Midnight Watch was sunken in thought. His opponent had shown more prowess in the art of tactics than he anticipated; he had been careless, and he was being punished. His offence was feeble, his defences scattered, but not all was lost. It hadn't been the first time Midnight managed to surprise his peers and even himself and come back from behind.
Midnight made his move; part of his front line marched onwards bravely. It would serve as the bait for a most glorious trap, which should end the game there and then. Such a victory would be worth the sacrifice, and would require it.
His opponent observed this move with suspicion. Having victory handed to him on a silver platter, he was unsure what to do. Was it too good to be true? Was Midnight planning something? He looked at his considerable resources, and decided that he could risk it.
Midnight struggled to keep a straight face, as Spike moved his claw towards the stone that he had been eyeing for the past minute and took the bait. He slowly lifted the stone, and carried it over the one Midnight just moved. With a soft tap, it landed on the other side, right into Midnight's trap. Midnight was about to cheer, as a most horrible question pierced his mind: why hadn't Spike let go yet?
What followed was a massacre: Midnight had unknowingly left a gaping hole in his defences, and paid the price. Spike lifted his stone once, twice, four more times, only to come to a halt at the other end of the board. In one move, he had taken five of Midnight's pieces, and all that was left was a measly force in the corner. Midnight looked upon the scene with disbelief. He, the runner-up of the 2005 Regional Checkers Tournament, had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a purple lizard. A cyclone of confusion, denial and rage surged through his heart as his brain tried its best to keep itself under control. “My, I must be getting rusty. Good game,” he finally uttered. With a cool smile, he slowly extended his hoof towards the winner.
“Thanks! You did well too. I just got lucky,” said a beaming Spike, eagerly accepting the hoof.
During this exchange of pleasantries, Midnight sought a way to reclaim his lost honour, and could think of only one possibility. “Best three out of five?” he casually suggested with a bored look on his face.
But there would be no third chances now, as the front door of the library slammed open. Twilight trotted inside, as the door closed behind her. The bulges in her saddlebags indicated that her shopping trip was successful. “I'm baaaaaack,” she sang. “I'm sure you want to get started right away, don't you? Be with you in a minute.”
As she hummed a delightful song, a blackboard appeared from a closet and unfolded itself in the middle of the reading room, next to a large desk that floated down from the upper floors. The saddlebags emptied themselves out, and a whole assortment of chalk-sticks, paper, quills, ink and various other pieces of stationary filed themselves into the desk's drawers. A selection of thick books and vulnerable-looking scrolls were lifted off their shelves and stacked neatly on the floor.
As Midnight witnessed this unreal scene with an open mouth, the stool upon which he was seated moved towards the blackboard. After a short fight for his balance accompanied by cries of “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he arrived at his destination, and heard a soft 'poof' sound under him. The stool was now standing in front of him, while he was sitting on a comfortable sofa.
Finally, Twilight seemed satisfied with her arrangements, and the room settled down. Midnight took a deep breath and lay down as the fact that he was living a classic Disney film sunk in. He knew what to expect; he had seen it so many times before on television, but now that he was right in the middle of it his brain sounded all the alarms as its logic-centre jumped to blue screen.
“Okay, then. All set up!” said a satisfied Twilight, as she sat herself on the stool. She was 'holding' a clipboard and quill with her magic. “Now, you just relax. I need to ask you a few questions, and then you'll be back home before you know it.”
“Okay. What sort of questions?” Midnight meekly asked, hoping that his life would make sense again after hearing some answers.
“Oh, right, let me first explain what I thought of while shopping.” Twilight turned around to the blackboard, and levitated a piece of chalk from her desk. The chalk started drawing a diagram. “You see, it's very simple. This is obviously a magical occurrence, so either in our world or in yours, someone must have used a spell that would have sent you here. Since you two landed in the middle of nowhere, all alone, rather than, say, inside a building in the company of a wizard, I think that you accidentally used a spell and ended up here. Does that make sense?”
“I guess,” said Midnight slowly while he tried to decipher the scribbles on the blackboard. “But I already told you that there is no magic where I am from.”
“And I find that hard to believe. In our world, only a few species have a natural feel for magic, and I'm sure your world is no different. Just because humans can't use magic naturally doesn't mean it doesn't exist.”
“Well, I suppose. So, what do you need to know?”
“Just tell me everything that you did last night.” Twilight moved closer with an expectant look on her face, with her clipboard and quill ready to strike.
“Weeeeeelllll, it's rather complicated.” Midnight rubbed his neck. 'What he did last night' was always a difficult concept to explain to someone that didn't already know what he was talking about. “Chance and I had a few friends over in our apartment.”
Twilight started to frantically take notes. “Oh, you had something to celebrate?”
“No, not really. Just our weekly game night.”
“You come together each week to play games?”
“Well, more like a game, really.”
Twilight gave this answer some thought. “A single game for an entire night?”
“Yeah, it takes quite a bit of time, but it's good fun.”
“Okay, what sort of 'game' are we talking about?”
“Erm, well, you see...” Midnight rubbed his neck again. He hated this part with a passion. He had long given up on finding a way to explain a game of make-believe for adults without instantly losing some respect. “We just throw around some dice, have a good laugh and eat pizza.”
For a moment, the only sound that was heard was the scratching quill as it wrote down that last statement. “That's an awfully vague game. Aren't there some rules to it?” Twilight inquired.
“Oh, yes, quite a lot, in fact. Like I said, it's rather complicated. But we do this every week, and nothing unusual ever happened, so I'm very sure that this isn't what we are looking for.”
“Hmm... moving on then. What happened after this game?”
“Very little. We showed our friends out, and went to bed. It was already pretty late, you see. I had college the next morning, and Chance had work.”
The scratching stopped. Twilight took another long look at her notes and sighed. Her clipboard slowly sank to the floor. “Isn't there anything else you could tell me?”
“Well, we also... burned some herbs.” Under his coat, Midnight's skin turned slightly red. Twilight's clipboard jumped back into position, as she closed in on her subject.
“Now we are getting somewhere. Tell me, what kind of herbs?” she asked, as she also brought in a big green book from the stack behind her.
“Well, it's a special kind of herb that you won't find anywhere in Equestria, I believe. If you burn it and inhale the smoke, your feelings become more intense. If you're happy, you get happier. If you are sad, you get sadder. Even colours look prettier.”
The book showed its many pages to Twilight, who put her hoof to her chin in a thoughtful gesture. “Hmmm, sounds like minor hallucinations. We have plenty of herbs that do that kind of thing on touch or ingestion, but nothing on inhaling smoke. I might consult an expert on this later, but I don't think that plants have the power to break down barriers between worlds. Is there anything else?”
“No, not that I can think of right now.”
“Okay, then just sit there and try to remember some more, while I try to work with the data I have. Give me a shout if you think of something.” Twilight stood up from her stool and headed for the blackboard without waiting for an answer. Being told what he could do to speed up the process, Midnight stayed on the sofa and racked his brain for anything that they might have done to blow a hole in reality.
Whatever it was, it was probably Chance's fault.
She had been stalking her target for nearly an hour by now. She saw it for the first time when she returned to her home territory after socialising with her peers: this creature that was walking around as if it belonged there, but was also visibly injured and tired. After careful study, the prowler concluded that she would probably walk away unharmed in the event of a confrontation. It was now that it had separated itself from any interferences. She saw her window of opportunity, took a deep breath and leaped.
Chance shook and half of the apples in his saddle-baskets fell to the ground. A big red bow with a little yellow filly attached jumped from the bushes and gave him a good scare. However, since it had called him 'mister' and started picking up the dropped apples, it was probably not hostile.
“Sorry, mister. Ah didn't mean ta scare yah,” mumbled the filly with an apple in her mouth.
“That's quite all right, miss. You must be Applebloom, am I right?” Chance asked, wanting to get the introductions over with before he accidentally broke role.
“Ah am! How did yah know?”
“Applejack told me about you. My name is Lucky Chance. I recently arrived in Ponyville and your sister offered me a place to stay while I'm looking for a home. In return, I just try to make myself useful around here,” Chance lied with a straight face. He had been preparing for this moment ever since Applejack told him to 'make something up whenever someone asks questions'.
“Oh, so yah'll be staying with us? Ah was wondering what yah were doing with our apples. Where are yah from?”
“A little mountain village called 'Faarfaareast', north-west from here.” Chance assumed that Applebloom wouldn't think too much about what he said, so he stuck with the classic.
Applebloom's eyes grew wide with wonder “Ah never heard of such a place. Yah must've come from real far!”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Chance cracked a smile as he said this. Having finished the introductions, the two continued picking up the dropped apples. “Well, thanks for the help. Your sister gave me a lot of work, so I better get going now.”
“Wait, there's...” Applebloom started, but wasn't able to finish her sentence. Instead, she looked away and nervously dug at the ground with her hoof.
Chance considered leaving her, but he had been harvesting and storing apples all afternoon in addition to ploughing fields while his head still throbbed under the heavy bandages after his first, second and third attempts at flying. He very much appreciated being handed an excuse to take a little break. “If you have any questions, go ahead. I won't bite,” he said with a smile.
Applebloom considered this offer, and wasn't sure just how rude she was about to be. Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her. “Why don't yah have a cutie mark?”
Chance's smile froze. “Ah, yes, my cutie mark,” he repeated, while mentally berating himself over forgetting something like that. “There is, in fact, a very good explanation for that.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Erm, well, you see, it, erm...” Chance squirmed. He couldn't really tell her that it is possible to grow up without ever finding your special talent. At best, this would make her even more obsessed with getting her cutie mark. At worst, he'd be conscripted into the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Then he got an idea. “It faded!” he triumphantly said.
“Faded?” Applebloom repeated with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, I told you that Faarfaareast is in the mountains, right? Well, it's up there real high, on the snow-covered peaks,” Chance explained, aiming his hoof at the sky. “So we are really close to the sun, and the snow reflects all the light as well. You know how something left out in the sun eventually loses all colour? Well, in Faarfaareast, the sunlight is so strong that it even bleaches cutie marks!”
Applebloom looked at the sky in terror. “Yah can lose cutie marks because of too much sun?” She jumped towards the shade of the nearest tree.
Chance couldn't help but laugh as she cowered up against the trunk. “Don't worry, the sun here in Ponyville, or really anywhere that isn't a snowy mountaintop, is more than safe. In fact, I heard that playing outside is really good for finding your cutie mark,” he assured her. He had to baby-sit so many children that he knew exactly how to talk like a condescending parent.
“Yes, really, so you can get away from that tree.”
Applebloom didn't look very convinced, but she eventually came out of the shade, with a suspicious look toward the sky. “So, since it did appear, even for a short while, do yah know what yer cutie mark is like?” she asked.
“Oh, right, of course I do, it's...” Chance started, but couldn't finish as Applejack called out from further down the road. He silently celebrated her timely arrival.
“Applebloom! Stop distracting working ponies and go help Granny with dinner!”
“Woops, looks like Ah'm running late. See yah at the table!” Applebloom ran off past her sister, who walked up towards Chance.
“So, how's work going? Not taking too many breaks, Ah hope?” she asked suspiciously.
“No, not at all. I only have to get two more loads after this one, and then all the apples we've harvested will be safely stored in the barn, like you told me to.”
“Well, make sure to finish up before dinner. I need yer help cleaning the pigsty later.”
Chance stopped walking. “Wait, there will be even more work after dinner?”
Applejack looked him straight in the eye. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
There was only one possible answer. “No ma'am, will do, ma'am,” Chance quickly responded.
“Good. Now get going. And stop calling me 'ma'am'.”
“Aha! I did it!” Twilight suddenly exclaimed.
“Did what?” Midnight asked from the table with his mouth full of hay, which tasted a lot like a cross between fresh bread and dried lettuce to him.
“I managed to weave components of warp, teleport, blink, shift and time travel spells into one big spell!”
“That's wonderful, Twilight," said Spike without much enthusiasm. "That means you can finally stop and eat something,” He had been trying to persuade Twilight to take a break but she would always stubbornly dismiss him, saying that she was on the verge on a breakthrough and couldn't stop now.
Twilight looked around in shock. “Spike! How can you think of food at a time like this?”
“Well, it is dinnertime.”
“Can't you see that I might have made it possible to travel to different worlds like Midnight's here? The whole of Equestria would never be the same again! Think of all the things that we might see, all the things we could learn!”
“Can't do much sightseeing or learning on an empty stomach.” Spike demonstratively took another bite from his plate of semi-precious gems.
“Fine. I'll just run a quick test and then I'll eat. Midnight, are you ready to go home?”
Midnight quickly swallowed his hay. “Sure. Shall we get Chance?”
“Not yet. This is a very rough spell that will take up a lot of magical power. I'll work on refining the method after I see it how it works, but I will only have enough power left for a single 'go home' spell after taking you. So the two of us will go now, I'll come back here to rest, and I'll bring Chance tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”
Midnight shrugged. His friend will probably be fine on his own for a day. Not to mention that Midnight himself would also be extraordinarily fine for a day. “Sounds like a plan. When do we leave?”
“Right now. Step over here, please,” said Twilight, beckoning him with excited gestures.
Midnight stood up from his stool and walked towards the middle of the room where Twilight made a small area free of anything that wasn't nailed down. “Ehm, are we going to explode or something?” Midnight asked half-jokingly. The other half was quite terrified.
“I did tell you this is a rather rough spell, didn't I? Don't worry, it's just some basic precautions.” After finishing with her preparations, Twilight straightened her back and took a deep breath. “Now, I want you to close your eyes and clearly picture your home. Make sure to picture it to the finest details. When you think you have it, just nod and I'll start.”
Midnight obeyed. He started with the front-door on the fourth floor, which some colour-blind imbecile that lived there before had painted red and green, but neither he nor Chance had ever bothered with buying paint. Then he went to his bedroom, which was in need of a really good dusting. Among the floor laid scattered some comic books, and plastic bags from various supermarkets holding some laundry. There was a laptop on his desk: a piece of electronic equipment that was more or less the centre of his life. Then he went to the living room, where a huge flatscreen TV that cost about six months of rent, for which he and Chance had chipped in, was proudly displayed against the wall. At its base one would find a whole jungle of cables attached to multiple game consoles of varying ownership. There was also a sizeable dinner table, though no one ever actually ate there. They usually ate on the couch in front of the TV, which was home to crumbs, stains and probably a few undiscovered species. Midnight was sure that he couldn't narrow it down any more than this and nodded.
There was a bright flash that burned through his closed eyelids, and for a single moment, he felt his body being simultaneously compressed and expanded. Eager to see if it worked, he opened up his eyes once he no longer felt like an euclidean paradox and was greeted by a beautiful sea of stars. He could not see Twilight in the darkness of space, but he did hear her nearby, breathing heavily. The spell must be taking a lot out of her, he thought.
Midnight admired the stars for a bit longer, but then wondered if it was all right to speak. He had so many questions that just wouldn't feel appropriate to ask at their destination. “Very impressive,” he carefully tried, and felt pleasantly surprised when he noticed that his molecules did not instantly disintegrate. “You know, I always thought that teleportation was this instantaneous kind of deal. How long do you think it will take to get there?”
Twilight hesitated to answer, as she first needed to catch her breath. “It is instantaneous. We're here.”
Midnight needed a second to wrap his mind around the implications of Twilight's answer. “What do you mean, 'we're here'? We can't be here yet! In my world, stars belong in the sky, not right in front of us.”
“Well, we're here. This is where my spell brought us. Wait, let me try something.”
A bright light suddenly appeared from Twilight's horn, and Midnight got a better look at the stars. In closer inspection, they appeared to be embedded in a large, blue, transparent body. As the light reached it, a red eye the size of Midnight's head opened in front of him.
“I suppose you don't have any magic-juice left for another teleport?” Midnight calmly asked once he assessed their current predicament.
“Not for the both of us, no.”
“Splendid,” said Midnight, as the Ursa Minor stood up and towered over them. “Let's go jogging.”
(The author intended to make this chapter a lot longer, but stuff happened, delays hit home and now you are stuck with a shitty cliffhanger. C'est la vie, as the other cheese-eaters say)