This sneaky fox, always clad in a blue mask and gloves, has long been a bane of unwary travelers with loose accouterments.
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At the same time, back in Ponyville...
"It's going to be just okay," Rarity muttered, rubbing her cheek against Sweetie Belle's neck and cradling her even closer, "Just perfectly okay. I promise." She held her hooves against the filly's chest.
"T-t-t-t-the w-w-water... it was... touching... shivering... not just water... like..." Sweetie kept on muttering, eyes bulging out as she shivered ever so often. "Like... touching death. Touching fear." She snorted, letting out a spasm of coughing a moment later.
"Twilight, please," Rarity called out, "she's starting to go back into shock again."
"Try this!" Twilight yelled, speeding through the front door and pulling up a magically enchanted blanket behind her. She took a deep breath as she curled it around Sweetie, folds rubbing up along the filly's hooves.
"L-liquid death. L-liquid death. D-d-death," Sweetie sputtered, shivering even more as her bottom hooves clicked against the floor.
"It's no good," Twilight said, scrunching her face as she stared upon the filly. Sweetie's body contorted, still flashing through her horrible experiences, as she ears curled backwards and her breaths turned into pants. "She's wandering again."
"She needs to 'wander' back to reality, and soon!" Rarity called out, trying not to cry as she enveloped her sister with her still hooves against hers. She locked eyes with Twilight. "Please!" She rubbed Sweetie against the blanket. "Twilight, please!"
"Who the hay was it!" Rainbow Dash screamed, bursting through the doors of Sugarcube Corner with her tail shot out into the air and her face covered in rage. "The second I get my hooves on that monster I'm bucking him straight down to the center of the blasted earth!" Her head shook as she stepped inside, every move just holding back pure energy.
"Dash," Rarity and Twilight quietly replied at the same time, head shaking.
The pegasus' rage deflated slightly, and she moved over to Rarity's side. She looked upon the still terrified filly. Sweetie's eyes seemed locked, staring out into nothingness with her pupils dialted. Her mouth hung open every so lightly, panting.
"Twilight, I... oh, am I interrupting... sorry," Fluttershy said, popping up. The mares looked back blankly at her. "Oh, Spike said that the results turned up, exact words, 'very shiny and very gray but white chalky lines along the top'. The poor baby dragon's face seemed solemn as a statue."
"Oh, goodness," Twilight replied. She leaned over Rarity and her sister, muttering a quick spell. The towel glowed a bright purple, and thick blackish purple splotches appeared across it.
"What does it mean?" Rarity didn't even want to look up at the other mare, totally afraid of what she might say.
"That means that it's not just an elemental spell," Twilight replied, walking over to the counter to get another vitamin and mineral filled drink for the tormented filly, "and it's not just a spell with energy draining and mind control abilities." She took a gulp. "Those kind of things, you fix them easily. And she looked fine just a moment ago."
"She sure isn't fine now!" Rarity retorted, exasperation going over her face as her mane shook against the wall.
"I know, I know," Twilight commented, sticking the drink underneath Sweetie's face. She took the straw into her lips, but her horrible, vacant expression kept on. She lit up her horn, her magic going over Sweetie's body directly once again. She saw little gray ripples of energy going across the poor filly's fur.
Twilight and Sweetie both shivered. Twilight leaned back, letting out a deep breath, and the filly closed her eyes. Sweetie made a huge yawn. Rarity and Twilight smiled wide.
"Oh, thank goodness, she's getting back to normal," Fluttershy commented, walking over besides the two mares. Rainbow just stared at the scene, hardly knowing what to think.
"A spell I can manage," Twilight said as Sweetie sailed off to dreamland. The unicorn rubbed her head against the wall, hooves beating against the floor in frustration. "But... wow... a Clover's Felicity test with both a super high p-count and a chalky white spin-value residual? By Starswirl's beard!" She almost bit her lip.
"Twilight," Rainbow Dash said, stepping over.
"How is that even scientifically possible?" Twilight said to herself, lost totally in thought. "The sheer energies involved with that kind of p-count wouldn't be stable enough to even last a few minutes, let along long afterwards... the Heisenberg compensation effect would kick in immediately. Wouldn't it?"
"Twilight," Rarity said.
"But then the f-spin residual would... have to mean a geometrical particle pattern that doesn't... or maybe..." Twilight muttered. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall, equations flying around in her mind.
"Twilight!" Screamed the other three mares.
The unicorn looked back at them and stepped away from the wall, blushing profusely.
"Darling, I think you need to put this in normal Equestrian speak for us," Rarity said, her huge eyes showing pure apprehension. She held Sweetie, deep in sleep, close to her chest.
"Well," Twilight began, pulling her head to the side and sucking in such a huge breath that she could have inhaled a bird, "I have to put it you straight." She closed her eyes. "It's-- well-- another world."
"Another world?" Rainbow repeated, her anger fading into a purely confused expression with her tail flickering in the air.
Twilight sat down, pressing a hoof against her cheek. She looked over at the windows to see Applejack standing right outside Sugarcube Corner, looking more fearful than she had seen for a long time. "Yes, another blasted world," Twilight called out as Applejack made her way through the bakery's show-floor.
"Twilight, I don't understand," Rarity began.
"I don't understand either!" Twilight yelled, leaping up in the air just like Pinkie would. She panted for a second, and she looked sheepish. Applejack, Rainbow, and Fluttershy glanced at her with open eyes, hanging on every word. "My friends, it's not a spell that's anything that works like I'd read about in my books. It's not an ordinary spell. In fact, it's not even a spell at all, not entirely."
"What is it, then?" Rarity asked. She felt Sweetie's breathing slowing, the filly looking so much younger cradled in Rarity's arms, and she grew even more worried.
"The physics indicate, to put it succinctly," Twilight began, stepping over in front of the stacks and stacks of cakes and cookies. The other four mares moved closer to each other, without even thinking taking emotional strength from each other. "Sweetie was trapped in a place outside of Equestria. Or, more accurately, she was in a place under Equestria itself. What the test results and symptoms indicate is a constant, incessant exposure to magic at the level of Princess Celestia-- foul magic designed to corrupt her by taking her energy and infecting her mind-- that works under different physics than Equestria. She also suffered from direct, physical exposure to--" She strained to think of the right words. "She was bathing in industrial waste, basically."
"My darling was swimming in factory sewers!" Rarity hollered, shivering with pure emotion. She scrunched her face before looking back down at Sweetie. Her breathing had slowed even more, and her sleep had gotten even deeper.
"Oh, Twilight, I think that something's wrong," Fluttershy said, rubbing a hoof against Sweetie's forehead.
"Whatever alternate world, or 'underworld', that she happened to fall into," Twilight went on, sucked into her own spiel, "it had magically spiked air, breathing in affected her like a poisonous fume. That liquid, that water that she kept talking about, had to have been something else. Even more powerful, it represented something like wading into the blood, the very life force, of whatever monster wanted to hurt her-- a physical exposure to that monster's dark desires and--"
"She's not breathing!"
Twilight felt her world come crashing down upon her. She sped over to Rarity's side. The five mares all held Sweetie with their hooves, eyes focusing on her peaceful, formerly sleeping face. They all tapped her on the cheeks, wiggling her body.
"This is bad!" Rainbow yelled.
"Oh, please, Sweetie!" Rarity screamed.
"Sweetie!" Fluttershy repeated.
"Hang in there, sugarcube!" Applejack yelled.
"No... oh, dear Celestia, please no..." Twilight whispered. Her eyes started to fill with tears. "It's my magic... my counter-spell to make her sleep... it's all my bucking fault..." She felt a sharp, painful coating of ice going over her heart.
"I'm here, what did I miss?" Pinkie Pie asked, stepping out from a side door with a gigantic cupcake in her hoof.
"Pinkie!" Her five friends screamed out, emotions bubbling up inside of them all.
"Not a moment too soon, too!" Pinkie hurled herself through the air onto Applejack's back. She gazed at Sweetie for a second, the unconscious mare looking as still and as beautiful as a door. Pinkie's eyes narrowed.
Pinkie smashed the cupcake onto Sweetie's face.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" Sweetie called out, hopping up into the air and landing onto the table of scones behind her.
"You're alive!" Rarity yelled, kissing her little sister. Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow, and Twilight all doted on the filly, making happy noises and congradulating her.
Sweetie made a bubbly yet surprised expression, eyeing the crowd of ponies around her. "Hey, that smells nice." She licked up around her face. She made a happy sigh.
"How did you?" Twilight asked Pinkie, staring at the bouncy, giggling pink mare.
"No pony can stay sad with a fresh Triple White-Chocolate Strawberry Supreme on their plate!"
"But-- but-- she was-- unconscious-- and then--" Twilight stammered.
Shrugging for a second, Pinkie replied, "Just like how no pony can stay sleeping with a fresh Triple White-Chocolate Strawberry Supreme on their face! Like I always say, 'T.W.C.S.S. is your taste-buds best fix'!"
"Since when have you ever said that?"
Pinkie smiled and shrugged once more. Twilight gave up, returning to Sweetie's side. The filly curled around her older sister, her hooves locking tightly against her chest. Rarity just beamed.
"Sweetie, I know you've been through a lot, but I have to ask you some important questions," Twilight said, looking caring yet also determined.
Sweetie nodded. Applejack gave her a quick hug as Rarity watched. Fluttershy, Rainbow, and Pinkie stood behind Twilight, feeling total anticipation.
"It's crucial for you to tell us what you know, since Applebloom and Scootaloo have both been missing all day."
Sweetie looked worried for a moment, not sure how the ponies would take her odd story. She took a little breath, and she began. She described how the CMC swiped the outfits from the Canterlot unicorns visiting Twilight's library earlier that morning, eyed one of their carefully held and oldest looking books about forbidden black magic, replaced that with a similar sized book from the waiting room of Colgate's Dentistry, and planned to try for their black magical cutie marks. Rather than get angry, the six mares simply hung on her every word, astonished at what the CMC had done.
Sweetie could hardly believe what they had done herself. She continued, detailing their ceremony in the Everfree Forest and the sudden magical explosion as their spell worked beyond their wildest dreams. That had quickly turned into a nightmare. She spared no detail as she recounted the horrible underworld of rusty metal platforms, endless paths that lead to nowhere, her own voice getting snuffed out with only the sound of her hooftaps left, cryptic and disturbing messages carved on the walls saying that her fellow CMC had abandoned her and could never save her, and-- worst of all-- a horrible rushing liquid that had moved up floor by floor underneath her until she had almost drown in it.
She began to sweat profusely as she remembered the awful liquid creeping up her legs. It seemed to have a life of its own. Horrible voices and images had slammed into her head, elemental kinds of things that almost made it hard to breathe. The liquid, feeling like thousands of horrible slurpy kisses along her fur, seemed to be haunted by these sensations.
Sweetie saw a door, a door looking like any other door that she'd see in a store or house, speeding through the air in front of her right for her. She had frozen, hardly able to breathe, and thought that it meant the end for her. Suddenly, ping-pong balls, thousands of them, had popped up around her body and lifted her up out of the liquid.
She saw a huge blur, and she ended up right in front of Sugarcube Corner. She felt her conscious mind burying itself into her body. She moved inside with a dream-like state, trying to talk to the ponies around her but feeling so sick and overwhelmed that she could barely stand. She somehow collapsed into Rarity's hooves.
"That's... that's... just..." Twilight said, struggling to find her words, "thank you, Sweetie, for telling us all this."
"Twilight, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Applejack asked, scratching her chin. "Even though we all thought that the Princess and us had whooped her, and good?"
"It can't be... oh..." Fluttershy muttered.
Pinkie took a deep breath.
"It's her," Twilight flatly stated, sitting down on the floor and staring out the window at the hustle and bustle of Ponyville. "I know it's her."
"I'm going to squash that bug for good, this time!" Rainbow slammed her hooves against the floor, her mane curling across her shoulders.
"But that's not the-- there's one more thing. One more most important thing," Sweetie said, standing up on her hind hooves and pouring emotion into her voice.
"What?" asked the six ponies in front of her.
"Through the door, as it flew over to me, I saw something. I saw this one last image, and I think I wasn't supposed to see. It was only for a split-second. But it totally burned into my mind," Sweetie recounted, voice squeaking.
"Applebloom?" Applejack asked, hope flashing over her face.
"I saw Scootaloo cowering below a tall stallion with slate gray hooves, a cream-colored suit, a sharp black tie, and a greyish-brown mane. I only saw his back, but he had dark green magic oozing from his mouth over her head."
"Oh, dear sweet Celestia," Rarity murmured.
"That poor... poor filly..." Fluttershy whispered.
"But that's not the biggest thing! No!" Sweetie bounced up and down, totally insistent.
All of the ponies could hardly breathe, waiting on Sweetie to finally spit it out.
"I saw Applebloom!" Sweetie called out. "She was standing back on her hind hooves several feet behind the stallion. She had-- the oddest things with her--" Sweetie strained her face, trying to remember every last detail. "She had a small, fluffy bunny in one of her front hooves. On her back, she had this bird with lots of whitish spots that was blackish and bluish, like a starling I guess. She also had this tall, shiny thing in her hooves like a microphone that she pointed right at the stallion's back."
"My goodness, sugarcube," Applejack murmured.
"The second weirdest thing was that the microphone had glowed with this red aura, the same kind of red aura that she kind of had over her mane and her face just so faintly. Like magic. Not anypony else's magic. It was like her magic."
"Listen to me very carefully, Sweetie," Twilight said, lining up her face just inches from the filly's, "what was the... the first weirdest thing..."
"Applebloom," Sweetie replied, "was smiling."
To Be Continued...