I've Seen This Movie Before And I Hate Stoner Movies
Choco Pie was having the time of his life.
For the first time, the world seemed right. Cannons in the ground exploded and shot confetti, and occasionally marshmallow fountains, into the air. Chocolate milk poured from the sky, leavened by occasional clouds of whipped cream floating past dropping dollops of their substance onto waiting pony tongues. Fish flew and birds swam and toothless baby alligators frolicked everywhere. Ponies played games frantically, desperate to win because of the ridiculous consequences that would befall the ones that lost. Pegasi were attached with ribbons tied to their tails to a spinning pole much like a carnival ride, the kind where swings sailed around a pole on chains, and earth ponies rode on the pegasi as the winged ponies flapped frantically to avoid being dumped upside down by gravity. Unicorns rolled in bubbles like tumbleweeds, some trying to pop the bubble with their horns, others fighting to avoid it. The sun would pop into the sky, dance, spin around, dip down and make the countryside blazingly warm like summer and then sail upward to make the land chilly and frozen, and then it would go down and the moon would come up with a different outrageous picture on it each time.
It was total chaos, and it was glorious.
He had no friends. He'd never had any friends. He never would have friends. But who cared as long as the world looked like this? This was what he dreamed of – literally. The world he saw when he closed his eyes, and Eris had made it real all around him.
His only regret was that she was the one shaping it, and not him. If he had a horn, oh, the things he could do! Why was all of the whipped cream regular whipped cream flavor? None of it was butterscotch or laced with caramel or bitter chocolate! Why so many baby alligators? Eris should mix it up, add in some slithering rainbow snakes and giant mutant chickens! And why no platypuses? What a missed opportunity! There could be octopi sailing around on balloons! The street lamps could be dancing and partying with the ponies! The pies floating in the air could hit ponies in the face instead of floating by and begging to be eaten! And why weren't there any dancing buffalo?
It was good, but it wasn't perfect. And he didn't have a horn to fix it with. So he was doing his best to help out and make it better by leaping at ponies and frightening them. Nothing was funnier than ponies recoiling from him in terror. The looks on their faces! The babbling noises they made! He couldn't stop laughing. None of the ponies thought it was funny, but that was all right, that was better than all right actually. Ponies didn't want to notice him unless he was being funny for them? Well, how about if he was funny for himself, and just made them mad or scared? Then they'd still notice him, and he wouldn't be a performing monkey for their amusement!
Once or twice he caught sight of Fluttershy, cringing against a tree or the side of a building, obviously afraid of all the chaos, and part of him wanted to go to her, to escort her home so she'd feel safe. The rest of him rejected the idea, derisively. If she wasn't even his friend, if she only cared about him when he was funny, why should he do anything to help her?
Eris sidled up to him. "Having fuuuuun, Choco?" she asked.
Choco didn't like her. He liked what she'd done to the world, but he was angry at her for telling him he'd never really had any friends, even if it happened to be true. So instead of praising the lovely chaos she'd made, he went for possible weak points. "You're not very good at this," he said, smirking at her. "Everything here is party themed. Except for the baby alligators, I'll grant you those are pretty random, but you do have quite a lot of them. This hardly seems like chaos at all. Don't you have any ideas that aren't about parties or food?"
Her eyes widened. "You remember?" Abruptly she'd grabbed him by the withers and was shaking him. "If you remember it you have to put it back, now! Put it back the way it was supposed to be! I give up, you were right, now put it back!"
"Put what back?" He pulled away, angrily. "What are you talking about? That's not chaotic, that's just... I don't even know what kind of nonsense that is, except it makes you sound like an idiot."
Eris' eyes narrowed. "Do you remember or don't you?"
"Sigh," she said – the actual word "sigh", not a heavy exhalation. "I was hoping..."
"Right. Well, since someone thinks 'chaos' is nothing but confetti and baby alligators, I suppose it falls on me to spice things up a bit." He picked up a bucket he'd been trying to fill with the chocolate milk rain, and trotted over to a group of ponies playing Red Rover, except that every time the pony calling the color shouted a color name, all the ponies' coats started changing color wildly so it was hard for them to figure out which color was safe to come over... and if anypony tried to come over when it wasn't their color, they would sink into the mud and have to be hauled out.
"Hey, look, guys!" he yelled at the ponies. "I'm helping!" He then dumped the entire bucket of chocolate on three ponies who were miraculously not covered in mud. "Look, now you're brown, and the muddy ponies are brown, so everyone's brown! Except you," he pointed at Time Turner, who was supposed to be brown but was currently chartreuse. "I'm not dumping any chocolate on you."
"This is wrong," Time Turner said. "This is wrong, this is all wrong. Great whickering stallions! I know you! But you're supposed to be—"
Eris' finger landed on his lips, sealing them shut. "Spoilers!" she caroled. "Choco doesn't remember anything, Doctor. Anything at all! And you can't tell him because if he doesn't remember and you tell him then that'll ruin everything!"
"I remember a lot of things," Choco said. "For instance, the fact that talking to you is a complete waste of my time." He grabbed a random hat off a pony so he could tip it to her. "Good day, my dear. Stop bothering me, I'm trying to fix your chaos so it's actually chaotic and not just an unpleasantly eerie party."
"You go do that," Eris said. "I have to go have a conversation with Twilight, because this is the part of the story where I have a conversation with Twilight! So toodles!" She leaned into his face suddenly, causing him to recoil in startlement. "But if you remember anything, anything at all..."
"I have no idea what it is you think I don't remember, since you're not telling me, and I'm very bored with this conversation." He made a shooing motion with a hoof. "Go away."
"It's almost like you've forgotten which one of us has the vast and near omnipotent chaos powers and which one of us is just an earth pony!"
"Mmm, no, I remember that. I just don't care."
"Eh, fair enough." Eris shrugged. "I never did either." She waved at him. "Bye-bye!" And vanished.
Time Turner was pointing frantically at his mouth, making "mmph" noises. His mouth was still sealed shut. "What?" Choco said. "I'm an earth pony, I can hardly fix this for you. Go ask Twilight, I'm sure she's dying to just fix everything."
He trotted off, looking for more ponies he could frighten or annoy. Chaos was fun.
Fluttershy wanted to cry. She was stuck here, in the midst of all this chaos, with no safe route home, and crazy ponies all around her. She'd seen how ponies had tormented Derpy Hooves, and how ponies would drag other ponies into the circle of Musical Chairs and how the losers who didn't get a chair were turned into rabbits. There were baby alligators everywhere, but none of them seemed like real alligators – they didn't respond at all when she tried to talk to them. Choco was being a huge jerk. Nearly every animal she saw had been changed in some way – birds were hopping, wingless, on the ground, while voles and mice and other woodland creatures flew in loops and crashed into each other, or into objects, obviously not granted the ability to fly well when they'd been given wings. Ponies were mostly being terrible to each other. It was awful.
"Eris," she whimpered. "Eris, you said we were friends! Why are you doing this?"
Eris appeared in front of her. "Fluttershy, come on! It's just a party! Parties are fun!"
"This party isn't," Fluttershy mumbled. "I want to go home."
"Oh, come on! Get into the spirit of things! I know you can handle more chaos than this!" She put her lion arm around Fluttershy. "I know you're a scaredy bunny, but you oughta be able to handle this!"
"I can't!" She was near tears. "Please, please, just let me go home..."
"Oh, no," Eris said. She pried open one of Fluttershy's eyes and stared into it, then, despite Fluttershy's weak protests, did the other one. "Did I mess you up or something? When I made you more you, I thought that would just make you more kind, but did it make you more afraid of everything nutsy cuckoo?" She sat back on her haunches, like a pony. "I'm sorry! Even after all these years, it doesn't do what I want it to do! It always has to do something mean!" Tears welled in her eyes. "I never wanted to be a meanie, I never wanted any of this!"
Fluttershy, distracted from her own fears by the need to comfort someone in pain, took Eris' paw in her hooves. "It sounds like you have a lot you want to talk about," she said. "Why don't we go to my house, and I'll make you some tea, and you can tell me about it?"
"But I can't!" Eris cried out. "Every time I try to tell anypony what's really going on, the words just won't come out of my mouth! I thought I might be able to tell somepony now because Choco is here, but it's still not working and he doesn't remember what's going on and I need him to remember because he has to fix this! I want my life back!" She frowned. "Besides, I'm supposed to be taunting Twilight, and I don't know what happens if I go off the script..."
"I can't say I understand, but why don't you come back to my house and tell me whatever you can? I can make cookies and tea..."
"Cookies?" Eris perked up. "That's right, you can make cookies! Every time I try to make cookies they come out weird and sometimes they taste great but sometimes they don't and I can't tell what I'm doing wrong, and when I tried to bake them the real way, with an oven, it... didn't work." She sighed deeply. "I blew up so many ovens that way..."
"I can make you some cookies," Fluttershy repeated. "Just, let's go to my house."
"Okie dokie!" Eris snapped her talon, and suddenly they were inside Fluttershy's cottage. Her pets were missing, though. She was worried about them, but right now, she had a chance to talk to Eris and maybe find out what was really going on with the chaos spirit... maybe find a way to talk her into stopping. "I guess I can talk to Twilight later! Or maybe not! Does it even matter?"
"I'll put on some tea and make us cookies. Why don't you just sit down on my couch and relax for a little while?"
"Okie dokie! I promise not to break your lamp and turn it into a copy of me!" Eris said cheerfully and inexplicably.
Fluttershy put the pot on and began to stir up the ingredients for cookies. Eris appeared in her kitchen. "Whatcha doing? Can I help? I used to be a really good baker once upon a time!" Her expression grew dark. "Before he stole my life," she added.
"Um, I think that if you blew up an oven, that wouldn't be a good idea," Fluttershy said, "but it would be great if you set the table for our tea!"
"Okie dokie! I'm on it!" Eris snapped her talon. When Fluttershy glanced out into her living room, she saw two bright pink chairs, a table, streamers hung all over the room, and balloons floating randomly through the room. "All done! Now can I help you make the cookies?"
Fluttershy felt sorry for her. She didn't know why Eris used to be a good baker and now blew up ovens, but it was obvious that it made her sad and she wanted those old skills back. "Well, if you blow up ovens I can't let you near the oven, but if you want to stir the batter that would be fine."
Three Erises proceeded to stir the batter in a sped-up fashion, like a film running too fast. It sent bits of batter all over the place, but a fourth Eris teleported and leapt and floated around, catching the batter with a very long frog-like tongue.
"That looks good!" Fluttershy said. "Let's put it on the cookie trays!"
Cookie-shaped blobs of batter with large googly eyes and spindly arms and legs climbed out of the batter bowl and laid themselves down on the tray, whereupon the eyes, arms and legs vanished. "I could keep the eyes and stuff, but then that would be weird when we cook them and eat them!"
"That's really considerate of you," Fluttershy said, and put the tray in the oven. "Let's go sit down while we're waiting for the cookies."
She headed into the living room. Eris teleported to the top of her stairs and slid down the banister, yelling "Wheee!" She leapt off the banister and floated in midair. "Can I speed up the cookies? Can I, can I?"
"No, that sounds like it would blow up the oven, but what if you used your powers to make a meringue pie?"
Eris glowered. "Never make a meringue pie unless you're planning to hit someone in the face with it! Because that's how ponies get pied! Do you want to get pied?"
"What about a different kind of pie? Like... like a pecan pie. No one throws pecan pies at anypony, right?"
"Or pumpkin! We could have a pumpkin pecan shoofly pie with frosting!" She snapped her lion paw and made that monstrosity appear. "Slice?"
"Of course," Fluttershy said, who actually had no desire to eat the horrible-looking thing – it looked like instant pancreas failure – but it was polite. She took a couple of small nibbles. "It's delicious, but much too rich for me. I want to save some room for cookies."
Keeping Eris distracted and not blowing up the oven was difficult, but eventually, Fluttershy managed to get both cookies and tea out on the table. She served them both tea, and put the cookies on the table. Eris lowered her head like a pony and scarfed down more than half the cookies at once, then lifted her head. "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm being rude! You should have some of the cookies too!"
"It's okay," Fluttershy said. "I made them for you."
"You're just so nice, Fluttershy," Eris said. "I... I don't like what I have to do to the others... except Choco, he deserves it, but not the rest... but when I get into it, it's fun and I get into the spirit of things and it feels right, even though part of me says no, it feels wrong. But I never feel good about doing bad things to you."
"Does that mean you could turn my pets back to normal?" Fluttershy asked hopefully.
Eris put her chin in her paw. "Naah," she finally said. "That's not how it works. This is coming up to a boss battle and I can't just do nice things."
"Why can't you?" Fluttershy leaned forward. "It doesn't sound like you want to be a villain. Wouldn't you rather be friends?"
The draconequus' eyes filled with tears ago. "Yes," she said in a choked voice. "But I have to see this through, I have to get to the end of it and then maybe I'll get my friends back, and my life back."
"I don't understand," Fluttershy admitted.
"I know. I don't really understand either!" She stood up and started pacing in midair. "When it all started I wanted to be friends and I wanted to do nice things with the chaos but it didn't work and everypony was scared of me and they hated me, and I wanted to go back, I said over and over 'just send me back, you win, you were right, I'm sorry' but I didn't know he wasn't even alive yet! And then I saw he traded places with me and he ruined everything! Even Maud doesn't like him! Maud loved me!"
"Who are you talking about?"
"Choco!" Eris yelled. "It's all his fault, he did this and he... he doesn't even remember... and I don't know how to undo it! He was the one who was all like, I'm smart, I understand chaos, like Twilight being eggheady except for chaos, and me, I just did it, it just came to me, so when I ended up here I still just did it, but I can't make that spell just undo itself! He has to do it, but he doesn't even remember!"
"I'm sure Choco never meant to hurt you," Fluttershy said. "He's actually very sweet."
"Yeah, you always said that, but if he was very sweet would he have done this?"
"I don't even know what you are saying he did."
"That's right, you don't! Nopony does." Eris slumped over sadly.
The thought occurred to Fluttershy that Eris was, in fact, insane, and her beliefs weren't necessarily rational. "Well... all that might be true," she said, suspecting that it wasn't, "but you have a second chance now, right? Maybe a thousand years ago ponies were so afraid of any kind of chaos that they ran away from you and wouldn't be your friend, but... I'll be your friend, if you just stop hurting my friends."
"Ooh, I wish," Eris said wistfully. "I wish I wish I wish it worked like that. But I don't think it does."
"Why not?" Fluttershy asked.
Eris jumped up. "'Cause it just doesn't! Now 'scuse me, I gotta get going. Chaos to make, you know." She hugged Fluttershy abruptly. "Just remember... no matter what happens. I'm your friend."
Before Fluttershy could say anything else, Eris vanished.
Spike dodged his way through ponies "partying" in varied insane ways, bobbing for frogs and playing a version of Twister where their bodies were becoming elongated and flexible the more elaborate the pattern they had to take and a form of dodgeball where everytime the ball hit a pony, the pony turned into the ball and the former ball took back a pony form. Cloud Kicker was dressed as a mime, and was desperately trying to fly out of an invisible box. There was a gigantic white goose with Bulk Biceps' cutie mark on its side flapping around and trying to chase a few ponies. Berryshine was attempting to chug a punch bowl the size of a wagon with a hose. Several griffons with particularly long legs and particularly fluffy feathers were dancing the can-can in synchronization.
He finally found Twilight, wandering aimlessly under a cloud that rained chocolate milk, despite the fact that the rest of the clouds were gone and the sun was out, wearing an obnoxious smiley face. (Twilight had always told him not to look directly at the sun, but it turned out that dragons were just as immune to light damage on their eyes as fire damage on their scales.)
"Twilight! Twilight, aren't you gonna come back to the library?"
"What's the point?" Twilight asked dully. "The world's become chaos. Who's gonna need books?"
"Come on, Twilight! If the world's become chaos, we need books even more! Right? Don't you say that books are how we build order out of chaos?"
"Not this kind of chaos," Twilight mumbled. "I meant the chaos of ignorance. Not... not this." She waved a hoof around. "You really think any of these ponies will ever want to read again?"
"I don't know. It looks like a party, but... none of these ponies actually look happy." He looked around. "Giddy and wired and hopped up on sugar, maybe, but... they're not enjoying time with friends. They're playing these games really competitively and they're being mean about it. You remember what they were doing to Derpy when we found her, right?"
"But what's the point?" Twilight muttered. "Without friendship... if your friends won't stand by you, if they won't be your friends anymore... what's the point?" She lowered her head even more. "Come on. We'll go back to the library and pack. We're going back to Canterlot. At least family won't betray us."
"I don't think any of our friends actually betrayed us," Spike said. "I think Eris did something to their heads. Come on! Remember Nightmare Moon and how she made Luna turn on her own sister? There's magic out there that can do that kind of thing, remember? And Eris is the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony. Don't you think that has something to do with it?"
"Who cares?" Twilight yelled. "We tried! We tried to keep them together, we tried to activate the Elements, and it didn't work." She stumbled over a toothless baby alligator and barely regained her balance. There were actually quite a lot of those around. "We've lost. Let's go home. I bet it's covered with chaos too, but at least we can be with Mom and Dad, and Princess Celestia. And Shiny..." She abruptly went down to the ground, her breath catching in a sob. "I want my brother," she said, tears welling up in her eyes, and more sobs breaking loose. "I want Shiny."
Spike said, cautiously, "He's probably occupied with trying to protect the city from the chaos, you know. Captain of the Royal Guard and all."
"Probably," Twilight said dully. "He won't have any time for me."
"I mean... yeah, we could go to Canterlot. Maybe Princess Celestia would have ideas of what to do next, now that the Elements have failed." He looped one of Twilight's forelegs over his shoulders and marched forward resolutely. Twilight, plainly too apathetic to resist, staggered along on three legs, which was only possible because Spike was so short. "Let's get you home and cleaned up, Twilight."
His stomach twisted with sickness, seeing Twilight like this, seeing the world like this and Twilight with no ideas, no strength to keep fighting. It couldn't end like this. It just couldn't.
And then, as they passed the threshold of the library, the sickness suddenly became much, much worse, going from cramps and queasiness to actual profound nausea. He turned his head away from Twilight so she wouldn't be hurt by his flame, and barfed out a shot of fire... that turned into a scroll, which landed on the ground, because he was racked with another one, and another one, and couldn't stop.
Twilight stared dully at the scrolls. "What... what's happening?"
"I – I don't – urgh!" Spike burped up another scroll.
"Is this Eris doing something to you?" Twilight picked up one of the scrolls with her magic. "No... this is a letter I wrote to Princess Celestia."
Spike burped out another two. "Ugh... make it stop, please!"
"And this one is too..." Twilight examined the letters in wonder. "These are all letters I've written to the princess since I've lived in Ponyville. But why would she send them back?"
Spike moaned, and burped up another scroll. "Didn't you send – blargghh – like, 20 – uugh – of those?"
"Something like that," Twilight said, reading through one of them. "'Real friends don't care what your 'cover' is; it's the 'contents' of a pony that count.' Oh, I remember this one!"
"My contents... ooo... have gotten too much," Spike moaned. "My stomach – uuurgh – my lungs, my throat..."
"Friendship is a wondrous and powerful thing," Twilight read from another letter. She picked up a third. "And like the path cut through the orchard, there will always be a way through."
She couldn't do anything to stop the pain, Spike realized. The princess had sent all the letters back for Twilight to read, and Twilight couldn't break that connection. It just had to finish out. But he saw the light returning to her eyes as she continued to read more of the letters.
"The best thing to do is stay true to yourself," she read, and "Everypony has a special magical connection with her friends. Maybe even before she's met them."
Her eyes shone with determination, and even through the cramps in his stomach and the nausea, he smiled to see it. Twilight was back in the game.
"Spike! Spike, it's all so clear! Can't you see? Eris is trying to distract us from what's important. She knows how powerful our friendships are, that's why she tried to destroy them. She's trying to make us forget our friendships, to lose our connections to each other." She paced, the scrolls lifting in her magic and arranging themselves neatly on her desk. "Do you remember what I said the first day we arrived in Ponyville? I told you that the future of Equestria didn't rest on me making friends. But the opposite is true! The friendships I've made since I've been here are what saved Equestria from Nightmare Moon. And now they need to save it from Eris!"
Spike wanted to make an encouraging statement, but instead he just groaned.
"You're right, Spike," Twilight said. "Eris did something to them, with magic, but friendship is magic! I have all the power I need to fight her, and win my friends back, but I've got to fight for my friendships." She put the Elements, which Spike had retrieved from where she'd dropped them, into her saddlebag. "For them. For me. For Equestria!"
"Yeah," Spike managed to say. All the scrolls were done now, and he no longer felt nauseous, but his throat burned and his lungs ached and his stomach was still tight and cramped. "Uuuuhhh..."
"Oh...uh...why don't you just stay here and rest?" Twilight said. "That took a lot out of you, I can see. I'll take care of the whole fighting for friendship thing myself."
Spike wrapped his arms around his stomach and tried not to resent the fact that he was too sick to go with her. He'd done his part. It would have to be enough, because it was all he could give.
"Swing your partner, do-si-do! Duck with the oyster, duck duck duck! Around your partner, here we go! Kick a hole in the old tin can!"
Twilight stared as Big Mac and Granny Smith square-danced energetically in front of the house at Sweet Apple Acres, while Applejack sang what sounded like a mashed-up mess of multiple square dance songs. "Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo, she'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes, she'll be comin' round the mountain, comin' round the mountain, way down yonder in the paw paw patch!"
"Applejack?" Twilight asked trepidatiously.
"Where oh where are friends of Apples, where oh where are friends of Apples, where oh where are friends of Apples? Here on the Acres and nowhere else," Applejack sang. "Take your granny, swing her round! Up to two legs, come around, back on four legs, sashay proud!"
"Applejack! I'm here to fight for our friendship," Twilight called.
"Lost my friends, now what shall I do, hay full of unicorns, shoo horn shoo! Bow to your partner and say 'thank you', do-si-do, up on two!"
"Snap out of it," Twilight begged. "The vision you saw of our friendship ending? It wasn't true! Eris showed it to you to silence you when we all most needed your honesty, and then she did something to our friends' minds!" Applejack was still singing, ostentatiously ignoring Twilight. "Come on! We can save our friends, and our friendships! We can make them come back to themselves, if we only remind them of our bonds and our time together!"
"Comin' round... to the paw paw patch..." Applejack was plainly losing the rhythm of her nonsense song.
Twilight drew a deep breath, lunged at her, pinned her down with hooves and magic, and fired a spell at her, directly against her head... a spell to restore memory, used mostly in forensics to help witnesses remember exactly what they saw, or to help the elderly recall things. She was hoping desperately it would overwhelm whatever it was Eris had done to her, because Twilight couldn't fight brainwashing magic directly, and she'd already learned that Eris' power was significantly greater than her own. But if re-reading the friendship letters had restored her memories of friendship and reminded her that it was worth fighting for... could enhancing Applejack's memories do the same?
Applejack dropped what Twilight had thought was a microphone, revealing that it was actually a carrot. "Twilight? I – I feel like I'm wakin' up from a nightmare... What happened?"
"Do you remember anything about fighting Eris?"
"I remember... I remember I thought I couldn't talk, 'cause the truth would break our friendships apart, and I couldn't lie... and then everypony else turned into a plumb idiot. And Rainbow Dash flew off. What the hay really happened?"
"That's... pretty much exactly what really happened," Twilight said. "And we tried to stop Eris, but we didn't have Fluttershy, Choco or Rainbow, so the Elements didn't work, and..."
"And... I was a real witch to you then, wasn't I. I'm so sorry, Twilight. I can't even remember now why I was so sure that it was your fault it hadn't worked and they'd all left us..."
"Because you thought we had to be silent or we'd lose our friendships." Twilight embraced Applejack. "It's all right. You tried to save our friendships even after Eris messed with your head and you couldn't think straight anymore. Thank you."
Applejack hugged her back, and then drew away. "Whatever mojo you just cast on me, think you could cast it on Big Mac and Granny Smith? When I got here, they were dancin' like this, and I'm worried Granny's gonna throw out her hip."
Twilight tried, but being flooded with their memories didn't seem to have much effect on them. Or rather, it had an effect, but not a useful one. Big Mac started bawling over the death of his parents, and Granny pulled his head onto her lap in her rocking chair and rocked him, trying to console him. Both of them completely ignored Applejack.
"I'm sorry," Twilight said. "I didn't mean to hurt them..."
Applejack shook her head. "Near as I can tell, it was Eris who hurt 'em. Or put 'em in a place where they got hurt, anyway." She raised her head. "Let's go find the rest of our friends and get them back."
Rarity was next. She tried to prevent them from even entering the Boutique. "What do you think you're doing? Get out!"
"We're saving you," Applejack grunted.
"You want to steal my gem! You ruffians! Get away from my gem! Get away-!"
Applejack grabbed Rarity. Twilight pressed her horn to Rarity's, and cast her spell.
The gray in Rarity's aura faded, leaving her pristine and white again. She looked around. "Twilight? Applejack? Weren't we just in Canterlot?"
"Do you remember anything about our fight with Eris?" Twilight said.
Rarity's eyes went wide. She turned and looked directly at Tom, the giant boulder... and her cheeks flared bright red. Without another word, she used her magic to roll the boulder out of the Boutique and throw it into the street. Then she turned around. "Let us never speak of this again."
Twilight hugged her. "I'm so glad you're back, Rarity!"
"Me too," Applejack said, tipping her hat to Rarity because apparently she was too tough for hugs, or something. Twilight laughed and pulled her over with her magic, making Applejack make a startled noise, where she and Rarity could both give her a hug.
Fluttershy looked strange – where Applejack and Rarity had both been gray and desaturated, Fluttershy's aura was so yellow and pink it almost hurt Twilight's eyes. "Oh! Applejack, Rarity, Twilight! I'm so glad to see you girls!"
"You are?" Applejack asked skeptically. "Last I remember you were doin' everything you could to stop us from usin' the Elements."
"Because the Elements are terrible!" Fluttershy said. "They turned Eris to stone for a thousand years! More than a thousand, considering that Princess Luna helped use the Elements and she was on the moon for a thousand years. How could we do something so cruel to anyone?"
"How awful, darling," Rarity said, actually managing to sound sincere. Maybe she was. "I know just what you need after the frazzling day you've had." She hugged Fluttershy... holding her still for a moment.
Twilight pressed her horn against Fluttershy's head and fired her spell.
Fluttershy looked at the three of them, as Rarity and Twilight backed off, and started to cry.
"Ah – what – Fluttershy, don't do that!" Applejack said. "Oh, shucks. Come 'ere." She hugged Fluttershy, and then Twilight and Rarity did too.
But... Fluttershy was still painfully bright to look at.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "I failed you, I couldn't do something so terrible to anyone, but Eris has turned the world to chaos and she did such terrible things to you, Rarity, and you, Applejack, and I know I was awful, Twilight, I was trying so hard to keep us from finding the Elements because I didn't want to turn her to stone... but I still don't! It's still cruel! I should have told you, Twilight, I shouldn't have kept it a secret, but... isn't there anything else we can do?"
Twilight shook her head. "Fluttershy... I understand exactly what you're saying. The Elements banished Princess Luna to the moon for a thousand years... but she would have killed Princess Celestia if they hadn't. We have to trust that they had good reasons for turning to Eris to stone."
"They didn't! She told me, she wanted to have friends, and ponies were too afraid of her!" Tears stained Fluttershy's yellow cheeks. "Please... can't we find another way? She said she was my friend... maybe we can reform her with the power of friendship! Maybe we don't have to turn her to stone!"
"That one?" Applejack said skeptically.
Rarity shook her head. "Fluttershy, I'm sorry to say, I think you've been completely taken in. That absolute beast isn't trying to make friends—"
"But she is! She baked cookies with me!"
"Real, actual cookies? That didn't sing, or fly, or anything else weird?" Applejack asked.
"Real, actual cookies that I baked in the oven," Fluttershy said.
Twilight peered out the window. From here, they couldn't see the chaos. "Fluttershy, do you know what's going on out there?"
Fluttershy nodded unhappily. "I know... it's terrible! And I don't want her to keep doing this, I want her to stop, but she says she can't and I feel like... maybe if we talked to her, we could talk her into undoing it all herself?"
Twilight shook her head. "I don't know... but we can talk about it. When we're all together. Choco said he didn't want to turn anypony to stone, either."
"He has nightmares," Fluttershy said. "He told me. About being turned to stone."
"It sounded like... even though Eris did a number on his head and he was being a total nincompoop, when he said he didn't want to turn her to stone, that sounded sincere," Applejack said. "He was angry."
"So." Twilight looked around. "We have to stop Eris. We're all agreed on that. But Fluttershy doesn't want to turn her to stone, and it's likely that Choco won't want to do that either. So. Let's get Rainbow Dash, and Choco, and decide what we're going to try to do. Maybe... Just like the Elements sent Nightmare Moon to the moon when Princess Celestia used them, but when we used them, they purged Princess Luna and made her herself again... maybe they won't turn Eris to stone. Maybe they'll free her of whatever this compulsion Fluttershy is talking about, where she says she can't stop. If she truly wants to be friends, I can't imagine the Elements will do something as... well, as painful as turning her to stone. But..." Twilight turned to Fluttershy. "I've been turned to stone. It was really frightening, while it was happening, but I didn't feel anything after that. I was unconscious until you freed me."
"I don't think it was like that for her," Fluttershy said softly. "I think she was awake, in stone."
Unable to move, to see, to hear, to speak... to use magic. Trapped in darkness, unable to do anything. Now that Twilight was considering it... yes. Fluttershy was right, that was awful. They should try to find another way. But the ponies out there caught up in the chaos, tormented in Eris' awful parody of a party... they deserved freedom and their own minds back, too. If it came to a choice between all the ponies in Ponyville – and maybe other places, Cloudsdale had been attacked too, and Canterlot as well – maybe all of Equestria... Twilight knew what she had to choose.
She understood, now, what Fluttershy's colors meant. Eris had disharmonized Choco and Rarity, turning them into complete opposites of what they usually stood for – Choco's humor turned vicious, Rarity's generosity turned into savage greed. She didn't know what had been done to Rainbow Dash, yet. Applejack hadn't desaturated and turned gray until she'd turned against friendship, at the end. The same thing had happened to Derpy when she'd lost hope that she could help, and started to feel like it was her fault it had failed. The desaturation, the graying... that meant falling out of harmony with yourself. Turning against what you truly were, or losing faith in friendship.
But Fluttershy was a different case. She wasn't gray, she was brighter. And she was rejecting the idea of turning Eris to stone because she was kinder, more anguished at the thought of inflicting something cruel on even an enemy. So Eris had the power to make ponies more like themselves, to enhance the traits that were closest to their heart as well. And that meant... she might be disharmony and chaos, but she wasn't evil. She was capable of bringing out more goodness in a pony, even if she'd done it for self-serving reasons. Her power didn't have to be used to harm ponies.
So maybe Fluttershy's plan could work. But they needed Choco and Rainbow.
"Here." She hoofed over the Element of Kindness with her magic. "We won't use the Elements if we don't have to, and if there's another way than turning her to stone, we'll find it. But you need to wear it, just in case."
Fluttershy nodded and put it on.
Choco could not be found. He wasn't home, he wasn't at Sugarcube Corner, he wasn't easily visible in the crowd of ponies... many of whom were desaturated and gray to Twilight's eyes, and many of whom were covered in brown mud. A brown and gray pony was not going to stand out against that background.
"I saw him before," Fluttershy volunteered. "He was playing pranks on ponies."
"Well, we could use Rainbow Dash's eyesight, so why don't we get her first?" Of course, technically Fluttershy had the same eyesight – all pegasi had better distance vision than the other tribes, because it was needed to find their way in flight – but Fluttershy couldn't cover Ponyville faster in the air than the others could do on the ground. Rainbow could.
But when Fluttershy checked at Rainbow's house, she wasn't there.
"Without Rainbow Dash, we can't use the Elements," Twilight said. "And our odds of finding Choco are worse, too." She looked over at Fluttershy. "Are you sure she's not in there?"
"Positive," Fluttershy said.
"She could be anywhere by now!" Applejack groused. "We're never gonna find her."
"Yeah, you will," a voice behind them said. "She's right over there!"
Twilight spun around and saw Eris floating behind her, grinning, pointing at a cloud that did indeed possibly contain Rainbow Dash, or at least some desaturated gray pegasus. "Eris! Why would you help us find Rainbow Dash?"
"Because she doesn't want to be our enemy?" Fluttershy said hopefully.
"Or, because it's going to be a whole barrel of laughs when you find Choco, and you need Rainbow for that?" Eris put her talon to her bottom lip. "Ugh, decisions, decisions. Oh well! Who wants to do anything for just one reason!" And then she vanished.
"I hate to say it," Applejack said. "But if Eris wants us to find Rainbow..."
"... then perhaps, she has some sort of trap planned," Rarity mused. "Could that be a decoy?"
"I – I could check," Fluttershy said, shuddering at the concept.
"I think you're going to have to," Twilight said, as gently as she could. "I don't have time to go back to the library and get the temporary wings spell, and I doubt we're going to be able to find Derpy and get her to help us..."
"O-okay," Fluttershy whispered, and flew straight up. The cloud was fairly low. "Um... Rainbow?"
"Hey, Fluttershy!" It was definitely Rainbow's voice.
"Rainbow? Where've you been? We were looking everywhere for you!" Twilight called up.
"Can't've been everywhere if you didn't find me," Rainbow said.
"We need you to help us defeat Eris!"
"Nah," Rainbow said. "I've already done my defeating for the day."
"What defeating? You're napping on a cloud!" Rarity shouted.
"For your information, Miss High and Mighty –" Rainbow rolled over and looked down at them from her cloud. "—I saved Cloudsdale! And as long as I'm here in Cloudsdale, it can't fall, because I'm too awesome! So I'm staying right here. Save my hometown and take a nap? Can't beat that!"
"Uh, hate to tell ya, but that ain't Cloudsdale," Applejack said. "You're just layin' on a cloud."
"Am not," Rainbow said smugly. "Cloudsdale's where I belong, so I'm in Cloudsdale."
The sheer illogic of that boggled Twilight. "But... this isn't Cloudsdale! You're on a cloud above Ponyville!"
"Sure it is," Rainbow said. "Have you guys seen Ponyville? It's a disaster! Here in Cloudsdale, everything's great. Very relaxing."
"How in Equestria can she think that tiny patch of clouds is Cloudsdale?" Rarity whispered.
"The same way Eris got you to think that cheap rock was a bona fide diamond," said Applejack, smirking.
Rarity scowled. "I thought we agreed never to speak of that again."
"Okay," Twilight said. "Time for Plan B."
"What's Plan B?" Applejack asked.
"I don't know yet. Fluttershy, come down here, we need to confer."
"You guys can conifer all you like as long as you don't needle me about it," Rainbow Dash said. "Now how about you make like a tree and leaf?"
Twilight stared. "How in Equestria..."
"...did Rainbow Dash tell a terrible joke? I'm sad to say, that's actually one of her talents," Rarity said.
"No, but how did she know what a conifer was?"
"I told her," Fluttershy said. "I talk about trees. Uh, kind of a lot."
The plan was complicated, and involved the use of Twilight's hot air balloon.
"So Applejack will lower me down with the rope," Twilight said, using her magic to lift the ropes she was talking about. "And you'll be holding her down, so I'll be able to cast the memory spell on her."
"Um, okay, but... I'm not very strong..."
"You're going to have to be, you're the only other pegasus on the team."
"Can't we go find Choco first? He could swing out with a rope while I'm flying, and help me hold her down..."
"Choco's an earth pony, Fluttershy, he'd fall right through the cloud," Twilight pointed out.
"You could cast a cloudwalking spell on him," Rarity pointed out. "You've done it for us before, after all."
Twilight nodded, remembering when they were going to watch Rainbow perform as Best Young Flyer, and she'd thought she could cast the temporary wings spell on everypony in the group. Choco had begged to be first, claiming that he'd wanted to fly his entire life... and then she hadn't had the strength to cast it on anypony else, so she'd had to use a cloudwalking spell instead on the rest of them, and Choco had spent the entire time attempting to stunt fly – which he'd had tremendous aptitude for, enough that Rainbow had been quite upset.
Huh. Weird. She hadn't thought about it before, but the temporary wings she'd cast on Choco had looked like Eris'. One dragon wing, one pegasus wing. Different colors than Eris', but similar shapes. At the time she'd put it down to Choco being weird. They'd been translucent because they were made of magic, not like Eris' very real-looking wings, but... they'd looked awfully similar.
She shook her head. Explore that later. "The fact remains, we don't know where Choco is. And given the attitudes Eris has expressed toward him, we have no guarantee he's even safe. We may need to rescue him from her."
Fluttershy nodded. "She said... a lot of mean things about him, but they didn't make a lot of sense, and she wouldn't explain herself."
Applejack twirled a hoof next to her mane. "I think that mare's got more than a few bats in her belltower, if you get my meaning," she said.
"So, Fluttershy. You won't have to hold her long. Applejack can swing me into position pretty fast, assuming—" she looked over at Rarity – "that Rarity can pilot the balloon."
"Well, I don't really have any experience with piloting a balloon, but I can't imagine it could be too terribly difficult," Rarity said. "But I must ask, wouldn't Spike have more balloon experience than I would?"
"He does, but Princess Celestia sent me something like 20 or so letters... all my friendship reports from since I moved to Ponyville, and it made him really sick."
"How terrible! I must go over and bring the poor boy something. Do you think his stomach would tolerate a sapphire or two? I've always thought they look like they'd be easy on his digestion."
"Focus, Rarity," Applejack said. "Beat Eris first, then take care of Spike."
"Yes, yes, of course."
"So, I've got to ask—Fluttershy, can you do it or no?"
"I – I guess so. I have to, don't I? Since we don't have any other pegasi to help, and I don't think she'd come down if we asked her... do you?"
"No, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't," Twilight said. "So. Let's get this started! Operation Rescue Rainbow Dash is a go!"
Rainbow was sleeping, thankfully, when they returned with the balloon. Twilight repeated the plan to Fluttershy in a whisper as they approached.
"Got it!" Fluttershy whispered back. She flew down to the cloud where Rainbow slept, and for a moment, it looked as if she was actually going to do it.
Then she tapped Rainbow's head. "Um...I'm just wondering if it's okay for Twilight to cast a spell on you to fix your brainwashing? Because I'd have to hold you down, probably, and I don't want to do that without your consent..."
Now Rainbow Dash was awake. "Nice try!" she sneered. "I'm not brainwashed, I'm just not helping. Ponyville's your problem, not mine." With that, she zoomed off, holding her cloud like a body pillow.
Twilight lowered a loop of the rope to Fluttershy, like a rein. "Come on, Fluttershy, we've got to catch her."
Fluttershy looked at the rope for a moment in confusion, then grinned and nodded, and bit down on the loop. She flew faster and harder than Twilight had ever seen Fluttershy fly. Twilight actually had to use a little magic to keep the rope anchored around her forehooves and not yanking her out of the balloon. "Applejack!" she yelled, as they approached, and tossed another rope up.
Rainbow was flying contemptuous loop-de-loops around them, smirking at them. "Can't catch this!" she yelled on one loop, and "Whoops, too slow!", and other such taunts.
Applejack flung the rope, in lasso form. It landed around Rainbow's middle... but Rainbow kept going. And then Rarity shrieked as the other end of the rope closed around her back leg and yanked her into the air. "Oh, no!"
"Rarity! I thought you secured that rope!" Twilight yelled to her.
"I was steering the balloon!" Rarity yelled. "I thought you were securing the rope!"
"Rarity, hold on tight!" Applejack shouted. "You're slowin' her down!"
But while Rainbow was slowing, she still was going faster than Fluttershy was able to drag the balloon. Rarity screamed into the wind, clinging to the rope around Rainbow's waist for dear life, "Oh, Fluttershy, would you be a dear and fly faster, please?!"
Fluttershy whimpered with pain and exhaustion. "I can't!"
"Fluttershy, if you can't catch her, Rarity might fall!"
"Oh, no," Fluttershy said, and her voice grew more determined. "None of my friends fall on my watch!"
And she zoomed forward, actually keeping pace with Rainbow, catching up despite the fact that Rainbow, the fastest pegasus in Equestria, was only burdened with the weight of a single pony, while Fluttershy was towing two ponies and a large hot-air balloon. Twilight had cast spells on it to make it extremely light, and kept renewing the spells in quick bursts, since Rainbow was moving too fast for her to use her telekinesis directly on her, but it was still not aerodynamic at all for speedy lateral motion.
"Okay, Applejack, last rope!" Twilight called, tossing it to her. "Make it count!"
Applejack wound up and flung the rope around Rainbow's waist. This one, Twilight had secured to the balloon. As Rainbow tried to fly with the sudden weight of a hot air balloon around her waist, Twilight removed the spell around the balloon, letting its full weight come back, and then adjusted the hot air, allowing some of the air to leak out of the balloon, enough to let it land gracefully and gently, despite Rainbow's best efforts to tow it. Rarity was using her magic to grasp at Rainbow's wings, slowing them further – which was probably why they'd been able to catch up with just Fluttershy, but now Rarity was panting hard and sweating.
Once on the ground, three ponies took the ends of the ropes in hoof (and teeth), holding them far apart in an X where one of the four points was the balloon itself. Rainbow struggled and kicked in the center. "Lemme go, you losers! Come on, this is dumb! Fight fair!"
Twilight approached, her horn charged with the memory spell. "I don't need you guys!" Rainbow yelled, trying to back away from her. "Leave me alone!"
But she couldn't break free, so Twilight was able to press her horn against Rainbow's head, and cast the spell to awaken her memories of friendship.
The desaturation faded, and Rainbow turned her colors again. She shook her head dizzily. "Wh-what happened?" Twilight undid the knots of the rope that held her and let it drop to her hooves, as Rainbow gasped. "How's Ponyville? Where are the Elements?! Did we stop Eris?"
All four of them piled on her, cheering. "Welcome back! Welcome back!" they yelled, and hugged her.
At that point, three griffons can-canned across the meadow they were in, reminding all of them that Eris was still out there.
"Maybe it's a little early for a group hug," Twilight said. "We still need to find Choco. Rainbow, we were hoping you could help with that?"
Rainbow saluted. "I'm on it!"
"Take your Element first," Twilight said, and gave it to her. Rainbow put it on, and then she was off.
When Rainbow returned, she said, "Choco's at Sweet Apple Acres."
"He what now?" Applejack looked perturbed, which shifted to anger as Rainbow continued.
"Climbing trees, and taking a bite out of every apple. Well, maybe not every apple, but lots of them."
"Oh he is not," Applejack said furiously. "We're puttin' a stop to that right now."
She galloped ahead. "Applejack, don't get separated!" Twilight called after her. "I know you want to get there fast, but Eris can take advantage of us when we're separated to break us apart again!"
"I have an idea!" Rainbow said. "Twilight, how fast could you get this thing back into the air?" She kicked the basket of the hot air balloon.
"A few minutes..."
"Well, if Fluttershy can tow that thing fast enough to catch me, how fast do you think I could tow it?"
They arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, Twilight trying to find a polite way to tell Fluttershy to stop apologizing for not being able to help Rainbow with the towing, seriously, just stop, no one had expected her to help after the effort she put in before and it was getting irritating. Applejack leapt out of the basket before they'd fully landed.
Twilight had had to put the balloon down in the cows' grazing field, since there was nowhere else at the Acres that wasn't either planted with crops, covered with trees, or covered with mud, like the pig wallows. The cows were sitting out on the grass, drinking tea. Their teacups were hovering in air, so they could dip their heads into them and sip. Twilight's eyebrow went up. Cows did not have magic. Or hooves that could hold objects, which was why they preferred to live with ponies, who'd take care of them in exchange for milk, because ponies could use tools and cows couldn't.
"I say!" one of the cows said in a posh Trottingham accent. "Are my eyes deceiving me, sisters, or is that a balloon?"
"It does indeed seem to be a balloon," another one said in the same accent.
"Maisy, Leslie, knock it off," Applejack said wearily. "I know that ain't your real accent."
"We are trying to better ourselves and become cultured," Maisy said snootily.
"I know you think that only ponies are capable of being refined and elegant, but soon you'll see that cows can be positively aristocratic," a third cow said, and sipped her tea.
"Applejack. It's an Eris thing. Just... leave it, it'll go back to normal after we beat her."
"Is it even bad?" Fluttershy asked. "If cows want to have a tea party and become refined gentleladies... is that wrong?"
"Of course it's not wrong," Rarity said, "and if it does persist after Eris' defeat, I will personally hand-craft beautiful ballroom gowns for each and every one of these ladies, as a challenge to myself since I've never designed for cows before. But it is implausible, given that they were comfortable eating grass and drinking water from a trough yesterday."
"That was yesterday," Leslie said. "We've had our eyes opened to the beauty of fine society."
"Sure. Right. I'll just get my aunt and uncle Orange down here to give you guys elocution lessons," Applejack said, sounding like she was impossibly done with this. "Come on, girls, let's go find Choco."
"He's this way!" Rainbow, who had never actually landed, said, zipping off in presumably the correct direction.
Choco was indeed up in a tree, and judging from the path of apple trees with bites out of the apples, it wasn't the first one he'd gotten. Despite herself, Twilight was impressed. It was very difficult for earth ponies to climb trees, but Choco was clambering around in it without any apparent care for what might happen if he lost his footing.
"Choco Pie, you get down out of my apple tree right now!" Applejack shouted.
Choco's head popped through leaves, smirking. "Oh, Applejack! Don't you think my little prank is funny? Don't you want to laugh?"
"I sure don't," Applejack retorted. "Ain't nothin' funny about ruinin' my apples!"
"Choco, please come down," Fluttershy said softly. "We're your friends."
"Oh yeah?" Choco jumped down. "Really? Because the way I remember it, I don't have any friends. Just ponies who'll put up with me because I'm funny." He suddenly had a meringue pie in his hoof – it was not at all clear where he'd gotten it from – and he flung it at Twilight's face. She didn't deflect in time. "Look, see, isn't that funny? Don't you want to laugh, Twilight?" There was a vicious tone in his voice.
This wasn't him. This was Eris' doing. Twilight focused on her memories of her friend, who'd mocked the trees in the Everfree when it seemed that they were taking on malevolent personalities, who'd reached out to Rainbow's rude griffon friend to show her that ponies could take griffon-style jokes and could enjoy griffon-style fun, but that doing it to ponies it would hurt was wrong – his attempts hadn't worked, but he'd tried. Who'd told her how to drive off parasprites while she was still trying to come up with a spell to stop them, and when she had dismissed his ideas, who'd stopped her from making a terrible mistake when he'd pointed out that redirecting parasprites off food would just make them eat everything else. Who'd argued with the folk of Ponyville that Zecora wasn't an evil witch, just a reclusive zebra herbalist, and who'd tried to warn the rest of them off of the poison joke before it got them. Who'd spoken to Fluttershy gently and carefully and coaxed her to come up the mountain to talk to the dragon that terrified her so badly she'd been practically catatonic. Who'd started a food fight at the Grand Galloping Gala in defense of Applejack. Who'd turned to her for help, admitting that he had problems that would prevent him from ever realizing his dreams, and offering her a partnership in the business he wanted to build if she could use her skills, almost exactly opposite and complementary to his, to help him make it a success... and then had done the things she'd told him to do despite how obviously he didn't want to do them, like use the alarm clock she'd made for him to get him up in the morning in time for his shop to open.
Applejack tried to grab him, but he slipped free of her and began galloping through the orchard. All of them pursued.
Once he broke through the tree line, he was in the clear for Rainbow to try to dive-grab him. "I'm on it!" she yelled. "I've got him, I've—"
But Choco was somehow not where she had aimed, and she crashed into the ground. "Don't got him," she moaned.
"Rainbow! Are you all right?" Fluttershy asked.
"Yeah, I'm peachy," Rainbow said, getting up. "Come on, let's get after him."
Applejack flung a lasso at him as he crossed into Ponyville proper, his hooves pounding down the cobblestone streets. Choco ran straight at a lamppost, and then he was on the other side of the lamppost and Applejack's lasso was, somehow, around it instead of him.
He pulled a black, round blanket out of nowhere and flung it at a wall, where it hung for a moment looking like a gaping hole... and then he ran straight through it. The blanket fell.
"This is impossible," Twilight said. "This – ponies can't do these things!"
Choco had always had absurd extremes of luck – tripping over something in the street just in time to sprawl out of the way of a dropped flowerpot. Winning a raffle only to have his winnings carted off by a sudden magpie. And sometimes the way he could bend and stretch and jump looked positively un-ponylike. Not to mention the fact that when she'd been trying to come up with a spell to stop the parasprites and had found the one she was going to use, he had popped out of a box of books on the floor and said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." He had never explained what he was doing in the box, or how he'd gotten there. And there were things he knew that no one knew how he knew, including him – like the effects of poison joke, which he'd admitted he'd never been exposed to, never read about, and never been told about. He just knew.
But this was a whole other magnitude of weirdness.
Rainbow, back in the air, yelled. "He's come out the other side! Through the door! He's, uh, wearing underwear on his head!"
Twilight levitated herself and Rarity over a fence, while Applejack leapt it and Fluttershy flew over. This was ridiculous. They knew from the Running of the Leaves that Applejack was faster than Choco, so how was he able to outrun all of them?
Up ahead there was the town fountain, which was currently spouting cola, with large floofy balls of ice cream floating in it. Choco dove in. Applejack reached the fountain first. "Bad news. I don't see him in there."
"He's a brown pony in a fountain full of brown soda," Twilight said. "It's not too surprising we can't see him. But he has to come up for air, it's not as if he has gills."
Twilight dredged for him with her magic. The other four searched with eyes and long sticks. No Choco.
Then he stuck his head out from behind a building. "Yoo-hoo, girls! Looking for something?"
Twilight turned to face him, but Fluttershy was faster. "CHOCO PIE, YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!" she bellowed.
To her great surprise, Choco held still. "Or what?"
Fluttershy didn't address the question. "WE WERE WORRIED ABOUT YOU, MISTER! WE WERE AFRAID YOU MIGHT HAVE DROWNED! NOW GET OVER HERE!"
Choco did so while continuing to challenge her verbally. "And what are you going to do if I don't?
Fluttershy marched forward to meet him. "What were you thinking? Eating Applejack's apples and ruining them? Running away from us? We're your friends!"
"Oh really?" Choco sneered, still walking toward her. "You aren't my friends. Any of you. You don't care! You just like it when I'm funny, right?"
Fluttershy slapped him with her wing, hard, leaving a red mark on his cheek. Choco – and the rest of them – stared at her. "How dare you? How dare you say we don't care about you? That we're not your friends?" Her eyes were boring into his... running with tears, but open and glaring. No – Staring. "All of us love you! You are our dear friend, and we would never abandon you or turn on you! You've made mistakes, all of us have, but if you think we are not friends or that we don't care because of that, you have another think coming, mister!"
For the first time Twilight noticed that Fluttershy's oversaturated colors were gone. She was normal again. Why? Reminding her of her friendships hadn't made her less exaggeratedly kind... but presenting her with a friend who needed a tough talking-to did.
"Now, you are going to hold still," Fluttershy said, as Applejack grabbed Choco, having walked around to approach him from behind while he was focused on Fluttershy, "and you're going to let Twilight fix you. Do you understand?"
"I don't have to," Choco said uncertainly. He wasn't struggling. "I don't have to do anything you say. I don't – have to care – even if – even if you do – because, because you don't, no one ever—"
He sounded like he was approaching the point of tears when Twilight pressed her horn against his head and fired her spell.
Twilight, heading into the Everfree Forest, and him following, because if the sun was gone everypony would die, so there was no point in being a coward and hanging back, and then facing Nightmare Moon and Twilight's voice declaring him the Element of Laughter, and the pure energy of Harmony surging through him, and the thought that this was something he'd been missing, something he should have been able to feel and never had, until now...
(Twilight declaring that friendship was worth fighting for, and the light of Harmony ripping through him, trapping him, making his body harden into stone)
Applejack, exhausted beyond belief, having promised to help him make chocolate, pushing herself to help, and the moment where he realized from the smell that she was burning the chocolate, so he'd promised her a cup of coffee to perk her up and instead laced it with the sleep-inducing herbs he used to get to sleep at night, and then dumping her on his bed and sleeping on the couch instead...
(Applejack telling him he couldn't break her friendships apart for long, and him calling her a liar)
Rarity promising to make him a handsome suit, and him asking her to add more different colors, more, more, in love with color, and she did it despite her better judgement, because he'd asked... and when it seemed that his outfit and his friends' had ruined her career, he let her make him the much more sedate and understated suit she'd wanted to in the first place, and he realized, it made him look better than the riot of color that had drowned out his own natural coloring...
(Rarity screaming "Not the dress! Not the dress!" as the fish tureen he'd animated spat cold soup at her, and him trying so hard not to openly laugh at her, because he was stringing Fluttershy along, seeing how much he could get away with, and open laughter would ruin it)
Rainbow Dash and him pranking ponies, and trying to create a group that included Gilda, but in the end when Gilda had insisted that Rainbow pick between her, or her pony friends and especially him, and she'd picked him...
(Rainbow Dash yelling that he should be returned to stone because she wouldn't believe him that the vines weren't his doing, which made sense really because they actually were)
Fluttershy smiling up at him after he'd driven off the malevolent presences in the Everfree by mocking them, and his heart melting as he realized he would do anything for this mare as long as she'd give him that smile...
(Fluttershy smiling up at him after he'd turned everything back to normal and it felt like something that had been cold for so long he hadn't even been aware of it suddenly becoming warm, and he wanted it so badly but he knew he couldn't bear to give up chaos and it hurt as much as it felt wonderful)
(A pink pony, hopping around with a huge smile on her face, a pink pony who looked like Eris demanding that he make a bunny rabbit cute again, a pink pony telling him that chaos was fun but he should do it in a way that makes friends, that makes ponies happy, and the frustration and rage rising because she just refused to believe that ponies had made that impossible and she thought it was his fault and she thought she could do better-)
(-trapped in stone unable to move can't breathe can't change shape can't use magic can't see can't talk can't move can't can't can't)
No. No no no no. Choco shoved it all away, yanking his mind away from the flood of impossible memories to focus on the only thing that was consistent, the only thing that made sense. He looked at Fluttershy, focusing on her face, letting it fill his field of vision.
"Fluttershy?" he said uncertainly.
"Choco!" She lunged forward and hugged him. "I was so worried about you! Please tell me you're okay!"
"I – I'm all right," he said, still shaken. He remembered everything he'd done under Eris' influence. He remembered how right it had seemed, how absolutely normal that no one cared about him except for what his abilities could bring them, if they even wanted that much. He knew that wasn't true, he remembered his friendships truly now, he remembered that he cared for them and they cared for him... but there was something else, something that felt equally true, something where none of them cared but Fluttershy...
No. He wouldn't remember that. He didn't want to touch it. Choco felt as if a yawning emptiness was opening under his hooves, and only by backing away, refusing to look at it, focusing on something else like it was his path to safety, could he keep from falling in.
"Great!" Twilight said. "We need to talk about how we're going to stop Eris. Fluttershy doesn't want to use the Elements on her because she's pointed out that it's cruel to turn somepony to stone, and based on what you said back in the library, I assume you agree?"
"I – I guess. Yes." Eris frightened him. To be honest, part of him would be relieved if she was turned to stone. The things she'd said to him unnerved him, and the things he was carefully not remembering or paying attention to made him feel as if there was a connection, a bigger picture he could see if he only paid attention to Eris' words and to the things Twilight's spell had half-awakened in his memory, but he felt overwhelming dread. If he did that, if he stepped back to see that bigger picture, it would destroy him. He didn't know how he knew that, but he was sure.
But it was true, after all the nightmares he'd had about being turned to stone, after the almost-memories that had flickered through his head, that the idea of turning someone else to stone was the worst sort of hypocrisy, and he didn't want to do it. Banish her to the Moon or the Sun or some far distant star or the center of the Earth, yes, he'd be happy to do that. Strip her of her power and turn her into a filly like the Elements had done to Nightmare Moon when they'd turned her into Luna, sure. But not stone.
"Fluttershy thinks maybe she'd be willing to be friends with us. She seems... open to the idea, at least with Fluttershy. No one else has seen any evidence of this—"
Hot, vicious jealousy bubbled over. "She's lying," he said with a certainty he didn't feel. He had no idea if she wanted to be Fluttershy's friend, but he knew he didn't want that. She was his friend. If Eris was singling Fluttershy out and claiming she wanted to be friends with Fluttershy in particular... Choco was going to do whatever he could do to prevent that from happening. Eris couldn't have his Fluttershy.
"You see? You see, Fluttershy? Even Choco agrees with me!" Rainbow Dash said. "She's just a no-good lying jerk and you shouldn't waste time worrying about her!"
"I think she feels... compelled. By something. I don't know what, but she said she couldn't turn my animals back to normal because that's not how this works and she can't just do nice things because a 'boss battle' is coming up. What does that mean?"
Choco glanced at Rainbow, who he knew had played a video game or two in the arcade, but Rainbow preferred to express her competitive streak with her entire body, not just her forehooves. He looked at Twilight. "She knows we're coming. A 'boss battle' is in a video game, the big fight at the end of a stage of the game, or at the end of the game itself. A boss is the main villain, tougher to beat than any of the low-level creatures you've fought so far."
Twilight nodded. "I've seen Spike play them, back in Canterlot, when he was younger and I had to watch him. I agree, if she said a boss battle is coming up, then she knows we're regrouping to fight her."
"Much as I dislike the idea of reaching out to someone so perfectly horrid, I do think we should consider that if she knows we're going there to fight her... then reaching out to offer friendship won't be a move she expects, but using the Elements of Harmony on her is."
"Good point, Rarity," Twilight said. She looked around at the group. "I don't know if it's going to work either... but if we offer her friendship, and she rejects it, we can always go back to the Elements."
(He fixes it or he goes back to stone! Princess Celestia will understand!)
Choco shook his head to clear it. "All right, let's do it." He looked around. "It's... kind of a shame to undo all this, it looks so much more interesting than Ponyville does normally."
"But ponies are really suffering, Choco," Fluttershy pointed out earnestly. "None of them seem to really be enjoying these fake party games..."
"There were ponies trying to pin Derpy's tail on her, after they stole it from her in the first place," Twilight pointed out.
"And my granny and my brother wouldn't stop dancin', which can't be good for my granny's hip. Even if she's havin' fun, we gotta get her to stop."
"I know, I know," Choco sighed. "Plus, what's up with all the baby alligators? There's random, and then there's repetitive pseudo-randomness. I feel like Eris has too much of a theme going with the party thing to really represent chaos, but then there's the alligators..."
"Well, random alligators sure seems chaotic to me," Rainbow said, "but who cares? Let's go friend her or kick her flank, whichever comes first!"
"Here, Choco. The Element of Laughter," Twilight said, pulling the last discarded Element out of her saddlebag. Choco put it on, and they headed toward the center of Ponyville.
Eris floated in the center of Ponyville, mistress of all she surveyed. She had what ought to have been a menacing dark-colored throne with a high back and red highlights, except she'd decorated it with glitter, streamers, and balloons. A disco ball hung over her head, attached to nothing, spinning and letting shining bits of light dance all over Ponyville.
Houses floated in the air, attached to balloons that couldn't possibly be powerful enough to pull chunks of earth out of the ground. Ponies on the ground danced. Carousel Boutique was upside down and Town Hall had been replaced by a gigantic cake. Orange soda rained from some clouds; others rained chocolate; still others rained fizzy lemonade. A giant teapot danced through the streets singing "I'm a little pony, short and stout, here are my hooves and here is my snout!" And there really were a lot of toothless baby alligators.
"Eris!" Twilight yelled up at her. "We've come to end your chaos, one way or another!"
"We don't want to hurt you," Fluttershy, flying near the throne, close enough that her soft voice could carry, said. "You said you wanted to be my friend. That you were my friend. My friends are willing to make friends with you too, but you have to put all this back and end this."
Eris laughed. It was not a pleasant, fun-loving laugh, or a hyper, giggly laugh, or even a mocking laugh. It was almost hysterical, almost bitter. "Put this all back, she says! End this, she says!" She and the throne vanished, and then she, without throne, was in the air directly above Choco, her head dangling down to glare into his eyes. "Tell me how," she snarled.
Choco backed away. "How am I supposed to know?"
"You know why you're supposed to know! You have to know why you're supposed to know!"
"Eris, Choco has no idea what you're asking," Twilight said. "He doesn't have any powers, he's just an earth pony!"
"WRONG!" Eris yelled, giggling. She sang, pirouetting in mid-air. "You'll never be so wrong, not for a long time..."
"Look, Choco's our friend!" Rainbow got in Eris' face. "We all agreed we were gonna try to make friends with you because Fluttershy thinks it'll work and Choco doesn't want to turn you into stone and Fluttershy doesn't either, but if you're gonna be a jerk to our friend, then it's not gonna happen and you're going back to stone city!"
Eris shook her head. "Dashie, Dashie, Dashie... I know. I know you think he's your friend. I know you'd never let a friend down, and you'd never let someone else hurt your friends!" She was suddenly twined around Rainbow, holding her in place, looking up at her from where she was wrapped around Rainbow's barrel. "But Choco is not your friend. Not yours and not mine." She let go and was hovering in mid-air again. "I think maybe he's really Fluttershy's, but that's just not good enough. Not after what he's done."
"What have I done?" Choco demanded. "I've done nothing to you!"
Eris broke out into hysterical laughter, convulsing in midair, tears streaming improbably from the sides of her eyes in jets. "Oh, stop it, it's too funny!" And then she stopped, abruptly, and was hovering in front of Choco. "Tell me the truth," she snarled. "Tell me you know why I'm here! Tell me you know why I'm living your life! Tell me you know how to put it back!"
With every new "Tell me", she lunged toward him, and Twilight was suddenly reminded of her claws and fang and predator teeth. "Back off!" she yelled at Eris.
Eris laughed. "If we were friends I'd do what you want me to, Twilight, but we're not so I can't! Not until Choco fixes it!"
"I can't fix it! I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Lay offa him!" Applejack shouted, physically shoving her way between Eris and Choco.
Rarity interposed herself as well, since Applejack had forced there to be room. "Whatever your issue is with Choco, you'll discuss it like a rational and sane pony or you will stop. Bringing. It. Up. Choco does not know what you're referring to and nopony else does either."
"Please stop," Fluttershy whispered. "Please, don't do this."
Eris looked over at her. "You can't have us both, Fluttershy."
"Because you can't. That's not how it works. Pick one!"
Fluttershy flew down and interposed herself between Eris and Choco. "I want to be your friend, Eris, but if you're attacking my friend, I can't! I have to defend him!"
Eris stared at her, then began laughing hysterically again. "Of course it works like that! Of course that's what it comes to!"
Twilight looked around at her friends. "Guys, this is not going to work," she said. "Plan B."
Choco nodded. "I don't like it, but I want her to stop going after me."
Fluttershy shook her head. "Please!" she said to Eris. "We don't want to hurt you!"
"Maybe you don't, but your friends don't seem to have any problem with it," Eris said, as Applejack and Rainbow Dash and Rarity moved into position to use the Elements.
"You can stop this," Fluttershy said. "Just... undo all the chaos, turn Ponyville back to normal, and stop attacking Choco. We want to be your friends. I want to be your friend."
"I know you do, Fluttershy." Eris smiled sadly. "But that's not how this movie plays out."
"Then I have to play my part," Fluttershy whispered, tears in her eyes.
"Sure. Go on, do the thing." She waved at Fluttershy.
"I'm sorry you're not willing to accept friendship," Twilight called. "We made the offer sincerely—"
"No, you didn't," Eris said mockingly.
Twilight continued, wondering why Eris was letting them get ready to activate the Elements. "So we'll try not to hurt you, if we can, but we have to stop you!"
She felt the power beginning to rise, felt her connections to her friends through the link between their Elements.
"Huh. Weird how it looks from this side," Eris said. "But you know what, I've seen this movie before, and I hate stoner movies! So unoriginal!" As the energy built and the images of their cutie marks began to flash, Eris took a red and white ball out of the pocket she didn't have, and yelled, "Choco Pie! I choose you!"
What happened after that was so fast, Twilight was left uncertain if it all really happened the way she saw it. Because what it looked like was that Eris threw the ball at Choco and the ball zapped him, and he vanished, but the way the energy went back into the ball it looked as if it had somehow transported him there, and then the ball went back into Eris' paw and she vanished.
For the second time today, the building harmony crashed, having just lost an essential part of its circuit.
"Choco?" Fluttershy asked frantically.
"Choco!" Applejack, and Rarity, and Rainbow Dash all called his name, but Twilight was rooted to the spot where she stood, in horror. Because she'd been looking right at them. She knew Eris had taken Choco... but she had no idea where.