13.1 (Stainless Steel Fox)
Calling out the Cutie - Revenge of the Everfree
Diamond Tiara cursed as she pushed her way through the underbrush. This whole thing was turning into an even more massive debacle than her original actions. Why couldn't that rotten little farm filly have known her place and been properly humiliated? Instead, she'd turned the tables with her preposterous speech and gotten the entire class on her side, making it look as if it was Diamond Tiara who was in the wrong.
Obviously, this set of circumstances couldn't be allowed to stand. There was no way one pony could know all those things, especially a blank flank loser like Applebloom. So Diamond Tiara had challenged her to back up her boasts. When it started to snowball, and turn into something the whole of Ponyville had gotten interested in, Diamond Tiara had felt smug – after all, what was the point of letting somepony lie to you? This would teach her a lesson.
But the annoying bumpkin had so far gone through the tests set up for her without a bobble. She'd fixed up a broken wheel and damaged harness on a two wheeled farm cart, then slipped into the harness and hauled it back and forth over the back forty of Sweet Apple Acres under the watchful timer of Time Turner.
Building a wooden wall from the planks and supplies she'd brought in the cart, then raising a single room sized barn and roofing it using parts she claimed to have made earlier, using the rest of the supplies to build some training dummies that she then enthusiastically demolished under the watchful eye of that crazy old earth pony Temple Fortress.
That was the other annoying thing, the number of ponies who seemed to spring out of the ground to help run her through her tests. After finishing off the dummies, she fought a couple of other students from his dojo, and beat them, though she was sure it had all been a set up despite the assurance that they wouldn't going easy on her. Seeing her sweeping the legs out from under a stallion half against her size and holding him to the floor with a 'Mountain stance', it had to be! (Though they had made noises about her using skill to compensate for relative lack of strength, whatever that meant.)
Which brought them into the Everfree forest. Applebloom was up ahead with Miss Cheerilee and Zecora, identifying plants and picking some of them for later use in showing her brewing skills. Diamond Tiara growled again. Who could tell if that gibberish the two had spouted at each other was a language? But it had impressed Cheerilee. That was why Diamond Tiara was following them. She had to do something to sabotage Applebloom, before she succeeded and humiliated Diamond Tiara again. Anyway, there had to be something behind a curtain somewhere, right?
She'd been a bit nervous about following them into the Everfree, but so far it hadn't been any different to walking through Whitetail Woods, a bit darker and creepier, but nothing like the horror stories she'd heard. Of course, that blank flank did it, so it couldn't be that hard. She strained to hear what they were talking about up ahead, and trampled her way through the large patch of blue flowers without even thinking about it.
Diamond Tiara woke up from a nightmare, remembered what had happened yesterday, and wished she was back in it. As if watching Applebloom cook and bake and brew potions wasn't bad enough, it hadn't been Twilight who'd come to test her knowledge of stars and navigation. Princess Luna herself had shown up. Apparently Twilight had been telling tales, and the description of this contest had piqued her interest.
Applebloom, of course, had somehow weaselled her way through Princess Luna's questions. It had been evening when they started, and Luna had raised the moon, then started switching around the star patterns to test if Applebloom could identify the time of year… which, of course, she could.
Now she'd have to go to school and face the class as the neighsayer who had been made to look like a fool by the foul farm filly. She rolled out of bed, grappling for her comb as she turned to look at herself in her palatial room's full length mirror.
The scream was audible in Canterlot.
Applebloom had finished her morning chores and was just getting ready for school when there were angry voices from outside, near the gate. She grabbed a last piece of toast in her mouth as she trotted out to see what all the hoo-ha was about. As soon as she came in sight of the gate, there was a scream of "There she is!" and some more raised voices.
Applejack and her big brother were at the gate, talking or rather arguing with a bunch of ponies led by Filthy Rich, and centred on Diamond Tiara.
"You're plumb crazy! What makes you think that Applebloom had anything to do with it?" Applejack asked, as angry as Applebloom had ever heard her – well, when there wasn’t some kind of invasion going on, anyway.
"She's been humiliating me ever since I teased her about that blank flank. This is her latest revenge, another way to punish me!" Diamond Tiara sobbed.
"We did see her brew up magic potions yesterday, so… " Filthy Rich began.
Applejack got right in his face. "Finish that sentence and you can forget ever getting another jar of zap apple jam. Applebloom would never do something like that!"
Applebloom swallowed the last bite of toast and asked, "What the hay am I being accused of? Before you bring out the boiling oil, I'd at least like to know why."
"This, you rotten little peasant!" Diamond Tiara presented her flank, which was as unblemished as the day she was born.
Applebloom couldn't help it, she burst out laughing.
"You see!" The pink pony growled.
"I… I'm sorry…" Applebloom chuckled. "I had nothing to do with it, but whoever did it must have had a major sense of poetic justice. The queen of cutie-marks deposed… Hmmm… Hold on a second…"
She trotted over to Diamond Tiara, who tried to scramble back with an 'Eek!'
"Oh stop it, I'm not going to hurt you, I just need to smell something." She ducked her head towards Diamond Tiara's hooves and sniffed.
"What are you doing you freak!"
"Figurin' out that you mosied on into the Everfree forest, and ran longwise through some blue flowers." Applebloom lifted her head and looked back at Applejack. "Poison joke. Zecora told me all about it. It has a unique scent, and some nasty effects."
Of course, looper Applejack would know perfectly well what poison joke was, but in-loop she had no reason to, hence the little piece of play acting.
"How could a flower make my daughter's cutie-mark vanish?" asked Filthy Rich.
"It’s wild magic, it does what the name says, plays a nasty prank on any-pony that walks through it. She's lucky; you could have been turned into a diamond statue, or a duplicate of her own tiara."
"Lucky?" Diamond Tiara was still sobbing. She threw her hoof to her forehead in a dramatic gesture worthy of Rarity. "My life is ruined!"
Applebloom rolled her eyes. "Oh stop with the drama. Zecora has a recipe for an antidote, you can be back to normal as soon as you take a dip in it. And I won't even ask why you were sneaking around after me in the forest. If there was ever a case of some-pony upsetting their own apple cart, this is it."
"There's an antidote?" Filthy Rich asked. "Then you must fetch it at once!"
Applejack growled. "So you were accusing my little sister of poisoning your daughter, but now she can help you change your tune."
The stallion hung his head. "I'm sorry, I was just scared for my daughter's health. Please, help her!"
Applebloom nodded. "Sure I will. But I'm not missing school and chasing off into the Everfree right away. There's no further danger, she's just minus a cutie-mark for a bit."
"I can't go to school like this!" Diamond Tiara exclaimed.
"Nope, you need a shower." Applebloom giggled. "I'll go get Zecora as soon as school breaks for the afternoon."
At the school it was a zoo. Rumour had apparently gotten there ahead of Diamond Tiara, though considering the fuss she'd been making on the way to Sweet Apple Acres it wasn't hard to guess why. Normally, the pink pony would have been happy to be the centre of attention, but in this case, she was practically cringing at the fillies and colts looking at her.
She'd rushed home for a quick shower, then put on the dress she'd had made up for her cute-cenera, which oddly enough covered her flanks, obscuring her cute mark, or rather where her cutie-mark should be. Considering the other ponies had come in their normal attire, i.e. buck naked, this only served to make her look dreadfully out of place. Even Silver Spoon didn't have a dress on, which made things worse.
Diamond Tiara had dawdled at home, wanting to give the other ponies as little time as possible to interrogate her before class started, but that just seemed to have allowed a bigger crowd to gather. As well as her class mates there were ponies from the other classes that normally had their lessons at other times, and Applebloom, always Applebloom in the middle of it.
She was chatting to that geek Twist, and a pair of other blank flanks, a unicorn and a pegasus who she'd seen around. She hadn't bothered to learn their names, but that hadn't stopped her and Silver Spoon using all of them for verbal target practice several times in the past. After all, they'd been easy targets. She'd even managed to make Twist and the unicorn cry, which had been particularly satisfying.
As she approached, the pegasus gave a smirk. “Ha! Not so high and mighty now, are you? I may not have my cutie-mark yet, but at least I'm not afraid to show my flank!”
She winced. So that was it, Applebloom had been getting together a group to continue to persecute her…
“Scootaloo!” Applebloom exclaimed. “I may not like her any more than you do, but I ain't going to stand by and let any-pony get picked on because she has a blank flank! How do we expect to get any respect if we turn around and do the exact same thing?”
Diamond Tiara growled back. “Don't play innocent, I'm sure you've told the entire school what happened!”
“Yep, I figured I should tell them about the poison joke before some-pony decided I'd fed you some crazy potion, or Sweetie Belle had used Rarity's blemish concealment charm on you. Though considering the way you treated her last week, I wouldn't have been shocked if she had.”
“I never thought of that!” The unicorn in question suddenly said, eyes wide.
Applebloom gave her a quick hug with one fore-leg. “Just as well, that's the sort of mean trick she'd play. Do you really want to drop to her level?”
“No, but I'd have liked to have seen her without her cutie-mark.”
“C'mon, she's already managed to embarrass herself far worse than any prank we could ever pull. Twist and I have to get to class. I'll be late to the club-house, I've got to go ask Zecora to brew up an antidote for her.”
The other three agreed and gave a four way high hoof. “Okay!” “See you then.” “Cutie Mark Crusaders, ho!”
Diamond Tiara's ears pricked up at that, and as they moved inside she sneered, “Ha! After all your talk, you're just as obsessed with getting a cutie-mark as any-pony! Or are you going to tell me that's not what your pathetic club of misfits is about?”
That got her a sharp look from Miss Cheerilee, who'd heard the tail end of her sentence. Twist cringed slightly, but Applebloom just shook her head.
“Just because I think there's more to a pony than a cutie-mark, doesn't mean I'm not interested in seeing what mine is, if any. I guess I was when I started, but now it's as much a fun thing to do. We hang together at a tree-house on the farm, play games, go out trying different activities to see if we get a cutie-mark, and basically have fun. If we actually get a cutie-mark out of it, that's a bonus.”
She shook her head. “You’re focusing on the destination and ignoring the journey, at least that’s what my sister would say. Well actually, I figure you’re just feeling bad and wanting to spread it around, but it comes to the same thing.”
Miss Cheerilee cleared her throat. “Every-pony, quieten down. I’ll take register, and then I think Applebloom should give a short explanation of just why it’s not a good idea to go into the Everfree forest without some-pony who knows what they’re doing. If then.”
Diamond Tiara just sat there and fumed.
13.2 (crossover with Spyro)
“Wwwwwelcome to Magic Crafters!” Cosmo said, looking down at the purple dragon who had just freed him and stretching sinuously. “I want you to rrrelease the dragons, rrreclaim our treasure, and rrrecover the eggs from those pesky blue Thieves.”
He disappeared in a flash of magic, leaving behind his pedestal.
“Reclaim, huh?” Twilight the Flutterpony sniggered. “Yeah, bit late for that.”
“Hey!” Spike the Dragon replied, looking hurt. “I’ve only eaten the tasty ones… it’s not my fault that they’re all tasty…”
“Admittedly, I do wonder what Spyro usually does with all his.” Twilight hummed. “Hey, try not to fall off any more cliffs, okay? I can only save you so many times before I start to get tired.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.” Spike crouched down (easier than normal, because he was an all-up quadruped this time) and launched himself forward in a charge.
Gnorcs in silly metal dresses went flying.
“Hey, Twilight!” Spike looked around, towards some sheep (which promptly fled) and then at a large portal. “I fancy a trip to the beach. Can you take me?”
“No.” Twilight said. “You’re always making me teleport you everywhere, use the portal for once.”
“Okay,” Spike grumbled, and gestured towards the portal to Dragon Shores. “Come on, then. And when are you going to work out how to get me to fly properly? Age-shifting doesn’t work here.”
“When I work out how the Flights do it, that’s how. And no sooner.” Twilight did a loop-the-loop in irritation. “I can’t even READ here! The dragons’ books are all twelve feet tall, and I’m barely bigger than the words!”
There was a tugging sensation as they passed through the Dragon Shores portal, and then they were in some strange, non-beach place with a cheetah, a faun and a mole talking at them.
“Okay, look,” Twilight said. “We weren’t supposed to be here, so if you’d just-”
“But we need your help to defeat Ripto!”
Twilight picked up a fireball headed her way, and fed it through a one-way magical mirror – also, incidentally, pumping the energy in it up by a factor of a hundred.
There was a loud explosion.
“Okay? Can we go now?” Twilight did not like it when she was proven wrong by Spike, especially when his argument was actually based off not wanting to walk.
“Uh…” the cheetah, Hunter, looked back and forth between her and the crater. “Did you-?”
“Twilight!” Spike shouted. “They have gems bigger than ME here! Let’s stay for a bit!”
“…oh, alright. Maybe here they have books,” Twilight sighed.
“Oh, splendid!” the mole said. “I was wondering, do the portals you normally use follow a longitudinal or transverse wave pattern? Because I tried the first one, but it didn’t pick up well until I’d gone through transverse and back.”
“A mix, actually.” Suddenly, Twilight was also an enthusiast for staying in Avalar. At last, someone who has an intellectually stimulating task to work on! “We use Rayleigh waveforms, because those allow for more specific origin points which can be in the air and… oh! So that’s how the Flight portals work – they must carry the superfly spell in the waveform!”
“Splendid!” The studious mole took out a pencil and started writing that down. “We have a similar enchantment on the daises leading to Speedway portals, but that’s in the arch and not the warp torus itself.”
“Right.” Twilight checked on Spike, and saw he was trying to get a gemstone almost as big as Princess Celestia out of the ground. “Okay, we tend to use Runcible-type gates with more flexibility on the waveform, but the downside is that the Horns of the Spoon take a lot more power… I did wonder why they bothered…”
“Don’t worry, Bianca,” Twilight said, the purple glow around her intensifying, “I’ll handle this. Hey, Spike!”
“What?” the dragon asked, halfway through a game of Ancient Egyptian Tanks.
“I managed to locate the Sorceress, so we can teleport straight to her. And I think I can apply Superflame, Superfly and Invincibility in the teleport flare.”
Spike jumped out of the tank and was next to her in a second. “Cool. Let’s go.”
“Yep.” Twilight’s glow became blinding for a moment.
“And so, we say goodbye to the Forgotten Worlds,” Spike said with an affected voice. “Land of giant monsters, malfunctioning portals, stolen dragon eggs and ludicrous numbers of Rhynocs.”
Twilight grinned. “Wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“Nah. Fun place, once you get past the occasional deathtrap or horde of giant scorpions.” Spike hopped through the portal, and Twilight followed a second later. “What now?”
“I… guess we wait until the next disaster.” Twilight paused. “Well, you wait, anyway. I’m going to go try and work out how the Supercharge ramps work.”
“I don’t understand it,” Celestia said, shaking her head.
The object of her confusion lay in the gardens of Canterlot palace. A three-hundred-foot-tall building, containing inside it a statue of herself – at thirty times normal scale.
It had appeared overnight. And she had no idea where most of her gardens had gone…
“Oh, how flattering.” Luna looked around the huge building. The outside was covered with frescoes depicting her at her work of shaping the night sky, and the inside held silver sculptures of her surrounding a great replica moon.
“Explain,” Firefly said flatly.
“Hey!” Dash raised her hooves. “This one totally wasn’t me. Anyway, why would I build a giant lighthouse out of clouds? It sounds like far too much effort for me.”
After a moment, Raindrops nodded. “Yeah, it is. You’d have left it half finished.”
“Hey!” Dash paused, then realized what she was objecting to. “I mean, er, yeah! Exactly my point.”
“Only question is, then, who did?” Firefly said. “I mean, it’s helping pegasi find their way home, but these strange black insect-ponies calling themselves changelings keep bumping into the main mirror.”
Fluttershy flew up to get a closer look at the strange sight. “Oh, my.”
A jet-black obelisk, covered with runes which glowed purple, jutted out of the Everfree forest canopy. And above it, held in a deep purple glow, hovered a magnificent garden – with rare animals and plants which she was sure were only supposed to be in the Canterlot palace gardens.
“Was this your doing, Braeburn?” Sherrif Silver Star asked, pointing to the east.
“Nope,” the Apple replied, shaking his head. “Weren’t me.”
“Well, who would put four giant stone pyramids out here?” Silver Star squinted. “And that’s a griffin statue next to ‘em, too.”
“Down a bit… left a bit… and done!” Spike said, checking off the sixth item on the list.
Twilight finished off by casting the spells that secured the enormous earth pony statue in place, and then dropped the cloaking spell. “Right. That’s the Colossus of Horseshoe Bay set up… now, one to go. Which one is it?”
“The mausoleum.” Spike tapped his chin idly. “Not sure who to commemorate, really. I mean, most of our rulers are still around.”
“…easy. The Founders.” Twilight frowned. “Only problem is finding where they were buried. Any ideas?”
“…anyway, we managed to get them all done inside the same twelve hour period,” Twilight finished. “With a lot of magic, anyway.”
Discord clapped. “Very good, Twilight. Most impressive. So, you set up the Seven Wonders of Equestria? What was the reaction?”
“…Celestia was a bit annoyed that I’d pinched her garden,” Twilight admitted. “But I had to move it anyway to put down the Temple of Celestia at Canterlot, so…” she shrugged. “Fluttershy was very happy.”
“…Princess?” Twilight started at the unexpected sight. “What is it?”
“While I am grateful that you’ve made such good friends, Twilight,” Celestia said, stepping into the Ponyville library, “I must confess that I originally sent you to Ponyville for reasons that were not entirely altruistic.”
“Okay, then.” Twilight frowned – was this connected to why Luna was over two months late? “Go on.”
“It was my original intent to allow you to form friendships, it is true…” Celestia looked pained, “but that was in part due to the Elements of Harmony. They can only be wielded by a group of ponies with true friendship between them, and I feared the return of my sister – who has become Nightmare Moon.”
Twilight nodded. “I see, and I do understand the logic. But… I remember that book. Wasn’t Nightmare Moon supposed to return on the Summer Sun festival?”
“She was.” Celestia nodded. “I was most impressed by how well you and your friends organized it, by the way – masterfully done. But the absence of my sister still troubles me.” The alicorn of the sun lit her horn. “Twilight… I ask a great favour of you. Will you accompany me to the moon where my sister has spent these last thousand years, so as to determine whether she is still there or has escaped without my notice?”
The Element of Magic blinked. “Er, why me? I’m flattered, but…”
“You are the pony I would trust more than any other, Twilight.” Celestia’s voice held a quiet serenity. “And, in truth, my sister and I are closely matched – your power would, perhaps, be enough to tip the balance.”
Suppressing a grin at the private joke – if it came to it, she had more than enough power – Twilight nodded in turn. “Okay, then, Princess. I won’t let you down.”
“Thank you.” The glow turned to a blinding flash.
Celestia and Twilight materialized inside a gigantic frosted-glass dome.
The ruler blinked, her air-bubble spell being completely unnecessary in the atmosphere already present in the dome. “I don’t remember this being here…”
“Oh, hi!” said a voice from overhead, in the distant heights of the dome. There was a series of bright magical flashes, and the dome turned fully transparent.
Twilight blinked as Princess Luna flew down, carrying a huge slab of quarry-fresh stone. “Celly! I haven’t seen you in SO long! And who’s this?”
Celestia recovered her poise quite quickly. “Dearest sister. This is my student, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight bowed. “It is an honour.”
“I bet she’s a regular anchor of strength for you,” Luna said, and winked at Twilight. “Anyway, I got over the whole Nightmare thing about… three years after I came up here, and I’ve spent the rest of the time building. There’s a complete environmental dome here, which stretches out across about half the nearside.” Creating a series of illusions, Luna continued explaining. “I made the dome light-reactive so the sunlight isn’t too intense – that’s to compensate for the lack of the atmosphere – and the top surface has the Mare in the Moon motif. I know it might be interesting to have the whole thing transparent to emerging light so that the greenery I hope to transplant up here will be fully evident – imagine it, Celly, the moon having as many ponies and as much life on it as the planet below!”
The long, rambling explanation by an evidently Awake Luna about what she’d done over the course of the last ten centuries wound on for about twenty more minutes. Twilight was impressed – Luna had not only built a habitable area rather larger than any one continent, but she’d also constructed future cities, towns and villages within it. Any prospective colonists would almost literally just have to move in.
Celestia’s jaw was just getting gradually more slack.
“…anyway,” the alicorn of the moon finished, “Why are you up here? I mean, it’s nice of you to visit, but…” she gasped and checked a moondial Pinkie had given her once. “Oh! I completely missed the date! Sorry, Celly, I hadn’t realized I could come down by now. Anyway. Do you want to write the colonist adverts or shall I?”
13.5 (Stainless Steel Fox)
Squeezing out the Competition
“Well, looky what we got here, brother of mine, it's the same in every town, Ponies with thirsty throats, dry tongues, and not a drop of cider to be found…”
Flim’s musical number came to a halt with the sound of a gramophone record needle scratch as he got a chance to look around at the road outside Sweet Apple Acres. Lots of ponies, all of them merrily drinking mugs of cider. One rainbow maned Pegasus had a pyramid of empty mugs in front of her, and another mug raised in salute to the stall which was clearly selling it.
There were still barrels stacked behind the stall, and a massive pile of bits overflowing the cash box. The orange pony in the hat who seemed to be in charge of the stall looked over at them sourly. “I hope you can pay for that post you just knocked down.”
“What in Equestria?” Flim couldn’t help saying. “We heard that there was a cider shortage here in Ponyville! That’s why we brought our unique and superb…” The music started up again. “Unseen at any time in this modern world, born of creativity.”
Seeing ponies starting to pay attention, the two started trading off.
“Folks it’s the one and only, the biggest and the best,”
“I can’t believ-able”
“Flim and Flam Brothers’ Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000.”
The music came to a halt again as Applejack retorted, “That’s nice and all, but you’re a mite out of date. Last year we couldn’t produce enough cider, that’s true, and we wanted to do better without compromising on quality.”
She waved back at the orchard behind her. “That’s why we got my friend Twilight in to do what she called a ‘time and motion study’. We were doing the whole process by hoof, even driving the apple press of a treadmill, and changing the full barrels for empties. Turns out the only stages which really needed to be pony-intensive was bucking the trees to get the right apples, and quality control on the apples to see that only the best get in. Takes a skilled pony to tell which apples are just right for our cider.”
“Our machine has a selector that does it automatically, and turns it into grade-A top-notch five-star blow-your-horseshoes-off one-of-a-kind cider…” Flam stopped, turning. “Hey, get away from there!”
Applebloom was tapping the wheel of their transport. “Huh, seems like a thaumic boiler system and a magically controlled spectro-mechanical analysis device feeding an undershaft powered processing line hooked up to a vacu-motive collector. Fast, but I bet it takes a lot of maintenance, not to mention a dedicated unicorn to power it. You’ll get maybe a couple of hours of use out of it before you have to tear it down for an overhaul. No wonder you were riding around looking to make a quick bit rather than trying to market it.”
Applejack grinned. “Mah little sister Applebloom has a knack for mechanical dohickeys. She built our new cider processing system.”
Applebloom pointed over to a long line of wooden struts and machinery half hidden by the trees.
“Tain’t as fancy or mobile as your contraption, but it’s practically all mechanical, a simple conveyor system driven by an electric motor. Rather than a complex magical gadget, we just pre-filter using a simple feeder system onto a scale which drives a flipper that diverts the apple out of the process line if it’s obviously too light. With the pre-washing stage and stirrers running off the same drive shaft, we can remove any leaves and twigs that got that far too.
“That allows Applejack and Big Mac to buck, and me and Granny Smith to check the apples that make it through the pre-filter. We have push button flippers to drop out bad apples rather than taking them off the conveyor by hoof, which saves a couple of seconds on each apple. May not sound like much, but over thousands of apples it adds up.” Applebloom shrugged. “It was the bottleneck for the whole process, so with the two of us working on it and the other improvements we've managed to more than double our throughput, while still keeping the hoof picked quality that makes our cider the best in Equestria!”
“I’ll say!” called out the pegasus. “This has got to be your best year yet!”
"I even rigged up an automatic feeder system for the barrels. Just a simple ramp and counterweight driven mechanism, but it does the job. And the best bit is that it's all way overbuilt, it should run for days without any maintenance other than changing the filters in the washing stage and refilling the barrel magazine.” There was a clunk as another barrel entered the mechanism. “All wood construction too, apart from the hardware, so it was cheap to build too."
Applejack couldn’t help smirk slightly at the crestfallen faces of the two hornswagglers. “I’ll tell you what; you can buy a bunch of apples at wholesale rates. Even with our new system, we won’t have much left to export. You might find a market for what that gadget makes in Trottingham or Hoofington. We’ll even knock off five points if you credit the apples as coming from Sweet Apple Acres. Of course, that’s on top of what you owe us for the fence post…”
Flim fidgeted under Applejack's gaze.
“Ah, about that, we're sort of, low on funds just at the moment.”
“So, you're broke.” The farm-pony gave a sigh. “Figures!”
Flam replied, “We have plenty of assets, it's just they're all tied up in the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000…”
“Like I said, broke.” Applejack replied, giving them both a look. “Well, you can always work it off in kind. Since we know your names, I guess you should know ours. I'm Applejack, and this's my little sis Applebloom. Over there you've got my brother Big Macintosh, and Granny Smith.”
Truth be told, she had very little time for these two swindlers. They'd tried to steal the farm out from under her family, though the Apples hadn't exactly made it hard for them. However, only she and Applebloom knew that, as neither Big Mac nor Granny were loopers. Still, it went against her nature to just kick these guys out in the cold, as they hadn't actually done anything this time.
She'd let them earn the price of the fence post and their stake in apples, but she did intend to work them hard. Maybe she could teach them the value of an honest day's work, rather than a get rich quick scheme.
Applebloom was still examining the device with an appraising eye. She still dimly remembered that she'd been excited by the machine, and ready to use it, until the Flim Flam Brothers had suggested their yellow dog terms. Even in the original time-line, it had lead to her learning more about mechanics and the idea to design a float for the Summer Harvest Festival.
In a way, it had ultimately led to her finding her cutie-mark, a couple of dozen loops later. The problem had been, her talent wasn't just fixing stuff, though that had been a part of it, but inventing new devices and new machines, especially electronics. It had taken a fused loop, that first one where she'd subbed for a fox called Miles 'Tails' Prower, to show her where her skills really lay. (And annoyingly, it was never the same thing to get her mark two loops in a row…)
A lot of the technologies she was best at hadn't yet been invented in base-line Equestria. Her cutie-mark expressed itself as a number of different things, depending on the circumstances, spanners and apple carts had frequently figured, but whenever she went really deep into computers and electronics she got a rainbow striped apple with a bite out of it. She guessed it represented a zap apple, since they involved electricity and innovating new techniques to turn them into an amazing jam.
Still, this machine had been the first thing to turn her thoughts to creating rather than fixing up, so maybe she owed them at least something. Besides, she could use their knowledge. “Y'know, it isn't a bad design. Over-complicated, but the ideas are actually pretty sound. It looks to me like you got interested in adding all kinds of bells and whistles rather than making the basic systems reliable.”
She couldn't actually blame them for that; it wasn't as if she hadn't suffered from that herself on occasion, especially when she was trying to tech up to building her own Maritech. Some of her more enthusiastic experiments had ended in malfunctions that involved terms like 'blast radius', and in a couple of particularly bad cases, 'funeral'. At least it had been her own. Even with every-pony being resurrected at the start of a loop, killing one of her friends would have been something she'd not have wanted to cope with.
“I wouldn't have thought an earth-pony filly would know much about magical engineering,” Flam said carefully, clearly aware that Big Macintosh was watching them both with a stern expression.
“You'd be surprised. Maybe I could help out, in return for some help myself. When I want to get some magical elements into my designs, I have to get in Twilight Sparkle or my filly friend Sweetie Belle to help out. But Twilight Sparkle's more of a straight up artificer, she makes purely magical items, and Sweetie Belle's talent is more to do with singing, and using her magic to enhance it, or vice versa.” Applebloom shrugged. “Besides, Sweetie doesn’t have much in the way of actual magical power to access yet.”
“They can both do it, but I feel bad about getting them to help me out for nothing. I figured if I could find a way to substitute my earth pony magic for unicorn magic in the rune sets, I could do the whole thing myself. Since you're the only two ponies I've seen apart from me who mix unicorn magic with machinery, I thought you might be able to help me figure it out. In return, maybe I can help you iron the bugs out of your doodad so it's actually a product you can sell, rather than a garage queen.”
Flim, seeing a chance to ingratiate himself, and avoid more arduous farm work immediately said, “Why sure, little lady!”
Then he back pedalled, seeing the obvious flaw. “But we can't promise anything, earth pony magic can't be projected the way unicorn magic can.”
“That ain't exactly true.” Applebloom grinned, and picked up an almost empty mug of cider. She passed a hoof over it and the mug was full again. That had the two unicorns buggy eyed.
“Zebra use similar magic to earth ponies, but they've learned to project it. I learned potion-making, off of a zebra named Zecora, who lives in the Everfree forest, which often involves investing a brew with your own magic. I even managed to learn a couple of other tricks, like multiplying the dregs of a liquid to refill a cup. A simple application of the law of homeopathy.” Sure, it took a hay of a lot of magic – far more than you could make back from the potion – but it was a neat party piece to pull off once or twice.
She sighed. “But investing magic into rune sets etched into metal requires different techniques to investing it into a magically active organic base. My martial arts training helped too, but I still can't quite get it.” She didn't say that it hadn't been her training under Temple Fortress, but under Master Roshi that had really buffed her earth magic manipulation.
From what Goku had said, the original Bulma hadn't been in the least interested in martial arts, though she was a genius engineer, but at least some of Applebloom's earth pony nature had carried over into her human body, and she'd been able to take the Turtle School training regime. She'd never be a Tenka'ichi Budo'kai Winner, but an also-ran by Dragonball world standards was still a serious martial artist by almost any other universes standards. Except Nerima, but then that was a special case.
“Don't get too comfy with those two, little sis. I aim to make them do some heavy work to pay for their apples. You can have them when I'm finished with them.” Applejack motioned with her head in the direction of the rise that held the Crusader's tree-house. “Have them park that contraption at your workshop and bring them back down. We've still got a passel of work to do before the sun sets.”
“We haven't…” Flam started to say, but Flim put a hoof over his mouth. “You'll provide food and a place to sleep too?”
“I reckon we can manage something.” Applejack replied, tersely.
“C'mon!” Applebloom waved at the two of them, and stepped through the gates to Sweet Apple Acres. “And be careful with that thing, you don't want to knock anything else down.”
She walked on ahead, leading them along the path through the orchards, and listened closely. The two of them were talking, and probably thought their low voices were drowned out by the background noise of their machine, but Applebloom had a lot of experience picking out voices from over the roar of machinery.
“Brother, why were you so eager to accept their offer?” Flam was asking. “Sure that filly did a party trick, but we could just try the next town over and see if we could scare up some business there. I didn't like the gleam in that Applejack mare's eyes when she talked about putting us to work.”
Flim gave a little smirk. “Brother, you're missing the point. What we have here is opportunity. At the very least we can get a meal and a bed for the night. Who knows what else a couple of well groomed and devilishly handsome stallions might be able to accomplish? At least that filly up front isn't as hostile as the rest of her family. I'm sure we can charm her into putting in a good word for us with her sister.”
The moustachioed stallion gave a huff. “If we can convince her that we've actually helped her. She's probably read a couple of books and is just playing at inventing. Or do you think she can actually help fix the 6000?”
“Who cares? We play along. Hopefully she'll have some basic tools, and maybe even parts we can use. We should be able to convince her to provide parts to show off our artificing skills on. It's better than nothing, at least.”
Applebloom gave a little chuckle. This was going to be fun. She stopped at the foot of the hill that the Crusader's tree-house sat on. It was built up with a main house, a lookout post surmounted by a telescope poking from the top, and a couple of small air-boat hulls and other platforms sticking out from the upper branches. A broad grassy path lined by apple trees on both sides, led up the side of the hill but stopped well short of the tree-house itself.
“Okay, park it here,” Applebloom called out. “I have to open up the workshop.”
She scampered up the hill, and disappeared into a small shack at the base of the tree-house.
Flam rolled his eyes. “That's her workshop? It's barely big enough to fit a wagon, let alone this.”
There was a crunch, and a rumbling sound. A line appeared in the grass in front of them, and the lines of trees running up either side of the wide path tilted outwards as the 'path' split to open upwards into a pair of massive doors, running the entire length of the hillside. The opening was wide enough to fit a dirigible, let alone the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000.
A paved road with dotted lines of lights running along each side ran into the hill. As they watched, blowers started up in the grates that ran along the centre line, clearing away the dirt that had fallen from the crack between the doors.
“Okay, bring it in!” Applebloom's voice came from nowhere, or rather, they guessed concealed speakers. They followed the instructions, filled with equal parts trepidation and curiosity. Both were well rewarded. As soon as they were in, the doors started to close over them, sealing down to a shallowly angled ceiling, lit from underneath by the runway lights.
The space at the end of the runway clearly took up most of the interior of the hill. A massive main hangar, at least twenty pony-lengths high and over a hundred each way dominated, but along each side were smaller bays containing still massive machines. An open frame lift at one end clearly rose up to the 'shack' by the tree-house, and the entire place was lit by banks of electric lights of a power and density they'd only seen in Manehattan. The smell of metal and lightning hung in the air.
Applebloom was enjoying the expressions of shock on the two pony inventors faces. A Maritech fighter was parked up alongside a humanoid robot that stood over halfway to the ceiling, painted in yellow with crimson trim, her Apple Labour. Several smaller suits of armour stood on pedestals, and various other vehicles and devices such as a sizeable Extreme Gear board were neatly arrayed along the walls.
She trotted over. “I'm sure we can find some basic tools in here somewhere. I even have a couple of books, though most of them are on my computer system.”
Back when she was starting out, it had generally taken months to build even a basic workshop, and it had been frustrating to have to start over each loop, even when she'd managed to get Twilight Sparkle to store some of the key equipment she needed in her stuff-space pocket. But that was before she'd been through the world of the dragon balls.
While capsules should have been the answer, they'd proved to be awkward to store in her sub-space pocket. The two incompatible spaces had interfered with each other and tended to dump out whatever she was storing at random times. She’d invented a shrinking watch which miniaturised things in real space, but that had proved to awkward to produce for pieces of kit much beyond the size of a human.
Ultimately it had been the martial arts training that she'd undergone that had pumped up her energy reserves and ability to manipulate earth magic. It had also fed into her being able to maintain a much bigger volume of stuff space. Now she could pack everything she needed, all her heavy production machinery and equipment, into her own stuff-space pocket. Setting up the workshop was just a matter of days, hours if she got Applejack to pitch in.
“This is…” Flim was flabbergasted, and Flam was flummoxed.
“Oh, this is nothing,” Applebloom said. “You should see the Geofront Twilight Sparkle built under Golden Oaks Library, well under all of Ponyville. It's a couple of miles across, has its own eco-system even. It's designed to store the whole of Ponyville in case of an emergency, but she mainly uses it for her artificing. She drives her mage furnace off a magma core-tap, it makes this place look like a rabbit hole.”
Admittedly, Twilight only built the danged thing once every few dozen times Applebloom met her – too much effort otherwise – but it was there this time, so it was a valid point to raise.
She waved to an empty section of wall. “You can park up there. It's handy for the photo-etching process line. I figured one way to reduce your maintenance is to replace those magical valves with one hundred nano-meter integrated rune-sets. Completely solid state, using a magically active mithril/orichalcum layer on a cold iron substrate. I can probably shrink the entire quality control module on your gadget down to a square about the size of a single bit piece.”
“That's impossible! No-one can etch magical symbols that finely!” Flam flustered. “A unicorn horn is only so sharp.”
“Photo-etching, I said. I use a resist dye made from black hellbore, a common base for potions. It's magically active and leaves a magical trace on the runic pattern, which is raised rather than engraved. All a unicorn horn has to do is spray it with magic, and the runic pattern is charged up. No need to etch each symbol with your horn while investing magic into it.” It occurred to Applebloom, perhaps a bit late, that she was probably overdoing it on the advanced terminology… ah well, they’d learn.
She chivvied them towards the lift. “Now come on, my big sis doesn't like to be kept waiting.”
Celestia felt herself tense up involuntarily. While the preparations for the Summer Sun festival seemed complete, at least those which Twilight had overseen… there was also the matter of Nightmare Moon’s imminent return.
If her crazy plan had worked, then – just maybe – she could see her sister safe once more. But… if not, then all she had worked for in the last thousand years would be erased.
She walked out onto the small stage in Ponyville town hall.
About halfway through the preparatory speech, she saw something out of the corner of her eye and stopped in confusion. Her audience rustled, wondering why she’d stopped, then turned to look at the same thing she was.
A mug with steam wafting off of it, hovering in the air.
Then… Celestia’s knees went weak with shock. Luna followed the cup, which was clearly held in her magic, blinking sleepily and wearing a dressing gown.
“Celly? Sorry to interrupt…” Luna lowered the mug slightly, and Celestia caught sight of plain milk in there, “But I can’t find where you keep the cocoa. Did you rearrange the kitchen?”
“Well, I was getting ready for bed,” Luna said, breaking off in a jaw-cracking yawn, “anyway, I was getting ready, and I was going to have a cup of cocoa and some biscuits before I turned in. But I couldn’t find the cocoa, and I’ve already heated the milk so I thought I’d ask.”
Luna raised something to her mouth, and ate it. There was a crunching sound. The next words she spoke were slightly muffled. “Excellent biscuits, though. I approve of the chocolate shards baked into them.”
“…Luna?” Celestia tried to get over her shock. “Er… second cupboard from the left, behind the sugar.”
“Thanks. Sorry for the interruption.” Luna vanished in a flash of dark.
Celestia massaged her temples. “I’m sure I must be imagining it…”
“What is it, dear sister?” Luna asked, finishing off her evening breakfast.
“Earlier today I went for a walk in the gardens,” Celestia explained. “And I could have sworn blind that Discord’s stone prison had moved.”
“Surely not!” Luna said, shocked. “He has escaped?”
“No, no, his statue’s still on the pedestal, it was just… differently posed.” Celestia shook her head. “Or that’s what it looked like. Maybe I’m just tired.”
Her sister put a hoof on her foreleg. “Go to sleep, Celestia. I should be handling more of your workload than I am, anyway.”
The next morning, Celestia flash-heated some toast (a bit extravagant, but she was feeling chipper after her extra sleep) and passed Luna making herself dinner.
The lunar alicorn pointed at her. “I think that you might be right, sister.”
“What?” Celestia asked, a butter-loaded knife paused mid-spread.
“He’s sticking his tongue out.” Luna said, pointing towards the gardens.
The elder alicorn forewent jam and hurried out into the grounds, eating her toast on the move.
“Is it the stress, Luna?” Celestia asked, shaking her head. “Are we both losing it?”
“I do not know.” Luna frowned. “What did he look like this time?”
“Jazzhands.” At Luna’s look of confusion, Celestia created an illusion. “There was a minotaur a few decades back who called this pose jazzhands. Not sure why…”
“No headdress any more?” Luna checked. Celestia nodded in confirmation.
“Right, there’s only one way to solve this,” the elder sister added. “Luna, I would take it as a favour if you would handle my duties for the day. I am going on stakeout.”
Celestia ignored the rain pattering on her wings. There was no way she was going to spend five minutes asking for the weather schedule to be changed, and potentially waste six hours of staring through binoculars.
Lulled by the whispering of the rain, it took her about three seconds to notice when the statue abruptly disappeared.
“…wait, what?” she said, lowering the binoculars. “But… all I did was blink…”
Grey stone caught her eye, and she turned towards it. It was almost a hundred metres from where Discord’s statue had been, and it was…
…frozen in a running pose.
Another blink, and it disappeared again. This time, it appeared precariously dangling from the roof.
Another – and it vanished altogether.
Celestia swept the gardens, looking for the grey stone of Discord’s statue and backing up in slight fear…
Then bumped into something. She whirled, seeing the statue only a yard or so away from her.
Dangling from its hand was a sign that read ‘boo!’
Luna galloped onto the colonnade. “What is it, Sister! I heard your scream-”
“Don’t blink, Luna!” Celestia shouted without turning around. “I think it moves when we blink!”
“Actually, I don’t need you to blink,” Discord replied conversationally, brushing grey dust off his skin and fur, and tossing the sign into the distance. “It’s just funny.”
He looked at the two glowing horns pointed right at him. “Oh, what? It’s just a bit of fun!”
“This is what I think of your joke, Discord,” Celestia countered. “Fire!”
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
I am sending you a large fridge containing the draconequus known as Discord. This chaotic entity ruled over Equestria in times long past, but was defeated and sealed by my sister and myself using the Elements of Harmony.
He escaped at some time last week, and attempted to play games with Luna and I. We did not take this well, and as a result he was hit by two very powerful spells – one fire, one ice.
Since I’m sending him to you in a fridge, I’m sure you can work out which order they were in. In any case, he survived, but it is our hope that he will not be ready to attempt his mind games again for some time – at least until the ice thaws.
Please either re-seal him or attempt to rehabilitate him as you did my sister.
Always ready to speak with you,
Twilight heaved the fridge open. “I told you that imitating the Weeping Angels was going too far.”
Discord declined to comment. Possibly because of the foot-thick coating of ice.
Celestia felt the by-now-familiar surge of the world reorganizing itself around her, as she Awoke into a Loop.
She took a moment to scan her memories. After the Loop where she’d nearly missed an ongoing invasion, it was something she never forgot…
“Goodness,” she said, blinking. “That’s a long way back…”
It was, in fact, barely three years after Luna had first transformed into Nightmare Moon.
Celestia pondered what to do. She could wait over nine hundred and seventy years for Twilight Sparkle to be born, or…
“I think ‘or’, this time,” Celestia decided.
In the first place, she wanted to see what the Griffin lands were like. In the second, she wanted to see if giving Luna her own subjects would help her recover.
And in the third, there was a bit of the trickster in Celestia. Just a bit.
Nightmare Moon was woken from a deep, decade-eating slumber by a WHUMP of displaced air.
Air? On the moon? She quickly drew herself erect, breathing in deeply as she realized that, yes, for whatever reason there was air available.
Also, there was a fifteen-foot tall slab of bedrock and soil in front of her, stretching at least a mile to the left and right. Flying up, she saw it was just as large in the forwards direction – and it had trees on it. Trees, and flowers, and grass, and…
For a few minutes, Nightmare Moon looked more like a filly prancing amongst something she’d not thought she could enjoy any more.
Another WHUMP drew her out of her reverie, this one coming from much further off. The alicorn took flight, circled, and looked out in the direction it had come from.
This new slab, like the first one, turned out to be dozens of miles on a side. Instead of forest, it held grasslands.
A third concussive wash of air, followed by an almighty splash. Millions of gallons of sea water appeared in one of her large craters, filling it almost to the brim.
By the time half an hour had gone, there was enough transplanted land on the moon to equal a small continent, and Moon was utterly baffled.
Then an earth pony materialized with a pop.
“…eh?” he said.
“Why art thou here?” Nightmare Moon asked, flying down in front of him.
“Mine ruler, Princess Celestia, enquired of me as to whether bananas were the fruit I preferred,” the pony replied, frowning at the alicorn. “Upon my negative answer – since my family are more into the trade of growing apples – she made some bespellment and transplanted me here. Where might here be, if I be so bold as to enquire?”
“This? This is the moon!” Nightmare gestured around, then blinked. “Though in truth it does not look like it did when We awoke this morn.”
She frowned. “One supposes that if mine sister’s tyranny hath progressed this far, it behooves Us to offer sanctuary to those others who fall afoul of her ire. Attend me…?”
“Crab Apple, your highness,” the earth pony supplied. “We had wondered at thy disappearance, Princess Luna…”
“Crab Apple.” Nightmare nodded. “Come, then, and we shall find you an area of land to till.”
There were three more pops, and two pegasi and a unicorn materialized.
“…but I said I did!” one of them protested. “Why ask the question if thou art going to apply the same result in any case?”
Nightmare Moon blinked. “A moment, stout Crab Apple. It seems We may need to establish an immigration desk.”
Celestia let a grin cross her face. At last, she was finished.
Every single pony in Equestria, and about eighty percent of the land, had been transferred to the moon. The resultant patchwork green-blue-yellow orb overhead looked… different, but interesting – especially as Celestia had tried to arrange the teleported bits to recreate the shape of the Mare in the Moon.
And Lulu always wanted more ponies to appreciate her. Right, now then, what shall I do?
Celestia realized that she had, for once, managed to escape paperwork.
“Right. I am going to go try out surfing.”
“What,” Twilight said, as she finally Awoke into this version of Equestria…’s moon.
“…huh. That’s actually kind of neat.”
She was the student of Princess Luna, and currently taking a course at the Lunarium Academy of the Magical Sciences.
Luna was still a princess, but she wasn’t a ruling one. One hundred years ago, she had handed power over to an assembly of ponies electing their heads of state and of government by popular vote, and now held a purely religious role in this new lunar republic.
From what Twilight could determine, Luna didn’t actually want that religious role, but when a single pony is a one-horned meteor shield they become a religious figure all over again quite quickly. And there was the occasional little smile on Luna’s face when she rolled her eyes in exasperation that said her annoyance might not be quite full-blooded…
Of course, she was still on the moon. What had happened?
“Thank you, Twilight,” Luna said. “I don’t know why my sister sent every pony in the country to the moon for a thousand years, but if an answer can be found I’m sure you and your team will find it.”
Twilight shrugged. “Good thing we managed to get Shadowbolt support through the senate, so we’re not going to be going in completely alone.”
“Indeed.” Luna nodded. “Go well, Twilight Sparkle. And your friends.”
Twilight and her team – her five friends from the original timeline, of course, as well as two Shadowbolts – flashed into existence on the pristine shoreline of Equestria.
“Okay, everypony,” Twilight said. “Keep an eye out for trouble.”
“Hello!” a cheery voice said. Twilight turned, and her jaw dropped in disbelief.
Princess Celestia was riding a huge curler into shore, wings beating to let her keep up an impossible angle on the crest of the wave with her surfboard.
Dash’s eyes glistened. “Soooo coooool…”
With a rumbling crash, the wave finally broke, and Celestia rode the swash right up to their hooves.
“I never get tired of that!” Celestia said, grinning. “Anyway. I assume you’re from my sister?”
“…yeah,” Twilight managed.
“Good. Here’s a letter for her.” Celestia passed over an elaborate envelope. “Hold on, the waves are good, I want to keep going while they’re big.”
Picking up the surfboard, she galloped back out to sea.
Twilight’s eyes were drawn to a very familiar purple dragon, also on a surfboard.
“…has she spent the last thousand years just faffing about having a good time?” she asked incredulously. “Well, apart from hatching a baby dragon…”
Then she noticed the slip of paper hidden underneath the letter. Hey, Twilight, I awoke really early this time!
“Oh. Okay, then,” Twilight shrugged. “Fair enough. Right, I’ll teleport us back.”
“That’s just not fair,” Luna said, grinning despite her words. “She swindled me into a job.”
“Well, you managed to give it to us,” Twilight countered. “So you’ve got just as much free time now…”