Morning light filtered in through the hotel’s window as the sun rose over Vale. Diamond Tiara was first to wake, and started to move the covers off, she didn’t recognize the strange sensations of her claws grasping at the sheets for a moment, and startled herself for a second as she stared at her new faunus body. The events of the previous day flooded Tiara’s mind and it started to sink in that they were in a completely different world… She wouldn’t see her dad… She wouldn’t see Silver.
She gave a weary sigh, and stopped herself from feeling regret, that, from long experience, only led to bad things. She had slept in her own bed, meanwhile, the moment they got out of their armour, the Crusaders all piled together with copious amounts of blankets and pillows in a giant pile… The pony… No, the person who would be taking care of the room would not be happy, that was for sure. The Crusaders had seemingly stripped the other two beds in the room of their blankets, sheets, and pillows.
All their clothing was lying in a pile off to one side, while Diamond’s dress and armour was neatly folded atop her box of parts… She still didn’t understand why Discord had given them a few boxes of spare parts, but now that she was starting to recover from the litany of shocks the last night had given her, she could now start to think on the matter. As dawn crept over the city, Diamond spent her time looking out the window, studying the world and its people as she did so.
It wasn’t long before the Crusaders woke up, digging themselves from out their mass of pillows and blankets. “Ahh, look at this place!” Scootaloo said, nearly throwing herself over to the window… Luckily the glass had prevented her from throwing herself out the window. Now that it was day, they could make out the city of Vale much more clearly now, and it was nearly as impressive as it had been when they flew out over it aboard the airship. In the distance was that giant spire, and now, with the early morning light shining upon it, they could see the tower had a bunch of smaller spires extending from the top.
Sweetie looked deep in thought as she turned to the others, “We should check out that one shop, From Dust till Dawn… I felt a ton of magic in that place.”
“Yeah! I want to go to that big tower, it looks so awesome from over here!” Scootaloo yelled, pointing at the distant spire.
“I want to learn more about this monster-hunting school… That’s why we’re here after all,” Apple Bloom replied.
The three fillies all clapped their claws and yelled, “Cutie Mark Crusaders: Alien World Explorers!”
Diamond knew what was going to happen next and moved between the fillies and the door, rolling her eyes at the fillies antics. With a raised claw and a scoff, she said, “Stop!”
“What is it now… Diamond Tiara,” Apple Bloom said with disdain.
She gave an exasperated, and a little exaggerated, sigh. “For going on so many adventures into danger, you really aren’t observant, are you… Dumb blank flanks,” The fillies just wore expressions of cluelessness, “Look out that window and tell me what you see, particularly regarding the creatures in this world.”
The fillies did so and Apple Bloom said, “They’re all walking around on two paws?”
Scootaloo continued, “They mostly have drab hair colour?”
Sweetie Belle, for her credit, gave a look of realization and understood what Diamond was getting at. She moved to collect her armour off the floor as Diamond filled in the others, “They’re all wearing clothing… Dad says that, if you want to get ahead in life, you need to understand the place you’re in and how the ponies live. Same goes for this place, if we want to fit in, you should all get into your clothing. We can leave the armoured pieces here, they’ll only slow us down and be uncomfortable, but at least get a shirt and pants on... I’ve not seen anyone else without them.”
The others rolled their eyes and, with a little coercing from Sweetie Belle, they got into their clothing. Diamond didn’t bother with the breastplate, and Apple Bloom left her claw-armour, but Scootaloo kept her jacket and plated pants. Other than what money they still had, they left their stuff in the room, Diamond being the only one to bother to lock the door after they left.
Soon they were walking down the streets of Vale, most people there didn’t so much as look at them, instead being too busy in their own actions. Some gave curious looks, some gave awed looks, and Diamond strained her ears to hear what they were saying about them, mostly they seemed to think that, based on how we were dressed, that we were student huntresses… There were a few that muttered something, generally negative, about faunus, but those whispers were few and far between, and sometimes not even directed at them, but at other people in the morning crowd.
The fillies stared at a stallion who passed, a pair of wolf-like ears extending from his head, and not too long later, noticed a mare with a scaled tail dangling from her plot. Most of the people they saw had nothing like that though, mostly possessing those little flaps of skin to the sides of their faces that acted as ears, and possessing no tails, wings, or extra appendages or growths of any kind… There was a particularly harry mare, but they couldn’t tell if she was one of these animal-people or not. The fillies suddenly became acutely aware of their pony parts, Sweetie’s and Diamond’s ears folding to their skulls, Bloom’s tail tucking between her legs, and Scoot’s wings flaring a bit.
As they walked, Sweetie whispered to Diamond, “So… Are these animal people with their tails and ears and such, the Faunus… What do you suppose the ones who don’t have those things are?”
“If you remember, back in the hotel, the stallion said that there also existed a creature called a Human, I think those other ones are called Humans,” Diamond whispered back.
Soon they had found themselves in front of the store Sweetie had wanted to visit, the sign proudly proclaiming: “From Dust till Dawn” A little, single-storey building extending from the face of a much larger building recessed into the line of structures. The windows had the words “Tools - Cartridges - Scales” on one and “Dust - Crystals - Books” on the other. The top of the building seemed a balcony for the building behind… Apple Bloom, having helped her sister build a barn on numerous occasions, couldn’t help but marvel at the architecture. It looked like somepony had seamlessly crossed the architectural styles of Canterlot and Manehattan. In truth, the entire city gave off that feel.
This close, the feeling of magical energy was not lost on the ponies, and they felt the energy flow through their veins as they got closer. Entering the store, the first thing to catch the ponies attention were the crystals on display, each a different size, shape, and colour. “Ah, you’re a little early, Ru-” There was a pause as the elderly stallion behind the display saw the fillies who entered his shop… “Oh, you weren’t the person I was expecting… None the less, welcome to From Dust till Dawn. Take a moment to browse, I’m sure I have the type, cut, quality, and mass of dust you’ll be needing,” He paused again, “From your clothing, you look perhaps like students, here for Beacon I presume?”
The fillies simply nodded, not really paying attention to the human’s speech, instead, they found themselves enraptured by the magic they felt coming from those simple crystals… Scootaloo found herself staring at the large cylinders filled with powder, it looked, and felt, a lot like Liquid Rainbow… She had only visited the rainbow processing plant once, but the feeling this material gave off was remarkably the same.
Off in a corner, too quietly for anyone else to hear, Sweetie muttered to herself, holding a red crystal in her grasp. “Hmm… Pure magical energy, not linked to a specific creature, tuned to fire, then crystallized, in a similar process to how gems are grown on rock farms, but those do not contain nearly the same concentrations of power… How exactly did they make this?”
Apple Bloom stared at pre-packaged bags of dust, vials of dust, and jars of dust… “I wonder if I could get some of this back to Equestria, I know Zecora and Twilight would just love to get their hooves on some of this…” Apple Bloom quietly said to herself, then her eyes were drawn to the tools section.
Diamond found herself staring at a wall, behind a pane of glass, of strange metal… Things. They proudly proclaimed themselves as dust rounds and came in a variety of sizes from five-millimetre pellets to the heavy looking forty-five-millimetre canisters, and all sizes in between. They were, for the most part, long cylinders, with glass windows that show them to be full of glowing crystalline dust, their ends tapered into cone-like shapes.
The fillies must have spent an hour or so just staring at the magical crystals and their various displays, not even bothering to pick up a magazine, attempt a purchase, or even put something into a bag. The shopkeeper seemed a little perturbed by their behaviour of simply looking at the dust and nothing else, but certainly wasn’t going to interrupt a shopper.
There came the ringing of a bell and the door opened. The shopkeeper turned and the ponies were startled from their revelry by a young mare in a red and black dress and cloak entering the store. “Ah, Ruby, I was wondering when you would be showing up.”
“Hey, Mister White, who’re the others, I’m not used to seeing other customers this early?”
“Just four faunus girls who wandered in here a while ago… I think they’re new students here for Beacon,” He paused, and leaned forward to whisper, “If I’m being honest, they’re creeping me out, all they’ve been doing is staring at the dust and talking to themselves.”
Ruby nodded, looking at Scootaloo who was now licking one of the sample crystals, electricity dust Ruby noted. Scootaloo started to nibble on the end and subsequently dropped the crystal when her body spasmed, her eyes flashing pure white for a second, and lightning sparking from her mouth before the power subsided… Ruby was a little dumbfounded, did she just fuse the dust with her body? The look on the faunus’s face was one of shock, somewhat literally, and a little surprise and awe.
Ruby found herself standing next to the winged girl as she placed the crystal, a little bite taken out of the end, back on its stand. She turned to look at the red-hooded girl. “Uhh,” Ruby began, “Hi-”
“Hey, I’m Scootaloo, and this place is amazing! I’ve never felt so much power in one place before!”
“H-Hey, I’m Ruby, and, yeah, it is one of my favourite stores in town… I make sure to come by often-”
“I can see why, look at all this dust stuff!”
Ruby gave a little chuckle, “It's like you've if you’ve never seen dust before…”
“I haven’t, at least not until today.”
Ruby let surprise show on her face, how had someone never heard of dust? “Wow, where are you from then? I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t know what dust was.”
“Never heard of it, I presume it’s some town outside the kingdoms.”
“Yeah… I guess you could say that.”
“Hmm… You almost look like you come from Vacuo” She simply replied. “Sooooo, what’cha doing here?”
“Oh, just looking around, this is our first day in Vale.”
“Our? You mean your friends over there?”
“Yeah, you should talk to Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom… Don’t mind Diamond though, she can be a bit bossy and mean.”
“You girls have kinda funny names, I like it though… I’m just here to get some rounds for Crescent Rose, and checking the newest editions of my magazines…”
“Cool… I’d get a few things myself, but we don’t exactly have much money… Paying for the hotel took half of what we had, and I don’t know how we’ll make any more.”
Ruby’s eyes went wide… “Come with me then, I’m sure Tai, my dad, won’t mind some guests.”
“T-That’s rather nice of you, but we can manage.”
“I can’t just leave you like that, I want to help people, why not start by getting you somewhere to rest for a while.”
“W-Well, you’ll need to talk to the others first.”
Ruby nodded… “So, is it true that you’re going to Beacon?”
“Beacon, that’s the monster-hunting school, right?”
“Well, duh! Becoming a monster-hunter sounds awesome! We don’t really know how to apply, but I’m sure we’ll find out.”
“Normally people spend years in one of the combat schools, like Signal… I’m going to Signal right now, and I’ll eventually be going to Beacon in two years… Once you graduate, they give you some transcripts that allow you to bypass the entrance exam… Otherwise, you show up, and you have to go through a long and hard series of challenges to prove that you’re strong enough to join, and if you succeed, then you can join without a transcript. I’ve heard though that, while much, much quicker, those exams are hell compared to going to combat school, so most people just spend the time at a combat school... The normal age people get accepted into Signal is fourteen, and the normal age people get accepted into Beacon is seventeen, not that there haven’t been students accepted both younger and older, but usually not by more than a year,” Ruby blurted out.
“Wow… You know a lot about the schools.”
“Well,” Ruby blushed, pausing for a moment, “Well, it has been a dream of mine to become a professional huntress since I was three, of course I’d do some research on the subject.”
Scootaloo had gathered the fillies in the dust rounds isle while Ruby slotted lien cards into a slot in the wall next to the 15mm rounds display, dispensing dozens of the large capsules that she handily deposited into a pocket. Soon Ruby found herself the center of attention by the four faunus girls, a situation she was not prepared for in the least.
One was wearing a big, heavy, furry coat that looked like something an Atlasian general would wear in winter, she was introduced as Sweetie Belle. The girl in the pink dress reminded Ruby of pictures she had seen of the Schnees, if she bleached her hair and dress, she would fit in perfectly, she introduced herself as Diamond Tiara, in a tone that Ruby found a little rude. Finally, the red-head wore a classic sheriffs hat that Ruby found somewhat charming, over an orange sweater she wore a brown kevlar vest that reminded her of the kind the kingdom police would sometimes wear, and was called Apple Bloom.
“Hey girls! This is Ruby, she’s super cool and nice and wants to go to monster-hunting school, just like us!”
“Uhh, hi,” she said, a little more timid than normal in the presence of so many.
“Ruby, you probably know all the great places in this city, you mind if you show us around?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Umm, sure… Why not,” Ruby gave her best dorky smile. The others looked happy or eager, Diamond rolled her eyes and gave a dismissive scoff, muttering something under her breath that no one caught. With that, they left the store and Ruby started guiding them in the direction of the city square, but first taking a quick detour in the direction of “A Simple Wok” closer to the industrial district, Ruby found that she could really use some noodles right now.
As he sat in Fluttershy's cottage, Discord was pleased… It seemed his little ponies found Little Red Riding Hood a little ahead of schedule… He could put off the filly’s gifts for another day or so, although the copy of the spellbook had already been given to it’s chosen recipient. Applejack had given him a small bag of bits, a little application of magic had transformed them into the chosen currency of Remnant, those silly plastic cards called Lien… Apple Bloom’s gift was a little too material, and silly seeing as they wouldn’t be needing much money now that Red had found them, but some pocket change never hurt anyone.
Speaking of chaos, in the background Angel and Lusus continued their game of hide-and-seek… In hindsight, putting a creature that saught out negativity into the same room as the little rabbit was quite a chaotic mixture, and Discord was very ashamed of himself for not doing it on purpose. The beowolf was now happily, or at least as happily as an entity of pure dark magic could be, chasing the little bunny around. Earlier it had wearily attempted to bite the rabbit, but, being a creature of magic, was more susceptible to magical influence, and watching little Flutters use the stare on the grimm was quite an entertaining show, seeing the fearsome beast of Remnant reduced to a quivering mass of fear and shame.
Still, his plans were moving along nicely, and his other little team of foals were doing quite well too where they had landed. Yes… The coming chaos was going to be far, far more entertaining now. And Discord had taken the first step in showing up those arrogant cousins of his.
Twilight entered the cottage a moment later, saying, "Excuse me, Fluttershy, I'd like to borrow Lusus for a few magical experiments and might need your help, trust me, I don't intend to harm him."
The noodle shop proved Apple Bloom's favourite part of the trip as she downed three whole bowls of the slimy little things in rapid succession, the food was more than a little disgusting to Diamond and Sweetie, but they had still ate, not wanting to insult their new friend by wasting her money on food that was not to be consumed. When voicing their concerns to Ruby, she simply stated, "Don't worry about it, dad makes plenty of money, a little bit of food isn't all that much."
When they were walking down the street after just leaving the City Square, Sweetie asked, “So, Ruby, what do you use all this dust stuff for?”
“Oh, we power our cars, power our buildings, use it to heat and cool our homes, make weapons… Ooh, I have the perfect example right here!” She said, pulling a little white slab with a yellow diamond-shaped button on the center from a pocket on her skirt.
“What’s that thing?” Diamond asked.
She smirked and pressed the button, at which point the device popped open. While it was too weak for the others to feel, Sweetie could feel the magic emanating from the device as it activated, there was a brief flash, and, from the empty space between the two ends of the device, a soft glow of magical energies became a solid screen. “This is my scroll, it has a ton of uses… I can talk to my sis or dad from anywhere in the world, provided they have one of their own, which they do, and I can play games on it, and I can access almost anything on the CCTS network!”
Diamond and Sweetie were studying the device intently, Scootaloo was less than interested, that was until Ruby showed her something she called ‘Kung Fu Ninja Ultimate Slayer Death Battle 2’ when Scootaloo started staring at the screen, yelling at the little figures that danced across the digital battlefield and cheering when one of them had won. Apple Bloom was still looking around at the city but looked a little interested when she said that she could call her sister with it, unfortunately, no answer came from Ruby’s call, a little odd, but nothing Ruby was worried about.
The day passed rather quickly, and night had just recently fallen, and the fillies, still fiddling with Ruby's little device, trying to figure out all the functions, had found themselves trotting down a road in what Ruby had called the “Lower Commercial District”, apparently a place rather close to the industrial district and the river Ozma that cut through the city.
This place gave the fillies the creeps… It didn’t have the nice aesthetic they had come to see from the rest of the city, of stone brick facades and holographic lamps, but rather made from bare concrete and metal pylons, exposed cables running from building to building, delivering magical power, and all reminding the fillies of pictures they had seen of Fillydelphia. With a dark, industrial, and utilitarian feel to it.
They were wandering back to the upper commercial district, back to the dust shop, after spending their second trip to that amazing noodle shop, the memory of which made Apple Bloom drool.
There was a loud boom from somewhere up ahead and a little to the side, punctuated by a brilliant flash of yellow light coming from the windows of one of the buildings, and, following Ruby’s lead, the fillies ran toward the disturbance. They came near a large structure, outside was parked a yellow vehicle of some kind, looking like a very small carriage with no top, just a seat mounted to two wheels. Ruby seemed to recognize the machine and turned her attention to the building’s second-floor windows, where there came another boom, flash of yellow light, and the sound of glass shattering as the windows broke apart and scattered across the street.
Out came flying a man in a suit, a broken weapon of some kind in his grasp, quickly followed by a girl with long yellow hair, about as long as Sweetie’s, wearing a dark tawny jacket with puffy sleeves, a golden-yellow undershirt, and scarf. A belt around her very short black pants seemed the only form of proper armour on her body asides from a pair of big, bulky, gilded bracelets on each arm.
She came crashing down from the second storey into the ground with a mighty thump as boots impacted the street. There was a pause as the fillies stared on in shock, Ruby simply smiled and said, “Yang? Is that you?”
The young woman replied, “Oh, hey, sis!”
“What are you doing here!” Ruby replied, excitedly.
The young woman gave a short sigh, “It’s a long story… Anyway, who’re the others
Neptune Vasilias sat alone in his study… The room was rather dark, with only his workbench providing illumination, where the boy sat with a variety of tools and his half-disassembled weapon. He had just last month graduated from Sanctum, and would be needing his Tri-Hard at peak condition. He had already replaced all the dust crystals and was now working on recalibrating the auto-targeting devices when there came a knock on his door.
With a groan, he got up from his desk, “What does Scarlet want now?” He grumbled, half-heartedly, he liked his friend, he was simply a bit needy and overbearing. He opened the door and was rather surprised at the person on the other side. A faunus judging from her silvery tail that matched her shiny grey braided hair perfectly, a pair of glasses adorning her face. “Hello? Who-”
“You are Neptune Vasilias, correct?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Good,” She smiled, “I’ve heard you’re a master of weapon design and assembly… I have a few schematics and parts I’d like assembled please.”