Ring ring. The bell of Carousel Boutique rang loud as Twilight nudged the door open with some difficulty. She was holding a paper bag by its rope handle between her teeth, and trying to keep it from being squished between the door and the wall proved to be a challenge, which she negotiated with a muffled grunt, eventually emerging victorious in the boutique’s interior. She grinned, and spat the bag unceremoniously onto the floor in direct contradiction to her care to ensure its structural integrity.
She was the only pony inside, as far as she could tell.
Her words didn’t echo, but they faded into the decorated walls and bundles of fabric as though the air had sucked them away. She was sure Rarity would be expecting her – they had made plans, after all.
“Rarity?” she called out again, leaving the bag on the floor of the boutique and stepping cautiously across the room. She knew that Rarity’s business did double duty as her place of residence as well, which mean that unless Rarity had run out for some reason, she was likely to be found somewhere inside.
Twilight heard the first hint of noise since she had entered as she neared the sewing corner. A sound trickled towards her, and a turn of her head found the direction of the commotion – a series of buzzes and beeps, along with somepony’s voice she couldn’t quite make out, dancing down a hallway just to her left. Twilight peeked her head around the corner of the hall cautiously, and caught a bit more of the mishmash of sounds. She couldn’t place any of it, but it sounded rushed, and frantic. Eventually, words emerged from the haze of unfamiliar mechanical hubbub.
“No, don’t, not over there… come on, be careful…”
Pinkie Pie? The volume and chipper tone were far too animated to be Rarity – but what was Pinkie Pie doing over at Rarity’s boutique, especially without Rarity around? Even more than that, she sounded upset, like she was trying to convince someone away from a very bad course of action.
Twilight started down the hallway, keeping her ears perked for any further signs of what she might be walking into. The bloops and beeps continued, along with a ticking that sounded like a peculiar clock of some kind… or a timer.
“No no no, I need you to help. Look, this is important, if we don’t-“
Pinkie’s voice was cut off by a horrendous screech, like a cross between a steam-engine and a cat, hissing at a volume that made Twilight cover her ears in distress.
“AAAAH! Oh no! Ohmygoodness ohmygoodness ohmygoodness… this is bad, really bad! Okay, I think we can still fix it, it’s not too late…”
The beeping had grown louder and more insistent now, ticking faster and faster as Twilight walked towards the source of the sound. It was coming from behind a closed door at the hallway’s end, the volume of the terrible mechanical noises making their way through the wood without effort. Twilight could hear Pinkie’s panic as she neared the door. Was everything okay? Pinkie sounded like she needed help. But, if there was something dangerous behind that door, maybe rushing in to things wasn’t the best idea…
“-if we don’t hurry this whole place is going to explode! We have to be quick!”
Did she just say explode?
Twilight’s eyes widened. She was only a few feet away from the door. If something was going to explode... what should she do? She could burst through the door and try to help, but that might only make things worse; or, she could run, and try get somepony to help-
“Five seconds!” Pinkie’s voice screamed through the wall. Twilight swallowed, feeling a sudden dryness of her throat. She didn’t know what to do. Anxious, she let her hoof rest on the door, ready to push it inward. She could hear Pinkie’s counting through the haze of her worry, knowing that she only had a few seconds. If this was her choice, it was now or never. Twilight threw the door open-
“Nooooo, we’re too late! It’s gonna blow!”
“Aaaah!” Twilight threw herself to the ground and braced her legs over her head, helping to shelter herself from whatever blast she was about to immerse herself in. Twilight saw her life flash before her eyes. Growing up in Canterlot. The first day she had arrived in Ponyville. A hundred other memories playing back as she prepared for an explosion she hadn’t even anticipated a moment ago, and was now going to send her to the pony afterlife. Her last thought was that she wished she had moved faster.
The sound came, rattling her ear drums. It was awful, a hundred bleeps and bloops and a final tick smooshed together. Twilight gasped, and sent her last thoughts off into nothingness.
A few seconds passed. The sound of the explosion faded into quiet. Twilight blinked.
“Awww, we almost had it!”
That was Sweetie Belle’s voice. Twilight opened her eyes.
“Twilight, what are you doing down there?”
Pinkie Pie was there, looking down at Twilight with a confused expression. Twilight looked around, unsure.
“Pinkie Pie? Are you okay? I thought I heard… you said there was going to be an explosion-“
“There sure was! We were on the last level, too.” Pinkie Pie looked over Twilight, who was still huddled on the floor in preparation for a detonation. “Did I have the volume up too high?”
Twilight blinked again, and peered out from between her foreleg shelter. Sweetie Belle was sitting in front what to be a large box with a sheet of glass making a window on the front. What she saw inside, she couldn’t say – it was strange, a black background with tiny numbers and letters all over. And two large words in the center, in bright red. -GAME OVER-
“I think you maybe had your volume up too high, Pinkie.” Sweetie Belle giggled, and set something down on the floor, a square length that was connected to the box with a window by a black cord. Pinkie laughed along with her, and smiled apologetically.
“Heh… Oops. Sorry, I just get really excited when things are getting so intense. This game is a blast!”
“Game?” Twilight’s voice was dripping with confusion. A minute ago, and she had been ready to kiss her flank goodbye in a burst of fire and nitrous, and now she was staring into a blinking box with words dancing in front of her, which was apparently some sort of game.
“Yeah, game! It’s this great thing Rarity found at the flea market-“
“Ohmigosh, Twilight, it’s amazing!” Pinkie Pie’s bursting with enthusiasm cut Sweetie off mid-explanation. Pinkie grabbed Twilight by one of her forelegs and pulled her up right, dragging her over towards the window-box. The window had changed now, and was showing two ponies jumping in circles over a screen with the word “COLTRA” superimposed on the top.
“This is really the best thing ever! It’s some kind of weird gypsy magic.”
“Pinkie, there’s no such thing as gypsy magic… and even if there were, that’s not at all a ponelitically correct term for referring to it.”
“But it is! Rarity said she bought it from a pony with fancy hooded clothes and she talked like dis-“ Pinkie slipped into her best approximation of a Stalliongrad accent. “and said Ah, miss pretty pony, I zink I haf a treasure you will vind very appealing-“
Pinkie Pie gestured broadly towards a strange box sitting at the foot of the window container, which Twilight could see the two cords seemed to be attached to.
“-and she wasn’t sure but eventually the other pony convinced her and she bought and brought it home and it’s some kind of magic that makes pictures and things appear on this screen and you can move them around with these doohickeys-“
“Pinkie, calm down.” Twilight was still trying to recover from the burst of adrenaline that had rushed through her body when she was sure she was about to be blown to smithereens, and Pinkie’s rapid-fire explanation wasn’t helping the situation.
Pinkie stopped the bouncing she had started mid-way through her sentence, and rocked back and forth on her hind legs, looking at Twilight expectantly.
“So… it’s some kind of machine? Or a game?”
“It’s both! The machine makes the game!”
Twilight tilted her head to the side, raising one eyebrow in confusion.
“Here, let me show you,” said Pinkie, grabbing Twilight between her forelegs and dragging her over to where Sweetie Belle was still sitting on the floor, watching with an amused look on her face. Pinkie Pie grabbed one of the objects tethered to the strange box and placed it in Twilight’s hooves. The thing had a peculiar texture, like a cross between metal and wood. It had a black finish, and there were protrusions on one side, buttons that jutted out from the surface about half an inch.
“Okay. So this is the thing you use to make stuff happen over there.” Pinkie Pie pointed towards
"Eto magiya, Comrade Spakle!"
Twilight blinked at the fur cap that had appeared suddenly atop Pinkie's head. Conversations with Pinkie always had a habit of rousing more questions than they answered.
"Okay... besides 'magic', can you show me how it works?"
"Konechno, of course!" Pinkie grabbed one of the square objects connected via cord and held it between her hooves.
"Okay, so look up on the screen there. See the blue pony doing cool spins?"
Twilight looked up and saw exactly that - or rather, a crude approximation of what might be a pony. It was made up of tiny coloured blocks, and was transitioning roughly between different poses, sliding inelegantly from frame to frame to form a spinning jump. If Twilight squinted, she could believe it was a pony.
"Yes, I see him."
"-Hi Twilight! Will you help me defeat the changelings and save Equestria?" Pinkie's voice squeaked even higher than her normal register as she spoke for the blob of pixels on the screen in front of her. Twilight rolled her eyes.
"Oooh ooh ooh! Look, I can do a super big jump!" The blockish pony blob rocketed into the air, landing with a 'bloop' on the flat line of black meant to represent the ground.
"Ooh, sorry." Pinkie blushed, and continued her explanation. "So you use these things to control the stuff on the screen. You can jump and shoot fireballs-" Pinkie demonstrated by sending a red blob across the screen) "-and it's your job to save the world from the bad guys!"
"This seems kind of juvenile, Pinkie... no offense." Twilight gave a sideways look to Sweetie Belle, who's mouth formed the inklings of an affronted frown. "I mean, isn't this kind of like playing make believe on the playground, but with blobby ponies on a window?"
"No, there's bleeps and bloops and big explosions too!"
"...right. But what makes it fun?"
"I dunno! It just is. It's cool to press a button and have something happen right in front of you. Look, you try it. Press the button on this side."
Twilight eyed the controlling device suspiciously, short-handing it to 'controller' in her head. The right side had two large bumps, what she supposed were trigger buttons. Twilight poked the one on the far right. The screen-box emitted a low 'boop' and the pony blob on screen jumped into the air. Twilight paused for a moment, and then pushed the button again. Boop. Jump.
Hm. Boop. Jump.
"Try using your other hoof to move around." Pinkie handed the controller to Twilight, who placed it on the floor. The left side had a sort of cross, with one extension pointing in each cardinal direction. Twilight pressed down on the right arrow experimentally, and the pony on screen ran to the right. She pressed the other side, and he ran to the left. Still curious, Twilight tapped the second button. A red blob shot across the screen.
Well... it was novel, at least.
"Alright, I understand how you play... but how does it work?"
"I already told you, silly! It's magic!"
"Pinkie, magic is a concept so vast, you might as well say 'it works with science'. What particular magic is going on here? Is there a spell on the box? Is there a miniature gremlin inside that screen jumping when I press this button?"
Pinkie looked ponderous for a moment, and placed her hoof to her chin as her eyes drifted in thought.
"Hmm... I don't think there's a gremlin."
"Well then?" Twilight was beginning to sound impatient.
"Rarity said there's a gem!"
Sweetie Belle's voice joined the conversation for the first time, and Twilight turned towards the filly, raising one eyebrow in curiosity.
Sweetie nodded enthusiastically.
"Uh-huh. That's how she found it. She was in the market when her horn started to go haywire, like when she got her cutie mark! And she followed it, and found the box, and the pony who was selling it told her there was a gem inside that made it work. It's a magic gem!"
Twilight hadn't heard of any such thing in her many studies of enchantment. Some gems were inherently magical, but weaving spells around them was an area of little application. What could be done with a gem, aside perhaps making it brighter?
Hm. There was the possibility that a well carved gem could be used as a vessel for internal refraction. With the right magical application, it could become a sort of battery, powering a device with a reserve of energy. Or, if somepony got creative, maybe even more than that.
"I think I get it now... sort of."
"Great!" Pinkie beamed. "I'm glad you do, because I have no idea!"
"But, it's lots of fun! You should try playing with us."
Twilight eyed the screen with a raised eyebrow, watching the bright orange pony Sweetie was controlling bounce around the screen, unable to progress as the pony Twilight held the controller for was stuck at the opposite end, unmoving.
"I don't think shooting fireballs at changelings is really my idea of a good time, Pinkie." Twilight shoved the controller forward on the floor towards Sweetie Belle. "Thanks anyway though."
"Ooh ooh ooh! That's okay, 'cause there's lots more games than just this one."
Twilight's eyebrow was in a perpetual state of curiosity. she looked like she had a fish-hook pulling it in one direction.
"Yeah yeah yeah! This one is really fun, but there's lots more... hold on, lemme put one in."
Pinkie Pie bounced over to the box at the bottom of the large screen. She leaned down to it and bonked the top with her hoof, which made a soft 'clunk'. The sound also followed a strange card popping out of the side of the box, which Pinkie grasped between her hooves and pulled towards herself. She set it into gently on the ground, and pulled a similar looking card from a wooden container that Twilight hadn't caught immediate sight of. She gave it a quick blow, like someone would putting out a birthday candle, and then slid it inside the box, closing it with another pop of her hoof. The blobby ponies and black background on the screen vanished for a moment, before flaring into life with a flash of light. The words "eQuestria Quest II" fell from the top of the glass in blocky letters, overtop a background of trees and mountains.
"The second one! Number one wasn't bad either though."
"How many of these games have you played already, Pinkie?"
"I still haven't tried them all... but I think I know which ones are the best!"
Twilight eyed the title screen suspiciously.
"So what's so great about this one? Do you do something other than shoot changelings?"
Pinkie grinned and grabbed up her controller.
"Yep! You shoot trolls and dragons!"
Twilight rolled her eyes.
"It's great! You're the hero, on a quest to save your prince from the evil king of chaos!" Pinkie pressed on the directional pad and a pony with grey blocks around his body appeared on screen and started running to the right.
"...You're rescuing a prince? Isn't it usually the other way around?"
Pinkie narrowed her eyes knowingly.
"Come on, Twilight. You've met enough boys in your life... do any of them seem like they're cut out for saving a princess?"
She had a point.
"This is all about girl power! You get to use a sword and collect treasure and fight the dragon king at the end!"
"The dragon king is really hard!" Sweetie piped up, and Pinkie nodded in agreement.
Twilight wasn't sure what to make of all this. On one hoof, it was clearly an elaborate miracle of magical technology. Part of Twilight wanted desperately to disassemble each of its components and set to work understanding how the whole thing functioned. On the other hoof... Twilight didn't see even the slightest appeal in pretending to be a block-shaped pony running around on a glass screen, hitting monsters and saving the world. It was the farthest thing from practical she could imagine.
She understood why Pinkie liked it so much, though.
The ring of a bell amidst the bleeps on screen of Pinkie whacking a tree monster with her sword drew Twilight's attention, and she turned her head over her shoulder towards the room door. She heard somepony's hoofsteps on the boutique floor. After a moment, the door opened, and Rarity stepped inside, two saddlebags thrown around her neck. She was breathing heavily, looking flustered as though she'd just run a mile or two.
"Goodness... I managed to get everything in one go. The way these stores are organized, it's almost as though one needs to plan a month in advance to get things done on time!" Rarity lowered her head and let the bags off her shoulders, adjusting her hair with one hoof as she began removing the items.
"Has Twilight arrived yet, dear?" Rarity asked absentmindedly in Sweetie's direction, turning her head as she picked up the third object from one of her shopping bags. She paused as she caught sight of Twilight near the giant glass screen.
"Heavens! Twilight, I'm so sorry I'm late. With the commotion of the find in the market I completely forgot to grab a good number of things before coming back home. I hope you haven't been waiting too long?"
Twilight smiled reassuringly at Rarity's panicked expression.
"It's fine, Rarity. Pinkie's been showing me your new toy.
"Oh, yes, isn't it lovely? I can't believe such a fantastic trinket was sitting around waiting to be snatched up just in town. Of course, the screen and such forth required some heavy lifting, but there were a couple of lovely gentleman in town willing to offer their assistance."
Of course there were, Twilight thought to herself, smirking.
"I didn't have you pegged as the type to enjoy make believe dragon slaying, Rarity."
"I'm not, really... but it was just such a wonderful find, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity. Besides which, the stallion selling it was just charming, it would have been very hard to say no. And, there are one or two little games that are right up my alley... fashion and decoration and things like that, oh so much fun."
Hm. Maybe there was more to the contraption than Twilight had first given credence. Still, she couldn't find herself more interested than it than she was at the moment.
"Do you need any help with that, Rarity?"
"No no, I'm fine Twilight, really. Have you had a chance to play something? I'm sure Pinkie would be delighted to help you pick out a game, she came running as though the place had caught fire."
"I can smell fun from a mile away!" Pinkie shouted, hammering on one of her controller's buttons as her on screen avatar swung its sword wildly.
"I'm good, actually. Though, I might send Spike over later to take a look, if that's alright with you. I think it'd be more up his alley."
"Of course dear, go right ahead. I'm always happy to have a visit from my favorite little dragon. If he's over in a few hours, he can play with the girls as well; Sweetie Belle's invited her friends over, and I'm sure they'll love our new exquisite appliance."
"I don't doubt it," said Twilight, a picture of the Cutie Mark Crusaders yelling at each other and wrestling for the two controllers amidst the three bodies flashing through her mind.
"Applebloom was the one who suggested it, her brother was the one who helped me get this big screen most of the way - that pony should be a salesman some day, I think. She managed to convince me to share a brand new purchase only a few days after! Of course, I never would have bought it if her brother hadn't been there to help carry it home."
"This is all thrilling, Rarity, but we did have a meeting planned, didn't we?"
"Oh! Of course, I apologize, Twilight. Let's leave the girls to their games, and take to the other room, shall we?"