Princess Celestia and Princess Luna studied the small violet crystal ball that sat in the center of the table.
"Curious," Celestia said. "I've never seen this before. Of course, Starswirl the Bearded collected and created so many things, I doubt I'd recognize half of what lies within his lair."
"So you were contacted via the Astral Plane?" Luna asked. "It is interesting that a world unconnected to Equestria or any of its sister planes was able to traverse the great void beyond life and death."
"That's Sensei for ya," Ron said. "Dude sent me a message written in cafeteria mystery meat gravy one time."
"He said there are seven of these crystals and we'll need to find all of them to save our world," Kim said in a worried tone. "So now it's not just that we need to figure out how to get home, we need to figure it out fast and we need to figure out where these other crystals are."
"And from the sound of it, they're not in Equestria," Sunset said with a tired sigh.
"That voice mentioned something called the Great Zodiac Animal Worlds," Twilight said. "What can you tell us about that?"
Celestia shook her head. "I'm sorry, it's nothing I've ever heard of."
"He called this world the Land of the Great Horse," Kim said thoughtfully. Her brow furrowed. "Great Horse...Zodiac Animals..." She shook her head. "I feel like that's something I should know..." She growled in frustration. "Dang it, if only we could reach Wade! He'd know!"
"Hmm," Ron mused. "Maybe it's like that Chinese New Year stuff? You know, Year of the Rat, Year of the Dragon, that stuff you hear about in kung fu movies?"
Kim's eyes widened. "Ron, you're a genius! That's exactly what it is!" She sighed, her ears folding back. "But that doesn't help us if neither of us knows that much about the Chinese Zodiac, and I'm sorry, but I don't."
"Yeah, I don't either, except for knowing there's a Year of the Monkey," Ron said with a shudder.
"Zodiac? That's just star constellations, right?" Sunset said with a frown. "Like...Cancer and Aquarius and Gemini?"
"The Chinese Zodiac is different," Kim said, waving a hoof vaguely. "It's all based on animals, like dragons and rats and horses."
"Sensei called this place Land of the Great Horse," Ron said. "So yeah, probably some Chinese Zodiac thing."
"I hate to ask this, but what are the chances of your friends defeating this...Genghis Kong without you two and these crystals?" Sunset asked.
Kim shrugged. "If Sensei says we need the crystals, I guarantee we need the crystals. That's how this sort of thing works."
"Yeah, it sounds like an 'Elements of Harmony' kind of thing," Twilight agreed. "We wouldn't have been able to defeat Nightmare Moon or Discord without them, or save Equestria from the Everfree Forest without giving them up."
"Or like, y'know, those video games where if you don't find the Hero's Armor, the Shield of Virtue, and the Sword of Destiny, you can't beat the final boss," Ron said.
"So what are we supposed to do?" Sunset asked, throwing up her hooves. "Figuring out how to disentangle all the incompatible magic these two are toting around is bad enough, then figuring out how to send them home, but now we have to find some magical glass beads that are in worlds nopony's ever even been to?!"
"That last part," a voice intruded, "I can help you with." Discord appeared in a flash of light, wearing a white lab coat and a pair of safety glasses. "But it won't be easy, and you'll still have to deal with that whole magic entanglement thing yourselves."
"Discord," Celestia said solemnly, "you've heard of these 'Great Zodiac Animal Worlds'?"
"Oh, absolutely," Discord said. "Why, I was in the Land of the Great Rabbit just the other day. They have the most exquisite carrot cake!"
"Then you could find these monkey crystals for us?" Kim asked.
Discord grinned obnoxiously. "No," he said.
"Discord!" Twilight snapped.
"I'm sorry, Twilight, but I really can't," Discord said. "Or to be more precise, I won't." His expression turned to one of doleful mock sorrow. "I'm afraid your little friends here must search for their silly little banana balls themselves. It's one of those wax-on wax-off things. I'm sure you understand."
Twilight frowned. "Whacks what?"
"Discord," Celestia groaned tiredly. "This is no time for your nonsense—"
Ron let out a long, whining groan. "Duuuuude! I hate wax-on wax-off! Especially the part where you don't know you're being wax-on wax-offed!"
Kim rolled her eyes. "Ron, he just told us he's wax-on wax-offing us!" She sighed. "Anyway, at least he's willing to help us get started, that's more than we had five minutes ago." She turned to Discord. "You can really help us get to where these monkey things are hidden?"
"Mmm...indirectly," Discord said, stroking his beard. "Actually..." He snapped his talons. "There, that should set everything in motion."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Sunset asked guardedly.
Discord chuckled. "Oh, you'll find out soon enough," he said mischievously. "For now, I suggest you continue on with your original plans. You're on the right track, by the way. Magic isn't the key to fixing this." He tugged on the lapels of his lab coat. "Science is." With that, he vanished in a burst of light.
"Helpful," Luna grunted sourly.
"Discord did something just now," Twilight said, narrowing her eyes. "I don't know what, but I'm sure of it." She sighed. "I guess for now, all we can do is get back to work figuring out how to fix the first problem."
"I've been thinking about that," Sunset said with a grimace. "What we're talking about doing would be a lot easier if we had a scientist from my world here to help figure out—"
A loud rush of wind interrupted her. Everypony present blinked as manes were whipped around and a flashing, strobing blue light washed over the room. Heads whipped around, searching for the source. Eyes widened as a massive, rippling blue vortex formed in the middle of the room, less than fifteen feet from the conference table.
"What in Equestria?" Celestia shouted above the roaring wind.
"Something comes, sister!" Luna yelled.
A silhouette formed in the center of the vortex. Everypony tensed; four lowered horns were pointed at the emerging form.
With a sudden loud snapping sound and a quiet clap of thunder, the vortex collapsed. The wind died, the strobing light no longer casting a blue wash over everything. Where the unnatural phenomenon had been, there now stood a human teenager. She wore a purple and white school uniform. Her violet hair was gathered up in a messy bun.
A lavender hand reached up to adjust black-framed glasses which magnified large, expressive purple eyes. In her other hand, she held a device with a distinctly cobbled-together look, upon which a string of red digital numbers was flashing.
She looked around the room, her mouth frozen in a small, surprised 'o'.
The ponies who had bristled for combat slowly rose to their full heights, relaxing, their wariness replaced with confusion.
Sunset Shimmer looked from Princess Twilight Sparkle to the human girl who was, unquestionably, also Twilight Sparkle.
"Well...this is awkward," she summed up.