Chapter One - The Puddle
Having now lived in Ponyville for a number of years, and in that time facing the great many problems and crises that often befell that small town, Twilight Sparkle was used to being awoken by the sound of yelling from outside the window of her library home. It had, at points, become a weekly thing, and when that much regularity is achieved so comes with it immunity, so when it began again on a bright morning in mid-summer, as it so often did, Twilight simply rolled over in her bed and pulled the covers up over her head, willing herself into mental preparedness for the inevitable bursting open of her door as Spike dives in to alert her to this week's issue.
What today? She thought and began to sift through the previous weeks' list of "unforeseen calamities". The dragon herd that we dealt with a fortnight ago should still be on the move, so it can't be that, and the tribe of sentient trees from last month are already well-rooted into their own glen in the Everfree Forest. Perhaps Sugar Cube corner is out of flour again due to that weevil infestation last Tuesday, and Pinkie is just freaking out because her daily quota of macaroons cannot be reached... this latter one caused her to poke one ear out from beneath the safety of her blanket cocoon as she began to listen to the trademark fluctuating pitches that only Pinkie Pie was able to create in a single cry (each of which specific fluctuation having its own apparent meaning that even Twilight had grown able of measuring, she kept a list of them on a scroll beside her bed for the very purpose of being able to diagnose the level of terror she was meant to feel as she left the library, in relation to the undulations of the super-hyperactive (a nonsense term, but the only one she could think of that even closely described her) pony and the cause of the problem she was screaming about) and found herself unable to. It was the total absence of Pinkie's involvement in the ensuing hysteria taking place outside that caused Twilight to burst out from beneath her quilt and bolt down and out into the street, without even taking a moment to check her personal condition.
The street on which the library stood was empty, but the hushed cries of fear and surprise sounded nearby, off towards the Town Hall, Twilight judged, and it was in that direction she ran, passing nopony in the street as she went. She quietly noted to herself the desertedness of the street and powered on until she came to a skidding halt at the outskirts of the town centre.
At least she had solved one mystery, the roads were deserted because everypony from town was currently gathered in a tight group around the Town Hall, all staring up at a point just in front of the Town Hall's characteristic balcony. Twilight looked frantically back and forth amongst the crowd in order to see if she could find anypony who might be able to explain what was happening when she heard the familiar sound of her own name being called.
"Twiligh'! Ova here!" she turned towards her right and found Applejack waving at her frantically from across the square. Beside her stood Rarity, who also looked at her warily, and with an inner sigh she made her way around the crowd of astounded ponies until she was with them.
"What is happening here?" she began to ask, but barely made it past the first word.
"The Mayor is lookin' for yah, she was abou' to send out a messenger, but you got here just in tahm" taken aback by the interruption, Twilight began to look around her again, this time for the grey-maned figurehead of Ponyville's democracy.
"What is everypony looking at? And where are the others?" she asked while she looked, hoping to get as much out of Applejack as she could before she was hoisted off on somepony else.
"No one knows!" Rarity replied instead. "I was awoken but this awful racket and when I came out I found this crowd here and I couldn't get a response from anypony!"
"Same here, everypony is either confused by what's goin' on or sat starin' mindlessly up at the balcony. Even Pinkie's doin' it!" she pointed one hoof at the crowd to illustrate this point and Twilight saw something that made her even more uneasy than everything else so far. Sat not far from the inner edge of the crowd was the tell-tale pink madness that was Pinkie Pie's mane. Her head was inclined upwards and her mouth hung open in dumb amazement. This total lack of activity from Ponyville's most active pony was by far the most horrible thing to see.
To make matters worse, although the entire square was drenched in the dark, wailing sound that had awoken her, Twilight could not see a single pony who could be the cause of it. Everypony was silent, or chattering quietly with other ponies, but no one was wailing, or crying. She decided it was time to look up and see what the astounded crowd were looking at.
Looking up over the crowd, she angled her head to see the balcony that ran around Town Hall and she saw...
Nothing. Just the usual wooden railing, a little faded and peeling in places, but otherwise exactly the same as usual. There was nothing wrong with it that she could see, and she turned back to Applejack and Rarity to say as much.
"Don' worry, ah know... There's nothin' there" Applejack said before Twilight could speak. "Neither Rarity nor I could see nothin', neither could any of the folks you see wanderin' around here. It's weird..."
"What could they possibly be looking at that would hold their attentions so tightly?" Rarity asked, her eyes showing as much fear as Twilight was feeling. It was beyond weird.
"I don't know... But I think I'd better go find the Mayor..." Applejack nodded once and attempted a weak smile.
"We'll stay here an' make sure nopony else does that" she waved one hoof to indicate the crowd. "We'll let ya know if anythin' changes, too"
"Thank you" Twilight replied and began to trot away, turning back as she did "And if you see Rainbow Dash, could you send her to find me? I think we'll need her help"
"Not a problem, Darling" Rarity called back in reply and with a satisfied nod, Twilight galloped on.
Finding the Mayor was a little easier than Twilight had thought, as she was standing on the podium they kept set up outside of the Town Hall for similarly constructed gatherings as the one that was currently taking place, and fortunately, unlike the ponies in the crowd, the Mayor was staring sadly into the crowd, rather than up at the mysterious nothing that had so powerfully caught their attention.
"Mayor Mare!" Twilight called as she approached the steps to the podium. The Mayor turned to her and her saddened expression softened a little.
"Twilight Sparkle, thank Celestia you are here!"
"What is going on here? What's happened to everypony?" Twilight asked as she ascended the steps and alighted upon the podium. From here she had a good view of the crowd and could see in each one of the faces below her a look of bewildered fear and terrifying awe. It hurt her heart to see it, for a reason she could not define, but she understood the look she had seen upon the Mayor's face as she approached.
"I thought perhaps you could tell us that, Twilight, it is utterly beyond anything my staff or I could fathom!" she shook her head helplessly and sighed deeply. Being unable to help her entrusted townsponies clearly upset her.
"Then please, start at the beginning and tell me everything you do know" The Mayor gave a brief thoughtful look before nudging her glasses up her nose with one hoof.
"Well, much like everypony here, I was awoken by that strange sound, that horrible sound, and when I came out of my house I found everypony standing here, like this, just staring up at nothing. I had a few moments where I tried to get their attention, but nothing could draw them away, so I gave up, and that's when I happened to look past the stationary store... The drains on the roof had been leaking again, and it seems no matter how often they fix it, water always ends up pooling down by the alleyway, it's a problem they ought to look in to... Anyway, I happened to look past when something caught my eye in the puddle there and, well, I don't know what I saw, but I knew then that whatever it is that is causing this, this... stillness was nothing I could deal with, so I knew the best the to do was to find you. That's when I spoke to your friends and..."
"Thank you, Mayor, but I think you can stop there" Twilight interrupted the clearly distraught pony. "I will go and have a look at this myself, and I think you'd better go find a way to calm yourself, if this is as beyond your power as you think, you'd better not get yourself too caught up in it, we'll probably need you in your best shape soon" The Mayor nodded and let out a sigh of relief.
"Thank you... thank you Twilight Sparkle, I'll go and gather up anypony not caught up in this and try to calm them down while you look into this, I'm sure they'll all be reassured knowing it's in your hooves" she gave a weak smile and together she and Twilight headed down from the podium again, The Mayor heading towards a loose group of unaffected ponies and Twilight off towards the stationers.
The leak had continued and would clearly be a problem (in the long run of things, at this time, Twilight thought, a puddle was the least of their concerns) but the large puddle at the end of the alleyway beside the stationary store was exactly as the mayor had said.
Twilight approached it cautiously, her mind torn between intrigue and fear at what she might see reflected in its muddy surface. As she approached from the direction of the crowd, all she could see was a faint outline of the alleyway: boxes and piles of litter awaiting collection shimmered gently in the slight breeze that was whirling its way through the square and causing tiny waves in its dully, glassy surface, all as it would have been on any other day.
She continued forward, until she could see first the tip of her horn, then her mane, and finally her whole face as she looked into it from directly above. Still she could see nothing out of the ordinary, just a muddy mirror image of her own bedraggled face (complete with a bird's nest of a hair style, all the rage in the world of quilts and pillows, but not exactly going-out hair, she realised she had left the house in far too much of a hurry to have done anything about it, but, like the leak, it was a problem that paled in comparison to the one she was trying to work through at present). She turned her head back at the crowd to see if anything had changed, and indeed it was all as it had been when she arrived: just a crowd of mindlessly-staring ponies and the Town Hall looking like it always did.
Looking back into the puddle she again saw only her face, except...
If she looked low enough, down by her own shoulders, she could see something sitting right at the periphery of the puddle. It was too indistinct to make out, but it was not part of the usual scenery that would have framed her face. Twilight frowned, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, before realising that if she changed her own perspective, she would see better.
Raising her head again, she moved around the puddle until she was standing on the opposite side, parallel to the alleyway and now facing the Town Hall dead on. Whatever the Mayor had seen in the puddle, and whatever had captivated the minds of so many of Ponyville's residents, would be visible from here. With a loud gulp, she slowly lowered he head and looked into the puddle.
As her view shifted, she began to make out a shape similar to the one she had seen at the edge of the puddle when looking from the wrong direction, only this time it got bigger and more distinct. A strange shifting colour began to appear in the water, moving and flowing in counter synch to the tiny waves, flowing in and out of the place just in front of the balcony of the Hall. It was still only in the edge of the puddle, and not enough to make out. Taking a few steps back, Twilight looked again, and this time could see it for what it was.
Floating just outside of the second floor of the Hall, bathed in a corona of shifting colours, was a massive tear - a tear in the very fabric of the universe.
Chapter Two - Princess Celestia
"Spike! Spike!" Twilight Sparkle cried as she burst into the library, hair, eyes and voice wild. The image of the tear had burned itself into her mind and she could not stop replaying the moment it had revealed itself to her in the fullness of her vision as she had moved further from the puddle. Words flew madly around her head as she tried to find a way to describe it, always returning to impossible, horrible and dangerous, before being thrown haplessly aside as lacking the kind of power she needed to be able to properly press the sheer importance of what she had seen. She needed to contact Princess Celestia and let her know what had happened, but she couldn't even begin to think of how she would do that.
Dashing around the ground floor of the library, she continued to call for the young dragon, but continued to get nothing in response. She headed upstairs and found his bed dishevelled and upsettingly empty, the same in the bathroom and kitchen and she had just pulled herself to a stop once more in the main room of the library when the basement door opened and out walked the same assistant she had been searching for, a pair of ear muffs pulled firmly over his head and held in place with a piece of rope.
"Oh thank Celestia, you're here!" Twilight cried as she approached the young dragon, who began to undo the rope and remove the ear muffs.
"There you are Twilight" he said irritably. "When I saw you'd gone after being woken by that awful noise, I figured I wouldn't be seeing you for the rest of the day. What is going on-"
"No time to explain!" Twilight interrupted. "We need to get a letter to Princess Celestia as fast as possible! It's terrible!" she said as she drew a quill and piece of parchment from across the room and threw them somewhat heavily into the dragon's arms.
"Ow! Ok, ok, calm down" Spike replied, taking hold of the instruments he had been rudely given and walking over to the dictation podium to begin writing. "Sheesh, you'd think the world was ending..." he continued carelessly, drawing yet another burst of panic from Twilight as he did.
"That's precisely it, Spike! It might just be ending!" she turned to one of the numerous shelves the library had to offer and began to magically draw down books in quick succession, moving them into three distinct piles. "Dear Princess Celestia..." she began and looked back at the dragon briefly to see if he was writing. He wasn't. He was staring at her with a look that made her insides turn.
"Is this another one of your overblown reactions to a minor problem?" he asked cynically. Twilight couldn't even sigh in response.
"No Spike, this is... it's... Just take the letter!" she returned to her book sorting and began again, but the dragon still refused to write. "Spike! Please! The whole of Equestria could be at stake here!" despite lacking her usual manic fervour in her voice, the dragon remained still as she sorted through the books. "History of Equestria, no... Time Magic and Its Uses, probably not... Space and It's Mysteries, that'll have to do..." After a few moments of silence, he finally spoke up.
"Are... are you serious?" he watched her carefully as she performed these frantic acts and had clearly begun to understand what the unicorn was saying. "The world is ending?" Twilight stopped what she was doing halfway through pulling another book down and let it fall as her magic abruptly ended. She turned fully to the young dragon and looked at him with what she hoped was a look that showed more concern than fear.
"Might be..." She said softly and trotted closer to the podium and the dragon that was stood upon it. "Something very bad is happening in the centre of Ponyville and I have no idea what it is... Yet... But we need to let the Princess know so that she can help us" she noted the way Spike remained still, the quill held tightly in his claws didn't quite touch the parchment beneath it, and a slight shimmer had begun to appear in his eyes.
"Twilight, what's going on?" he asked, softer this time than before. "What is that noise? And why are you so frantic? I've never seen you like this before" with a sigh Twilight lowered her head. She could see the dragon was scared - and she knew he had a good reason to be, even if he didn't know it just yet - but she needed him, she needed him to keep calm and stay strong.
"I don't know..." she admitted, eliciting a soft gasp from Spike, but she followed it by fixing him with the strongest look she could muster."... But I will, I'm going to figure all this out and put it right, I promise you, but I need you to stay strong, Spike, I need you to help me" she smiled weakly in the solid stare he was giving her and hoped he believed her. Perhaps his belief might inspire her own.
"Ok..." Spike replied after a drawn-out moment. He drew one chubby arm back across his eyes, clearing them of their previous sheen, and held the quill more resolutely over the parchment. "Ready" Twilight gave him a gentle nod and smiled a little more surely.
"Thank you" she replied, turning back to the piles of books she had begun building and once more picked up the one she had dropped. "Princess Celestia, something terrible is happening in Ponyville, this morning a strange sound began to come from the town square, and upon my investigation I found many of the residents caught in some sort of trance, staring up at an unseen entity in front of the Town Hall" she lay yet another book on one of the two bigger piles she had made and looked back to see if Spike had been writing. When she was happy that he had been, she continued her search. "Using a method of reflected light I was able to view a strange tear in the space in front of the Hall, it's strange, invisible properties lead me to believe that this is an event of extra-dimensional origin, and I urgently request that you hurry immediately to Ponyville so that we can look into this together. In the meantime, I will be researching everything I can find that might help shed some light upon this mystery, but I fear that my efforts alone will not be enough in stopping it. Please hurry, I will await you at the library, your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle" she listened for his characteristic repetition of the last words she dictated, and when they came, it was not with the usual proud tones she was used to. His downtrodden tone belayed his once-again increasing fear, making her stop her activity once more to turn to him.
Twilight watched as the young dragon carefully rolled the parchment up, took a breath, and set it alight with his green fire, after which it flew out one of the library's open windows and was out of their hands.
She approached him again, slowly, and nuzzled him gently.
"Thank you, Spike" She said softly as the dragon wrapped his short arms around her neck in an embrace. She felt a warm wetness against her mane which caused yet another turn of her insides at her part in his misery and deeply wished there was a way of instantly consoling the dragon but fell distressingly short. After a moment he pulled away again.
"Well... I guess you should tell me what you're doing so I can help" Spike said at last, again wiping at his eyes with the back of his arm but looking altogether slightly more in control than he had been. Her heart went out to him.
"I'm finding all the text books I can find that deal with space phenomena" she motioned to the smallest of the three piles with one hoof. "Sadly, we're a little scant on that topic, but it'll have to do for now. Do you mind going into the other rooms and seeing if we have more?" Spike nodded. "Ok, I'll get on that now" he turned from her, hopping down from the small podium, and turned back again. "By the way, you should probably do something about your mane, it looks like you were dragged through a bunch of bushes backwards" they both giggled at this, and though it felt a little hollow, it was enough to instil a little more strength into the two of them. Once it subsided, he turned again and left the room. Twilight watched him for a moment more, before returning once again to her search.
Fifteen minutes into her research found Twilight already sporting the signs of an oncoming headache the likes of which she had never experienced in her years of study. Despite the vast collection of books the library had to offer; only a measly 32 had any relation, mention or sub-category that concerned space anomalies, and at least half of those spoke about it in a passing or uninterested fashion. Twilight found herself cursing Equestria's scientists and great historians for their lack of interest in anything outside or beyond the world they all knew and somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind she resolved that, should they find a way to deal with this new issue, she would make time in her future to write a few books on the topic herself.
Spike was also having no luck. Understanding less about what was going on that Twilight did (and, she admitted many times, she knew next-to-nothing herself) he was almost always at a loss when trying to find answers, and instead charged himself with simply locating and marking any pages or passages he came across that contained the word "space" or "anomaly". His mind was also whirling, but more in the manner of trying to cope with what he was gradually learning from Twilight's mutterings on the subject of "universal collapse and the total annihilation of everything". Though he could not quite grasp the meaning of this phrase, it upset and disturbed him greatly.
It was amongst these reveries that a new sound cut through the still-present wailing that Twilight assured Spike was emanating from the tear. This new one was far more pleasant, uplifting, even, in comparison to the soul-crushing sound that had been hanging over the town for the past hour, and it caused Twilight to burst out of her makeshift book fort and charge for the door, which she threw open with such force that it almost broke from its hinges.
The galloping, clanging sound that had previously fill the air slowed as the two royal chariot pegasi came to a halt and the chariot upon which the shining goddess of the day sat stopped a few yards from the library's door.
"Princess!" Twilight exclaimed as she approached and her tutor dismounted gracefully from the plush seat of the chariot to her greeting.
"Twilight Sparkle, please, tell me what is happening" Celestia said as she approached the unicorn and, in an unusual sign of concern and affection, bowed to gently nuzzle her student. "As we flew over the town I could see the crowd of ponies at the town square, but also, my guards handled a little difficulty in that area, it seems that whatever you have found is affecting the very air over it, and what is that awful sound!" the princess seemed at almost as much of a loss as Twilight did, switching from topic to topic with almost panicked confusion. It seemed even the great Celestia wasn't immune to the anarchy that appeared to be brewing in the quiet Equestrian town.
"Everything I know was in the letter I sent you, I'm afraid..." Twilight replied with an embarrassed bow of her head. "And though I have been researching ever since, I'm afraid I am no nearer to finding a solution than I was before" the princess frowned pensively and looked about the library and the road on which it stood.
"This place is deserted, were it not for the fact that I had seen the town square myself, I would have thought Ponyville abandoned!"
"I know, Mayor Mare is trying to gather those who are currently unaffected in order to calm them down, and my friends, oh Princess, Pinkie Pie is... She's..." Celestia raised a hoof for silence.
"Don't work yourself up too much, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we need you at your clearest to perform it" she lowered her leg again and Twilight gave an exhausted sigh. She marvelled at that, she had been out of bed for barely an hour and already she felt as if she had been up for several days, and if this was just the beginning, she didn't want to even think about what the next few days would bring, if they brought anything at all.
"Now" Princess Celestia said in a tone that brought Twilight back to attention. "First, I want you to take me to the town and show me this thing, this tear, so that I might see if I know it" Twilight nodded.
"Right away Princess, just let me tell Spike to gather my books, it might be better to have them with me" Celestia shook her head.
"No, my guards can do that, they will bring them to us in the chariot, we must head there at once, before it gets any worse" she looked at the two stoic guards who stood before her chariot and they both nodded in understanding. "Lead the way"
The situation in town was exactly the same as when Twilight had left earlier, except now there were fewer ponies milling around the inexplicable crowd, clearly the Mayor had managed to corral them into another location and was working on a way to explain things to them. Instead of heading straight for the infamous puddle Twilight had now grown to fear, Celestia insisted that first they see what could be done with the crowd.
Together they approached the edge of the crowd of ponies that had fallen victim to the invisible danger above them and Celestia examined them as best she could, attempting to draw their attention and obscure their view with her wings, but to no positive effect. All the while Twilight scanned the crowd to see who was there. Here she saw Lyra, next to her stood Colgate, and beside her was Mrs Cake. Across the way were Aloe, the spa pony, and Berry Punch, Carrot Top and Gizmo, to name but a few, but the one her eyes kept going back to was her hyperactive friend with the signature pink mane. She sighed deeply as Celestia motioned that it was time to move on.
I'm so sorry Pinkie, I promise we will have you free of this soon... she thought to herself as she led Celestia away from the crowd and towards the stationers.
Knowing the correct angle made it much easier to see the tear this time, and she led Celestia to the optimal position almost straight away, stepping aside while Celestia gazed long and hard into the muddy water, then lifted her head up to gaze at the empty space as it stood before them, then looked back into the puddle again. After about a minute of this, she finally spoke.
"This is indeed something I have never seen before" she said, though whether to Twilight or just herself, Twilight could not be sure. She did not feel it prudent to say anything just yet. "Invisible to the naked eye from here, but it can be seen here... And with no ill effects... Perhaps..." Celestia raised her head once more and began to walk back towards the crowd, causing a brief burst of panic to shoot through Twilight.
"Princess, I wouldn't..."
"It's ok Twilight, I think I know what I'm doing" the princess interrupted, not slowing her pace. Twilight started to follow, feeling protective of her tutor, but Celestia seemed to have predicted this. "No, you wait here, in case I can't come back. If I don't you can assume that my theory was right and that this thing is only visible from certain angles" Twilight hesitated briefly, letting Celestia's words sit on her a moment, before nodding, knowing she was right, and that that had also been her theory. Celestia would just be better at proving it due to her height, being able to look over the ponies that already dominated what was clearly the optimal line of sight to the strange occurrence.
She watched anxiously as Celestia neared the crowd, and slowly circled it, looking for the shortest pony to stand behind and make her sightline easier. When at last she found one, she positioned herself behind them and leaned forward very slowly, looking upward the whole time. Time seemed to slow as Twilight watched the princess's neck slowly extend out, until the tip of her nose was almost brushing the mane of the pony she was behind, where she stopped and remained motionless.
Twilight waited. Her heart pounded in her ears until the dreadful noise that never ceased was pushed to the back of her mind. To an observer, she looked as mesmerised as the ponies in the crowd as she stood watching and waiting for her tutor to return. The princess remained unmoved.
Twilight felt a tear begin to well in her eye as thoughts of her only able ally in this mystery also being caught within it cascaded through her mind in a torrent that threatened to drive her mad. She couldn't make herself look away, until a familiar sound came from behind her. She turned to see the princess's escorts, pulling the chariot now laden with books and her beloved dragon helper, land in the road behind her. As Spike jumped down and ran towards her, she dropped her head.
"Oh Spike, it's got her too... Celestia, she..." she looked up in time to see Spike's eyes widen and her heart took yet another leap. She knew that if this carried on, she wouldn't make it through the day, let alone to the resolution of the mystery. "Celestia is..."
"It's just as I thought" came the princess's voice, startling Twilight to the point of heavy breathing and heart palpitations. She turned to see the princess walking slowly and sadly back towards them and the tear that had threatened her was freed, but from relief rather than sorrow.
"Princess! You're ok!" she cried, running to Celestia and furiously throwing herself into her. This time Celestia was startled. "I was worried you had..."
"It's ok Twilight, I'm fine, and I see Spike and my guards have arrived, perfect" Twilight removed herself from her embrace with Celestia and turned to her dragon, embracing him also. The relief was almost as unbearable as the fear. Spike, taken aback, stepped away.
"What have the two of you learned?" he asked, playing with his tail gingerly.
"Not much, I'm afraid, but it's a start" Celestia replied. "Is there anywhere nearby where we can set up? We're going to need some space nearby to work on this issue, also, Twilight, I would like you to bring me your friends Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, they may be important to us learning more about the anomaly" Twilight nodded, thinking quickly.
"We can probably set up in Sugarcube Corner, provided Mr Cake is still there, it will be open and likely unused today" Celestia nodded at this and told her guards to take their cargo there immediately. "As for Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, I haven't seen either of them yet today, though I did tell Applejack and Rarity to speak to Rainbow Dash earlier, so perhaps I should go to Fluttershy's cottage and get her myself" she turned to Spike. "Can you go and find AJ and Rarity and tell them to meet us at Sugarcube Corner? That would be the quickest way"
"Sure thing" Spike replied, immediately turning into the town and running off to complete his mission. Together they wanted him leave, until Twilight turned back to her tutor.
"Princess Celestia, if you would go with your guards, I'll have everypony with you soon"
Chapter Three - Fly Over
The run to Fluttershy's cottage seemed to take an eternity. The burden of the task, of the story she was bringing to her quietest friend weighed heavily in her mind, and no matter what she did, she could not remove the image of Pinkie Pie's slack-jawed and motionless face from her vision. It seemed to follow her all the way there.
As she rounded the corner that led to clearing in which the tree-cottage stood, Twilight slowed down to gentle trot so she could compose her thoughts into a manner that would make her less likely to ramble, and in turn scare the kind-hearted pony more than she needed to. She also noticed, as she entered the serenity of the glade, that the sound that was haunting the town was less audible out here, almost being covered entirely by the lighter sounds of the wildlife that flourished here. Almost, but not quite.
Fortunately, Fluttershy was already outside, working in her chicken pen, gathering them around her for their breakfast.
Breakfast... Yet another thing that has slipped entirely past me this morning Twilight thought as she slowly approached her friend, though if ever she had felt less-inclined to eat, she could not think of a better occasion. With the gate of the pen ever closer, Twilight slowed more to a walk and tried to think of a way to begin. She didn't have to.
"Oh, good morning Twilight, and how are you today?" Fluttershy's calm voice, the one beacon of normality she had been presented with on this daunting day, danced gracefully towards her as the yellow and pink Pegasus saw her approach.
"Not good, Fluttershy, I come with horrible news..." She watched Fluttershy's eyes widen and hoped, prayed, that she wouldn't bolt.
"What's wrong? Is everypony ok?" Fluttershy asked, concern not so much creeping into her voice as pouncing upon it and ringing the life from it. A normal response for her, but still not good.
"Most of them are" Twilight began a little clumsily. She shook her head and tried again. "No, nopony is fine, it's terrible, something has happened at the Town Hall, and I need you to come with me... We might be the only ones who can stop it" she watched Fluttershy's eyes drop, her head turn away in a cower, but much to her surprise, Fluttershy looked back again resolutely.
"I see" she replied, sounding like she was doing her best to control herself. "Is it something to do with that strange sound?" Twilight perked up a little at this.
"Yes, yes it is, has it not concerned you yet? I know it's not so loud here but..." she trailed off into timidity, leaving Fluttershy to respond.
"I thought it was strange, but out here by the forest I hear a lot of strange noises, so it didn't immediately worry me... But if you're saying it's in town, then..." she shook her head and the resolute look appeared again on the quieter pony. Twilight felt a moment of vertigo at this weird switch in roles, Fluttershy was usually the one lost for words and Twilight had none of the answers.
"You're taking this well" she posited, expecting the Pegasus to revert.
"Well, we get things like this so often that I think I might be growing used to it" Fluttershy explained with a sheepish grin. This, though odd, was certainly a help.
"Yes, but no, nothing like this has ever happened to us before... Look..." Twilight tried again to get her thoughts in order. "You need to come with me to Sugarcube Corner; Princess Celestia is waiting for us there, and hopefully the others too. We need you" that about covered it.
"OK, I'm not sure what I could do to help, but I'll try anything if it's as bad as you make it sound" Fluttershy said as she hopped over the fence of the pen, wings unfurled in a graceful glide, and stood before her friend. "You look really worried, but I'm ready if you are" Twilight nodded and smiled a little, Fluttershy's courage in the face of the unseen horror waiting for them at town helped to renew her resolve. She only wondered how long it would last for either of them once they got there.
Returning to town seemed to be quicker than leaving it, but all the way back Twilight could see that Fluttershy was making a strong effort to remain as brave as she had been. A light sheen had come into her eyes and her wings trembled gently against her sides as she ran, but they were almost at Sugarcube Corner, and Twilight wondered if Celestia might have uncovered anything new in her absence.
When they entered the store, Applejack, Rarity and Rainbow Dash were already there, along with Spike and Celestia, both of whom looked very concerned, and a very upset Mr Cake. He paced around the store nervously absently checking stock, all the while making a visible effort to not look out the window at his stationary wife.
"Ah, Twilight and Fluttershy, you're back" Celestia said as they entered. "Please, come to your friends" they did as they were told and Applejack gave a reassuring nuzzle to Twilight as they stood beside one another.
"Are you alrigh' sugarcube? You look exhausted" she asked soothingly. Twilight nodded.
"As good as I can be, considering..." she looked up at Rainbow Dash, who hovered just above Rarity.
"They told me as much as they could when they found me; I had just got back from a trip to Cloudsdale, so I had no idea until they found me..."
"Well, hopefully we can tell you all more than we knew before" Twilight replied. She looked at Fluttershy, who was looking around with a mystified look on her face.
"Wait a minute" she asked, her old timidity returning. "Where is Pinkie Pie?" the other ponies exchanged quick, silent glances that left the burden of breaking the news to her up to Twilight.
"She's out there, in the square, with the others... Fluttershy, there's something very wrong with Equestria right now, something has appeared out there, by the Town Hall, and Pinkie is caught in it" Fluttershy's eyes began to swim more shimmer at this and she took two timid steps back.
"Oh no..." she said in a barely audible whisper.
"Something indeed" Celestia said, speaking up and drawing all their attention. "From my investigations so far, I have determined that some sort of tear has occurred. It is only visible from certain angles from what I can tell, and those ponies unfortunate enough to see it directly have been put into some sort of trance. They can't stop staring at it. Twilight here was good enough to have contacted me about it, and I think that between us we can fix it, or at the very least understand it" she looked over each of the ponies one by one, lingering a little longer on her student. "Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, right now I need your help determining the range of this thing. Together, the three of us are going to fly up over it to see if it is visible from any other angles" this elicited a quiet yelp from one of them, but with the never ending sound still coursing through the building, Twilight could not be sure which one.
"Twilight, you and the others will stay below us in case something goes wrong. It shouldn't affect us if we only look at it from our peripheral vision, I determined that earlier, as long as we don't look at it full-on we won't be caught in it" Twilight confirmed this with a nod. "Once we know this, we will begin to find a way to free the ponies caught in its trance, I believe we can do this by cocooning it in something, completely blocking off any viewpoint of it. After that, it'll be a matter of informing everypony about what we know. Then Twilight and I will begin to find out what caused it" she turned her attention this time to Spike.
"I would like you to send a message to Canterlot. I want as many of our guards as we can spare to be stationed here and keep everypony away from it. Shining Armour will be able to decide what is best once you give him the news" Twilight's eyes widened. Did she really want to get her brother involved? Celestia thought it prudent, but she didn't know him as well as Twilight did. He would want to be here, on the front line so to speak, and Twilight didn't want to put him in danger.
"But Princess is there not another way to..."
"No Twilight, I'm afraid only the royal guard will do here. We need ponies with presence to keep everypony at bay, we don't want any more events like the one that is already happening" she stood and made her way to the door. "Does everypony know what they are doing?" she asked them. Their response was slow, but positive. Even Rainbow Dash was a little tentative, her usual boisterous attitude softened in the light of the situation's severity. "Good, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, if you will come with me, I will explain our routes to you. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rarity, if you'd station yourselves around the square in preparation, I would appreciate it very much" Together they approached the door, stopping only when Mr Cake finally spoke up.
"Please, help my wife..." he said timidly. "I'll do what I can to help also, but I doubt it'll be much..." Twilight approach the grieving store owner and gave him a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry, we'll do everything in our power, for now you need to stay here with your foals, they will need their father until their mother can return" there was no change in his face, but his tense body loosened a little at her words.
"Thank you everypony..." he said with a slight bow of his head and turned away, walking into the deeper rooms of the store to attend to his offspring. When he was gone, the others left also.
The task was a simple enough one for Rainbow Dash to follow, but some nagging worry kept eating at her as she followed the Princess's instructions and prepared to take off. She wouldn't pretend to know what was going on, it was all already far beyond her capacity to understand, but she knew the importance of her part, and she was more than willing to do whatever she could to help her friends. This did not stop her from maintaining a lingering glance at Pinkie Pie as she took a brief run into her flight.
Together, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Princess Celestia flew above the crowd of entranced ponies, making careful loops out over the unaware ponies, behind and over the Town Hall and specifically near the second floor balcony. Their job was to look and try not to take the same flight-path twice, ensuring as much of the upward angles of the anomaly could be seen as possible.
Rainbow Dash took the middle of the three flight-paths, and so was always the one closest to the anomaly during their sweep of the balcony. Though so far she could see nothing, she did notice a strange difficulty in flying near it. The air around the Town Hall felt heavy, like flying through something akin to water rather than air, and each time she neared the front of the Hall a strange wind began to buffet her body, simultaneously trying to push her away and pull her in. During the first few paths this took her by surprise, the strange bracketed feeling causing her wings to twist at odd angles and her usually perfect glide to rock and involuntarily lose height. She let out a loud cry of surprise, which the Princess heard and addressed.
"What's the matter Rainbow Dash, do you see anything?" she had asked, stopping to hover behind the Hall after their first loop, a look of concern across her face.
"No, I don't see anything, but this air... It's not right..." she replied, sheepishly, inwardly hating the admission of difficulty in her usually skilful flying.
"I know, but we must carry on, don't let it affect you, nothing will hurt you so long as we are all here together" at this she had turned to Fluttershy, who was just circling behind the Hall at this moment. "Are you alright, Fluttershy?" The yellow pegasus had lowered her head.
"I'm... I'm scared, but I'm ok. It's just, I'm not usually the best flyer, and this seems harder than usual..." The princess nodded.
"That's ok; we're all scared, just pay attention to your heading and look for anything out of the ordinary"
"You mean besides that crowd of ponies all staring at us?" Rainbow Dash said instinctively and cringed at her rudeness. If the princess had cared, she didn't show it.
"If we can ascertain that this anomaly is no cause for concern for those above it, then we might be a step closer to rescuing the others. Now come on, this won't take long if we're cautious and work together" and with that said she resumed her flight, though Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy lingered.
"I... I don't like seeing them like that..." Fluttershy said, rubbing the tips of her hooves together sheepishly as she did. Rainbow Dash sighed empathetically and flew to rest a friendly hoof on her friend's shoulder.
"I know, neither do I, especially with Pinkie there, but as the princess said, we'll be done here soon, and then she and Twilight can work out how to stop this... thing" her words of encouragement seemed to offer a little bit of support to the shy pegasus, and through that a little more courage to herself. Fluttershy looked at her.
"I know, then let's go" she said and took off without waiting for a response. Rainbow Dash watched her as she disappeared behind the Hall once more before resuming her own flight.
In all their work took about ten minutes and the whole time Twilight could not stop sneaking glances into the crowd. She wished she wouldn't, preferring to watch the positive work being undertaken by her flying friends, but it was not enough.
My friends... we're working on it, just hold on... she thought to herself between making mental checklists of her own tasks. After this she would resume her research, armed with the new understand that Celestia and the pegasi would bring her, and perhaps that would be enough to put them on the right track. She didn't wholly believe it, but she held on to the hope all the same.
When at last her friends and tutor landed gracefully in front of her, she breathed a sigh of relief. They were safe at least, meaning the anomaly had not taken any new victims since its initial prey. She walked first to Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.
"What did you find?" she asked them. Fluttershy looked away from the crowd while Rainbow Dash looked at her resolutely.
"There is nothing up there. Whatever it is, it just disturbs the air" Twilight turned to her tutor.
"It's safe from above - relatively speaking - so we don't need to worry about anypony being caught from above, however we will need to make sure that nopony flies over, it's still dangerous" she looked at her two flying subjects with pride. "Thank you, both of you, for your brave work. None of us knew what kind of risks we were taking, but I'm glad you didn't let it stop you" again, Twilight marvelled at Fluttershy's remaining bravery. When had the pegasus become so able? She felt a strong ball of pride build up within her for her yellow friend.
"Now what, Princess?" she asked, spying Applejack and Rarity approaching them from behind Celestia.
"Now we can resume your research. I will return to contact my librarians in Canterlot to bring to us every book they have on this and similar subjects and together we shall see what we can learn. The guards should have gotten my letter by now as well, so your brother will be gathering them in preparation, so we shall return to you together" she looked over the five ponies before her with a sad but resolute eye. "In the meantime, I want all of you to rest, perhaps you can find the Mayor and inform her of what we now know, we could use everypony at our disposal"
"Of course" Twilight replied, also looking at her friends, but specifically looking at the gap where one pony was not. "How long do you think this will take?" she asked tentatively.
"I will be back within the hour, barring no complications. Please, rest, get something to eat, you all look so tired and we need you to be at your best" she unfurled her glorious white wings and waved them at her guards. "I will be back in an hour. Good luck, everypony" she said nobly, and took off once again into the dangerous skies of Ponyville.
Chapter Four: Course of Action
The Mayor had been successful in her job, having gathered together every pony in town who hadn't been affected by the anomaly and herded them to Sweet Apple Acres, at Applejack's request. When Twilight Sparkle and the others arrived, they found everypony inside the largest barn, where The Mayor was explaining what she knew from one of the barn's upper balconies. Her tired face lit up with a weak but relieved smile as they entered.
"How is everypony doing?" Twilight asked as she climbed to the upper level with Spike in tow, leaving the others to mingle and gather with their families below. Though nopony moved much, there was a constant low murmur in the crowd as ponies worriedly discussed what was happening. Whether they were saying anything that may help or be new to anypony, Twilight did not know, but she suspected the constant chatter was more likely aimed at blocking out the horrible sound that was still flooding the town. It was still there but quieter under the sound of talk.
"They are understandably scared" The Mayor replied. "But they seem happy that you are on the case of this. Have you anymore news?" Twilight nodded.
"Yes, I do" she turned from the mayor and addressed the barn at large, drawing all eyes upon her. She shuffled nervously from hoof to hoof as a wave of stage fright swept through her, but the seriousness of the situation was enough to stop the torrent. They needed to know what she did.
"Good morning everypony, I'm sorry that we must gather under these circumstances, but I do bring good news..." she began as the murmur died down. She gazed down at the faces below her and again hated to see the looks of fear on the faces of her friends. They all wore the same expression: a sad terror with a hint of hope at the forthcoming words she had to offer them. She feared they may not be enough at this time, but whatever hope she could give them, if any at all, would be enough for now. "Princess Celestia has personally joined me in attempting to resolve the mystery at Town Hall, and I think together we solve it. At this moment she is flying back to Canterlot where she will seek more aid. When she returns it will be with the royal guard, who will be stationed in town to prevent any more disasters" she paused to gather her thoughts and give her audience time to speak, which some of them took.
"What has happened to those poor ponies in town? Can you tell us that?" asked Miss Cheerliee from the middle of the group. A hushed murmur rose through the crowd again as ponies asked the same thing of each other automatically, as if confirming it was on everyponies mind, which Twilight did not doubt.
"From our observations, the Princess and I have determined that whatever it is that has appeared at Town Hall, which we are calling 'The Anomaly', puts anypony unfortunate enough to look directly at it into a trance. At the moment we don't know of any way to free them from it, but Celestia has suggested to me that she may have an idea, which we will put into practice as soon as we can" she gave a sigh of relief at having gotten the worst news out of the way, and she could see acceptance and a little closure appear on the faces within the crowd. This was going in the right direction. She took another breath ready to speak again, but found herself interrupted.
"But I don't see anything down there! When I looked past the crowd, there was nothing to see!" cried a familiar voice. It was that of Sweetie Belle, who was standing beside her older sister. The years since her childhood were beginning to show, as she was almost the same height as Rarity now.
"That we can also explain, the Anomaly is only visible from certain angles, angles which have been occupied by those ponies already caught by it"
"Yeah" continued Rainbow Dash as she took wing and flew up beside her friend, looking down on the crowd. "The Princess, Fluttershy and I all flew over it, and we can safely say that it is invisible from above too" Twilight nodded to her in thanks for the reprieve.
"From this I can speculate that the anomaly is spacial in nature, in that it only seems to occupy one dimension that we can perceive it from..." this time her audience looked at her with clear confusion. Many things change as time goes on in Equestria, but if one thing remained a solid fact, it was that the ponies of Ponyville would never fully understand Twilight when she had her education head on. She rolled her eyes and couldn't help a little grin at this familiar sign, one more piece of normality in an otherwise utterly unnatural day. "It is flat, like a mirror, and can only be looked into from one side. So long as you don't look into it from where it is visible, you will be fine" this elicited a more accepting response from the others and seemed to relieve some more of the initial fear. Once this subsided, the Mayor stepped forward again.
"Thank you Twilight Sparkle, you seem to have learned enough to deal with this problem and save us all!" she said with a broad smile that made Twilight's heart sink. This was not an appropriate thing to have said, and she feared it would undo all that she had so far done.
"Well, no, not yet Mayor..." she said, making the Mayor's smile drop, hard. She turned back to the crowd. "But it's a start, and now that we know how it works, we can work on precisely what it is and what caused it. Then we will be able to stop it" she paused, but briefly this time, so as to not let anyone speak again. "And to do that we will need every pony's help. For a start, we don't know how the others will react when brought out of the trance they are in, so when we manage to do that we will need them to be looked after. It will be too much for the doctors to handle alone, so if we could get some volunteers to help them, we will be able to cope" she looked at the two doctors who were stood in the crowd at present. "Do you think you can set up a temporary hospital outside of the town square to accommodate them?" they looked at each other briefly before nodding.
"Of course, we shall begin that immediately, we still have a few of the medical tents left in the Town Hall, and I shall take a small group with me to set them up" one of them replied resolutely.
"Thank you, any pony willing to help, please speak to the doctor for tasks. Further to this we will need somewhere for the guards to stay while they are here, I don't know how many there will be, but I think it safe to say that Ponyville will be a little crowded for a while" she paused to consider a place that was acceptable, but was beaten to it.
"Ah think the best place for 'em would be out here at Sweet Apple Acres" Applejack spoke up. "There's plenty o' room in the West field, and we'll have enough food for 'em too" she was over in one corner, huddled with her family who were all nodding in agreement.
"The harvest has just passed there, so it'll be clear" an older Applebloom continued. "It's also the field with the nearest route town"
"Eeyup" Big Macintosh agreed.
"Thank you all" Twilight replied. "That would be great, and again, if any pony is willing to help the Apples with this, I'm sure it will be appreciated" again a murmur in the crowd, much more resolute this time with the idea of set tasks to accomplish. Twilight was once more about continue when a deep hitching sound began beside her. She turned in time to see Spike produce a letter and skim read it quickly.
"Excuse me" he said sheepishly. "It's for you Twilight, the Princess is almost ready, and she has one more request before she returns"
"Go ahead Spike" Twilight urged, watching the dragon, who cleared his throat.
"Dearest Twilight, we will be leaving from Canterlot within the next ten minutes, the guard are informed of their duty and ready for departure, and the library has offered up a large number of texts pertaining to the subject we are dealing with. I have also been considering the problem of rescuing those poor ponies trapped by the anomaly. You can thank Luna for the suggestion she inspired later, but I will once again require the help of your friend Fluttershy, who I need to bring as many butterflies as she can from around Ponyville to the town square upon my arrival. I hope things are going well on your part, if this idea works then we will have one less issue to contend with. Yours, Princess Celestia" he rolled up the parchment and held it by his side when he was finished, and Twilight watched him with a small smile at the progress being made, then turned back to the crowd.
"Fluttershy?" she asked, causing the who crowd to turn on the poor mare, who cowered down under the dozens of eyes that turned on her.
"Y... yes, Twilight?" she stammer out, clearly uncomfortable. Twilight felt sorry for putter her in this situation, but had no choice but to continue.
"Do you think you can do what the Princess asked?" the cowering pony gave a slight nod and climbed unsteadily to her feet.
"Yes, I think I can, though it might take a little while on my own" she replied, barely loud enough for Twilight to hear across the barn and over the noise from town, which had become more audible now that no pony was speaking. Twilight looked about the crowd.
"Uh, does anypony think they might be able to help out?" she asked unsurely. There was silence for a moment, before an olive-coloured pegasus with brown and orange hair spoke up.
"I don't know how much good I will be, but I can try to help" he walked over to stand next to Fluttershy. "Just tell me what to do" Fluttershy nodded a little timidly.
"Ok, th...thanks" she turned back to Twilight. "Should we go now?" she asked.
"Sooner the better, I think" she replied and the two pegasi took off. She addressed the crowd in full again. "Right, so those are the tasks we need to do. If some of you could help the doctors with setting up in town, and others of your help the Apples out here, we can have everything ready before the Princess returns. Then, it's just a matter of dealing with all this, but I think if we all work together, we can overcome it. We've never been beaten before" she turned to Spike. "We will head back to Sugarcube Corner to begin some preliminary research, then we'll stop by the medical camp to see how things are going before meeting the Princess at the station, Mayor Mare, can you help the others in sorting into groups then meet us there when everything is complete?"
"Of course Twilight Sparkle, and thank you again for your hard work, I think I speak for everypony here when I say that we are so glad to have you on the case" Twilight nodded.
"Thank you, too" she turned to everypony else. "Let's get to work"