"—the same year Free Spirit was beaten and raped by Trottingham missionaries. As you know, many Buffalo women and young girls were beaten and raped by Stirrupean missionaries during those years. Do you know why that is? Anyone?" Starlight Glimmer looked out over her class with a disturbingly wide, bright smile. Most of the class was staring back at her in abject, slack-jawed misery. Five particular girls, however, were giving her mutinous glares over folded arms and thin-lipped scowls.
After a patient pause, Starlight continued, "It's because from their point of view, the missionaries were superior to the Buffalo Tribes in every way. They saw the Buffalo as savages with no science, no religion, no proper language or clothes. They didn't look at them and see a proud and noble people who lived off the land and treated nature with respect. They saw people who didn't have ships or printing presses and who didn't believe in the same God. And so they beat them and raped them as they saw fit to assert their superiority. And that's the way the world has worked since the dawn of man, boys and girls! Now I ask you, where's the justice in that? Where's the fairness? Are we not all human beings, with the same red blood coursing through our veins, the same susceptibilities to the elements, the same brains and hearts? So how is it that any one group can ever be allowed to feel like they're special, like they're more deserving than another?"
The bell rang, and Starlight frowned briefly before returning to her default overly-bright smile. "Well! That's it for today, class! I look forward to seeing you all again tomorrow! I have a very exciting lecture about slavery!"
"Yeah, Ah bet," Applejack muttered as everyone gathered their things and filed listlessly out of the room. Rarity and Fluttershy had to guide Rainbow Dash between them to keep her from making a scene. Starlight watched them all calmly, a vicious twinkle in her eye.
* * * * *
"This is interesting," Princess Twilight Sparkle said as she pored over an ancient scroll. Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia perked their ears up. "'Based on my observations of the two anomalies, I have created an artificial gateway between the two parallel worlds, contained within a crystal mirror'—"
Sunset frowned. "Wait. 'Two anomalies'? What do you mean?"
Twilight continued reading the scroll, her hooves tracing over the ancient text. "If I'm reading this right, Starswirl's portal is a copy of..." She gasped. "A naturally occurring portal to your world!"
Celestia's eyes widened. "There's a natural portal?!"
"Hold on," Twilight said, focusing intently. She bit her lip, her ears twitching madly. "'The beastly Sirens were ferocious and dire foes. Countering their dark magic was exhausting, and defeating them through sheer force would likely have led to needless casualties. I chose to take a gamble and teleport them to the anomaly in the Everfree Forest. If I succeeded, I will have stranded them on a deserted tropical island in the other world.'"
Sunset tilted her head. "A desert island? Weird."
Twilight kept reading. "From what the notes here say, there's another portal that connects the caverns in the Crystal Mountains with a series of ice caves."
Celestia frowned. "Ice caves...Crystal Mountains..." She slowly scraped a hoof on the floor.
"Is something wrong, Your Majesty?" Sunset asked.
Celestia shook her head. "No, it's just..." She frowned. "The last known sighting of Windigoes was in the Crystal Empire, during Sombra's reign. I remember reading a report from one of my intelligence agents, over a thousand years ago, about Sombra somehow banishing the Windigoes without a Fire of Friendship or the Crystal Heart."
Twilight's ears pinned back. "Based on everything we know about Sombra, he could have had enough power to...well...kill the Windigoes."
Celestia shook her head. "Windigoes are like Discord, they can't actually be killed. Just...driven away or contained."
Sunset blinked. "Wait, are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Celestia ruffled her wings. "Let's not get carried away with supposition," she said. "Right now, our problem is Starlight Glimmer and figuring out what she did to the portal. But knowing that there's a naturally-occurring portal is fascinating; we should probably investigate."
"It doesn't do us much good if it dumps us on a desert island," Twilight said thoughtfully, rubbing her muzzle with her hoof. "But it's something we should definitely put a pin in for later."
Sunset began pacing restlessly. "I should spell up and take a quick trip through, check up on the girls," she said. "I can be in and out before Starlight Glimmer notices me."
Twilight shook her head. "Too risky," she said. "I know you're worried about your friends, so am I, but we need a plan. We need..."
"I believe Sunset Shimmer is correct," Celestia said. "But it must be done carefully, and she should wait until it is late in the day over there, perhaps even at night. A time when she isn't likely to encounter Starlight Glimmer."
Twilight pursed her lips. "That's assuming it's even safe to go through this portal..."
Spike coughed. "It, uhh...is," he said. "I, uhh...might've hopped through it a couple of times. Nothing bad happened to me." At Twilight's alarmed and forbidding look, he raised his claws. "Nopony saw me! Besides, I wouldn't be the strangest thing they've seen at CHS."
Twilight frowned. "Well...alright, but we're going to have a long talk about safety and precautions later."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Yeah yeah, a lecture on looking before you leap from Miss Let's Cast This Spell And See What It Does And Mix Up Our Friends' Cutie Marks!"
Celestia and Sunset giggled. Twilight groaned, faceplanting into the table.
* * * * *
The Rainbooms had gathered in their usual place at the base of the horse statue outside the school. Rarity was pacing back and forth, fuming.
"I can't believe after everything this school has been through, all it takes is one insipid woman with a talent for crushing the human soul into shattered fragments of glass to—to—!"
"Eh," Pinkie Pie grunted as she blew a listless bubble. "I mean, it's not that different from what Sunset Shimmer did back in the day. It's just that she's a lot more brutal about it."
"AND has Celestia and Luna under mind control with her freaky horse magic!" Rainbow Dash ranted. "I'm startin' to think Sonata had the right idea. If we just—"
"I seriously doubt that would even work," Rarity said. "If she has her full Equestrian magic, she probably has some sort of...I don't know, forcefield or something that would protect her from a gunshot." She shuddered. "I frankly don't care to know just how powerful she is or what tricks she could pull out against us if we tried a direct confrontation."
"All we can do is wait for Twilight and Sunset to come back," Fluttershy said miserably, delicately picking at blades of grass. "And pray she runs out of lectures about disadvantaged people being beaten and raped." She shuddered.
"Yeah, seriously, what the fuck is her problem?" Rainbow cried. "I mean, it's like she's obsessed with that stuff!"
"Likely because it's the most demoralizing subject matter one can inflict upon impressionable teenage minds," Tirek's gruff voice rumbled. The girls turned in unison and watched as he walked up, scowling fiercely. "She seems determined to beat every cheerful thought out of your heads by filling them with all the gruesome horrors of human history." He snorted. "Disgusting."
"But why?!" Rainbow wondered. "I mean, what's her endgame here? What does she even want with this school?"
"Would you really like to know?" a voice interrupted with syrupy sweetness. All eyes turned to Starlight Glimmer as she stalked up behind the group, one hand on her hip. "I'd be all to happy to share my plans with all of you...but first, I need to take care of something." She glared at Tirek. "You're a variable I don't need. I'm sick of seeing you snooping around here trying to undermine me. It's time you disappeared." She cupped her hands together; a crackling ball of aquamarine magic swelled between them, bright-hot and dancing with sparks. She projected it at Tirek. The girls cried out in alarm as it slammed into him...
...and abruptly dimmed out, washing harmlessly over him. For the briefest moment, his eyes seemed to glow. He raised an eyebrow.
Starlight stared. "Wh-what?!"
"Interesting," Tirek rumbled. "Very interesting."
"Dude, what just—what happened?" Rainbow asked.
Tirek raised his right hand. A haze of gold sparks danced around it, slowly coalescing into a flickering golden flame. He clenched a fist and charged at Starlight, bellowing. Starlight, eyes wide, conjured a shimmering magical forcefield, which Tirek slammed into with enough force to drive her back on her heels.
"N-no," Starlight whispered as she backed away. "You're...but you can't be!" In a flash, she disappeared.
The Rainbooms stared at the spot where she'd vanished. "Umm...what just happened?" Fluttershy asked timidly.
Tirek glanced at his hand curiously. The dim flicker of golden fire had faded. "It would seem," he said slowly, wonderingly, "that I possess an ability which counteracts her magic." He spread his hand wide; the sparkles returned, dancing along his fingers. "Or perhaps...absorbs it?"
"Well whatever you did, it sure done spooked her but good," Applejack said.
"Boy I'll say!" Rainbow cheered, rushing up to Tirek and clapping him solidly on the back. "Way to go, dude! Now we've got a weapon we can use against that freaky bitch!"
"Hmm. Perhaps," Tirek said thoughtfully. "But it would not be wise to assume anything about this...event...until we learn more." He stroked his chin. "In any event, we learned more about her powers just now. And none of it good."
Fluttershy gasped, her hands flying to her face. "She could've killed you," she whimpered.
"Yes," Tirek grunted. "Apparently I have the devil's own luck." He glanced at his hand again, flexing his broad fingers. "But what was that...feeling?"
* * * * *
Late in the afternoon, the three out-of-towners regrouped at the motel. Belle had bought sandwiches, chips, and canned sodas for them; they sat around the tiny breakfast nook in their room eating and talking. "So, find out anything?" Belle asked.
"I'll tell you one thing," Beck said. "That school? Is hella weird."
Beck shuddered. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you," she said.
"Mm, maybe I would," DD muttered. "I tried hitting up a flop around the middle of town. Talked up this crazy stoner who kept going on about something he called 'the Hole'. Whatever it is, it's got something to do with Sunset Shimmer, and the street folk here in town definitely know her. But when I had no idea what 'the Hole' is, he clammed up on me."
Beck frowned. "A prison? A reform school?"
"I don't think so," DD said. "I ran into this other woman, a baker who brings the street people day-olds. She said CHS is like, some kind of ground zero for weirdness. She was talking about stuff like magic and paranormal activity and the like." He shook his head. "I usually write people off as crazy when they start talking about stuff like that, but Sugar Sprinkles seemed to have her shit together, so..." He shrugged.
"Magic? Ghosts? Aliens? That kind of stuff?" Belle asked. "Isn't that getting way off topic?"
Beck frowned. "Maybe not," she said slowly. As the others looked at her, she crunched studiously on a potato chip. "I saw some pretty crazy stuff at that school today. I honestly thought I was hallucinating, but now? Now I'm not so sure."
"What'd you see?" DD asked.
Beck pursed her lips. "Well, I know this is gonna sound nuts, but I saw two girls who had...well...horse ears." She wiped her hands on a napkin and held her fingers up to either side of her head to demonstrate. "I don't mean they were wearing headbands or anything, either. I mean they actually didn't have normal ears, just...just horse ears."
The others stared at her. "What?" Belle said in disbelief.
"And one of the girls had wings," Beck continued. "Like...angel wings." She picked her sandwich back up and took a bite. "But that's not the weirdest thing I saw."
DD shook his head. "That isn't the weirdest thing?!"
"Okay, well..." Beck bit her lip. "Schools are supposed to be kinda noisy and rowdy, right? I wouldn't know since I've never been, but I mean, hundreds of kids are gonna be noisy, right?"
"Oh hell yes," DD said.
"Well, CHS was like a tomb," Beck said. "And a lot of the kids I saw looked really spaced out. Beaten down, like...like something had sucked the life out of them. The only ones who had any kind of...of life were the two horse-eared girls." She took a bite of her sandwich, then added, "Also, I think...no, I know something's wrong with one of their teachers. I saw the winged girl get in a big fight with this total bitch of a teacher who tried to do..." She gestured vaguely with a hand. "Something to her that didn't work, so then she threatened to have her hauled away in handcuffs."
Belle and DD looked at each other in alarm. "What the fuck?" DD asked.
"Oh, and the two girls I saw in the library? They definitely know Sunset Shimmer," Beck added.
* * * * *
"Sure is cold, eh?"
A portly guard carried two cups of hot tomato soup and two cups of coffee into the guard station at the northern border checkpoint in Whinneapolis. Being the largest northern city with a shared border with Caneighda, there were five such checkpoints spread across town, but presently only one was open. The heavy ice storm had forced the rest to shut down; a bitter wind blew constant snow flurries through the lone remaining post.
"Seen colder," the gruff older guard said as he accepted a soup and a coffee, taking a long sip of the former and settling back in his chair. He wore a thick winter coat, a furred hat, and wool gloves. "Shoulda been here for the Y2K freeze. Takin' a piss coulda killed ya."
The portly guard chuckled. "Such stories you old-timers have," he said. "I was in high school when that storm hit, don'tcha know? Sure it was a mess, but we had a blast skating and sledding with all the schools and roads shut down."
The older guard grunted. "This storm ain't right," he said as he sipped his coffee. "My bones ain't ached this fierce in a long time."
The wind picked up, blasting stinging ice crystals on an almost straight horizontal line. The younger guard shivered. "Oh wow, that wind's biting right through the walls." He drank deeply from his soup. "When d'you reckon they'll give us the order to shutter so we can go home? Nobody's comin' through in this weather."
As soon as he said that, three ghostly white shapes emerged from the haze of bitter ice. The two guards stared in confusion as three young women walked indifferently through the ice and wind and snow. Tall and pale-skinned, each woman had hair the color of an Arctic glacier and wore fur-lined white parkas. Their ice-blue eyes were devoid of warmth and humanity, and snowflake-shaped crystal pendants hung around their necks, glittering in the reflected light from the snow.
The guards looked at each other. "You seein' what I'm seein'?" the older guard asked.
The younger guard swallowed. "Yeah," he said. He switched on the microphone that connected to the outside speakers. "Excuse me, ladies," he said. "We'll need you to come inside so we can process you for entry."
The women ignored him, walking right past the check station. The younger guard frowned. "Excuse me, you can't just walk through—"
The women dissolved into icy mist and passed through the closed border gate, reforming into solid shapes on the other side and continuing their dauntless walk.
The guards stared after them, then looked at each other.
The temperature dropped sharply. The generator died. The soup and coffee turned to ice.
As the two guards shivered and began succumbing to hypothermia, up the road, the three pale girls spoke in frosty whispers, barely audible over the bitter winds.
"Why do we bring the winds further south, Ulsa? We created a paradise where we could live forever."
"It is not enough, Catleen. Do you not feel it? I know Isqa does."
"I feel it, yes, but...why are we moving toward it? It burns us...it hurts us..."
"And that is precisely why we are going south," the one named Ulsa said. "Because the fools who carry the Fire of Friendship must know that our storm cannot be driven back. We must show them. We must extinguish their precious light and warmth...forever."
The bitter wind howled.