PONYVILLE TOWN SQUARE
As the crowd dispersed, Tempest walked down the main road around the town hall building. Now that the streets were “back to normal”, she hoped to enter the market stalls and get a quick bite to eat, hopefully getting Ponyville’s residents acclimatized to her presence in the process. Twilight happily looked on as she casually made her way down to the market. Only thing was, she really didn’t know the way.
“Excellent,” Tempest thought, approaching a fine stallion. “Perfect time to see if they truly have changed.”
“Hi there,” she said in the friendliest tone possible. “Mind if you show me the way to the market please?”
The stallion took a backward leap and almost gasped, but held his cool and pointed to a road . “W-w-well, hello. The market’s just down there. At the end after crossing the brook, turn right and it’ll be right in front of ya. Have a good day.”
“Thanks very much!” Tempest replied, already trotting away across the town square and down the road. For once, she actually felt happy and eager to be in a public area, amongst others, rather than travelling across deserted lands solo. Not a single pony shook, gasped frightfully, or ran away in fear. They all went about their business as if Pinkie Pie herself was just randomly bouncing through. It felt good to bring about relaxation rather than fear.
Her ears flicked as she approached the bridge, quickly picking up the distinct sounds of eager, talkative market-goers. Using the advanced filters inside her ear, she could pick up several conversations within.
“That’ll be eight bits.”
“Aw, but I only have seven!”
“Well, you’ll have to go back and get another, simple as that.”
“Selling price is twenty bits, final!”
“Where are you, Lyra?”
For Tempest, most of them seemed to be waiting for friends or were shopping with them, or busy declaring prices or arguing over them. However, two voices immediately caught her attention.
“Thanks for coming, Starlight.”
“Argh, darn cider’s so heavy! But I gotta sell ‘em…”
Having crossed the bridge, Tempest trotted down the road and turned the corner, where she could now see all those whom she’d heard moments before. There was a smooth, thin-tailed pony with a star-covered wizard hat atop her head shopping for accessories with her best friend.
Smiling humbly, Tempest attentively scanned the stalls and stands as she walked down the road, further into the marketplace, taking note of what items were being sold. There was practically everything possible one could think of - party horns, play balls, bars of soap and shampoo, flowers, hats, even plush animal-shaped pillows.
“You wouldn’t need to buy large quantities of these if you just hit me up,” she thought with a snicker upon passing a stall with several buckets of firework rockets.
At the far end lay the best part - at least, for Tempest - the foodstuff. Carrots, grapes, strawberries, lettuce, and of course pears and apples. With a slightly grumpy stomach, Tempest boldly walked forward, taking in all the colorful sights and enchanting smells that surrounded her. But as she started to approach a row of bulbous strawberries, the familiar voice of a hard-working farmer split the otherwise calm air.
“Almost there…” Applejack groaned, pulling the two carts, both stacked high with cider. The crop this year had been exceptionally good, and so she’d made extra effort to produce more cider from the extra apples to sell or perhaps trade for fertilizer and soil. However, the journey to town from Sweet Apple Acres was tiring and stressful, even for a pony as strong as her.
Just as she was about to pass out from exhaustion, she found herself - and her carts - moving forward.
“What the hay?” Applejack blurted out, jumping to her feet and slowly walking in time. “Somepony please tell me how in the name of Equestria did I recover and get so strong so quickly to be able to pull both these carts here?”
“Because you did. You helped another recover,” came a resonant voice from behind. Out stepped the tall, thick figure of Tempest.
“T-Tempest?!” Applejack gasped. “How can I ever repay you?”
“Well…” Tempest began, “I came here to the market to check things out… and I found myself hungry.” Fighting back an awkward blush, she loosened up her posture. “So… would you mind if I had a bottle or two?”
“Here,” Applejack replied with an endearing smile, tossing five bits into the air. “Buy whatever you wish.”
“Wait!” Tempest quickly thought. “My…” But then she briefly remembered how she was able to get past the crowd at the town hall. With a few swift moves, she jumped and flung the bits high up, then neatly flicked them into two separate vendors’ money platters. Tempest bought a bunch of grapes and a basket of strawberries. Washing them at a nearby faucet, she held the basket in her mouth, draped the grapes around her neck, and headed off to Twilight’s castle to discuss further plans, giving a couple of hellos and good days to townsfolk along the way.
En route, a brief shadow passed over the houses, though Tempest didn’t think of it too much. “Probably just Rainbow Dash on her way to Cloudsdale.”
Stopping under a tree, Tempest laid down and gently shrugged off the grapes, before setting down the basket. Concentrating as precisely as she could, she aimed her horn at the tip of the grape bunch and tried to gently ease out her magic.
BZZT! Distorted sparks shot out, charring four grapes to black powder and sending sparks floating amongst the grass.
“Still the same after all these years,” she muttered, undoing the straps of her front hoof guard pieces. Holding up the bunch with one hoof, she leaned forward and nibbled a couple grapes, chewing them down fast. Leaving half the bunch for later, she stretched out, hoping to relax - only for her eyes to catch sight of a yellow-colored bird-like creature hopelessly trying to make its way down the path without being seen. But why though? And who - or what - was it trying to hide from? Its wings and long tail were dead giveaways, sticking out like sore hooves.
This is rather amusing… no, Fizzlepop. No. You don’t know if -
Tempest bit her lip in a brief giggle. “Damn it.”
A short frightful squeal was heard from behind a large bush, and instantly Tempest’s eyes locked onto it. “I can see you,” she teased, before easing her throat into a more sympathetic pitch. “But why though? What’s the fright? If anything I’ve got more to give than to take.” Tempest paused, observing the wings and tail. “Hang on a minute, I recognize you. You’re Queen Novo’s daughter.”
Unfortunately this only resulted in a tighter tucking of the wings and the bush to shake even more. Tempest rolled her eyes and chuckled. “You might as well give it up now. There’s no point hiding when you can clearly be seen. Besides, I’ve got a nice basket that could potentially be used to contain shells…”
A slight gasp was heard, but that was it. Damn it, Fizzlepop, you’ve got to try harder. “How about I tell you that I practically saved Equestria and you can relax that timid heart? Because you sure are making it a lot more difficult and painful on your end.”
“Yes. I almost died in the process, and I kinda knew that I would, but I went for it anyways because there was a driving force behind my actions. It’s what Twilight taught me. You can never truly understand and embrace something if you’re always in fear of it based on prior knowledge. Good to stay updated on the subject now and then, you know?”
For a moment the air stood still, and Tempest popped a grape into her mouth, then casually laid down in the grass, whilst still keeping a watchful eye. Slowly, out stepped the lean and graceful figure of the hippogriff Princess Skystar. Still a little shaky, she stepped forward anxiously, evidently still fearful of being attacked. Tempest glanced down at the grass and pretended to look sad.
“Come,” she whispered, glancing back up at the poor timid hippogriff. “You’ve flown quite a way to come here. Have a bite.”
Tempest set down her basket of strawberries before Skystar, desperately trying to win her over and mend the deep wound she’d inflicted way back on a failed attempt that, in the long run, had scored her absolutely nothing. Skystar took a couple steps forward, then sat down, still keeping a reasonable distance.
Okay, enough is enough, Princess. Tempest tossed the grapes onto her head and shuffled away from the tree, closer to Skystar. Surprisingly, it was now Skystar’s turn to laugh.
“Thank you,” Tempest said with a blend of bemusement and gratitude. “I didn’t realize I could actually be funny.” She picked up a strawberry from the basket and stuck her arm out. “Here, try one.”
Rather cautiously, Skystar looked curiously at the bright red fruit. Then she looked up at Tempest’s convincing, pleading, friendly face. Finally she leaned forward and took the berry in her beak, crushing it in a couple quick chews. Tempest beamed, then pulled a few grapes off the bunch and offered them. Skystar nibbled up every one.
“Thanks for these fruits,” Skystar said with a smile. “They’re so delicious.”
“I...I don’t even know what to say, but… thank you for…” Tempest couldn’t even finish, her eyes spilling tears onto the soft grass beneath them.
“I see you not for who you were, but for who you are now,” Skystar declared, putting a reassuring hand under Tempest’s chin. “And um, can I call you Fizzlepop?”
Tempest’s smile grew even wider, her vision still blurry with tears of delight and bliss. Her real name was one that she reserved only for those who dearly close to her. Previously she’d only allowed Twilight to refer to her by that name, but now it seemed Skystar was just as worthy of a close acquaintance.
“You certainly can, Princess Skystar,” she replied, pulling the delighted hippogriff into a cuddly embrace.
A quick realization dawned on Tempest as her eyes caught sight of the castle door, which was now swinging slightly in an arriving breeze.
“You headed to the castle?” Tempest inquired in a friendly tone.
“Oh I definitely was!” Skystar exclaimed. “It took like, forever to persuade my mom but she finally agreed to let me go to Ponyville. I originally wanted to surprise Twilight and her friends in the marketplace but then I heard about this meet-up she was going to have with Tempest Shadow so then I got all scared. But I still really wanted to surprise them again…”
Tempest released her hug and cut her off. “So that’s why you were trying to sneak up on the castle. You could’ve asked some of the townsfolk about me, you know? Would’ve made the castle entry expedition a lot shorter and easier.”
“Yeah, it definitely would.” Skystar blushed sheepishly.
Tempest picked up her basket full of strawberries and grapes, and the two of them - unicorn and hippogriff - walked down the pathway and up the castle steps.
“Applejack has said the door is typically open, so we shouldn’t have any issues entering. However, we should still knock,” Tempest noted, lightly tapping her hoof against the door.
Almost instantly, the door opened, and a very familiar dragon face appeared.
“Hi there, Spike!” Tempest greeted. “Just coming in to discuss a couple things with Twilight. Is she busy?”
“She’s busy signing a bit of paperwork at the moment, but she’ll be in the meeting room in a couple minutes...” Spike trailed off, suddenly freezing in shock at the presence of an excited hippogriff.
“Um… well… hi, Skystar…”
“It’s soooooooooo good to see you again, little dragon!” Skystar exclaimed excitedly. “How’s life?”
“Busy as usual,” Spike sighed, glancing gloomily at the ground. “But it’s a good kind of busy, you know? Cleaning bookshelves, baking desserts, organizing pens… it all helps further remind me of my role as a duty as an assistant to my best friend Twilight.”
He pushed the door open further, and Tempest and Skystar stepped inside. Just as Skystar was about to go on an enthusiastic rant about the crystal walls and how similar the door arches were like the pattern of shells, a demanding shout rang down the hall.
“Spiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike! The meeting’s about to start! Have you found Tempest yet?”
“Come on, you two!” Spike urged as he ran off down the hall, gesturing for them to follow. Tempest simply shrugged and trotted after him, with Skystar in tow.
Near the end of the hall, Spike burst through the doors, panting slightly.
“Surprise!” Tempest exclaimed, skidding to a stop behind him, with Skystar adding a little “Ta-daaaaa!”
“Oh, um, hi Princess Skystar,” Twilight blushed. “You’re in Ponyville? I… wasn’t expecting you to arrive.”
“That’s exactly it!” Skystar exclaimed excitedly. “The hippogriff kingdom has successfully recovered and we’re all gradually getting used to being above the water instead of under its surface, you know? And I got a bit bored and I really really really wanted to come see you guys!”
“And then she bumped into me,” Tempest added, setting down her basket, “and I offered her some of my berries and then we came here. So… I was going to briefly ask you, Twilight, about my future and where I should position myself in society and stuff.” “I’m not sure what Skystar here has in mind, though…”
“How about a ‘Hippogriff party’!” Pinkie exclaimed, a wave of confetti raining down instantly. “Skystar should definitely feel at home here just as she is at Mount Aris!”
“I just got an idea for a pretty dress you could wear to the party!” Rarity announced. “And it will include an amazing shell pattern that I just know you’ll love!”
Tempest quickly turned to Twilight. “How about you?”
“Well,” Twilight began, “I wanted to show you all the Crystal Mirror. I’ve been working on improving its capabilities, and I think I can get it to transport us between two distant locations in a flash. All thanks to some extensive reading I did of some of Starswirl’s old books on time warps and limbo banishment!”
Rainbow’s mouth twisted a little, but she shrugged it off. “Sounds...awesome!”
The group followed Twilight out of the room and down one of the halls, into the main library room. There, in the center of the room stood the shiny, tall mirror portal in all its glory, with all the components still intact. It looked practically the same as it had been three years ago, with the electrodes, wires, and energizing shafts. Except for one little detail.
“What’s that thing?” Applejack interrogated, pointing at a rather large panel of wires, tubes, and switches that stood beside the mirror.
“Oh, that’s a moderator and a modulator,” Twilight explained. “It gives more control over the magic resonating from the book, since - ”
“Starswirl’s books contain a lot more power than Sunset Shimmer’s journal, don’t they?” Rarity interjected.
“Exactly,” Twilight replied, flying up to a high shelf on the right. “Now, I’ve looked through several of these books, and I’m sure this is the one.” She held up a rather thick purple book with a unique ancient design on the front, complete with a subtitle in runes. “We can begin a test by travelling to the Crystal Empire from here.”
“Um, you sure about this, Twilight?” Fluttershy questioned softly.
“I was going to ask the same,” Tempest added. “How exactly does this work?”
“The magic from the book is used to power a spell that can pinpoint a pre-defined location and send those who enter the portal to that location. It’s far more efficient and faster than one pony teleporting with others in her grasp,” Twilight explained, and pointed to a crank handle. “The only way we’ll know if this machine still works is to actually use it. Applejack, can you turn that crank please?”
“Sure,” Applejack replied with a slight sigh, as if reluctant. Grasping the handle, she started turning it, gradually picking up speed. Rainbow Dash then took the book and inserted it into the stand above the mirror. Slowly but surely, the modulator began to light up, and energy started to flow through the modulator and into the main portal’s circuitry. As her friends looked on, Twilight began to fiddle with a few controls, until two rows of lights were fully lit, and two large central lights were almost fully bright.
“The location has been fixed according to the spell,” Twilight declared. “Keep cranking, Applejack! The electrical input needs to be controlled to avoid a surge.”
“It’s going as fast as I can turn it!” Applejack replied, noticing the zaps of energy getting louder. All at once, the portal began to shake slightly, and a slight fizz was heard from one of the lines, indicating a very high pressure point.
This wasn’t exactly what I’d planned, but everything else looks stable so far, Twilight decided. Making one final tweak to the modulator, she turned to her friends.
“Alright, it should be ready now. Formation! We need to form a triangular shape so the mirror will pull us all in with equal force.”
Keeping an eye on the modulator, Twilight noticed the pattern of lights, which kept constantly changing. And then, just for a moment, they appeared in a pattern which matched the Crystal Empire’s location.
“Now, ponies! NOW!” she yelled, running towards the portal. Spike, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy all followed suit. Taking a hoof to hand, Skystar and Pinkie ran into the spinning vortex after them. For a moment, Tempest hesitated, her muscular figure frozen in shock at what was occurring before her very eyes. The portal was so overpowered it was starting to crack from the intense energy forces, and the wiring of Twilight’s bodge modulator was melting. The lights blinked rapidly, as if threatening to go out completely. A pipe burst, followed by a random leak of energy that almost blasted her right in the chest. There was no escape but to enter the fragmenting machine itself. It was now or never.
Without even asking or ordering, Tempest leapt to the side, grabbed Applejack right off the crank, and threw herself into the portal, just as a series of large crackles and a big explosion occurred right behind them, knocking the two out cold.