This is a really long trail. Lengthy walks were nothing new to Twilight, but this was just getting ridiculous.
“Did we have to do this now?” Spike yawned as he stretched out on her back. “I was gonna use today to catch up on my sleep.”
Twilight frowned, then glanced over her shoulder. “Is that code for ‘stay up late and read comic books’? You’ve been dozing off on your chores lately, so if you’re not going to sleep, you can at least get out of the library for a bit. Fresh air really does dragons good, you know.”
“Since when did you suddenly become the expert on dragons?” Spike scoffed.
“Just now,” she replied with a grin.
He rolled his eyes and laid back down. “It’s not my fault that they made these comics so interesting!” Twilight felt Spike moving around on her back, and stopped to glance back at him.
Spike reached a claw into her saddlebag and pulled out a comic book. He fell back onto Twilight’s withers and spread himself out again.Twilight narrowed her eyes. “When did you put that in—”
“Not important.” he cut her off. “But seriously, listen to this stuff! Lightning flashed and thunder crashed behind the Masked Matter Horn as she finally came face to face with her arch-nemesis…” Spike raised his voice to emphasize, but Twilight rolled her eyes and turned her attention back towards the road ahead, which wound around the side of a large, grassy hill.
Wait. Twilight dug her hooves into the soft dirt and stopped suddenly, and Spike dropped the comic he was holding.
“Hey!” he shouted as he bent down to pick it up.
This path didn’t go around the hill yesterday… did it? Twilight held a hoof to her chin.
“Warn me next time you’re just gonna stop like that!” Spike scolded. “I could’ve messed up my exclusive, limited edition—” He fumbled for the comic again as Twilight jolted forward and simply rolled her eyes. She was probably over-thinking again, but something else was bugging her.
“Spike, you wouldn’t happen to remember who asked us to come to this picnic, would you?” Twilight turned her head back towards him again, ears perked.
Spike glanced up from his comic to look back at her with an arched eyebrow. “What, did you forget already?”
Her ears went flat as she looked down at the dirt, and sighed. “I… just can’t remember. Something feels weird this morning; I’m not usually this forgetful.”
Spiked moved around again. “I don’t know, you just said we had to go. Today’s the first I’m hearing about it.”
She frowned, but all her worries melted away as she finally made it to the top of the hill and saw five familiar figures seated under the shade of a large oak tree.
“Twilight!” Pinkie stood up and hopped closer to her.
“Hi, girls! Sorry I’m late, but the path felt a little longer than usual today.” She glanced back. The beginning of the trail was still within sight, only about half a mile behind her. “Wh-what?” Twilight looked back to her friends. “B-but I thought—”
“We really need to get you out more, egghead. If a small little road like that tired you out so quickly, imagine what a real gallop would do to you.” Rainbow Dash pushed her sunglasses over her eyes and chuckled.
“Rainbow, it’s not polite to call ponies names,” Fluttershy said before she looked back at Twilight and smiled ever so sweetly.
“Oh hardy har har, Rainbow.” Twilight trotted up to her and poked her in the ribs. “I’d like to see you gallop a few miles after answering a summons from princess Celestia herself and travelling all the way to Canterlot and back! On top of all that, I had to listen to the nobles whine and complain about the lower class citizens for five hours!” Twilight frowned as her wings unfurled a little. She blinked once, then took a step back and smiled awkwardly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. Still getting used to the whole ‘princess’ thing.”
“Princess thing?” Rainbow Dash lifted her sunglasses off of her eyes and scrunched her muzzle. “What are you talking about?”
Twilight turned to face her, head tilted to the side. “What am I talking about? Rainbow, you’re joking right? You don’t remember the spell?” After another confused look, Twilight slapped her hoof to her face and sighed. “Okay, it was right after—” Twilight stopped, then closed her mouth. She opened it again as if to speak, then scrunched her muzzle up as her eyebrows furrowed. “It was...when…” She held a hoof to her chin. After a moment, she cast a glance to her bare side.
“She’s just tired,” Spike insisted as he walked up next to her. “She couldn’t even remember who asked her to come here. I personally think she just needs to relax.” Spike emphasized his final word by placing a claw on her dock and pushing down until she sat on her haunches.
“Especially since this is a special occasion.” Applejack turned from Twilight to face her other friends. “Right, girls?”
“Agreed,” Rarity chimed in. She cleared her throat. “Pinkie, would you be a dear and give Twilight her gift basket?”
“Of course!” Pinkie hopped over to Twilight with a basket in her hooves.
“Pinkie? But I thought you were just—” Twilight cast a confused glance to her right before Pinkie dropped the basket in front of her.
“C’mon, open it up!” Pinkie insisted.
Twilight looked down at the basket, then back at her friends.
“For me?” She placed a hoof over her cold chest. Her friends all nodded, and Twilight smiled wide. “Girls, you really shouldn’t have.” She opened the basket with her magic and peered inside.
It was completely empty.
Twilight’s excited look melted away. She picked up the box with her magic and carefully shook it. Perhaps it was invisible? A sudden cold, gust of wind knocked the basket out of her magical grip and down the hill behind her. “Oh, I’m sorry! But, there wasn’t anything in—” Twilight’s words died in her throat, as she found that she was suddenly speaking to empty space. Where her friends had stood seconds ago, there were only deep depressions in the grass. Beyond that, a cloudy, dark sky that seemed to stretch on far into the horizon.
“Girls?” She craned her head to the left and to the right, then turned to look behind her. When that proved fruitless, she galloped to the edge of the hill and looked down. “Girls!” Twilight lingered there for a moment longer, her ear perked as she listened for someone, anyone to return her shout.
Twilight shivered as another cold gust of wind cast her mane over her eyes, then ruffled her fur. Where did this cold come from? Her eyes widened in surprise as something small, cold, and white landed on her muzzle. She snorted and wiped it off with a foreleg, only to have another take its place. Twilight looked straight up, and was met with the sight of snow drifting down slowly from the heavens above.
Snow? Twilight curled her front leg as her ears pinned backwards. What in Equestria is snow doing here? It’s the middle of summer. If it was this cold Spike would’ve spoken up. As soon as she thought of Spike, she whirled around to face where he’d been.
“Spike?” she called out, then turned back around to face the abandoned hill and the desolate landscape beyond.
There was no sign of her faithful assistant either, and the wind was picking up again. Twilight charged her magic as she tried out a basic heat spell, then shivered as she pushed through the wind, back towards Ponyville.
Did I accidentally teleport somewhere? Twilight wondered as the buildings of Ponyville came into view. She began to gallop towards them, but stopped just short of the outskirts. Her breath escaped her lungs in a sudden gasp. What was in recent memory a small, bustling town full of ponies, color, and life, was now a derelict, abandoned cluster of ruined buildings with no sign of anypony anywhere. Twilight shivered as another gust of wind blew past. It whistled through the ruins before it pushed Twilight’s mane straight back. Her horn glowed a little brighter as she pushed against the wind and dragged herself into what looked like Sugarcube Corner.
She closed the rusted and broken door behind her as best she could and finally collapsed inside. Twilight curled in on herself and shivered harshly as she tried desperately to warm herself up. Once it felt that she could move without the sting of the cold locking up her joints, she pushed herself up on a single foreleg and looked around.
The familiarity and warm, inviting atmosphere she had come to expect from Sugarcube Corner was gone; all that remained was an empty and abandoned husk. The smell of freshly baked goods did not reach out and call to her, and Twilight felt less at home here than she had outside. Snow drifted down through a few holes in the ceiling, and the silence was unsettling. A sudden crash put Twilight on edge; she jumped and looked around for the source. A large piece of debris lay on the floor amidst the shattered remnants of one of the many tables arranged around the room.
She breathed a sigh of relief, then decided to try and approach the counter. She stepped carefully, as the floorboards creaked and groaned as she put her hoof down. She doubted that calling for help would reward her, but she tried it anyways. “Hello? Pinkie? Mr. Cake? Mrs. Cake?”
Something moved in the kitchen. A loud thump followed soon after, and Twilight felt as though her prayers might have been answered.
She smiled wide, then climbed up onto the counter. “Is someone there?”
Six glowing blue dots appeared in the darkness of the kitchen. Twilight jumped back off the counter and slowly started backing away. She didn’t dare take her eyes off of the kitchen doorway.
What is that? she asked herself as she took careful, calm steps backwards. All sense of caution was shattered when the six blue dots rushed from the darkness of the kitchen and came straight towards her. With a loud scream and a burst of cold wind, Twilight was suddenly thrown backwards through the bakery window and out into the street. She rolled back onto her hooves as three figures floated in the air above her.
Vaguely equine in shape, their bottom halves ended in a wispy tail, while their eyes glowed a bright blue.
“Windigos,” Twilight mumbled softly. One of the creatures let out a loud bellow before it dashed towards her. Twilight barely had time to jump out of the way, then lost her balance as she landed. Air rushed out of her lungs as she fell onto her side. Her hooves scrambled for purchase against the frozen ground before she managed to stand up straight again.
She reared up onto her back legs, then her horn sparked to life as she slammed her forelegs back onto the ground and released a steady beam of magic. It blasted into the oncoming Windigo and dispatched it in a flash.
She didn’t see the other approaching from the right side until it was too late. Something icy and cold slammed into her side, then the pain came. It felt like a thousand icy sharp needles stabbing into her flesh, and a scream ripped past her lips as she fell. Her body shook from the impact, and her muscles tensed as she opened her eyes to see the damage.
A sleek coat of ice covered the right side of her body. Her blood ran cold as soon as she realized she couldn’t move the parts that had been frozen. She couldn’t even feel them.
Her head turned as other Windigos descended from the white sky and quickly surrounded her. Twilight clumsily spun around to face the attackers behind her. She heard her own heart hammering in her ears, and her breaths came out as a clear blue mist that fogged the air in front of her. When one of the Windigos began to approach her, she turned to face it immediately. Her horn burned as if to cry out in protest at the use of another spell, but Twilight had no choice. With a desperate cry she shot another sizzling beam of energy at her attacker. It found its mark, and the Windigo bellowed its fury as it was torn apart.
But where one fell, it seemed like two more took its place. Twilight tried desperately to conjure another spell, but she had nothing left. Her horn sparked and faded, and she collapsed. The Windigos closed in, a ghostly wail ringing through Twilight’s ears as a white mist left the Windigos’ pale bodies and washed over her. It chilled her to the bone as the numbness slowly spread across her body.
Her breaths became shorter and shorter as the cold took her torso, then her legs, then slowly began to climb her neck. Twilight glared defiantly into the eyes of her assailants, her own narrowed.
I can do better than this. These words sparked something to life within her, and she felt the numbing cold halt. She clenched her teeth as the thoughts swirled around in her head. An alicorn can do better than this. She curled in on herself, away from her attackers. Yet still they persisted. They closed in, and the cold seemed to grow even stronger, but stronger still was a fire that seemed to light itself in Twilight’s chest. It grew, spreading to every limb, every muscle, every hair. If Twilight didn’t know any better, she would have thought that she was on fire.
Her insides burned, her body glowed, and Twilight only had time to see the fearful expression on the Windigos faces before she could keep it in no longer. With a scream, the fire burst from within her. Twilight slammed back into the dirt, her ears ringing as she tried desperately to make sense of the chaos ensuing around her. Very distantly she heard agonizing screams, but she couldn’t bear to open her eyes to see what was happening. She was vaguely aware of a falling sensation, but the darkness of unconsciousness consumed her vision before she even hit the ground.
Warm. Though Twilight couldn’t see a thing, she felt warm. Warm was nice. Standing up and doing anything else simply felt like too much work, and she couldn’t be bothered to open her eyes anyways. So rather than do that, she turned herself onto her side and relaxed.
Somewhere far off, she heard a scream. She paid it no mind at first, as she was much too comfortable. The longer she laid there, the louder and clearer the scream became. Before long, it was clear that it wasn’t a single pony screaming, but five. Five very familiar voices, all screaming in pain.
Twilight tensed her muscles and attempted to curl away from the noise. When that failed, she put her hooves over her ears, but the sound persisted. It shot through her ears and into her mind like a drill, clear as day and all too real as Twilight writhed against the warmth and comfort keeping her in the awful place. She struggled to open her eyes, to push back the force that sent shivers up her spine with every gut wrenching noise it made.
With a cry, Twilight’s eyes finally opened. White clouded her vision, and cold suddenly rushed into her body and brought her crashing back into reality. Twilight screamed and flailed her legs, her hooves pushed against the cold mass into the somewhat less frigid air beyond. When her head broke free of the cold, she took in a gasping heap of air until her lungs burned, then she collapsed again.
She sat up, and almost immediately regretted it as her vision spun and she held a hoof to her head. She carefully climbed to her hooves and looked around to get a grasp on where she was.
Smooth dirt walls surrounded her, curved down from the rim of whatever she was in to converge at the point she was standing. Twilight’s ears pinned back as she carefully scaled the wall, to the edge of her enclosure a few feet above her. With a final grunt of effort she climbed back onto more snow covered ground, then turned around to see where she’d been.
A massive crater scarred the land. Twilight didn’t recall that being there before. Sugarcube corner was gone, pieces of the building laid strewn about and half buried in snow. Nearby houses had gaping holes in their frame, and Twilight scrunched her nose and coughed as a burning smell filled her nostrils.
Twilight stood with her mouth agape, awed at the destruction. “D-did I do that?” She felt something twitch on her sides, and she turned her head to see a pair of large, alicorn wings neatly tucked against her body.
Twilight opened her mouth, then closed it again, her mind racing as she tried to come up with the words to express her bewilderment. “H-how...what...I…”Her world seemed to spin as she put a hoof to her head in a weak attempt to fight a rising headache.
From all of us together, together we are friends! With the marks of our destinies made one, there is magic without end!
The headache became more intense, until she tore her gaze away from the new appendages. If she didn’t look at them, they didn’t exist.
“I don’t understand what’s happening…” she mumbled to herself. Eventually she forced her hooves to move again, in the direction of what might be the only familiar thing in a land of confusion and pain.
As she pushed through the chilling winds and blinding snow, she shuddered. Some small part of her hoped her friends were all at home, and they’d just played some cruel prank on her. Certainly she’d be mad, but at least she would be able to see them.
As she moved through the ruins of Ponyville, her heart sunk more and more. What hope did she have of her home being in one piece if so much of Ponyville was destroyed already?
As she emerged into the clearing where her home was, her fears were realized. The library Twilight came to know as home was completely gone. Twilight’s wings slowly unfurled as her face scrunched up and her breathing became labored. She wiped at her eyes as her chest heaved. A sob escaped her, and it wasn’t long before she collapsed onto the ground sobbing. Any hope this might be some kind of cruel prank was gone, any chance of any research she could have done for some kind of spell was gone, and in its place came a crushing loneliness. Twilight stared up at the bleak sky, and yelled.
“Is anypony here?!” Her voice rang far into the distance, the chilling wind the only answer to her call. Twilight’s ears drooped again as she hung her head.
Twilight’s ears perked as she lifted her head and stared straight ahead. Where her home had once been, there was a glowing sphere of light. It seemed to create a barrier of warmth around it, no snow dared to near it, and the snow beneath it melted away.
“Come here, Twilight.” The voice carried authority to it. Power. While in any other situation Twilight would be cautious and suspicious, the prospect of seeing another pony after such an experience egged her on. She galloped towards it, a familiar warmth washed over her as she drew near. When she was close enough she unfurled her wings, an action that was all too familiar, and leaped towards the sphere. Light filled her vision, but she didn’t dare tear her eyes away. The howling winds died away. The biting cold turned into a serene, comforting warmth. Twilight, for the first time since she got here, felt safe.
The cold, hard ground turned into soft grass beneath her hooves. The chilling wind turned into a cool breeze that soothed her aching muscles, and the snow had all but vanished.
Twilight took a deep breath, and let the smell of flowers fill her nostrils before she released her breath. The sun hung in the bright, blue sky, the ghostly white clouds from before seeming like a distant memory. The colorful plants all around reached out and brushed against her chilled fur like the soft, caressing hooves of her parents. As Twilight took a moment to appreciate the beautiful scenery, her gaze drifted into the distance, and she took a double take as she spotted someone standing not far off.
A tall, purple alicorn with a long flowing mane and pink highlights started to approach her. Twilight could not help but take a small step back, even as the look alike gave her a friendly smile.
“Twilight.” The same voice that came from the sphere outside reached her eyes, and Twilight’s eyes grew wide. The friendly smile suddenly turned into a frown. “You shouldn’t be here.”
The larger Twilight spread her wings, and Twilight stumbled forward slightly as everything around them seemed to draw towards her. In a moment, the fields of flowers were gone, now it was just her and her older, taller self, standing in an empty field.
W-what...I don’t…” Twilight stammered for a minute as she closed her eyes, then stomped her hoof into the grass and opened her eyes again to glare at her counterpart. “What do you mean? What is this place? Who are you? Why do you look like m—”
“This place is better off forgotten.”
“Forgotten? Are you serious?” Twilight’s voice raised. “I was nearly frozen to death! Now I have wings and Ponyville is all run down and destroyed, I destroyed most of what was left! I didn’t even mean to, It just…”
“Happened?” the larger Twilight finished.
“Happened.” Twilight agreed. “I just want to see my friends again. I want to race with Rainbow Dash again, even though she’s beaten me every time we both have fun! I want to smile with Pinkie Pie again, she always makes me and everypony around her smile just by being there. I want to go to the spa with Rarity, she always overworks herself and drives herself crazy with these insane deadlines and I really love it when we can just relax and talk. I want to go looking for cute little critters in the forest with Fluttershy, she’s able to see beauty and kindness in everything. I want to help Applejack, she’s so stubborn and always bites off more than she can chew. I just want to spend time with my friends again.” As she went on, she felt the tears welling up in her eyes. She raised her head to apologize, but much to her surprise, the larger Twilight was also crying.
She worked a hoof into her temple, and Twilight noticed the slightest flicker in the world around them. For a split second, she saw the cold, white world outside, and dozens of blue eyes staring at them.
The larger of the two stopped rubbing her forehead, and her horn began glowing. The cold vanished away again, and the grassy field returned.
“I’m so sorry you had to see this. Twilight Sparkle belongs in Equestria with her friends, where she learns the magic of friendship.” The glow of her horn strengthened, and Twilight felt a force take hold of her. She squeaked in surprise, but the older Twilight smiled. “Try to forget this cold, dying world, please. For the both of us.”
“Both of—?” Twilight’s voice died in her throat as she was suddenly thrust towards her counterpart. Twilight screamed and guarded her face with her forelegs, but rather than the pained impact against someone else, she felt an electrifying feeling rush through her. Twilight pulled her legs away from her face in time to see a dizzying vortex of light dancing around her.
She felt herself pushed, pulled, and stretched in several directions. Voices, one of them her own, echoed around her. They came very every direction, growing louder and louder until they all started saying the same thing.
The light around her grew brighter.
The feathers of her wings fell away, her wings shriveled up and withdrew into her back. Twilight covered her ears and closed her eyes, clenching her teeth as her world began to spin.
She pulled her hooves away from her face, then glanced behind to see the concerned face of Pinkie looking down at her.
“You okay? You collapsed all of a sudden! Was the excitement too much to bear?” Pinkie asked.
“Wh-what?” Twilight climbed back to her hooves and stumbled backwards. She blinked and rubbed at her eyes as she quickly glanced around. “I’m...here?”
“Of course you’re here!” Pinkie exclaimed. “I asked all of us to come out to this picnic to celebrate your birthday! It’s your birthday, Twilight! Don’t you remember?”
As if on cue, she could recall the memory of Pinkie popping out of a picnic basket and handing her an invitation. She blinked once, twice, then smiled.
“I-I think so.” Twilight stuttered as she looked between her friends.
“Leave it to Twilight to forget something that happened literally yesterday.” Rainbow chuckled as she slipped her sunglasses back on.
“She’s probably just tired from reading all day.” Applejack chuckled. “Come on over and join us, Twi. You seem like you could use the rest. It was hard enough to convince Pinkie to keep the ‘party’ this time just between us, it would be a shame to let the time go to waste.”
“Indeed. And after this, I’m taking you on a mandatory trip to the spa. Darling, you’re as pale as a ghost.” Rarity scolded.
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as she trotted over to join her friends in her birthday picnic. As she looked between her friends, and all of them smiled back at her, she couldn’t have wished for anything better.
And on that particular day in Equestria, the world continued to turn.