“Are you sure about this?”
“Of course I’m sure! I just need to concentrate…”
From the perspective of a less frequent visitor to Ponyville, one might find it odd that a large section of the main road was conspicuously absent of vendor carts on a prime market day. They might find it odder still to see one of the last holdouts packing up and moving their goods away from the town library, of all places.
Of course, the reasons for that became quickly apparent as a sudden and growing rumbling began emitting from the giant oak. This was further reinforced by the earth-shatteringly loud explosion which shortly followed, along with the sounds of coughing as plumes of smoke rose from the open windows.
Still, there were a few salesponies sticking it out. It was only the fifth time today, after all.
“Are you okay, Twlight?” groaned Spike, picking himself up from the pile of sandbags he’d been hiding behind.
“Y-yeah, I’m fine... Ughhh, it should have worked this time!”
Twilight Sparkle, the town’s resident princess, librarian, and some might even, fondly, say 'madmare', simply coughed a few times, shaking the soot out of her mane as she stared at the failed remnants of her latest experiment.
It was a tall standing mirror, twice as high and wide as her body, with blue gems embedded in the wooden frame at regular intervals. This in itself had been untouched by the explosive aftereffects of her most recent attempt to understand the magic woven into it. The ground and walls of her basement laboratory around it however hadn't fared so well, and were covered in soot in an almost perfect two foot sphere radiating outward from the mirror - what had moments ago been a series of intricately designed arcane patterns drawn by Twilight around it.
She sighed, clearing her head as the last of the smoke dissipated, and walked over to a nearby book stand. Her horn lit up with a soft violet glow as she stared at the magically turning pages, searching for any clues that she’d missed.
“Aw, don’t worry Twilight,” said Spike, walking up to her. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon. After all, you’re like the smartest pony ever! You always figure stuff like that out.”
Twilight smiled softly, looking fondly down to her number one assistant. “Thanks, Spike.”
“Well, except for how Pinkie’s special sense works. Or why that one stallion is so obsessed with jelly,” he continued obliviously.
“…Thanks, Spike.” Twilight deadpanned.
Spike simply beamed his best encouraging smile back up to her, then set about mopping up the soot covering the floor for the fifth time that morning.
Twilight’s own smile crept back onto her face as she watched. She couldn't fault the little dragon for his enthusiasm, and she decided she should get him a treat for being so steadfastly helpful today. 'Maybe I’ll take him on a trip to the gem fields later,' she thought. In truth, she knew Spike was just as eager as she was for her experiments to finally bear some fruit.
Ever since their trip to that alien world two weeks ago, Twilight had become obsessed with understanding how the magic that created and maintained the portal mirror she’d used in the Crystal Empire worked. She’d managed to dig up every scroll and tome on the subject from the depths of the Canterlot Library’s restricted archives, and had the mirror itself shipped to her library for study.
It had taken some work convincing Princess Celestia on that point, but it was eventually settled that a friendly face should be there to greet Sunset Shimmer should she ever decide to return to Equestria. Surprisingly, it hadn't taken any convincing for Celestia to allow Twilight to experiment on the mirror, as she trusted her faithful student not to damage it. Or perhaps, Twilight was beginning to suspect, her mentor didn't think she was capable of damaging it, as it was proving thankfully impervious to all the magical backlashes that had occurred in the process of studying it.
Still, for every failure she had learned more and more about how the enchantment worked, and she felt like she was getting close to an answer.
Spike wrung out the mop he was using in the nearby bucket, finishing his cleaning as Twilight was collecting her thoughts. “You know, even if you don’t figure out how this thing works for a while, at least it’s only two more weeks before we can go back and visit everyone.”
“Actually,” Twilight perked up and looked up from her book, her tone suddenly shifting into what her friends referred to as ‘lecture mode’ whenever she started explaining something from an academic standpoint. “I looked into that a bit, and it turns out there’s quite a debate in scientific circles over exactly how long ‘thirty moons’ is. Some sources claim that it simply means thirty nights, which I’m most inclined to believe, but others are adamant that it means eight hundred and forty days!”
Spike stared at her for a full minute, working out the math in his head. His eyes suddenly went as wide as plates in shock. “Wait, are you saying we could have been stuck there for… two years?!”
“Actually that’s two point three zero one years to be ex—“
“Two. Years, Twilight!”
“Well as I was sayi—“
“And didn't we make it back with only like ten seconds to spare?!”
“Yeah, we did cut it a little close there...” she laughed nervously, thinking back to the moment they returned from the strange human world.
Spike’s only response was the soft thud as he hit the floor, having fainted from the thought.
“Oh, Spike…” Twilight said, gentle lavender light emitting from her horn as she lifted him up onto her back with her magic, nestling him between her wings. She ascended the stairs from her lab with him in tow, emerging from the heavy oak door that separated the basement stairs from the library kitchen. She looked out one of the windows, the beautiful morning view of her town calling to her.
She smiled, heading for the front door. “Well, I suppose some fresh air will do us both some good.”
A buzzing noise filled the air of the market street, several citizens diving for cover to avoid being run down as a high-velocity scooter barreled down the road. Its pilot was a blur of blue, orange and magenta, and it towed a red wagon holding similar blurs of red, cream, white and violet.
“Be careful, girls!” shouted Twilight, the breeze she felt under her wings from the group speeding past having nearly been enough to lift her off the ground!
“Sorry Princess!” shouted Sweetie Belle from the back of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ favorite mode of transport, a huge smile plastered on the filly’s face as they sped away. Scootaloo meanwhile didn't know what everyone was so worried about; she was wearing a helmet, after all.
“Whoa, what was that about?” came the sound of Spike’s voice from Twilight’s back, the baby dragon having been roused from his fainting spell by the commotion.
Twilight smirked a little and just shook her head, about to say something when a familiar drawl greeted them from the side of the road.
“G’mornin’ you two!” smiled Applejack, standing behind her familiar apple cart. “I was startin’ to wonder when I’d see ya’ll come out and pay the world a visit again.”
Twilight’s smirk turned a little sheepish at that. “Oh come on, Applejack, I haven’t been that bad about my research lately…” she paused, seeing a smirk appear on her friend’s face. “…have I?”
“Sugarcube, the only thang that’s come out of your library in the last four days has been smoke and earth-shatterin’ kabooms.”
Twilight gave a nervous little laugh, rubbing the back of her head. “Eheh, really? I hadn’t noticed…”
Spike and Applejack rolled their eyes simultaneously, but Applejack’s expression immediately softened. “Aw, that’s all right Twi’, I’m just happy to see you out and about again! And hey! So long as you’re here, can I interest ya in a nice hot apple fritter or two to start your day?”
Spike’s eyes went wide and shiny at the suggestion, staring at the assorted apple based delights lined up along the shelves of the apple cart. “Ooohh… Twilight, can we? Pleaaaase?”
Twilight grinned, stretching out a wing and tilting it down so Spike could slide off her back, watching him hop up to the cart. “Oh I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Two apple fritters, please.” Her horn glowed as she casually floated a pair of bits from her saddlebag onto the cart.
Applejack beamed and deposited the money in her bit bag, while Spike and Twilight each took a fritter in return. “Thank ya kindly, sugarcube.”
“Well you didn’t exactly play fair.” Twilight smirked at her friend.
“Shoot, can I help it if I’m proud of havin’ the best darned apples this side of Appleloosa?”
The girls shared a laugh, and Twilight felt her spirits soaring higher than they’d been since she began her research. The three of them shared small talk for a while as they ate, AJ filling them in on what the girls had been up to the last few weeks, Spike asking a few questions about how Rarity had been, and Twilight discussing her research in a way the farm pony could almost understand after about three tries at it.
“So lemme get this straight, you’re tryin’ to figure out how to make the mirror, portal, thing, stay open?” questioned Applejack, one eyebrow raised with puzzlement clear on her face.
“Well, no, not exactly. You see, I want to figure out exactly how the mirror was made in the first place. If I can do that I should be able to find a way to make another one of my own design which works on an entirely different schedule! I think I can find a way to make the spells that power it more efficient so it doesn’t have to rely on a specific lunar alignment to activate, theoretically speaking, of course. I should be able to draw power from a more stable constellation if I can create a suitable focus, but so far I haven’t quite figured it out.”
“Just think of the possibilities!”
“Well… I’m sure I’ll think of some! Besides, this is an amazing new field of magical research that’s gone ignored for centuries! Maybe even millennia! The world must know, Applejack! The world must know!”
Twilight was hyperventilating by this point, holding the sides of Applejack’s face in her hooves while their eyes were inches apart.
Applejack, for her part, just gently patted her friend back down to the ground. “Alright alright, I get it Twi’, just calm down will ya? No sense in goin’ all crazy again over it. Sheesh, I'm kinda glad ya still haven't learned that 'Royal Canterlot Voice' yet," Applejack chuckled. "Why don’t ya’ll just stay out an’ about for a while, take a walk and relax?”
Twilight nodded softly, closing her eyes as she raised one hoof up to her chest and took a deep breath, before pointing forward and letting the breath go, immediately calming down. She really couldn’t thank her favorite foalsitter enough for teaching her that, and reminding her to use it more lately.
“You’re right, you’re right. I came out here to get some fresh air after all.” She looked over to Spike, who had finished his fritter long before she had. “Ready to go, Spike?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” said the little dragon. “See you later, AJ! Thanks for the snack!”
“Ya’ll are welcome, sugarcube. Take care now, ‘n try to keep Twi’ out of trouble, ya hear?”
Applejack waved happily as they departed, grinning playfully after that last remark, just as another customer trotted up to her cart. The two heard her holler her familiar sales pitch as they walked further into town, intent on enjoying a nice stroll.
A traveller making her way towards the small town up ahead stopped to cringe as yet another in a long string of explosions rocked the air in the distance, this one the loudest yet today. The blue mare sighed and shook her head, readjusting the harness she was using to tow her wagon behind her. ‘That’s at least four now,’ she thought in dismay as she continued making her way down the only partially familiar road, tossing her silver-blue mane back while wondering what on Equis could be going on in that village.
It was making her already frayed nerves even harder to manage, and she had to keep fighting the urge to turn tail and forget why she ever thought it would be a good idea to go there again. In truth she’d only visited Ponyville twice before, and neither visit had gone particularly well, especially the second. At the same time, the way the second visit ended had given her renewed hope for repairing her woefully damaged reputation.
Trixie Lulamoon had turned over a new leaf since that fateful evening, and had even discovered a whole new side business she could apply her talents to, which was already paying more than she’d ever earned with her impromptu stage shows. It had still taken her several months to work up the courage to return, especially after hearing her once-rival had become Equestria’s newest princess. ‘A bucking princess, for crying out loud!’ she grumbled inwardly. But here she was, ready to face her fears and confront the worst part of her past once and for all.
The breeze picked up as Trixie continued along the road, finally coming beyond the edge of the tree line of the Everfree Forest. The sight of the town’s river came into view, fed by the dam holding back the lake reservoir in the distance. The sun had just finished rising at her back, and she could hear the bustle and commotion of the town just ahead. She didn’t have a plan, really. The only pony she knew for sure she was on speaking terms with in this town was the princess herself, but maybe that would be enough.
At least, she hoped so.
Trixie cringed again, staring down road as she thought she could see black smoke rising into the air from the village center…
“What is going on down there?!”