Prologue - The Unnatural Storm
The Books and Branches Library
Present Day - May 12 - 0.43AM
To say that Twilight Sparkle was having trouble sleeping would be a vast understatement; akin to saying Pinkie Pie was particularly fond of parties. The howling winds from outside, occasionally broken by a crash of thunder, made it practically impossible for the purple unicorn to doze off. She glared at her window, wishing the storm would at least be a little quieter, before lowering her gaze to the basket near her bed. Spike, true to form, seemed to be having no trouble sleeping, scratching his stomach before rolling over and starting to snore.
"Dragons really can sleep through everything," Twilight sighed, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice as she wished she could do the same. Two hours the massive storm had been raging, and it didn't look like it was going to let up any time soon. She rolled onto her front, jamming the pillow over her head in an attempt to block out the sound.
It didn't work, only muffling the racket slightly. The wind outside seemed to take that as a challenge, howling louder and louder. Twilight gave up, hurling the pillow at the window as she sat up. Didn't do anything to help with the storm, but it did make her feel slightly better. Why had the pegasus scheduled a storm at this time of night? She couldn't remember seeing anypony doing any preparations for it earlier and she was fairly certain there wasn't supposed to be a thunderstorm for another few days anyway; although she hadn't exactly been paying too much attention to the weather plans recently, having been caught up helping Rarity in the run up to a fashion show in Manehatten.
It had been exhausting work, simply dealing with the increasingly worked-up unicorn's perfectionism, so some sleep was much needed. But, of course, that wasn't going to happen while this stupid storm was raging. Her bed covers followed her pillow as ammunition at the window as she rolled out of bed and headed back down into the library. She made it half way down the stairs before realising she'd been trying to sneak down quietly so as not to wake Spike, something rendered pointless by the fact he was snoring louder than the storm.
"Hope he doesn't end up sending his blanket to the Princess again," she sighed, "how you doing with the book sorting, Owloysius?"
"Hoo," the owl in question replied from his perch.
"You, who else would I be-" Twilight stopped in mid sentence, rubbing at the bridge of her snout with a hoof. Spike's silly habit was catching on; that or the exhaustion was really starting to get to her. "Never mind, you have any idea where I put the weather schedule?"
The Unicorn guessed that meant yes, as the owl promptly flew over to her desk and started shuffling around scrolls. Eventually he found the right one amongst all the fabric and material guides gathered for Rarity and flew it over, perching on her head as she unrolled it, the two of them reading down the list.
"See, clear skies tonight!" Twilight gestured at the offending line, "I knew something was weird."
"Exactly. Who could possibly make a rainstorm this size-" she paused, suddenly realising the absence of a sound she should be hearing, telekinetically ripping open the curtains of the library to look outside. The winds were still howling, but there was no pitter-patter of rain against her window. Not a cloud in the night sky. The lightning just seemed to be appearing out of nowhere, "and just how did it take me so long to notice that?" Two hours. Two hours she had laid in bed glaring at her windows and she hadn't noticed there was no rain.
That ruled out a pegasus' involvement. The Ponyville weather team's abilities were certainly impressive, but even they needed clouds to make lightning. Twilight stared up at the sky, the stars and moon momentarily hidden by a flash of lightning that speared through the sky.
"That's impossible," the unicorn took a step back from the window, eyes wide, "that's completely impossible."
"Hoo," Owloysius seemed to agree, ruffling his feathers as the thunder roared.
"I don't think that's magic. A spell to create this size would leave ambient magic and I can't feel any in the air." Not to mention that even magical lightning spells, like those used by Princess Luna or Trixie, all involved creating clouds. Twilight quickly ran through every spell she knew involving manipulating the weather and nothing seemed to fit. "Just what is this?"
There was another flash of lightning illuminating the night sky, letting her see the silhouettes of pegasi that were investigating themselves, all trying to avoid being blown away in the wind or struck by the alien lightning. They didn't seem to know where to begin, any more than she did. How could you clear away a thunderstorm when there were no clouds to move?
"Owloysius, find every book and scroll you can on weather phenomenons and manipulation. Wake Spike up if you have to, actually," there was an idea... Twilight flipped the weather report's parchment over, quickly scribbling some notes on the back for the baby dragon, "make sure he sends a note to the Princess, I don't think this has anything to do with Discord but we can't risk it." It didn't seem quite chaotic enough to be the petrified monster, but Twilight daren't chance it just incase he had managed to free himself and was out for revenge. Best to have someone check.
"Hoo," the feathered assistant took the parchment and flew off towards her bedroom. Not even Spike could sleep through a persistent owl, although he would certainly try.
"Thanks! I'll be back in a bit," she called after him, before heading towards her front door. She was not looking forward to this.
There was nothing for it. If there was the slightest chance that the storm was magical, then she'd need a closer look than what she could spot through her windows. The purple unicorn braced herself as she unlatched the bolt, having to push with her magic to open the door with the wind fighting her every step of the way. Her ears flat against her head, mane and tail being blown about and eyes closed against the tide, she nearly found herself blown off of her feet under the sheer force of the gale. She barely heard the library door slam shut behind her. Digging her hooves in, Twilight managed to look around. The wind was certainly causing some damage with branches, plants, bits of masonry and what looked suspiciously like an entire market stall blowing down the street and nearly bowling over a couple of pegasi that were taking cover from the lightning by staying low. And the lightning, well... There was a flash from above, Twilight's head snapping up just in time to see one of the pegasus get hit by a bolt and drop out of the sky, crashing into the ground in front of her. Even with her mane and tail singed, spiky and smoking from the bolt, she was still unmistakable even from a distance as Twilight ran towards her as though the wind wasn't even there.
"Rainbow! Are you okay?"
"Hi Twilight," the dazed pegasus responded, looking up at her unicorn friend in confusion, "why are there three of you?"
"You're on fire!"
"I am?" Her eyes shot back into focus as she quickly ruffled her mane, putting out the smouldering part. "Did I get it?"
"Let me check," Twilight smiled, glad to see her friend wasn't badly hurt, although she stopped smiling after she touched the technicolour pegasus and got a shock of her own, both of them now smoking and twitching.
Present Day - May 12th - 0.52AM
Fluttershy whimpered at the thunder and bright flashes coming through her windows despite the curtains. She sat in the centre of her sitting room, surrounded by a variety of her critters that didn't have dens of their own to take shelter in. Angel Bunny tapped his foot, frowning at the bat flittering around above his head, screeching with every boom from outside. At least the hawks, falcons and other birds were being relatively quiet; perching on whatever they could find and waiting for things to settle.
"I don't like this, Angel, it feels wrong," Fluttershy squeaked out eventually, whimpering and taking a step back at a particularly large flash of lightning. The bunny looked up at the timid pastel pegasus, seemingly rolling his eyes even as the bat finally decided to land, on Fluttershy's head. "Oh, hello friend," she stopped shivering and managed a small smile as she talked to the tiny critter, "I'm sorry if I was worrying you. I'm sure Rainbow Dash and the ot-"
Whatever she had been about to say was lost under a crash far, far louder than any of the others. It barely sounded like lightning, as though massively distorted somehow. The entire cottage shook from the sheer force and the light was like looking into the sun even through the thick cotton curtains. Just as suddenly as it happened, it stopped. Angel raised his paws from his ears, shaking his head to clear it from the ringing, before turning to look to his left. Only to find empty space and a very confused bat where Fluttershy had been only half a second earlier. He looked around, frowning again when he spotted a pale rose coloured tail sticking out from under a wardrobe.
The panicky pegasus soon left her hiding place, however, when she found out it was where a hedgehog had been waiting out the storm.
"Sorry Prickles," she apologised to the critter in question, brushing some of his namesake off of her snout, before catching the look that Angel was shooting her from over by the window. He pointed outside, she stared back blankly. He tapped on the glass impatiently, narrowing his eyes, she didn't budge. He ran over and physically pushed her over to the window and was, after a little coaxing, eventually able to get her to look outside.
Out on the path outside her garden, leading from the Everfree Forest, was the prone form of a pony. One that had not been there when she had ventured out to rescue her critters two hours earlier. A flash of lightning lit up the area, letting her see the chestnut coat and mane, and the massive scorch marks on the ground the pony was lying on. The earth around the pony was charred black, any grass or flowers burnt to a crisp, the mark at least ten meters across. Fluttershy's eyes widened at the sight, glancing down at Angel for only a moment before flying for the door. She was about to throw it open without a second thought when there was a tug on her tail.
"Not now Angel, I need to go help this-" the bunny leapt onto her back and plonked a helmet down on her head.
Fluttershy stopped, turning around as something else was thrown around her middle, only to find Angel tying a knot on a long piece of rope that had been one of Applejack's lassos. The other end was being tied to the wardrobe by some of the other critters, the tiny bat hanging off of the rope and giving a cheery wave towards her with its wing. Angel hopped off of her back and pointed her towards the door, never changing his expression from that of resigned annoyance as she stopped to wave back at the critters before swinging her door open. A flash of lightning and the roaring gale made her hesitate for only a moment, but the sight of the pony all alone out there let her bite back the squeak and step out into the storm.
It was far stronger than it had been when she'd braved it two hours earlier. The pegasus was lighter than most ponies and was nearly swept off of her feet, having to flap her wings frantically just to stay in place. There was a tug on the rope around her middle, silent encouragement from her animal friends, Fluttershy digging her hooves in and starting the seemingly-long trek out to the pony. There was still no movement from the stranger, she couldn't even see if he was breathing. Several loose branches shot over her head, a few of the smaller ones bouncing off of the helmet Angel had given her. She flinched but kept on moving steadily closer, stepping into the blackened circle around the prone pony.
There was no shelter from the wind or flying debris now that she had left her garden, her wings having to flap frantically just to keep her standing. She was doubly thankful for the helmet helping keeping her mane out of her eyes as she trudged onwards. Fluttershy let loose a breath she didn't know she'd been holding when she was close enough to see that the pony was still breathing. A stallion earth pony, he didn't look much older than her or her friends. Fluttershy leaned closer, prodding the strange pony with a hoof. No response, he seemed completely unconscious.
"Um, excuse me?" She spoke, only to find the storm drowned out anything she said. Not even Rainbow or Applejack at their most boisterous would have had a chance of being heard, much less Fluttershy. So much for trying to wake him. Ducking under another bit of debris, what appeared to be part of the fence of her chicken coop, she hauled the brown pony onto her back and started back towards her house.
While her passenger meant she couldn't use her wings, his added weight did help stop her being blown around by the gale. Although it was still very slow going, having to stop every few paces to prevent him from slipping off. Thankfully Angel and the other critters were able to help, all tugging on the rope and helping her haul her cargo back to her door without too much trouble. Steeling herself, barely flinching at the lightning striking the ground behind her as she focused solely on the door in front of her, Fluttershy practically raced the last few meters and finally came skidding to a halt in her living room. Her bird friends lifted the strange pony off of her back, freeing her to help Angel shut the door against the gale, and set him down on her couch.
Fluttershy paused as the door finally gave in the fight and clicked shut once more, realising just what she'd gone and done. Running out into one of the biggest storms she'd ever seen without thinking. Reaching up and slowly removing the helmet from her head, she stared at it for a moment, musing over all the ways she could have been hurt doing something so stupidly dangerous. Angel tapped her on the side, snapping her out of it and returning her attention to the pony she'd gone out there to rescue in the first place. Trotting up to the still-unconscious stallion, she prodded him again. "Um, hello. I'm really sorry, but, please wake up?"
Still no sign of the stallion waking any time soon, which meant no chance of finding out how he ended up outside her garden. She found herself glancing the earth pony over, looking for any sign of injuries. Nothing, no scorch marks, no bruises, only a light covering of dirt and dust gave any sign he'd been out in the storm at all. But still something bothered her, something she was missing. But what? This called for a more thorough approach. She glanced back at Angel to ask him for her first aid kit when she spotted Prickles the hedgehog and two of her squirrel friends were already on the case, pushing the red and white box in from the kitchen despite the fact it was bigger and heavier than the three of them combined.
"Oh, thank you. Please don't trouble yourselves anymore, I'll take it from here," the pegasus lifted the box and placed it on a table beside the couch. Popping open the lid, barely flinching now as another flash of lightning lit up the room, she rummaged for a moment and pulled out one of the stethoscopes that appeared during the CMCs sleepover when they had tried to play doctor on her furniture.
She was about to check his heartbeat, leaning in and slowly moving a foreleg out of the way, when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye as his tail shifted when he was moved. Or, more precisely, she spotted the lack of something. The chestnut fur suddenly stood out far more than even Rainbow Dash's mane would have, the stethoscope almost slipping off as she bolted upright with a muted eep. Angel and the other critters all backed up a step, looking as alarmed as the pegasus as she finally spotted what had been bugging her about him. His flank was just as brown as the rest of him, no different colour or pattern. Somehow, someway, he had no cutie mark.
Was that even possible? The stallion was at least her age, if not older, and yet he had no marking at all. That didn't make any sense! Fluttershy herself had been quite late in receiving her cutie mark but she'd never heard of someone remaining a blank flank into adulthood. That settled it, there was definitely something very, very wrong with this pony even if he didn't look hurt. Was this some strange sickness like the Cutie Pox that Applebloom had come down with before?
"Oh, you poor thing," Fluttershy mumbled, readjusting her stethoscope as she dropped back down on her haunches. Unfortunately, if he was sick, there was no way she'd be able to get him to the hospital while the storm was still raging. She would have do to the best she could until it calmed down enough to get help.
With newfound resolve, the pegasus not noticing Angel rolling his eyes behind her, she shuffled forward and placed the end of the stethoscope against the stallion's chest.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head. His heartbeat seemed strong and steady but it still sounded strange, as though there was an echo. She shifted the diaphragm of the stethoscope, closing her eyes and trying to block out the storm to focus. There was definitely an echo, a double heartbeat, it almost sounded like... she shifted again, towards the other side of the stallion's chest, when her own heart seemed to stop cold and the medical device clattered to the ground. Her feathers bristled as the critters behind her reacted in alarm, Angel bounding forward and looking up at her questioningly. She didn't look down at the bunny, staring at the stallion's chest in a combination of shock, fear and amazement as she was finally able to voice what she'd heard, "he has two hearts."
Just who was this pony?
Chapter 01 - Saying Hello
West Border of the Everfree Forest
Present Day - May 12th - 1.10AM
Angel Bunny and the other critters watched Fluttershy pacing around her living room in deep thought, deep enough that she barely even flinched when lightning struck or a particularly strong gust rattled her windows. Several squirrels had to dart aside or risk getting trodden on by the puzzling pegasus.
"It just doesn't make sense. It's impossible," she mused, turning back to the brown pony collapsed on her couch, "nopony I know has a heartbeat like that." Four beats echoing in his chest, it had seemed too crazy to believe at first but Angel had verified it. It was definitely not something she had imagined, some hallucination from the stress of the storm. This pony, this strange pony who seemed to have literally appeared out of thin air, had two hearts.
"How? How can he have two hearts?" It just didn't make any sense. Fluttershy was no medical expert or intellectual like Nurse Redheart or Twilight but she was certain that nopony in all of Equestria had multiple hearts. Manticores, maybe, but not a pony. "What do we do, Angel? What if that's why he's not waking up? Some sort of horrible spell that gave him an extra heart..."
She got nothing but a flat, disbelieving look in reply. She met the bunny's stare for three seconds before giving a sheepish smile.
"You're right, I can't panic over this!" The pegasus announced, before she sat herself in front of the stallion and checked his heartbeat for the umpteenth time. Still the same heartbeat, so at least it appeared to be steady and as normal as it could be with a second heart. " Come on, Fluttershy, think. There must be something I can do." Nothing came to mind. She'd tried begging, pleading, beseeching and asking politely and nothing seemed to be making the brown pony so much as stir from unconsciousness. Angel had even tried kicking him a few times, while Fluttershy had gone to get a cold towel to dab on the stallion's brow. She replaced the cloth, just trying to do something so she could at least feel like she was helping, catching a glimpse of the blank spot where his cutie mark should be.
She sighed to herself, every minute she just found more and more questions about this pony. Two hearts, a blank flank, how he ended up in the middle of the worst storm she'd seen since ever. And still no answers to any of them in sight. There was only one thing for it, she decided, closing her eyes and taking several deep breaths as she steeled herself. It was stupid, crazy and the kind of thing only Rainbow Dash would ever think was a good idea but she really didn't have much of a choice, other than hope the poor pony didn't get sicker before the storm cleared up.
"I'm going into Ponyville," she announced finally, Angel's jaw almost hitting the ground at the sudden finality in her tone, "you guys look after him the best you can while I go to Twilight's, she'll be able to teleport the doctor here."
"Did someone say Doctor?"
Fluttershy's eyes snapped open at the unexpected voice, finding herself looking straight into the blue eyes of the brown stallion. He tilted his head slightly, the damp cloth falling off his brow as he affixed the frozen Fluttershy with a warm smile. "Hello!"
The earth pony blinked twice, before raising his gaze to the ceiling. And the pegasus practically pressed into it, feathers and mane frazzled in sheer shock.
"Well, that's an odd way to say hello," he said to himself, before being treated to the equally odd sight of a certain bunny facepalming.
Books and Branches Library
Present Day - May 12th - 1.15AM
"You think the princess will get upset over getting mail at stupid-o-clock in the morning?" Rainbow Dash asked after a yawn, sitting right in the centre of what had used to be a library but was rapidly turning into a chaotic jumble of books and scrolls as it was slowly dismantled and upturned by an increasingly agitated unicorn.
"Who?" Owloysius piped up from his perch, rotating his head around from where he had been keeping watch on the window to warn Twilight if there were any changes in the storm.
"Okay, now I know you're doing that on purpose." Maybe Twilight was right and that lightning strike did actually do some damage because normally only Fluttershy was crazy enough to spend ten minutes idly sitting and chatting with an owl while Twilight and a finally-awake Spike ran around the library like they had been the ones electrocuted. Oh the things Rainbow did when bored.
Although in this instance it was less boredom and more frustration than anything. Sitting around tapping her hooves was bad enough at the best of times, let alone when some freak storm was tearing Ponyville apart. She found herself glancing towards the door again, the urge to make a break for it and try and get some damage control going was almost unbearable. But the last three attempts she'd made had been stopped by a unicorn that could be surprisingly alert despite being head first in a copy of Magical Manipulations of Maelstroms and a fourth wasn't likely to go any better.
"Nothing! Nothing about missing rainclouds." Twilight groaned, Spike having to quickly yank the book away as she practically slammed her head against the desk in sheer frustration to prevent it from meeting her horn. They'd lost way too many books that way.
"All we got left are the archives of old weather reports," he sighed too, glancing at the pile of boxes filled to the brim with scrolls and papers dating back to the founding of Ponyville's weather team. "Wasn't easy lugging them all up here on my own."
Twilight hadn't caught the baby dragon's barb, already cracking open one of the boxes and leafing through its contents like a pony possessed. Rainbow snuck another glance for the door, wondering if she'd make more than three steps this time before she got hauled back by telekinesis. There was really no point to her being here in the first place but Twilight had insisted, repeatedly, that having somepony familiar with weather control around would be crucial in helping her decipher the mystery. And, naturally, who better to ask than Ponyville's best flier? Rainbow suspected her friend had phrased it like that on purpose, playing to her ego. Which only made it more annoying that it had worked, she'd sat around answering questions on the pegasus' methods for storm creation and what she'd managed to observe from the air before getting shot down. Instead of being out there, making sure nothing got damaged and nopony got hurt!
Her wings flared in annoyance, Twilight barely looking up as she heard the flutter, magically hauling Rainbow back as she launched for the doorway and dumping the irate pegasus back on her seat.
"Stop doing that!"
"Not yet Rainbow. Whatever this storm is, there is no mention of anything like this in any of my books or in any of these old reports. Not even the Everfree's weather is like this. Whatever this is, it's something Equestria has never seen before, and we need to find out what it is, why it's happening and how we can stop it. And I can't do it without a pegasus' help. Without your help."
"Why me and not Cloudkicker or somepony?!"
Twilight turned from her reading and fixed Rainbow a level stare, "Cloudkicker's not going to be any help if the worst case scenario is true and this is Discord. She isn't the Element of Loyalty."
Rainbow Dash was many things. Brash, confident, a daredevil speedster. Nothing that said coward and yet she still couldn't suppress the shiver that ran down her spine and had her mane stand on end even more than the lightning strike had. Even Twilight winced at the thought, as though stating it out loud made it more real. Neither of them wanted to go through those events again, Nopony in their right minds would. Not even Pinkie was that crazy, no amount of chocolate rain worth the neverending strife he would leave in his wake.
"W-we don't know that for sure, though, right?" Rainbow winced as her voice cracked.
"I don't know. Seems a little tame for him but trying to guess what Discord's up to is just going to give you a headache." And possibly cost you all of your friends, Twilight added to herself, remembering that lesson all too well. "We won't know until we get a letter back from the princess."
Right on cue, Spike belched out a plume of green fire from which a single scroll materialised, dropping to the ground. Everyone stared at it, even Owloysuis turning away from the window to observe as Twilight slowly stepped towards the scroll. She took a deep breath as her magic lifted the parchment and unravelled it, hoping against hope that it was good news.
"Well?" Rainbow inquired, swooping around behind the unicorn and trying to read over the top of her head, "what's it say? Are we going to Defcon One, magic necklaces for everypony?"
"Reading's a little hard with a pegasus leaning on my head."
"Oh, right. Sorry."
Twilight rolled her eyes as her friend backed off a little, returning her attention back to the letter.
"My faithful subject, Twilight Sparkle. As my dearest sister is currently resting, I have received your correspondence in her stead. Ponyville is quite dear to me, so I share your distress at its current predicament. I have personally checked the statue garden and Discord is most certainly still sealed there. I have checked and triple checked and the enchantment is holding as strong as it was the day you and your friends cast it with the Elements, so there is no way he is behind your unusual weather pattern. I'm afraid I cannot recall ever coming across any storm like it myself, but I am investigating the Canterlot archives and will let you know if I find anything that may be of use to solving the situation.
Do please let us know if anything changes.
Your good friend; Princess Luna."
Everyone sat in silence for a moment, digesting the information. An almost synchronized sigh of relief swept through the entire room at the news that Discord was still imprisoned. Worst case scenario averted.
Rainbow shifted her weight from hoof to hoof as Twilight lowered the scroll, before finally asking, "so, what now?"
"I don't know," the purple unicorn replied. While chaos manipulation was ruled out, there were still too many possibilities, "I just don't know."
"Then let's go find more out," Rainbow declared, seeing her moment to take charge and hopefully escape the library, "the egghead way's not getting us anywhere and if I stay cooped up in here any longer I'm gonna go insane!"
"I guess-" Twilight glanced up at the library's clock, wondering just how long the storm had been raging now, only to pause when she noticed something very, very wrong. "The clock's stopped."
Rainbow and Spike glanced up at it, before glancing at each other and giving simultaneous shrugs before turning back to Twilight. "So?"
"Look at the time! 10:43. When the storm started! Spike, where's your watch?!"
"Okay, now I'm confused," Rainbow Dash evaded the small dragon that scurried upstairs to fetch his watch, both of them recognizing Twilight having a eureka moment even if neither of them knew why, "a lightning strike knocked the clock out or something?"
"No. I've got a magical lightning rod, no electricity can reach in here even in this storm. And even if I didn't, this clock is enchanted to always, always be accurate and never stop, wouldn't want to be tardy for anything. And now it's stopped working the moment this storm appeared. That can't be a coincidence!"
Spike practically hurtled back down the stairs from the bedroom, holding his timepiece over his head.
"Mine's stopped too! 10:43, just like that one. This is getting weirder by the minute."
"And one last check," Twilight darted to the window, looking out over the town. It didn't take long for a lightning strike to light up the sky, and Ponyville's clock tower in the distance. "10:43."
"That is kinda weird, yeah," Rainbow agreed, "still no idea why you're so excited."
"I think I know what this is." Freak winds, freak lightning, stopped clocks. She had seen this before, on a much smaller scale. "It's not a magical or natural storm. It's temporal."
Blank looks all around. From Rainbow and the mailmare it was expected, but Twilight found herself disappointed in Spike. How many times had she ran over temporal theory during that fateful week, and he had been too busy scoffing ice cream to even remember one word of it.
"The time spell? When Future Twilight appeared there was wind, an electrical discharge and it stopped that clo-" wait, "Derpy!"
"Hi Twilight!" Ponyville's resident mailmare waved from beside Rainbow, who launched a good meter or so into the air when she noticed the other pegasus sitting only inches away, before attempting to brush off the reaction as a casual stretch.
"Uh, Derpy, when did you get here?"
"When you were talking about clocks and temporal stuff. Isn't that something to do with time? I've never heard of a time storm before."
"Me neither," Twilight mused, "but that's not the issue, what are you doing here?"
Derpy Hooves wasn't exactly a frequent visitor to the library under normal circumstances, most of Twilight's mail came through Spike. And these were most certainly not ordinary circumstances. Anypony with any sense would be indoors, doubly so if they had a filly. While Derpy could be rather scatterbrained on occasion, she was usually very focused and thoughtful when Dinky was concerned, so why in Equestria would she have come to the library in the middle of the night during the most dangerous storm Ponyville had seen since being founded?
"I got mail for you!"
"Mail." Twilight felt a headache coming on, one of a kind normally only felt after trying to understand Pinkie's brand of logic. "Why are you delivering mail now, in the middle of the night?"
"Because you asked me to," Derpy tilted her head, nose scrunching in confusion, "you said I had to bring a letter to you during a storm with no rain."
"Yup. I thought it was silly but you seemed pretty sure it was important, so here I am! Now where did I put it?"
While Derpy was rummaging in her saddlebag for whatever it was she was determined to deliver, Rainbow snuck over to beside Twilight, while Spike got stuck having to hold all of the increasingly-large pile of strange items Derpy was throwing out.
"You knew the storm was going to happen?" Rainbow accused, "because if I've been sitting in here answering questions about something you already knew about..."
"Nope. But Future Twilight would." Twilight certainly hadn't given Derpy anything to deliver, so she was almost certain now that the time spell was related.
"...Well, at least we have a disaster this time."
"Exactly. And Future Twilight wanted something delivered to me now, not before it happened. She didn't warn us in advance, not to mention the time travel spell could only be used once. And I don't even have the scroll anymo-"
The scroll that Derpy had just pulled out of her saddlebag. The scroll that was supposed to be in the Canterlot Archives.
"Found it!" Only Derpy Hooves could inject that much joy into delivering mail.
"Finally!" Spike groaned, staggering under the weight of the pile of random stuff in his arms. "Why did you have a muffin tray, a brick and a bowl of lemons in your bag anyway?"
"I don't know. Anyway, here's your super-duper important letter, Twilight."
The dumbstruck unicorn took the offered scroll without a word, Rainbow looking on as she carefully unrolled the old parchment. The ink was cracked and faded away almost completely after reacting to magic being channelled through it , obscuring the words and symbols to the point where it was impossible for anyone to replicate the spell. It was, without a doubt, the exact same scroll Twilight had used during her entirely-non-disastrous foray into time travel. There was almost no difference to how it had been when she had turned it over to Princess Celestia to be sealed away. The only change was a tiny little scribble in the bottom corner Three letters in what was recognizably her own writing.
"P.T.O." Twilight looked up from note, "please turn over? But there isn't anything on the back."
She stared at the offending blank space of parchment, wondering if her future self was playing a practical joke of some kind, only to be caught completely off guard when Rainbow Dash suddenly pulled the scroll away, gave it an inquisitive sniff and held it up to the light.
"Rainbow?" What in Equestria was the weatherpony up too?
"Shh." The pegasus was grinning way too much for Twilight's liking, as though she knew something no one else did, "Derpy, could I borrow one of those lemons?" Or she had gone completely insane, although no one else seemed to question Rainbow's behaviour. Derpy just nodded and let Rainbow scoop up one of the yellow fruit and make for the desk while Spike was just grateful to lose even a little of the load he was having to try and stuff back into a saddlebag that suddenly seemed way too small to have fit any of it in the first place.
"What are you going to do with a lemon?"
"Oh nothing much, just a little magic trick."
Rainbow swept books off of the desk to clear a little space, laying the scroll down flat and placing the lemon beside it. She rested a hoof on the fruit and smushed it into pulp. Briefly turning back to her attentive audience, Derpy eagerly watching the other pegasus even if one eye seemed quite focused on the floor while Twilight and Spike were looking on with a mix of confusion and horror. Rainbow paused for dramatic effect before picking up the tip of a quill in her teeth and dunking the feather into the spreading lemon juice and painting it onto the blank piece of scroll.
"Rainbow, what are you doing!?" Twilight finally had enough, hauling the pegasus back, "this is a priceless magic scroll, you can't just coat it in lemon!"
"Just give it a sec," Rainbow said, hovering over her friend and pointing back at the parchment, and the words starting to materialise seemingly out of thin air. "There's your message from the future. Written in disappearing ink."
"What? But how did you-"
"If it's older than a few days you can smell it. I spilled some on myself once, I know what it smells like. Kinda like zap apples actually, me and Pinkie managed to convince Rarity it was a new perfume you could only find in Cloudsdale. She's got three bottles!"
Twilight ignored the pegasus that was breaking into maniacal laughter above her, that was a problem to be dealt with later. Against every librarian instinct she possessed, she painted the rest of the parchment with the lemon juice, wincing all the while. Derpy and Spike were finally finished cramming things back into her saddlebag, the baby dragon having had to resort to jumping up and down on it before they could fasten the clasp shut, and wandered over as everyone waited for the rest of the message to reappear. After an almost agonizing ten seconds, the last of the ink came into view and Twilight started to read.
"Dear... me? This is going to be weird, I can just tell.
Sorry I can't be there in person, but we both remember what happened last time. Plus my method this time doesn't have the fourteen different wards and shield enchantments on it so us meeting face to face could blow a hole in Equestria the size of a belgium. Not entirely sure what a belgium is but I can only assume it'll be bad for Equestria. Unfortunately I also can't just tell you what'll happen, I can only point you/me in the right direction.
Firstly, don't panic. There is still no epic pony war in the future and I don't look nearly as ridiculous as we did last time. So no panicking, trust your instincts and your friends.
Rainbow Dash; as you were there when I got my letter I can only assume the same is true now-"
"That is creepy," the pegasus in question muttered.
"It isn't creepy!" Twilight read out.
"Okay, it is a little weird. Anyway, the storm only covers half of Ponyville, it fizzles out after Sugarcube Corner. Get all of your weaker fliers who can't fight the wind to gather rainclouds from outside of the storm and leave them on the edge so you and the other pegasi can use them to put out any fires. Don't go putting yourself in any more danger than you need to. Past Twilight won't need you for anything else after this, so you can go right- she's already gone isn't she?"
"Yup," Past Twilight sighed, holding down the scroll to stop it getting blown away from the momentary blast of wind as Rainbow shot out the door.
"Derpy, thanks for delivering this letter for me. I know leaving Dinky with Carrot Top to come here can't have been easy for you."
"Was kinda hard to explain but I'm sure Carrot will understand."
"I'm sure she will, after a few of your excellent muffins as thanks."
"Aww, you're making me blush."
"Past me will need your help again tomorrow. It'll sound a bit strange but I'm confident you'll be able to handle it."
"Okie! See you tomorrow, Past Twilight." And with that the mailmare followed Rainbow Dash to the door.
"Spike. Go back to bed."
"My pleasure," the dragon in question was already half up the stairs, yawning.
"Okay, Twilight... (This is so surreal) I can't tell you why the storm appeared or anything else that'll happen between you reading this and me sending it. You'll figure it out on your own in time. All I can say is you have to go to Fluttershy's as soon as you've read this. She needs your help right now and you are going to have to trust her, no matter how weird things seem you mustn't over react. Trust all your friends, even the really odd chestnut one. Be careful and, no matter what happens, don't touch the Nightmare. You'll thank me later.
Sincerely, Future Twilight."
West Border of the Everfree Forest
Present Day - May 12th - 1.30AM
There was a brief flash of magic as Twilight materialised in front of Fluttershy's cottage, nearly being blown off of her hooves by the sudden force of the gale after having teleported from the relative calm of the library. It felt stronger here than it had in Ponyville. She glanced up at the cottage, amazed that it seemed to have weathered everything without so much as a scratch. The garden hadn't been so lucky. There wasn't much left that could even be called a garden, fenceposts and plants uprooted left and right. Fluttershy's chicken coop was flying off into the Everfree, crashing into a tree and disintergrating into splinters.
"I hope Sweet Apple Acres make it out okay," Twilight didn't want to imagine what the storm could do to Applejack's crop. Luckily Future Twilight's letter hadn't mentioned anything about the Apple family, allowing Twilight the hope that they would make it out without too much damage to their livelihood.
But there was no time to be worrying about Applejack, the note from the future insisted that Twilight had to come here. And the way it had sent everyone else away first gave the impression that, whatever the reason was, she was supposed to come alone.The purple unicorn couldn't help but wonder just what the reasoning for that could be. There had to be some logic behind that decision and she wanted a chance to look around and figure it out before blindly following instructions that made no sense, before she ended up misunderstanding something again. Another lightning bolt streaked across the sky, making Twilight flinch and crouch down, ducking her head to try and make herself a smaller target.
It had the added effect of forcing her to look down and see the massive scorch mark she was standing in the centre of. It was easily several feet across, a massive mark of blackened grass and earth.
"Whoa... this thing is huge. What could have caused this?" Twilight's brain raced. The ground was still relatively flattened, it wasn't a crater so it wasn't an explosion. But it was far, far too large to be from a lightning strike, even lightning as weird as this. Twilight crouched down lower, magically anchoring herself to the ground to prevent being blown away as she inspected the area.
"No sign of magic, doesn't smell like burning. Ah, why didn't I think to grab a beaker from the lab!?" She groaned, wishing she could take a sample for further study before the storm could contaminate it any further. The thought died as soon as it appeared when she spotted markings in the earth, slight shifts in the dirt that hadn't quite been covered up by the wind. The imprint of a pony.
Despite the letter's instructions, Twilight couldn't help the lance of fear running through her. A large mark blasted into the earth, clear signs a pony was involved, right out side of Fluttershy's cottage. She leapt to her hooves and looked around in almost a blind panic as almost a hundred different scenarios ran through her head, trying to see any sign of her friend. Nothing, no sign of the yellow pegasus' presence. Twilight paused, the logical librarian part of her mind managing to assert itself and point out the obvious way to find out if Fluttershy was okay. She closed her eyes in concentration and vanished in another flare of light and sound, only to reappear in the middle of Fluttershy's living room.
"Oh hello, another one! Where'd you come from?"
"Gah!" Twilight jumped at the unexpected and unfamiliar voice, eyes snapping open to stare at the chestnut stallion on the couch.
"...Is that the way everyone says hello around here?" The strange pony grumbled to himself, glancing up at the eagle perched above his head, "because that is going to get really annoying."
"Who are you?"
"Haven't figured that out yet! Like the purple, by the way."
"Excuse me?" It was way too early in the morning for this.
"Purple. You're purple. And you have a horn, that makes you a unicorn! A purple unicorn and a yellow pegasus, oh that is brilliant," he paused, suddenly seeming less sure and manic, "I think. Is it brilliant?"
And this was getting stranger and stranger by the second. But Twilight forced the endless barrage of questions the stallion was bringing to mind aside at the mention of her friend. The other pony seemed to spot her reaction, suddenly switching gears from overzealous to deadly serious.
"She's fine, I think I just spooked her. A rabbit brought her a bag to hyperventilate into, then a big ol' group of animals took her into that room over there," he waved in the direction of Fluttershy's kitchen, "I'd go see if I can help but this eagle's pretty insistent I don't go anywhere."
"Kweh." The bird of prey nodded.
"And I'm fairly certain the rabbit threatened to chuck a pot at my head. Friendly little fella-" the stallion paused as Twilight rushed past him and into the kitchen, concern for her friend taking top priority. "And no one says goodbye either?"
"Fluttershy, are you okay?!"
"A brightly coloured pegasus and unicorn, fancy that," the earth pony mused to himself as the conversation in the kitchen became too muted to hear. He took a quick glance at his side and saw no sign of feathery wings there before reaching up and dabbing at his forehead with a hoof. "No wings or horn. A boring old brown coat. I'm a rubbish horse-" he paused, nose wrinkling in confusion. "That felt weird to say. Should it be weird?" He asked the eagle, "I'm a horse, right? Four legs, herbivore teeth, hooves-" He paused again, staring at his hoof in sudden rapt fascination, as though expecting something else entirely. "Why do these look so alien?"
He looked across the living room of the cottage he had found himself in, past the furniture, past the staircase, past the dozens of little homes for animals until he spotted a mirror. Barely visible in the light of the lanterns, he stared into a face he found himself unable to recognize. The only thing that felt even remotely familiar were the deep blue eyes that seemed to bore into his soul and a messy brown manecut, everything else seemed like it shouldn't belong. He tried as hard as he could to envision what should be there, but found he came up blank. Nothing. No face, no clothes, just a big hole in his memories. One that encompassed far more than just his physical appearance. Who he was, where he'd come from and where he was currently; it was all just one big blank. The word amnesiac sprung to mind and no amount of wishing or focus seemed to be working at bringing anything back.
"What happened to me?" He asked his reflection, which suddenly seemed much more tired than it had ten seconds earlier.
"I was hoping you could tell us that." The purple unicorn stepped out of the kitchen once more, followed by the pegasus that looked much calmer than she had fifteen minutes earlier even if she was trying to hide behind her friend.
"Oh, hello again," the stallion's mood seemed to switch back to cheerful and friendly the moment he saw them, "are you feeling better now, miss?"
"Oh, um, yes, you just startled me a little... Sorry to worry you."
"Don't worry about it, no harm done," he beamed.
"Back to the question at hoof," the unicorn interrupted, "I'm Twilight Sparkle and this is Fluttershy, can you please tell us your name and how you got here? And if you know anything about this storm?"
The first part should have been an easy one to answer, but the earth pony found himself at a loss. The chasm in his memories seemed to have swallowed up even his name. He glanced up at the eagle perched above him, not noticing the way the two ponies glanced at each other as the seconds ran on, he recognized it as a steppe eagle. A fruit bat fluttered around the ceiling and a small army of critters peaked out around the doors of the kitchen, he could name them all. Tables, chairs, everything else in the room, all of that came to him clear as day. But his own name, that had eluded him. But he couldn't just say that he didn't have one, they would end up picking one for him to use as a stand in. And if their oddly-fitting names were anything to go by, he'd end up with something stupid like Browny Boringhorse. Then, just as a flash of lightning lit up the night sky, it came to him. The word that had managed to pierce the fog in his head and rouse him back to consciousness. The word that seemed to resonate through him; warm and, most importantly, familiar.
"I'm the Doctor."
Twilight didn't look impressed at his choice of name.
"That's me, hello!" He waved a hoof before pausing to stare at it again, oblivious to the confused glances he was getting from the ponies and other animals watching him.
"Just the Doctor? Doctor W-"
"Hooves," he muttered to himself, not paying the slightest bit of attention.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure." He looked up, having thought of something, "with a double-u in it."
"This pony is just getting stranger and stranger," Twilight mused to herself, "this couldn't be the really-odd chestnut pony Future Twilight meant, could it?"
"Double-ues are cool. Doctor Whooves, it's fantastic, I could get a name badge printed and everything so no one forgets. Again."
"...I'm supposed to trust him? I'd sooner trust the Cutie Mark Crusaders with reshelving day!" Which was never going to happen again after their last attempt, Twilight still had yet to figure out where that fire had come from, or how they'd ended up flooding her basement with tree sap. Her house still didn't look right.
"Um, Doctor?" Fluttershy piped, stepping around Twilight and towards the stallion with Angel not a step behind.
"That's my name," he grinned, not put off at all by the bunny scowling at him.
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Me? Fit as a fiddle." No memory loss here, nosiree.
"Physically, at least," Twilight dead-panned under her breath, "he's a few chapters short of a book." Angel nodded in agreement.
"Well, um..." All eyes turned to Fluttershy, "you were unconscious a very long time, out in the middle of that storm."
"I'm a deep sleeper. When I'm out; I am out. No matter where or when. Sorry."
"Wait, he was the one who was in that scorched patch?!" Twilight was regretting not asking Fluttershy about the stranger instead of coming out here to question him herself. "What was that?"
"There was this massive lightning flash and then Angel saw him in the window..." Fluttershy idly kicked a hoof, not entirely comfortable with the way both of the other ponies suddenly seemed to be focusing all their attention on her.
"There is no way that was a lightning strike."
"Not exactly a normal storm, mind you" the Doctor piped up from his seat, "temporal, I'd guess."
"H-how do you-"
"Can't hear any rain, which rules out it being a natural weather system. If it was manufactured then there would be static in the air, and the fact that none of our manes have gone frizzy suggests that isn't the case. The stopped clock on the mantelpiece over there matches the one on the wall by the door to the second which is far too precise to be a coincidence and suggests some kind of temporal anomaly. Then there's your reaction which makes me almost certain I'm correct. I usually am. And, on top of all of that, I have the slight taste of lemon on my tongue."
He had recited all of that in an almost one breath, grinning all the while. Fluttershy spun on her hooves, examining her clocks in disbelief, while Twilight just stood there in shock. He had figured out the storm's apparent nature in seconds using deductions that she herself had taken an appallingly long time to make. Up until the last one, that had come out of left field.
"Lemon?" Now that he mentioned it, there was a faint taste of lemon in her mouth too and she definitely hadn't eaten anything with lemons in. But how in Equestria did he equate that with a temporal storm?
"Yup. Lemon makes me think of time. Don't know why. Don't know why I taste lemon either. I, uh, think I'm more partial to bananas."
"You think?" Twilight latched onto the only part of his rambling that she could follow. The rest of it seemed baseless nonsense, but the odd phrasing and hesitation jumped out at her.
"Ah. Kinda gave it away, didn't I?"
"...Yes." She lied, not sure what exactly he'd given away. Fluttershy was looking between the two of them, staying quiet for the time being as her friend sized up the strange Doctor.
He chuckled to himself, breaking eye contact with the oddly perceptive purple unicorn to look towards the window. There was another flash of lightning, followed by a crash of thunder that left the window panes rattling. The manic grin was gone now, just a sombre look on his face as he weighed up each word before finally speaking.
"I appear to have lost my memories, possibly thanks to the storm. Time can be a funny thing if you're exposed to it directly." How did he know that and not where he was from?
"You've lost your memories?!" Surprisingly, it was the timid pegasus that spoke up, suddenly launching into the air and flapping over to him, taking a damp cloth and dabbing him on the head as though that would fix everything. "Are you sure nothing else is wrong? You don't have a cutie mark-"
"A what?" The Doctor interrupted.
"It's a mark that shows what your special talent is," Twilight explained, finally spotting what was making her feel off about the stallion, apart from the fact he made no sense. "every pony gets one as they grow up and find what that talent is."
"Ah." Now that he looked, he could see what appeared to be butterflies on the pegasus and stars on the unicorn, while his side was completely bare. Browny Boringhorse strikes again. "Well, I can't really have a mark if I don't know who I am, I suppose."
"You can't remember anything?"
"Well, I apparently forgot what a cutie mark is," and the idea of a mark showing just what he was good at seemed laughable for some reason.
"I've never even heard of amnesia removing a cutie mark, not even magic can change one.
Twilight took a step back, completely baffled that anypony could forget one of the most common elements in all of Equestria, wielded by a third of the population. Just how bad was this amnesia?
"Um..." Fluttershy spoke up again before the unicorn could start lecturing about magic, which would have taken until at least sundown the next day before she was finished with even the basics. "There's something else I noticed, while you were unconscious." She shrank back at the inquisitive looks both ponies were giving her, only for Angel to push her forward.
"Um... well, I'm sorry if I'm wrong but I was checking your heartbeat in case you were sick and I might have found two..."
"Didn't quite catch that," Twilight piped up, looking between her friend and the stallion, who tilted his head to the side in confusion.
He can't have heard that right. He couldn't have. Fluttershy seemed to be trying to work up the courage to try again when he waved her off, closing his eyes and breathing deeply, concentrating on his chest. He heard both the ponies approaching him whispering with each other, he heard his breath and felt his chest rising and falling with each single one. And then he felt it, a heart beating warm and strong. And a second right beside it. And he was pretty sure that no kind of equine had two hearts, his memories were thankfully clear on that much.
"What?" How on earth, or where ever this was, could that be possible? And why did it feel perfectly normal compared to the alien hooves?
"He was two hearts?!" Twilight exclaimed, yanking a stethoscope from the table beside the couch as she darted towards the Doctor to check for herself.
"What!?" And why did it feel perfectly normal compared to the alien hooves? That made no sense at all!
"What." The unicorn and earth pony echoed in unison, the former darting back a step and dropping the stethoscope in her shock.
"I'm sorry for bringing it up..."
"It seems steady and regular, and it certainly doesn't seem to be hurting you." Twilight sighed, once she had gotten over the initial shock and took a second listen, trying to make sense of this pony who seemed to be getting stranger by the minute.
"Nope," the Doctor agreed, looking to Fluttershy who was returning the stethoscopes to her first aid box, "didn't even notice it until you pointed it out."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he grinned that manic, friendly grin again, "no one can be mad at someone trying to help."
"Somepony," Twilight grumbled, massaging her temples.
"It's somepony, not someone."
"Oh, that makes sense," sounded better than somehorse, that was for sure. He paused for thought, examining the unicorn pacing around the living room, "you sure you don't want to sit down? You look exhausted."
"I'm fine," she insisted.
The Doctor stared her straight in the eyes, his face unreadable. He sized up the bags under them, the glazed look that slowly seemed to be masking the intelligence burning behind them. She stared stubbornly back, refusing to succumb to a little sleep-deprivation. Even after the many late nights working with Rarity, she had more than enough practice with her study sessions to keep going until she had figured out this problem, this had to be what Future Twilight had sent her to Fluttershy's to do and she couldn't let a mystery this big slide. Up until the stallion yawned. It was a stage yawn, far too loud and put on to be real, but it still worked it's magic. Twilight's body yawned too, this one real, and with it all the energy and focus just seemed to drain right out of her.
"You are not fine." She heard, managing to pull her suddenly heavy gaze up from the floor to look into the concerned blue eyes. Fluttershy stepped up beside her, giving her something to lean on and pushing her towards the couch.
"But I need to-"
"Twilight Sparkle," the Doctor spoke, voice calm and warm, "I have no idea who, or what I am. But I do know that, if we're going to figure it out, I'm going to need your best. And for that you need to get some rest."
"This puzzle will still be here in the morning." He grinned again, "at least I hope so, I love puzzles!"
"But what about you?" Twilight tried one last time, not entirely sure why she was resisting so much when the idea of resting her head seemed blissful.
"My heartbeats feel normal, I don't seem to have any other injuries and I'm starting to get pins and needles in my back legs. No reason I can't get off this couch and stretch my legs a little."
Twilight tried, but couldn't summon up the energy to argue any further. The stallion had a point and, besides, Fluttershy was there to wake her if anything did happen. She sighed, fighting back a second yawn as she nodded and walked towards the couch.
"Hooray, I just won an argument with a unicorn," The Doctor smirked to himself, pleased as punch as he pushed himself up and off the couch, only for his legs to all decide to go in different directions and end with him flat on his face. "Ow."
"Are you okay?" Fluttershy flew to his side, pulling the stallion back to his hooves and trying to prop him up as he staggered unsteadily, "you shouldn't try and move so fast."
"Early days," the Doctor grumbled, "steering's a bit off."
The moment Fluttershy let go he fell flat on his face again.
"It appears I've forgotten how to walk too," he sighed. "So much for that idea."
It was going to be a long night.
Chapter 02 - A Mare's Meal
Rambling Rock Ridge
Above the Gemstone Mines
Present Day - May 12th - 1.30AM
It had been a clear night, perfect for the griffon soaring through the sky to make excellent time on her journey. With a little luck Gwendolyn would be in Canterlot early enough to be able to catch some much-needed sleep before her scheduled appointment with the Royal Princesses. It wouldn't do for a griffon ambassador to show up to their first meeting with both Princesses in attendance looking like something a manticore dragged in. First impressions were important and, while Celestia had been relatively informal behind closed doors and would no doubt forgive or politely ignore a few yawns, no one knew much about the younger sister Luna. Best to try and play it safe and try to avoid sparking an incident between the two races. No one wanted a repeat of her predecessor's antics during the Royal Wedding.
Gwendolyn made a mental note to stay as far away from any pink earth ponies as physically possible, giving a wry chuckle to herself as she remembered first hearing the news of that little fiasco. As far as home was concerned, word of Griselda's performance overshadowed even the brief changeling invasion.
"I'll have to ask if there were any pictures taken," the griffon laughed to herself, angling her course towards the mountains that housed Equestria's grandest city. With the wind at her back, she soared higher and higher, hoping to see the castle off on the horizon. Instead a series of bright flashes in the corner of her eye caught her attention and she slowed to a hover.
The griffon idly flapped her wings, looking out away from the gemstone mines towards the deep, dark Everfree Forest. There was a small town near its edge, Ponyville if her memory was correct, being lit up again and again by what appeared to be lightning. Gwendolyn blinked, narrowing her eyes as she looked harder, the skies were completely clear. But that definitely appeared to be lightning. She could even make out small wisps of black smoke from where-ever the lightning struck, and the tiny silhouettes of pegasi trying to keep the fires under control. They seemed to weave and hover unsteadily, fighting what could only be horrifically strong winds. While it seemed as though the town hadn't suffered any real damage, the weatherponies seemed to be struggling to make sure it stayed that way.
"That can't be good," she mused to the clear night air. Ponies were masters at weather manipulation, they made even the Griffon Kingdom seem like bumbling amateurs, anything they couldn't handle would send a shiver down even the bravest griffon's spine.
Still, no well meaning creature would just ignore a crisis. If things were anywhere close to as bad as they looked from a distance, then Gwendolyn's larger frame and more powerful wings would come in handy. It would make her late for her meeting, but the Princesses surely would approve of lending their subjects a helping talon. With only a moments hesitation, she turned away from Canterlot and towards the light-show above Ponyville, only to slam straight into what felt like a wall of air. Feathers ruffled and a small ungriffonlike squawk escape her as what had been a breeze behind her suddenly turned into a blinding gale in front.
"What the?!" She flapped madly, launching herself backwards, only to find the breeze at her back once more. Slowing to a hover, she glanced down at the ground below her, lit up by Luna's moon. While below her the ground appeared to be still, in front there was dust and stones being kicked up by a gale that seemed to just suddenly vanish before her eyes. She slowly floated over to the threshold, holding out a clawed forearm and pushing it through, feeling the wind pressing back while the rest of her body felt none of it, as through the storm just ceased to exist past its boundary. "Okay, now this is just creepy."
Having second thoughts about fighting through an obviously surreal storm, she tried to see if there was an easier way around, watching the disturbed stones to work out how large the storm would be and if there was a way to skirt around its edges and reach the trouble town that way. She nearly dropped out of the sky when she saw just how big it was. Or how tiny. It was barely ten meters across, a circle of disturbed dust clearly marking out what had to be the tiniest gale in existence. She floated around the outside, poking and prodding at the boundary, feeling the wind pushing back every time no matter what direction she tried. That ruled out a tornado, but only left more questions. Wind doesn't just disappear into thin air, a phrase Gwendolyn never thought she'd have to use, but there it was. The griffon couldn't even hear the gale until she stuck her head inside, yet another thing that should be impossible. Whatever this was, it went against everything she knew.
She floated back a few meters, sizing up the impossible storm with her forelegs crossed, glancing back towards Ponyville on occasion. There had to be a connection between the storm they were fighting and the tiny one she'd discovered. Two weird things happening at once, at the same time was very unlikely to be a coincidence. It was entirely possible that her storm was just a smaller version of whatever it was that was besieging the townsponies, she wouldn't know for certain until she got there.
"I think I'd have preferred the party pony," Gwendolyn sighed, turning away from the storm to head towards the town. She was sure somepony there would know more about whatever this was, and would probably want to know about her discovery.
She didn't expect the sky behind her to light up, brighter than the sun, before a massive boom nearly gave her a heart attack. She spun back to the strange gale, having to shield her eyes in a vain attempt to protect them from the flash of lightning that burnt itself in her vision. She flapped backwards blindly, away from the light and noise, heart beating double-time in her chest. That bolt had been close enough to touch, she was certain of it, and yet she hadn't even felt the heat or static. Once she felt far enough away, she dropped to the ground and shook her head, trying to clear her eyes of the vivid after image and her ears of the ringing.
She braced herself for more lightning, more thunder, but none came. Slowly, she looked up and towards the impossible gale, only for to stare open-mouthed as she found yet another impossible thing. The gale seemed to have faded, there was no more dust being kicked up by strange wind, but in its place the rocky ground had been charred black. The mark was perfectly circular, seeming to fill the entire space the gale had occupied. And right in its centre, lay a pony.
"...This is new." Storms appearing out thin air were one thing, but ponies? Gwendolyn dropped to the ground, stepping up to the edge of the black circle, sizing up the equine. It seemed larger than an ordinary pony, the kind that didn't materialise in a lightning strike, it appeared only a little smaller than Princess Celestia. Amazingly, despite the state of the ground underneath, its coat didn't seem scorched at all, magenta fur and a violet mane with purple highlights standing out even in the moonlight. The griffon could make out the pony's chest rising and falling with steady breaths.
No horn or wings, so it was an earth pony. No magic or flight to explain how the equine ended up in the middle of Diamond Dog territory. Appeared to be a mare, Gwendolyn observed, running a careful eye up and down the pony in case of any injuries. There didn't appear to be anything, at all, which just seemed wrong considering her method of arrival. No burns, no bruises, nothing. Not even a single mark on her. The griffon nervously reached out a talon, prodding at the air around the blackened earth, the strange wind no longer fighting her back. With a final glance up in case of a second lightning bolt, she stepped over the boundary and towards the prone pony.
"Hello? Are you okay?" She asked, keeping a careful watch on the sky as she approached. "Can you hear me?"
"Doc...tor..." a surprisingly hoarse voice came from the mare, making her sound more like a stallion. Or at least in need of some cough drops. "Need doctor."
"There's a town nearby, I'm sure they'll have one who can help you." Gwendolyn crouched down in front of the pony, "are you feeling okay? No pain or anything?"
The strange mare opened her eyes finally, looking up at the concerned griffon who stared back, almost mesmerised. The pony's eyes seemed to shift between colours, seeming to flit between blue, green and brown as her head moved before finally settling on purple as they finally focused on Gwendolyn.
"Hi there." It wasn't easy putting on a friendly smile with a beak but the feathered diplomat had more than enough practice to pull it off. "I'm here to help. You hurting anywhere?"
The mare shook her head slowly, eyeing the griffon up and down in a way that sent a shiver down her back.
She fought it down, keeping her patented diplomatic smile in place, "I guess you've never seen a griffon before?" Another negative, which wasn't much of a surprise. There weren't many griffons in Equestria outside of Cloudsdale or Canterlot, so most ponies tended to have a similar reaction, although their gaze had seemed more cautious compared to the mare's almost predatory look.
Gwendolyn shrugged off the feeling, it was just the weird storm making her paranoid. Freak wind and lightning would make anyone's mind start imagining things, "I promise I won't hurt you, I just want to help. Can you stand at all?"
The mare stayed silent, looking down at the ground for a moment before shifting her weight and starting to rise on her hooves. Gwendolyn darted forwards to help the pony as she wobbled unsteadily, but the moment the griffon made contact it was her own body that seemed to lock rigid. She tried to move but every muscle and feather seemed completely frozen in place and a chill ran through her from where her claws met the mare's shoulder.
"W-what..." she managed to stammer out, fear lancing through her as the pony stood straight and tall, no sign of the weakness from before.
"Gwendolyn," the mare spoke, her voice suddenly sounded much softer, with a disturbing sing-song lilt to it.
"H-how are you doing this?" The griffon's beak and voicebox fought again every word but she managed to choke them out, despite feeling as though every scrap of strength and body heat was being pulled right out of her. "How do you know my name?"
"Learning," the strange mare's voice shifted further and further, until an almost perfect mimicry of Gwendolyn's own came out of her mouth, "want to be finished."
The mare stepped away, out of the paralysed griffon's reach. Gwendolyn didn't notice the way the mare's coat colouration seemed to shift, patches of magenta fur darkening to a brown that matched her own feathers. She found herself staring dead into those very, very predatory eyes of the pony that moved to stand in front of her. Not that this was a pony, no matter what she looked like. There was no way this was a pony of any kind.
"W-what are-" it was more and more of a chore to talk, to focus on anything other than the mare that slowly moved closer and closer again, until those mesmerising eyes were all she could see as the two almost touched. "What are you?"
"Don't know yet. Want to find out. Need Doctor."
Anything else that Gwendolyn could think off, any thing she could say to try and get out of this, whatever this was, in one piece died in her throat when the mare leaned forwards, eyes overtaken by a brilliant white glow as their foreheads touched.
West Border of the Everfree Forest
Present Day - May 12th - 7.30AM
The first thing Twilight noticed when she came to was how quiet it was. The silence blasting away her sleepiness far better than an alarm clock ever, eye darting open around glancing around Fluttershy's living room. Bright sunlight streamed in through the open windows, along with a warm breeze that was a far cry from the weather earlier. The clock on the wall still read 10.43, but she was able to tell it was around seven in the morning just from the strength of the sunlight. She'd been out cold for six hours, she thought with an annoyed sigh. Something her body was thankful for, sore at it was from sleeping in a strange position, even if her brain was screaming at her for wasting time during a crisis. Of all the times to take a power-nap. Twilight made a mental note to make sure Fluttershy had some coffee in case it ever happened again, looking around for any sign of her friend or the strange Doctor character, who she was determined to try and get some answers out of now she was slightly more alert. He'd been able to figure out the storm in moments, even with the amnesia, there was a good chance he was the key to finding out what caused it. That had to be what Future Twilight had sent her for.
She could hear nothing but complete silence, no animals running around, no sounds of movement from upstairs. After the constant barrage of noise from the night before, it was rather unnerving. Gingerly, groaning at the aches and stiffness in her back legs from where she'd been sleeping, the unicorn hopped off of the couch and took a look around the living room. Still no sign of either pony, nor the veritable army of critters that had been weathering out the storm.
"Fluttershy?" Twilight called, it seemed unusual for her friend to pull a disappearing act like this without leaving a note or animal messenger of some kind, "anyone home?"
"I'm in the kitchen!" The Doctor's voice came back, sounding almost amused, "we have breakfast if you're hungry."
Twilight may have not been entirely sure how to respond to that, but her stomach certainly did. Her coat turning almost beet red as she heard the stallion chuckling from the other room. He hadn't heard that from in there, had he? Well regardless, getting some food sure beat standing around talking to herself.
Twilight realised it was going to be a strange day, even by Ponyville standards, when she walked into Fluttershy's kitchen to find the Doctor sitting at the plain oak table having a conversation with a hedgehog.
"So there isn't a Mrs Prickles?" He asked the table's other occupant while trying to open a jar with his hooves, nearly knocking over the plates of toast in front of him. "I find that hard to believe."
Prickles the hedgehog looked up from his own meal of a fruit salad, pausing in midchew of a blackberry to scrunch his nose and snort at the chestnut earth pony who gave up on the jar after attempting to prop it up against the table edge and pry it open with his teeth. Although Twilight got the feeling he only stopped because she'd walked in, if the way he pushed it behind the hedgehog as if to hide it while affixing her with a sheepish grin was any indication.
"Hello." The Doctor waved as Twilight stared at him from the doorway, trying to smile like he hadn't been caught and nothing was wrong.
"Good morning." She nodded in return, deciding not to point out that his poker face was worse than Applejack's, as she trotted over and took a seat by the table.
The Doctor's jaw dropped when the jar that had been giving him so much trouble was lit up by a purple aura matching that coming from Twilight's horn, the lid popping off with no fuss at all as she levitated it over and started spreading the jam inside over a piece of toast with a wry smirk.
"Magic," she answered the unspoken question, taking a bite out of her toast before returning it to her plate and fixing the awestruck earth pony with a level stare. "How could you just forget about magic?"
"If I could remember how I'd forgotten everything, I'd have worked out how to reverse it already," he shrugged, which didn't really answer the question, "how do you do that?"
"It's a just basic levitation spell, it's the first spell any unicorn learns."
"Ah, so it's a unicorn only trick." He dabbed at his forehead with a hoof for a moment, looking annoyed before brushing it off and continuing like nothing ever happened, "I'm guessing the horn is a focus?"
"That's a simple way of putting it, yes." Twilight took another bite of her toast in order to prevent herself from launching into Unicorn Magic 101, there were much more important things to address before starting the lectures. "Where's Fluttershy?"
"Taking her animal friends back to their homes. Took the angry rabbit with her too, thankfully," the Doctor idly pushed his untouched bit of toast around his plate, sneaking the odd glance towards the jar of jam sitting to Twilight's left.
She pushed it towards him without a word. Part of her was tempted to grill the pony for more details, to double check every scrap of information to make sure he wasn't lying. But he didn't seem to be, he didn't really have anything to gain from it. And it was really, really difficult to picture him as up to no good while watching him fumble around with a butter knife like a newborn foal. Eye's narrowed in concentration as he tried to manipulate the utensil and only managed to send it nearly skittering off the edge of the table. The Doctor glared at the silver cutlery before making a second attempt that somehow ended with him nearly stabbing himself. With a knife with no blade.
"This shouldn't be hard!" He grumbled, pushing the butter knife away as though it had personally offended him, "this is just brilliant. No memories, can barely walk three paces before falling flat on my face and now I can't even have toast. You can't have toast plain, that ruins it!"
Maybe it due to a week of helping a decidedly stressed fashionista but Twilight found herself with the strange mental image of the stallion declaring his lack of breakfast to be the final straw before collapsing onto Fluttershy's fainting couch and weeping. She quickly waved the image away. While the Doctor certainly seemed eccentric, although she had a feeling insane was a better word, he didn't come across as the melodramatic type. Besides, the last thing she wanted to do was get caught smirking at his predicament. If she was, the chestnut stallion didn't seem to notice, laying his head on the table and pouting like a disappointed colt.
"This is rubbish. I'm a rubbish pony. Now I'm gonna starve because I can't even eat some stupid toast!"
Okay, maybe he was the melodramatic type. And if Rarity was anything to go by, Twilight had to snap him out of it if she was to have any chance of getting any answers out of him before she was Granny Smith's age. She sighed to herself, wondering yet again just how she kept managing to get into these weird situations even as she mulled over her options. She had three that came to mind, all named after her friends: The Rarity approach; the Rainbow approach; and Pinkie Pie style. The last was dismissed straight away, the unicorn strongly doubted that a song and dance routine was going to help somepony depressed over being clumsy.
'Plus, I am trying to come across as the sane one here.' It was much too early to even contemplate attempting to think like Pinkie. That was a late afternoon and fourteen gallons of coffee kind of mindset.
That left the Rarity approach, tactfully coaxing and trying to charm a positive response, or the Rainbow way; brute force it and bluntly argue some common sense into his skull. Both seemed daunting, she'd never witnessed her friends dealing with an amnesiac before so she found herself with no baseline to go on. Both could backfire horrifically if she overdid it and the last thing she wanted to do was make things worse. She did not want to have to explain to Fluttershy just why there was a stallion having an existential crisis over some toast when she came back. If she ever came back, Twilight was listening as hard as she could and there was no sign of her friend returning any time soon. No cavalry coming to the rescue.
'Okay, you're on your own. Think, Twilight. This is easy, figure out which method is riskier and pick the other one. Simple tactical decision.'
Or she could snap out of her thoughts in time to witness the hedgehog helping the Doctor with the knife, thereby allowing him the breakfast he wanted and cutting the entire crisis off at the trigger. That would work too.
'Huh. Didn't think of that.' Being outsmarted by a hedgehog, that was new. Twilight made a mental note to talk to Fluttershy more about her critters, there could very well be a friendship report or two in there. She also made a mental postscript to never, ever let Spike know. If he ever found out, it'd be like the Smarty Pants incident all over again, only Twilight couldn't use the Owloysius incident in return to keep him quiet this time. That was the problem with familial blackmail, it tended to only have one effective use.
"You okay there?" The Doctor's voice snapped her back to reality, "you were staring off into space for a while."
"Just thinki-" Twilight started to reply, only to stop when she noticed what he was up to. "What in Equestria are you doing?"
The brown earth pony had managed to give his pieces of toast a slightly excessive coating of jam and was pulling the butter over towards him, evidentially about to add that too.
"What?" He noticed the shocked expression on the unicorn's face, "what's wrong with butter? Nothing wrong with butter, is there? Because I don't see why Fluttershy would have left some if there was something wrong with it."
"You already have jam!" A phrase Twilight never thought she'd have to say. To somepony other than Pinkie Pie, anyway.
"Oh, right," he looked up from giving the butter a suspicious sniff as though checking for poison, "good point. I should use a clean knife. Wouldn't want to get jam in the butter."
"Then why are you going to put butter on the jam?" Twilight was starting to have doubts about assuming this pony was going to be any use at solving the mystery of the storm, he was really beginning to come across as just a little bit crazy, even by Ponyville standards.
"Because I couldn't decide between buttered toast and jam on toast. Can't remember which one I like more and didn't know which one to try so, hey, why not both? Have my toast and eat it too."
"It'll taste horrible."
"You don't know that," he pointed out, "I certainly don't. Look forward to finding out though."
He grinned that manic grin again as Prickles pushed over another butter knife, the stallion managing to pick it up on his own this time as he went to work while Twilight could only look on in a mixture of horror and rapt fascination. For a moment she wondered if it would have been more appropriate if the storm had still been going, illuminating this mad culinary science with lightning just like in those creepy fables in her books. Then she realised that she should probably stop letting her imagination run away with her before she started envisioning the pony laughing like a madpony and screaming "it lives, it lives!" Even if the look on his face did little to dissuade the possibility. Prickles didn't seem too worried though, the hedgehog going back to munching his salad as the Doctor finally finished, raised the toast abomination and took a bite.
The moment of truth. He paused, chewing thoughtfully before swallowing and fixing the unicorn with a wry smile. "Pretty good."
"Really?" She'd expected the exact opposite reaction, something similar to the infamous Baked Bads.
"Yup. Might want to put the butter on first next time though, be a little less messy." He hadn't entirely succeeded in his attempts to keep the jam out of the butter, or off of his face for that matter. "But, hey, jam and butter is a good combination."
"Who'd have thought." Twilight deadpanned.
"Wanna try?" He pushed the plate with the second slice of toast towards her.
"No thanks," he may have found it to his liking but she highly doubted she would be the same way, "I have my own."
"It's good!" The Doctor insisted.
"There is no way you are getting me to try that."
Barely a minute later she had the piece floating in front of her with her magic, eyeing it up while the mad chestnut pony sat across from her egging her on.
"How did you talk me into this?" She spoke up, anything to delay having to eat the buttered jam toast for a few more seconds.
"I have no idea. Apparently I'm pretty good at talking." The Doctor grinned, happy at actually having figured out something about himself, even if it was only a little thing. A little thing that could convince a pony to try an unholy breakfast concoction against their better judgement. 'Words, the greatest power in the universe.'
"Well, here goes nothing... I hope." Twilight glanced towards the sink, making sure she had a clear run for it in case anything happened and took one last listen for Fluttershy returning. With no sign of rescue coming, she sighed, closed her eyes and took a bite.
Dead silence reigned, the Doctor and Prickles the hedgehog watching as the unicorn thoughtfully chewed. Seconds passed, the Doctor's ear twitching in the place of a ticking clock before Twilight finally swallowed and announced her verdict.
"...It isn't bad." She was forced to admit. "Tastes a little like cake." She took a second, much less apprehensive bite. While her usual taste in food tended to be rather plain and analytical, Pinkie or Applejack's baking notwithstanding, she tended to eat simply to avoid starving, Twilight found herself thinking that she actually wouldn't mind eating this on occasion.
"See!" He beamed up at her, clearly pleased at the positive response, before his eyes flicked up over her shoulder, "thanks for the breakfast, Fluttershy."
Twilight's toast dropped to the plate, her magic hold on it vanishing as she spun around, practically falling out of her seat as she stared up at her friend who was standing in the kitchen doorway and looking back with confusion clear in her eyes. Twilight was suddenly very aware of the small bit of buttered jam that she'd gotten on her cheek from the Doctor's slight overzealousness with the butter knife, making it all but impossible to deny that she'd been caught red-hooved chowing some crazy culinary concoction.
"This isn't what it looks like!" She insisted, turning to point a hoof at the brown stallion sitting opposite her, "he made me do it."
"I did no such thing," the Doctor countered, giving a charming smile that was almost pure innocence. It would have done the CMC proud, but it didn't fool Twilight. There was no way he was passing the buck for this mess onto her.
"You're the one with a plate of-" she paused, looking down at his plate. At the perfectly normal jam on toast on it. The perfectly normal toast that she was fairly certain she'd been eating. She looked at her own plate, finding the second piece of buttered jam toast on it. "You switched the plates!"
"I did no such thing, honest." He repeated, slowly reaching up and holding a hoof out to Prickles, the hedgehog raising a paw and giving the offered limb a bump.
He'd gotten the hedgehog to switch the plates. They were teaming up on her! Twilight's eye twitched slightly.
"Um, Twilight. It's okay-" Fluttershy started, only for the unicorn to cut her off.
"No. I will not be beaten in a battle of wits by an amnesiac and a hedgehog." This was no amusing prank, not any more. Her reputation and pride as Ponyville's librarian and Princess Celestia's prized student was at stake.
"Oh?" The Doctor raised an eyebrow, "and how do you propose to win?"
"Simple." Twilight grinned, the kind of grin that looked more fitting on a dragon, "there's one thing you forgot to take into account."
"Yes. This buttered jam is rather messy, isn't it?" She dabbed at her cheek with a napkin, "you've got some jam on your snout."
"I have jam on my toast." It was her toast!
"Hold it! I'm not finished. You also have some butter on your hoof." She added, sitting back in her chair as the stallion raised the hoof he'd offered to Prickles only to find that, yes, his clumsiness with the butter knife had left him with a rather obvious dollop of butter on his foreleg. Twilight let that sink in for a moment before she went in for the kill, "thereby proving that you were the one with the butter, which clearly has some jam in. Conclusively proving that the pony who made the buttered jam toast was you!"
'I knew that 'How to Become a Lawyer in 24 Hours' book would come in handy someday!' She added to herself, waiting for the reaction from the stunned earth pony.
The Doctor paused for a moment, sitting back and hmming quietly to himself as his eyes flicked between Twilight, Prickles and the baffled Fluttershy still standing in the doorway with no idea what was going on. Smiling reassuringly up at the pegasus shifting from hoof to hoof, he turned his gaze back to his opponent. Without a word he slowly pushed her plate back across the table to her.
"Well, Miss Sparkle, you got me," he said, beaming all the while, "you're just as brilliant as your friend said you were, picking up on a little detail like that."
"You were testing me?" She could not believe this stallion. What kind of pony does that?! At least announce there was a test first.
"Yup. My condition makes no sense and there was a storm with the power of time itself, I have to know if you are ontop of your game if we're to have a chance at solving this one. And I was bored, I've been awake since last night-"
"You didn't sleep, at all?!" Fluttershy eeped, "that's terrible! Even I managed a little when the storm ended."
"Kind of hard to doze off when in a room with about a hundred animals all staring at you." With one bunny in particular looking ready to turf him back out into the storm should he so much as blink out of line. "Besides, I slept enough out in the storm. All the waiting gave me plenty of time to think, try and get some memories back."
"Any luck?" Twilight perked up, interested in hearing more about this strange pony's amnesia as it didn't match anything she'd ever read about before. As far she she knew, amnesia tended to affect short term memory, preventing a pony from remembering anything for long after the amnesia occurred, while leaving their previous memories intact. The Doctor's seemed to be the inverse.
"Nope," the Doctor sighed, "Just got bored. But before Fluttershy here'd been dragged off to get some sleep by some of her critters, she had told me a little about you and how smart you were."
"Oh, it was nothing really." Fluttershy sat down at the table with the two of them, reaching over to start tidying up the mess to try and hide the fact her cheeks were almost glowing red, "I just wanted to let you know you didn't need to worry about not getting any help you need."
"The fact I wasn't left in that storm was more than enough to let me know I was in good hooves," he paused for a moment, suddenly veering off topic, "I did phrase that right, right?"
"Weird, didn't feel right. Why didn't that feel right? I can remember how to talk-"
'We noticed.' Twilight thought to herself, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.
"-just fine, it comes naturally, but I have to stop and think about the phrasing. I can remember the names of objects and things but had no idea about magic or those cutie mark whatsits. Fluttershy, you said this is Equestria, right?"
"Yes," the pegasus answered, while Twilight sat back and watched. She wasn't sure where he was going with that.
"Feels like I've never even heard of it."
"Impossible," he chuckled at the word, "that's me all over. Appearing out of thin air in a freak storm, two hearts, no cutie mark, brown, memory on the fritz. Anything else I'm missing?"
"Being mentioned in a letter from the future," Twilight blurted out, before looking back up at the doctor, "brown?"
"You and Fluttershy have bright colours. I don't. Seems weird to me." He looked back at her, a strange gleam appearing in his eyes, "now what's this about a letter from the future? That sounds interesting."
"Yes," Fluttershy nodded, turning her attention to her friend as well, "I don't remember anything about a letter."
"I kinda forgot about it until now." Twilight gave a sheepish smile, "I got distracted with your breakfast abomination."
"Speaking of which, can I have that back? I'm starving here."
Twilight pushed his plate back across the table, the Doctor quietly chewing on his toast with a pensive expression as she narrated the story about the letter that had sent her to Fluttershy's in the first place. He only interrupted once or twice, asking about her previous encounter with her future self, preferring to listen with rapt fascination. He barely even noticed when Fluttershy went to get some of the jam off of his face with a napkin.
"And so I came straight here," Twilight finished, as the Doctor polished off the last of his buttered jam toast.
"Odd chestnut one? She called me the really odd chestnut one?"
"Her words, not mine." Twilight insisted, hoping he wouldn't notice that they were the technically same pony, just from different time periods. And that he was totally a really odd chestnut pony.
"No, I like it. Odd."
"Of course you do." It was certainly easy to see where Future Twilight had gotten the 'odd' from. He easily rated a twelve on the weirdo meter, which only went to ten, and Twilight had a feeling he wasn't even warmed up yet. "I can only guess she asked me to come here because of you."
The Doctor tapped a hoof against the table top as he thought it over. It seemed the logical conclusion. While concern for Fluttershy was likely a factor as well, it was unlikely that Future Twilight would have found a way to do something that apparently even magic shouldn't be able to do without another reason behind it. Especially considering she was sitting in Fluttershy's kitchen, well aware that no pony or critter had been hurt. Which brought to mind another detail that didn't quite make sense.
"She sent you here straight away, knowing you'd crash after meeting me."
"Why? Why not wait until this morning? You could have popped in now. You'd probably have slept better in an actual bed."
"That's a good point." She conceded.
"And wouldn't have had to put up with me at breakfast."
"A very good point."
"Um..." Fluttershy raised a hoof, "I might have an idea."
"This isn't a school, you don't have to do that." The Doctor piped up, switching from a thoughtful frown to a joking smile.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She lowered the hoof and sat in silence for a moment.
"The idea of yours?" He prompted, realising she'd taken him seriously.
"Oh, sorry. It's just, well, everypony in Ponyville looks up to Twilight..."
Fluttershy paused, nervously fidgeting with a napkin while the Doctor glanced across at Twilight who merely grinned sheepishly. She was about to insist that Fluttershy had been exaggerating, practically glowing crimson under her coat, when her friend promptly took a deep breath and continued on much louder and confident than before.
"After Nightmare Moon, the Ursa and helping organize Winter Wrap Up, the whole town turns to her when it's a crisis."
"No, no they don't."
"We got over our fear of Zecora because of you."
"That was Apple Bloom." This was not an argument Twilight had ever expected to be having, with Fluttershy of all ponies.
"The town wouldn't have listened to her. They listened to you."
"All of that went completely over my head," the Doctor piped up, deciding to ignore the barrage of unfamiliar names for the time being in favour of solving at least part of the puzzle, "but I'm getting the point."
'Fancy explaining it to me?' Twilight sighed to herself.
She found herself pleasantly surprised when he went on to do just that, "whole town views Twilight as some leader figure when things get weird, that's what you are implying, yes?"
"Yes." Fluttershy nodded, smiling proudly at the perplexed purple pony sitting across the table from her. Was that true, Twilight found herself wondering, although she hadn't the time to ponder over it when the Doctor turned to address her as well.
"Big freaky storm hits. Pretty much textbook weird thing there. And you said you were trying to figure it out when this letter showed up?"
"So they probably know you're on the case already. Plus you don't get a storm that size with out a little damage-" he pointed at Twilight, switching back to deadly serious mode as she started to climb back to her feet, "let me finish before you start panicking."
"If the rest of town is even half as well built as this cottage then the wind won't have done any major damage to anypony's homes, other than blow a few tiles off or nick a mailbox. Your future self seemed to have a plan for dealing with any fires from the lightning. So I'll wager what memories I have left and this weird extra heart of mine that there wasn't any catastrophic damage, just wrecked gardens and stuff. Messy, sure, but not dangerous."
Twilight wanted to argue with that, that there was no way he could be so certain without going and looking for himself. But he had a strange, confident tone and look in his eye that made it easy to just believe him; it reminded her an awful lot of Princess Celestia during her first magic lessons. She slowly sat back down, taking a few deep breaths before looking back up at the stallion, who was beaming that stupid grin again.
"Brilliant. Love it when people listen," he and Prickles shared another hoofbump in celebration. "Now, to finish up. Little damage or no, there's still going to be a lot of mess to clean up and answers to seek."
"And I'd be the pony they want for the job."
"With good reason, from what I can see." He beamed wider, before frowning, "even if you are a tad prone to over-reacting."
"You had a breakdown over toast." Twilight deadpanned in reply, both ponies ignoring the baffled look from Fluttershy over that remark.
"Touché. But my point stands, you'd have been roped into that from the moment you woke up. And you don't seem the type to leave something half-finished, so I doubt you'd sneak over to come here until everything was hunky-dory."
"Meaning I wouldn't have met you until at least this afternoon!" She jumped up, pleased to have worked out a little of her future self's logic, "possibly longer, depending on how the research was going!"
Twilight paused, the smile on her face fading when she realised that still left one big question unanswered, "...Why is that important?"
"I have no idea!" The Doctor was rather annoyingly cheerful about that, "this is certainly going to be a tricky one. Not something you can solve around the breakfast table."
"I'm sorry I couldn't be more help."
"Nonsense, Fluttershy," the stallion patted her on the shoulder, seemingly not noticing the way she flinched at the movement, "you got us one piece of the puzzle. It might not seem like much now but, well, could turn out important."
"Really?" She seemed to brighten at that,
"And if it doesn't, you still pulled a complete stranger out of a storm, let him stay overnight despite the fact he's nuttier than a fruitcake," he grinned, "and then made breakfast! All pretty important if you ask me, but maybe I'm a little biased there."
'Biased? Just a little? Understatement of the year.' Twilight sighed, switching off from the conversation and sitting back and mulling over what she knew about the situation so far, trying to see if she could work out any more of the meriad of mysteries that had materialised, or at very least come up with a hypothesis she could work from. There was little concrete information, really all they had was conjecture, so it looked about time to stop sitting around and do some legwork. Assuming the Doctor was right, then she'd have an ideal chance to search for clues while she was co-ordinating the clean up in Ponyville. Maybe the storm left some sign as to what caused it, or somepony had seen something she had missed during the night, or Princess Luna would have found something in the Canterlot Archives that'd give them a hint. Or the Doctor would actually prove useful, like the letter from Future Twilight seemed to imply, but she wasn't going to get her hopes up on that one.
Speaking of which, her ear flicked and she glanced towards the earth pony as she heard him mention her name.
"-So did Twilight, even if she won't admit it," he told Fluttershy, smiling that friendly grin again, "and you wanted to go help your animal friends. It's fine. Didn't really fancy a complicated breakfast anyway!"
'Please tell me he's still not going on about that toast.' She groaned, a hoof meeting her face. It was looking less and less likely that he was anything other than a madpony. A madpony with two hearts and a really weird taste in food.
"Okay. If you're sure." Fluttershy didn't seem as nervous around him as she did others outside of her friends. Whether it was due to spending a lot of time with him while Twilight had been sleeping off her exhaustion, or was simply due to the presence of Angel Bunny beside her was a matter to be considered later.
"Kind of had a problem with the jar," the Doctor admitted, blushing slightly, "and the butter knife. But I'm sure I'll remember how to use my hooves eventually!"
"I hope so." Fluttershy nodded, managing one of her tiny smiles, "you certainly seem to be doing better."
"Still haven't got walking down though, that could be annoying."
"Oh." She seemed disappointed, while Twilight looked up at him in alarm.
He'd been serious about that?! She'd assumed he was just being melodramatic.
"How can you forget how to walk? It's mostly muscle memory, amnesia shouldn't affect that."
"Dunno. Just can't get it to feel right when I try. I can manage two steps, easy, but this back leg here," he gestured to his right side, "doesn't want to play ball and trips me up. Surprised I didn't wake you, actually, was kinda falling all over the place until I got hungry and gave up."
"You fell?" Fluttershy practically shot to her feet, although her chair still only rocked slightly, hovering over the table and giving the Doctor a once over for any injuries. "Are you hurting anywhere?"
"I'm fine. Well, as fine as I can be considering," he rapped his head with a hoof and smiled. Fluttershy was having none of it, already grabbing her first aid kit from a counter-top.
Twilight found herself smiling, fighting back a giggle at the look of alarm on the earth pony's face as her friend insisted on checking and double checking he wasn't hurt. There was really no stopping the pegasus when she wanted to help. And if he couldn't walk, then he most certainly couldn't run for it either. No matter how much it looked like he wanted to.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital now it's safe outside?" Fluttershy spoke up as she dabbed at any bruises she could see with a damp piece of cotton.
"Yes. I've got two hearts, remember? Can you imagine the commotion that'd cause? No good can come of that."
"I suppose you're right." She didn't look happy about it though.
"Keeping that part of your condition quiet is probably for the best," Twilight agreed, "the last thing anypony needs is a commotion like that straight after a storm like this."
Ponyville was a little prone to panicking at the drop of a hat, after all. His lack of a cutie mark and memories were going to be difficult to explain, and downright impossible to hide, but it was less likely to cause a fuss than a second heart. If anything, the townsponies would be trying everything in their power to help him with his memories and the last thing Twilight needed was to give them a cause to be wary or suspicious of him. Especially if he was right and Future Twilight was implying he was important to solving the storm. Although it was hard to imagine him being important at anything when he was letting himself get pulled around by Fluttershy of all ponies, flailing and begging Prickles for help as she attacked him with cold presses. The hedgehog in question looked up, decided that it was safer to stay out of Fluttershy's way, and went back to his food.
"Traitor! Twilight, help!"
"I would, really, but I've still got my own toast here. Don't want it to get too cold." She probably shouldn't enjoy seeing him squirm, but his earlier stunt made it hard to resist.
So he shot to his hooves and made a run for it. True to his earlier words, the first two steps he managed with no difficulty as he shot around the table and past Twilight, but he lost his balance on the third, tripped over his hind legs and fell flat on his face before he could make the doorway. Or he would have done had he not been engulfed in a purple magic aura just before impact, face floating inches above the wooden floor. While Twilight had no qualms about embarrassing him a little, she drew the line at letting the excitable stallion hurt himself, lifting him with her magic and setting him back on his hooves
"Huh." He mused, "that felt really weird." He paused, managing to bring a hoof to his face when Fluttershy raced over to him and starting giving him another once over for injuries. Although this time she did refrain from trying to bandage him like a mummy, which was enough to stop him from trying to bolt again.
"You really shouldn't rush around like that yet," she admonished him, "what would you do if you really hurt yourself and we had to take you to a hospital?"
"Cry, panic and try running again," he said, clearly not enthused with the idea, "I really thought I had it that time too. Stupid leg."
"You'll get it eventually," Fluttershy promised.
"I hope so, I'm going to be rubbish if I can't run," the Doctor sighed, shooting a glare at his right hind leg, only to stop and look towards the doorway, ears twitching. "You have visitors."
Twilight, Fluttershy, Angel and Pickles all looked at the earth pony in confusion, none of them had heard anything. And then there was a quick rapping sound coming from Fluttershy's front door.
"Huh, who could that be this early?" Fluttershy wondered, before she stepped out of the kitchen with Twilight behind her. The unicorn took a moment to whisper for the Doctor to stay quiet for the time being.
"Right, I'll just stay here, out of trouble." He promised, the sudden twinkle in his eye doing little to persuade Twilight that he meant it. She doubted he even knew what staying out of trouble meant.
There was little time to argue with him over it though, her first instinct to follow her friend as Fluttershy paced towards her front door. The pegasus looked back at Twilight for a moment, wincing as the firm but polite rapping on her door continued, before finally opening it. Of all the ponies Twilight expected to see standing outside Fluttershy's cottage at seven in the morning the day after a terrible storm, Derpy Hooves was pretty low on the list. And yet there the mailmare stood, smiling her familiar bubbly smile, her rather worn blue mail carrier jacket and hat in place.
"Um, hello Derpy." Fluttershy squeaked, "what are you doing here today?"
"I got some letters for you!" She held out a small bundle of envelopes, Fluttershy taking them and dropping them on a side table by the doorway
"Oh, um, not that I'm complaining or anything," the shy pegasus piped up, "but you normally just leave them in the mailbox."
"Yeah, about that," the smile faded from Derpy's face as the mailmare turned and looked over her shoulder.
Twilight stepped up beside Fluttershy, the two of them looking out into the garden where Derpy was looking. Or what had been a garden the day before, the plants and fence having been scattered to the four winds, branches and leaves laying everywhere making it seem as though autumn was early. And, most importantly, no mailbox.
"It was missing when I got here, it wasn't me this time, I swear!" Derpy turned back, almost pleading.
"Oh, the storm took my mailbox and I didn't notice and you had to come all this way, I'm so sorry!" And Fluttershy started apologising right back.
Twilight almost started worrying they were going to start a chain of apologising until the sun set, but one of Derpy's eyes locked onto the unicorn and the mailmare switched back to the bubbly smile like nothing had ever happened.
"Hey Twilight." She waved with a wing, Twilight simply nodding in response.
"Derpy. Did you get home okay last night?"
"Crashed into Carrot's garden. But I do that all the time, it's no biggie." She giggled, "I aim for the softer bits now. Don't want to get a carrot up my nose again."
"No." Fluttershy agreed, "that sounds, um, unpleasant."
"Yeah, Carrot Top gets kinda mad with me when I do that. It's okay though, a couple of muffins and we're best friends again."
'Nice to know that, even with some freaky time storm wrecking the place, everypony in this town still finds the time to be crazy.' Twilight marvelled, before Derpy returned her attention to her.
"You aren't at the library."
'Her powers of observation are unparalleled.'
"No, I came here after you'd gone." She paused, not sure if she should share any more details about the letter, before deciding to keep quiet about it for now just to try and stop the rumour mill before it could start, especially when Derpy was involved, "I wanted to check up on Fluttershy."
"Oh, okay!" Derpy nodded, seemingly accepting that answer before bouncing up and down on her hooves, "oh, that reminds me, you had a letter too. A normal one this time! I left it with Spike."
"Thank you." She found it hard to believe that Spike knew how to get up this early, but so many impossible things had happened in the last twelve hours, what was one more?
"And Princess Luna was looking for you at the library. I said I'd tell you if I found you, and I found you!"
Twilight almost knocked Fluttershy's letters off of the side table when she froze up. Princess Luna was in Ponyville, looking for her?! This was completely unexpected. And she was supposed to be in the library and instead of that the royal princess was having to search for her and-
"TWILIGHT SPARKLE!" A booming voice echoed from above, startling the unicorn out of her shock, while making Fluttershy jump nearly out of her coat.
"Hi Princess!" Derpy looked up and waved as the princess of the night sky flew down and landed on what was left of the path in Fluttershy's garden, "I found Twilight for you!"
"You have indeed, Derpy Hooves, you have my deepest gratitude. I would have words with her on a matter of great importance!"
Twilight blinked, looking at the unamused expression on Luna's face. The Princess was supposed to still be in Canterlot, looking for clues! Twilight hadn't been able to find anything out yet, she didn't have anything to report. And she still hadn't brushed her mane, she couldn't face her mentor's sister with bedmane! This was horrible! The worst possible thing after being banished or failing a test!
"Eheheh, hello Princess, good to see you again..." Twilight managed to remember her manners long enough to bow, Fluttershy mimicking the motion beside her, "can you excuse us just a moment?"
She didn't wait for an answer, stepping back and slamming the door shut with her magic. Derpy merely blinked, looking between the wooden barrier suddenly inches from her snout and back at the Princess.
"Sorry, she can be a little weird." The grey pegasus said, frowning slightly at the sounds of what seemed suspiciously like a panicking unicorn scrambling for a brush. It was best not to ask just how Derpy knew exactly what that scenario sounded like.
"So it would seem." Luna agreed, stepping up beside Derpy and tapping a hoof impatiently.
"I'm sure she means well by it."
"As am I."
The two ponies stood in awkward silence for a moment, listening to the chaos that seemed to be breaking out inside.
"So, you are a mailmare? A fine profession."
"Yup! Delivering packages and letters quickly and safely all over Ponyville and the surrounding area." She needed a bit more work on the 'safely' part, but she decided not to mention that, "is it true you raise the moon?"
"My duty when not serving my subjects is to fill the night sky with all of its wonders, yes."
"Neato. I like the stars, they're pretty."
"THA-" Luna caught herself and coughed, dropping back into a more casual volume of speech. "Thank you, Derpy Hooves, it is not often I hear such a thing. Your kind words will be forever appreciated."
"Okie dokie. Do you mind if I ask how you get your mane all sparkly like that?"
The look on Twilight's face when she finally got her mane in a presentable state and opened the door to find the Lunar Princess and Derpy Hooves sitting on the grass, grinning and chatting like old friends was, unfortunately, not able to be caught on camera. It was, however, amusing enough that even Fluttershy managed a giggle.