Apple Bloom looked up from her homework. The sound of crunching gravel drew her attention to the front door, and she gave a small smile, knowing full well who was approaching. Checking the clock, her smile slowly inverted to a small frown. Applejack and Sunset usually ain't done with band practice yet. Ah wonder what's goin' on?
As she turned back to her books, she heard the screen door open, then slam shut. Drifting words of an argument echoed up the stairs. "Ah tell you, Ah was fine!"
"Applejack, you almost ran that red light back two blocks from school. I'm glad your headache's better now, but I wasn't going to let you keep driving when you were that bad off."
Apple Bloom froze. Last I heard, it was Sunset who was sufferin' those headaches, not Applejack. Rising from her desk, she left her room, moving to the top of the stairs as the argument continued.
"And Ah was obviously out of mah mind, lettin' you drive, Sunset. You barely have your learners, much less a full lisence!"
"I've been driving for two years, Applejack."
"Ridin' that bike of yours is not drivin' sugarcube. You need more time behind the wheel before Ah let you drive in winter conditions. Ah don't know what Ah was thinkin'..."
"You just said you were out of your mind. Are you certain that wasn't the cause?"
A short silence stretched between the girls, until Applejack broke out chuckling. "Hehehe... you're as stubborn as the rest of the family, ain't ya, Sunset?"
Apple Bloom trotted down the stairs to find Applejack sitting in the downstairs family room. With her hands on her knees, she was alone in the room. That changed quickly as Sunset returned to her, carrying a tray with several glasses and a large bottle of cider. Granny and Mac followed a few paces behind her, moving towards separate chairs. Applejack looked askance at the three other members of her family. "Granny? What are you..."
"Sunset sent Mac a message. Said you'd had a spot of trouble, and that she needed to explain things here." Granny raised an eyebrow, and continued. "Somethin' havin' to do with magic." She turned her head as she eased herself into a rocking chair. "Bloom, come and sit down. This here's important."
Apple Bloom swallowed. "Does... does it have anything to do with that woman that showed up a couple of weeks ago? The one that looked like Principal Celestia?"
Sunset smiled, looking down into her cup of cider. "Yes, and no." She pulled in a deep breath. "Granny... how much do you know about the world on the other side of that portal? The one which I came through?"
Granny frowned. "Ah know there's people just like us on the other side- the Princess, another me, and suchlike. ah know you came from there. And Ah know it has magic- it's where that horse power comes from, right?"
"Yeah." Sunset ran her hands over the glass. "But... the people over there are ponies."
Silence filled the room. As Apple Bloom opened her mouth, Granny cut her off. "When you say ponies, you don't mean normal, ponies, do yah? You've mentioned magic and havin' a horn, and the other Celestia mentioned havin' wings."
"We only superficially resemble the ponies here." Sunset drew in a breath. "And all ponies have magic of one type or another. That's where the "horse magic" comes from- and the ears. That's why magic started showing up when I did- I brought magic with me from the oter side of the portal. But it's impossible to use over here."
There was a brief silence, until Applejack filled it in. "Until now."
"Yeah." As she looked across her family members, Sunset pulled in a deep breath. "While we were out at band practice, I accidentally had a magic surge." Summarizing the events of the last few hours, Sunset continued. "My headaches were probably caused by a magical buildup- but now Applejack and the other girls are showing symptoms. I don't know how long it will be until everyone else's magic manifests, but if it's anything like mine, there could be a lot of damage."
Apple Bloom, who was still parsing everything that was going on, came to a sudden realization. Her eyes stretched wide, and she headed off Granny's followup questions. "Hold on! Are you tellin' me you were a pony?"
Sunset nodded. "A unicorn, to be precise. Why do you..."
"And you had magic?"
"And now you gave Applejack magic-"
"Does this mean Ah could have magic too?"
In another world, Princess Twilight Sparkle felt a shiver creep along her back. Looking up, she found her gaze meeting Applejack across the board game laid out over the map of Equestria.
"Did you feel that?"
Applejack nodded. "Eeyup. Like somepony walkin' over mah grave."
"What was it, do you think?"
Applejack shook her head, then looked back at the board. "Ah don't know, but Ah suspect- sibing's intution here- that it involves Apple Bloom." She paused. "But- not mah Apple Bloom, if that makes any sense."
There was a distinct pop, and Twilight looked up to see a banner appear above her head. Discord idly adjusted the left edge, allowing the words "Cutie Mark Crusaders Cross Dimensional Mages YAY!" to be easily seen by the ponies on the ground. He turned and looked down at an aghast Twilight. "It's like my birthday!" he crowed.
Twilight tried to work up the words to respond, but only one came to mind. She and Applejack opened their mouths at the same moment.
Sunset dropped onto her bed with a loud groan. After explaining (in detail) why she could not and would not help Apple Bloom gain magic, Sunset had then endured a few rounds of questions from Granny and Big Mac. Interestingly, Big Mac had been more interested in details about the other world's Twilight Sparkle, while Granny had been more inquisitive about the economic side of things in Equestria.
I think she might have just been disappointed that there wasn't a market for any of her product over there. The Apple family on the other side brews its own alcohol, and apparently doesn't even have to hide it, like Granny still does. Though I'm still not certain why...
Her thoughts were interrupted as her door opened, and a set of heavy footsteps crossed moved in. Grumbling slightly, Sunset spoke up. "Applejack, what is it?"
"It ain't Jackie, Sunset."
Sunset quickly turned over, and looked up at Big Mac's nervous face. Although a mere month ago she wouldn't have been able to interpret one emotion from another, by now she'd come to recognize his trademark tells. Clearing her throat, Sunset rolled over and sat up. "Mac? What are you doing in here?"
He scratched his head. "...Ah just got a text from... a friend." he said cryptically. "Said someone matchin' your description of the princess is snoopin' around Canterlot High. Ah think it might be this world's Twilight."
Sunset froze, and allowed those words to sink in. "Oh hell- why is she-"
"Ah don't know. But if you're gonna bring the princess in to help you deal with this magic stuff, you should probably do it out here. Not at school. Las thing we need is two Twilights runnin' into each other."
"True." Sunset rose and picked up her journal. Turning back to Big Mac, she smiled. "Thanks for the heads up. Tell your friend thank you for me." As Big Mac nodded and left the room, Sunset took out a pen, and started to write.
Shining Armor pulled up across the street from CHS. Shaking his head, he quickly sent a brief text apologizing to Big Mac and Cadance for missing that evening's date. Big Mac replied quickly.
Family issue? Something going on?
Shining's fingers drummed across his phone. Nothing much. Twilight wanted me to take her to study those weird readings at your sisters' school.
After a few moments, his phone buzzed again. Be careful, okay?
Shining frowned, but before he could respond, he heard an impatient rap on his window. Turning, he realized Twilight had been waiting outside for a few minutes. Putting away his phone, he unlocked the car door and stepped out. Without preamble, Twilight offloaded a large backpack into his hands. "Done chatting with your friends? Come on, Shiny, we've got science to do!"
As Twilight turned, already adjusting the handheld spectrograph held in her gloved hands, Shining's frown deepened. He hadn't really registered it before, but Twilight had gone from simply determined to a little obsessive about this new research. She never behaved like this before. Trundling along after his sister, his thoughts sharpened. I thought Crystal Prep would be best for Twilight- but this isn't a healthy attitude.
Twilight didn't seem to notice Shining's discomfort, instead looking down at the device in her hands. Pointing the device at the front of the school building, she gave a murmur of confirmation, and quickly move across the empty street.
Shining Armor moved to follow her, and as they approached the front of the building, he hazarded a question. "So... what exactly are we here for?"
Twilight waved her hand absently. "Oh, just trying to figure out the source of these energy signatures." She squinted at her device, a flash of irritation crossing her face. "They're much stronger now than they were this morning- and I'd like to know why. But, if I was reading the data from my main sensors right, there are now several sources scattered across the city. The strongest one's still here, though, so I thought we should investigate here first."
She walked up tot he front doors of the school, and without looking up from her device, pulled them open- or tried to. Instead of swinging open, the door clattered. "Huh?" Glancing up, Twilight was surprised to see the doors shut. "Oh- it's locked."
Shining Armor sighed. At least we'll be able to go home now-
Twilight stepped back, looking back and forth. "No open windows, no side doors- did I bring my lockpicks?"
Or not. "Twilight, are you seriously going to break into the school to get better readings?"
Twilight froze, then turned back to her brother. "Umm, I mean, I guess it might sound that way. But it's not like-" Her voice cut off as she noticed some data scrawling across her spectograph. "Wait, there's a second signal coming from-" She turned a little further- "That statue." Without finishing her earlier sentence, or looking at Shining, she moved towards the large statue of the rearing stallion in front of the school proper. "Different wavelengths then the source inside-"
"Maybe if I adjust the device a bit-"
"Twilight I really think you need to stop and think-"
Twilight spun to glare at her brother. "I'm on the cusp of something important, Shining! I can't give up now!"
"I'm not saying you have to give up, but-"
"Then don't distract me!" she yelled. Spinning back to the statue, she took one step closer.
In another time, in another place, Twilight Sparkle approached the portal to Equestria while it was open, with a device specifically attuned to recording the energy source she'd been studying for several months. That device had the capability to absorb the energy of the open portal, and caused a chain of events which would lead to the near-destruction of CHS and much of the Canterlot metropolitan area.
Circumstances were different here. Here, Twilight approached the statue with a hastily modified device clutched in her hands. Even more importantly, she approached not comprehending the still-fluctuating interaction between the magic on one side of the portal, and the new magical field coming into existence around the school behind her.
Stepping into the flux zone as a trained mage would have been uncomfortable. Stepping into it as an untrained mage would have been destabilizing.
For the modified spectograph, the resulting spike in energy caused a more violent reaction.
Twilight glanced down at her device, a broad grin spread on her face. "Wow- the readings here are-" She paused, watching as the lights on her sensor began to increase in intensity. With a brief shriek, she threw the handheld sensor into a nearby snowbank.
Not a moment too soon. The small crystal chip within the device exceeded it's frail capacity, even as it left her hands. By the time it landed in the snowbank, it had begun to hiss and spark. Seconds later, there as a loud crack as pieces of circuitry, mangled metal fragments and shards of plastic scattered through he snow.
As Twilight stared at the pieces of her sensor scattered in the snow, she felt a pair of arms wrap around her. “Twilight, are you alright?”
Twilight swallowed, then replied “I-I think so.” Looking at the ruined electronics, she muttered “Now what am I going to do?”
“WE are going to talk about this.” Shining Armor let her out of the hug, and then spun her to face him. “Twilight- do you realize how poorly you’ve been acting? What you’ve suggested tonight?”
“Shining, you don’t understand-“
“No, I don’t. But I want to.” His expression took on an edge of disappointment. “Twilight, you blackmailed me to come out here at seven o’clock at night, cut me off when I tried to talk to you, and treated me like a pack mule. I know you want to figure this out, but why are you being so aggressive with this?”
Twilight shook her head. “Shining I need to get proper data for my research-“
“You were discussing breaking into a school in front of a police officer.” Shining’s eyebrow rose as Twilight’s face slowly shifted from irritation to shock. “And your sensor just blew up in your hands. If you’d been inside the building when it happened, the cameras would have caught what you were doing. You’re a Crystal Prep student, Twiley- if that had happened inside, you would have been charged with vandalism at least.”
Twilight’s brain ticked over for a minute. She blinked twice then said in a small voice. “I just want to get away.”
Shining frowned. “Away from what? From me? From here? From-“
“Crystal Prep.” At Shining’s skeptical look, Twilight crossed her arms. “I’m- I’m not popular there like you were, Shining. Most of the school’s jealous of me. Cinch said that if I could publish a paper, get some recognition for the school and myself, she’ll let me take the placement tests a year early, and write me a letter of recommendation. Then I could get away from it all- the stares, the expectations- get into college.” She pulled in a breath. “But to publish, I need more precise data- and Cinch won’t give me time out of class or more resources unless I can prove my research has merit.”
“So you need hard data, and you need it soon.” Shining Armor’s voice softened. “Is it really that bad?”
Twilight cringed. “Everyone wants to be the best at Crystal Prep. And everyone knows I’m the best at academics.” She pulled in a deep breath, and hugged herself a little tighter. “No one I’d want to work with wants to work with me- they think they’ll get ignored, or people will attribute their work to me. And everyone’s trying to be better than me- or drag me down so they don’t have to.” She swallowed. “I just- I want to do something, figure this out- and then leave. It’s a little-“
“Toxic?” Shining’s word seemed to sum up Twilight’s situation. He rubbed his temple. “If it really means that much to you- we can find other ways of getting your data. Ways that don’t mean breaking the law.” He smiled. “Why don’t we ask Cinch and Cadance to set up a meeting with someone at the school? Maybe then-“
“This is about that Sunset Shimmer girl again, wasn’t it?” Twilight’s scowl softened, and she looked contemplative. “Still- having access during the day might be better than sneaking around at night…”
“That’s the right attitude.” Shining heaved the backpack a little further up his back, then looked at the fragments in the snow. “We should probably continue this discussion somewhere warm- after we clean up the mess.”
Twilight sighed, then pulled out a specimen bag. “Might as well see if I can salvage something from this…”