeared, replaced by a phantom dreamscape. Twisting threads of light formed a ghostly net across blackness deeper than the depths of space, pulsing every so often with cosmic energy and sending tiny motes of reality skittering across the web of existence.

"What is it?" asked Pinkie, turning to her guide.

IT IS A FOUR-DIMENSIONAL REALITY, he answered. WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT THE ENTIRETY, FOR YOUR BRAIN LACKS THE CAPACITY TO COMPREHEND THE FULLNESS OF A TETRADIMENSIONAL EXISTENCE. YOU ARE, I BELIEVE, THE FIRST MORTAL TO WITNESS IT.

"It's a lot of pretty lights. Is there a simpler name for it?"

IT'S… The spectral stallion sighed. YES, IT IS QUITE PRETTY. YOUR KIND WOULD PERHAPS CALL IT THE MULTIVERSE.

"Cool! So I'm guessing each string-thingy is a reality, and there are like infinite amounts of them, and each one is slightly different from the others except where they're reeeaaallly different and hey if I look at one will I be able to see myself as like a colt or a space commander or something?"

YES. YES. NO, DON'T LOOK.

Pinkie stuck her head in a nearby stream of reality. "Hey look, it's me! She's like, all businessy and stuff, and she's got this computer-thingy and there are all these screens and there's a balloon that's like my head, that's a pretty good idea actually…"

OH NO, PLEASE DON'T. Death clamped his mouth around Pinkie's tail and hauled her out. She gave him a pouty look, which was offset by the many glimmering pieces of time that were stuck in her mane like sequins.

"She was just saying hi!" complained the pink pony, shaking the brilliant little motes out of her mane. They swirled out into the blackness before gravitating towards other streams. "She gave me a wave, too. Only she was me and was that supposed to happen?"

OH DEAR. THAT'S…NOT GOOD. UM. WE SHOULD GET MOVING.

"Huh? What's not good? I mean what was the worst that could've happened, total collapse of reality along a probability curve whoooa!"

The net had twisted, and they had begun moving. Threads of unearthly light zipped above, below, and around them, as they weaved through the network of probabilities. Pinkie looked ahead, and saw their destination: one thread in particular, coloured differently from the others. It was impossible to say what colour exactly, due to the complexities of four-dimensional light, but Pinkie saw it as a rather pretty shade of orange and that was good enough for her.

"That's our timeline isn't it?" she said excitedly. "Ooh! Ooh! Hey, can I take a peek at the future?"

NO.

"Why not?" She pouted again.

THOUGH TIME IS MORE OF A RELATIVE MEASUREMENT IN THIS DIMENSION, IT IS STILL A LIMITATION. IF A LINE IS ONLY THREE CENTIMETERS LONG, YOU CANNOT GO TO THE FOUR-CENTIMETER POINT.

"So then I guess you have to wait until someone draws the line longer?"

PRECISELY.

As he said it, they came upon the orange-tinted stream, drawing nearer until it grew to the width of a small house. Pinkie cast her gaze along it. In one direction, she could vaguely make out an end, which glimmered brilliantly in a haze of swirling fragments of time.

THAT IS THE PRESENT, intoned her guide upon noticing her gaze. AS YOU CAN SEE, IT IS STILL ONGOING.

Next Pinkie looked in the other direction. The line swiveled and twisted like a confused snake, looping around and in between several others, but way off in the distance she could see another end. As she looked further, the line converged with several other lines, and then that line converged with yet others, until finally all of the streams came together at one point. She tried to look at it, but her Death covered her eyes with one of his legs.

THAT IS THE ORIGIN, he explained. IT WOULD NOT DO TO LOOK UPON IT.

Pinkie nodded, swallowing hard. For she had, for one second, laid eyes upon it; and her mind, her very essence, was still trying to process what she had seen.

She turned her gaze back upon the stream before her.

"Why did we come out here?" asked Pinkie.

IT IS EASIER TO SKIP TO ONE SPECIFIC POINT FROM OUTSIDE THE STREAM, answered her guide. He suddenly pointed. WE WILL ENTER HERE.

"Here?"

HERE.

And then he grabbed her and drew her back into Time.

A tiny Pinkie Pie looked curiously at the world. The little diaper-clad filly cast her soft blue eyes in all directions, taking in the dimensions, the colours, the contents of the little bedroom she was in. She toddled over to the edge of her crib and gazed out of the bars at the world. An adorable little smile played on her face.

THIS IS THE BEGINNING, observed Death. THE START OF YOUR LIFE. FROM HERE, YOU PROGRESS ONWARDS UNTIL YOU MEET ME.

"No it isn't."

There was silence, during which time baby Pinkie sucked on a hoof. Death sighed. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM NOW?

"This isn't the beginning," asserted Pinkie. "I'm pretty sure this is a bit after the beginning actually, like, maybe the middle of the beginning, or maybe the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the middle. Whatever it is, it definitely isn't 'Once upon a time' if you know what I mean."

…I AM NOT SURE WHAT YOU MEAN. IS THIS NOT SUFFICIENT?

Pinkie laughed. "No, of course not silly! I said I wanted to see my entire life flash before myself. That means we have to start at the beginning. The real beginning."

…ARE YOU SURE?

Pinkie nodded spastically. "Oh, yes! I can't possibly move on into the next life if I haven't fully reviewed the last one! Gotta study, you know, learn from my mistakes, etc. etc."

FINE.

Time shifted backwards.

…OH. OH MY.

"Oh so that's what it's like. I mean, of course I got all the info, did some research too, but man this is pretty amazing! Kind of feel glad I opted out of the process, though, I mean really that looks kind of painful but also pretty cool, when you stop to think about it. Every pony in Equestria started out this way! Except the clones, guess the clones are an exception, oops I wasn't supposed to talk about that but I guess that's okay if I'm just saying it to you, it's not like you're gonna tell anyone."

"What's wrong, big guy?" Pinkie nudged Death playfully. "Getting' kind of uncomfortable? Haha, you colts are always such big wussies!"

IT IS ONLY NATURAL THAT I, WHO PERSONIFY LIFE'S END, SHOULD BE UNEASY WHEN FACED WITH ITS BEGINNING. The shadows under the cowl contrived to look huffy.

"Yeah, sure." Pinkie winked, while below her, a shrill, high voice cried out for the first time. "But I guess the main show's over. Would you feel better if we moved on now?"

Death responded by turning the world into a blur.

Less than twenty-four hours old, a tiny, newborn foal cuddled in her parents' arms. Both had grey hair, but something about them suggested that their hair was naturally that colour. The father had a creamy brown coat and thick sideburns, and sported a flat-brimmed black cap; the mother bore half-moon spectacles and had her hair done up in a bun.

Both were smiling warmly at their offspring, and this was not missed by their invisible watchers.

"I don't remember them smiling like that," said Pinkie, and her voice was soft. "At least, not before I taught them to smile…They were always such frowny-faces, the way I remember them."

"What should we name her?" asked the mother, nuzzling the little foal. In response, the child giggled and burbled happily. "I was thinking Diane, after my aunt."

"Maybe not," said the father pensively. "She don't look like much of a Diane to me. Mostly, it's the pinkness."

Indeed, the newborn was an incredibly bright shade of pink. In some respects, it may even have been called violent in the way it assaulted the eyes. Her mane was a dark raspberry, and adorable baby-blue eyes cast about the room curiously.

"So what are we going to call her? Pinkie?" The mother shook her head disapprovingly. "That's not a fitting name for an honourable member of the Pie family!"

"Well, we could spruce it up a bit," admitted her husband. "How about…er…Pinkamena?"

The mother's face brightened. "Yes! That sounds perfect!" She nuzzled her baby again and looked it in the eyes. "Pinkamena Diane Pie! How's that sound, little one?"

The newly-named Pinkamena gurgled ecstatically, and waved a little hoof. Both parents took this as a yes. They shared a happy smile, and the father rose from his seat. He clopped over to the door and knocked on it before easing it open.

"Girls!" he called. "Come in and meet your new sister, Pinkamena!"

Two smaller fillies rushed into the room and piled about the bed, eager to see their new sibling. Pinkie blinked at them, and gave them an adorable little smile.

"And everything was good."

HM?

"Don't be silly, I didn't say anything! Anywho, take a look at this!" Pinkie floated above and around her family, giving them loving looks. "Aren't I adorable? Just look at me!" She waved to her newborn self, and for a moment, it looked like the tiny Pinkie waved back.

WASHED AND CLEANED, YOU DO INDEED PROVOKE THE MOTHERLY INSTINCT THAT I DO NOT POSSESS. Death peered closely at the stunningly pink foal. BUT WHY DO YOU LOOK SO DIFFERENT FROM THE REST OF YOUR FAMILY?

"Genetics, supposedly. Also mutations. And I chose to be that way!"

I DID NOT THINK THESE WERE THINGS THAT COULD BE CHOSEN.

"They totally are! See?" The ghostly Pinkie twisted in midair, and suddenly she was a delicious shade of blueberry. She twisted again, and her hair turned yellow while her coat turned white. She twisted a third time, and suddenly she had Twilight Sparkle's coat and mane, right down to the pink streak down the side. Then she did a midair somersault, and she was entirely coated in a particularly disturbing variety of plaid.

…THAT IS UNCANNY.

"Nah, it's a pretty easy trick, once you get the hang of it." Pinkie spun, and was back to her normal self. "Dunno why other ponies don't do it, what with all the time they spend dying their mane and stuff, like the mayor, she dyes…dyed her mane grey and I don't even know why! It was a really nice pink too."

I MUST CONFESS TO CONFUSION OF MY OWN. Death waved a hoof, and the scene became a still. Two happy parents, and three happy children. He turned his eyeless gaze on Pinkie. DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED?

"I don't," confessed Pinkie. "I never even knew. Inky and Blinky never mentioned anything. I always assumed that life had always been like that, on the rock farm."

IT IS A PART OF YOUR LIFE. IT IS THEREFORE YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW.

Pinkie looked at her guide and nodded. Curiosity burned behind her eyes, and she there was no reason not to sate it.

"Come on! Let's-a go!"

Pinkamena Diane Pie was a bright, bubbly, precocious child. From her cradle she would play little pranks on her siblings: hiding beneath the blankets to surprise them, climbing out to draw on their faces while they slept, and on one memorable occasion spiriting away her sister's favourite stuffed toy and successfully concealing it for over a week.

This lasted for all of two years.

Weeks passed by in seconds, and Pinkie watched herself grow older, from a tiny foal to a little filly. But at the same time she watched herself grow darker. Something had changed in the air; something was affecting the entire family. She was ignored more and more by her siblings and parents; her antics were met with disapproval or annoyance, and the laughter and smiles grew less and less.

The farm was failing.

"Nothing!" bellowed her father, kicking apart a pile of rocks. "Nothing, for the second year in a row! Just useless rocks!"

"Clyde, please calm down," urged his wife disconsolately. "Kicking them won't help."

"What are we supposed to do, Sue?" The stallion sagged. "No gems means no buyers. We've got no contracts, no income, and pretty soon we'll have no money, and then we'll have no food either." He gave his wife a hopeless glance. "What am I supposed to do?"

"We'll ride it out," said Sue firmly. She straightened her back and neck proudly. "We'll do as the Pie family has always done. The gems will come back, and then we'll be in business, you'll see. The girls are helping out all they can, and pretty soon Pinkamena will be old enough to work on the farm. With all five of us out there, we'll manage something."

"You're right, Sue. You always are." Clyde gave his wife a nuzzle. "Shh, I hear the kids coming."

Inky and Blinky came around the corner of the house, and the scene froze.

I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS A ROCK FARM? said Death enquiringly.

"Well, yeah! The same way you can have a dairy farm!" Pinkie crossed her hind legs in midair again and folded her front legs in front of her. "See, what we were really growing on the farm was gems."

GEMS?

"Jeez, you don't know what gems are? They're all sparkly and shiny and come in all sorts of pretty colours and everypony is just fascinated with them, though I'm not sure why, and if you really want to get into a bunch of detail they're made up of-"

WHAT I MEANT WAS THAT I WAS NOT AWARE THAT YOU COULD GROW GEMS.

"What? You're crazy! All gems are grown! Where do you think they come from?"

MINERAL DEPOSITS SUBJECTED TO INTENSE HEAT AND PRESSURE?

"I dunno what world you come from, but all gems in Equestria are grown. That's why ponies like Rarity can find 'em all over the place, 'cuz they're wild. This one time, all these rubies came in and started out-growing the other gem types, and that was a pretty big crisis but we got it solved eventually, maybe you'll see in a bit!" Pinkie shook herself, as if to refocus. "But anyway, that's what rock farms do. They grow gems, custom. See, if you move gems around, they grow better; and if you move rocks around, they're more likely to start growing gems."

I SUPPOSE THAT MAKES SENSE?

"Of course it does! And by moving them around in specific ways and by introducing geodes of certain gems into new rock populations you can get all kinds of different gems of specific shapes and shades and sizes! It's a reeeaaaally delicate and exact science and I never really bothered to pay attention to it."

OKAY THEN.

"So rock farms, they take requests for gems that are a certain kind or colour or whatever. And then they grow 'em. It's pretty simple stuff, except for all that complicated science that I mentioned earlier and balancing accounts which I was always bad at but Inky was a genius, should've seen her move those ledgers-"

ERM. WE ARE GETTING OFF-TOPIC. Death coughed, and it came out more like a sickly wheeze than anything. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THIS MEMORY?

"Technically it's not my memory. I'm not even anywhere near here!"

LOOK, I'M GIVING YOU PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT, DON'T COMPLAIN.

"Ooh! Special treatment! Then I know just where to go!"

OKAY WHERE DO YOU WANT TO

…GO?

YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT.

"It wasn't very hard."

IT WAS EXTREMELY UNNERVING.

"What, you've already done it twice already!"

BUT I AM AN EMBODIMENT OF A PRIMAL FORCE. I AM SUPPOSED TO DO THAT.

Pinkie pouted. "Well how the hay does that make you special?"

PLEASE JUST DON'T DO IT AGAIN.

"Fiiiiiine. Ooh look, there's me!"

It was indeed Pinkie Pie; smaller, much less fluffy, but definitely her. Her mane was no longer the cotton candy mess it had been at birth, instead hanging in a straight curtain across her face, like her sisters. On top of that her coat and mane had darkened several shades, and she had lost her perpetual grin; but something about her still suggested a smile lurking just out of sight.

She was taking a rag to an old wooden table with a certain amount of viciousness. Every so often her eyes would dart left and right furtively, as if she was expecting something. Then she'd return to her efforts to put a hole in the table.

Then her sisters stormed in, and she contrived to look as absorbed as possible in her chore.

The older of the two had a blue-purple coat and a mane even greyer than her mother's, and she had been christened Melissa Agatha Pie. This was a bit of a mouthful and rather bland, so her sisters had taken to calling her Blinky due to her habit of constantly blinking, which gave her a look of perpetual confusion. She claimed that everything was fuzzy to her, but her siblings chalked it down to chronic foalishness.

The younger sister had a coat as grey as her sister's mane and a dark grey mane, and had been blessed at birth with the name Ilsabill Ingrid Isabella Pie, which was generally considered to be quite a mouthful and an easy target for the occasional sisterly teasing. Ilsabill, on the other hoof, was quite proud of her name and often insisted that her sisters refer to her as such, believing in that childish way that having a longer name meant you were more important.

"I once knew a guy with like ten different names. He was a mailman. Though I guess they're pretty important, but then everypony's important!"

WHAT?

"Nothing~"

Upon seeing them enter, Pinkamena immediately lowered her gaze and worked hard to bury the smile she felt coming on. If this wasn't enough of a clue, then the mischievous spark in her eyes would serve quite well to indicate that she was, as usual, up to something.

"Pinkamena," said Ilsabill, putting her hooves on the table. There was a dangerous edge to her tone.

"Yes, sister?" replied Pinkamena primly, keeping her eyes on the table.

"Where did you hide my pencil?"

"Pencil? What pencil?" said the pink filly innocently. "Anyway you've got like hundreds of them, so how am I supposed to know which one you're talking about?"

"Don't play silly-filly with me, Pinkamena!" growled Ilsabill, slamming her hoof on the table. "You know exactly which pencil I'm talking about!"

"No I don't."

"Maybe she actually doesn't," suggested the oldest sister. She blinked twice, rapidly. "Come on, how do you even know she had anything to do with it?"

"Shut up, Blinky!" snapped the little grey filly. "Fess up, Pinkamena. My favourite pencil. The blue one with gold stars, tastes like raspberries. What did you do with it?"

"Huh? That pencil? I didn't do anything with it. Why would I do anything with it?" Pinkamena tried very hard to look innocent, which of course managed the exact opposite effect.

"She's got a point, Ilsabill," pointed out Blinky, who had always had a hard time seeing these things. "She seems pretty clean to me. And why would she steal your pencil, anyway?"

"Blinky…"

"Yeah?"

"Shut up!" Ilsabill slammed her hoof on the table again. "Of course it was her! She's trying to mess with my head again? Have you forgotten what the pink terror here did to Mr. Cat?"

Pinkamena gave her best wide-eyed-innocence look. "Is that what this is about? I'm so terribly sorry, Ilsabill, I thought I already apologized for that, and that was a year ago anyway."

"That's what makes me suspicious," said Ilsabill, narrowing her eyes. "You haven't done anything funny ever since Mother found out what you did. Why?"

Pinkamena shrugged sadly. "Well, maybe there's nothing funny to do anymore."

Ilsabill searched her sister's face, and found nothing but suspicion. She leaned forward.

"Listen up close," she said, and then paused as she thought of an appropriate name to use.

"…Pinkie," she finally snarled, deeming it appropriately menacing. "I don't believe you for a second, but I can't tell Mother until I find out for sure." She backed away from the table. "But that doesn't mean I'm giving up. I'm watching you, Pinkie…I'm watching you."

This last warning delivered, she turned around to leave in a huff. Before she could storm off, however, Pinkie managed to get one last word in.

"Okay, I'll remember that…" She paused for dramatic effect. "…Inky."

Inky ground her teeth and stomped off to hunt for her missing pencil.

Once she was around the corner, her sisters indulged in a rare chuckle.

"Inky," said Blinky. "Genius. She'll be fuming about that for ever. Kind of fits, too."

"Yeah, I think I'm gonna call her that from now on," said Pinkie, allowing a small, wan smile to play about her lips. She looked at the ceiling. "Pinkie, though…I like it. Suits me just fine."

"Okay then, Pinkie," said Blinky. "Just tell me one thing."

"What?"

"You didn't actually steal her pencil, did you?"

"Nope. Absolutely, positively nope."

"Thanks."

Their mother then entered from the next room. "What are you two doing, standing about?" she asked irritably. "There's work to do! If you're not busy you can go help your father in the fields!"

"Yes, Mum," chorused the fillies. Pinkie returned to her table polishing, while Blinky sauntered off out the door.

"If only you could all be like Ilsabill," muttered the mare. "Yes, there's a productive child…where did she get off to, though?"

The ghostly Pinkie floating in the air smiled at the recollection. "It's just perfect for me, isn't it?"

YOU ARE INDEED QUITE PINK, commented Death dryly. I ASSUME THAT YOU USED THIS NICKNAME YOUR ENTIRE LIFE?

"Oh yeah! Except when I wrote that one book on practical comedic theory, I did that under a pseudo…pseudo…pen name."

ARE WE QUITE FINISHED YET?

"Maybe possibly. I was thinking I might like to see Inky's face when she finally found her pencil."

I WILL ADMIT TO CURIOSITY: WHERED DID YOU HIDE THis PENCIL?

"On the other hoof, I kind of wanted to keep that a secret forever." Pinkie winked. "After all, Inky did make me swear never to tell anypony about it ever. That includes you!"

I AM NOT A PONY.

"Wasn't talking to you."

?

Pinkie changed the topic quickly. "Next memory! I have the perfectest idea for where we should go next!"

YES?

"I'll show you how I got my cutie mark!"

A year or three passed, and life went on. The rock farm barely managed to scrape by, and with each passing month faces grew longer, eyes dimmed, and a blanket of frustration and unhappiness fell over the farm.

Pinkie watched herself grow a little older with each passing second. She grew a bit taller, her mane and tail lengthened, but by and large she remained the same. The only noticeable difference was that the smile lurking at the corners of her mouth slowly, gradually, disappeared, and the laughter in her eyes faded away to a dim twinkle that eventually went out.

She had forgotten joy.

Then, at a certain day, Pinkie lifted a hoof, and the montage stopped. She began reciting from memory:

"My sisters and I were raised on a rock farm outside of Ponyville!" she began. "We spent our days working the fields. There was no talking. There was no smiling." She sighed dramatically. "There were only…rocks."

It was midday, but the sun's warmth did little to make the fields feel any more alive. The few trees were black, gnarled husks, and at a glance one could tell that the dirt itself was useless for growing. Even the rocks seemed more lifeless than usual.

The three fillies were out among the rocks, doing what they had always done and always expected to do. Inky and Blinky were working around a cart, piling rocks into it in preparation for transport. Pinky had wandered off on her own, and was idly kicking a couple of stones around. She had a small pile going, but she knew that by the end of the day even that bit of progress would be taken. She sighed and gave it a mournful stare.

I HAVE RARELY SEEN PONIES IN SUCH DESPAIR, remarked Death, AND THAT IS REMARKABLE GIVEN MY OCCUPATION.

"Shhh! I'm telling a story here! So anyway…we were in the south field (as you can probably see, Mr. Smarty Pants) preparing to rotate the rocks to the east field, when all of a sudden…"

A bell rang, and Mrs. Pie poked her head out the door. "Girls! Dinner! Get back inside!"

"Huh. That part wasn't in the original."

Inky and Blinky dutifully obeyed, trotting robotically back towards the door. Pinkie, however, hesitated a while. She had no real desire to eat, and it wasn't as if anyone would care if she didn't show up at the table.

THAT WASN'T TERRIBLY ASTOUNDING.

"It hasn't happened yet! Wait for it…wait for it…there it is!"

There was a pealing boom of thunder that shook the ground itself. Pinkie's ears perked up, and she turned about in search of its source. Her gaze swung about northward…and then she saw it.

A ring of multicolored flame, bursting outwards across the sky. She tracked its progress, her mouth agape in awe, as it extended across the heavens. It was an impossibly beautiful sight, and one that she had difficulty accepting.

And then the shockwave hit.

The sphere of expanding air rushed across the fields at hurricane speeds, whipping up dirt and bending trees right in half. An uprooted trunk whooshed past Pinkie's head just as the front edge of it hit. Her hair was whipped into a frenzy, and her little pile of rocks was scattered like so much dust before the mighty blast. All about her the fields were being torn apart, but by some miracle she managed to stay standing, her eyes open in shock and her teeth grit together in face of the raw power assaulting her.

Just as suddenly as it began, it was over. She looked up; and there in the sky stood the proud arc of a bright, full-bodied rainbow.

Instincts long thought dead kicked in, and unused facial muscles twitched back into life. And suddenly, after so many years, Pinkie Pie smiled again.

"Look at that! Beautiful!"

YES. THE RAINBOW IS QUITE ASTONISHING.

"Yeah that too, but just look at the grin on that face! That's like a full ten out of ten, right there! Right up to the eyes, full teeth, eyes sparkling…absolutely perfect!"

OH. OKAY.

"Anyway! " Pinkie coughed. "I'd never felt joy like that before! Or at least, I couldn't remember at the time, so it was basically the same thing. And it felt so good! It felt so good I just wanted to keep smiling forever! And I wanted everyone I knew to smile too! But rainbows don't come along that often."

I WAS UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT RAINBOWS APPEAR AFTER ANY DECENT RAINSTORM.

"Why do you think that land was being used as a rock farm?"

OH.

"So I wondered…how else could I create some smiles?"

AND?

"And I invented parties!"

Another grin split young Pinkie's face, and she darted off like a bullet.

"This is the part I don't tell usually," commented Pinkie. "It's kind of boring."

The little pink filly went straight up to her room, bypassing the kitchen by going in via the front door. It was shared with her sisters, and there was rarely any privacy, but Pinkie had long ago figured out a method to hide the things she thought precious. Going to the far corner, she shoved a rather large cabinet until it shifted slightly, and then she stomped carefully on one of the floorboards.

It shuddered and jumped right out of place. The filly reached in under it, and drew out a little sack that clinked suggestively.

"Money, money money moooneeeeey~," sang Pinkie. "Dad used to give us a couple bits every time harvest came around. Even when it got kind of bad, he always managed to give us one at least. I'd been saving up for years, and rock farms harvest like once a month."

VERY PRUDENT. IT WAS WISE OF YOU, ESPECIALLY AT YOUR AGE, TO BEGIN BUILDING TOWARDS A FUTURE.

Pinkie shrugged. "Nah, there was just nothing to spend it on cause we never went into town, and if I didn't hide it then Inky would steal it as revenge for Mr. Cat."

With her treasure retrieved, Pinkie was ready to set out. She grabbed her saddlebags, tossed the sack of coins inside, pushed the plank and cabinet back into position, and snuck out the door as the sun was setting.

WERE YOUR PARENTS NOT WORRIED?

"Nah, they kind of just let us do our own thing after a while. I mean, what was the worst that could happen? We weren't anywhere near the Everfree or anything, and if we wandered off too far we'd get hungry and come right back. Ponyville was something like three hours away walking, and we were little fillies. This one time, I spent two whole days hiding out under an old wagon with some sandwiches I stole from the kitchen. Dad only got annoyed because I could've been working all that time."

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAD A RATHER DEPRESSING CHILDHOOD.

"I had fun. What are you talking about?"

She snuck back downstairs, and caught sight of herself in a mirror as she passed. Her mane, she saw, had been whipped into a cloud of pink hair by the shockwave. She laughed at it, and with her spirits high, she made her exit and began trotting down the road to Ponyville.

"This would be a good place for a musical number."

WHY?

"Just to pass the time until I get to Ponyville. We'll do it karaoke-style!"

WHAT.

Pinkie reached behind her and pulled out a karaoke machine, complete with television. "Come on, sing with me!"

UM. NO. SORRY, I DO NOT SING.

Pinkie gave her best puppy-dog eyes. "Awww, why not?"

I AM THE PRIMAL EMBODIMENT OF THE END. THE ONLY THING I MIGHT BE ABLE TO SING IS A FUNERAL MARCH, AND SOMEHOW I DO NOT THINK THAT APPROPRIATE.

"Aw, c'mon! Sing with me!" Pinkie slapped the machine with a hoof, and it whirred to life, burping out a chirpy little tune. "My name is Pinkie Pie – Hello! – and I am here to say – Howdy!..."

NO.

"Sing with me, or I'll be having a chat with your boss~!"

URG.

"See? I told you! You can sing just fine!"

THAT WAS INTENSELY EMBARRASSING AND I AM ONLY GLAD THAT NOBODY ELSE COULD HEAR.

"You're just shy!"

Below the two bantering spectres, a young Pinkie Pie had just completed the walk to Ponyville. She was dusty, and she was achy, and she was tired; and yet, despite all that, she had refused to let the grin drop from her face.

The upper rim of the sun was just slipping out of sight as she waltzed into town.

Ponyville was smaller, though not by much, and it was just as friendly as ever. Pinkie doled out greetings to each pony she met, and received an equal number of equally friendly responses. Her grin only widened as she continued deeper into town, bolstered by the smiles of those she passed. She'd never dreamed that so much happiness could exist.

She was lost, but that was no issue; a quick query, and the residents were more than happy to help her find her way. Supplies of her nature were sold in many places throughout the city, they said, but there was one place that it would be wise to check, especially at this hour.

So Pinkie Pie nodded and smiled and made her way towards the centre of town, to a place called Sugarcube Corner.

Just the sight of it widened her grin. It was, as far as she could tell, made out of sweets and candies. Most of them she couldn't even name, as the Pie family did not generally condone treats, but something instinctual told her that they were incredibly tasty. Her mouth watered at the sight of it, and she was forced to swallow as she stepped inside, under the banner declaring GRAND OPENING SALE!

It was quiet inside. Most of the customers had come and gone already, and the shop had that feeling that it was just about to close. Still, at the tone of the little bell hung over the door, a mare popped out of a back room and took place at the counter.

"Funny," noted Pinkie with a twinkle of amusement. "I met the Cakes when I was an itty-bitty filly, and I never thought I'd be working for them one day!"

Mrs. Cake was a bit slimmer in those days, but no less kind. She gave Pinkie a warm and welcome smile, and beckoned her in.

"Come in! Come in! It's going to be cold outside soon…what's a little filly like yourself doing out this late?"

"I've uh…I've come to buy things," Pinkie informed the shopkeeper, and to her credit she was only slightly nervous. "For a party."

"A party? That's wonderful!" The baker-pony clopped her hooves together. "Did your mother send you?"

"No. I'm here by myself."

"Well! We'd better get your order filled out and have you on your way before it gets too dark." She turned her head towards the back. "Dear! Come on out, we've got one last customer."

A younger Mr. Cake trotted out from the back. He nodded at Pinkie, gave her a "How ya doin?" and stood at the ready beside his wife.

"You're one lucky filly!" she bubbled. "We were just about to close up, and as you've probably noticed we've got a super-special sale on today! So, what'll you be needing for this party of yours?"

Pinkie explained.

It had taken a bit of cajoling (and strategic use of puppy-dog eyes) to get the Cakes convinced that she had to have everything for tomorrow. Once they were, though, they insisted that Pinkie ride back home in their delivery cart, citing the dangers of walking all that way at night, and anyway how did she plan on carrying it all herself?

It took about two hours to get everything ready, and even then this was only possible due to the Cakes' incredible skill at their craft. Then Mr. Cake hauled the newly-painted wagon out from the back, hitched himself up, and trotted nonstop for the full three hours to the Pie farm. All the way, Mrs. Cake babbled amicably about this and that, while Pinkie napped quietly beside her; she would need her rest for what was to come.

"You're sure you can take care of this yourself?" asked Mrs. Cake worriedly. "Aren't you a little young to be staying up this late?"

"No, no I'm not!" said Pinkie gleefully. "Thanks so much, Missus! This is going to be the best party ever!"

So Mrs. Cake got back into the wagon, and Mr. Cake pulled away, but not before tipping his hat in Pinkie's direction with a wink and a companionable smile. Off in the distance, Pinkie could just hear them chatting about something involving "payment" and "long-term investments".

"They never charged me for the supplies," commented Pinkie, and something sparkled in her eyes behind her fond little smile. "I think they just forgot about it. But I never did."

Below her, little Pinkie rubbed her hooves together with glee as she skimmed her gaze over her little mountain of supplies. There was work to be done.

The night slipped by, and the dawn succeeded it, just as they always had. On the Pie farm, the day started with the first rays of sun, and by the time its orb was fully over the horizon the Pie family had already begun and nearly completed breakfast.

"Where's your sister?" asked Sue Pie, and her voice did not have nearly enough worry for a mother who was missing a child.

Blinky shrugged, while Inky rolled her eyes. "She never showed up for bed," said the former, while the latter disparagingly remarked, "She'll show up. She always shows up."

"Probably out under that old wagon again," muttered their father, sipping at his morning milk. "Should get around to breakin' that thing up someday."

He stood then. "Time to get started," he announced. "Come on, kids. Rocks to move, stones to shift, and so on."

Inky and Blinky muttered their acknowledgements and slipped off of their chairs. Their mother began the process of cleaning up after breakfast.

Their father placed his hat on his head and hoofed open the door. "We'd better harvest the rocks from the south field…" he decided.

Then he stopped at the sound of music, which was unknown on the Pie farm, and the sight of colour, which was virtually imaginary. Both were leaking out of the doors to the silo, in the form of an upbeat polka tune and confetti respectively.

Drawn by the music, Sue emerged from the house, followed by her daughters. "Pinkamena Diane Pie!" she exclaimed. "Is that you?"

The filly in question poked her head out of the silo door, and a little bundle of balloons escaped towards the sky. "Mum!" she said. "I need you and dad and the sisters to come in quick!" Her head then disappeared back inside.

Clyde looked to his wife, and shrugged. They'd have to go in anyways, if only to fetch her out.

What greeted them shocked them to their very core.

It was colourful. It was bright. It was cheerful. Streamers and ribbons hung on every corner of the round room that Pinkie had been able to reach, which, for a filly of her special talents, was pretty much the whole room. Several old tables had been assembled around the space and outfitted with cheerful coloured tablecloths and assorted snacks, including several bowls of what appeared to be punch. Balloons of several shapes, sizes and colours bobbed on the ends of strings, and the polka music leaked out of a record player seated in the corner.

They stared.

"SURPRISE!" yelled Pinkie. "Do you like it? It's called…a party!"

Her family continued staring at it, mouths agape. Their faces twitched uncertainly.

"Oh…you don't like it…" said Pinkie then, and she seemed to physically deflate.

"At this point," said ghost-Pinkie, "I usually tell everypony that my family burst into smiles and started dancing and prancing and having fun for once."

DID THIS HAPPEN?

"Pretty much, yeah!"

True to Pinkie's word, her family erupted into grins. Their faces, so accustomed to sombre expressions, readily welcomed the sudden change to unabashed joy, and the rest of their bodies followed suit.

"You do like it!" exclaimed Pinkie with unmatched happiness as her family started dancing to the music. She grabbed her mother's hoof and jigged with her in pure joy. "I'm so happy!"

Her flank flashed, and an image of three balloons appeared. But she was too busy to notice, occupied as she was with having a good time with her family for the first time that she could remember.

"And that's how Equestria…! Nah," said Pinkie with a wry shake of her head. "That joke's kind of old, isn't it?"

THAT WAS QUITE GOOD OF YOU.

"Yeah, I pretty much figured the same thing. I mean, they smiled. And it's always good to make somepony smile, isn't it?"

I WOULD IMAGINE. I RARELY SEE MANY SMILES, MYSELF.

"That's cause you don't smile yourself, silly!"

I HAVE GIVEN YOU MY REASONS ON THIS.

"Ooh, you just wait, I'll make you smile!"

WHEN TO NEXT, MISS PIE? asked Death, and a slight note of irritation entered his sepulchral monotone.

"Erm…I think…lemme remember…about a year, yeah, let's jump a year. Or actually, make that a double!"

Time skipped forward like a rock across a lake. Months passed, and the mood on the rock farm only continued to lighten, boosted by a sudden increase in prosperity. It was not a coincidence, everyone knew, but they kept from voicing it aloud for fear they might break the spell.

A year passed happily, then another, and Pinkie Pie grew two years older. Her legs had grown longer, and looked and felt like they were all knees, and her neck grew likewise. Her mane remained as poofy as ever, though she'd begun to take steps towards managing it somewhat, and while it was still a cotton-candy mess it at least looked like it was shaped deliberately.

She was standing out front, giving big hugs to her mother and sisters. There were some tears all around, but they were mixed with happy smiles.

Behind her, her father was hitched to the old wagon. Rather than breaking it down, he'd taken his newfound spirit to it and patched it up until it worked like new. He was trying his best to look stoic, but the effect was ruined by the dust he kept brushing out of his eyes.

"We'll miss you, Pinkie," said Blinky, patting her sister on the back. She was almost past the gangly stage, and with her new glasses she managed an awkward cuteness that drew the colts' eyes when she went in to town. She'd only recently earned her Cutie Mark – a stack of books – on a trip to the Ponyville library. "Don't forget to write. Pinkie Promise, all right?"

Pinkie crossed a hoof over her heart and stuck it in her eye. "I promise! You guys better be prepared to get a lot of mail!"

"Oh, my dear little Pinkamena…you've grown so much!" Sue Pie gave her youngest daughter a great hug, squeezing hard. Pinkie's eyes looked about ready to pop out of their sockets, but she hugged her mother back, though far more gently. After a couple seconds, they separated, and the mother regarded her daughter with far more fondness than had been in her eyes only one year previous. "You'll get along famously with Granny, and I just know you'll do great things. We'll never forget you, you know that."

"I know, silly!" said Pinkie, nuzzling her mother. "And I won't forget about you, either!"

Last was Inky, who was stuck in the middle of what Blinky was finishing and Pinky was just beginning. She was more reserved with her goodbyes, hugging only as much as was necessary. Then she produced something small, grey, ragged, and fluffy.

"I want you to have this," she said with a blush, hoofing over the plushie while avoiding her sister's eyes. "I mean, you stole it all the time, so I figure you must want it really bad, and I'm too old for it anyways so…"

Pinkie laughed and hugged her sister. "Thanks so much, Inky! I know how much this means!" She kicked Mr. Cat, and the little stuffed animal landed in the wagon next to her suitcase, its dull greyness clashing with the vibrant pink. "But I only stole him once!"

"What, are you saying I lost him? Never!" Inky turned beet-red at the very idea. "So who kept hiding him?"

There was a snicker, and they both turned to Blinky. She had a hoof over her mouth, and was unsuccessfully trying to hold in her merriment. She looked about ready to burst into a giggling fit.

Pinkie pre-empted her with a giggle of her own, and then her mother joined in, and then Blinky let out a chortle that escalated into a guffaw. Inky turned bright red with embarrassment as the laughter grew…and then she, too, joined in.

"Always end it on a laugh," said Pinkie quietly, with a little smile. "End it on a laugh, and you'll always have good memories."

When the merriment had died down a bit, Pinkie saluted her family and jumped into the wagon. She gave one last look towards the old farmhouse, now repainted, refurbished, and even re-roofed. What had once been a dreary, saggy little house had been turned into a cheery abode for a happy family.

"Farewell, home!" she declared. "Farewell, family! I am off to seek adventure!"

Paying heed to his sorely-underused dramatic instinct, her father chose that moment to begin the long trek towards Ponyville. The farmhouse retreated into the distance, as did her sisters and mother, still waving at their departing sibling and daughter.

Then they disappeared out of sight, and Pinkie flopped onto her back on the wagon bed. As it bumped and jolted along the rough dirt road, she gazed happily at the sky.

Life was only just beginning.