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Getting Out by Going Through

by graymaneshadow

Twilight Sparkle grimaced as she nearly tripped over some unseen obstacle, the third such time that had occurred in the last few minutes. “Pinkie, would you mind telling me where we’re going?”

Somewhere near her, Pinkie Pie giggled, and Twilight could hear her friend bouncing up and down, as she often did. “It’s a surprise, silly!”

Behind the privacy of her blindfold, Twilight rolled her eyes.

“And no rolling your eyes at me!” Pinkie said, causing Twilight to frown.

“How did you – “

“I didn’t!” Pinkie admitted. “But you’re my friend, Twilight. I don’t have to see you to know what you’re thinking or doing!”

Feeling mildly creeped out by that declaration, Twilight shivered as she continued to follow Pinkie.

“Is it somewhere in Ponyville?” Twilight asked, as Pinkie helped her walk through the front door of the Castle of Friendship.

“Nope! We needed a lot more space for this! You’ll see!”

After several minutes’ walk, Pinkie finally ordered Twilight to stop.

“Here we are!” she shouted, reaching up to pull the blindfold off Twilight’s head. “Ta-da!”

Twilight felt the cold fist of fear reach out to clench her heart. “It’s…it’s…”

“It’s a maze!” Pinkie said, her party cannon appearing to fire off a load of confetti. “Just for your birthday!”

Twilight looked at the entrance to the maze, then at Pinkie, then back to the maze, then back to Pinkie.

“If this is supposed to be a joke, it’s not funny,” Twilight snapped.

“It’s not a joke, darling,” Rarity said, walking out of the entrance to the maze. “It’s your birthday present!”

“And we’ve been working hard on it for weeks,” Fluttershy added, coming in for a landing next to Pinkie and Rarity. “Discord was a big help.”

“You…you had Discord make the maze?” Twilight felt like her world was spinning. “Do none of you remember the last time he made a maze!? Did you forget what happened to all of you?!”

What happened to me…a small voice in her mind added.

“Of course we didn’t forget,” Applejack said, having appeared from somewhere. Twilight didn’t recall seeing the farmer trot up. “But hey, just because that maze was bad doesn’t mean they’re all bad. You just need to learn to loosen up a little.”

Twilight couldn’t believe this. “Loosen up a little? Girls, I thought you were my friends!”

“We are,” Rainbow Dash said, having flown up behind her. “And that’s why we’re giving you the best birthday present we can.”

With the crack of a teleport, Starlight Glimmer appeared in front of Twilight. She took a moment to straighten her mane, then fixed Twilight with a steady look. “Don’t worry. I made sure it was safe.”

Twilight wanted to turn and run, but some force was holding her rooted to the spot. As she looked, the entrance to the maze seemed to twist and warp, growing darker as it called to her.

“Girls, I…”

“Look, you’ll be fine,” Rarity said, coming forward to give Twilight a hug. “Just trust your friends,” she added with a whisper.

“Okay, less talking, more exploring!” Pinkie bounced forward, bearing what looked like a harness. “Now, to make sure you don’t break the rules, I’m going to put this on you.”

“I don’t want that. I don’t want any of this!” Twilight shouted, trying to resist.

It was Starlight of all ponies who betrayed her, immobilizing her with a spell. Pinkie fastened the harness around Twilight’s barrel, the straps holding her wings down. Once the harness was tight, Applejack tied a heavy lead balloon to the bottom.

“That’s to keep you from trying to fly out,” the farmer explained. “You can take it off once you get to the center, where the Garden is.”

“Oh dear, we didn’t explain the rules to her,” Rarity pointed out. “Twilight, darling, this maze is very simple. You need to make your way to the center, where the Garden of Release is located. There are several tests and trials along the way. Once you get to the Garden, you’ll encounter the Puzzle of The Mind. When you finish that, the harness will release, and you’ll be able to fly out…if you want.”

Why wouldn’t I want to leave? Twilight thought, confused.

“Don’t go trying to remove the harness with magic,” Applejack warned. “It won’t go well if you do.”

“And no teleporting out,” Rainbow Dash added. “We made sure that also won’t work.”

Still immobilized from Starlight’s spell, Twilight could only dart her eyes around in panic, hoping against hope that any one of her friends would come to her aid.

“This is for the best, dear,” Rarity said, smiling weakly. “Starlight, if you would?”

Twilight tried to plead with a look, begging Starlight to release her grip, but her former student would not be swayed.

“Remember, I tested it myself,” she said, as she moved Twilight’s frozen form past the start of the maze, the tone of her voice curiously tender. “Nothing inside will hurt you if you don’t let it.”

“Good luck, Twilight,” Fluttershy called. The tender pegasus looked as though she were about to cry. “We’re all cheering for you.”

Starlight cut her spell. Before Twilight could even start to run back to the entrance, a wall of greenery slammed upward, cutting off her escape. Twilight ran toward it anyway, trying to blast a hole in the wall with her magic.

It bounced off, the beam ricocheting off the walls before burrowing into the ground near Twilight’s hooves.

The injustice of what her so-called friends had just done to her tore at her mind, and almost without thinking she raised her head to the sky and screamed.

She screamed, and screamed, and pounded her hooves on the ground until she was sore. “You’re supposed to be my friends!” she shouted. “Friends don’t make their friends suffer!”

No reply came. She didn’t know if they could hear her.

She wasn’t sure if she cared. They obviously didn’t.

After several more minutes of alternating between anger and tears, she finally got back to her hooves, icy determination filling her veins.

“I’ll show them,” she muttered. “I’m going to get out of here, and then I’m going to put them in this maze. We’ll see how they like it then!”

Setting off at a gentle trot, she came to the first fork in the maze. To her left, a wide, yawning pit gaped in the ground. She carefully stepped toward it, peering in the bottom.

Several large alligators were sleeping below. Grimacing, she stepped back, turning toward the right.

That way was blocked by a shimmering field, which made her uneasy. She tried to probe around the edges of it, but couldn’t get any sort of feedback as to just what kind of field it was.

“This is just great,” Twilight muttered. “Pit of alligator doom to my left, field of unknown doom to my right. Really great maze here!” She shouted that last part, still not caring if anyone actually heard her.

Knowing Discord had constructed the maze made her very reluctant to try to pass through the field on the right. The less she interacted with his brand of ‘humor’, the better.

Seeing no alternative, she turned, took a breath, and took off at a run, intending to leap over the alligator pit.

Too late, she recalled the lead balloon strapped to the harness. As her back hooves left the edge, she felt it dragging her down, her leap falling short of the other side as she plunged downward. She moved to use her wings, before recalling the harness itself that pinned those wings to her sides.

She screamed as the world blurred, turning to blackness.

One heartbeat. A second. With a pop, she re-appeared back at the fork in the maze, unharmed.

It took her a few minutes to calm her racing heart, having just avoided what had felt like certain death.

“Okay…” she finally said. “Field of unknown doom it is.”

As she turned to go right, she discovered that the field, whatever it had been, was gone.”

“Very funny, Discord,” Twilight muttered. She took a few ginger steps forward, half-expecting the field to reappear at any moment. When it didn’t, she quickly moved on.

It was a few minutes before she encountered the next challenge. Unlike before, there was no fork in the path this time…only a field of lava that stretched before her.

A quick examination revealed two ways to cross it. A small wooden raft, which was resting on the ground just next to where the lava began, and a zip line, which ran the length of the field, leading to a pile of pillows on the far side.

“Hah,” she spat. “Like I’m going to put the wooden raft in the lava. Real challenge here, Discord.”

A brief flicker of doubt entered her mind, however, the memory of the last challenge coming back to her. She’d chosen what had seemed to be the logical, safe way, only to somehow fail.

Was the raft the safer option, somehow?

No, it can’t be, she thought. Discord’s just trying to trick me still. Pushing the doubt away, she walked up the steps to the top of the small tower where the zip-line was attached. Grasping the handles with her hooves, she took a breath, closed her eyes, and pushed off.

The whirr of the wheels overhead joined with the wind fluttering in her ears as she picked up speed, the far end of the lava pool growing closer. As she neared the finish, she felt the rope bowing down more and more, the tension going slack and the zip-line slowing.

Just before she would have been safe, the handle she was gripping stopped, then rolled backward a little. Just as she’d found with the alligator pic, her increased weight was the problem – the last section of rope was now higher than her current spot. She tried swinging back and forth, trying to get any momentum, but it proved useless.

“This is just great!” she shouted, hanging there, feeling the fatigue building in her hooves.

Rainbow Dash had said she couldn’t teleport out…but maybe she could teleport inside the maze?

With a look down at the alternative, she gulped, and charged her horn.

The crack of her teleportation landed her on the bank she’d been trying to reach. She felt a brief burst of elation, only for it to be squelched as some unseen forced grabbed her, pulling her all the way back across the lava pool to the side where she’d started.

“I give up,” she muttered. She levitated the small raft into the lava, expecting it to catch fire. When it didn’t, she gingerly placed one hoof on it, then two. Only after she was sure it wasn’t going to sink did she put her full weight on it.

The same force that had returned her to the starting point now gently guided the raft through the lava, depositing her at the far bank without incident.

There were several more traps after that, each as frustrating as the last. Her first choices were the logical ones, but the rules of the maze, and the harness itself – as well as the lead balloon attached to it – continued to frustrate her at every turn.

“I hope I’m near this Garden,” she muttered, the exhaustion from several near-death experiences beginning to set in. “I can’t take much more of this.”

She rounded another corner, and saw what had to be the Garden of Release. Earlier, she would have ran to it, but now she stepped carefully, keeping her eyes peeled for traps.

Failing to encounter any was not a comfort.

In contrast to the maze thus far, which had been dark and foreboding, the Garden of Release was almost serene. A few songbirds – Fluttershy’s friends, no doubt – chirped in the small shrubs that dotted the area.

At the very center of the garden, there was a small clearing, which was surrounded by another field of some sort. Twilight began to circle the field, finally spotting a small table that had been placed before it on one side.

She walked up to the table. Resting on its surface was a small box, which was plain apart from neat, gilded lettering.

'The Lies I Tell Myself' it read.

Frowning, she used her magic to float the top off.

“It’s a puzzle,” she said. “This is the puzzle of the mind? Hah! I love puzzles!” Looking around, she called out, “This is a really bad trap!”

But no one was there to answer.

With a sigh, she emptied the box onto the table, and began to put the pieces together. She wasn’t sure what the picture was just yet, but it didn’t matter. Twilight was indeed a master of puzzles, and this one quickly fell to her skill.

Pushing the last piece into place, she took a step back to see just what she’d put together.

The realization was as quick as it was cutting. Her eyes widened as she saw what the puzzle depicted – Rarity, draped on a stretcher, being carried away by medical ponies.

“No,” she whispered, trying to turn away, but magic was at work, and it held her steady.

The puzzle changed, showing Spike, his head wrapped in bandages as he sat next to Rarity’s beside. The look on his face was one of sadness and regret.

“No, no, no!” she cried, trying to close her eyes. “Please, no!”

Twilight saw herself appear, a look of hate on her features as she blasted Rarity and Spike away with cruel magic. The picture changed again, showing her friend and adopted brother disappear behind a mountain of rubble as the tunnel they were in started to cave in.

“Please, no!” she screamed, for the pictures now moved, and she herself turn back to the glowing light that filled the cave she was in. “Go back for them! Save them!”

The Twilight in the moving puzzle paused, and for a moment Twilight thought the picture had heard somehow.

As the figure in the picture turned, she realized her thought had been correct.

“I already have,” the photo Twilight said, smiling sadly. “We saved them. Now it’s time to save yourself.”

“I don’t know how!!” the real Twilight screamed. “I don’t…I can’t!”

“You can.” The other Twilight’s eyes were pleading now. “All you have to do is admit it was never your fault.

The words burned Twilight, tearing at the walls she’d built around her heart and mind. As she continued to watch, the scene changed, revealing that it had been Rarity who had rushed toward the book they’d found in the cave. Revealed how Twilight had cried out for her to stop, told how Twilight had deflected the curse that had exploded out when the cover was opened, taking the pain upon herself to spare her friend. The scene of Twilight pushing Spike and Rarity away was different now, with Twilight’s desperation evident in her face as she used the last of her strength to try and get Spike and Rarity clear of the cave-in before the curse took full hold.

Twilight was crying as that same curse that had ravaged her mind was burned out by the cold light of the truth. She felt the harness around her fade away, the weight of the lead balloon disappearing with it.

The Puzzle of the Mind disappeared as well, leaving a crying Twilight alone in the Garden of Release, with the melodies of the songbirds filling her ears.

As she cried, trails of black flowed out with the tears, the now-vanquished curse leaving her exhausted body. When her tears finally stopped, she lay there, spent.

Her eyes finally spotted that the field around the center of the Garden was gone. A pulsing light glowed in the center, waiting to take her home. All she had to do was step forward, and leave.

And now she understood what Rarity had meant, when she had said Twilight could leave if she chose to.

Now that her mind was unfettered, she could tell this was a dream. Luna’s master craftsponyship was evident, though she suspected her friends had all played a part in its construction.

Leaving would mean facing the truth – that it wasn’t her fault.

It should have been easy, but that same flicker of doubt still scrabbled for a hold on her very soul, pleading with her to stay.

The call of her friends was stronger.

Pushing herself to her hooves, she wiped at her eyes, sniffed once…and walked into the light.