Applejack was concerned.
It wasn't a new feeling, of course. As an aged looper, and especially as Equestria's Second, there was plenty to be concerned about, ranging from the important to the inane.
On one end, just as a recent example, you had the Umbridge Crisis, and all the necessary horrors that had come with that. Slaughtering all the undesirable potentials in the branch had been… awful, but the heart-warming counterpoint of the light at the end of that tunnel, first with Starlight's activation, then slightly later with Thorax and Flash, had balanced the tables a little.
AJ was still trying to process that one. It'd been so long.
On the other end, you had something that, quite frankly, was kind of silly, such as her brother somehow managing to avoid even touching his marriage to Sugar Belle in a recent expansion. Silly because no-one actually expected him to follow through with it, with how he'd framed his stance on the relationship previously, so why'd he even need to go to the extra lengths to-
Actually, that wasn't important right now. Telling Mac to stop being a dummy could come later.
For now, their resident Anchor was the worry.
The Loop had started normally, to begin with. The initial Awakened had consisted of all the baseline Element bearers aside from Twi herself, so everyone agreed to go with the flow, assuming there was either a visiting or stealth Anchor.
More accurately, it'd been a late waking on Twilight's part.
It had come not long after her moving into the Golden Oaks, around the time in Baseline where a certain ill-fated sleepover would've seen AJ and Rarity stop butting heads, when the purple future princess had suddenly stumbled mid-stride, movements abruptly becoming a little more subdued.
Within the space of only a few seconds, Twilight had sent out a ping to acknowledge her presence, then, with a shaky voice and vaguely stunned expression, stated she needed some air, before teleporting out. Normally, Applejack wouldn't have thought much of this. Everyone had bad loops now and then, but Twilight more often than not said when that was the case, and where she'd be in an emergency, but not this time, apparently.
The rest of the gang had spread out to search for their leader, each taking an area of the world. Applejack, for her part, had taken the central Equestrian regions, scouring the various locales.
Or she would have, at least. It hadn't really occurred to any of them that Twilight might not actually be hiding, instead being, rather obviously, back in her tower in Canterlot.
"Bit for ya thoughts, sugarcube?"
The local Anchor seemed to pause mid-step, several books levitating lazily around her, amongst other objects, likely to be sorted or resorted, a menial distraction if AJ had ever seen one. Sighing, though not turning toward her friend, Twilight Sparkle managed a faint, if slightly melancholy laugh.
"Heh." She breathed, "I wasn't exactly very subtle, was I?"
"Like a brick through a window." Applejack rolled her eyes, smiling good-naturedly. "Still, offer stands. Wanna talk?"
"I- Of course." Twilight shook slightly, still not facing the visitor. "Just… Sorry. I- I guess I panicked a little."
"Really? Could've fooled me." The apple mare chuckled, before her expression softened. "Bad loop, then?"
"N- not as such…" the Anchor of Equestria, tilted their head downward. "I- It's over, AJ."
"The Umbridge thing? Well, uh, yeah. I already knew-" the farmer froze mid-sentence as Twi finally turned, and the full visage of her situation became clear.
Tears ran down her face in streams, but despite that, she was smiling shakily, happy and sad in equal measure. As several of the more generic books were set down, two objects remained. The first was also a book, open on a page displaying moving images that AJ recognized as moments from their baseline, compiled into a tome she'd expect more from the Wizarding World branch. The other object was a crown, styled similarly to Celestia's and Luna's, albeit plated with gold, a familiar purple star adorning the front.
"N- not Umbridge…" Twilight stepped forward, stammering still. "I- It's over."
"Fewmets…" AJ muttered, as stunned as Twilight had been. "I thought we had one more expansion before…"
"S- Sleipnir said they just seemed to naturally flow together, so we got both as one."
"…Huh." The orange pony slumped back onto her haunches, taking that in. "Thought we'd be able to mentally prep for it, y'know."
"Same here." Twilight looked at the floor. "It was… a lot to take in."
"Ya want to wait for the others to get here, or…?"
"No, I'll…" the unicorn looked up, still smiling loosely. "I- I need to get this out, so I don't mind telling it a second time."
"Whenever you're ready then, Twi."
"W- well…" Twilight drew in a deep breath. "It was a null loop, and only Spike was Awake aside from me, so we took it as it came until we realised things were progressing. Since we didn't know the details yet beyond it being my coronation day, we went with it."
"At this point I guess ya'll both thought this was just a prelude or something?"
"A little, yes. It didn't take us long to realise things were wrapping up, though, so we acted as we'd expect to in Baseline, to feel things out." The bookworm paused, then looked Applejack dead in the eyes. "Discord is Grogar."
"Uh…" AJ's mouth opened and closed several times, before they suddenly withdrew a bottle of apple cider from their pocket in preparation. "Run that one by me again?"
"I mean…" the royal corrected course. "The trio recovering the bell, as Chrysalis reported, is all true. That is the real Grogar's bell, with all his magic in it. But the Grogar we've been seeing isn't the real one. I don't know where the real Grogar is." Her eye twitched a little. "Baseline Discord decided to try and boost my confidence as a ruler by taking on the guise, resurrecting Sombra, freeing Tirek and Cozy Glow, rallying Chrysalis, then forming the alliance we've been seeing up til now, for us to defeat at my coronation."
"Sad thing is, I'm fairly sure our Discord would still do the exact same thing." Her Second frowned, already a third of the way through her drink. "From your tone, I'm sensing that didn't go too well for him. What with them hiding the bell and all those hints about breaking our support."
"They empowered themselves with Grogar's magic, making them nigh unstoppable, drained Discord's magic, even if they couldn't use it properly because of its chaotic aspect, then set about attacking Equestria."
"Not good, then."
"And we all collectively lost faith in Discord when he revealed this."
"He did earn back our trust later, but still." Twilight continued. "Tirek went after Star Swirl and the Pillars, who were defending at my request, then drained their magic. Chrysalis went after Starlight, who'd just managed to get the staff and students at the school to safety before she was captured." She grinned. "I think she'll be happy to know she put up a decent fight, actually. If Chryssy hadn't been powered up, she'd probably have won."
"And, uh… Cozy?" AJ asked hesitantly.
"Went straight for Canterlot, zapped me before I could react, drained Celestia and Luna's magic into the bell when they tried to defend, tanked almost everything we threw at her, then blew most of the castle into a smoking ruin once the other two caught up. Pretty much everyone was captured, but you all bought enough time for me to teleport away and retreat to the Crystal Empire."
"Doesn't sound like you, really."
"I wanted to turn around and blast the three of them into oblivion." Twilight grumbled. "But I was playing to my baseline self, null loop aside. And honestly?" she shivered. "She'd have been terrified. If Spike hadn't insisted on seeing it through, I might've upped the ante right then and there."
"Well, high stakes and all that." Applejack mumbled, finishing her bottle and very nearly producing a second one. "Given the way these things go, either we escaped, or you rescued us after concocting a hairbrained plan."
"The former, even if my brother's plan with the pieces of Chrysalis' magic-nullifying throne worked against the castle, rather than for it." Twilight mused. "Discord and Starlight managed to free everyone because the trio were idiots about everything, couldn't stop arguing and were on a hair trigger. You and other girls escaped with Spike, eventually finding me hiding in a back room in the Crystal Palace. It…" she frowned. "wasn't good. Going purely by Baseline me's knowledge sphere, I basically hit a brick wall. I… really expected to experience a bad end, what with the Windigos."
The indigo maned mare paused as her looping right hoof very nearly double-taked.
"I… mentioned that Chrysalis was spreading distrust between the pony races. We knew this might happen."
"Well… yeah, but… Windigos. Damn." AJ immediately retrieved that second round she'd been considering. "For those frosty fellas to have turned up…"
"Bad. Yes, I know." Twilight shook her head, before perking up a little. "The students really pulled it together, though. Got everyone trusting one another again right when we needed them to."
"Biggest bucking rainbow laser I've ever seen. Powered down the trio completely. Everyone got their magic back."
"And I'm guessin' prison in Tartaros for our dynamic trio?" Applejack took another swig.
"Actually, uh…" Twilight looked almost uncomfortable. "It was a prison of a sort, and they deserved it, but…" she coughed. "Celestia, Luna and Discord turned them to stone at the latter's suggestion."
There was a sound not unlike a small tsunami as the earth pony in front of her managed an incredibly impressive spit-take.
"W- well…" AJ looked awkwardly at the cider stain on Twilight's wall, eyes still wide. "Chryssy's not gonna like Discord for that." The now mildly inebriated looper glanced idly at a particularly interesting spot on the floor, humming with awkward intent. "I'm also gonna guess this was more or less where you thought things would stop for the expansion."
"Practically, at least." The new ruler of Equestria affirmed. "They didn't, though, with the coronation being postponed and all. My choice, as it happened."
"With the castle a pile of birch-damned rubble, can't say I'm surprised." Applejack shrugged. "How long'd ya have to wait for the loop to end?"
"About 20 years."
There was a second spit-take in as many minutes.
"20 YEA-" AJ almost exclaimed, Twilight flinching backward a little at her outburst. She coughed, blushing in slight embarrassment. "R- right. So, it's one of those expansions."
"After the comedy of errors that was my coronation, where we formed the Council of Friendship to meet once a moon to stay in touch due to my moving to Canterlot, among other things, nothing much happened for a long time, so yes, it was one of those expansions." Twilight sighed again. "I'm not even certain the 20 years is fully Baseline either. Kind of got the impression we might see some variance in that time period in future loops, and Sleipnir said we won't experience the decades after the coronation every single loop anyway. Something about all that empty variable time being a drain on resources if run constantly without an apparent need."
"Well, regardless of that…" Applejack smiled, a spark of curiosity in her eyes. "Mind telling me where I ended up."
"I will, don't worry." Twilight, despite that hint of sadness starting to seep back in, Applejack noted, continued. "For starters, Pinkie has a son-"
Both ponies eeped loudly as a bright pink, enthusiastic blur barreled into the room, bowling Twilight over in an instant. Shaking from the daze of being on her back, the Anchor stared up into the eyes of a brightly beaming Pinkie Pie.
"TELL ME EVERYTHING!"
"Oh, come now, darling. Be patient." Another familiar voice, this one more elegant, chimed in. Stepping into the room, two other loopers on her hooves, Rarity rolled her eyes. "We have as long as we need to talk this over."
"Ugh. Fine." Pinkie mock huffed, before bouncing backward off Twilight, who was graciously able to rise once more, coming to stand next to Applejack. "But I wanna hear everything." She narrowed her eyes, whispering creepily. "Eeeeverythiiiing…"
"You say that like I wasn't going to anyway." Twilight giggled, glancing around her five gathered friends, several still bearing concerned expressions. "I'm fine, by the way. Just needed to think things through." She paused. "Do you want me to start over?"
"Nah." Rainbow Dash shrugged, getting similar responses from the others. "I think we all already got the idea that we're at the end earlier than we thought, so that's cool."
"Personally, I'd definitely prefer hearing about the future before the final battle, if you wouldn't mind?" Fluttershy smiled. "It certainly sounds as if it might be interesting."
"Okay, then." Twilight cleared her through, then began from where she'd left off. "Pinkie, you got married to Cheese Sandwich, and had a son called Lil' Cheese." To sate a Pinkie that was quite obviously going to start squeeing loudly, the Anchor produced a photograph of a butter colored colt, handing it off to the party planner. "It was a null loop, but Sleipnir managed to get this for me."
"He…" Pinkie took the photo, staring at it for a long moment with an uncharacteristic calmness, before she broke out in a massive grin, tearing up a little, as if there was some part of her she'd recovered but until now hadn't realized she'd been missing. "He's beautiful..."
Seeing the chaos god was otherwise distracted, Twilight decided to put off mentioning the grown-up Cake Twins, moving onto the next person.
"Applejack, you still ran the farm. Mac and Sugar had a son, who, in the 8 bucking years after they were born, I somehow didn't ever manage to catch the name of."
"Might finally get him to work on that, then." AJ chuckled, before sighing, her mood dropping slightly. "I hate to bring things down, but… Granny Smith?"
"I… I'm sorry, AJ" the way Twilight's face fell was pretty telling. "You started wearing her neckerchief after she passed. Apple Bloom too, with Goldie's shawl."
"It's fine, hon." The farm-pony smiled sadly. "After 20 odd years, I guess it was inevitable."
"Still, though." The Anchor grimaced, before turning to a certain fashionista. "Rarity, you spread your empire to a lot of other nations and races. Sandbar and Yona took over the Carousel Boutique from you. At the end of the loop, you'd just returned from Yakyakistan."
"Well, that's absolutely marvelous-" Rarity began, the beginning of a pleasant smile forming, before she was cut off.
"You were beginning to show some grey hairs…"
Rarity's eye twitched.
"…b- but, you were making it work." Twilight added hastily, seeing the beginnings of a meltdown in progress. Rarity paused, seeming to consider that for a moment, before shrugging, actually somewhat nonplussed.
"Eh. I suppose they would make me seem somewhat dignified and wise." She surmised. "I can live with it."
"Fluttershy." The butter pegasus in question blinked, leaning forward slightly as Twilight addressed her. "You kept on running the sanctuary, with Discord's help."
"That sounds just wonderful. I can't think of anything Baseline me would want more." Fluttershy beamed, before she tilted her head, noting Twilight's flat expression. "Is something the matter?"
"Well, not as such, but…" the indigo mare hummed. "Do you remember that thing Angel blurted out a few expansions ago when he was swapped into your body?"
"Of course. How could I forget someone claiming I wanted to marry Disc-" the animal specialist stopped dead. "O- oh. Oh my." She blushed a little. "Did we…?"
"It was unclear." Twilight clarified. "Not in the loop I experienced, at least, but I feel like that was just because Yggdrasil couldn't make up its mind. Not enough data points on it, I'd imagine." She nodded. "Just a warning for future loops."
"And Rainbow Dash?" Twilight glanced across at their resident one pony air show, who grinned with a mix of nerves and excitement. "You became the leader of the Wonderbolts, training a new generation of fliers."
"Alright!" the spectrum mare laughed. "Totally awesome. Gonna have some real fun with them down the line, I can tell."
"Of course, that just leaves you, dear." Rarity mused idly, frowning as Twilight seemed to emotionally deflate again. "Oh my, this is why you wanted some time alone, wasn't it?"
"Y- yes…" Twilight curled in on herself a little. "But it's okay. It just came as a shock. R- really…"
"Well, we're here for ya no matter what." Applejack smiled warmly. "You know ya'll can tell us anything."
"Thank you…" the princess nodded, before taking a deep breath, which she promptly let out again. "I got big."
There was a moment's silence, all present silently sharing assorted and mixed looks, before Dash managed to break the ice.
"Like… Celestia big?"
"Y- yes." Twilight confirmed, her voice beginning to sound slightly hollow. "Girls, I…" she teared up, lip trembling. "I think I'm immortal." She visibly shook as emotion poured out of her. "A- and I know that shouldn't bother me, but it's Baseline and came out of nowhere and I still looked young when the rest of you had clearly aged and-"
Equestria's First was cut off by a sudden and entirely needed group hug. She paused for a moment, whimpering, before she accepted it, embracing her best friends tightly.
"I- I'm sorry. I wanted to work through all of this s- so I could tell you everything without c- crying…" she laughed solemnly. "I guess that was kind of stupid of me, huh?"
"Eh, everyone has their moments." Pinkie smirked dryly as the hug concluded, everyone taking a step back. "Not like we're gonna be a bunch of big, fat meanie-pants and not hug you."
"And you really looked like you needed it." Fluttershy added. "You'd do the same for us."
"In an instant." Twilight beamed, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Thank you. All of you. For everything." She glanced back at the desk behind her, where a certain moving picture book was now sat open next to a bespoke magic crown. "It's still hard to believe we won't be getting regular expansions anymore, but…" she reached out with her magic, lifting the book for a moment, before folding it shut. "We're going to be okay. Just because Baseline's over doesn't mean we're done."
"Ain't that the truth." Applejack laughed. "Ya'll feeling better, then?"
"A little, yeah."
"Good. Now, we really ought to sit down for the rest of this, so…" Equestria's Second looked at each of the five loopers before her, then smirked. "Whaddaya all say to a round of donuts. On me."
"Why that'd just be marvelous, dear."
"Oooh! Can I have sprinkles? I think Donut Joe's not so good with those this loop!"
"I'd like chocolate on mine, if that's, um, not too much trouble?"
"Last one there's a rotten apple!"
Applejack raised an eyebrow briefly at Dash's comment as the group began moving, but found her attention drawn elsewhere, to Twilight chuckling softly.
"Something funny, sugar-cube?"
"Oh, nothing." The Anchor of Equestria smiled. "Just parallels, really."
With that, the room fell silent, all occupants departing for some friendly snacking.
On the desk, the book and crown remained, closed and unworn, respectively. Though their owner would return to retrieve them later, here and now they sat abandoned and as yet unused, almost symbolic of this not truly being the end, and of the future that was yet to be written, both in Baseline and the Loops.
Of the many adventures to come, they would stay together. A combined unit of not just six, but of all.
That's what friends were for, after all.
"I guess with all that size, you must not have been very aerodynamic, huh?"
"Uh… T- Twi…? C- could you stop making that fa-"
"You and AJ were a couple in the future."
"…c- come again?"
"You heard me."
"Y- you can't just leave it on that! Get back here!"
"Y- ya'll made the fat joke and I snickered, D- Dashie. We canned t- those worms, now we gotta live with 'em…"
Twenty meters away, Twilight couldn't help but giggle at Applejack and Rainbow's bright red complexions.
A Close Shave
Cadance Awoke beside Shining Armor in the Crystal Empire, facing Twilight and her friends as Celestia was talking about the magic mirror to another world where Sunset Shimmer had run off to.
Cadance sent out a Ping and Celestia, Luna, Twilight, and her friends all flinched, ears perking up as they looked around, then at Cadance.
"Sorry." She said, waving a hoof. "Just a little Loopy is all."
"We're all Anchored." Twilight said, and Cadance stared at her for a moment before rubbing her eyes.
"Erm, am I missing something?" Cadance asked. "Why does Twilight have a mustache?"
"To set myself apart from the Twilight of the other world." Twilight said, nodding at the mirror. "I'd hate to make her life miserable by causing confusion like I did during the Friendship Games."
"But her dress, mannerisms, background and life are already different enough." Cadance pointed out. "And she's got glasses."
"And yet people still confuse us. It's like Shadow and Silver being confused with Sonic all the time." Twilight said. "It's stupid, I know, but that's just how things are."
"Right." Cadance said blankly. "Uh… good luck, then. Don't forget to write. And come back to sleep instead of sleeping on a pile of books. Your mother chewed my ear off when that slipped out when I was talking to her once, and she didn't talk to me for a month."
Twilight blushed as she stepped up to the mirror. "Right. I'll keep that in mind. Seeya later!"
Cadance watched her go, then turned to Celestia and Luna. "But seriously, what was with the mustache?"
"That one's on me." Celestia said. "Before she Woke up a few years back, I told her about one of my flings with twins, and I got them confused once, so one of them grew a mustache so they'd be easier to tell apart."
"Twins… one mustached, one not..." Applejack said slowly. "Wait, you're not talking about Flim and Flam, are you?"
Celestia shrugged. "No real harm done. They got me a nice discount at the slots, so I consider it a win."
Fluttershy twitched as Rarity fussed over her Nightmare Night costume, making sure it was comfortable, loose, and fashionable.
"As I was saying," Rarity said, setting some pins aside. "I'm glad the villains were idiots during their takeover. Could you imagine how harder it'd have been if they'd remembered to drain our magic before imprisoning us?"
"I'm more curious as to how the bell will react when it takes in non-Equestrian magic or if it's used on a Looper." Fluttershy said, spreading her wings as Rarity checked the slits in the dress for them.
Rarity shrugged. "Worst-case scenario, it detonates, taking out half the country with it."
"That's a bit of a lowball." Fluttershy remarked. "I'm pretty sure Dash blew up the planet with a Rainboom on a number of occasions before she learned to regulate her output."
"I remember the Quintuple Sonic Rainboom." Rarity said acidly. "Ruined a perfectly good dress I was making for Spike."
Fluttershy glanced at her, brow raised, and Rarity chuckled. "He's just as prone to genderbent loops as the rest of us, so it helps to have a suitable wardrobe."
"But dragons don't wear clothes." Fluttershy pointed out. "Even less so than ponies."
Rarity shrugged as she stepped back from Fluttershy and looked her over. "Clothing in Equestria tends to be whatever its wearer wants or needs it to be, whether it's to make a statement, dress up for an occasion or someone, or just to spice up an otherwise routine day. Like me wearing hats every once in a while."
Fluttershy rolled her eyes. "Especially when you decide to make everyone else do the same by making it a law."
"I'm just thinking of their Vitamin D levels, as well as their mental and physical health." Rarity said innocently. "Some sun is good, but too much leads to skin cancer, sunburn, heat stroke, and all-around feeling miserable."
"Fair enough," Fluttershy said with a nod. "Thanks for your help with the dress."
"Think nothing of it."
Now, As For Actual Pony…
"I have a question about this coronation plan," Twilight said, raising her hoof.
"You can have as many questions as you want, Twilight," Celestia allowed. "This is a big moment in your life, I know. But regardless of what you may think, I know you are capable of this."
"Thank you, Celestia," Twilight replied. "But I'm actually not asking you about it."
Celestia glanced sideways at her sister, who looked just as confused.
"What I'm wondering is why it is that Luna is okay with this," Twilight explained. "I can understand why you want a break from ruling Equestria. You've been doing it for more than a thousand years, and just in the last few years you've been defeated several times, encased in goop twice that I can think of off-hoof, there was that incident with the vines..."
Twilight shook her head. "Sorry, I was getting distracted. Anyway… you've had more than a thousand years of continuous work. But what about Luna? She spent most of that time on the moon annoyed about how she was running the country less than you."
Luna coughed. "The idea was actually mine, Twilight Sparkle."
At Twilight's invitational hoof wave, she kept going. "I had not realized quite how much paperwork was involved. It was about two weeks ago that I was about an hour into the feasibility paperwork for an extension of Neighagra Falls into the underground darkness, and I suddenly realized that we had a Princess of Equestria who might as well have been made for the job of doing paperwork."
"We weren't going to tell her that, Luna!" Celestia hissed.
"It is nothing but the truth." Luna protested.
Twilight chuckled, but before she said anything else there was an almighty crash.
One of the stained glass windows exploded inwards, admitting a snow-white griffin covered in red and black markings, and the intruder slammed into the floor back-first and skidded to a halt in a shower of sparks before rolling upright.
"Bugger off!" she shouted, a cracking sword of lightning in one paw and a flame-girdled mirror on her back. "I'm probably going to have to pay for that window!"
"Hey, Twi," the griffin's tail added. "Chrysalis and Tirek are back again. We interrupting something?"
A bolt of magic came flashing through the window, then fell apart in a blaze of light as Gilda blocked with her Solar Flare.
"We'll just keep going," Twilight told her. "Anyway, I'll certainly respect that, Luna, but you know we could do a two-Princess thing again? I could do the paperwork and you could be Best Princess."
"That's not an official position," Luna said, then looked suspiciously at her sister. "It isn't, right?"
"It's just a colloquialism, don't worry," Twilight assured her. "Though if we need a separate one for the sun, Gilda would work. Sun, Moon and Stars is kind of a good triune anyway."
"What's even going on?" Celestia asked plaintively, staring as Gilda's talkative tail whirled around in a circle-and-a-quarter movement.
A gust of wind blew the attacking Chrysalis back out the window, and Gilda followed with a war cry that Twilight was fairly sure was highly obscene Klingon.
"I'm negotiating with Luna to see if she wants to have the cushy job without most of the work, as a thanks for our friendship," Twilight answered easily. "Please keep up, Princess."
Stone Cold Open
"Not in the mood, Rarity."
There was an audible silence.
"Oh, fine. Be that way. I suppose I could just check my looping memories-" the looping fashion pony paused. "O- oh."
"Yep." Twilight grumbled. "Can't believe it worked, too..."
"In all fairness, I doubt anyone but our Pinkie could have pulled this off." The recently Awoken Rarity mused, then muttered a bit. "Oh dear. I think I'm starting to get an itch behind my ear..."
"Well, you know who to blame for that." The Anchor snarked without fire. "I swear, discovering she's a mom has somehow made her even crazier..."
"I suppose raising a child does bring out certain qualities in a person. Sleepless nights, and all that. Although..." the marshmallow unicorn hummed idly. "Looping in place of one of the trio, attempting to deflect and bounce back Discord and the princesses' statue spell with a tin bin lid, and somehow succeeding in that is..." she searched for the right word. "...impressive. Yes, let's go with impressive."
"Really." Twilight Statue deadpanned. "What tipped you off? The field of statues we're the centrepiece of, or the pink pony running about trying to fix it." She would've grimaced if she could. "Damn null loops..."
"Oh, hush you." Rarity Statue intoned. "Give her time."
"It's been three weeks!"
Queen and King
"What should we do, my Queen?" a drone asked.
Chrysalis closed her eyes for a moment, and let out a long sigh.
"Cancel the infiltration plan," she said.
"What, really?" another drone asked, shock and surprise – and a little indignation – flashing through his emotional spectrum. "But I spent the last two months finding out everything about the guard I was going to target!"
"Shut up," his friend hissed. (Changelings were good at hissing.) "That's the Queen's command!"
"I said cancel it," Chrysalis reiterated. "And I mean cancel it – and cancel it because it's no longer necessary."
"...my Queen?" another drone asked. "Why?"
"I'll show you tonight," Chrysalis told them. "Have everyone called back to the main hive. All the infiltrators, all the scouts – give them enough time to get things sorted out if they have a long term plan, but I want every changeling on the continent in the audience chamber at moonrise tonight."
Confusion rippled through the drones around her.
"Well?" she asked. "Off you go."
There was a sudden buzzing of wings, and they all took off – all except one, who stayed behind.
Chrysalis rolled her eyes. "You'd think I was the absolute ruler or something."
"You've changed," said the remaining drone. "I'd thought it'd be a bit harder than that to tell, but it's obvious if you know to look."
"And good morning to you, Thorax," Chrysalis replied. "Changed in what way?"
"Emotionally," came Thorax' answer. "How else?"
He rubbed his horn a little. "Or… maybe it's harder for you to tell? But you always used to be full of arrogance, and spite, and rage… and now it's almost completely gone."
Chrysalis stopped then, and really thought about it.
That this was the Looping Thorax she'd been told about was… well, obvious, really. She might have guessed even if she hadn't known he was Looping yet.
And she had changed… that was something she'd always known, but it was sometimes a little hard to be sure. With how her looping had begun… her core identity had begun as Chrysalis, leader of the anti-slavery resistance, but with so many subsequent loops as tyrant queen Chrysalis of the Changelings it was easy to wonder if maybe she'd been sliding towards the identity of her un-Awake self.
"That's good to know," she said, eventually.
"That's different, too," Thorax supplied.
Chrysalis chuckled. "We all change, over time. The important thing is to make sure they're good changes."
She sobered. "How long have you been looping?"
"I guess… about twenty years?" Thorax suggested. "It's a bit hard to keep a precise track."
"You get used to that," Chrysalis told him, and she felt the alteration in the weave of his emotions as he took in the information. A bit of understanding, a smidgeon of sympathy…
"It's almost a shame," she added.
Confusion pulsed through Thorax. "What is?"
He tilted his head. "The inevitable sadness of moving away from being able to connect with those who aren't looping? The way that the wonder of a resetting universe becomes banal?"
"What?" Chrysalis asked, now a little surprised herself. "No, I meant just that I wasn't able to see how you grew."
"Oh, heh..." Thorax flushed. "I've just been muddling through, really."
"...did you just shapeshift your face redder?" Chrysalis said, then waved a hoof. "Never mind, I don't want to know."
"So… that's what happened," Thorax finished. "And I don't really know what to think about it."
He buzzed his wings, glad to be back in the Royal Reformed body he was used to. "I've been thinking about how that meeting would go for… decades, and now I don't know how to view it."
The changeling looked up. "Do… you have any advice?"
Atop her wooden balance pole, Zecora pressed her forehooves together.
"While I said I would give you aid, and with no debt to be repaid," she began, "For this, you must approach another. I do not have a looping mother."
"I… guess that's a good point," Thorax admitted. "Still, do you have any advice?"
Zecora adjusted her weight, and the pole began to tilt forwards. As she was about to hit the ground, she went into a smooth roll and came up on all fours.
"It was not your expectation to not have a confrontation," she judged. "And now without having a fight, you feel something escaped your sight. One must separate loopers and those who do not… as otherwise you sound like you have lost the plot."
Thorax nodded, absorbing that.
It really did sound like it would make more sense to think of the two versions of Queen Chrysalis as entirely different changelings.
"Now, come this way," Zecora instructed. "It's time to play."
"Play?" Thorax repeated, feeling like he wasn't getting something.
"Your deferred fight should be fulfilled," the zebra shaman explained. "And I at least won't get you killed."
The trees started to shift around him, and Thorax gulped.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" he asked.
"You can trust me," she assured him. "It's therapy."
Thorax had the distinct impression this was going to be quite painful… even if it would teach him a lot.
It was wrong to laugh.
It was hard not to though.
"You're laughing," the orangish pegasus said with a frown.
"No I'm not," the purple unicorn said, holding a hoof to their lips.
"Okay, you're trying not to laugh, Twi," the pegasus snapped back.
"It's Dusk. Flare." the Anchor told their new Looper with a giggle in their throat. The pegasus simply spread her wings and took off with a hpmh, leaving the unicorn feeling slightly guilty and resolving to find them as soon as they got rid of all the giggles.
215.8 (Anon e Mouse Jr.)
The Friendship Games Take a Turn For the Strange
Twilight blinked, as she Awoke in familiar surroundings, but most certainly not surrounded by people she normally spent time with. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I said..." an unpleasant individual leaned forward. "Hand over that device of yours. I have need of it, and of the energies it stores."
Close by, a couple of other girls exchanged glances. "But, I thought you wanted her to use it," one of them said.
"Don't be ridiculous." Abacus Cinch sniffed haughtily. "Twilight Sparkle is far too nice to do what needs to be done. So I'm going to do it myself." She held out her hand. "The device, Ms. Sparkle."
Even as her memories settled in and she realized where and when she was (and wow, this had been a late Awakening, and on the opposite side of the mirror from where she usually did), Twilight clutched the device - Sci-Twi's device, she realized - to her chest. "No."
"What?" Cinch's face had a dangerous expression. "Ms. Sparkle, I am your principal. And you will do as I say. Now, hand that device over."
"I said..." And Twilight glared. "No!"
"Ms. Sparkle." Cinch glared back. "I don't think you quite understand who you are dealing with." As she spoke, her eyes shifted into an almost dead look, bulging with her pupils and irises growing. And then odd markings began to appear on her skin, causing Twilight to step back.
"Ms. Sparkle," the being in front of her said. "Give. Me. That. Device!"
And then the aura that had been forming around her transformed into a new and rather hideous form, reminiscent of an insect and stained glass.
"What!" Twilight stared for a moment, then looked up. "Okay! Where did the freaking Fangire come from!?"
Looking to one side, Twilight saw her brother - the human Shining Armor, she realized, who for some reason had been watching the Games this go-round - running up, vaguely noticing that her other classmates were running in the opposite direction. Feeling for her Pocket, she cursed under her breath when she realized she couldn't draw anything from it. Null Loop. Drat. "Shiny?"
"Don't worry, Twily." Shining Armor flashed her a smile. "I've got this."
Then he pulled a belt of some kind out of his jacket, slung it around his waist, and drew another device out, pressing one side of it to his other hand.
"Rea-dy-y!" it announced.
"Fist O-on!" the device announced as Shining Armor attached it to the belt. A gold form appeared from it, and then flew back, solidifying over Shining Armor and becoming a white armor, while a sword/gun combo appeared in his hand.
"Fangire..." he declared. "Get away from my sister!"
The creature that had been Cinch let out a haughty-sounding hmph. "I should have known you'd interfere, Ixa," she said.
"Yes, you should have." Shining Armor gave her a dangerous look. "I've been looking for you for a long time, Bishop."
"And you will regret ever doing so!" Cinch manifested a sword of her own, and the two began clashing.
Backing up, Twilight saw Dean Cadance over in the distance, looking rather shocked, as did Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna. And… pretty much everyone else in the two schools. Sunset was looking just as startled, meaning she probably wasn't Awake, but just to be sure, Twilight Pinged.
No response, except for that echo... Great. And since I can still do it, it's only a Medium Null. Still doesn't help that I can't access any out-of-Loop powers, but at least it's something.
Slowly making her way around the edge of the field, she headed for Cadance, keeping an eye on the two combatants trading sword blows as she went. Unfortunately, one of them saw her, and in an instant, Cinch unleashed a spray of golden powder in her direction.
"Gah!" Twilight dodged it, only to stumble and fall over something. Her hands flew open, and she saw her device go flying.
"At last!" Cinch immediately bounded over, away from Shining Armor, and snatched it up. "I've been waiting a long time," she practically purred. "Gathering all the life energy I needed from my students was taking far too long, but with this!" She held up the device. "Master will be so pleased…"
Then she threw the device open, releasing an orb of energy that swelled and grew. And as it did so, a smaller orb emerged from Cinch herself, mixing with the larger one.
The monster in front of them gave off what had to be an evil grin. "Now, my master shall be reborn!"
Then she was enveloped in the fused orb.
Twilight stared in horror as, within the orb, the evil woman underwent another metamorphosis. When it had faded, the new creature standing before them looked around in an almost bemused emotion.
"So," it rumbled, "This is the new age in which I am to be awakened."
"Yes, master," Cinch's voice seemed to come from its chest. "A new world of potent magic, all for you to claim. Now, feed! Feed to your heart's content!"
"I will," the thing said. "Know that you shall fall to I, King of the Fangires..."
"The Dawn Sleeps, A Magnificent Story's Ending," someone else breathed. It was Cadance. "I never thought I'd see the day when you returned."
The Fangire turned and looked to her. "So, someone else knows my true name, the name of the Bat Fangire? Interesting."
"Yes." Cadance stepped forward, before looking back at Twilight. "Get to Celestia, Twilight. She'll keep you safe."
"R-right!" Twilight did as she was told, even as she stared at the other woman, who was calmly heading over to Shining Armor's side. Still armored, still clutching his sword, he looked at Cadance as she arrived. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
"Positive." Cadance held up a hand. "Kiva-la!"
A small chuckling sound could be heard, and then a white bat-like creature flew into her hand. "Here we go!" it said in a female voice.
Cadance held it up. "Henshin."
Violet energy shards appeared around her, and then formed into a mainly white and purple armor. When the light had faded, Cadance stood in a new, armored form. "Kamen Rider… Kivala!"
Next to her, Shining Armor had also called a new device into his hands, almost resembling a flip-style cell phone. Punching a code into it, he too changed forms. "Ri-i-s-ing!"
His armor folding out and changing, it now had a lot more blue, and the chest armor had been altered considerably. He also held a laser pistol of some kind in one hand, his sword still in the other.
"Bat Fangire…" the two declared. "You have committed crimes that are unforgivable!"
"And now it's time to send you back to the grave," Shining Armor continued. "Let's go!"
The Fangire in front of them sneered. "Fools."
Then he held up a hand and fired a wave of energy from it. The two leapt to the side, dodging, before rising up. Holding his two weapons, Shining Armor fired both at the Fangire, creating mini-explosions on contact.
Cadance, meanwhile, had leapt into the air and landed behind their foe, striking him with a powerful kick. Instantly, the Fangire spun around and lashed out at her, firing a wave of red energy from one hand, but she dodged and struck back, slashing at one of his wing-like shoulder pauldrons. He let out a cry, but she'd moved back before he could hit at her again. Snarling, he turned to Shining Armor, blasting a wave of energy from his mouth, but the armored Rider dodged it, landing close to Cadance.
"Let's finish this!" Shining Armor called.
"Right!" The two held out their weapons, Shining Armor having dismissed his pistol and holding his sword in both hands, one on the hilt and one on the guard. Cadance was holding hers in one hand, as a set of energy wings appeared on her back.
Energy flowed from Shining Armor's chestplate as he leapt into the air, a burning sun appearing behind him before he slashed down. Cadance followed with a horizontal slash, crossing Shining Armor's own strike in the process, and a massive explosion ensued as the Bat Fangire cried out, its form shattering into what looked like shards of glass.
When the smoke had cleared, an angry Cinch still stood. Glaring, she bit out two words at them.
And then her body shattered into glass as well, the shards fading away.
Exchanging glances, Cadance and Shining Armor dismissed their Rider forms, the small white bat landing on Cadance's head. The two humans then turned and looked over at a still very much surprised Twilight, as well as the other teachers and students.
"We have a lot of explaining to do, don't we?" Cadance said sheepishly.
"Yes." Principal Celestia folded her arms across her chest. "Yes, you do."
Some time later, the students and staff had gathered in the school auditorium, with Cadance, the little bat and Shining Armor on one side of the stage while Celestia, Luna, Twilight and Sunset sat across from them. The rest of the Rainbooms and Shadowbolts sat in the front row of seats below them, and other students in the rows behind. All had been sworn to secrecy about the explanation they were about to hear, and all had agreed to keep it quiet.
"More than twenty years ago," Cadance started, "there was a secret war going on between the Fangire - a race of creatures that fed on human life energy - and some other races that did the same. The war ended when the last of the Wolfen, Gillmen and Franken races gave their lives to destroy the King of the Fangire race. But there were still a few surviving Fangire loyal to him, including the Swallowtail Fangire. She was the King's Bishop - his right-hand man and most loyal servant, and after managing to capture his disembodied soul, she was bound and determined to give him a new body since he hadn't left an heir to take the throne."
Twilight listened with interest. She knew the story of Kamen Rider Kiva - hay, she'd lived it once, herself in Wataru's place, Shining Armor as Taiga, and Sombra in place of the Bat Fangire - and this was a decidedly different version.
"She began posing as a teacher, in order to have a way to secretly siphon off life energy from the students at whatever school she was in, and was trying to gather enough to revive her master," Shining Armor continued. "We've been trying to find her for years, but she kept moving around, changing her disguise. We didn't realize Cinch was the Bishop until she made her move today."
"And your little friend?" Luna asked, gesturing at the little bat on Cadance's head.
Cadance smiled. "The Fangire had a race of allies, the Kivats. One of them, however, had been abandoned for being too weak and soft-hearted, by the King's standards, so she went to the humans. Specifically, my mother Armonia and her friends who'd become aware of the war and the threat that most of the Fangire - except a few who'd actually found another way to live without hurting anyone - posed. Then she became my partner when Mom passed away."
The little Kivat let out a sad croon at that.
"She helped us keep an eye on the Fangire survivors and devise a special powered armor that would allow humans to fight back if the Fangire ever started actively hunting our kind again," Shining Armor said. "She also promised to grant her partner a special power, in case the need ever came up. You saw that power today."
"At any rate, we've been keeping an eye out for signs of activity from Bishop," Cadance said. "I'm just glad Shiny was here with me today." She smiled over at Twilight. "Neither of us could ever forgive ourselves if we'd failed and she'd hurt you… or anyone else."
"Bishop's gone for good though," Shining Armor said. "Her and her master."
"That's good." Celestia was silent for a moment. "Well, in light of recent events… I'd say that with the last event of the Friendship Games being interrupted like it was, both schools have one victory apiece. Therefore, if you agree, I'm declaring this year's games an official draw."
"That sounds good to me," Cadance said.
"Me too," Shining Armor added.
There was silence for a minute, and then Cadance stood up. "Well!" she said. "It's been a long day, so I think we'd better be getting back to our school."
Several students nodded, and as they stood and headed for the exit, Cadance turned to Twilight. "Again, I am so sorry we didn't catch on to what Cinch was up to sooner," she said.
"It's not your fault." Twilight cracked a smile. "I mean, who'd have thought she was a monster made of stained glass, instead of just a regular jerk?"
She felt a hand on her shoulder. "Nobody," Sunset said as she came around. "But… I need to apologize. I was being kind of a jerk earlier too."
Twilight took her hand. "All's forgiven," she said softly.
Then she looked up at Cadance and Celestia. "I… need to ask," she said. "After everything that's happened… I think I'd rather stay here, permanently, than go back to Crystal Prep. Too many bad memories there, aside from you and Shiny and Spike."
From where he sat in Fluttershy's arms, Spike's ears pricked up, and he panted happily.
Celestia and Cadance exchanged glances, and then smiled. "CHS would be more than glad to have you, Twilight," the older principal said.
Shining Armor gave her a smile of his own. "Whatever makes you happy, Twily," he said.
Cadance came over and gave her a hug. "I'll miss seeing you there every day," she said. "But if that's what you want, then yes."
There were several cheers from the Canterlot students, and Twilight blushed.
A few days later, the Rainbooms, Twilight and Spike were all sitting outside, next to the statue that hid the portal to Equestria. Twilight had privately confirmed that with the Bat Fangire's destruction, it had been restored to working order, and since the Wondercolt statue on top had been undamaged this time, there wasn't any magic leaking from it.
Finally, another Twilight walked through the statue, and turned to look at her friends. "Did anything strange happen on this side a while back?" she asked.
"Cinch turned out to be a Fangire, and Cadance and Shining Armor turned out to be superheroes," Twilight replied from her spot on the ground.
"Right." The standing Twilight facepalmed. "I thought something was up."
"How'd you know?" Spike asked curiously from the sitting Twilight's side.
"Echoed ping a few days back." The standing Twilight looked at her double. "Late-trigger Mikasa Glitch and a Medium Null Loop?"
"Looks like it," the sitting Twilight agreed.
"Birch it." The standing Twilight sighed. "Well, I suppose I'll get the details when we're back to being one. Catch you then?"
"Absolutely." Twilight smiled up at her counterpart. "Be back with you next Loop, Twilight."
"The same goes for you, Twilight."
And then the princess walked back through the portal.
From her own place, Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. "Okay, what the buck?"
"Long story, Rainbow Dash. Very long story." And, Twilight thought to herself, Hopefully there won't be anything else unexpected for the rest of his Loop.
And except for waking up to find Kiva-la roosting on her bedroom ceiling from time to time, there wasn't.
Friendly Human Talk
"It won't come easy, Flash," Sunset said as she sat cross-legged on the bench. "It takes time to change your form back here, even something as simple as getting your wings out." she said as her own horn appeared on her head.
"I know," he said, trying to focus on the same magic that Sunset had told him about to get his wings to appear before letting out a sigh and laying on the grass. "I really got a kick out of flying around and it sucks that I can only sometimes get to do i…." he trailed off, looking guilty at her with Sunset snorting.
"Look, it will be some time before you can get something to go to Equestria whenever you want; for now, you'll just need to wait like me before the portal will open and we can get over there."
Flash let out a groan before propping himself up on an elbow. "I know you said null Loops suck, but they really suck."
"You have no idea," Sunset said. "Ponying up is as much as I can get right now, and even that's a chore." Sunset then smirked. "It just occurred to me that the main issue for you is that you haven't got an Element yet."
"Yeah, I've heard about those," Flash said with a sigh. "From what you said, it will be very intense and then there's the whole ascending thing?" He pushed himself upright and sat on the grass. "I mean, I guess it's going to happen at some point but I'm not really that focused on getting either. Does that make sense?"
"Absolutely," Sunset said with a sigh. "You know, for the longest time, I didn't feel like I deserved either of them. But they happened on their own, eventually, without me trying to get them. Mac outright avoided ascending until he had no other choice but to. Once we get the chance, you should tell Twilight how you feel; she's really good at planning stuff so she could help make sure that you're not put into a position where you're forced to go down those roads until you're ready for it. Though that's not to say you should avoid it if there's no other Looper around, but you get what I mean, right?"
"Absolutely," he said nodding his head before tilting his head. "I just hope I don't get railroaded into it like I am getting…" he trailed off again with a blush on his face. Sunset, a long standing Looper in her own right, recognized the signs and pounced.
"What is Yggdrasil railroading you into so far, Flash?" she asked with almost a purr in her voice.
"Promise you won't tell anyone?" he asked her with Sunset raising a hand and about to swear her word when he added. "Pinkie Promise."
"Drat, you're learning quick, kid," she said with a chuckle before performing the ritual.
"I've been having Loops where Twilight and I are kinda together?" he said, shrugging his shoulders as he stood up to walk over to her. "I mean, last Loop we replaced Beauty and the Beast, only I replaced Belle and Twilight replaced him."
Sunset could only snort at that, shaking her head. "Well. you were angled to be her first crush in baseline for a long time; only natural for the Tree to try and cause it to happen."
"Tell me about it," Flash said as he began to tell her more of his Loops with Twilight.
Repetition Breeds Familiarity
"You have these kinds of Loops a lot easier than I do." Flare Warden grumbled, adjusting her skirt. "How on earth do girls manage these things?"
Sunset Glare shrugged his shoulders as he ran a critical eye over Flare's ensemble. "It's one of those things that takes time to get used to. The Loops in a nutshell, really. Give it a few hundred Loops, and then you'll at least have a wardrobe for any occasion."
"If you say so." Flare said, raising her arms above her head, then out, and back down. "At least the clothes are comfortable."
Sunset shrugged. "Depends on who makes them. Elusive - Rarity - has a knack for it that puts a lot of shops to shame, and there's plenty of tailors throughout the Loops who'll hook you up if you need a hand." He arched a brow. "You can also learn to sew yourself if need be."
"I don't suppose you have any pointers?" Flare asked.
"Practice. A lot. And get used to having scars on your fingers." Sunset said with a grin. "The best outfits tend to have literal blood, sweat and tears put into their creation, because nothing comes without effort if you do it yourself."
"So I keep hearing." Flare said with a sigh. "Granted, that's how learning anything goes, and I've got some experience with making sure my fingers go where I need them to, thanks to guitar practice."
"You're welcome to join us whenever you're able to." Sunset said. "You know where to find us."
"When our class schedules allow it, of course." Flare said with a grin.
"I do forget we sometimes have to go to class, yes." Sunset said. "I'll take a magical invasion over sixth-year trig any day."
"...How old are you, anyway?" Flare asked. "Because you've been here long enough to be Princess of the Fall Formal three years running, and you're older than Twilight since she was still a kid when you went through the mirror..."
"I think this world's time moves slower than Equestria's." Sunset said thoughtfully. "Hence why you have twenty-year olds in high school alongside the likes of Scootaloo, Diamond Tiara, and Silver Spoon."
"And Star Swirl sent the Dazzlings here over a thousand years ago, yet they arrive shortly before you became friends with the other girls." Flare mused. "Because if they'd been here for a thousand years, they'd have gotten all the power they needed to conquer this world long ago."
Sunset shrugged. "It's magic. Best not to question it."
"Magic and time is never a fun combination." Flare said.
Sunset laughed. "Oh, just wait until you meet Starlight Glimmer again. She'll have stories to tell you about that if you ask."
"One among many, I imagine." Flare said. "I've got a lot of catching up to do, don't I?"
"Everyone does." Sunset said with a chuckle. "That's half the fun of repeating everything, since you can swap notes. Have you considered keeping a journal? I know a few Loopers do that in their free time so they can better keep things organized. Helps if you need to refresh your memory too."
"I'll keep that in mind, thanks."
215.11 (Evilhumour) [MLP/Invader Zim]
"I really don't like this," Thorax said with a groan as the Anchor of this Branch patted him on the back while his father, a professor Membrane, scribbled over a clipboard with eager excitement mixed in with some sort of zeal that Thorax couldn't get a proper taste of. "I mean, do I really look that much like a moose?"
"Well," Dib removed his hand and began to scratch the back of his somewhat slightly large head. "Kinda, but then again, most people in my Branch are kinda stupid and if they see similar features on one thing that is like another, they'll latch onto that and never let go."
"I resent that comment, Dib!" his father said before Dib pulled out pictures of Zim in and out of his rather simple disguise. "Okay, fair point son. I still do not understand how my baseline self could be so blind to the obvious facts in front of him. Still, your majesty, there are so many more questions I would like to ask you of your kind's biology."
"Can it wait after I finish this meal," Thorax did his best to ask politely and not too eagerly. "This food has a lot of love made into it, and it's really good because of it."
"Aha!" Membrane shouted, pointing a finger at Dib. "I told you that it was possible to cook with raw love, and now we have proof!"
"Fused loop, Dad, fused loop!" Dib shouted back with the two of them getting in a heated argument over the nature of this Loop.
"Don't feel bad," Gaz said, not looking up from her game system. "This is actually very good for them; they're getting along much better than they usually do."
"Oh okay," Thorax said, a smile on his face as he began to eat more of the breakfast the professor was so kind to make him.
Letting It All Out
"So… Ending, huh?" Scootaloo muttered, a mumbling of unenergetic affirmations going around the table. "Geez, that really came out of nowhere."
Ahead of the impending ending to their branch's regular expansions, the Cutie Mark Crusaders had begun to make plans. Plans at just what they'd do to celebrate the occasion. Sure, such a definable finale was going to be sad and melancholic, to say the very least, but they'd celebrate the happy times gone, as well as the eons yet to come.
Of course, these plans had somewhat relied on there being one more expansion left before the finale came around, even factoring in the delays brought on by the arrival of new loopers, great in and of itself, and the whole mess of the Crisis that came with them. So, when it had hit home that their supposed final two expansions had come in one neat bundle, the squad had been left… unprepared, barely into their arrangements.
Which had, of course, led them to their present situation. Rather than a big show of happiness, things had become a little more morose from the shock of how abruptly they'd come to an end, and the six fillies were soon gathered around a table of non-alcoholic beverages in a dark corner of Mac's bar, waiting for somepony to break the ice.
"Ya'll ain't kidding…" Apple Bloom sighed, eyelids drooped sluggishly. "Didn't even have that retroactive party warhead Pinkie wanted to hit Tirek with ready…"
"Or the modified bomber to carry it." Scootaloo retorted, eyes glancing wistfully at the altered super-heavy Tupolev Tu-160 parked neatly outside the barn, various panels missing due to in-progress bespoke tweaking.
"Or my alchemical cheese weaver…" Silver Spoon grumbled, glaring half heartedly into her mug, then at the device in question, or more accurately the charred, half-missing remains of Attempt #153. She slammed her hoof against the table. "Just a few more loops, and I could've stopped it consuming itself."
"Would've probably caused a loop crash, anyway." Sweetie Belle hummed. "Not that it wouldn't have been worth it to see unAwake Chrysalis' face, but… yeah…" she slumped. "Heartsong might've helped."
"Loops of planning, wasted." Diamond Tiara scowled upward at no Admin in particular, though there was no fire in the expression.
"Um…" Nyx Sparkle-Rush, perhaps the most upbeat pony at the table at the current point in time, her lack of true connection to Baseline dulling her reaction somewhat, coughed as she looked up from her book, glancing awkwardly from one friend to the next. "We… we can still just do all this later, right?"
"True, but birch knows it won't feel the same." Bloom rolled her eyes limply. "Guess it was just askin' for the Tree to pull something like this, in the end."
"Maybe, but…" Diamond shook her head, doing her best to wipe the frown from her face, though she only partially succeeded. "Nyx is right. We… we can definitely do this later still…" the resident leadership expert of the group faltered slightly. "…right?"
"I guess so…" Sweetie Belle nodded lightly. "I mean, we all wanted to get one last big thing in before we found out where we all ended up at the end of baseline, but… I guess three of us being teachers, which is actually kind of cool…" she cut into her own speech. "…doesn't exactly stop us from doing what we normally do, looping or Baseline, and it's not every loop, so…"
"And it's not like I can't fly outside of baseline now," Scoots added, "so what Twilight said about my wings definitely being stunted in growth isn't that bad."
There was a moment's pause, as five of the six came to similar conclusions.
"Is…" Silver Spoon blinked a few times. "Is it just me, or are we all actually just worried about the massive jump in time, rather than anything in the loops?"
"Maybe, but you and Tiara-"
"Don't have anything beyond confirmation we're alive and well, according to our Anchor, even if she has yet to tell us everything." The alchemist hemmed. "If anything, that would make us more worried. So, yes." she perked up. "We can definitely get over this."
"And at the end of the day…" Diamond pulled several sheets from her pocket, mouth wide with a loaded smile. "At the end of the day, we can always use the Loops this does turn up in to experiment with more long term projects than we're usually able to carry out."
"I did wonder about opening up another airport…" Scootaloo tendered quietly, turning the idea over in her head.
"Exactly!" DT persisted. "If anything, not only can we still do our end of baseline plan, given time, but we have some many more opportunities available to us now."
Another round of affirmations, these decidedly more energetic for the most part, went around the gathering.
"Yeah, well…" Apple Bloom leant back in her seat, still appearing a little melancholy despite her smile. Slowly, she looked to the dark furred alicorn sitting next to her, who'd quickly returned to her reading. "Not like all of us have a connection to begin with…"
"Hey, I care!" Nyx snapped slightly, though among such long-time friends it was clear she was putting it on, no offense truly taken, even if her slight smirk hadn't given it away. "I just… I'm not as attached to the whole baseline." She grinned. "Proud of Mom, though. Ruler of Equestria in Baseline." The former Nightmare giggled. "About time, too. Pretty sure everyone saw that one coming, even before these expansions."
"Well, yeah." Sweetie laughed. "It's kind of her thing, isn't it?"
"Well, that and being the best."
"I think you might be biased, Nyx."
"Can't be biased if it's true." The youngest member of the Sparkle clan stuck her tongue out.
"And I suppose Leman's the best, too?"
"Only when he's not sleeping on the couch."
"A shame we all had to hear about of this second-hand, though." Silver cut in, forcing the conversation rather bluntly back on track, both Sweetie Belle and Nyx tittering sheepishly. "Maybe we'll get the full run this loop, but it would've been fun to get the expansion before Twilight told us…"
"Yeah, that definitely would have been a fun time working through." Diamond agreed, though there was a hint of sarcasm in her tone. "Would have been even more of a shock, but…" the young filly paused, something not sitting right with her. Setting her papers down, she looked up, finding that, though four pairs of eyes had turned to her, one hadn't, instead looking away, a deep frown adorning the mouth beneath it. "Um… Apple Bloom?"
"Huh?" the engineer in question blinked out of her rather downcast daze, trying to hide the rather distressed expression she'd been touting. "Yeah?"
"Are you okay?"
"I… I…" Bloom tried, perhaps prepared to brush it off, but quickly, likely not wishing to outright lie, she caved. "No. Not okay. I…" she shivered. "I've been through the expansion. Once."
There was a joint gasp around the table, but the resident Apple continued before anyone could speak over her.
"I… I didn't want to say anything. Thought it'd bring the mood down, y'know?" she muttered, tiny teardrops coalescing in the corners of her eyes. "But, geez… Hit kinda hard…"
"Did…" Scootaloo leant over, a hoof on her friend's shoulder. "Did something happen? You know you can tell us, right?" The hoof quickly became a hug, which rapidly mutated into a group hug, unintentionally mirroring another group of local loopers. "We'll get through it, together."
"M- Maybe it's just best to…" the farm filly took a deep breath, steadying herself as her friends pulled away to give her room. "…to show ya'll…"
Slowly, she seemed to reach inside herself, into her Pocket. She dragged on something, before, with a pop, said something appeared around her neck.
The room fell deadly silent for a long time.
"O- oh…" Nyx squeaked quietly.
"Huh…" Sweetie mumbled, feeling more than a little numb at the sight of what appeared to be Goldie Delicious' shawl. "T- that's…"
"N- not just her…" Apple Bloom whimpered, droplets running her cheeks, hair hiding her eyes. She sniffed. "G- Granny…"
"…" the younger Belle sibling sat stunned. She shared equally grievous expressions with the others, several nods passing among the collective, then looked back to Bloom. "I- I'm going to hug you again now."
The second group hug in as many minutes, this one considerably longer and more heartfelt, ensued. Apple Bloom couldn't help but smile shakily through her messy sobbing.
"D- dang…" she choked out a short laugh. "A- AJ's takin' it way better than me, and here I am blubberin' like a- a baby pony…."
"S- She's probably crying on the inside…" Scoots offered.
"Y- yeah. Maybe…"
"Eeyup. She does that." A new voice to the conversation drew everyone's attention, and the five fillies detached themselves from Apple Bloom to find her older brother standing by the table with a tray of replacement drinks, gradually, one by one, switching out the glasses. He smiled wistfully. "Don't mean she don't care, though, obviously. Chances are she'll let it out when she's good and ready."
"A- And you, big brother?" Apple Bloom sniffled.
"I reckon I'm the same." Mac chuckled lightly. "Right now, I'm lettin' all the hubbub die down. Will probably have it out with my emotions then."
"Right." Silver Spoon raised an eyebrow. "And it definitely isn't because you're avoiding something."
"Perhaps something involving a child?" Diamond prodded.
"As I said." The large, red earth pony droned flatly, faintly bemused as he turned away. "In my own time."
The six fillies shared blank looks amongst themselves, even Apple Bloom perking up a little, before the entire grouping devolved into a fit of giggles.
"Heheh… He's…" Sweetie Belle guffawed. "He's really going out of his way not to talk about it, isn't it?"
"Not even being subtle." Nyx added.
"Like a brick through a window." Scootaloo chimed.
"Give him time, as he said." Bloom shrugged, then smiled. "I think that's all we all need, really."
And rightly so. As it happened, there was plenty of that to go around.
215.1: It might be a bit strange for a looper to be worried about being immortal, but it's the dissonance. Call it dysthaumia.
215.2: As a customer, she was Celes tier.
215.3: The Vitamin D in this case may as well refer to Do, the musical note.
215.4: Really, the priority is having a stable and cohesive team at the top. And to not have stacked up two dozen catastrophes to all trigger off over the same few years.
215.6: It's just magic social science.
215.8: I mean, I'm as lost as you for this one. Possibly more lost.
215.12: Every end is a new beginning. Something Loopers remember even more than anyone else.