Midmorning in Ponyville was beautiful. One might have argued that sunrise was even more beautiful, but that would’ve meant getting up at the crack of dawn to see it. But Rainbow Dash hadn’t done that since leaving Canterlot. As much as she missed Princess Celestia sometimes, she didn’t miss getting up every morning for the Princess to raise the sun before starting on their lessons.
Since moving to Ponyville, Rainbow had reveled in the ability to sleep in. True, she was the weather manager and still couldn’t sleep as late as she liked, but it was better than nothing.
And frankly, Rainbow Dash was so fast and skilled that she could start late and still have the weather done before anypony else could. So while she worked, Rainbow let her thoughts drift onto more important things: mysteries of life, the universe, and theme songs (because every awesome pony who saved the world should have a theme song).
“Rainbow Daaash! She'll fly in and make the day all awesome and cooool!” Dash hummed as she pushed a stubborn cumulous cloud into position, trying out the latest version of her song. “And then she'll go and pick up Dinky from schooool!”
It was a kind of weird path to life: from foalhood flying prodigy, to personal protégé of Princess Celestia, to savior of the world, to weather manager and godmom to the cutest filly ever.
Still, Rainbow Dash wouldn’t trade it for anything. Her grumbling stomach interrupted her musing. Looking at the sun, she realized she had about half an hour before she had to go over to Twilight’s. She groaned. A whole afternoon wasted learning about philosophy and literature and what Starswirl the Bearded used to comb that mange growth on his face.
Just as Rainbow Dash finished up moving the clouds into place, she heard a strange, ominous voice. "Hmm, can't say I particularly saw THIS reality coming--how wonderfully chaotic!"
"Huh?" Rainbow looked around, but there was nopony around. "The hay?"
There was a sigh. "Well, might as well make this quick. Got other places to be, other realities to visit and all that." There was a sudden snap, a bright flash and then--Rainbow Dash was gone.
As the Oranges arrived in front of the museum, an extra-large smile attached to a tawny pegasus swooped into view and landed right in front of them.
"Hey, glad you guys showed up! I'd have hated to get started without you!" Honey Do, archaeologist extraordinaire and secretly curator of the Equestrian Museum of Supernatural History, blustered excitedly. She was outfitted in her pith helmet and vest, looking perfectly ready for an expedition. She only dressed like this in public for appearances under the "Daring" identity created for her by her editors; this day must have been really important to her. Despite her normally focused, serious demeanor, she tended to get worked up easily when something big happened at the museum.
Orange Sherbet smiled back, her own excitement more contained. "Of course, and I wouldn't have missed it," she said. "Is everypony else ready?"
"Almost," the pegasus replied, turning to head inside. "Blossomforth stopped to feed the birds, but she still got here early."
They trotted down the short corridor that led from the entrance to the courtyard. Near the center of the area stood a large shape covered by a cloth. Octavia had a cello set up on the stage, playing music for a group of enrapt foals. Twilight Sparkle was discussing the previous week's adventures with Spike, while Blossomforth's attention was occupied by a bed of flowers that seemed to have been grown in blue-yellow pairs.
At Sherbet's side, her daughter Tangerine looked around. "Where is Miss Trixie?" she asked, looking almost a shade disappointed.
"Did someone say The Great and Powerful Trrrrrrrrrixie?" a voice boomed around the area, causing Twilight to jump, Spike to flinch, Blossomforth to spin one hundred eighty degrees in a millisecond, and Octavia to play a sour note. There was a huge puff of smoke and the showmare herself appeared. She received several odd stares, though the foals cheered. Sherbet herself only barely resisted the urge to follow suit.
A second later, Daring's nose was pressed to Trixie's, and the newcomer drew back slightly in alarm. "Great!" Daring exclaimed, halfway hugging the unicorn. "Now we can get started! You're gonna love this!"
She zipped over to the mysterious shape and cleared her throat. "Fillies and gentlecolts!" she announced. "Princess Celestia has personally requested that I perform the unveiling of this statue, which she commissioned to commemorate a moment that will define our history for centuries to come! I present..." She grabbed the cloth in her teeth and gave it a sharp pull. "The Restoration of Harmony!"
The statue depicted six mares, all in calm, confident poses, in a circle around a larger figure, slightly bowed under the weight of a sudden revelation. Sherbet was indeed impressed. The expressions of the carved ponies perfectly captured the sense of peace and understanding that resulted when the friends united, and the mere posture of that seventh said more than any written record could. Twilight's eye twitched—this hadn't been how they were positioned at the time, it was technically inaccurate, somepony had better restrain her—but the other ponies present all stomped their hooves in applause.
The noise gave way to surprised gasps as the central figure raised its head. Now Twilight was the one applauding. She didn't notice that everybody else in the room had fallen silent until Spike tapped on her shoulder. She turned to look at him. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"It's not supposed to do that," Honey hissed.
A second later, an intense light emanated from the statue. When it faded, everypony collectively checked themselves for transmogrifications, and looked around in confusion.
"Well, that was bizarre," Mosely Orange commented. "Wasn't it, dear...?" When silence answered him, he turned to the now-empty space beside him, probing it with a hoof. The surrounding ponies had now begun murmuring among themselves, concerned. A red maned filly approached the Oranges, summing up the discussion with her question.
"Where'd Auntie go?"
Ditzy Doo admired herself in the mirror, she had to admit the outfit made her look... different. She really wasn’t sure that the glittery unitard did her any favours although the fishnet tights encasing her hind legs were certainly eye catching. Trixie had insisted that it was a traditional outfit for an assistant and the element of kindness hadn’t had the heart to argue. In addition Dinky had been so excited that her mother would be taking part in Trixie’s big magic show that Cheerilee had had to shush the excited filly several times at school to stop her constantly nattering about it.
There was a knock on the door followed by Trixie’s voice, “Are you ready in there?”
“Just finished,” called Ditzy opening the door.
The blue unicorn stood there wearing her traditional star covered cloak and hat, she was nervously picking at the hem. “Ah good. Now are you sure you can remember what you need to do?”
“Yes, when you close door to the cabinet I fly up to the top and shut the secret door. We’ve gone over this a dozen times. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“And you have to make sure you can do it in less than five seconds, the fireworks will only distract the crowd for that long.”
“Look there’s no need to be nervous, I’m sure everything will go perfectly.”
“The Great and Powerful Trixie is not nervous, I’ve told you I don’t get stage fright. No matter how important the performance is.” She shuffled her hooves a little as the two of them made their way from the dressing room to the stage area.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie is speaking in the third person again,” grinned Ditzy. “This is that important to you?”
“This chance at getting into the magic dodecahedron is probably the most important day of my life,” admitted Trixie, “Well maybe the day Luna took me on as her student was more important...” she thought for a second, “No this is more important, only the very best get in, even my grand-père the great Quartermoon the magnificent didn’t make the cut.”
“Trixie you’re the element of magic, there’s no way you can fail.”
“That’s just it I’m not allowed to use any magic in my magic show, they check. One little illusion and I’m out. It has to be all pure trickery and if just one of the panel can work out how I did my trick I won’t get in.”
“I’m sure the element covers all sorts of magic and not just magic magic,” said Ditzy trying to calm the frazzled unicorn.
Trixie took a deep breath, “Thanks. Thanks for helping me out here, I know I’m not always the easiest ponies to work with.”
“It’s the least I can do after all the help you’ve given Dinky with her magic. Anyway you’ve been working really hard trying to be a good friend. You’re a better pony than you think you are.”
The two of them had almost reached the stage when they were intercepted by a yellow pegasus with a blue mane and a near permanent scowl on her face.
“Hi, Raindrop’s,” said Ditzy, “Shouldn't you be in the audience?”
“Uh, yeah, um,” started the pegasus gruffly, “You see Snails asked me to ask Trixie if he could be part of the performance today,” she said awkwardly rubbing the back of her head.
“I hadn’t planned anything like that, but I can try to work something in after my big trick for your brother, he is my number two fan, after Dinky of course.”
“Thanks,” said Raindrops with relief, “Um, just don’t mess anything up or you’ll have me to answer to, ok?” She floated away back towards the stage.
“No pressure then,” mumbled Trixie to herself.
“That’s just her way of motivating you,” said Ditzy soothingly.
Trixie stuck her head around the curtains then pulled it back, “Looks crowded out there,” she commented. “Well its show time!” She tapped her hoof on a button on the floor and set off the smoke bomb then rushed forwards to ensure she seemed appear out of nowhere.
The crowd burst into applause, all the seats set up in front of the temporary stage were full and many ponies were standing as well. The sound was almost overwhelming, Trixie closed her eyes and drunk in the attention for a second before scanning the crowd. There in the front row were Trixie’s fellow element bearers, Cheerilee and Raindrops sat with Dinky and Snails between them. Both of the foals were jumping up and down in excitement. Lyra looked almost as jubilant while her mare friend Bon Bon was more restrained as was the last element bearer Carrot Top. Even Trixie’s assistant Pokey Pierce was present. Off to one side, sitting in front of a small desk with a magic detector placed on it, was the magic dodecahedron delegation, the three ponies did not look amused.
Trying not to be intimidated Trixie started her spiel, “Greetings mares and stallions, fillies and colts. Tonight the Great and Powerful Trixie exists only to entertain and amuse but I will not be alone, tonight I have an assistant, the Devious and Dextrous Ditzy Doo.” Trixie gave a flourish and Ditzy rushed onto stage under cover of another smoke bomb. The crowd stomped their approval again with Dinky screaming so loudly it looked like she might injure herself.
Gesturing for silence Trixie strode across the stage cape billowing behind her before stopping in front of a tall wheeled cabinet. “Now for her first trick Trixie will make her assistant disappear, because Trixie does not want to share a stage with anypony who gets more applause than her.”
A ripple of laughter spread through the audience, even one of the testers giggled.
Grasping the cabinet in her hooves Trixie rolled it across the stage and spun it around. “As you can see there are no false sides or backs to the cabinet,” she stomped hard on the stage, “And no trap doors. Now if my assistant would kindly enter the box..”
Ditzy gave a bow to the audience, which to her surprise attracted a wolf whistles from a few of the stallions, and one mare, in the audience, causing her to redden. Remembering her part the grey pegasus strolled over to the cabinet and stepped inside. For a second her claustrophobia gripped her, but she took a deep breath and the panic passed. Trixie gave her a reassuring smile before closing the door.
“And now using her great powers Trixie will make Ditzy disappear before your very eyes, before making her re-appear again of course,” said Trixie winking at Dinky as a look of panic passed over the filly’s face. She turned to the cabinet again and gently nudged the button set in the floor to set off the next pyrotechnic.
To her surprise rather than the standard burst of light the cabinet began to hover a meter off the ground and spin while glowing with an eerie red light. From all around chanting could be heard in an unrecognisable language. Trixie staggered back in shock while the audience gasped. One of the magic dodecahedron observers leaned forwards and tapped the magic detector set in their desk but the needle remained stubbornly on zero.
As quickly as it had started the chanting ceased and the cabinet fell back to the ground with a loud crash. The door swung open of its own accord to reveal that it now stood empty. Trixie gaped.
Silence reigned for a few seconds before one of the magic dodecahedron inspectors leaned forwards, “That was very impressive misdirection Miss Lulamoon,” Trixie winced at the use of her hated second name, “But I’m afraid your little trick is practically transparent, it is clear that your assistant merely hid in the top half of the box, we really were expecting more from a magician of your apparent skill.”
As if it had heard the inspector the top of the cabinet swung open to reveal, instead of the grey pegasus Trixie had been expecting, a large mass of cloud which spewed out to cover most of the audience before chocolate rain began to fall from it to most of the adults present annoyance but the foals delight.
“Errr.. ta-da?” cried Trixie as the brown liquid started to drip off of her hat.
Octavia Philharmonica was used to a certain kind of performance environment. A big, quiet room, with plenty of room for audience members to sit in respectful silence so they could hear every note the musicians played. A stage, usually wooden, with musicians arrayed in neat, orderly rows. Ushers, attendants, concertmaster and conductor. She had been to so many concerts of this kind that, for a time, she had thought all venues were like this.
And then Vinyl Scratch had introduced her to wubstep.
"A little to the left!" called the DJ from her perch atop a speaker that was three times as large as a pony. "Just a smidgen!"
"What is a smidgen?" asked Octavia as she strained to muscle the boxy object (which Vinyl called an amplifier) to where Vinyl wanted. "One foot? Six inches?"
"A hair more than six inches, and a bit less than a foot."
Octavia bit back a retort--the stage was very messy with cables, wires, and sound gear, and Vinyl's instructions weren't helping-- and glared up at the DJ, who gave her a cheeky, disarming smile. "Right there's fine, Tavi. I'll be down in a sec," she called. And then she began to climb down the massive speaker as if it was a jungle-gym.
Then again, Octavia thought, She literally lives in a jungle-gym with a roof over it. I shouldn't be surprised.
"How's it going?" Octavia turned to see Lyra hopping up, Fluttershy flying right behind her. The town veterinarian was wearing a pink headband and had braided her mane back into two pigtails; Octavia recalled that she had been participating in a charity fly-a-thon earlier that day. Lyra, though, looked just like usual--still green, still lithe, and still bouncing like a foal who had gotten locked in Bonbon's Bon-Bons after dark.
"It is going alright." Octavia took a moment to wipe sweat from her brow. "I admit I have never seen a concert venue quite like this, but helping Vinyl to set it up is proving to be an educational experience. I had no idea that wubstep required so many components."
"You're doing fine," called Vinyl from the side of the speaker. "And thanks for the help. Real life-saver, since Del Trot bailed."
Octavia suppressed a shudder at the thought of Vinyl's annoying cousin. "It is nothing," she said. "Princess Cadance has assigned me the task of learning about all of the kinds of music in Ponyville. What better opportunity to learn than by assisting with concerts like this? And, as for Vinyl--"
She turned and frowned. Vinyl seemed to have vanished. "Um. Where did she go?"
And then Vinyl's upside-down face suddenly poked out of a hole in the side of the speaker. The unicorn--who had to be holding on to something higher up in the speaker with her hind legs, Octavia guessed--smiled brilliantly as Octavia stared at her. "Hi, Tavi! I'm right here!"
Vinyl laughed. "Anyways, like I say--you learn a lot more from rocking out than reading, so if you want to learn wubstep, this is the best way to do it." Vinyl flipped down so she landed on her hooves. "And you've been a great help so far, Tavi. Again, thanks a million."
Fluttershy looked at the speakers with a little trepidation. "Um, Vinyl? I've never heard wubstep before. Does it... hurt?"
Vinyl laughed. "Not unless twenty drums looped to sound like four hundred of the loudest cannons you've ever heard huts! Not unless pure concentrated awesome hurts! Not unless massive blasts of music, accentuated by the very latest and greatest magitech that Equestria's own Element of Magic whipped up for the express purpose of cramming as much sound as possible into your ears, hurt!" She grinned. "Does that sound like it would hurt?"
"Um. Maybe a little," whimpered Fluttershy.
Lyra gathered her into a hug. "Hey, come on now. You said you'd try new things! You'll love it, I promise. And afterwards we can all go over to my dear Bonnie's shop for celebratory CANDY!" She grinned. "The best possible way to finish off a concert!"
Octavia grinned when she saw Fluttershy relax and nuzzle against Lyra. The unicorn was the Element of Kindness, and she demonstrated that very quality on an almost daily basis. Turning to Vinyl, Octavia said, "Is there anything else that you need me to do?"
"Dunno. I'll do a quick sound test and we'll see if everything's ship-shape."
Octavia winced to herself--she had done a sound-test with Vinyl two days ago, just in the DJ's house, and it had been almost deafening. But she had given her word to help Vinyl, and as the Element of Honesty, she would not break it. "Ready when you are."
Vinyl disappeared back into the speaker, moved a few cables around--Octavia could hear her levitating them with magic--and then appeared on the top. She jumped to another big piece of equipment and flicked a few switches. "Alright. Wub test one," she called ."Beginning... now!"
A massive blast of sound--so loud and powerful it could almost be touched--blasted from the speakers.
At the same time, a bright white flash stunned all four Elements.
And when the flash faded, Octavia was gone.
For a moment, the three Elements could only stare.
And then Vinyl gasped. "She was converted to wubs!"
It was a relatively quiet day for Megan Richards, former visitor to Dream Valley, current unofficial ambassador to Equestria and author of the 'My Little Horsey' book series. She sat in her bedroom, eyes looking over the current iteration of her latest novel as she typed it up. She picked up a cup of coffee, took a sip and then set it down on a mass of pink hair right at armrest level. “Hello, Pinkie Pie,” she said, eyes never leaving the screen.
Pinkie Pie's muzzle twitched. “Aww, how'd you know it was me?” she asked, bouncing up to all fours but still keeping the cup perched on her head perfectly level.
Megan tried stifling a laugh, but her cheeks puffed out slightly and her abdomen shook. “Just a wild guess,” she said, taking the cup off of Pinkie's head and sipping from it once more. “You're not going to– “
“Do anything to mess up your writing?” Pinkie Pie interjected, ears wiggling back and forth. “Of course I won't silly!” She arched up on the tips of her hooves, peering at the computer monitor and what Megan had typed. “Ooh, what's going on here?” Her ears suddenly flattened and her hair lost a bit of poofiness. “Or is this a bad time?”
There was a pause before Megan shook her head. “Nah. I was gonna take a bit of a break anyway.” She looked back to the screen and rubbed her chin. “Besides, I might need a bit of a sounding board for this next bit.” She glanced to Pinkie Pie out of the corner of her eye, smirking slightly. “Know of anyone who'd volunteer?”
Pinkie Pie's foreleg shot into the air. “Ooh, ooh! Me me mememe!” She leaned in close to Megan, batting her eyes at her while still somehow keeping the coffee cup level.
Megan rolled her eyes before scooting back a bit. “Okay, Pinkie Pie,” she said, waving at the monitor. “The scene is–“
A sudden flash of light caught both their attention as a misshapen amalgamation of animal limbs appeared before them. Pinkie's jaw dropped and Megan's hands clenched at the sight of the draconequess floating before them. “Discord!” Megan shouted.
Discord wiped his brow, panting slightly. “In the flesh, I think.” He looked himself over. “That took a lot more out of me than I thought it would.” His eyes focused on Megan and Pinkie and he grinned, rubbing his lion's paw and eagle's claw together. “Ah, excellent! I've still got it! Now then, Miss Pie. If you would be so–“
Megan pushed Pinkie back towards the wall and a gun safe there. “Pinkie, get out of here!” she shouted, hands reaching for the safe's handle and keypad. She quickly unlocked it and pulled out her Marlin 1894 lever-action rifle and several .44 caliber shells, sliding them in while willing her hands to stop shaking. “I'll hold him off! Get Twilight, the others and the Elements NOW!”
Discord's mouth drooped. “Oh, now there's no need for this! All I'm asking is for a little time. Is that so wrong?”
Megan raised her rifle, double-checking her earplugs. She glanced to Pinkie, who somehow had a large cannon pointed at Discord, fuse lit. “Pinkie, I said get out of here!”
Pinkie shook her head. “No way!” Her ears folded against her skull. “Fire when ready, captain!”
Discord's eyes shifted between the two. He tossed his head back, laughing. “Oh, please! Do you really think mere firearms can hurt me?!” he sneered out.
Megan's face twisted in rage as she squeezed the trigger.
Discord's sneer was replaced with an expression of pain. He rocketed back, clutching his nose. “That... that hurt!” He wobbled in place, eyes screwed shut. “Why does it hurt?”
Megan pumped the lever, ejecting the spent shell. “Don't know. Don't care.” She took aim once more, but a snap of Discord's talons sent her stumbling back, crashing against the wall and groaning slightly.
Discord sighed. “Well, this was a lot harder than I thought it'd be. I don't know what sort of mischief this reality's version of myself was up to, but he must've been quite the naughty boy.” He focused on Pinkie Pie and snapped his claws, turning her party cannon into a potted fern. One more snap and he and Pinkie vanished, leaving Megan alone.
Megan scrambled to her feet, wincing and rubbing her back at the point of impact with the wall. She grabbed her cell phone off of her desk and thumbed it on, speed-dialing a special number. “This is Megan Richards,” she barked into it. “Discord broke out of his prison and kidnapped Pinkie Pie!”
"Alright, you're on!"
Spike swallowed hard. No easy feat seeing as his heart was hammering away in his throat. Still, the voice had urged, and one purple limb was rising to obey. Slowly reaching for the door of the building before him. Only a few inches of open-air separated the two.
"W-what if she's not home?"
He knew it was his voice that had asked the question. That didn't stop his hoof from dropping back to join its trembling fellows.
Suddenly the unicorn stallion felt like he'd run a marathon. Small beads of sweat broke over his purple coat, joining the feeling of his green mane starting to spike up again underneath his fedora. The bowtie clinched around his neck was tightening as he struggled to breathe. His horn sparked instinctively, allowing a rush of air to flood his burning chest as the tie loosened.
"Oh Spike..." the encouraging voice from earlier spoke with a sigh.
Spike "Purple Prose" Flail's head turned to the sound of rustling leaves as a short, purple-scaled figure emerged from the bushed nearby. He winced, recognizing the disapproving shake of the baby dragon's head as she approached.
"Don't tell me you're still nervous?" the young dragoness said, carefully setting down the bouquet of flowers she was carrying.
"Me? Nervous? Come on, Twilight, heh heh..." Spike said, trying to force a smile to match his unenthused laugh. "Heh... okay, maybe a little."
His green eyes wandered up to the building before him. The stallion could feel his pulse quicken as he looked to the fanciful pony on the signboard above the door. Or maybe it was due to the glimpse of white he could see in the window. The silhouette of the owner of Carousel Boutique, waiting for him. Rarity smiling as their eyes met, as she leaned in closer—
Spike let out a strangled cough, his daydream cutting out as he felt a pair of claws redo his bowtie.
"Spike, you're just asking Rarity out for lunch," Twilight encouraged as she lifted his hat to smooth his mane. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"... Nightmare Moon?" Spike responded.
Pain shot through the inside of his mouth. The unicorn barely contained a yelp as he unclenched his teeth from the inside of his cheek. Twilight's contemplative silence, however, wasn't doing much to stop images of the black alicorn from flitting through his mind.
"That probably won't happen this time," Twilight finally said, leaping down from his back.
Spike let out a groan in response, one hoof rubbing at the side of his head.
"Come on, Spike, you're a hero! Remember?" Twilight reminded him, pointing the bouquet right at him. "Who helped stop Nightmare Moon?"
"Me, I know, but—" Spike tried to counter.
"And who does everypony in Ponvyille love?" Twilight cut him off, tapping the flowers against one palm.
"Me..." Spike said, rolling his eyes slightly at his assistant's pep talk.
"And who has been at this for almost an hour now?" Twilight finished, crossing her arms.
"Me-wait, an hour?" Spike asked, tilting his head. "Really?"
"I'm kind of surprised Rarity hasn't noticed us already," Twilight said, rolling her eyes. "Now, ready to do this?"
Spike let out a shaky chuckle as Twilight stepped aside. Despite the jab he could see the encouraging smile on her face. His chuckle quieted as he nodded, one hoof raising to the door again—
"Why are you carrying the flowers?" he asked before he could stop himself.
"Because you were afraid you'd eat them," Twilight answered quickly. "Remember, Mr. Nervous Snacker?"
Spike wheezed out another laugh as he nodded. His hoof began to reach for the door once more—
"Y-you know, I'll bet Rarity is busy," he stammered, his hoof lowering again. "I mean, she's been up there all morn—"
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
Spike's eyes widened in horror as a purple fist rapped against the door. He couldn't even acknowledge the cheerful "Coming!” that sounded from inside. All he could do was stare at the smirking dragon next to him.
"Twilight what are you doing!?" he reprimanded in a harsh whisper.
"Catch!" was Twilight's only response as she tossed the bouquet into the air.
Spike's horn lit before he could think, grabbing the flowers mid-fall. His head snapped around,
following the dragon as she darted back into the bushes. Any and all thoughts of chasing after her quickly died as he heard the unmistakable sound of a door opening.
The stallion closed his eyes tight, willing the flowers forward.
As such, he never noticed the sudden flash of light. Even when all it left in front of Carousel Boutique was his shallow hoofprints.
Spike shoved the flowers forward. “Hello I was wondering if you're free for lunch but if you're not that's fine!” he blurted out, not even taking the time to breathe. He waited a heartbeat, then two, then three before the silence finally became too much. He opened an eye, then both eyes. “The hay?”
He no longer stood in front of Carousel Boutique, nor was he even in Ponyville itself, for that matter. He stood in a small field with five other ponies, all mares. To his left was a large, foreboding forest that set his mane on edge just looking at it. The sky was overcast, thick clouds covering the all the way to the horizon. His gaze drifted across the others, all but two at least somewhat familiar to him. He blushed slightly as his gaze lingered on Ditzy and the... outfit she was wearing.
One of the two he had never seen before stood right in front of him, smiling warmly. She was an earth pony, with a pale-yellow coat, orange mane and matching tail that were expertly coiffed. She wore an unsettlingly familiar-looking gold necklace, with a centerpiece that Spike would bet a year's pay that it matched her cutie mark. A quick glance all around confirmed three of the others wearing similar necklaces, and there was a certain shine to the cello slung over the fourth’s back that stuck out to him. He tapped his forehead, feeling the golden circlet that represented the Element of Magic and confirming what he had begun to suspect..
The mare at his immediate fore smiled warmly at Spike and he smiled back. “Lunch would sound lovely, but I think the invitation was meant for somepony else,” she said. “Thank you, though. I'm sure whoever this was meant for would love to go on that luncheon.”
Spike scratched his poll with a hoof. “Thanks.” He looked around. “So... who are you?”
“Sorry, where are my manners?” She extended a hoof. “My name is Orange Sherbet, of Manehattan.” She looked to her right. “Although this looks more like the edge of the Everfree Forest to me.”
Both looked to the other four, but before they could do or say anything, all four spoke at once.
“I believe this is not what the inside of a speaker system looks like.”
“Oh my gosh, where did he go?! Where did I go? Is this even anyplace at all?”
“I think this isn't how the act's supposed to go...”
“This was so not in Celestia's lesson plan.”
The gray mare piped up. “‘Celestia’s lesson plan’?” She suddenly gasped. “You’re working for Corona, Rainbow Dash?!”
The blue pegasus, Rainbow Dash, blinked. “Who’s Corona, Ditzy?” She scratched her head. “Wait, Celestia? I guess I could see that…”
The wall-eyed pegasus flew over and landed right in front of Rainbow Dash. “After everything Corona’s done to Ponyville, to Dinky… how could you betray Princess Luna like that?” she cried out, jabbing a foreleg menacingly.
The cello-wearing earth pony blinked. “Wait, Celestia and Luna? Princesses?!” She trotted over and interjected herself between the two. “I am afraid you’re both mistaken or… well, you’re not lying. That much I can tell. But how could they gain students already? We just freed them from Nemesis’ control a short time ago!”
The pegasi stared blankly at her. “What…” they both said.
The pink pony looked at the three. “Wait, none of you are lying, right?”
They all looked to her. “You know I’m not, Pinkie!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
“Neither am I,” Ditzy said. Her eyes split between the others. “Wait a second…” She hopped up and floated over to Pinkie pie. “Listen, this is gonna sound insane, but --”
“This is obviously the work of some spirit trying to take control of my mind, like last time,” the earth pony interjected. Her brow suddenly furrowed. “Except last time it was much simpler… and it showed me my greatest desire at the time.” She rubbed her chin and her eyes darted back and forth. “This is far too complex, and quite frankly strange for it to be any sort of mental manipulation by the same party as before.”
Spike's eyes darted among them all. His horn lit up and he shot a bright beam of light into the sky, catching everypony’s attention. “Who!” he shouted.
Orange Sherbet quirked an eyebrow. “'Who'?” She placed a hoof on her chin. “That is a good question, actually.”
Spike nodded. “Okay, I have... no idea what in Tartarus is going on, but from everypony's expression here I'd bet a month's pay you all are confused, too. Maybe not as much as I am, since I have no idea where this is and no idea who any of you could be and what the hay is going on here and why I’m here…” He trailed off, his eyes screwing shut and panting slightly. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
His eyes slowly opened as he felt a hoof on his shoulder. He looked over at Orange Sherbet standing there. “Don’t be sorry, young stallion,” she said, reassuring him. “I bet we’re all quite nervous.” She looked at the others. “Right?” At their affirmations she turned to Spike once more. “Now just take a deep breath, count to ten and say what you mean to say.”
Spike swallowed. “Thank you,” he said. He bobbed his head up and down for a bit before speaking with a measured cadence to his words.“I'm a reporter, and my mentor taught me the six basic questions of reporting; who, what, when, where, why and how. Some of you might think you know the answers to these questions, but more often than not it's a little trickier than you think.”
Orange Sherbet nodded. “It might be a good idea for us all to clear the air here and declare ourselves to each other. Some of you look like you know each other, but it wouldn't do to make assumptions.” She looked to Spike. “Please go first, good sir.”
“And no interruptions, either,” the cello-carrying earth pony declared, staring hard at two of the six.
“I'll try,”Rainbow Dash said.
“Do or do not; there is no try,” the pink pony responded, drawing stares. “What? It's great advice!”
Spike nodded and let out a breath. “I'm Purple Prose, but my friends call me Spike. I’m the Element of Magic and reporter for the Canterlot Sun.” he noticed stares and shrugged. “I noticed the necklaces, and possibly the cello. It’s what reporters do!”
The earth pony nodded and smiled.
“I am Orange Sherbet, Element of Generosity. A pleasure to meet you all.” She looked to Octavia. “I thought one of you was among my closest friends… but I don’t think that’s the case here.”
“I'm Ditzy Doo, Element of Kindness.” Her eyes went in two directions before snapping into place, causing her and Spike to wince.
“Rainbow Dash, fastest flier in all of Equestria, Princess Celestia's student and the Element of Loyalty!” Rainbow Dash proclaimed, hopping into the air. She turned to Pinkie. “And I have no idea what's going on, Pinkie.” She floated down and leaned in close to her ear. “And what in Equestria is Ditzy wearing?!”
Ditzy blushed. “It was for an act,” she mumbled.
Pinkie Pie snorted. “For Doctor Whooves’ birthday?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Well, Miss Dash, you're definitely not the Element of Humility,” the cello-toting earth pony said, smirking. “As for me, I am Octavia Philharmonica. I am the Element of Honesty, personal protege of Princess Cadance... and I am beginning to see the pattern that Mister Prose saw.”
The pink pony piped up, hopping up and down on all four hooves. “I'm Pinkie Pie, Element of Laughter, but I don't see anything to laugh at! And I think I know what's going on, or part of it!” Her ears flopped down and her right hind leg beat against the ground, sending up a dust cloud.
Rainbow Dash floated down. “Wait, how would you know?”
“I go through dimension-jumping daily!” Pinkie Pie said. She paused. “Wait, that came out a lot weirder-sounding than I meant it.” She waved her hooves in the air. “We're all from different alternate-quantum realities!”
Silence permeated the group for a moment. “I’m not familiar with that term, but I think I know what you mean,” Ditzy said, her right eye on Pinkie Pie. “We’re from different Equestria’s, right?”
Pinkie Pie nodded, grinning. “Got it, Ditzy!” She motioned to the others to come closer.” Okay, ask yourselves this question. What about everypony else's stories do not line up?” She looked up to Dash. “Dash, you're pretty smart, but you're not Princess Celestia's student where I come from. Twilight Sparkle is.”
Spike's right eye twitched. “My assistant?!”
Dash's brow wrinkled. “Where you... come from? Aren't you from Ponyville?”
Octavia spoke up. “I believe I am beginning to see what Pinkie Pie is saying.” She focused on Dash. “As I said, I am Princess Cadance's student, and I never saw you in Canterlot while there. As for being Celestia's student... unlikely, since she was only recently released from the sun and freed from Nemesis' control.”
Rainbow Dash blinked. “Celestia... in the sun?!”
Ditzy suddenly gasped. “Oh, I get it! It’s like the Equestria I visited before, where instead of Luna sealing up Celestia, it was the other way around!”
Rainbow Dash, Spike and Orange Sherbet all turned to her. “I believe you've got that backwards,” Spike said.
“Only half-right, actually,” Octavia piped up. “Both Celestia and Luna fell to darkness, as Burning Sun and Nightmare Moon.”
Ditzy blinked. “No... she was Corona.” She suddenly rubbed her forehead. “And now I'm getting a migraine trying to keep track of who was banished where. Where's Carrot Top when I need her?”
Orange Sherbet broke from Spike's side and walked over to Octavia. “Octavia, that's wrong. We fought Nightmare Moon, remember? In Manehattan?” She shook her head. “No, you’re not the Octavia I know, are you?”
Octavia's eyes narrowed. “No, I am sorry, but I do not know you. And no, we did not. I am beginning to think this is either a huge prank by Vinyl Scratch, I am going mad, I am being mentally controlled... or what Pinkie Pie said about 'alternate quantum realities' and Ditzy Doo said about ‘different Equestria’s’ is true. Because the Equestria I come from, the Element of Generosity is Fluttershy.”
“No, she's the Element of Kindness!” both Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash blurted out. The two turned and pointed to each other. “Jinx!” they shouted, giggling.
Spike whinnied and snorted. “Hey, focus, alright? So... yeah. I really think Pinkie Pie and Ditzy might be onto something here. I think. Possibly.” He looked to Pinkie and Ditzy. “So?”
Pinkie Pie let out a breath. She reached into her mane, pulled out a bandanna from somewhere and tied it around her forehead. “Okay, think of it like a story. Each of us, we're all living a variation of that story. We're all from an Equestria, right?”
At their nods, Ditzy spoke up. “We're all an Element of Harmony that we gained by going on a perilous quest to fight off a power-mad alicorn or two and save our Equestria, right? Right. But it seems the Tirac's in the details.” She placed a hoof on her chest. “I went to a different Equestria a short while ago. Where I come from, Princess Luna ruled for a thousand years before Celestia freed herself from the sun. But my fellow Elements visited an Equestria where the opposite happened. The basic story’s the same, but there’s variations to all our tales.”
Octavia groaned. “I was almost hoping I was being mentally controlled. it would’ve been far easier that way.”
Pinkie Pie let out a breath. “I know who's writing this part of the story.” Her mouth formed into an unnatural-looking grim line. “Discord.”
Orange Sherbet gasped. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “I was at an exhibit celebrating his resealing when all of this happened! His picture moved and then I was here!”
Rainbow Dash landed. “Discord?” Her right wing flapped a bit. “The mischievous god of chaos that Celestia and Luna sealed up before taking the reins of Equestria?” Everypony stared at her. “Hey, sometimes I paid attention in class,” she said, shrugging.
Pinkie Pie nodded. “He kidnapped me from Megan's house.” She held up a foreleg and waved it. “Long story, no time for it.”
Rainbow Dash suddenly groaned. “Oh, so that's who spoke to me before I ended up here!”
A seventh voice suddenly echoed throughout the clearing. “Well, about time, Dashie. I guess you didn't pay attention to all of Celly's lessons, then.”
Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. A high wind kicked up, kicking debris. The six moved close together. “So, how did you stop him?” Octavia asked.
“We used the Elements of Harmony on him,” Orange Sherbet replied. “But it was close, and we nearly failed.”
“And no offense, but I don't think we're close enough for it to work on him,” Pinkie Pie said.
“None taken,” Octavia said.
There was a sudden flash of light and a mismatched conglomeration of animal parts appeared before them. Discord floated, one leg crossed over the other. He reared back, laughing as the lightning ans thunder continued. After a minute, the entire storm ceased to exist. Discord floated down and coughed into his eagle's claw. “Sorry about that. Old habits die hard.” He clasped the claw and a bear's paw together. “Now that I have your attention, could you please help me with a teeny, tiny problem that's surfaced through barely indirect fault of my own?”