“You know…” Sweetie mused. “There’s something we should really do in these loops.”
“What?” Applebloom asked. “Like, look for our cutie marks? Again?”
“No,” Sweetie said, “not that. I mean, we should learn how to actually do things. Not just try to find the one thing we’re magically good at.”
Scootaloo shrugged. “I dunno. What do you mean?”
“Well…” Sweetie blushed. “I’d kind of like to know how to cook. Not, special talent, know how to cook, but more… actually-the-right-shape-food cook.”
The other two nodded, understanding.
“Anyway,” Sweetie continued, “I was going to ask Rarity about that. She’s fairly good. We’ll see how it goes. What about you, ‘bloom?”
The earth pony thought for a bit. “Perhaps ah’ll pay more attention when Big Mac tries to get me to help on th’ farm.”
Scootaloo spoke up. “And I’m going to try to learn some math. Last time Dash and I both looped, she said that math was important in understanding… well, cool stuff, like fighter planes.”
“Oh, dear,” Rarity said, “Well, it’s nice that you want to learn, but I’m afraid I’m really not good at… well… simple foods.” She shrugged. “Perhaps you could ask Big Mac? I’ve heard that he’s the one who does a lot of the cooking whenever there’s an Apple family reunion…”
“Okay,” Sweetie replied.
Big Mac slumped into bed.
Oh, it wasn’t the work that had him tired out. No, it was that his littler sister and her two friends were constantly pestering him for help.
If it wasn’t how to help run the farm, it was maths. If it wasn’t either of those, it was how to cook.
Still, there were compensations.
Applejack nodded. “Thanks, Twi. Ah felt like Mac deserved somethin’ for handlin’ all three of the Crusaders so well this Loop.”
Twilight grinned. “It wasn’t much, really. All I did was point out to Cheerilee that he was probably halving her workload, and she sent him a thank you card, and…”
“This happen a lot?” Applejack asked. “Mac and Cheerilee, ah mean.”
“Somewhat.” Twilight shrugged. “It can go either way.”
9.2 (L33t m4n)
"Girls, I know this is a new loop, but I have a plan. When the wedding occurs I want to do something drastic." Twilight had gone through this a thousand times, but a new twist is what made the monotony nonexistent.
"Twi, I don't like that grin on your face. That's the grin that made the town go through a crazy compulsion for a doll,” Applejack worried – not entirely without justification.
"Relax. I just need the magic pool, some training grounds, and a place to keep the clones. As a great sorceror once said: magic must defeat magic!"
Twilight may have had a crazy streak, but her craziness was warranted at times.
"So you’re hoping to use clones…to defeat clones!" Pinkie realized that this was something that was worth the crazy streak. She had a plan to differentiate the clones from herself this time if she was to take a dip in that clone pool again.
"Yep! Wanted to save it for a Star Wars loop, but a little sneak peek won't hurt." The grin was going cheshire by this point, and making some of the loopers uneasy about how this would go.
"And personality dear? You have a plan for that?" Rarity asked.
"Planned for that as well… look, girls, I have it all planned out. Just need a little help with getting it accomplished." Twilight replaced her grin with a reassuring smile which broke the remaining resistance towards the plan.
"Alright listen up! You want to be the best! You want to fly circles around the others and make them wail! You want to be the coolest!" Rainbow yelled out, flying above the others in drill sergeant mode.
"YEAH!" a number of clones responded with equal fervor.
"Then you are going to start off with being cool!" Rainbow brought a board down with her list of attributes to succeed.
"Alright dears, today we’re learning how to cross-stitch, and make an outfit with a fitting theme." Rarity brought the needle up with magic before bringing up several spools of thread and fabric from her table. "Now watch, and do as I do."
Teaching care and attention to detail is always good… as well as getting my work backlog cleared, of course… Rarity thought to herself.
"Okay…now if it isn't a problem, I hope to show you … um excuse me," Fluttershy was teaching about looking after the critters at her place but the clones were too simple – most were too busy either chasing the animals or playing with them to focus on the shy, little pegasus' words.
"I SAID LISTEN!" Fluttershy entered Flying Hatred mode, before calming down and turning her dark form off. "Alright now return to your seats and take care of each animal. Also no fooling around or being rough, understand!" Fluttershy ended her sentence with a 'Stare' which drove any disobedience out of the clones before resuming her lesson.
Pinkie didn't focus much on teaching, instead concentrating on keeping the group together and teaching them how to make a fantastic party and how the party cannon worked.
"And that's how you make an amazing gazpacho. Any questions?"
One clone raised her hand before jumping back when Pinkie appeared in front of her. "Yes Twi-clone 265?"
"Uh, how does any of what you said relate to partying or teaching us?" the clone asked cautiously.
"Oh! How silly, I'm supposed to be teaching you skills. Right we'll start with making the perfect surprise . . ."
"Alright ya'll now bring that harvest in and we'll be ready for the coming winter." Applejack figured she’d teach them the appreciation of hard work, and benefit from the process. Rarity had done it, why not her?
"Good job, girls! When the wedding happens Chrysalis won't know what hit her. This might be something to do more often." Twilight cheered, looking the clones over alongside her friends.
Chrysalis crouched behind an overturned table, using a fruit bowl as a helmet. “This is not going well.”
Another Changeling went flying through the air and bounced off her makeshift barricade.
9.3 (L33t m4n)
The telephone rang.
"Hello, may I speak with the owner of the "Stone Pony" bar?" Ruby Pinch spoke, her tone anxious.
"Yes, what can I do for you, kid?" said owner groggily answered while checking his clock.
"My mom is asking if you could please, open the bar a bit earlier today." Ruby Pinch asked hopefully into the phone
"Let me guess, your mommy must be a Berry Punch, right?" the owner frowned.
"Well, yes, she's Berry Punch and..." Ruby got out before the owner interrupted her.
"Figures...look kiddo, the bar strictly opens at 8:00 pm and it’s barely 2:00 pm right now so..." he gruffly replied while barely stopping himself from hanging up right there
"But mister..." Ruby pleaded
"No buts young filly, tell your mommy that if she wants to get in the bar..." he was used to Berry trying stunts like this… but never before had she roped her daughter into it.
"But mister, you don't understand..." Ruby pressed.
"I don't understand what?" The stallion was seriously considering just putting the phone down.
"My mom doesn't want to get in; she wants to get out..."
Twilight blinked. "Wait, Berry is Awake this Loop?"
Applejack shrugged. "Ah only found out when she volunteered t' help with th' Super Squeezy thing next week. Guess she just ain't one for movin' and shakin'. Actually, she's mostly been breakin' into bars."
Hundreds of loops had passed and, finding herself nostalgic and the only one Awake, Twilight had set about trying to relive that first time as closely as possible.
Checking on her mental script Twilight finished her speech, "It creates the sixth element– The Element of Magic!"
She felt her magic and that of the others fill her and expand… but was surprised when their energies pulled together without levitating them. "That's odd," she thought as suddenly instead of forming the Rainbow of Light it instead glared a brilliant white.
Familiar with magical overloads she was about to dive for cover when a humanoid dived forth from it into the air with a cry of "By your powers combined– I am Captain Planet!"
Hundreds of loops had passed and, finding herself nostalgic and the only one Awake, Twilight had set about trying to relive that first time as closely as possible. Yes, last time it hadn't worked, but this time there was no sign of a fused loop to interfere.
Once more checking off her mental script Twilight finished her speech but focused more on the world around checking for any anomalies that would throw things off, "It creates the sith element– The Element of Magic!"
She felt her magic and that of the others fill her and expand… but was surprised when their energies pulled together without levitating them. "Not again," she thought as suddenly instead of forming the Rainbow of Light it instead pulsed a dull marble grey light.
Familiar with magical overloads but rather less worried this time she waited and a humanoid stepped with a definite finality from it into the air.
"Buck me," Twilight said in surprise as she took in the black clad figure before her, "this won't end well."
As the figure drew its iconic weapon, it spoke with a voice filled with loss, pain and bitterness. "Bearer of Friendship. I find your lack of faith disturbing."
Again the only one Awake, Twilight had yet again set about trying to relive that first time as closely as possible. Hopefully, this time it would be perfect!
Checking on her mental script Twilight launched into her speech.
This time she didn't even get as far as before. Upon declaring "These are my friends!" Instead of the spherical form of the Element of Magic appearing a large bronze oil lamp beaned her on the head.
Face hoofing she gave it a look as it lay on its side on the floor. "You know what? I can work with this," she snarked, giving it a rub. Not even looking as clouds appeared she spoke quickly so as to finish with the dangerous object as soon as possible. "Genie! First wish! That all those who threaten to take over or harm Equestria and/or its inhabitants would be healed by the Elements of Harmony of such desires! Second Wish! I wish that from when I next wake up I'd understand how Pinkie does what she does! Third Wish! I wish you were free!"
Taking a deep breath she turned around… expecting to see the Blue genie she'd been dying to introduce Pinkie Pie to, and instead seeing a rather more intimidating red one.
Many many many loops later, Twilight was the only one Awake… "Sod it." She went Alicorn, cast age regression on Nightmare Moon and summoned Celestia. "Your problem. I'm not taking any more chances."
9. 5 (Stainless Steel Fox)
Rainbow Dash looked down at the two fillies standing by the two seater Mareitech space fighter. "Cadets Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, you made top scores in the simulator, but I wouldn't be sending you out if our losses to the Zentradi weren't so high. Command thinks I'm nuts for giving two Cadet fillies who don't have a cutie-mark yet a Mareitech, especially with your handicap Scoots. Prove them wrong! You've got the makings of greatness, both of you, if you can keep it together. I'll try and look out for you out there, but Rainbow Squadron is going to take up most of my time."
"Yes mam, Captain Dash!" Scootaloo beamed. Dash didn't seem to be Awake, unlike the three fillies, and they hadn't even worked out where the Anchor was. From what Princess Twilight had said in their first loop, there had to be one, though this was an odd loop. They were on board a ten mile long spaceship, the Marecross, which had crashed into Equestria a millenium ago, filled with advanced technology. Only Princess Luna's efforts had prevented it from crashing with a force that would have wiped out Equestria, and since then, it had almost been forgotten that the Guardian of the Night Skies had once not been as revered as Celestia.
The vessel had turned out to be a warship, and one that had been in multiple battles before it was abandoned and Princesses Celestia and Luna had decreed that it must be studied. While they could guard the world, there might be other live ships out there, and whatever had attacked this one. Over the centuries pony scientists and mages had figured out the prnciples behind it's construction and in the process had advanced Equestria's own technology level. They'd rebuilt the ship and in the fillies own lifetimes, figured out how to repair the automated factories and variable configuration space fighters that made up it's primary armament with a mix of technology and magic.
Just in time as well. The Zentradi had attacked, and with a fleet so huge even the Princesses had been hard pressed to shield Equestria from it. The ship, renamed the Marecross had performed an emergency Hyperwink to get out behind the enemy fleet, and through a malfunction in the generator system taken the whole of Ponyville with it. They'd rebuilt the town in one of the cargo holds, and now they fought against the Zentradi, trying to find a way to defeat the fleet and save Equestria.
Sweetie Belle came up to them as the two put on their interface helmets and they indulged in a three way hug. "Be careful out there!"
"Don't worry!" Scootaloo gave a cocky grin. "It's just a scouting patrol. We'll be back in time to see you win the Miss Marecross competition."
"Yep!" Apple Bloom tapped the side of the fighter, currently kneeling down in pegasus mode. "I've got this baby tuned sweet as Granny Smith's Zap Apple pie. Who'd have thought I'd be good at fixing protoculture tech?"
They scrambled up into their positions, resting on the belly saddles and locking their hooves into the fore and aft control boots. The canpies came down, and Scootaloo trotted the fighter onto a vehicle lift.
"Mareitech 86, Red Squadron Beta 4, Marecross Control, ready for launch!"
"You are cleared for launch Beta four. Moving you to launch position. Beta One will meet you at Waypoint One to begin your patrol. Sending guidance co-ordinates."
The fighter rose up through multiple sets of air-tight locks to the landing deck, open to space but normally pressurised by the bubble of air retained inside the Marecross's navigational deflector shield. As Apple bloom programmed the navigation waypoints with the bootstick controls, Scootaloo walked the vehicle onto a launch catapult, and folded it down into fighter mode. A prssure suited deck unicorn signalled all clear with an illuminated baton, and they were pressed back in their saddles as the fighter was shot into space.
9.6 (Stainless Steel Fox)
Scootaloo the Pegasus
“Rainbow Dash was right!” Scootaloo called out as she dived down from her wing assisted jump and smashed her fore-hooves through the moto-bug. “This is awesome!”
Her wings blurred like a humming bird as she glided across the now battered turf of Green Hills zone on her red and white patterned Lightspeed horseshoes at speeds beyond sanity, while doing manoeuvres that most jet fighters would find nauseating. She passed down a line of floating gold rings and felt them vanish as they touched her.
She skidded to a stop short of the striped pole, that generally meant something bad up ahead, and glanced up. “Though it’s kinda silly that you can fly and I can’t.”
Apple Bloom floated down, tail whirring as she spun a ring shaped rotor blade with it. She dropped the last few feet and let the ring collapse in on itself forming a band on the tip of her tail. “You’ve got super-speed and you’re tougher than an alicorn, what more do you want? Though I gotta admit, being a tech genius is kinda sweet all by itself. How’re the new boots holding up?”
“I figure I’m at least 20% faster! Watch out!” A flight of buzz bombers swooped in and the pair spilt, Scootaloo bounding into the middle of the cluster and zipping back and forth, jumping and smashing as she went, while Apple Bloom spun up her tail, expanding the rotor to its full size. She flicked it, and it span away bisecting a buzz bomber that was diving at Scootaloo’s back and freeing the bird trapped inside.
It kept spinning back to her like a boomerang, and each time, she caught it on her tail by the padded interior ring, and flicked it out again to demolish one of the outriders while Scootaloo wreaked havoc in the heart of the formation. “Whooee! Take that you mechanical bozos!”
Even as the last of Dr Robotnik’s latest wave of creations fell to the earth in smoking, sparking pieces, the Earth pony was in among the carcasses, transferring various parts into her saddle bags. Scootaloo landed beside her and asked, “What’re you doing?”
“I wanted to build something like your old scooter but better. Using Kutta–Joukowski Lift Theorem, and some of the kinematic motivators I just scored off these badniks, I should be able to build a sort of hover board. You should be able to do all your old stunts and a bunch more besides. I could also use some parts for the Tornado.”
“Sounds cool, but isn’t hover-board kind of a dorky name for a piece of gear that extreme.”
“Okay, how about Extreme Gear?” Apple Bloom mused.
“I like it!” Scootaloo grinned. “Extreme Gear it is!”
“Only problem is the wind-chill factor from moving that fast, It’s going to be way past cool. Maybe I can apply a diverting force to the air current flowing over the nose…”
“Later, we’ve got more company, and it looks like the big cheese omelette himself!”
The pair of them set themselves up and raced off to face the Doctor’s latest creation.
“I’m bored…” Sweetie muttered. “When do we get to do something?”
“Based on what I remember…” Twilight trailed off, counting in her head. “About another six months. Now, keep practicing telekinesis. You’re going to need to be good at it for… whatever the hell we have to do.”
“You don’t know?” Sweetie asked, levitating a box.
“No,” Twilight said. “And it’s very annoying. Basically, something happened last time with a telekinetic and a pyrokinetic, but it got very confusing and neither Dash nor I have much idea what it was.”
Twilight Awoke, and stretched. Unlike some Loops, she’d actually been lying down when she gained awareness.
The ground under her was dusty and hard. When she opened her eyes, she saw a black sky with twinkling stars overhead and a cratered landscape.
That’s vaguely unfair, she thought as she looked around. I’ve started the Loop already banished. Twilight got up, using her wings as counterweights rather than flapping them given the lack of air. A moment later, there was a pop as she fired off a huge air-bubble spell – while she didn’t need to breathe, it was nice.
“Hi,” Dash’s voice said from behind her.
“Oh, hi, Dash.” Twilight frowned, and shook her head as she turned. “Why are there two of – erk!”
The other nine Looping alicorns all waved at her. Pinkie then started pulling things out of her mane – a table, some chairs, and a board game.
“Yeah, we’re going to be here a while…” Applejack muttered. “Hope Pinkie has enough board games.”
“Wait,” Twilight said, trying to get her Loop memories to return. “If we’re all up here, what’s going on down there?”
“Right,” the newly self-crowned Queen Chrysalis said. “Now we’ve managed to turn those pesky Elements against the very rulers who relied on them, we have a thousand years to rule Equestria before they get back.”
King Sombra nodded. “And, of course, actually get married.”
“True, true…” Chrysalis frowned. “How does an outdoor wedding sound?”
9.8 (Vulpine Fury)
Twilight came to in a familiar Canterlot Park and waited for her loop memories to come in.
She frowned. "Shouldn't I be remembering what my life is like here?" Opening her eyes, she did a quick inventory. She was an alicorn and had her Haversack saddlebags from Eberron in easy reach. From the heft of it, she was wearing her ceremonial tiara, and not the 'big crown thingy' the Element of Magic tended to manifest as for her. She was almost to her hooves when a familiar voice, distorted by not coming from her mouth reached her ears.
". . . and Harmony has been maintained for generations ever since."
Princess Twilight Sparkle very carefully poked her head from the bushes and watched a perfectly normal pre-Ponyville version of herself ponder a very familar book.
“The Elements of Harmony...” the younger Twilight mused. “I know I've heard of them before... but where?"
"Huh." The princess wondered. "Dash was right. I was adorkable." She settled her wings and decided to follow as stealthily as she could. It might be kind of interesting to see how things went when she herself wasn't the focus of everything. "Hm. Should I help her... or finally see what Moondancer's party was like?"
It had been difficult keeping back and letting the native Twilight meet her future friends. "Not least because I want to strangle the little recluse at times," Princess Twilight muttered. The additional difficulties of keeping herself hidden from Princess Celestia and an astral projection of Nightmare Moon were as nothing to keeping her first actual encounter with Pinkie Pie this loop from interfering with destiny.
"Miss Pie," she said gently. "Go ahead and take care of your other new pony-slash-Summer Sun party. She needs it more than I do."
"B-but Princess Vespertine! You're a new princess! Don't you deserve one, too?" The Pink Party Pony pouted.
'Vespertine' laid a gentle wing across Pinkie's withers, glad she'd been able to come up with an alias so quickly. "I promise I'll attend one of your parties very soon, just not this one. Cross my heart --"
Pinkie's eyes widened.
The looping Twilight twitched the tips of her wings. "-- Hope to fly --"
Pinkie's smile widened.
"--stick a cupcake in my -- OW!" The alicorn sheepishly lowered her hoof. "That last bit always gets me. Now, let me help you get into the library to set up before I have to go take care of 'Princess Stuff.' Oh, for the banner? Her name is Twilight Sparkle."
It was actually kind of nice to see the rest of Ponyville during that first day without the pressure of making sure she met her friends at the proper times to ensure they became friends during the trip to the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.
However it seemed that "Vespertine's" attempts at subtlety had failed. Somepony had told the Mayor about her.
"Here she is, your highness," Mayor Mare said, pointing right at her and looking at somepony else around the corner.
"Cadance! What a surprise!" Celestia said, with her eyes closed in a friendly smile. The smile turned to shock when she opened her eyes and the princess before her had the wrong coat color. "Twilight? What? How?" Under the shock was pride; Twilight could tell.
Twilight curtseyed exactly the same amount Luna would have if she were in her right mind, a bit of archaic formality to drive her point home. "I'm not the Twilight you sent to check on the preparations today." She tilted her head and checked the position of the sun and the weather. "She's doing exactly what you assigned her to do, despite herself. And from what's going on with the weather, she's just meeting the third of her new friends." She chuckled at herself. "For convenience's sake, call me Vespertine."
Celestia's guarded expression would have wounded her deeply before the loops, but she'd been through enough loops to know this was mainly a show for the Mayor. Most wouldn't have the sheer knowledge of Celestia to know where she got her tells from. After the Mayor was gently dismissed, the two alicorns began to converse in earnest.
"You foal!" Nightmare Moon gloated. "I've destroyed the Elements of Harmony! Celestia is imprisoned in the sun! And best of all, I've got your alicorn sister at my mercy. What chance does a normal unicorn such as you stand against me?"
The native Twilight Sparkle scrunched her nose up. "Sister? I don't have a sister."
"I know I've said this before, but... You're kidding. You're kidding, right?" Nightmare Moon asked.
Vespertine smirked from within her bonds as she heard her friends, or at least this loop's version of them. "You're about to get schooled, Luna."
"But Princess Vespertine!" Twilight Sparkle protested. "I don't get it! Where did you come from? I mean, I appreciate the distraction you provided..."
"Well, Twilight," Pinkie Pie said. "When a momma alicorn and a daddy alicorn love each other very much...."
"Pinkie!" Rarity gasped, scandalized.
The looping Twilight laughed. "Let's just say that Cadance and I share some things in common, and you and I share common ancestors, Twilight."
9.9 (Rufus Shinra)
Twilight woke up and took quickly notice of her surroundings, with the casual expertise that came with a very long experience in finding out the most information possible from a single glance.
Human housing, Japanese traditional, she immediatly deduced as she saw the paper walls. The next item was another obvious help to her. A TV set, early nuclear era and... OK, I'm still in unicorn shape and no additional memories. So... where am I?
She turned around when she heard one of the doors sliding, facing a mid-twenties human, holding a wrench while his clothes and hands had some traces of motor oil. He apparently didn't look surprised in any way to the purple unicorn that appeared in his house:
"Yes,” answered the wielder of the Element of Magic, pleased to see that she wouldn't have to wait too much to know where she ended up. "You too?"
"Not exactly," he said, before putting back his tool in a cupboard. "You could say that I'm 'Awake', but not in the sense you guys are."
"How so?" she asked, interested in a possible variation of the common pattern of Loopers and Anchors.
"Have you met Ranma, Harry or the others? Have they told you why the multiverse is looping like that?"
"Yes,” Twilight admitted. "They told me about that computer, Yggdrasil, and how they had to reboot the various universes periodically with us inside."
"Right,” the young man said, nodding.
"And what does this mean for your universe? You said you were 'Awake' in a different way? Are you an Anchor?" Twilight continued.
"No, just the sysadmin's boyfriend."
"Oh. You must have seen..." Twilight trailed off.
"Pretty much every Anchor and quite a few regular Loopers end up here sooner or later so they can meet the Norns. Beyond that, it's quite straightforward around here: no special memories, you come with your original body and such. Take a break, enjoy the food, things like that." He shrugged.
"Right...” Twilight accepted the information, thinking. “Anything of note?"
"Yes: don't get between Urd and the TV, unless you want to get in a prank war with a goddess. Anyway, tell me about your Loop, I saw quite a lot here, but colored unicorns are a first."
Twilight looked around as the noisy machines were apparently doing their work, under the frantic orders of an apparently young teenager. However, having known immortal beings even before awakening to the Loops, the unicorn knew better. Especially as the engineer who welcomed her in this dimension introduced said young girl as the Norn of the Future, which, according to the few things she heard from the older Loopers, was a full-blown Goddess, with a capital G.
Which did not stop her from acting like a child as her older sister teased her during the measurements. The unicorn took a brief look at the electronic-covered helmet which was perfectly fitting her cranium and her own horn, and shifted positions.
"Nice flank,” commented the white-haired Norn of the Past.
"Huh, thanks. I guess?" Twilight replied, uneasily.
"I checked on Yggdrasil about your universe. Cutie Marks, they're called? That's cute! Everyone with a nice little brand on their flanks..."
"That's not worse than the ones on your face,” replied Twilight, pointing her hoof at the sigils on Urd's face.
"Ours are more... stylish."
"If you say so,” commented the unicorn before turning her attention to the younger goddess. "So, what exactly are you measuring?"
"Your dimensional signature, to have a precise fix on your original dimension,” answered Skuld without looking away from her computer. "I have to be sure about your original timeline if we want to get this mess fixed one of these millenia."
"Doesn't your 'Yggdrasil' manage that already?"
"I don't know precisely when you started looping. That's one of the problems with dimensions where time-travel is actually accessible to non-divine beings. So, since that you're the Anchor and a time-traveller of your own, I can get that information from you."
"Oh,” said the purple unicorn while remembering her first experiment with time travel. "Oops?"
"Yes, 'oops',” said Urd. "But she can probably deal with that. Emphasis on 'probably'; she'll most likely need a helping hand from her nice older sister."
"Why would I need Belldandy for that?" snarked back Skuld.
"Anyway,” said Urd while bringing her attention back to Twilight. "Do you plan to stay here for a while?"
"If that's not intruding on you. And it depends how long 'for a while' would last."
"Long enough to meet humans unaware of magic, other dimensions and stuff," Urd said vaguely.
"Done!" said the chilidish voice to her right, interrupting them.
She felt the helmet release itself from her head, letting her mane free from its tight hold. At the same time, one of the doors opened itself, letting in the Norn of the present, followed by Keiichi. Twilight felt the urge to bow her head to the young woman whose pace and standing reminded her of Celestia, back in her home universe. Behind the appearances of youth and frailty were hidden power and kindness she could feel in every part of her body.
The goddess was holding a plate filled with food while Keiichi, behind her, carried in his arms some mechanical contraption that reminded her of some of the Loops where Pinkie took the role of one of the Flim and Flam Brothers. When the plate was delicately left in front of her, she knew instantly that she would not eat more perfect food in a thousand loops.
"Err...,” began the engineer while nodding towards his device, "I don't know if you need that, but..."
"Well, you have... hooves. So, well, it may be difficult to eat and..." Keiichi trailed off in a cloud of politeness.
"Keiichi-san wants to say that he designed this prosthesis to allow you to use sticks or other food ustensils if you want to,” Belldandy intervened helpfully.
"Excuse me? You designed and built a prosthesis for a species you never saw before? In less than two hours?" Twilight blinked.
"Are you sure that you are not a wizard of some kind yourself?" Twilight asked.
"As far as I know."
"Keiichi-san is very talented with machines,” the goddess said with a cheerful smile. "He loves them and they love him back."
Twilight though for a moment about simply using her telekinesis to take the sticks and start eating.
Oh, why the hay not, after all?
She held her front hooves forward, in a position allowing the engineer to fit his devices to them.
The small prefab was, despite her initial expectations, as welcoming and full of life as her library tree could be back in Ponyville, albeit in a different way. While a few books, mostly technical and scientific, were left here and there, most of the internal space was taken by hundreds of tools, spare parts and the occasional vehicle, everything having some order beneath the apparent chaos.
An order ruled by Keiichi's boss, Chihiro. Twilight heard her name spoken by the engineer, always with respect and even some kind of awe, sparking her own curiosity at someone who could inspire such feelings to a man whose instinctive grasp of mechanics was only surpassed by his theoretical understanding of the scientific principles behind every engine or device he owned.
So she asked to see her, and Urd said a few seconds later that she would help, shoving a pill into her mouth.
Thus her current human shape, with no extravagance beyond a small tattoo on her arm representing her cutie mark. It wasn’t exactly normal¸ but at least it had hardly come at her cold.
"Twilight, huh?" said Chihiro as Keiichi left the workshop to deliver a freshly-repaired motorcycle to its owner.
"Yes," answered the newly human Anchor.
"Quite the meaningful name...,” commented the engineer before looking back at the engine in front of her. "Could you give me the size 8 wrench, Twi'?"
"Of course," she answered before taking the right tool from the wall where it was fixed.
"So, how long will you stay in Nekomi?" asked Chihiro while receiving the wrench.
"I'm not sure right now, but since Keiichi and Belldandy's... family are letting me stay at their home, I'm trying to make myself useful around here." Twilight made a noncommittal gesture.
"Hmm, do you have any engineering training?"
"I can work my way around a few things, but I'm a scientist myself, not an engineer...” Twilight said apologetically, before adding “…but I'm eager to learn."
The owner of the 'Whirlwind' workshop turned her head towards Twilight and examined her.
"What did Keiichi say?” she finally asked.
"That you'd probably give me a chance to get some experience."
"... of course he'd say that.” Chihiro tapped her chin. “OK, here's what we're going to do: there's an old engine near the rear door, behind the shop. I want you to take it apart... nicely, and get as much spare parts as you can from it. And I expect you to tell me why you kept or threw away each part. That'll give me an idea of what you can do."
"Thank you," answered Twilight. "Can I use your tools?"
"I don't expect you to use your hands or magic!" joked Chihiro. "Make yourself some place inside so I can keep an eye on you while you do the job."
Twilight nodded and went outside to find the engine.
Two hours later, the Anchor was still struggling with some parts, under the amused eye of Keiichi's boss and, as she went for another Allen key, asked her:
"Why isn't Keiichi back by now?"
"Huh, the customer was quite far... and K will come near his home on his way back, so he's probably having lunch there and be back in half an hour or so."
"Oh, OK," answered Twilight while ignoring the feeling that she was forgetting something. "So, how am I doing for now?"
"Not that bad for a beginner," the mechanic commented. "You have a knack for choosing the good tools, so that's good, but you don't have the experience and it shows in the order you're choosing the pieces to remove. But... I'll probably be able to get you in shape if you're willing to, and have the time, of course."
"Thanks a lot, I'd appreciate it."
Some advanced engineering could really be useful back in Equestria. So many opportunities for pranking... and useful things too! Thought the humanized unicorn with a smile, before going back to her previous chain of thoughts. Anyway, what am I forgetting now...
"Oh, by the way, I couldn't help notice some of the textbooks on the shelves," she said, pointing to one of them. "I didn't really expect some theoretical quantum physics in an automobile workshop."
"Huh? Nothing of interest here, just some reading for myself. There's always something else to learn, you know."
"I'd never say anything else in a million years," answered Twilight.
And that's probably not a figure of speech.
"Anyway, I've got to finish this transmission and then we'll take a break to eat, OK?" Chihiro said.
"As you wish, Chihiro."
Twilight went back to her engine, struggling with a screw she couldn't get unstuck and, after a few minutes, sat on the ground, trying to think at another way of getting the job done. Her thoughts were however interrupted by Chihiro's voice:
“Can I have the size 2 wrench, Twi?” the engineer asked without turning around.
“Sure,” she answered, before using her horn's telekinesis to carry the wrench to Chihiro's open hand.
Wait a sec. My horn?
Twilight put her hoof in front of her and realized she turned back into her original shape at some point during the past minute, without even noticing it as she was thinking about that damn screw.
Urd's shapeshifting pills had a limited duration! That's what I was forgetting!
The surprise made her lose her grip over the wrench, which fell with a loud noise on the ground.
She saw Chihiro turn her head towards the noise... and the purple unicorn now in her workshop.
Twilight had an embarassed smile.
Chihiro's eyes met hers.
"There's a perfectly logical explanation..." began the unicorn.
Chihiro began twitching.
"Give me a few seconds to think about one...” she continued as she took back the wrench through her telekinesis.
She, however, did not have those few seconds, as the engineer started yelling:
Before Twilight had any time to react, the engineer was over her, hugging her.
When Chihiro finally calmed down and stopped brushing Twilight's mane, the two of them sat near a table in front of each other:
"So..." began the engineer. “You're not from around here, are you?"
"Not really. And you're taking it really well,” Twilight complimented.
"What? The fact that you are actually a magical purple unicorn with a recommendation from Keiichi?" Chihiro shrugged.
"Yes, that," Twilight said, deadpan.
"Giving who he's living with, I find it difficult to be surprised anymore."
"What are you talking about?" Twilight asked, suddenly curious. She couldn’t mean…
"Twilight, please. He has two sentient robots living in his home, I've seen quite the lightshows in the direction of his house, a speaking cat and... well..."
She took one book off its shelf and left it in front of Twilight so she could read its title:
"Norse Myths, Legends and Pantheon," she read aloud. "Oh... it was obvious, wasn't it?"
"But why haven't you spoken to him about it? Or with anyone else?"
"It's his private life. Why should I get involved?” Chihiro shook her head. “He works well, his goddess of a girlfriend too when she comes here, so why should I get thing more complicated than they are. When he introduces me one of his 'foreign correspondants', I know I should expect some weirdness here and there, but he's some good judge of character overall, so if he tells me that you can learn something from me, why the hell not?"
"That was... unexpected."
"Says the purple unicorn,” Chihiro snarked. “Anyway, who should I call to get that shaping problem fixed?"
"Probably Urd. Just a question... How long have you known about, well, all of that?"
"Decades, probably more."
"... What? You're a Looper too?" Twilight asked, surprised.
"Not exactly," she answered. "I asked one of your 'foreign correspondants' friends about what was happening some time ago, and apparently, our proximity to Keiichi and the goddesses makes some memories about these 'Loops' of yours leak back to us. Some unconscious thing, apparently, but that's fine too."
"So that's why you have advanced textbooks and everything, because you have had..."
"More time, yes. And, well, that's probably required to keep up with Keiichi now."
"Let's just say that he's probably the most knowledgeable engineer on our world, now. So, when you'll be over with me, if you want some additional training, you should go and see him." Chihiro picked up the textbook and slotted it back into the shelf. “Now, where were we?”
Nightmare Moon burst into the building. “Tremble-”
“Welcome back!” shouted a hundred voices, so loud together that they drowned out most of her first sentence.
Chopping off her triumphant speech in favour of actually looking, Nightmare Moon blinked in shock.
There was a big banner hung over the top of the room, reading ‘Welcome Back, Princess Luna!’ Every table was surrounded by ponies all looking at her, with broad grins instead of the fear she was expecting. And there were a dozen day guards at the walls, with two dozen guards in black armour… the night guards still existed?
Nightmare was astonished. She’d thought her sister would instantly disband the Night Guards as punishment for her rebellion – if not execute them outright, in her darker moments.
While she was thinking, the pegasi in black-and-purple armour had marched up to the area just below the stage. The two in the lead bowed.
“Princess Luna, it is good to see you have returned to us. While our organization has dwindled until recently, we have maintained our traditions and wish to swear allegiance to you anew,” the one on the left said. He was the spitting image of her old, old friend, Sunshine…
With a flash of internal guilt, Nightmare realized she hadn’t thought of her friends in a thousand years.
Still, she concealed it admirably, and bowed to them in return. “My thanks…?”
“I am Sunshine, of the line of your guards since time immemorial,” he answered. “Princess Celestia informed us you were returning, and authorized us to recruit back up to strength – and recommended this party, as a matter of fact.”
Another crack opened in the layer of ice around Nightmare’s heart. This was not how she had imagined her return to Equestria going, but it felt… better. Cleaner.
Every muscle in her body twitched as a warm feeling rubbed against her cheek.
“It’s good to have you back, my dear sister,” Celestia said, nuzzling the other alicorn. “Would you like some cake?”
Nightmare focused on the plate that hovered up to her. The cake on it was made with sponge, and smelt of bananas, and there was a hint of moonberry jam. It was covered with icing in the shape of her cutie mark.
Oh, buck it.
“Yes, thank you.” Princess Luna said.
Twilight grinned. “Told you.”
Celestia nodded to her. “Yes, you did. I should have done this the first time.”
“Though,” Twilight continued more seriously, watching as Luna took the oaths of her guards, “one of the main reasons this worked was because we know her so well now. Not just how she is normally, but how she thought as Nightmare Moon. And if it had gone wrong, there would have been a lot more ponies in the danger zone.”
The Princess of the Sun nodded, accepting the point. “I am sometimes astonished by your growth, Twilight. Every time I see you, you’ve gained another few decades – or centuries, or even millennia – of experience. And I’m glad to have a Loop alone with you, so I can get to know you all over again.”
Twilight shifted uncomfortably. “You know I’m not comfortable with praise…”
“That is one of the very things that is praiseworthy.” Celestia nudged her. “Come on, I want to introduce Luna to you.”