Rarity, completely white now and wearing a much more casual light blue dress, stared at the apartment door in front of her. Her eyes flicked once more to the address in her hoof, then back to the one hanging next to the door. As the last six times had confirmed, they were identical.
Rarity peered around her surroundings uncertainly yet again. The apartment building she was currently in was small and dingy. Things stained the carpet and there was a terrible smell in the air. Rarity looked once more at the addresses, praying that the seventh time would change one of them.
No such luck. This was, without a doubt, the home of Twilight Sparkle.
Rarity took a deep breath - that she immediately regretted - and steeled herself up to the door. Just because she lived in the worst housing in Canterlot didn’t mean anything about who the pony herself was. In fact, Rarity reasoned, if she was an Alicorn in disguise she would probably want to stay as far away from prying eyes as possible too.
With one more glance at the address, Rarity rapped on the door and stood back to wait.
Rarity was about to give up completely when there was finally a commotion and the door open just enough for her to make out a purple eye framed by glasses.
“Yes?” Came the disgruntled greeting. Rarity felt her heart skip at the sound. If there was any doubt that she had the right pony they had been banished with that one word.
“T-Twilight Sparkle?” Rarity stuttered, trying to peer around the door and see the rest of the pony.
“Speaking. What do you want?”
Rarity snapped herself out of her daze and shook her head to clear it, “Oh yes, of course, where are my manners? My name is Rarity Belle and I have recently read your book, ‘Time Theory and What it Could Mean’ and I must say I was intrigued by it. So much, in fact, that I wanted to meet you in person and discuss the finer details of it, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.” Rarity finished off the rehearsed speech with a smile and looked hopefully into Twilight’s eyes.
Twilight stared at Rarity with a suspicious glare so long that Rarity though she might have broken her before she finally rolled her eyes and opened the door, “Fine. Come in but make it quick.”
Rarity mentally hoof-bumped herself. She was in and now all she needed to do was gently breach the subject that the pony standing in front of her from a different time came and now they wanted to start a rebellion against the most powerful force in Equestria history.
The first thing Rarity noticed about the apartment she entered was how small it was. The cramped walls and low ceiling gave her a strong sense of claustrophobia.
Or perhaps it came from the literal piles of paper scattering the room, some stacks so tall that Rarity doubted she could reach the top if she stood on her back hooves. They filled up so much of the room that the two unicorns had to walk in single file just to move anywhere.
But Rarity was a polite mare and noticed that second.
The next thing Rarity took stock of was her grumpy host. She was definitely a Unicorn, as no wings graced her back, but Rarity had hardly been expecting to be greeted by multi-race royalty in this shabby place. The Unicorn in question was also very scruffy looking, her mane stuck up at odd intervals and her coat, which was shown off by her distinct lack of clothing, was matted in certain places. The little Rarity had seen of her face revealed a pair of glasses that had certainly not been present on the Alicorn - most likely for reading or something of the like - bags under the eyes, and a scowl that was often used by ponies when someone was interrupting something important. Her shoulders were slumped but she walked with confidence in her cluttered domain.
Rarity, as inappropriate as it sounded, kept glancing at the purple pony’s flank and starburst cutie mark to reassure herself that she had the right purple pony.
Twilight stopped abruptly at a particularly large stack of paper. A deep pink aura lit up around her horn and she effortlessly levitated the towering mound of parchment to reveal a small coffee table and two seats hidden under it.
Twilight slumped down in one of them and Rarity took the hint to occupy the other.
There was a very tense silence as the unicorns stared at each other, before Twilight broke it with an impatient huff, “So you wanted to talk about my book?”
“Hmm?” Rarity replied shaking herself out of her daze, “Oh yes, like I said before I found it most fascinating and hoped to, perhaps, discuss some points of it with you.” Rarity recited, sticking to her pre-planned alibi.
Twilight did not look impressed, “You tracked me down and came all the way here to discuss nonsensical theories?”
“I’m sorry, nonsensical?”
Twilight sighed, “Of course, everything in that book is pure theory and could never have any actual results or ever even be tested.”
“Yes, theoretical, of course,” Rarity replied, keeping her expression as neutral as possible, “but all we need to talk about is plausible theory. So, theoretically, if some very powerful pony went back in time and changed something very important in the past do you, theoretically, think that could create something like a different timeline or would it, theoretically, just erase the original timeline?”
“Wha...hu?” Twilight blinked rapidly, clearly surprised by the sudden question, “Well, uh, that would depend on if the theoretical time traveler could remember their original timeline.”
“Theoretically say they can.”
Twilight frowned but gave a determined nod, “Well then there would be alternate because, if nothing else, the timeline would live in their memories.” She hummed thoughtfully, “Of course that would also, theoretically cause the original timeline to become the baseline for all the others.”
Rarity leaned forward in her seat, “Baseline? What do you mean by that?”
Twilight was on a roll now and spoke with a happy smile, “Well, time is like a...a piece of paper.” Her magic ignited once again and grabbed a seemingly random document from the cluttered room, “The paper is flat and smooth now, going in one direction and never staying from its straight path because every ponies’ decision - the individual fibers in the paper - all leads up to the same point: the present.” Her magic flared brighter and a sparkling letter P appeared at the end of the paper
“But, if I bend the paper or mess with ponies decisions in the past,” Twilight folded the paper in half and creased the fold, “The paper is now like two pieces of paper almost parallel to each other. The first present is still there,” she gestured with her horn at the magic P that had not moved “but now a second one is bent away from the original at an angle, creating a new timeline and a new present. With me so far?”
Rarity nodded, her eyes glued to the presentation floating in front of her.
“See but the second timeline doesn’t want to be bent. Since the two are the same paper or, in other words, the same time with the same ponies doing basically the same thing - just with a few changed decisions at that particular spot - the times will want to realign as closely as possible once again.” She released the bent side of the sheet, causing that side to spring up almost and almost retouch the magic P.
“Ingenious,” Rarity praised, “So if we dropped the metaphor then the second timeline, the one the traveler isn’t originally from, would try to set up so, say, certain ponies became friends and certain events start to transpire?”
Twilight nodded approvingly, “Theoretically, that’s basically correct. I must say I’m impressed, not many ponies take time to study complex magic theory, what inspired you to this?”
Rarity waved a hoof dismissively as Twilight’s magic winked out of existence, settling the paper settle with its brethren, “No reason, darling, let's just say an, ah, inspired purple friend of mine got me intrigued.”
Twilight’s smile she had acquired during the discussion descended back into a frown, “Oh? This friend inspired you so much that you came all the way to Canterlot just to ramble theories with pseudo-scientist me?”
“Well, just between you and me this little bookworm friend of mine really made the prospect seem quite royal.”
Twilight’s frown deepened further, “Right. I bet you came to Canterlot to try and find a ‘royal friend’ too?”
Rarity smiled mischievously at Twilight, her spirits soaring. Twilight new she new and they had been getting along so well! This was going even better than she expected, “Twilight, darling, I think I already found her.”
“Right,” Twilight stood abruptly, “I’ve been a bad host. I should offer you tea. Do you want tea? I have tea. It’s fresh as I was going to have it before you came.”
Rarity nodded happily, “Oh yes please, darling. This theory talk has made me thirsty and I always enjoy a good cup of tea.”
Twilight retreated somewhere else in the mess and vanished for a few minutes before returning with two cups of steaming tea. She waited until Rarity sipped her’s before speaking again, “So, who exactly is this ‘friend’ you’re trying to find?”
“Oh, she’s not really my friend yet and she’s an Alicorn Princess .” Rarity briefly wondered why she had just proclaimed that information. Wasn’t she suppose to approach that subject with tact? She recalled that she had a plan but strangely the details seemed to be slipping from her.
“I knew it,” Twilight growled, not touching her own tea, “You’re a Nightmare spy aren’t you? I sensed her magic clinging all over you when you came in. Well, I’m telling you now that no matter what she does she will never find her.”
Rarity blinked and then blinked some more, it was oddly getting harder to see, “A spy? No no no. While I do work for Miss Moon I assure you that…” Rarity’s head bobbed before she regained control of it, “that she has no idea I’m here and certainly doesn’t know the little secret that you’re an Alicorn Princess destined to defeat her.”
“You expect me to believe...wait...me? You think I’m an Alicorn?” Twilight’s anger made way for general confusion, “Why would anyone think that I’m an Alicorn? Or that I’m destined for anything like that!”
Rarity leaned back in her seat, as she had become exceedingly light headed, “I met a you from a different timeline, the original piece of paper I think, and you were an Alicorn.” She shrugged, struggling to keep her eyes open, “You said some interesting things and I wanted to come here and see if it was possible.”
Twilight’s jaw fell open, “Wait...you’re serious? And Nightmare Moon has no idea you came to find me?”
“She’s aware I’m in Canterlot but besides that is clueless.” Rarity said dreamily, her vision rapidly becoming dark around the edges.
“I am...seriously going to have to speak to her about this.” Rarity heard Twilight mumbled before she drifted into unconsciousness.
“...and Loyalty,” Rainbow Dash read out loud in a bored voice, stealing another bite of a freshly baked scone, “but the sixth Element is a mystery.” She looked up expectantly at her pink companion who was scanning through a thick book of her own.
“Alright but according to ‘Magical Artifacts Through the Ages,’” Pinkie supplied, flipping pages, “the sixth is the center for the other Elements so it would have to be a representation for holding Harmony together.” She looked up at Dash with a shrug, “So it’s either love, magic, or the force.”
Rainbow lifted a brow, “The what?”
“It’s from a book, nevermind.”
Rainbow shrugged and bit her scone again, “Then there’s some stuff about two to eight bearers channeling the energy through themselves.”
“Yep,” Pinkie nodded, “More is better if they're not all super strong Alicorns or something but each of the bearers has to have some trait of the Element they channel or it won’t work.”
Rainbow snorted, “I don’t know if these are the best requirements. I mean, even Charged Night can be loyal.”
“Maybe your intent has to be right.”
Rainbow gave Pinkie a flat look, “Yeah? And what makes an intent ‘right?’”
“If it sounds good,” Pinkie said nonchalantly, proceeding to clean a glass that probably wasn’t even dirty.
Rainbow blinked at her, her mind trying to find some sense in that sentence but coming up with nothing, “What?”
“Then it’ll be harmonies!” Pinkie grinned and booped Dash on the nose.
Rainbow opened her mouth and let it hang there as she processed before closing it with a chuckle, “Alright, that was a bad one Pinks.” Her laugh quickly turned into a sigh, “I just wish we had more to go on than just these dumb books.”
“Oh, don’t be so grouchy Dash-Dash,” Pinkie scolded, discarding her glass and gently patting Rainbow’s head, “When Rare comes back we’ll have a new friend and will be one step closer to...stopping…” Pinkie’s voice died as her eyes grew clouded.
“Pinkie?” Rainbow asked, gently poking her friend, “Pinkie, you alright?”
“Somepony’s coming.” In less than a second Pinkie grabbed the two books off the counter and thrust a different one at Rainbow, “Here, keep this hidden but not too hidden.”
“Wha? Pinkie what’s…?” Before Rainbow could finish the door to the break room swung open and three Thestrals strolled in. Rainbow instantly scrambled to her hooves, keeping the book tucked under her wing and saluted smartly, “Captain Charged Night sir.” She nodded to the two ponies following him, “Shadow Cover, Clean Break, good to see you.”
Charged Night, the middle Thestral with a dull gray coat and spiky gold hair, was wearing predatory grin number 3; the one where he knew something bad was going to happen but also that the victim did not.
It made an involuntary shiver go down Dash’s back.
“Feather Head,” Charged greeted, “I suppose I should have expected to find you conversing with Mud Ponies. So like you to find company with those lower in class than even yourself.”
Rainbow bit back the sarcastic response that came to her and instead replied with a polite, “It can be peaceful around here, Captain.”
Charged chuckled and the other two quietly joined in a way that brought images of adolescent bullies to Rainbow’s mind, “Oh yes, because when I think of ‘peaceful’ I think of lunatic ground pounder too.”
Dash clamped on her tongue before she said anything rash, the Captain's lack of dismissal forcing her to maintain the awkward salute position, “I didn’t expect to see you here sir.”
“Oh, while the company is atrocious,” He said casually, moving up closer to the counter, “no pony can deny that the food here is delectable,” His gaze lowered onto Pinkie, who had been trying to stay far away from the interaction, and morphed into something much colder, “Daisy sandwich. Now.”
Pinkie instantly sprang into action and retreated further behind her counter and out of Dash’s peripheral. Charged again took up a casual tone, the other two Thestrals not saying a word but watching with their own predatory gazes, “I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me that you like this place, Bird Brain, after all, your other source of companionship is that yellow chicken.”
Rainbow tried to stop it but her body tensed without her consent. Charged Night smiled wider at the subtle reaction.
“Oh yes, that butter friend of yours really is an embarrassment to your already embarrassing race.” He leaned in closer to Dash, his grin cranking up a notch, “If I were you I’d just get rid of her. Friends like that have a habit of dragging you down after them.”
He stayed like that for a while longer, watching Dash for a sign he had struck a nerve. When she continued to meet his gaze unflinching he evidently became bored and his eyes slid to the book tucked under her wing.
Rainbow stiffened as Charged Night withdrew the book but relax once more when she saw the cover.
“Daring Do,” Charged drawled, “how childish.” He threw the book on the counter and picked up the daisy sandwich that had been waiting there. Not taking his eyes off Dash, he took a bit, chewed, and spat all over Rainbow’s face.
Rainbow’s left eye started twitching but besides that she was the very image of calm.
“This is stale,” Charged Night growled, turning his gaze off of Rainbow and onto, what Rainbow assumed by the terrified squeak, a very frightened Pinkie. “Much too stale. I think the mud slinger should be punished for this. Don’t you agree soldiers?”
Both Shadow Cover and Clean Break voiced their agreements while Rainbow Dash’s stiff posture began to tremble.
Charged Night turned back to her and got so close that Rainbow could feel the furs on his nose brush against her own. “I said ‘don’t you agree soldier?’” When Rainbow didn’t respond or even look at him he growled and continued in a low voice, “Maybe I should make you deal the punishment, Plumage, after all, nothing toughens a softy like making their friend blee-”
There was a resonating crack as Rainbow’s hoof made contact with Charged’s soft cheek. She hadn’t meant to hit him. Actually, no, that was a lie. Every fiber in her had been screaming to punch him in the jaw for the past five minutes. Only a small, reasonable, whisper had held her back on the base that the punishment wasn’t going to be worth the satisfaction but even that gave up and decided that, reasonably, punching him sounded really really good.
Rainbow drew back as soon as the punch landed. Her reasonable side, who wants it on the record that the punch really did feel good, started noting that Charged had backup that was currently circling and Dash was in a whole lot of trouble.
Scuffles within the guard were not unheard of and Rainbow herself had been in one or two. One wrong word led to a punch which lead to a bar fight which usually lead to one or two guards being out of commission for a bit.
As Charged Night was one to usually start and win these fights, Rainbow was extremely surprised when his only reaction was to chuckle, wipe his mouth, and turn on Predatory Smile number 1. The one where everypony knows that something terrible is about to happen and Charged was going to enjoy the attention.
“Well, at ease soldier.” Charged rubbed his jaw and gave a wince, “I must say, for a traitor you have quite a hook.”
Rainbow froze and became more aware of Shadow Cover and Clean Break on either side of her, “I...I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Charged Night rolled his eyes, “Oh please, don’t even try to deny it. Clean Break heard you, the Mud Pony and that stupid Unicorn talking about overthrowing the Princess and now you’re all going to pay for it.”
“Oh yeah?” Rainbow growled, “You and what proof?”
Charged just gave her a flat look and gestured to Shadow Cover, “Get the books Shadow.”
Shadow Cover saluted and flew over the counter, barely giving the frightened Pinkie Pie a second glance. She rummaged under the counter for a minute before extracting the two books Rainbow and Pinkie had been looking at just before.
“Let’s see,” Charged said, taking the books from Shadow, “that’s an eyewitness testifying that he heard you planning, books in your possession that have to do with things plausible to take down our glorious leader and assaulting the captain of the guards.” He gave an exaggerated hum, “You know I think that might just be enough evidence to turn you and the mud pony in for treason.”
Rainbow swallowed, “But...ah.”
“Face it Bird Brain,” Charged sneered, his posture changing to an attack stance, “You either come with us now and just get years of jail and pain or…” His smile turned deadly, “we do this the fun way.”
Four pairs of eyes swiveled away from their current confrontation and to the pink pony who was staring thoughtfully up a the ceiling, seemingly ignorant of her and Rainbow’s impending doom.
“Do you think the reason the back door to this room is a little to the left of being centered is because it’s right next to the Everfree and that place is a little ‘off’ too? Or maybe it makes it easier to see because I don’t think a guard’s ever been near it. Well,” She shrugged and gave Rainbow an odd look, “besides for six seconds from now.”
There was silence as the four guards tried to digest the words, each with a mixture of confusion on their face. Eventually, Charged gave up and just shook his head, mumbling under his breath.
Rainbow’s eyes widened not a moment later as her friend’s words finally sunk in.
Five seconds now?
“Shadow Cover, go grab the freak will you?”
Charged turned his grin to Dash, “I don’t think Clean and I will have any problem with Feather here.”
Shadow Cover leaped into the air while the two male Thestrals closed in on Dash.
There was a surprised yelp as Pinkie slipped around Shadow Cover. Charged night and Clean Break where close enough to grab Rainbow as she shut her eyes and held her breath.
Dash was in the air and heading towards the back door the moment the bag of - presumably flour by the grit clinging to her coat - hit the ground, leaving a hacking and momentarily blinded Charged Night and Clean Break.
Halfway to the back and with eyes still closed, Rainbow’s foreleg wrapped around something soft, squishy, and definitely not wearing armor and pulled it into her chest. She braced herself as the two crashed into the back door and out into the open sky.
Dash blinked rapidly to dispel any flour on her eyes as she soared away from the castle at an upward angle. She mentally pumped her hoof when her eyes confirmed that the soft thing wrapped around her neck was indeed pink and fluffy.
As soon as Rainbow could see clearly she flipped in mid air and made a beeline for the Everfree Forest, not even looking to see if she was being followed.
After ten minutes straight of diving around trees, pumping her wings as hard as they would go, Rainbow slowed her flight to a much more moderate pace, panting for breath “How you hanging in there Pinks? Still breathing and all that?”
There was a longer silence than expected, with the only reaction from the pink pony being a steadily increased trembling. Dash gained another twinge of worry, “Pinkie?”
“SQUEEEEE!” Pinkie shouted, removing her nose out of Dash’s chest and pressing it right up to her face, forcing the Pegasus to stop flying forward least they crash, “OhmygoshDashiethatwasamazingIknewyouwerefastbutwowieI’veneverexperianceditbeforethatwas themostincreadiblethingI’veeverdonecanwedoitagaincanwecanwecanwe?”
“Pinkie, Pinkie!” Rainbow shouted over the blabber, “Breath a second would you?”
Pinkie complied and sucked in a giant breath before squeeing again, “You’re just so awesome, Dashie.”
Rainbow blushed a bit at the praise, “Well, of course I am, I’m Rainbow Dash. But give yourself some credit too Pinks, your plan was awesome. Throwing flour like a smoke bomb, that was smart thinking.”
Pinkie giggled, “Aw shucks, you charmer.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes and dropped Pinkie on her flank, “Alright wisecrack, now that we’re in the middle of the Everfree what’s your plan?”
Pinkie blinked up at her, “My plan was to get away before we got punished and now...um…”
Rainbow smacked herself in the face, “You don’t have a plan? What are we supposed to do, wander around this dangerous forest for the rest of our lives?”
Pinkie bowed her head, “I...I’m sorry Dashie.”
Rainbow sighed, “Yeah, it’s OK. I’m stressed, but who wouldn’t be? We’ve just been labeled as traitors and have literally no place to go so we can think of a plan!” Her eyes suddenly widened, “Oh crap no! Fluttershy! If I’ve run away then she’s going to get hurt. We have to go get here now before it’s too late. Come on Pinkie, climb back on we have to move now.”
Pinkie didn’t respond.
“Pinkie? Look I’m sorry I yelled at you but we really need to get going. This is super important.”
Pinkie still didn’t respond and made no movement besides the steady rise and fall of her shoulders.
“Pinkie?” Dash really didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with this much worry in one day. Gently, she nudged the Earth Pony’s head, “Pinkie, you OK?”
Pinkie tilted forward and Rainbow found hope that was quickly banished when she didn’t stop tilting and ended up falling flat on her face, gently snores echoing from her pink form.
Rainbow stared, “Pinkie, what the heck are you…” Then her eyes landed on her friend’s back and the small wooden blowdart embedded in her skin, “Oh no. Oh, crap. Oh crap oh crap oh--” Rainbow gasped as her panic attack was cut off by a small prick at the base of her neck, “Oh crap,” She muttered as she fell unconscious by Pinkie.