A squirrel ran through the grass, carrying pinecones and dodging the occasional plunder vine that poked through the ground. As it scampered along the floor of a long, wide valley, birds flew through the air and other animals ran about the grass and scrub.
A loud bang and flash of light disrupted the peaceful scene. One by one, the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony tumbled out of the light. Ditzy and Rainbow Dash took to the air, the former flying in a slow curve while the latter did several loops in the air. Both turned back to their point of emergence even as Spike, Octavia and Auntie tumbled out.
The three managed to get their hooves underneath them. Spike glanced from side to side. “Okay, everyone all right?”
Octavia used her cello to steady herself. She let out a breath. “I think so.” Her head shot up. “Wait, where’s -- ”
Pinkie Pie shot out of the light, forelegs held out in front of her. She barreled through Spike, Auntie and Octavia, bowling all three over before landing and tucking into a ball. She rolled along until she hit a rock, bounced into the air and landed on all four hooves. “I knew it!” She stood up on her hind legs and tossed her head back. “You can explode twice!”
Octavia stared at her. “That was a question you had?”
Discord suddenly appeared next to Octavia, arms crossed. “Oh, you have no idea.” A green glow enveloped him and he floated up and over to Spike. “Why yes, of course I’ll come over and talk to you! No, no need to trouble yourself with telekinesis. Thank you for the consideration!”
Spike plopped him down on the dirt and stared down at the draconequus. “Okay, where are we and who are we looking for?”
Discord snorted. The snorts quickly grew into full-blown laughter. His serpentine body doubled over on itself, twisting around in midair and flying around the six. He finally landed on Pinkie Pie’s back. “Well, my pink pony, my persistent pestering prison warden, who do you ponder we’re in pursuit of?”
Pinkie Pie’s ears folded back against her skull. “Well, you’re focusing on me, and you were just laughing rather loudly. Element of Laughter, I presume?” At his nod, she let loose some forced laughter. “Hah, hah, Discord.” Her head twisted around several times, eventually corkscrewing back. “Wait, where the hay are we?”
Octavia walked up to Pinkie Pie. “You don’t know, Pinkie?” She narrowed her eyes at Discord. “Well, where did you send us? Come on, out with it.”
Discord placed a forearm on his forehead and swooned. “Oh, my dear Octy! Half the fun is figuring out things like this! I mean, isn’t that what you do at school? I know that’s what I did at school. An old-school, you might say. A… first-generation school, even!”
Pinkie Pie snorted and spun about, but Discord had already vanished, only to reappear in front of Auntie, this time a jointed metal statue of himself. Auntie sighed, picked him up and stuffed him into a saddlebag. “I’ll play foalsitter for this cretin.”
Ditzy and Rainbow Dash landed next to Pinkie Pie. “Are you all right?” Ditzy asked, concern laced through her voice.
Pinkie Pie suddenly spun around, eyes going everywhere. She ran up to a bare patch of dirt, stuck her muzzle into it and sniffed. After a minute, she scraped up a bit of dirt onto her hoof, brought it up to her mouth and licked it. She spat it out and grimaced. “Okay, no. This is definitely not the kind of soil composition around my family’s rock farm. It’s similar to Ponyville, but not nearly as weathered. It’s… younger? Not as worn down by the passage of time, basically.” She galloped down the valley for a few dozen meters, turned and then galloped back. “There’s some valleys like this around Ponyville, but none of them are this long or deep. The only one that is, is Ghastly Gorge. And that was formed due to tectonic activity, not erosion like this one.” She held up a hoof. “And the area around my family’s rock farm is flatland for miles around, to cut off the next question.”
Octavia’s mouth opened for a moment, but no sound came out. She finally smiled and nodded to Pinkie. “I am most impressed, Pinkie. That’s rather thorough and, quite honestly, surprising geological knowledge from you.”
Rainbow Dash nodded. “Yeah. My Pinkie Pie’s shown some cool knowledge about crystals, but nothing like what you just said!”
Pinkie Pie shrank down slightly and blushed. “Aww, that was nothing. If Maud was here she’d be able to tell you the exact mineral composition of the hillside with a glance!” She abruptly hopped into the air, hanging there for a few seconds and gasping. “Oh my gosh! What if the Element of Laughter here is Maud? Of course, that makes all the sense!” She landed and bit her upper lip. “Or… it could be my dear Cheesy--” She suddenly slammed both forelegs over her muzzle.
Rainbow Dash smirked and flew right over to Pinkie Pie’s side. “‘Dear Cheesy’? Ooh, does Pinkie have a coltfriend?”
Spike, Auntie, and Octavia all rolled their eyes, while Ditzy interposed herself between Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. “Now leave her alone, Dash. There’s no need to get her all embarrassed.”
Pinkie Pie suddenly spoke up. “His name’s Cheese Sandwich and he’s a party pony like me and he’s so dreamy and nice and considerate and he’s got a Cheesy Sense, like my Pinkie Sense! We met during Michelle Richards’ tenth birthday party. I was planning it but then -- ” She suddenly stopped and shook her head. “Wait, that can wait for until after we’ve figured out where the hay we are.” She looked around and sighed. “Oh, by the Herd, this is ridiculous! I can’t even figure out which direction to go!”
Auntie drew her into a hug. “Now, it’s all right, Pinkie. This is a lot different than Canterlot, Fillydelphia or Manehattan.”
Ditzy flew about, her eyes going in opposite directions with each wingbeat. “Hey, is it just me, or do the plunder vines just not seem quite as numerous here?” She went back and forth, eyes scanning along two sides of one of the valley’s walls. “And I swear, one end doesn’t seem to have as many of these darned things.”
Rainbow Dash flew up to her. “Think we should split up and each group go to one end of this valley?”
Pinkie Pie slithered out of Auntie’s hug and waved Rainbow Dash off. “No way, Dashie! I’ve seen way too many horror movies to know splitting up in a location like this would only lead to one of us getting a machete to the head by the local Jason Vorhees!”
Rainbow Dash blinked twice at Pinkie Pie’s words. She looked down at the others. “I got nothing. I understood the words, but in that order and context it just whizzed past me. Anyone else got anything?”
Spike scratched his head. “I think… just don’t split up, Pinkie?” At her rapid-fire nod, he shrugged. “Honestly, it’s good advice here. We’re not in a city with familiar landmarks. Best to stay grouped together for now.” He looked up to Rainbow Dash. “Hey, Dash? Could you do me a favor? Fly from one end of the valley to the other and see if the plunder vines are less thick at one end compared to the other?” He held up a hoof. “Just stay in eyesight! I don’t want something to swoop down and gobble you up.”
Rainbow Dash barked a laugh, but saluted Spike and flew off, zipping from one end of the valley to the other so fast she doubled back on her contrail before it faded.
As Rainbow Dash flew about, Pinkie Pie scratched her forehead. “Hmm, I wonder. Maybe we’re not even in Equestria at all!” She paced back and forth, digging up a small trough in the ground and the others following her movements. “I mean, far as I can tell this isn’t Ponyville or my family’s rock farm. And really, in Equestria that’s it for me. But there’s another place I go to a lot. Maybe we’re in Kentucky!”
Octavia blinked and tilted her head. “Ken… tucky? Is that Griffon territory?” She looked around. “Does that sound familiar to anyone else?”
Pinkie Pie jumped out of the trough and bounded over to Octavia. “No, it’s on Earth. It’s the other end of the Rainbow Bridge. Well, my reality’s Rainbow Bridge.”
Ditzy landed next to her. “Wait, this Kentucky place, is this what you meant when you said you do dimension-hopping daily when we first arrived here? Is that where you go, and over that Rainbow Bridge?”
Pinkie Pie sighed and smiled. “You’re right, Ditzy. About six months ago, through circumstances I could regale you with, but will leave out for now, my Rainbow Dash hit a sonic rainboom at the exact same time my Twilight was doing some super-duper teleport to avoid being incinerated by an angry outcast dragon that lives in the Everfree. They tunneled through space and ended up not only on another planet, but another universe altogether. They landed on Earth in a region called Kentucky and met up with none other than Megan Richards, the motherbucking Mag’ne herself!” She sucked in a breath. “Can you believe it?”
Octavia shook her head. “Most of that does sound impressive, Pinkie, except the last bit about meeting that… whoever it is. If that name’s any indication, I’m guessing this Kentucky isn’t inhabited by ponies?”
Pinkie Pie’s jaw dropped and her eyes bulged out. “Y-you don’t know who the Mag’ne is? The Mag’ne? The Giver of Gifts? Defender of the Stable?” She looked to the others. “What about you? No? Okay… Megan Richards? Megan Williams?!” She dropped back onto her haunches and slapped the side of her head. “This is unreal! She’s one of the biggest heroes in my Equestria’s history!”
Auntie swallowed. “I… I’m sorry, Pinkie. History admittedly wasn’t my best subject in school. Please remember, things might not be the same in every version of Equestria.”
Spike walked over to Pinkie and patted her on the shoulder. “Yeah, sorry, but I’ve never heard that name mentioned before.”
Pinkie looked to Spike, then to Auntie, up to Ditzy, and finally to Octavia. “Okay, sorry. Just took me out of things.” She sucked in several breaths and hopped back to all fours. “Okay, I think I’m better now.”
Dash flew back overhead. “Okay, Ditzy, you’re right.” She jabbed a foreleg to her right. “That end of the valley has almost no plunder vines poking through.” She swept to her left. “While the opposite end’s got a lot more of the danged things poking out.” She pointed back to the end of the valley with almost no plunder vines. “I also noticed the start of a well-maintained path leading off into the distance.”
Pinkie Pie bounced up and down “Thanks, Dashie!” She continued hopping down along the valley. “I think we’ve got--“ She suddenly stopped in midair. Her left ear folded down and her left hind leg twitched. “Ho, boy!” She spun about, kicked off and tackled Octavia.
The pair rolled around on the ground, coming to a stop. Octavia extricated herself from Pinkie Pie’s grasp. “What in Tartarus is the matter with you?” she shouted, her entire face beet-red.
Two seconds later, the ground Octavia was standing on burst open. Plunder vines shot forth into the air, writhing around and snapping. Other plunder vines shot forth towards the ponies from the ground.
Octavia swallowed. “What I meant to say was, thank you.” She slung her Element of Harmony over her back and cantered back and forth, doing her best to avoid plunder vines.
Spike’s horn flared to life. Several of the menacing plants around Auntie, Pinkie Pie and Octavia stopped in mid-writhe. “Let’s get out of here!” he shouted. A plunder vine shot forth not a foot from him. He sidestepped it, stomping on it as it tried to wrap itself around his legs. “Oh, no you don’t!”
Rainbow Dash and Ditzy dove at the plunder vines, kicking and biting at them. Rainbow Dash dove and weaved around them. “You’re so slow, you’re trying to grab my afterimage!” She stopped in midair, stuck her tongue out and waggled her forelegs at the vines. “Nah nah!” She suddenly dropped down as vines stretched out into the sky. “Still too slow!”
Ditzy flew up to her. Both eyes focused on Rainbow Dash. “For the record, my Dinky is more mature than you are.”
Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Eh, to be fair, my Dinky is more mature than I am.” She looked down. “Okay, less showboating, more helping!”
The four ground-bound ponies continued dodging the plunder vines and making their way as best they could to the far end of the valley. Rainbow Dash and Ditzy dove and distracted the plunder vines as best they could, keeping them off their friends’ backs. Rainbow Dash dove deeply, then pulled up at the last minute. The plunder vines stretched as far as they could to try and grab her, letting Spike, Pinkie Pie, Auntie and Octavia slip through the last of them.
As Rainbow Dash pulled out of her dive, she looked back at the plunder vines. “So sad, too bad!” She looked ahead, and gasped as three pegasi mares flew into view.
Backlit by the sun, they were little more than silhouettes as they flew in. Details filled in as they approached. The pegasus in the center was light-blue with two pink and two blue whistles for a cutie mark. The mare to her left was bright-pink and had two lightning bolts for a cutie mark, while the one to her right had a white coat and three purple balloons for a cutie mark. “I believe we have arrived at the quarantine zone at best possible speed,” the leader said. She glanced to her left. “Firefly, prepare aerial countermeasures and get set to lead the other pegasi.” She looked to her right. “Surprise, fly low for distraction and rescue operations.” She looked ahead at Rainbow Dash, hovering in front of the three. “Greetings, fellow Equestrian! I am Wind Whistler. I apologize for the delay in arriving, but it has been some time since anyone has been able to penetrate the plunder vine infestation and cross the valley.”
Rainbow Dash swallowed. Her eyes drifted to Firefly. “Y-yeah, we… penetrated the… v-vines all right!”
Firefly leaned back slightly at Rainbow Dash’s stare. “Are you okay?” She glided over and closed Rainbow Dash’s mouth. “No, seriously, are you okay? You’re staring off into space and that’s not good here.”
Rainbow Dash blinked and shook her head. “Yeah, yeah! Sorry about that.” She swallowed. “I… I don’t look familiar to you, do I?”
Firefly arched an eyebrow. “I… don’t think so?” She squinted at Rainbow Dash. “You’re not a cousin I never met from Cloudsdale, are you?” A noise down below snagged her attention. “Sorry, gotta fly!”
Rainbow Dash blinked, and Firefly was gone.
Down below, Pinkie Pie stared up at the three new arrivals. Her jaw was slack and eyes wider than saucers. Octavia, parrying several vines with her bow, sidled up to Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie, what in Equestria is wrong with you? We have to keep moving!”
Pinkie Pie turned to Octavia, her expression one devoid of any mirth or merriment. “By the Herd of Key’Tuck itself, Octavia!” She wrapped her foreleg around Octavia’s neck and drew her in close. “Do you have any idea who they are?” She gasped. “Oh, now I think I know what happened to us!”
Octavia squirmed in Pinkie Pie’s grip. “Well, I heard Wind Whistler, Firefly, and Surprise. I presume they’re friends of yours where you come from? And wait, ‘what happened to us’? Pinkie, you’re not making any sense!”
Pinkie Pie blinked and her jaw went completely slack. She twirled Octavia around, consequently spinning her away from several plunder vines, until the two were face to face. “You’re kidding, right?” She pushed Octavia, sending them both out of reach of several more vines. “Come on, Octy. I’m the prankster of the group, not you! You have to know who they are, right?”
Spike and Auntie ran past, the former firing blasts from his horn at plunder vines over his shoulder. “Less talking, more running!” he shouted.
Pinkie Pie and Octavia joined them in running as fast as they could. Rainbow Dash, Ditzy and Firefly dove down at the plunder vines, kicking and biting at them as best they could. Rainbow Dash let out a slow whistle as Firefly managed to spin about through a maze of vines near the ground, dodging and weaving through them and not even ruffling a feather. “Not bad,” she said, grinning.
Firefly flew up to Rainbow Dash’s level. The two bobbed and weaved about. “You’re pretty good, yourself,” Firefly replied. They dove down slightly and flanked Ditzy, all three flying off just above the plunder vines.
Surprise dropped down right behind the running ponies. Her saddlebags popped open and bombs shot up and out of them, exploding right behind her and spewing out noxious green smoke. She flew up alongside Pinkie Pie and Octavia. “Hi, there! I’ll have to schedule your welcome party in between Twilight Wish’s birthday and the four-month anniversary of the new bakery’s opening.”
Pinkie Pie looked over to Surprise. “Y-you’ll throw us a welcome party?” She hopped up and down. “Oh by the Herd it’s gonna be the best party EVER! Gonna be our last party ever, but still the best party ever! Can I help plan it, oh please oh please?”
Surprise hesitated for a moment. “Well... I’m not used to collaborating on party planning. Especially with the pony I’m throwing it for!” She looked ahead as they neared the end of the valley. “Good, more guests!”
Pinkie Pie followed Surprise’s gaze. She skidded to a halt, digging up a trough in the dirt as about thirty ponies galloped down the path towards them. There were a few stallions, but most were mares. All had saddlebags almost filled to bursting. They slowed to a trot, then finally stopped at the mouth of the valley. “Looks like we got here just in time,” one orange-coated earth pony said. She stumbled a bit as one hoof hit a clod of dirt. “Whoops!”
Auntie sucked in a sharp gasp at the sight of the mare. She leaned her head over as far as she could to spy at her cutie mark. “Is that…”
Pinkie Pie bounced up and over to Auntie’s side and leaned in as close as she could. “She might be ‘an’ Applejack, but she’s not ‘our’ Applejack.” She looked around as the others came in closer. “I got some good news, some great news, but also some bad news.”
As Pinkie Pie talked, Wind Whistler, Firefly, and Surprise flew to the group of ponies at the mouth of the valley. “Good, you’ve all made excellent time progressing down to this locale,” Wind Whistler said, smiling slightly. “I see all of you have also managed to acquire as many tools and weapons as possible for the upcoming skirmish.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Did she swallow a dictionary when she was a foal?”
Spike cleared his throat. He glanced over his shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief as they were now mostly out of reach of the plunder vines. He and the others made their way to one side as the large group of ponies galloped and flew into the valley proper. “Okay, Pinkie. I think we’ve got some time for a little explanation. What’s your news?”
Pinkie Pie looked to her right at the ponies in the valley. They unloaded their saddlebags, dumping explosives, makeshift weapons, and even gardening tools out. They attacked the plunder vines not only with what they brought, but with their magic. Horns lit up and fired off blasts of magic, pegasi dove at the vines and kicked, and earth ponies stomped and tore as best they could. “Well, the good news is, I know where we are. The better news is, unless there’s some odd connection I don’t know of, I know who this reality’s Element of Laughter is. The bad news is, I think the explosion that sent us here killed us and we’re in the afterlife. Or as we call it where I come from, we’re running with the Herd in the Holy Lands of Key’Tuck.”
Octavia’s ears pricked up. “Wait, you think we’re dead? You think--” She trotted over to stand in front of Pinkie Pie and jabbed her in the chest hard with a hoof. “What in the name of Cadance are you jabbering on about?! Have you gone madder than usual?!”
Spike galloped over and physically separated the pair. “Okay, okay, that’s enough! Octavia, please calm down. And Pinkie… I don’t think we’re dead.”
Pinkie Pie waved her forelegs in the air. “Well, how else could you explain those ponies being here? I mean look at them! Wind Whistler the Wise, Firefly the Fearless and Surprise the Stupendous, among others!”
Rainbow Dash flew over to her. “Explain what, them being here? What does that even mean? And ‘Firefly the Fearless’?” She tilted her head back and forth. “Actually, that’s kinda awesome!”
Pinkie Pie rubbed her chin. “Wait… “ She looked around, finally locking her sight on a pink unicorn mare with a cutie mark of five stars. “Hey, Twilight Wish, got a minute?”
Twilight Wish looked up and over at the sound of her name. She half-closed her eyes. “I wish, I wish…” She faded out, mere seconds before two plunder vines shot out at her. Instead of ensnaring Twilight Wish, they wrapped around each other and became hopelessly entangled.
Twilight Wish reappeared in front of the group. “Hi, there. Do I know you?”
Auntie’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my!”
Pinkie Pie stepped forward. “Hi there. Quick question for you. Do the names Celestia or Luna ring any bells?”
Twilight Wish gasped. “The Princesses? Have they been rescued from the plunder vines?”
Pinkie Pie slumped over, seeming to shrink in on herself. “No, not yet. Sorry. But you did help me out!” She reached out and hugged Twilight Wish. “Thanks! I’ll make sure the party Surprise is throwing you is the best ever!”
Twilight Wish rolled her eyes. “Yeah, good luck with that.” She waited for Pinkie Pie to let go. “I wish, I wish…” She faded out once more, reappearing amongst the chaos of the fight against the plunder vines.
Pinkie Pie turned around. “Okay, no bad news. Never mind the bad news. We’re not dead.” her eyes drifted to Auntie’s saddlebags. “Now that I think about it, no way he’d get into Key’Tuck. But anyway, I just good and better news. The Element of Laughter here? It’s Surprise. She’s the only one here I’ve got any connection to, barring some really weird family tree possibilities.” She paused and glanced down. “However, I do have some weird news, and it’s got to do with where we are.”
Octavia leaned her head forward slightly. “Wait, what?”
Rainbow Dash blew a strand of her mane out of her hair. “Oh, this ought to be interesting.”
Pinkie paid them no mind and continued. “As for where we are, as insane as this is gonna sound, there’s no other place it could be.” She spun about on her hooves and stared straight ahead. “We’re back, back at the beginning, where it all started. We’re in Dream Valley!”