“Oh my…” Rarity murmured quietly, evaluating the condition of the case which had been brought before her.
Trixie’s starry blue cloak was laid out on a table, covered in tears and scrapes. A sizable hole had been ripped down one shoulder and a few thorns were still tangled within the loose threads. Not to mention that it was in severe need of cleaning from whatever the mare had barreled through.
Trixie herself stood to the side in only slightly better condition. Several scrapes and bruises dotted her body, while her mane and tail were tangled with nettles. She wasn’t paying that any mind, however. She simply watched Rarity look over the cloak, shuffling anxiously from hoof to hoof.
Rarity raised a brow and looked across the table to her. “How in Equestria did this happen?”
“W-well, Pinkie and I, one of our pranks went bad and we had to run. I kinda zigged when she zagged, and since I don’t really know Ponyville that well… Erm.” She cleared her throat, then quietly muttered, “I didn’t know there was a hill under those bushes…”
“Oh my.” Rarity raised both her eyebrows in mild astonishment and nodded, turning back to the table.
“Can you fix it?” she practically whimpered while unconsciously giving Rarity the saddest, most soulful puppy-eyes she could muster.
Rarity smiled at the display. “Of course, dear. It may take a day or two, but I’m certain I can restore it for you.”
“Oh thank Celestia!” Trixie let out a deep breath of relief, sinking down to lay on the ground. She winced a little when her barrel met the floor and rolled slightly to one side to get off of a bruise.
Rarity knelt down next to her, bandages and a bottle of salve appearing in the air with a flash of her horn. “Perhaps I’d better see about fixing you up first though, hm?” With gentle care she salved and wrapped Trixie’s mild injuries, while at the same time a brush hovered over and set to work removing the thorns from her hair. After the last bandage was in place, Rarity closed her eyes and let more magic flare through her horn. Trixie felt warmth flow through the all the bandaged spots, and the pain rapidly faded away to nothing.
Trixie relaxed a little and looked up as Rarity opened her eyes again. “Thank you. I didn’t realize you knew healing magic?”
Rarity smiled again. “Yes, well, those spells require much more in the way of finesse than power, which is something I’ve always been good at.” She looked away wistfully. “You know, as a filly I’d actually considered becoming a nurse. That was before I discovered my true special talent, of course.”
Trixie nodded and raised herself back into a sitting position. “I never could get the hang of healing spells, myself.”
“Well, that certainly takes some of the wind out of Twilight’s theory.” Rarity chuckled. When Trixie raised a brow in response, she continued. “Oh, she had this theory that unicorns with golden, pink or blue auras were more naturally gifted with healing spells than others.” Rarity glanced around the room then leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. “She can’t get them to work either.”
Trixie scoffed at the thought. “Really, magic that Sparkle can’t do?”
“Oh, don’t be like that,” admonished Rarity. “Twilight works very hard to learn as much as she can about everything she can. The talent for healing is rare, though. Zecora has been teaching her how to make up for it with potions.”
’Kind of like me and artifacts,’ Trixie considered. “Hmm. While we’re on the topic of magic…” She reached back to her saddlebag and pulled out a pair of glittering white squares of cloth with her teeth, dropping them in front of Rarity. “I got these on a previous jump. I was thinking maybe you could work with them?”
“Oh? Let’s have a closer look, then.” Rarity lit her horn to grab the cloth samples, but her eyes went wide when a matching aura refused to appear around them. “What? What are these?”
Trixie frowned just a hint, remembering how she came about them in the first place. “They’re made with something called ‘null crystals’, which block magic. Allegedly they came from that world’s version of the Crystal Empire. I’ve never heard of anything like that here though, have you?”
Rarity shook her head. “Perhaps Twilight could ask her brother about it? Shining Armor is the prince of the Crystal Empire, after all. He and Princess Cadance would certainly be the best ones to ask.”
“He’s the—of course he is...” Trixie groaned, dropping to sit on her haunches so she could drape a hoof over her eyes.
“Is something the matter?” asked Rarity, tilting her head a bit.
“Trixie is—!” she started to shout, but caught herself. ’No, nothing’s wrong. My formal rival is now an alicorn princess, her brother is the freaking prince of the Crystal Empire, and I had to change careers out of shame.’ She felt her face and ears burning as a wave of spite rose through her.
’Stop it, stop thinking like that. It’s not her fault, and we’re friends now, aren’t we?’ She took a long, deep breath and slowly exhaled, feeling the heat slowly drain away from her face. Another long breath and she felt composed enough to get back on her hooves. She tried to resume her place and pretend her outburst had never happened, but immediately noticed the way Rarity was biting her lip. “Fine. I’m fine.”
Rarity looked her over with worry crossing her eyes. “If you’re sure… But if you need somepony to talk to about it, whatever it may be, I’ll always be ready to listen.”
“I’m...” Trixie sighed, then nodded slowly. “Thank you.”
“So!” Rarity clapped her hooves together, as if dismissing the change in mood. “What would you like me to do with these?”
“Actually, I might have some ideas about that.”
The gentle sounds of snoring drifted downstairs to the ears of Luna and Twilight, assuring them that Rainbow Dash was resting comfortably in bed. The two were now taking the time to chat while they waited in the reading room.
Luna nursed a steaming mug of coffee between her hooves and took gentle sips now and again. Twilight drank less daintily from her own mug, enjoying the familiar zing of energy from the brew which often accompanied her late night endeavors. Flitting memories of long nights and sleep deprivation caused her to take a closer look at the lunar princess. While Luna was showing no outward signs of exhaustion, Twilight was certain she had grown adept at hiding such things over the course of her long life.
“Luna? It really is wonderful to have a chance to see you again, and I don’t mean to sound rude or anything, but... shouldn’t you be sleeping this time of day? Why did you come instead of Celestia?”
Luna blinked a few times in mild surprise at the remark, then smiled faintly down to Twilight. “I suppose that is the obvious question, isn’t it?”
Twilight nodded, and Luna paused, taking another sip of coffee. “Well there are several reasons. I’ve always been more suited to scientific pursuits than my sister, so I was chosen to lead the research that might aid in thy recovery. Not that we are not equally talented at the field, mind, but between us I always found science to be quite stimulating. ‘Fun’, as one would say these days.” She winked, prompting Twilight to recall their encounter on Nightmare Night.
She glanced out the window facing Canterlot, the mountaintop capital city shining in the daylight. “Also, my dear sister is currently entertaining ambassadors from Zebrica, a rather rare event, so the Day Court has kept her too occupied to leave Canterlot.” She took one more long sip from her mug, finishing the contents then giving a contented sigh. “Besides, it has been quite some time since I was able to simply visit thee.” Luna closed her eyes and smiled brightly.
Twilight briefly returned the smile, but her thoughts drifted unbidden to the horrible nightmare from earlier. Unlike most dreams, the memory of it had remained sharp in her mind since she’d woken. “I need to tell you something.” She paused, continuing once the princess began listening intently. “When you first got here I was having a pretty bad nightmare—”
“Yes, I sensed as much when I arrived,” interrupted Luna, “for which I am sorry. I can only guard against such under the light of the moon.”
Twilight nodded slightly. “So you didn’t see it, then.” Luna shook her head, and Twilight took a deep breath to calm herself. ’Best to just get it off my chest...’
“Well, it was pretty bad. Trixie was there but she was dressed all in black, her eyes were red and she had this horrible lightning spell! She was using it to torture one of my friends, and… and she said... something to me? What was it…” Twilight frowned and furrowed her brow. It had all been sharp and clear just a moment ago, but now she was grasping for the details as they faded.
She felt Luna’s surprisingly soft wing wrap around her, helping her relax as she continued. “I guess I just don’t know what to make of it. I mean, Trixie and I are friends now—I think. But that nightmare was so real, and it was based on what I was told really happened in another world.”
Twilight frowned again, looking up to meet Luna’s gaze. “Everywhere we’ve gone either nopony had ever heard of Trixie, or she had descended into a complete monster. Our Trixie is the only exception: she had a close call once, but we managed to save her from herself.”
“And recent events make you wonder upon which side of the coin Miss Lulamoon will ultimately fall—light, or darkness?” Luna asked, receiving a hesitant nod from her friend. “Twilight Sparkle, you of all ponies should know how important it is to trust your friends. Be there for her, as you would for any of your friends, and things will always work out for the best.”
Twilight smiled slightly at her words, and nodded slowly. “It’s surprising, really.”
“What’s that?” asked Luna.
Twilight’s smile turned into a full grin as she met Luna’s eyes. “How often the answer is so simple, I need to be reminded to look at it.”
Any further conversation was halted when the library’s front door swung open. Rarity walked inside, humming happily to herself as she went. Above her head levitated a sky blue, gift-wrapped box. She was followed by a somewhat more encumbered Trixie, who was having some trouble balancing a pair of plainer clothing boxes on her back. She was focused on nudging them this way or that with her weak magic to keep them in place, and nearly ran into Rarity when the other unicorn stopped.
Rarity bowed reverently. “Princess Luna, how lovely to see you again!”
When Rarity began to speak, Trixie’s attention was finally brought from her boxes to the princess sitting in the room. She tried to follow suit and bow, but this caused the boxes on her back to slide forward and clunk ungently against the back of her head. Despite the abrupt impact, she maintained her composure and her bow only wavered slightly.
“Greetings to you, Lady Rarity and Miss Lulamoon. I welcome thy presence!” boomed Luna at a volume just shy of acceptable for the small room. She used her magic to lift the boxes from Trixie’s back and put them on the table. If she was amused at Trixie’s expense it didn’t show, her face the royal mask of neutrality and respect held when addressing guests at court.
Rarity rose first, setting her own package on the table next to the others. “Thank you princess, and Twilight—oh.” She paused, looking upstairs towards the sounds of snoring while she pursed her lips. “I see Rainbow wasted no time in finding a chance to take a nap.”
Twilight nodded, motioning the two over to have a seat. “Yeah, she was really out of it when she got here. Luna tells me Rainbow had been pushing herself almost over her limit the whole time she was at Canterlot.”
“Really?” asked Trixie as she sat down, “Why would she do that, doesn’t she know how unhealthy that is?”
Rarity found her seat as well, daintily adjusting it until everything was just right. “Rainbow Dash would do anything for her friends, dear. Any one of us would.”
Trixie furrowed her brow in silence, her eyes wandering down to scrutinize the grain of the wood on the edge of the table.
“Well, now that you are here I may return these to you,” said Luna. In a burst of midnight light two pendants appeared on the table, each in front of its respective owner.
Twilight beamed and lifted hers up around her neck with her hooves instead of her magic. “You fixed them! Great! So what ended up being wrong with them, anyways?”
“Ah, well, it seems we had a few things reversed in the formulae of the enchantments. Instead of showing you to your motes, they were moving you to them. The effect shouldn’t have been as strong as you reported, but I suspect the enhanced ambient magic of that world may have been partially to blame.”
As if in answer to the expected next question, Luna made a matching set of papers appear in front of everypony seated. Twilight lifted hers to see detailed diagrams and formula dissecting the appearance and functionality of her pendant in complete detail. Everything had been perfectly accounted for: the size and shape of the facets on the gem, the exact length of the chain which supported it, even the metal composition and purity had been factored in down to a margin of error of five thousandths of a percent—and that was just on the first page.
The following pages went into excruciating detail about the magic formulae of the enchantment placed on each pendant, enough to even give Twilight a run for her money. She glanced across the table and saw Rarity with her head practically spinning. She was making a show out of barely understanding a word on the paper, lifting one page up like it was a filthy dishrag. Trixie, however, was voraciously devouring every word and symbol on the pages. She was taking her time and hesitating to turn to the next page when she’d finished one, as if afraid she’d missed anything. Twilight turned her attention back to her copy of the notes, reaching the last page which contained a laypony’s summary of the contents.
“Questions?” asked Luna expectantly, enthusiasm bleeding into her tone.
Twilight lifted up the gem hanging from her neck. “So, it’s supposed to be... a map?” she began.
“And mine is a form of compass,” Trixie finished.
Luna gave a curt nod. “Indeed! As you can see, simply focus a small amount of magic into your pendant and it shall activate for as long as you hold it there. Twilight’s pendant shall provide the big picture of the location of your motes, while Trixie’s will show you their direction from thy perspective.”
“So let’s go put ‘em to use!” yawned a familiar voice from above the group, and only then did Twilight realize that the steady sounds of snoring had stopped some time ago. They all glanced upward as a groggy-looking Rainbow Dash descended. The pegasus rubbed some sleep from her eyes and fluttered down to an open spot at the table. “I’m ready to get my adventure on, so let’s go already!”
“Dash, how long have you been up there?” yelped Twilight, raising her eyebrows at the display while worry lines creased the corners of her eyes. “And are you sure you’ve gotten enough rest? You still look pretty tired.”
“Pssh.” Rainbow waved a hoof dismissively, ignoring the question otherwise while she turned her attention to the boxes covering a good portion of the table. “So what’s all this stuff?”
“Those are the disguises I made, and recently repaired—” Rarity shot a glare at a suddenly sheepish looking Twilight and Trixie, “—for when you go visiting other worlds. I’ve created a new one just for you, Rainbow.” Rarity grinned, levitating over the gift-wrapped box she’d brought in herself.
Dash’s expression withered and she leaned back as if the box was a coiling snake about to strike. “Uhh… Rares, why are you looking at me like that?”
Rarity advanced around the table, her bright smile not abating. “Twilight, Trixie, why don’t you adjourn to the basement and get dressed while I help Rainbow with this?”
“Uhh…” Rainbow blanched, backpedaling a step and falling on her rear. “You know, maybe I do need more sleep after all...”
“Seriously, Rares, do I have to wear a wig?” groaned Rainbow. The two made their way downstairs now that the pegasus had been fully suited-up in her new outfit.
Rarity simply smiled and followed Rainbow down the staircase. “Darling, you know your coiffure is unmistakably unique. Why, you’d stick out like a sore hoof without a wig.”
“I look like somepony lit a disco ball on fire,” deadpanned Dash.
Rainbow’s new outfit was a silver full-body flight suit which covered every bit of her from head to hooves save her wings, ears, mouth and eyes. A set of yellow-tinted flight goggles covered those eyes, the hue mixing with her natural magenta to outwardly tint her irises bright red. Her signature mane was actually sealed under the suit itself, and a surprisingly natural-looking, fiery red wig had been expertly stitched into place on top of it to take its place. A matching tail-wig was sewn as a sleeve into the rear of the suit, within which Rainbow’s own tail was comfortably tucked away. Instead of the normal lightning bolt motif, bands of embroidered flames encircled her hooves, and the suit lacked a cutie mark. Rarity had even provided her with an unmarked pair of silver saddlebags.
Rarity clucked her tongue. “There wasn’t much choice over material if I was going to incorporate a hurricane suit into your disguise. Besides, I think it makes you look rather heroic! In fact I might even say you look rather… dashing?”
Rainbow stopped cold on the last step of the staircase, turning her head to stare deadpan at Rarity, whose unabashed and mischievous grin was already ear-to-ear and growing wider by the second. “You did not, seriously, make me wear this just to set up for that horrible pun.”
A barely contained snicker came from across the room, and Rainbow looked forward in time to catch Luna of all ponies trying to suppress her mirth with a hoof to her mouth. Trixie wore an unamused look which mirrored Dash’s own, while Twilight wasn’t paying any attention to the exchange, too busy setting up the portal. The two were already fully outfitted in their own disguises.
Rainbow rolled her eyes and brought a hoof to her forehead. “I should’ve just worn the Mare-Do-Well costume.”
“Oh please.” Rarity brushed past Rainbow and walked into the lab proper. “Odds are most of the other worlds had a Mare-Do-Well of their own. You need to look like somepony nobody knows.” Her eyes lit up as an idea came to her. “Oh! Perhaps you could draw inspiration from your new look to come up with a new name while you travel as well? How about ‘Firefly’?”
“That’s my mom’s name!” whined Dash.
“Is it?” Rarity stood dumbfounded for a moment.
Just then the mirror flared to life with a woosh, the portal surface glowing a mild bronze color this time. Up above, the Element of Loyalty gave a single pulse, then emitted a soft red glow. The light it gave off felt surprisingly comforting to everypony present, particularly Rainbow Dash, who calmed down almost immediately.
“There, it’s ready. We can go at any time,” Twilight said, her tone reverent towards the miracle of magic and science before them. That sense of awe her creation inspired had never quite left her, no matter how often they’d used it.
Luna nodded curtly, fixing her posture to stand tall and regal before addressing the group as a whole. “Very well. Proceed with caution, my friends! Know that I shall remain here should my aid be required. I have made arrangements to stay in Ponyville for a few days so that I may monitor your progress.”
“Thank you, Luna. I really appreciate all your help.” Twilight smiled, then fixed her scarf into place to hide her face for the journey.
“Right. Time to find out if all this work paid off.” Rainbow strode towards the mirror, where Twilight and Trixie stood aside, waiting. She looked between the two of them, from Trixie’s curiously raised eyebrow to Twilight’s encouraging nod, then back to the glowing bronze rectangle of light in front of her. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and pressed a hoof against the surface of the mirror.
It went through.
Rainbow shut her eyes for a moment as she crossed the shimmering threshold, opening on the other side to see the town square of Ponyville as one big blur. After her first hoof ended up in the fountain’s water, she lifted off and flew across to the grass. While the others waded across the fountain, she took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the light and briefly take in her surroundings.
Across from the fountain she spotted a gentlecolt wearing formal attire, even a top hat and monocle, who had been pouring himself a cup of tea at the outdoor cafe. He was now staring at the group emerging from the fountain’s statue, his teacup overflowing obliviously and his monocle hanging from its chain.
“Uhh…” She blinked and looked around a bit more, realizing where she was. “Hey, what gives? Why’re we still in Ponyville? I thought this was supposed to go to another wo… woah…” Rainbow craned her head back and looked nearly straight up, her jaw falling open.
A huge shadow was passing over the girls as they finished their trek across the watery gateway. Whatever it was blanketed the entire town square in darkness deeper than a passing cloud should create. Both Twilight and Trixie followed Dash’s gaze upwards, and their jaws hit the floor as well.
A massive behemoth of wood and brass flew over the town. It looked similar to a ship, yet it was far larger than the biggest seafaring ship Twilight had ever seen. It held suspended in the air under a massive gas bag which looked big enough to hold easily twenty times the weight her own hot air balloon could.
Machinery the likes of which she’d only ever imagined covered it from bow to stern. Pneumatic intakes fed into brass tubes which wrapped around the sides of the ship in a mass of ordered chaos. Steam valves blew gallons of white smoke into the air. All of this lead to five impressively large mechanical cylinders on the rear. They appeared to be powering an equal number of enormous double-prop propellers which whirled lazily behind this airborne monster of science.
Then they saw more of them. The sky over Ponyville was filled with these aerial steamships. Very few pegasi flew through the air, and those that did were wearing bizarre mechanoid exo-wings which trailed twin plumes of white smoke behind them. The three foreigners to this land stood agape for several minutes, just watching the skies. Finally, Trixie decided to break the silence.
“Oh. My. Celestia…” she said, not taking her eyes off the sky.
Twilight slowly nodded, closing and opening her mouth a few times trying to form words.
Rainbow just kept staring, tilting her head to one side. “So… how does it fly?”
No answer was immediately forthcoming from either unicorn. Trixie looked between the two after another minute, shrugged, and cleared her throat. “Hem, while I am of course a mare of numerous spectacular and amazing talents… I am afraid engineering is not one of them.”
“Okay.” Rainbow rolled her eyes and looked back to the sky, suddenly flaring her wings. “Then I’m gonna find out!” In an instant she was in the air, soaring upwards.
“Rainbow, wait! It could be dangerous!” Twilight yelled, snapped out of her stupor by Rainbow’s brash action.
However, Dash suddenly streaking into the sky caught more than just Twilight’s attention. One of the pegasi sporting exo-wings took notice and veered straight towards her in a blur of speed, cutting her off from flying any higher before she’d even cleared the rooftops.
A pegasus with a rainbow mane.
“You! Down! Now!” she barked with the full force of a commander giving a subordinate an order.
Rainbow froze up and hugged her forelegs to her chest, slowly drifting down while staring back up at her doppelganger. Her wings fluttered weakly just enough to control her descent straight back down to the ground. The alternate Dash followed her closely while giving her a look frighteningly similar to Fluttershy’s ‘stare’, made even more intimidating by the large vertical scar that crossed the left side of her face, right over her eye.
“What the buck were you thinking, newbie? Do you want to get your foalish flank sucked into a turbine?!” she yelled, leaning her face right up against Rainbow’s.
“No, ma’am!” Rainbow shouted, her posture stiffening and her eyes locking forward. Instincts drilled into her from Wonderbolt Academy took hold in the face of an apparently superior officer. Her voice was strangled and lower-pitched in an obvious attempt to disguise it, but her grizzled alternate paid that no mind.
“You’re damn right, no! Do you have any idea how much paperwork that would make?! I’m not sitting at a bucking desk for five hours because some hotshot thought she was too strong of a flier to need a jetwing around airships!” The other Dash sized Rainbow up with her good eye, glaring the entire time. “Unless you’re going to tell me you’ve somehow got two hundred wingpower hiding in those feather dusters? Are you some kind of freak, newbie?”
“Ma’am, no ma’am!” Rainbow yelled at the top of her lungs. Twilight and Trixie could only sit back and stare at the display.
“What’s your name, newbie?” asked Alternate Dash, while raising one hoof to check a dial strapped to her wrist.
“Firef—u-uh, bug. Firebug, ma’am!” stammered Rainbow.
The alternate huffed and lowered her hoof again, looking Rainbow straight in the eye. “Firebug I don’t know what fancy outfit gave you that pretty little dress you’re wearing, but you’d better report back and tell them you need another run through basic if you even think about pulling a stunt like that again! All pegasi are grounded in port towns unless you have a jetwing, am I understood?!”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am!” shouted Rainbow, snapping a salute.
“Hmph, good.” Alternate Dash stamped her rear hoof twice and the sleek exo-wing strapped over her back kicked to life, sending her in a graceful arc back into the skies and leaving the dumbfounded group in a swirl of strangely cold steam.
Twilight walked over and rested a hoof gently on Dash’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Did you see that? That was me!” Rainbow grinned widely. “She was so badflank! I want to be just like her when I grow up.”
“Aren’t you already grown up?” chimed in Trixie, but her comment went ignored.
“Oh! Do you think you could get her to come back? I only got a partial sketch of that pack she was wearing.” Twilight bounced on her hooves, while turning around a floating parchment to show her a rough outline of the exo-wing.
Trixie waved her hoof at the two. “Hey, far be it for me to be the voice of reason of our little group, but maybe we should focus on why we’re here?” She raised her eyebrows and craned her head twice towards a nearby alley, which looked empty at the moment.
Twilight’s cheeks reddened, and she hastily rolled up and stored the scroll. “Right, of course. Plenty of time for science later. Eheh...”
Trixie rolled her eyes and turned to trot into the alley, leaving the two of them to follow. Rainbow took a moment to look around and make sure the coast was clear. Then, satisfied, she cantered quickly to catch up to Twilight.
“So, ‘Firebug’ huh? You know that makes you sound like an arsonist,” teased Trixie.
Rainbow had to catch herself from facehoofing mid-stride. “Ugh, I panicked, okay? Blame Rarity! It’s totally her fault for putting that idea in my head.”
Twilight allowed herself a hidden smile before she set to work. Focusing a drop of magic into her horn, the pendant around her neck began to glow softly while she let it flow down. A small hum of the amethyst charging up was the only warning they had before a midnight blue grid suddenly projected into the air between the group.
Red and green dots rapidly coalesced from a fuzzy blob into a map of the whole of Equis upon it. A box formed around the continent which held Equestria, and with a blink the map zoomed in. Another box framed Equestria itself and zoomed in again, revealing a scale map of their country in high-contrast tones of red and green. A small purple dot marked their location, blinking just off-center in Ponyville.
“Cool! So where’s the magic thingies?” asked Dash. Possibly in response, a large pink dot appeared on the map just northwest of Cloudsdale. A dotted pink line then traced itself from the pink dot to their purple one. A second line branched off the top of the pink spot, underlining a series of numbers which were adjusting in real-time.
“Uhh…” Dash stared at the map while squinting her eyes.
Twilight leaned in closer, looking over every detail with a critical eye. “Okay, let’s see. The pink dot must be our motes, and the dotted line is their trajectory. Altitude is one point two miles, so they’re definitely coming through Cloudsdale. Speed is… point one seven miles per hour? Uh oh.” She turned and drew a ruler from her saddlebag, using it to measure the distance between the two points. She closed her eyes in thought as she did the math, then frowned deeply, though the others couldn’t see it.
“Girls?” said Twilight, “We’ve got to go to Cloudsdale.”