Back and There Again

by Sun Sage

Interlude: For Science, and Magic.

When the light faded, everything felt different.  Rarity gasped as she looked around, taking in the odd surroundings.  Several chairs were arranged around the small room, all facing glass panels and arrangements of what looked to be buttons and symbols.  Rarity recognized none of it. The air was different. There was a faint smell of burnt metal, alongside various oils and cleaners she might have associated with the train station, but that wasn’t quite right.

Her magic still held the gem, but the magic within it had faded.  It no longer felt dangerous, just a gem. ...A gem that had brought her somewhere completely unfamiliar.  She floated it into her saddlebag with a grimace; she was not looking forward to figuring this out. And her morning deadline was now very much in jeopardy.  She groaned in frustration. Already tired and running down to the wire, she did not have time for… magical shenanigans! Speaking of… even magic felt strange here.  There was a… texture to it? She frowned slightly, lighting her horn to draw in more aether. She didn’t have anything like Twilight’s capacity, but she prided herself on being a competent magic user.  The boarding school she’d attended hadn’t been up to CSGU standards, but…

She blinked in surprise.  The aether she was drawing in was completely different.  It wasn’t bad… along the lines of expecting tea and getting coffee.  There was a feel to it that she couldn’t place. ...How long had it been since she’d considered the feel of aether flowing through her?  Aether, or mana if you wanted the older term, was just… there. But this… this was…

A shout of confusion and alarm interrupted her.  She looked up, wide-eyed, at an alien being.

It spoke again, but Rarity couldn’t understand it.  She simply stared (as she noted, so did it, while holding something in its hand pointed at her).  It was bipedal and half again as tall as her, clothed completely from the neck down. The clothing was serviceable and rather plain, clearly some sort of uniform, complete with a little badge on the side of the chest that had a picture of the alien’s face.  Humans… that’s what Twilight had called them. Rarity could remember the description well enough to know what she was seeing… or so she assumed. So then, the gem was similar to the mirror. Well, it could be worse… and yet she felt uneasy. Something wasn't right. Why couldn't she understand what it said? And she was still a Unicorn, and it looked angry and afraid. She felt a chill of premonition.

“Ah, hello!  Please don’t panic, though I’m sure this is quite strange.  It’s strange for me as well, you see," she chuckled nervously. "I am Rarity, and while I can’t quite understand you I’m sure-”

She broke off, with a scream of pain, as the object being pointed at her discharged a strange blast of energy.  Rarity felt, heard, and worst of all smelled, her fur burning as a pain like electric shock but so much worse coursed through her.  W-why… was her last thought before collapsing into unconsciousness.


She awoke in a cell, and her saddlebags and shovel were gone.  She whimpered as she tried to rise; everything hurt, but nothing quite so much as the burn on her chest.  The flesh was reddened and blistered under blackened fur that had mostly flaked away around the wound. Getting to her hooves slowly, she let her eyes wander the room instead of fretting over the sickening injury.  For the moment she could do nothing for it. So she looked around, but saw little of interest. Her cell had a rough cot of an odd material, and there was, she grimaced, a water dish on the floor nearby. She remembered Twilight’s words about the human world.  They were the only sapient race they knew on their world, everything else was an animal incapable of higher thought. That doesn’t mean you shoot them with lightning and put them in jail, does it?!  She let out a long, shuddering sigh, and a whine at the pain of a deep breath stretching the marred skin.  The room outside her cell contained a desk, and a door, and little else. Were those… cameras hanging from the corners of the ceiling?  They resembled such, but… how would one… ah. Clearly they were meant to be magically activated, so as to give a particular angle. And given the thick glass… or no… some other material, she was to be examined or the like?  She didn’t care for the idea. And given how that first meeting had gone... She shuddered. She really didn’t care for the idea.

She reached for one of the cameras, channeling magic through her horn to grab it and get a better look; she needed a distraction.  But said distraction came in the form of an annoying feeling around her horn as she attempted to gather aether. It was still channeling well enough, but…  She crossed her eyes as she looked up at… a ring on her horn.

“Oh what in Tartarus is this?!”  She reached up and pulled it off with no difficulty.  “A horn inhibitor ring? Honestly? What sort of fiction have they been reading here?  These things don’t work!” The horn had to be completely covered, and the material had to be perfectly smithed, or magic could go right through it.  She didn’t know the specifics, but it was a form of stone that wasn’t easy to work with or find.  Chrysalis’ throne was made of a particular variety of it that allowed Changeling magic, but like any example had only worked when it was in one proper piece.  Being surrounded by chunks of the stuff had done nothing to inhibit anypony. ...And neither did this horn ring. They were strictly nonsense from bad fiction, dreamed up as a way to stop magic while leaving the horn exposed... often for perverse reasons. Rarity rolled her eyes and put it on the floor.  Even if it stopped magic, she could just remove the stupid thing with her hooves!

“So clearly we’re both working on misconceptions here.” She muttered, trying to keep her hopes up.  Did they think she was dangerous? She had shown up out of nowhere in what was clearly some kind of laboratory, or perhaps a military base?  Armed security had shown up quickly. But maybe she could reason with them. ...Except she couldn’t understand what the guard had said. Why not?  It… no, he had looked like the humans Twilight described.  What was going on? Shouldn’t she be human here also?  Where were their friends? That school Twilight mentioned?  Why…?

The door opened, scattering her thoughts.  Two humans came in, both in white lab coats and each carrying some manner of tablet, presumably for note taking though they weren’t carrying writing utensils Rarity could see.  They were both female, based on the visible (though of course cloth covered) mammary glands and softer facial features. The first seemed… angry. She had a dark yellow mane, nearly brown, with white accents around the temples.  Rarity thought it looked distinguished. Her eyes had wrinkles at the sides, as did her thin, severe lips. She reminded Rarity of a middle aged Canterlotian unicorn, complete with sour, waspish expression. It was worth noting that her expression was pony-like enough to recognize.  Twilight had noted the same thing of them, which gave Rarity some hope. If these were the humans she thought she knew of, there was a chance that this could end up alright. There was further confirmation in that the aether in the air flowed around and through the woman, but it didn’t seem to interact with her.  Cranky is the same way back home.  ...Wait, what made me think that?

The woman was gesturing at her angrily, and speaking that unknown language again.  The first woman, that was. The second… Rarity made eye contact with her and they both froze for a moment.  This woman was younger. Thin, black rimmed glasses covered light blue eyes, all framed by loose, dark bangs.  Her skin was a slightly darker shade of… peach, perhaps, than the older woman’s much lighter tone. Rarity couldn’t be sure in this lighting what the exact color was.

More importantly, this younger woman looked… astounded.  That was reasonable, under the circumstances. But unlike the other two humans Rarity had seen, this one didn’t look angry or fearful.  She shook her head as though clearing it, and glanced sidelong at the older, who was still ranting as she poked the tablet she was holding.  What was the point of that? But then the second woman looked back to Rarity, gave a small smile, and winked. She looked sidelong again, and put her finger to her lips.

In a flash of inspiration, Rarity ran a hooftip across her lips in a zipping motion.  The woman gasped quietly, and she hid a grin behind her hand… and then sneezed. Or perhaps she was faking it because the older woman, who was now called Grouchy in Rarity’s mind, was staring at her.  She then pointed at the horn ring lying on the floor of Rarity’s cell.

Blue Eyes shrugged (Rarity didn’t want to call her Sneezy, that would be ridiculous).  She responded, sounding much more calm while gesturing vaguely at the ring. Grouchy tapped her tablet again, forcefully, and the door opened again.  A guard stepped in, and Rarity gasped. It wasn’t the same guard who’d shot her, and Rarity didn’t just know that from his appearance. Unlike the two women, he had his own aether.  It was odd, like nothing she’d felt before. Comparing it to her own… it was like seeing a sculpture of a tree, next to a real tree. And both were beautiful. Rarity’s lips curved into a smile, it truly was remarkable.  Why had she never noticed such things? What did other ponies feel like? If Twilight were here… well a crystal tree the size of a palace, Rarity had little doubt. She felt better just thinking about it. If they could use magic here, and this guard surely could, they could find a way to understand each other.

Grouchy tapped her tablet again, and the not-glass of her cell rose into the ceiling.  They were letting her out! They-

Rarity screamed as the guard drew his weapon in a blur and fired.  The first blast hit the base of her horn and flung her backwards, the second hit her barrel not far from the first wound she’d suffered.  Blissful unconsciousness did not come this time. Everything was fire, and she sobbed and tried to curl up to protect herself. She could hear shouting, but it didn’t matter.  She wanted to die. And she would. In that moment she believed it: she would die here. As she writhed, she felt ropes lashing across her, aggravating the burns and drawing a fresh scream from her.  She wasn’t sure how much time had passed. The guard had strapped her to the floor using something like a heavy net of tethers. They jabbed her with needles, and she felt… less. There was still burning. And she heard crying.  She couldn’t be sure it was her own. Nothing felt real except that everything hurt. What had she done wrong? Why would this happen? She was sorry! Whatever she’d done… She was a horrible pony. A fraud. Generosity… she was greedy!  Avaricious! She deserved this… she was sorry! She was shouting to them, begging. They didn’t respond. Blue Eyes was crying, but she did nothing. The hand holding her tablet was white, and shaking. But she did nothing. Rarity sobbed quietly, not noticing herself fall fitfully asleep.


The cell was dark.  They’d left her strapped to the floor, but the lights had dimmed and the not-glass had returned to its place, dividing her from the rest of the room.  It was excessive; she didn’t even want to move. She sniffed. Her head was throbbing, as was her barrel, and simple breathing filled her with agony as the burned, tormented flesh stretched with each gasp of air.  She didn’t know what to do. Was there anything? She could feel aether swirling around her. If anything, the burn around her horn had made everything feel more raw… the magic was like a slow cyclone, gathering within her.  She could feel it combating whatever that horrid weapon had done. She was healing, and her magic was unharmed. It was scant comfort.

“Ar yu awayk?”

Rarity gasped.  She’d been unaware of anyone else in the room.  She couldn’t see the whole room from her position on the floor.  She hadn’t understood the words, but she recognized the voice. Blue Eyes.

“Ai wil naut hert yu.  Can yu undurstand?” Rarity heard the not-glass raise into the ceiling again.  She whimpered and tried to shy away, but then cried out in pain as one of the tethers holding her down scraped across the burn on her chest.  “Shhh, it is oh-kae,” Rarity felt a hand gently press against her shoulder.  She trembled, but opened her eyes to look up.

Blue Eyes was crying as well, and her face was twisted with sympathetic pain.  She reached down with her other hand… another needle! Rarity whimpered as the pinpoint touched her flesh…

And then the pain lessened.  Rarity sighed slowly, shudderingly, as her body felt lighter.  Everything was hazy, but different than whatever they'd stuck her with before.

Ai won’t let them hert yu agyen,” Blues Eyes said, reaching into her lab coat to stash the syringe.  Her hand came back with a cloth. And now that it was exposed Rarity thought it smelled odd.  She couldn’t place what it smelled like, but it was comforting, somehow. Blue Eyes placed it against her chest, and she felt aether swirl around it, gently cleansing away the destroyed flesh, encouraging healing.  After a few moments she moved on to the second wound, and then lastly to Rarity’s horn.

“Ai cant beeleev Gruhmen was rite,” she muttered as she worked.  “All get yu aut of here.  Ai praumis.”

Rarity, in far less pain, a bit muddled, and less frightened, tried to make sense of the words, to no avail.  “I can’t understand you, darling. But whatever’s on that cloth, I’ll take ten.”

Blue Eyes blinked, and then smiled at her.  “Yu ar veri braev.  Doo naut weri. Yu wil heal.”  She put her hand to her chest.  “Va-la-ri.”

Rarity blinked, but understand.  She nodded towards Blue Eyes. “Va-la-ri?”

Blue Eyes… Valari… nodded.  “Yes.”  She gestured to Rarity.  “Yu?”

Rarity smiled slightly.  The drugs helped a bit with that.  Maybe she wouldn’t die here after all.  “Ra-ra-ti,” she replied slowly.




Valari stayed with her awhile longer, though Rarity had no real sense of time at that point.  Between the (clearly magnificent) painkillers and the aether focusing balm, she was pleasantly groggy.  She eventually fell asleep, and was unaware of the lab coat laid over her for warmth.


When she awoke the next morning, the tether net was gone, as was much of the damage of her wounds.  They still pained her, but they weren’t nearly as frightening (or sickening) to look at. They were serious burns, but clearly healing.  Thank you, Valari.  Her first friend here.  Hopefully not her only. When the outer door opened, she felt a sense of trepidation that only increased as a man in a clearly military uniform stepped in.  He had a face like a griffon, she thought, almost. His nose was long, and seemed to lead from his face almost like a beak. His hair went out thickly in all directions like a lion’s mane, and his eyes…

They weren’t a griffon’s eyes.  She’d known griffons. And she’d known evil.  She’d been looked at in vile ways before. Disdain, contempt, even loathing she had experienced.  She’d faced her share of enemies and rivals in both business and adventure. But this… she’d never felt before the idea that a look was evaluating how to cut her apart and sell the pieces.  She felt dirty even suffering that look. This was a being who sought degradation and possession. Aether flowed through him without touching him; he had none of his own. Rarity didn’t blame it one bit.

He spoke a sharp command, and Grouchy came in.  Rarity felt a shiver of fear, and didn’t bother hiding it.  It dissipated somewhat when Valari followed her through the door.  She looked worried, and tired, but she met Rarity’s eyes for a brief moment.  Rarity could all but feel Valari’s determination bolstering her own.

Grouchy was speaking to Demon… Rarity could think of no other word for the human who stood before her.  The aether practically asked her to strike at him. If her chance arose…

They were arguing now.  Valari had shown Demon something on her tablet.  Rarity craned her neck subtly to look. The tablet had glass, and pictures and words on its other side!  As Valari tapped at it, it changed to show other pictures and words. Rarity could understand none of it, but it was amazing.  No aether flowed from within it, only through it. It… didn’t use magic? How remarkable. She wished Twilight could see…

She shuddered as a wave of sadness threatened to crush her.  She’d never see Twilight… any of them again. Sweetie Belle would grow up never knowing what became of her.  She’d never see Spike again, never tell him how much he’d meant to her, no matter what the future held. Maybe that was for the best.  He could move on from his crush, at least. Find some mare, or dragoness, and they’d make each other happy. Sweetie would grow up to be wonderful, even more than she already was, Rarity was sure of it.  Twilight would look after them. Applejack, too. Honorary big sister would be there. And Rarity would never see it. Tears fell. She had no way home. The gem was gone, and its aether had drained away.  She couldn’t…



No, she would not give up.  Valari was here… and now Demon and Grouchy were arguing.  He was accusing her of something, and she was denying it, poorly if their interactions were any indication.  This was the beginning. It was scary, and maybe she’d be hurt again. She didn’t care. She would find a way out of this.  It didn’t matter if it was impossible. Impossible was what she and her friends did all the time! Pinkie probably laughed at the word several times an hour.  So Rarity would do the impossible at least one more time. She would get home!

And as Demon angrily dismissed Grouchy, and followed her out while barking orders to Valari and shaking his finger, Rarity knew that she’d already been led into the first step.  She was not alone.


Over the next few days, Rarity discovered a far less frightening aspect of being locked up.  She was bored out of her mind. Occasional moments of terror accompanied the entrance of any guard, but none of them used their weapons.  Oddly, they all had that feeling of sculpted aether that Rarity was becoming more familiar with. Repeated exposure to it was increasing how far she felt it from.  Feeling the guards moving around the hallway outside her door had occupied her second day. Valari had been in several times, accompanied by a guard. She'd always made soothing noises, and gave crisp orders to said guard each time.  His hands never touched the weapon strapped to his flank. At various points, Valari took blood and hair from Rarity, and even a scraping from her horn (as far from the base as possible, completely painless). She always did so gently, and with an apologetic look facing away from the guard.  It was clear to Rarity that, for the moment, Valari and only Valari could be trusted. She did her best to act suitably fearful and submissive for the guard’s sake, though she managed to give Valari a wink when he wasn’t looking. Valari had grinned with clear delight, and returned a very slight nod and wink of her own.

On the fourth day, Valari showed up with a large cage on wheels, and a guilty look.  The guard gestured to Rarity to move away from the not-glass, and she did so. He was gesturing with his weapon and she had the slightly sick feeling that he’d fire it with no real provocation.  The not-glass rose and he gestured to the cage. Well that was clear enough. She had no choice but felt an odd thrill about it. Not being caged, that was repugnant and humiliating, but seeing more of the place she was being held in.  The more she knew, the better she could start looking for ways out. She deeply lamented never learning to teleport. Oh, darling, whatever would a fashionista like myself need with such a spell?  I do enjoy a flashy entrance, but not that sort of flashy.  It had been a smokescreen, of course.  She honestly hadn’t believed she could learn it, truth be told.  Now… well she wished she’d at least tried.  The oddness of the aether field here made her feel stronger somehow, closer to the flow of mana itself.  She could feel it flowing through her, spiraling into her and out of her in a balance with the world. If the field at home was a warm ocean welcoming her to swim, this was an all-encompassing river, all but begging her to ride along its current.  Both had ebbs and flows, but here she felt them in ways she never had…

The guard banged his weapon against the cage, snapping her to attention.  Oh, right.  She hopped in quickly and he shut the door behind her.

A brief trip through quiet, enclosed halls led to what appeared to be an odd combination of a lab and a gym.  Rarity’s eyes went wide as she realized one piece of equipment was what appeared to be a giant hamster wheel. She looked at Valari, who had the decency to look embarrassed.  The guard banged again, and Rarity backed her way out of the cage (it was too narrow to turn around in).

Valari led her through several stations, tapping her tablet repeatedly as she did so.  After an hour of various physical activities, including running at least three miles on that damn wheel, Rarity was finally allowed to rest.  Truth be told, she wasn’t as tired as she might have expected. Valari had kept her well-fed and brought plenty of water (in bottles rather than that Celestia damned dog dish).

The testing continued on into the next several days, with various telekinetic trials for Rarity to run through.  For these, Valari’s tablet would show a short movie of what the object/s was meant to do, and then Rarity would copy that.  Some of the examples were quite intricate in movement and demanding in terms of multi-tasking for several objects, often varying greatly in size, weight, and shape. But Rarity was quite confident in her telekinesis.  The horn ring had not come back, nor had any variant on it. Still, Rarity didn’t actively use her magic outside of the lab. She could feel the guards’ aether, though they didn’t seem to use it for anything, so she assumed they could feel hers.  She really didn’t want to get shot again.

As such, her captors had quickly discovered how dextrous, and oddly flexible, pony forelegs and hooves were.  Rarity might have explained that hoof grip was a basic magic, similar to telekinesis but very short range, and ubiquitous for all ponies.  It was as basic as charging one’s coat, mane, or tail with a bit of magic for covering oneself, grabbing objects, and so forth. ...Or in Pinkie’s case hiding impossibly large items in her mane, or drilling through the ground impossibly quickly.  ...Again, that mare giggled at ‘impossible’ as surely as at ghosties. Rarity wasn’t on that level, but her abilities were more than enough to fascinate Valari. She was routinely handed things just so Valari could marvel at how she could possibly hold them.  It was a bit silly at times, but frankly silly was something Rarity needed. For that matter…

She’d noticed it after she’d been there a week.  All the time using her hooves, channeling aether to simply lift heavier items Valari brought, was having an effect.  She could feel aether in the ground, that wasn’t new. But it felt… more welcoming somehow. Sitting calmly, focusing on it… she felt stronger.  The earth beneath her hooves would hold her up if she asked. And she did. The air would flow for her if she asked, cooling or warming her. And she did.  In that moment she had a whole new understanding of Earth Ponies. She knew, without knowing how she knew, that this was how Applejack felt every day, only at least ten times moreso.  It was amazing, and she felt a whole new respect for her hardworking friend. Pinkie could use this to walk on walls, to defy the normal laws that governed even magic as most understood it.  Rarity would be doing none of that, but maybe… maybe a little vegetable garden when she got back home… Certainly a few rose bushes would be lovely. The aether of the earth wanted to help her make such beauty.  Who was she to say no?

Rarity sat, eyes shut as she calmly contemplated, and felt the hope she held for the future growing stronger.