Celestia feels her lips tug downward into a frown. Surely this poor guard must be mistaken? There haven't been any trans-dimensional beings in Equestria since Discord. After all, breaking through the spatial veil known as ‘the aether’ requires far more power than any mortal being can hope to produce. With Faust as the only exception, of course.
“My loyal guard, I believe you may have heard incorrectly. There is almost zero probability that any sort of being from beyond the aether could have landed in Equestria. In fact, I’m sure that this must be a case where somepony has been mistaken,” Celestia replies, even if she doesn’t fully think that.
The guard shifts uneasily, having been put into an awkward position by such a solid rebuttal. “Princess, I beg pardon for any impudence on my part, but the lead sensor told me that ‘Something has emerged from beyond the veil’. I do not claim to be an expert when it comes to their roundabout speech, but I cannot form any other conclusion on the origin of this ‘something’ other than it coming from the aether...”
Celestia does not let her frown grow, even though she is feeling more than a hoofful of distress thanks to the words of her guard. This is a first for Celestia, not something that she can say lightly. When Discord appeared, he almost immediately began making trouble, which made the decision on what to do with the spirit obvious. So far, however, nothing has gone wrong or otherwise shown to have been out of place. That almost certainly rules out taking some form of aggressive action against the traveler without some form of provocation. Something unusual must be at play here... she can only hope that it’s something that can be dealt with.
Wait, what is she thinking? There’s no definitive proof that this traveler exists yet. Celestia needs to go and visit the sensor team for herself before anything else can be done. Rising from her throne, the sun deity begins the walk to the sensor chambers while motioning for her guard to follow. Celestia’s steps are devoid of their usual unnatural grace in the face of the urgent situation.
The walk through the extravagant halls of Canterlot Castle is brisk and silent. Not one pony dares to stop the princess after they see the serious expression adorning the muzzle of the usually cheerful ruler. The guard, despite being larger than an average stallion, almost has to run in order to keep up with the long strides of his princess. Through the countless hallways and corridors of Equestria’s capitol building, the pair of ponies come to a rather nondescript door with a single guard standing to the right of it.
Giving the stallion at her side a nod, he returns to his post at the opposite side of the door and takes a breather from having to keep pace with the royal sister. Celestia stops herself at the threshold of the sensor chambers and steels herself.
There are uncountable oddities in this world, and the sensors can probably count themselves among them. More than once, she’s had daring subjects come and try to interact with the sensors, only to leave feeling jaded and disoriented with what the unusual ponies had to say to them. An even smaller number had been driven mad with the information the sensors had revealed to them, their minds unable to fully cope with information that they were not supposed to have.
Celestia tightens her grip on her magic and fortifies the psychic barriers around her mind as she schools her face into a look of total impassiveness. No matter how useful they may be, these ponies are dangerous and should be treated as such. They are currently her only lead on whether this ‘traveler’ is a real being or only a hoax produced by mispronounced words. They should know, seeing as how they are from beyond the aether themselves...
With no actions on her part, the door glides open silently on oiled hinges, revealing to her a circular, windowless, white marble room. The guards by the door tense, showing their subtle discomfort even though they are far from directly exposed to their charges. With a deep breath, Celestia walks forward into the room and the doors quietly close behind her on their own.
In the center of the room are six white cloaked forms sitting on equally white cushions surrounding a colossal crystal ball that hovers slightly off the ground. The whole room is silent as the grave despite the fact that any noise at all should echo loudly in the enclosed space. Everything is illuminated by a light without a source, giving everything in the room a curious and somewhat nauseating flat appearance from the lack of shadows.
With a feeling of dread that she cannot shake, Celestia feels the fur on the back of her neck stand up. This room had been altered some time ago by the sensors for their own pleasure. Just how unnatural everything is-
“-Makes you uneasy.”
The sun princess almost jumps and feels her heart skip a beat from the sudden words from the robed figure closest to her. A surge of shame overtakes her from being startled so easily.
“It’s not anything to be ashamed of, your Majesty.”
The words refuse to echo in the empty room. They leave behind a deafening silence in the wake of the previous noise.
Celestia scowls and further tightens the shields around her mind, blocking out the subtle signature of an invader like she would pull a splinter from her skin. ”It would do you well to remember who you are dealing with, sensor. I can’t help but find my patience severely tried with such invasions of privacy,” she says threateningly.
The princess can’t discern any reaction thanks to the baggy hooded cloaks that the sensors insist on wearing.
“But enough of that, I believe you called me here for a reason?”
The cloaked beings look around at each other, then to the enormous crystal ball in the center of the room. There is no doubt that a silent conversation has gone through them. The one closest to her speaks up once more. “Indeed, as the brute outside may have informed you, a surprising breach has occurred in the wider world. Something has arrived here, something foreign, alien even.”
They aren’t mincing their words... under normal circumstances anything that comes from these individuals is always worded deceptively. This must be a grave matter.
“What can you tell me of the traveler? What is it?” the ruler asks, hoping they knew.
The speaker seems to think to himself, at least Celestia thinks it’s a he. They hadn’t objected to being referred to as male. ”From the little we have initially gathered, it was sent here by artificial means. No magic, no special powers on its part. That is all we have at the moment.”
Celestia nods thoughtfully, her aurora colored mane bobbing in an unseen wind. “I see. Show me,” she orders, motioning towards the crystal ball.
“Oh? Why should we? All who seem to come here only want visions to satisfy their desires. Selfish desires, I may add,” one next to the previous speaker says with an undertone of contempt. “Many of the ignorant ones cannot even cope with what we reveal. How do we know what you will use our power for? We don’t need to lower ourselves.”
The others turn their heads to the speaker in alarm.
Celestia, however, takes it all in stride. Turning her amethyst gaze to the one who spoke out, she meets a pair of milky, white, unseeing eyes and a black, featureless face of a pony from beneath the hood. “Have you forgotten the deal we’ve made? I shelter you from the harsh outside, and you provide me with your abilities when I call upon them. It’s a simple contract that I don’t believe we need to go over anymore,” she says coolly. “However...”
She really doesn’t want to do this, it’s not the way she enjoys solving problems, but it seems the only thing aetheral beings understand outside their own hubris is force. Discord was a prime example. Celestia releases a faint fraction of her magic over her body, enveloping it in a shining golden glow. However, was Celestia considers ‘a fraction’, others would see as ‘colossal’.
An insane pressure bears down on the occupants of the room, forcing many of them to gasp as their breath is stolen. It’s as if a two-ton weight was put on their shoulders. The white marble around Celestia’s gold-clad hooves cracks like glass, unable to deal with the incredible stress of the alicorn’s titanic surge of energy. The whole room begins to rumble, making the marble its composed out of groan and threaten to buckle. All in all, one could mistake the frightening atmosphere as the wrath of an angry god. Considering who is causing it, others would just go ahead and call it that.
Quick as it came, Celestia withdraws the magic and leaves the room as it once was. ”...I am willing to... renegotiate our terms,” she concludes quietly.
None of the sensors are willing to speak, all of them too cowed by the display. The wrath of an alicorn is something to avoid indeed.
The first one shakes himself out of his stupor and clears his throat. “Of course, my liege. We will do as you bid. Please forgive the foolish one, he is young and prideful.”
Turning back to the crystal ball, he and the others concentrate on the sphere with frightening intensity as they all mutter to themselves under their breath.
The air begins to crackle and hum around the ball as the sensors pour their clairvoyant power into it. It begins to shine brightly, before an image in the center slowly comes into focus, showing...
‘This unit is rather cold’
Inquisitive eyes set into a stoic face look around and take in their surroundings, taking special note of the other units. They do not seem bothered by the low temperature of the busy laboratory. It’s as if they couldn’t feel it, or are just ignoring it. But how? This unit cannot help but find the cold... what is the word that the white cloaked order-givers used? Unpleasant? That is the word that describes something that the order-givers would find worthy of devoting energy to avoid, correct? Correct word or not, this unit would still rather find a place with a higher ambient temperature to... to...
This unit cannot think of a logical reason why, but it would still be willing to find a warmer area even with no directive to do so. It’s silent for several more minutes, and the order-givers that wanted this collection of units for something they had in mind still has not arrived.
This gives plenty of time for the unit think. What a curious ability, the power to articulate and record words, sounds and images within the mind. It allows for so many things, more things than this unit cares to name. When did this unit gain such an ability? It’s difficult to remember, everything before simply seemed to run together into an incomprehensible mess.
The unit looks back over his supposed ‘brothers’, who still seem unbothered by anything taking place around them, whether it be lesser order-givers rushing about, the sounds of the laboratory, or anything else. Then, a sudden thought strikes this unit. What if the others cannot think? What if that’s why they find the world around them so uninteresting?
Such a conclusion is... troubling. But why would they not? According to the order-givers, all the units are created to be the same. They say that they do not falsify information, and thus far, this unit has had no evidence to prove otherwise.
In the furthest recesses of the units mind, something says that proof would not matter either way. Back to the current objective, what if the others are unable to reason? What does that make this unit?
Heart-rate takes a sudden spike. What does such a symptom mean? So many questions, and not a single answer. Such a state is... frustrating.
Frustrating? Yes, it is the word that currently describes this state in the most complete manner. The inquisitive eyes look back over the identical others, who stand as unmoving and unresponsive as ever. It’s very plain now: this unit is unique among them.
What does that mean for this unit? Another new, unpleasant feeling comes over the unit. Is this what the order-givers call loneliness? More information will need to be gathered.
In a rush, consciousness greets you in a shock, not unlike a bucket of cold water to the face. You immediately try to sit up from your position on your back, only to hiss in pain from the sudden movement.
Standing slowly, you move a hand to your back and lightly prod where the sharp stinging sensation came from. Looking back in your hand, you see more blood than you would have liked. What happened? Why in the world is there a huge gash in your back?
Wait, the wormhole generator, it had a catastrophic failure... and you survived? That must be the luckiest break you’ve ever had.
Well, maybe. The whole incident with the experimental growth serum and those rats was something you barely got out of, but enough of that. “Ugh...” you groan as you ward away all those unpleasant thoughts and take stock of your surroundings. It seems that you landed a lightly forested area around mid-day, filled with mid-sized trees, foliage, and the cries of various birds and animals. It’s rather relaxing, really.
Taking a deep breath, you smell almost unnaturally fresh air and loamy soil that seems free of any chemicals. The locals of Glade must keep an extra sharp eye out for the environment. Idly, you wonder if all of Tiberias II is like this. “That’s certainly a pleasant turn of things. Seems like even the rural areas on any planet can’t help but pollute the place until everything is caustic,” you remark to yourself.
Feeling around on your pants, you find that your jars of nanomachines are undamaged. You dig in your pocket and find the beacon that Emma gave you is still in one piece as well. Taking a look at the curious device, you can’t help but wonder why it’s a bunch of micro-memory cards attached to a central circuit board inside of a case. Seems like a single-piece beacon would be much more efficient.
Then you remember that the scientists aren’t allowed to give out any top-notch equipment to clones. “Fuckers...” Looking at your wrist, your watch-like DatPad is still in one piece, although there is a tiny crack in the corner of the screen. Not too big of a loss.
Feeling your back again, you realize that you’re going to need some form of medical attention. You’re not in much danger bleeding out, but even your clone-strength immune system can only fight off infection for so long. It doesn’t help that you can’t even dress a wound that’s on your back. It’s probably best to get moving before nightfall. You need to find the town, make a visit to the hospital, and wait out the week-long waiting period.
What? Are those wing beats?
You look up, expecting to see a large bird or something else along those lines. What you actually see however...
Your train of thought comes to a screeching halt as you see a pair of small white horses wearing centurion-like armor fly—yes, fly—on small white wings towards a large mountain nearby. Whirling around, you press your back into a tree and hide behind it, ignoring your back screaming in protest of the rough bark in your wound. That... that was totally unexpected. Genetically modified animals are not totally uncommon, but they’re luxury items and no owner in their right mind would simply let them run loose like that. Something is not right here...
You stop, suddenly feeling as if someone is trying to spy on you. You can’t seem to get a single moment of reprieve. Your scalp prickles as you hear faint white noise in your ears. It’s the same feeling that you get when left unattended without cameras back at Frontier Laboratories. Remote Microwave Field Surveillance is what its called, RMFS for short. It’s a surveillance device that uses a bubble of weak, directed microwaves around a target used to form an image on a screen somewhere else after being transmitted back.
Someone is trying to use RMFS on you! That can’t be right. Glade is a small town with nothing even as remotely sophisticated as an RMFS, and the scientists back at Frontier would have told you if you’re going to be monitored, just as a way to ‘keep you in line’ as they would say.
As quickly as you can, you warm up your comlink chip and immediately fire off every jamming signal that you can into the open air, making the usual itch that comes with using your chip escalate into an uncomfortable sting that slowly becomes more painful. Sometimes you curse that one assistant who put your comlink chip in like a moron.
You hope beyond all hope that whoever is trying to spy on you doesn’t have the facilities to crank up the microwave power. You would fry your own brain if you tried to fight it too long.
Slowly but surely, the ringing in your ears and the static feeling in your skin subsides. The ones behind the attack must’ve given up. Holding your head, you rub your temples as you feel the beginnings of a migraine. This isn’t going to be a pleasant mission, you can already tell.
With another look at your very natural surroundings, you spy what seems to be a cobblestone road out near the edge of the greenery. Yeah, this planet must be pretty young if the roads aren’t even properly paved. Walking out to the road, you crane your head around to get a view of the area without the trees obstructing your vision.
The road stretches on for miles in one direction with no discernible location at the end. Turning around, you see that the road leads directly to the base of an enormous and extremely steep mountain, the top of which is so high up the summit and the castle attached to its side are high up above the clouds.
You do a double take and see that you are indeed correct: there is a castle town attached to the side of the mountain in the most precarious of ways. It looks as if a single decent earthquake would send the structure and all its inhabitants falling to a painful and messy end.
This isn’t the worst case of architecture you ever seen, but it’s not safe, nor is it Glade. You know those things for sure.
The failure of the gate must have sent you even farther away from your destination, if not to another planet altogether. A sharp pain from your back makes you wince. You still have yet to find any treatment, something you need to do immediately. It’s risky, but the wonky looking castle is the closest structure that you can see and you’re out of options.
“No time like the present, I suppose...”
With that in mind, you set off toward the mountain, hoping that you can find some help and that whatever the castle holds doesn’t prove to be even more detrimental to your health.
Celestia watches as the bipedal figure in the crystal ball slowly comes into focus. The sensors seem to be taking their sweet time in performing their magic... Before the picture can become clear however, the figure tenses. Without any warning, the image in the crystal becomes fuzzy. Did this thing know that it was being watched and retaliate?
The sensors try with all their might to keep the scrying magic working, making the air in the room crackle with all the extra energy they try to shunt into the crystal, but alas, it seems that the traveler’s mental fortitude is simply a little too great as the image in the ball begins to fade completely. This... this is troubling.
How did it detect that it was being watched? A ward spell? A predisposition to clairvoyance magic? Or simply a natural defense? The lack of information they have is worrisome. The sensors try their greatest to re-establish the spell before they give up, their shoulders slumping as they pant in a surprising show of mortality. Normally they are almost unflappable.
Celestia let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. It looks like if they are going to learn anything about this new aetheral being, they’re going to have to resort to more traditional methods. Bidding the aetherals under her command a hasty farewell that she does not get a reply to, the princess turns and leaves.
She needs to assemble a team capable of keeping track of the traveler and send another team out to collect the Elements, both for their power and their safety. Who knows if this being has the power to sense Twilight and her friends connection to the elements?
It may seem paranoid, but it’s always better to play it safe. It seems that a princess’s work is never done... Rather than walk, Celestia opts to teleport herself to her sister’s room and alert her of just what is going on. Lighting up her horn in a corona of gold, the alicorn vanishes with a flashless teleport and a sharp “Crack!” of displaced air.
Reappearing in front of a pair of double doors decorated to resemble the night sky, Celestia knocks on the door and gets a mumbled “Come in,” in return after several seconds. She does so and lets herself in, revealing a sleepy Luna with a terrible case of bedmane looking up at her from a bundle of indigo blankets. Despite the serious situation, the sun princess can help stifle a giggle at her sister’s silly appearance.
Blinking owlishly, Luna realizes just what her sister finds funny and frowns before fixing her mane with a minute burst of magic. ”Tia, something tells me that this isn’t a social call. Why have you found it appropriate to wake me?” Luna asks as she stands from her bed and stretches.
The elder of the two nods. “Yes. Luna, I believe we have a potential crisis on our hooves,” she says, not bothering to beat around the bush. “If our available sources are correct, a creature not of this world has broken through the aether into Equestria.”
That statement immediately chases away every bit of drowsiness from Luna, who is looking at her sister with wide, disbelieving eyes. Thinking on what to say for a moment, Luna replies, “Celestia, are you sure? Something from the same realm as Faust and Discord? It seems to me like more action should have been taken already.”
Celestia turns and begins walking to the door. ”We don’t know that this traveler originated in the same reality as them. All we do know is that it’s not from this one. Walk with me. I’ll explain more as we go and get everything prepared,” she says.
As they begins the trek to the pegasi guard barracks, Celestia regales Luna with what she had done with the sensors, the very brief and vague image they managed to scry, and then how the traveler blocked them out. Luna is silent for most of the trip, only asking brief questions as she listened to her sister.
Once Celestia is done speaking, the night princess asks, “How do you personally feel about this? I can’t say I condone any rash action.”
The white-furred pony bites her lip in indecision. “I want to approach this with cautious optimism. Seeing as how nothing has gone catastrophically wrong and we have no reports of emergencies, then perhaps we can reason with this creature, maybe even gain its friendship. If all else fails...” Celestia trails off.
“If all else fails, we will be forced to use violence,” Luna finishes grimly.
“We can only hope that it does not come to that...”